Bellatrix the Cat
Bellatrix, photo by Steve Huff

The Huff family includes a 13-year-old black cat named Bellatrix after the Death Eater in the Harry Potter series. She’s a wonderful cat. She is incredibly independent. She has never liked sitting on laps. On the few occasions when she has sat on a lap, she sits stiffly like she’s not sure what she should be doing. But she will sit near you to be petted. She joins me in the bathroom most mornings so she can be petted. She will tolerate being held for a few seconds only. She’s wicked smart. She’s an excellent mouser. In many ways, the household sort of revolves around her.

This week we received the horrible news that she doesn’t have long to live. She has cancer, and it’s fairly aggressive. We knew she was sick, but we had hope that she might be able to be cured and be with us for a few more years. Sadly, the best-case scenario, even if everything worked perfectly, would be about a year, and it would be a horrible year of chemotherapy and vet visits. She hates vet visits. She is incredibly anxious in the car and at the vet. We didn’t want to spoil her last days like that. We are making her as comfortable as we can until we have to say goodbye. We’re talking about things like internment at a pet cemetery where maybe she can have a real headstone. She has been loved fiercely.

We took her to the vet last week, and our vet told us that she really needed to go to the vet ER. Unfortunately, we had trouble getting her to the ER. I’m not sure it would have made a difference. We likely would have received the bad news a little sooner is all. But I have to shout out Angell Animal Medical Center for their compassionate care. We arrived at the hospital about 9:30 Wednesday night after our vet called and said they would see Bella. Other animal hospitals are diverting patients. There is apparently a shortage crisis in veterinary care right now.

I do not think I will ever forget the scene. The lights were too bright. A triage nurse took Bella’s vitals and said they looked good. That made me feel hopeful. A man with a cat named Brownie had been told her temperature was too low. At least Bella’s temperature was normal. A man walked out from the back, wailing and being comforted by a woman. I looked at my husband. Of course, he must have just lost a beloved pet. I was hoping we would not be leaving the same way. We waited. And waited. I was shaking with anxiety.

Once we were called in to see the vet after waiting perhaps two hours, I could just tell. I could tell as the vet examined her that she was trying to figure out how to tell us. She was incredible. She looked at Bella’s bloodwork and X-ray’s on my phone. She leveled with us, but… I know I keep saying this, but it was in the most compassionate way. She took Bella to do an ultrasound on her mass, and we broke down sobbing, knowing that we would be saying goodbye to Bella soon. We talked things through with the vet when she came back, and she said, and I’ll never forget it because I needed to hear it, “Do not feel that you are giving up on her.”

We waited in the lobby for Bella’s medicine for a good while. A little dog with a cough trotted after his owner. Another dog had eaten a pen. I went to the restroom and passed by a woman with a cat in a carrier. A vet had a stethoscope pressed to the cat. She said, “I’m sorry, her heart has stopped.” The woman burst into tears. This place was too much.

We got home after 2:00 A.M., exhausted, deflated, utterly devastated. Then we had to tell our daughter, who had stayed up waiting for news and having a dreadful feeling that the news was bad or we’d have just texted her. My husband and daughter sobbed together on the couch while I felt useless. I went to bed and barely slept two hours before going to work. I cried all day at work. I was completely useless.

It’s now Sunday, and we have been living with the news of Bella’s imminent loss for a few days. I’m just trying to take the best care of her that I can. We are trying to pet her and show her our affection as much as we can to make her last days happy and filled with love. But we are all just gutted. She is just the best cat, and we love her so much.