A Goodbye to Sid, the Garbage Cat

by Caroline Cox

We called him the garbage cat. It was fitting, really — he’d been living in the parking garage of my apartment complex on the edge of downtown Atlanta. I had finally finished school and was settling into my first editor job at an online magazine with flexible hours and very low pay. After growing up in a household with a cat, three dogs and a few very temporary fish, I finally felt ready to take on a pet of my own.

Not long after, I got a mass email from the apartment complex, with six photos attached.

Can you help spread the word to our residents about this cat, please? I’d be willing to waive the $350 portion of the pet deposit if a resident takes the cat in, though they’d still need to pay the $150 refundable portion. It’s so hot outside…this cat needs a good, loving home fast!

We found this charming cat in one of our breezeways yesterday. He or she is extremely loving and very friendly, and not camera shy; it came right up to me when I approached and followed me through the parking garage! We’re pretty sure it’s a domesticated cat that someone abandoned. It’s a scorcher out there, and this awesome cat needs a good home fast!

Please call the leasing office if you or someone you know wants to give him or her a good home!

I responded saying “I’m interested,” and an hour later, the leasing office manager was helping me coax the scraggly little thing upstairs to my apartment, a blue-topped square Tupperware container of cat food in his hand. The cat was skinny, jet black with dull fur and big eyes. It sniffed around, hopped up on my bed and fell asleep for hours. While he snoozed, I brainstormed names: Gomez or Sid for a boy, Hazel or Luna for a girl.

A vet visit a few days later confirmed he was a boy, maybe four or five years old, and fixed. My roommate and I decided to call him Sid.

I’d come home from work every day and scoop him up as soon as I walked through the door. It was our routine, and eventually he stopped squirming and would run up as soon as he heard me turn the key. Sid was my buddy; we spent lazy afternoons watching Netflix and, after leaving a plate of food briefly unattended, I found out we shared a love of pizza.

Sid was with me for four years in three different apartments; he met three different boyfriends and temporarily suffered a slobbery Springer Spaniel canine roommate. Sometimes on winter nights in my drafty bedroom, I’d convince him to snuggle under the covers with me for a few minutes before he inevitably ended up on the edge of the bed instead. I loved him and took care of him and he was always there.

Last summer, Sid got sick. He became gaunt and weak, with his spine and shoulders sticking out like they did when I first got him, slivers of white skin peeking out under his shiny black fur. He scarfed down his food ravenously, and his stomach looked swollen and distended. I took him to the vet, who said she felt a mass but wasn’t sure what it was. There were options — expensive options that included sticking a big needle in the mass to test it, conducting surgery to remove it completely, or giving him an ultrasound to get a better picture of what it was. She said feline leukemia is common, and maybe Sid was older than we thought. I left with more questions than answers, and what felt like a heavy mass in my heart.

It was the first of many vet trips we’d take that summer. Each time he looked at me through the peephole and in his crate strapped into the passenger seat, giving his best sad meow. He lost so much weight that he developed an abscess on his back leg that wouldn’t heal. Back to the vet, who bandaged it, sold me expensive prescription cream and fitted him with a small plastic cone around his neck to keep him from messing with it. But he didn’t get better. He stopped using the litter box. He became too weak to jump on or off my bed, so he slept on the hard wooden floor, his bones jutting out, his head awkwardly lying inside his plastic cone. Each vet visit broke my heart and dwindled my meager bank account more and more. I started losing hope.

One day at work I broke down and called my mom, trying to explain through tears that he was getting worse and no one could tell me what was wrong. I was going broke and I didn’t know what to do. I could pay the $500 they wanted for an ultrasound, and if it was cancer, I was looking at hundreds to thousands of dollars for cat chemotherapy, which I didn’t even know was a thing. I could take out another credit card for goddamn cat radiation, or I could just let him deteriorate in front of me and run the risk of coming home one day and having him be gone, his last minutes alone and in pain. Like me, my mom favors animals over people. She’s seen her fair share of pets come and go — not long before, she’d watched our eight-year-old adopted black lab starve to death in front of her from misdiagnosed kidney failure that turned out to be lymphoma. Animals can’t tell us where it hurts, she said. And we can’t tell them why we’re leaving them, again, in the cold hands of a stranger who will poke and prod and leave them to wake up in an unfamiliar cage. She said, Sometimes the right thing is the hard thing and that she knew I’d tried. And I had — please know I had.

I researched alternative treatments online and bought fancy cat food and changed his litter constantly and redressed his wound and held him and cooed at him. I couldn’t afford to go to a new vet and start the whole process over just to get a second opinion.

Between April 23 and June 30 of last year, I spent $991.04 over four vet visits: $181.14 (including $52.25 for an “exam re-check” he got unnecessarily because it was “procedure” for every animal they saw, even if they’d seen them days or weeks before, and $31.25 for “<5mins” spent clipping hair and cleaning a wound). Two charges of $36.59 for bandaging and medicated cream that was glorified Neosporin, I imagine. A whopping $389.72, probably for the mass testing, which I did end up getting — testing that was inconclusive. Then $105.75 from 10 days before he died, when I came in at the end of my rope, pleading for them to tell it to me straight, to tell me something, to help him. Then the last charge: $241.25, the day I said goodbye to Sid.

I had lost all faith that the clinic gave a shit about anything more than bleeding my wallet dry, and I just didn’t want him to be in pain anymore. I couldn’t put him through more tests. Every time I left for work, the same worry grew larger. I called on my way home to schedule his euthanization, my voice cracking as I apologized to the receptionist for being unable to get out what I was trying to say. “Oh, baby,” she said with rich pity in her voice, “I know. It’s gonna be OK.”

Someone must have tipped off the front desk, because I walked in with carrier in hand, sunglasses still on, and was quickly ushered into a small room that was dark except for the light from a dim desk lamp awkwardly sitting on the exam table. The vet was a man I’d never seen. I explained the situation, and he comforted me in that disaffected way medical professionals often do, then he took Sid to the back room to be prepped.

While I was waiting, a young girl in scrubs came in with my bill. I guess there’s no good timing for that part. The woman on the phone had quoted me $105, the standard for a general appointment, but this bill was more than $400. I was furious. “Well, you can always take him back home,” she said, and I felt my face get hot. I worked in customer service for years, and it’s the only time I can remember snapping at someone like that. “Oh, can I? He’s getting prepped to be put down, but I can just take him home instead?!” They ended up offering to charge me $241, the price for euthanizing cats already in their care. I was exhausted. I said OK, and apologized even though I wasn’t and am still not sorry. I sobbed in that dark room and petted him and kissed his face and watched him go. There was no more pain.

Maybe whatever Sid had was treatable. Maybe he would have responded well to chemotherapy. Or maybe I would have come home from work to find him gone. I didn’t want to risk that, I didn’t want him to keep hurting. I didn’t want the last thing he saw to be an unfamiliar room or face. I wanted it to be me.

Caroline Cox is an editor for four print magazines and the site commoncreativatlanta.com in Atlanta, Ga. Her work has appeared on BuzzFeed, Nylon, xoJane, The Guardian, The Daily Beast and elsewhere. She’s funnier on Twitter.

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