The Tough Part of Fostering a Hospice Cat

picture of tuck: licking the remains of a cat gogurt off his nose

If we’re mutuals on the internet, odds are you’re familiar with and following along with my senior cat, Tuck’s, journey with me. I started fostering Tuck in the fall of 2020, and in January of 2021 he was diagnosed with cancer.

We weren’t sure how long he would have — but it’s now been a year since he was diagnosed, and he’s still hanging on — albeit a bit more slowly.

This post is going to talk about heavy topics like death and grief, especially about pets we love. If that doesn’t sound like something you want to, or should read right now, please don’t. I have lots of other content you can read here. Please be mindful of your mental health.

What i think about death

Liz and Tuck — two images one of Liz smiling next to Tuck, another of them kissing his head

When Tuck was diagnosed with cancer last year, I told him we would walk alongside death, and not fight it. It became a sort of mantra for me when things took a turn for the worse. Tuck would get a cold, or stop eating, or have trouble sleeping, and I would remember that this is part of his process.

My job as a fospice parent has been to love him, keep him warm, keep him comfortable and most of all be with him through the end of his life. Yeah, it’s a heavier burden some days than others. Like today, today is a bad day. Tuck has been pretty sick with an upper respiratory and eye infection. He doesn’t feel good, and I’m keeping him comfortable with pain meds.

Sometimes I worry that my friends and family may get tired of hearing about how he’s not doing well. They ask how he is, and I update them (I usually check if they actually want to know, since the news lately hasn’t been….well very positive). Most days it makes me really sad, the idea of saying goodbye to tuck. I’ve become very attached to his 6lb body, his glowing lantern eyes and sad little meow when he thinks I’m bullying his brother.

Death feels so slow, and so fast all at once

two images: in both tuck stands in a brown sweater

I’ve started letting him sleep in my bed at night, because he loves the soft blankets and soaks up the heat I radiate, like a moth to a lantern in the dark. I love his little stinky face, his bony spine, his snuffling breath. I think about death as being so slow, like a rollercoaster that has you creeping forward and forward — that’s where we’ve been for so long. His cancer advancing little by little, not all of a sudden like I thought it would.

I worry about when the roller coaster will drop, when everything will crash down all at once. I know I’ll be there, I know I’ll hold him, make the decision to be with him, and keep him warm and company as he passes away. I’ve imagined how his death will impact me, what I’ll feel when I realize he’s not breathing anymore. It used to be horrible, and now it’s more sad than anything. I try to imagine a life without nightly meds, without trying new flavors of wet food to convince this little boy to eat something.

two pictures: each one, Bleu is sleeping in a bed, and tuck is sitting or laying next to him

It’s hard to imagine that change happening so suddenly, I feel like my little family — me, my cat Bleu cheese, and Tuck have all grown around his cancer. We’ve grown around our grief.

I know he’s just a little cat that I’m fostering, and some days it doesn’t feel like he has cancer — but we haven’t had one of those days in awhile.

Fostering is meaningful, even when it doesn’t have a happy ending

If you’ve ever had a pet in a similar place, I hope you know I’m so proud of you. This shit is really hard, and I’m doing it mostly on my own. It really helps when people remind me that I’m doing a good job, so I want to tell you: what you’re doing is meaningful. You’re providing care that someone else might not have the time to. You’re being attentive to something so many would ignore or look away from.

You’re not a hero, you’re a human, and you’re someone that cares. And that does mean something, even to a little cat with 2.5 brain cells and a very big heart with lots of love to spare.

I know it matters, because cats domesticated themselves. Did you know that? They decided to move in with humans, they thought, “you look trustworthy, i’m going to leave my offspring here — okay?” and the rest is history.

Cat’s have and will always have had a choice, to ignore us, to avoid us, to bite us. I consider myself lucky my cat Bleu has never known life without a loving family.

They know how loved they are, even on bad days

Two pictures, in one, Tuck is curled up on a flannel blanket, fast sleep. In the other, Tuck is in his loaf position, basking in the sun

And I know Tuck knows how loved he is, because after a year of having to give him oral meds, clean his ears, wipe his eyes, encourage him to eat — no matter how pissed off he gets, he always comes back to find me. He believes my lap is HIS prime real estate. I’ve seen him get upset when he spots a pillow or book in “his’’ place. He may cry when we do meds, or stare at me reproachfully after a bath — but he always comes back for cuddles.

Cancer is really hard. Today is harder than most. It’s really hard to watch cancer impact such a small being that you care so much about.

When I created my calendar this year, I hesitated to put Tuck’s pictures in it. “What if he dies and this makes me too sad?” and I contemplated keeping him off the pages. I thought about it for a few days, but realized no matter what, I would want to remember. I want to remember when he looked better, when he did silly stuff, the way his eyes light up and his breath catches when he realizes i’ve gotten out a kitty gogurt treat just for him.

today is hard, but I’m grateful for Tuck

When Tuck passes, those things will be just as meaningful. A glimpse of light in what felt like a very sad and depressing time. In this apartment, we walk with death, not to fight it, but to accept its’ place in our lives. I love Tuck something fiercely, and his place in my life will never go unnoticed.

If you have a pet with cancer or without, know that you loving them is an enormous gift — and they are so lucky to have found you.

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Hey, I’m Liz Brinks (they/them) I’m a queer gender-non-conforming writer, business coach & cat-parent (@itsjuustliz everywhere) based out of Wisconsin!

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Liz Brinks

Liz Brinks

Hey, I’m Liz Brinks (they/them) I’m a queer gender-non-conforming writer, business coach & cat-parent (@itsjuustliz everywhere) based out of Wisconsin!

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