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Jul 8

Doyel: Theageek needed me always, but never more than at the end – IndyStar

The last day of Gregg Doyel's cat, Theodore

IndyStar columnist Gregg Doyel on his cat, Theodore, who he had to put down Thursday.

Gregg Doyel, Indianapolis Star

GREENWOOD He died looking into my eyes. Thats what I wanted for Theodore, my cat, my companion, my best little buddy. The last thing hed see after 17 years on this earth would be my face, loving him to the end.

You could do this, hold him on your lap like that, because Theageek the only name he knew wasnt like most cats. In temperament he was more like a dog, following me around, sitting nearby as I wrote or watched TV, licking my head as I slept. You could hold him as long as you wanted, however you wanted. He lovedit.

On one of his final days, after another visit to the veterinarian, searching for an answer I already knew, Theageek was on the dining table where he hung out while I wrote. I scooped him up and laid him on my lap, face up, staring at me. His eyes were tired. He was ready.

And so was I, because hed just shown me how this story would end.

Everyone kept saying he was losing weight, but I didnt see it. Hed been a big cat our veterinarian in Ohio, where we lived until 2014, compared him to an NBA center and he still looked big to me. Long, huge, thick body.

Just not as thick, apparently.

Another sign Id missed was his fur. Hed always been kind of nerdy, which is how Theodore became Theodork, which became Theageek. Because he was a geek, his transition from normal cat to nerdy little guy who doesnt groom enough to absolute mess was so gradual I missed it.

A vet wouldve caught this in real time, but Theageek was always so healthy. Didnt see a vet for years.

Bloodwork in 2016 showed the disease.

His thyroid was in overdrive, a caloric furnaceburning too hot. So that's why hed eat himself sick? Feed him twice a day, and hed scarf it down so fast hed throw it up, practically unchewed. Leave food all day, though, and hed graze when hungry. Which was often. Even so, his metabolism burned so fast that he was losing weight.

By then he weighed about 12 pounds. What hed been earlier, in Ohio, I didnt know, but we started him on thyroid medicine, a transdermal appliedto his inner ear. His weight stabilized, and he liked being medicated. It was something we did together.

About six months ago he started losing weight again, from 12 pounds to 10, to nine. Id rubhis hamstrings, and they were gone. The thyroid disease was burning through muscle, and the vertebrae of his back were visible to the eye. Petting him from head to tail was like rubbing a rock garden.

Visits to the vet were coming faster now. He lost a half-pound in a week, then a quarter-pound in three days, then again three days later. He was down to 6 pounds, 6 ounces. Hearing that, you wont believe what hed weighed earlier in his life, in Ohio. Not sure I'lltell you.

Theageek was so stoic, so low maintenance, he walked around with a claw embedded in his paw for Lord knows how long.

This was back in 2016, shortly after Theageek and I had been reunited. Hed shown up like so many pets in my previous life, when I workedfor CBSSports.com and livedin Fairfield, Ohio. Id go away for a work trip, come back, and thered be a dog. Then a cat. And another. My boys loved pet stores and seeing kittens and puppies at thrift markets, and their mom couldnt resist. One day, were a family of four. Next thing I know, were a family of 10: mom, dad, two children, three dogs, three cats.

Moved here to work for the IndyStar in 2014, and left behind everyone. Divorced, kids staying in Ohio one starting college, one finishing high school and pets staying, too. Poor Theageek, he was no longer getting the attention he craved. Its nobodys fault; everyones life had been upended. My boys told me Theageek was lonely. Hey, so was I.

Understand, Im allergic to cats. Badly. And he sheds horribly. Geeky little guy, he's so full of dander that when it rained, droplets turned his fur into a glue-like substance. Allergies can be addressed more easily than loneliness, though, so Theageek moved in with me. Petting him meant immediately having to washmy face afterward. Worth it. I loved sniffing on his head.

OK, so the claw in hispaw.

More personal stories from Doyel:

He was so stoic, so easy, and in my meager defense I was so new at being the sole owner of a cat, I didnt trim his nails. Didnt know. When he started limping I scooped him up, put him on my lap like a baby, and studied his paws.

The sight was shattering. One of his claws had grown so long it curved into a circle, into his paw pad, where I clipped it and pulled it out, drawing blood. Im not a tall person, 5-10 on a good day, but never in my life have I felt so small.

Even at the end, I wasnt convinced. Theageek loved Friskies cat food Seafood Sensations flavor, the blue bag and was running low. I got more at Kroger, the biggest bag, 16 pounds.

That was five days ago.

They need us all the time, our pets, but never more than at the end. They need us to see what they cant show us, hear what they cant tell us. This happened Tuesday:

Were at the Franklin Animal Clinic, the original location in Franklin, getting Theageek checked again. A man in the waiting room has a huge dog, a blue Great Dane. Hes saying his dog Blu is about 10 years old, past the breeds life expectancy. Blu looks happy and great, so thick through the chest, and the man nods sadly and mentions Blus legs.

They keep going out on him, he says.

He knows whats happening with Blu, same as I know with Theageek. Were commiserating on the decision we face, wanting to make it at the perfect time not too soon, heavens no, but not a minute too late. At that moment a vet tech comes to fetch Blu for a checkup, and his legs give out right there in the waiting room. Sweet baby dog.

In a minute Ill betelling Javier, Theageeks vettech, about the decision I face, the uncertainty. He mentions a checklist created by a vet at Ohio State University, to help pet owners facing this decision. Would I like a copy? Please, yes.

How Do I Know When Its Time, its titled, with a list of statements to be rated one (strongly agree) thru five (strongly disagree). Im going along, mostly 2s and 3s, when I reach the seventh statement:

My pet does not seem to enjoy life.

I lose it. Because I know. Theageek hasnt been following me around for a few weeks. He doesnt sleep on my bed anymore. When I find him and sniff his little head, he no longer gently purrs. He doesnt even seem to sleep much, come to think of it. Just sits on the floor in that Sphinx position, awake.

My cat is dying, right before my eyes.

Let me tell you about the Franklin Animal Clinic.

Ive written those words before Let me tell you about… when we had to put down my sons cat, Marms, in 2020. The clinic was wonderful then, and wonderful Thursday. Im calling to set up the last appointment Theageek will ever need, struggling to get out the words and apologizing, and the receptionist, an angel named Natalie, is softly saying its OK. Two years ago Id made the same hard phone call about Marms, and another receptionist, Holly, had handled me the same way.

More Doyel on cats:

Now Im asking Natalie if I can speak with Javier, the vet tech. Basically I want him to say Im doing the right thing, putting him in a terrible position and knowing it and apologizing some more. Javiers calm and wonderful and threading the needle just right: supporting my decision without telling me what to do. Hes letting me decide, but not letting me feel terrible about it.

I scoop up Theageek from his Sphinx position in the hall and drive him to the clinics Greenwood location. Javier is there today. So is Dr. Record. Theyve been with me every step of the way. I need them for one more.

Holly leads me into a private room, and guess whats framed on the wall? The story I wrote about Marms in 2020. Theyve given it a place of honor.

Javier comes in, explains the procedure, makes sure Im ready, then takes Theageek to get a catheter in his right paw. While I wait, I call Theageeks vet in Ohio. I tell them whats happening here in Greenwood, and ask a question: "What did Theageek weigh in those days?" They pull up his records, tell me his birthdate Aug. 14, 2005 and say something shocking: He generally weighed about 20 pounds.

This is too much, so hurtful to hear I couldnt see my cat, my responsibility, wasting away? but now Javy is bringing Theageek back to me, making sure Im ready, and then leaving us alone. The door opens soon, and its Dr. Record with several vials of liquid. One is a sedative, a clear liquid that will relax Theageek until he falls asleep. The pink medicine is anesthesia, a lovingly high dose that will send him along his way.

Theageeks lying on my lap, face up.Hes staring at me as the clear medication goes into his vein, and now hes asleep, unconscious really, his eyes still open.

Next comes the pink medicine. Hes gone but still with me, staring at me as I stareback, seeing my reflection in his eyes.

More:Join the text conversation with Gregg Doyel for reader questions, first links to columns and exclusive peeks behind thesports curtain (and under Doyel's hood):

Find IndyStar columnist Gregg Doyel on Twitter at @GreggDoyelStar or at http://www.facebook.com/greggdoyelstar.

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Doyel: Theageek needed me always, but never more than at the end - IndyStar

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