Goodbye Asia, 2004-2023

Today we had to say goodbye to our beloved cat, Asia, aged about 19 years … and probably 11 of her 9 lives.

Asia, taken in May 2021

I’ve never been comfortable with euthanasia, not even the concept of it. The idea that we can take away another being’s life to ease pain is foreign to me … but then, the kind of pain that requires euthanasia is also foreign to me, so I cannot imagine what is needed to take away a life that I find so precious.

Thus it was that I delayed so much with Asia.

Alex and I adopted Asia, a stray with the Calgary Humane Society, in February 2006. She was estimated to be 18 months old at the time. A torbi tabby with white paws, chin, and belly, she was as cold and aloof as any stereotypical cat could be. But we would soon learn that she was not stereotypical at all.

Alex, for the record, is allergic to cats. But she loves them and had wanted one all her life, especially after the cat she had known as a child had to be taken away because her allergies had reared. As an adult, she really wanted to try. We got an air purifier to be near the bed, we tried to keep Asia out of the bedroom unsuccessfully, proving she wasn’t so aloof. We came close to having to give her away, but Alex made one more valiant push … and her allergies seemed to throw in the towel and accept that there was a cat. At least one cat, Asia.

It wasn’t until Alex was pregnant that Asia learned the joy of laps. And then she was around us much more than before. She slept on our bed, cuddled up with us on couches, even tolerated being picked up for longer periods of time.

And then she moved with us to Costa Rica. The poor kitty was trapped in a soft-sided travel bag for nearly 14 hours straight, save for a break in Houston to get some fresh air. She lived in an apartment without a yard, she didn’t see grass except from a balcony for a year and a half.

And she loved grass. And lying in dirt, hiding under the bushes in our front yard back in Calgary. She was terrified of the plentiful jackrabbits that hopped about, so never went near them. She wasn’t particular fond of the other cats, though thankfully never got into a fight with Molly, who was the primary troublemaker. (A black cat in our current house, whom we’ve dubbed “Shitty Kitty”, is an entire other matter. We’ve been thinking of various traps for the feline monster.)

Asia had asthma. I’ve heard in the years since she was diagnosed that it can come from allergies to humans. This is my second cat with asthma, and … maybe it’s me? I hope not. She had to have a daily inhaler for most of her life to ease her breathing, and about every three months got a shot of depomedrol, a steroid that dealt with the worst of it.

Our vet, Dr. Sasa Karagic, saw Asia regularly in his little clinic next to the Petsmart across from Chinook Mall. He had come recommended to me years earlier from a co-worker, and we came to trust his judgement and adored his care of our kitty, even though he was sometimes brusque (something I’ve come to expect from those from Eastern Europe, so it doesn’t faze me).

Even through the worst experience, a mysterious ailment that brought her to death’s door (I still wonder to this day if it was a result of her somehow ingesting fibreglass), multiple tests, x-rays, and ultrasounds, and we came within a breath of deciding to put her down, Dr. Sasa talked us out of it, and prescribed metrodiazonal, which is about as miracle a drug as I’ve ever seen. Asia was back.

But she was old. Arthritis was setting in, her joints were failing, ear infections might have led to deafness (we’re not sure), and then we got the news that her kidneys were starting to fail. All the years of depomedrol shots to keep her breathing might have finally caused her end, something we were warned about shortly after Asia started getting them, a side-effect of the drug. Blood tests confirmed that matters were worsening, quickly.

In her final months, Asia limped (and stumbled) through on gabapentin, another miracle drug that minimized the pain she felt, which we can only assume was considerable given how much more easily she could move. But she could barely jump, I built her a set of steps to climb up and down from our front window bench where she could lay in the morning sunshine.

And it was in her beloved sunshine where she came to her end. Dr. Sasa and his staff came to our home. And it was without doubt the single hardest thing I think I’ve ever had to face in my life, even harder than losing my father. Asia had been with us for 17 long, wonderful years, and it was impossible to let her go. I think even Sasa might have been moved by our reaction.

Monkey came back home from school to say goodbye to her furry older sister. I think as hard as it was for me, it was even harder for her. Monkey was born into a cat household, Asia was present from the moment Monkey came home. Every morning when she got up, the first thing she would do is find Asia to say “good morning” (sometimes it was only babble, but that’s what toddlers do). But I cannot stress enough how proud I am of her for her bravery, facing this moment in her life, through all the tears and sorrow and ache, especially as a teenager. She’s so much stronger than me at that age, even twice that age.

And then she was gone. I was a sobbing mess. Even now, it’s hard to type through the grief. But as was said on Marvel’s WandaVision:

What is grief, if not love persevering?

(Hey, say what you will about superhero movies or the MCU or comic books, but there is often insightful, wise things that arise from the full. This stuck with me the moment I heard it, and it was one of the first things I said to Monkey, an MCU fan, who immediately corrected me because I got it wrong.)

Farewell, Asia. And thank you for all of your love over the years, whatever you were willing to offer. We are so much better for it.

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