Sunday, May 10, 2009


Yesterday was one of the worst days of my life.

It strikes me as somewhat strange that one of these horrible moments comes around almost every ten years on the nose.

Essentially the decision to put Manhattan to sleep was made on Thursday night. When we brought her into see her doctor that evening, there were three separate pieces of bad news.

The first was that her kidney values had increased once again, suggesting further deterioration of the kidney's ability to filter out toxin. Even more disturbing was her continued weight loss. In just four short days she had lost another 6 ounces breaking the six pound mark. Had she not been eating, this might have made some sense, but her appetite was more than just okay.

The final straw came from her veterinarian, Dr. Smith. She told us that upon physical inspection of Manhattan's belly her intestines felt swollen like rigid garden hoses. This suggested, at best, a violent inflammation of the intestinal tract. More likely, it suggested intestinal cancer. This certainly would explain the violent and unexpected weight loss.

Saturday morning started early, as I drove the rented Ford Escape into midtown over the 59th Street Bridge. The first thing I noticed was a heavy fog that completely obscured the island of Manhattan. I knew that in just a few short hours my Manhattan would be gone as well.

Forty five minutes before our appointment, I picked up my beautiful friend. She was awake, laying on her favorite robe, but with a tired look in her eyes. The painkillers, given to her on Thursday, had now almost completely worn off and the returning discomfort had most likely kept her up most of the night. That made two of us.

Before I placed her in the carrier for the last time, I spent fifteen minutes saying my last goodbye. I tried desperately to look directly into her sunken eyes, and eventually rested my head gently against her furry belly. I remember how warm she felt against my cheek and how incredibly cold I felt inside.

On the way to the car I held her mesh carrier up to every pigeon I could find. I wanted to squeeze out every last drop of her life before it was taken away from her. What I really wanted to do was to stop time completely. At that moment, I would have happily given up every single one of my possessions just to buy her another few years.

If you are interested, the details of what goes on during a feline euthanasia are available on the Internet. Frankly, I do not want to go into them, but I can tell you that you will never experience ten minutes that go by more slowly. The only remarkable thing about this visit, was the woman that performed the procedure. Her name is Dr. Smith and she works at the Astoria Veterinary Group.

For starters, she opened the office early for us so that we would not be rushed. Every step was handled with sensitivity and dignity. At each stage she asked us if we were okay, and then proceeded only when she knew we were ready.

After Manhattan slipped away peacefully, Dr. Smith gently kissed her on the nose. Together, we wrapped her body in a soft piece of of navy blue fleece. In actuality, it was the cover of the L.L. Bean bed that I had bought for her right after I adopted her. It was boldly embroidered with her name. After that, we placed her in the makeshift casket that I was able to find the day before and around that we carefully wrapped white ribbon.

The drive out to Shelter Island was long, the traffic was bad, and I was already exhausted with sorrow. However, as you head further out on Long Island the cars thin off into nothing and the road becomes a single lane.

Off of route 25, we pulled into a small nursery and picked out a very nice dwarf blue spruce tree. It barely fit into the small rented SUV.

Once out on the island, I dropped into a small florist to buy my mom a Mother's Day orchid.

I added to the order one single peach colored rose.

The purpose of driving Manhattan out all this way was to bury her alongside my family home. By the time we arrived, the day was quickly fading, but with the help of my step-father we dug a deep grave and carefully placed her tiny casket in a fortified cavity at the bottom. We filled in the displaced soil and then directly above that planted the blue spruce. In front of that, we carefully placed Manhattan's rose.

This little tree now sits prominently in the sun next to our front porch.

My hope is that this baby blue spruce, with some help, will one day reach itself up to the top deck where my bedroom now sits.

If so, I can once again sleep with my best buddy Manhattan by my side.

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Saturday, May 09, 2009

Goodbye Old Girl

Manhattan Matthes

Born: March 27th, 1993

Died: May 9th, 2009 at 10:16AM

Today the sickness died, but you will live forever.

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Monday, May 04, 2009

Torn To Pieces

I have not posted for the last month because I have been working like a mad man. It seemed like one shoot followed the other like a chain of elephants. This left me with so little time for anything other than producing and shooting with my new camera. First there was an effects heavy, green screen music video. Then several interview projects. Then the new national WebMD campaign.

I was so transfixed with working, that I started to forget what was really important to me.

For quite a while, I have been aware that my cat's health has been declining. She has a overactive thyroid condition and her kidney values have been slowly deteriorating. These two conditions are not unusual in a 16 year-old cat. In fact one of my last blog posts was a celebration of that impressive milestone.

However, as I concentrated on my own work issues, I did not clearly see what was happening to her. Out of sight, and somewhat in the background, the darkness seemed to creep in.

Last year, Manhattan was a solid 10 pound cat. In the past year, her thyroid condition caused her to drop a couple pounds. You can see from this picture, taken several weeks ago, that her normally wide face has narrowed slightly.

When I finally took a good look at her this past weekend she seemed alarmingly thin to me. I quickly packed her up in her carrier and headed off to he vet. When the doctor placed her on the scale, we were both shocked to see that she had lost another full pound in just the past month.

The veterinarian immediately gave Manhattan some electrolyte fluids and her thyroid pill. She then told me that she felt taking blood tests was unnecessary. The vet explained that the tests would undoubtedly show further kidney decline and thereby call for more pills. When a cat has failing kidneys, more pills is only going to worsen the problem.

It quickly became obvious that the vet was explaining to me that further treatment was not a very good idea.

Manhattan is not a lap cat, and you might even accuse her of not being very affectionate. Like a lot of cats, she loves you when she is hungry and quite content to do her own thing when she is not. I adopted her as a nine year old, but I often think about how nice it would have been to have known her as a tiny kitten. I wonder if she was as fiercely independent even then.

However, at this point in the grim conversation Manhattan walked across the examination table and buried her head between my arm and body as if to say "protect me". The vet saw this and slowly smiled at me. Instantly tears started to stream down my face.

Manhattan is part of my family, and I love her with all of my heart. When you love someone, it is your unspoken duty to protect them from harm. There is no amount of money that I would not give to save her. If I could, I would happily give years of my own life to extend hers. Obviously, this is not an option available to me.

What I am faced with, is a decision that is emotionally tearing me apart.

In order to protect Manhattan from future suffering, I am going to be asked to order the end of her life.

All I can think about is the last seven years.

*The day I first saw her in the shelter window. She looked up at me with her big soulful eyes and said "get me out of here".

*The day her picture was displayed in Times Square after winning a Yahoo photo contest.

*When I was very sick in 2005, she sensed it, and against her own rules slept by my side night after night.

*Last month, when I brought home her birthday present, she slept in it for several days straight.

How can I be the agent of her death?

On the other hand, if I do not make a clear decision, how can I let her waste away and stoically suffer?

There is no way I could ever be a veterinarian. I know that they must be faced with this difficult decision many times a year. When it the right time? How can you tell when the humane line has been crossed?

This week, I will spend as much time as I can with her. I will watch her and try to ascertain her overall condition. I can only hope that God will give me an unmistakable sign to tell me when the time has come. Even if I see that sign clearly, I know that it will tear me apart to have to hold my excellent friend while she quietly passes away.

“We never understand how little we need in this world until we know the loss of it”

~ James Matthew Barrie

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