Resurrecting Kato (and other memories of pets gone by)
Can you think of a scenario more nostalgic than one in which you’re forced to undertake a picture-by-picture, letter-by-letter purge of your personal life?
Long-departed pets shoulder their way back in, their images proliferating on your bedspread. Their old tags tinkle alongside Canine Good Citizen certificates as a ream of ancient adoption paperwork flutters to the floor.
Spring cleaning is underway in spectacular fashion in the Khuly household. Yes, I know it’s not spring. In my defense, I did start in spring. It just so happens this year’s been a long, slow burn kind of “clean.”
Remember the last time you moved and all the crap that went out the window? This go-round is perhaps even more thorough than that. The kind of clean-out that happens only a few times in your life. (Case in point: over a thousand old books have already been adopted into good homes or donated to the library in advance of my new Kindle.)
But it’s not just about upending boxes of old photos and digging up glorious animal treasures. Aided by this summer’s failure of hot water heaters (plural), a well pump, and my electrical panel (you should see last month’s electricity bill) along with a mold problem and an exterior rotting wood scenario, this year’s spring fling won’t likely be complete ‘till Christmastime.
You know how it is. Whether it’s time to move or just time to sit down and mindfully organize your life’s possessions, it’s always frustrating to sort through the chaff...but immensely rewarding to rediscover the wheat along the way. And sometimes, if you can get past the tears, it’s cathartic to revisit the times and places that have defined your life.
Among the glories: Embarrassing pics from my first college road trip (that hair!). Graduation snapshots from high school (God, I hated that place). Black and whites of two boxers playing in the Philadelphia snow (color shots would have been a travesty for that foul neighborhood). Newborn portraits from my son’s first day home from the hospital. All the long-gone cats, dogs, birds and the one pretty pony from my tween years.
And then there was the piece de resistance: A patient’s cage card I’d saved from my very first euthanasia.
Kato was a young boxer whose undefinable autoimmune joint disorder had led to high fevers and debilitating pain. Despite what must have been agony (if what humans describe for similar situations is any measure), Kato never lost his drive to lick your hand, wiggle his stumpy tail in a perpetual windshield-wiper motion or give a happy-ear look whenever you peeked in on him. All this from a prone position atop his orthopedic mattress in the hospital ward where he lived for a week amid a blur of potent pain meds and a scrub-clad crowd of soon-to-be-vets.
After a week and a series of immunocompromising drugs had failed to bring him any relief, his kidneys rebelled and Kato declined. That’s when I was handed the syringe and asked to participate––if I could––in his euthanasia.
Afterwards, as I wheeled him to the necropsy room behind a veil of tears, a wise vet hospital worker spoke to me: "Remember how you feel right now and keep it with you for your whole career. If you can do that you’ll be a great vet, no matter what else happens."
It’s only a 1.5 x 3-inch sliver of blue molded plastic. But it looks kind of odd amid all the kooky costume jewelry I used to wear in vet school. That’s why after this weekend’s box-raiding session it’s time to give it a proper place. It’s own frame, perhaps? In a stately spot in my home office?
Maybe it’s a morbid thought, but sometimes resurrecting the dead is doable after revisiting a pile of ragtag ruins––even when they happen to come from a moldy closet alongside a leaky water heater. Luckily, some things can be repaired. And when they can’t, at least they can be well-remembered.