When he carefully laid Paco on the stainless steel examination table, Dr. Vázquez, almost in a whisper, said, "This is very difficult."
I don't know if he meant for himself, us, or the emaciated cat we had brought in to be euthanized. In the end it was awfully hard for everyone.
No one can accuse this gentle vet, or us, of rushing Paco's demise, who was more than sixteen years old.
This would have been the third reprieve—when we had asked Félix to dig yet another grave in our pet cemetery but then changed our mind at the behest of Vázquez, who seemed loath to put Paco to sleep.
The last time was just three days before, when he examined and palpated Paco so gently and carefully you'd think he was handling a precious vase. He injected Paco with something to reduce the inflammation in his intestines. Paco responded, resumed eating and the diarrhea ebbed but not for long.
By the time we brought him in Tuesday he was practically unresponsive. His emaciated body felt like a fragile bundle of twigs under his long black fur. At that moment I felt that perhaps we may have done this old cat no favors by postponing the inevitable. But putting a pet to sleep is always an agonizing choice.
Always a squeamish sort, I had avoided watching previous euthanasias of our pets and, unfairly, had left Stew to handle this most awful task. But this time I had decided to stand behind Stew and at least offer the comfort of my presence.
Vázquez, in his soft, accented English, kept whispering all the verities used to rationalize putting an animal to sleep: we were doing Paco a favor by putting him out of his misery; there was nothing left to be done; it was the kindest thing we could do, and so on. I don't know if he was talking to us or trying to convince himself.
Stew, trying to remain calm—a fake at which he ultimately failed—just kept reciting Paco's history, how we had found him at the animal pound in Chicago and so on, talking to no one in particular.
I wasn't much support to Stew after all, standing behind him crying and sniffling. Vazquez' wife, who doubles as his receptionist and grief counselor of sorts, reached from the other side of the wall and matter-of-factly handed me a box of Kleenex.
Indeed no words can soften the task of deliberately ending the life of a creature, no matter how one tries to rationalize it. You secretly hope they will spare you that final ordeal by dying quietly on their own, but they seldom cooperate.
Compounding our discomfort was the memory of a botched euthanasia, performed by an incompetent San Miguel vet, of our dog Pooch shortly after we'd arrived from Chicago some twelve years ago.
It was a grisly affair that took over a half hour, as this idiot kept inject more and more of whatever is used to end an animal's life directly into Pooch's heart, and the half-conscious dog just kept convulsing and refusing to die.
Paco's death was not entirely painless. He let out a loud, split-second shriek when Vázquez injected a sedative, but almost immediately went limp. Oddly, Paco kept purring ever louder. Vázquez said that purring is not necessarily a sign of pain or contentment in cats, just a respiratory function.
When Paco was completely quiet and calm, Vázquez went into the next room to fetch the medication that would snuff out whatever life was left in Paco. He injected the liquid somewhere near his chest and Paco let a loud snort, I assume the feline equivalent of the "death rattle" I had heard humans let out when they die.
We slid Paco into a blue pillowcase Stew had brought and in which we would bury him. The actual euthanasia took no more than ten minutes, if that. But it was long enough for everyone to get teary, including Vázquez.
At home, Félix had dug an oversize hole to bury Paco, just behind Ziggy, another cat we'd brought from Chicago.
Our dogs had gathered at the burial site, as if trying to pay their last respects, while Stew gently laid Paco at the bottom of the hole in his blue pillowcase.
Félix stood by with a shovel, while Stew, crying, knelt down and tried to bury Paco with handfuls of dirt.