My school friends made fun of me when I told them I performed CPR on our family cat Ariel. I was in seventh or eighth grade, so he was only six or seven years old when he died.
He was so friendly and peaceful, my mother called him the Butterball Buddha. Yes, he was very fat, weighing well over twenty pounds, but he was also very strong. He could pull open the glass sliding door to the deck using just his claws. He might have been the biggest domestic cat I have ever seen. I didn’t realize how enormous he was until he followed my family to a neighbor’s house without us knowing. When we rang the doorbell a black beast the size of a bobcat came up behind us and mewed. Despite his size, he had a high-pitched voice. Ariel wasn’t a Maine coon or a Norwegian forest cat, just a humble domestic shorthair from a farm. He was all black except for a white patch on his lower tummy.
Death is not peaceful. Death is grotesque. I walked into my parents’ room one night to see Ariel seizing on their bed, eyes glassy, tongue lolling out. I screamed and my mother came running out of the shower. When Ariel’s body became still, I did the only thing I could think of and started CPR. I tried to remember what I had learned several years before in Girl Scouts. Was the body of such a large cat more like an infant or a child? CPR instructions are different depending on age. Back then, the emphasis of CPR training had been on giving rescue breaths to the victim (now the emphasis is on chest compressions). At first, I cupped my hands around his mouth to funnel my breath into his mouth, because I didn’t want to put my mouth on the cat. I don’t think I was grossed out, but I felt like I should be. Normal girls do not give mouth to mouth to animals. It’s just a cat, not a human. When it became evident that my distant CPR wasn’t working. I put my mouth around the cat’s mouth and nose like I learned to with an infant, but Ariel was too far gone.
My mother drove us nearly an hour to get to the closest 24hr vet hospital. I sobbed as Ariel’s body became colder and colder in my lap. We knew it was too late, but we drove desperately anyway, not knowing what else to do. The vet offered us an autopsy and we consented. What had killed our gentle giant?
The next day, I told my school friends and they thought it was weird and disgusting. They ridiculed me. My dad told me that when he got to work and told his coworkers that his cat had died, they got very quiet and said, “I’m sorry for your loss.” It made me feel better to know that adults felt the gravity of losing a beloved pet, even if teenagers had difficulty understanding another person’s grief. My parents were very proud of me for attempting CPR on Ariel even if I felt embarrassed.
The autopsy revealed that Ariel had a genetic heart defect worsened by his size and a lack of taurine in his diet, since we only fed him dry food and not all dry foods provide sufficient levels of taurine. Although it is unlikely that I could have done anything to save Ariel, the current method of CPR, which focuses on chest compressions rather than breathing, would be more effective on an animal suffering a heart attack.
Don’t be aid to step in and fight for your critter’s life. Anyone who tries should be proud. As an adult, I am proud of myself. While there are no regular pet first aid classes in the Portland area, The Rose City Veterinary Hospital, Dove Lewis, the Red Cross, and the VCA Specialty Vet, all offer classes a few times a year. The VCA has a pet first aid class coming up on September 15 at the Oregon Human Society. Call them or check their website for more information.