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Old 01-30-2010, 10:58 PM   #1
redbopeep's Avatar
Join Date: Jun 2007
Home Port: Washington DC
Vessel Name: SV Mahdee
Posts: 3,236

I thought long and hard about where to post this topic. I decided that under the "living aboard" forum was the place it fit.

Almost everyone has had a pet get sick and die. Most often it doesn't happen aboard one's boat.

We've had four beloved cats in the last quarter century. Each lived a long life and died of various diseases associated with age. Each time it's been different and heart breaking. I suppose that's the way it is with pets. They capture your heart and hold fast. Of our three previous pets who'd passed on, one we buried with a rose bush and bench marking his grave; another we buried in a nearby spot in the garden; the third died at home, on land, but we buried at sea--in the Pacific Ocean--his final resting place about 20 miles offshore in the center of a no-fishing zone/fish sanctuary.

Beamer was 15-1/2 and had been robust and healthy his entire life. Until last month when asthma (or another undiagnosed bronchial condition) really started impacting his breathing, that is. We watched him go from a talkative "purrball" to a frightened kitty gasping for air.

We happened to have an appointment on January 5th for him at the vet for a check up and a special blood test to enable us to shorten his quarantine period in Hawaii this May (from 4 months to 5 days!)--and like all boaters who live aboard with pets, we had to consider how best to get him to and from the vet's office. Beamer really doesn't relish dingy rides, so, we arranged to be on a public dock on the appointment day. His breathing problems had started a couple weeks before the appointment, but they weren't yet severe and we decided to wait until the appointment.

On January 5th, he had very labored breathing--the ride in his carrier from dock cart to car to vet's office seemed to cause more stress than the usual trip. The vet took X-rays, drew blood for numerous tests, and administered oxygen. As we waited, we looked at the charts on the walls--one of them comparing cat years of life to people years of life. Our 15 year old cat was...well...off the charts but it would seem that by extrapolation of the chart...he's 85 years old in people years....

Four hours and $700 later, we came home with meds to lower blood pressure (just in case it was his heart), antibiotics (just in case he had an infection) and steroids to reduce inflammation in his lungs. Long-lasting systemic meds these were, so we were prepared for a couple weeks of touch-and-go until they really kicked in. Twice a day, religiously at 9 am and 9 pm I prepared his meds into "Pill Pockets" (a treat to hide meds in) and fooled Beamer into eating them as we played our "treat game" that he and I have played for more than a year. In the normal-no-med treat game, I shake the treat bag, Beamer comes running and immediately stands up on his hind legs to be rewarded with a treat...or two...or three...

In the pill-pocket med-loaded treat game, we digressed into me shaking the treat bag and Beamer jumping into my chair where he would sit and be fed treat after treat...some with meds and some of the normal variety. Sort of like a king being fed bonbons, he really liked this new version of the treat game.

As we waited for the meds to kick in, we were in anguish when Beamer had what appeared to be a full fledged asthma attack. The vet had not prescribed a bronchial dilator and he was clearly very hypoxic a few times. We wrung our hands and then realized that we could use the oxygen that we keep (on deck) as part of a small oxygen/acetylene torch for brazing! So, for a couple weeks we administered oxygen to Beamer as needed, 15 minutes at a time, via a small plastic tube attached to the welding tip and held in front of his nose and mouth as he tried to breath. It worked a charm! And, the need diminished as the meds began to kick in after about 2 weeks. We were out of oxygen in the tank, but it seemed that it was no longer needed.

A week ago, for just a couple days, all was really very well--Beamer began talking and purring again. We were so exited! Beamer was his old self again.

This improvement was simultaneous to the date that we were supposed to reduce his steroid use to 1/2 dose. But, with the reduced dose, he began having more severe asthma attacks again. In just a few days, he was in much worse condition than we'd ever seen. We were at anchor, so we didn't want to put him through the stress of dingy ride and lengthy dockside wait while we wrangled the car to take him to the vet. I called the vet and talked her into prescribing a bronchial dilator med and she advised me to give Beamer a triple dose of the steroid. David dashed off the boat with oxy tank (to get it re-filled at the local air-gas/welding shop) and directions to the Rite-Aid pharmacy. I gave the steroid and waited for David's return.

David returned to the boat with oxygen and meds and we began giving both to Beamer. Unfortunately, the bronchial dilator was a pill that would work via Beamer's system, not an inhaler. The vet had ordered a special inhaler but it would not be available for a few more days. As before, the oxygen immediately "pepped" up Beamer. His gums went from gray to pink and his breathing less labored. With oxygen in use, we couldn't use our alcohol stove or our wood stove/heater. We ate peanut butter and crackers, petted Beamer and gave him oxygen for 10 minutes every hour. He was getting markedly weaker, though, and clearly was "on the way out."

We struggled with the "what do we do?" decision. Of the three cats that we'd had pass away, two had died at home with us nearby and one we took to the vet for euthanasia when we realized that her systems were shutting down and that she was dying.

Beamer was at that point--but here, on the boat, a "gentle ride" to the vet wasn't going to happen. The stress of a dingy ride on the way to the vet really wasn't what we wanted for his last hours of life. We made the tough decision to stop administering oxygen when we could see that his gums were not remaining pink and his weakened breathing wasn't supporting his life systems. He died within the hour.

That was early this morning. We cried and prepared to take Beamer out for a burial at sea. Another fish sanctuary is only 20 or so miles offshore. A fine resting spot for a seafaring cat. We'll give him an Irish wake tonight--drinking and recounting stories of his wonderful impact on us during his life. He loved the boat more than any place we've lived. Food bowl and litter box underfoot--it's feeling a little strange to not have to step over his purring body as he lay in his favorite spot taking up the passageway between the galley and the main saloon.

"Do or do not. There is no try." - Yoda

What we're doing - The sailing life aboard and the Schooner Chandlery.

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Old 01-30-2010, 11:42 PM   #2
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Join Date: Jul 2004
Posts: 2,098

I am so sorry for your loss. Beamer had great care and a loving home for 15 years, but his loss still hurts, I know.

I think a fish sanctuary is such a good resting place for him.

R.I.P. Beamer

In 1986 we went cruising for a few years. After 20 years and 50+ countries and several oceans, we are STILL "cruising for a few years".

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Old 01-31-2010, 12:23 AM   #3
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So Sorry!
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Old 01-31-2010, 07:47 AM   #4
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So sorry to hear of the loss of Beamer. Our pets become so close and part of our lives and we mourn their loss badly.

Thank you for the great post that enabled us to share this with you both.

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Old 01-31-2010, 12:25 PM   #5
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Join Date: Jan 2010
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Vessel Name: Boomerang!
Posts: 112


Very sad indeed....we too have one on his way out....and having lost a few pets in our lives, being major dog and kitty lovers, it never gets easier. It, to me, is like losing a child...though I have not lost one of those yet.

We feel your pain...but know that he has gone on to cleaner and softer waters...on a boat as its captain, having learned from you, both a love of life, and of sailing...


S/V Boomerang!

1980 Cal 39 Mark II

St Michaels, MD
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