Time finally came to bid goodbye to Paco

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.

20 thoughts on “Time finally came to bid goodbye to Paco

  1. This is indeed the most difficult decision, most difficult moment, we face when we love an animal. How lovely that Dr. Vázquez was (is) as sensitive to that moment as he was. You and Stew are such wonderful guardians – I dare say a four-legged friend could not ask for better. I am familiar with the pain of this day coming, and know you and Stew are each a comfort to the other whether you think so or not at any given moment. Your tender hearts are what allow you to be such wonderful guardians. Kahlil was right: “When you are sorrowful, look again in your heart, and you shall see that in truth you are weeping for that which has been your delight.” ~Kahlil Gibran


  2. We who choose to surround ourselves with lives even more temporary than our own live within a fragile circle; easily and often breached.Unable to accept its awful gaps, we would still live no other way.We cherish memory as the only certain immortality, never fully understanding the necessary plan. — Irving Townsend


  3. I like to read things written by people with kind hearts – it makes me remember that there is still a lot of goodness in this world. My condolences to you all (including your vet) on the loss of your beloved cat.


  4. I'm so so sorry for the loss of your beloved Paco. Dr. Vazquez is indeed such a gentle giant in helping at all times, but especially at the end……..some day I'll tell you a couple of stories of such thoughtful experiences that I and my departed pets, Flash and Velcro, had with him. Hugs!


  5. He really is one of the best vets we've found, here or in the States. He's very competent and compassionate. He hasn't lost his love for animals even after practicing for so many years. How did your knee thing turn out? Are you back in San Miguel?al


  6. Thought I would publish Dr. Vázquez contact information for anyone in San Miguel looking for an excellent vet. He's at 16 Plaza Primavera, #189 Salida Real a Querétaro. 415-152-6274.Plaza Primavera is a small shopping strip on the Salida a Querétaro, next to the small Pollo Feliz and the Pemex gas station, before reaching the glorieta by the Luciérnaga Shopping Mall. Easy parking next to his clinic. He accepts credit cards and speaks English.


  7. Sweet jesus, I'm crying and have never met this cat.I second the “delight” sentiment, so we'll expressed above.That ranch of yours has a long history of life and love.So awesome.


  8. Anonymous

    Oh, this is so sad. I know how hard it is to lose a family member. My two cats both died in the last few years, and it was a very sad time for me, my ex (who went with me to the vet's as we had owned the cats together), and the vet too. We both cried in the vet's office. But yes, you've done the right thing. More importantly, you took Paco out of a very difficult situation and gave him a loving, lifetime home. Just cherish his memory and remember the good times. Kim GRedding, CA


  9. That's what happens when you prejudge people. I've never met you yet I imagined your as a footloose kind of guy, not a domestic cat owner. Thank you for your kind words and condolence. I really appreciate them.al


  10. Those were too beautiful cats. I wonder why they haven't figured out what causes renal failure in cats or how it can be, if not cured, at least contained. It seems that is the bigger killer of cats, and it's not a quick or painless death either. Paco died of liver failure. I've seen some foods that claim to avert kidney failure in cats, but I don't know if they are any good. Now go get another two or three new cats. al


  11. I just read your blog and I am crying. I have had to give this final gift to 4 dogs and cats and it gets no easier as you know that you will never again have the pleasure of their presence, just the memory. I have had friends ask why I get another pet after one passes (and it can take me a year to do so) and my reply is that the pleasure of the years we have together far outweighs the pain of their passing. I would rather have that pain than never to have had the experience of the love and presence of my pets. They gave you a gift, and you gave them one – ending suffering. As hard as that decision is, it was a true and honest decision made for your beloved pet, and not for you.


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