My Life with Albus

Carolyn Jao
Dec 21, 2016 · 11 min read

I wrote this back in May, 2016. Edited and reposted here.

Left: Caro & Albus, November, 2014, Montrose Ave, Brooklyn. Right: August, 2012, Nostrand Ave, by Yuri Leonov.

Its been a little over 2 weeks now since Albus has left my world.

Right now it is 7AM on a quiet Saturday, I woke up hearing his obnoxious purr, as I’ve had many times in the past weeks since his passing. My parents are visiting for my sister’s graduation, we are supposed to meet in 2 hours. He used to always wake me up around this time, nudging his head underneath the cover for warmth.

All: E 95th Street, NY. Albus in 2009 Left: By Yuri Leonov

The Beginning

August 2009- I was set on adopting a cat and went on PetFinder. Wylie, as Albus was known then, was described as an “Outgoing boy that loves to hug!” I messaged the listing owner and set up a time to visit them in Brooklyn.

The moment I saw him in person at a small rescue shelter in Brooklyn I fell in love. A little over 12 months old, “Wylie” was vocal, affectionate, neurotic, and playful —Joe used to refer to him as my ‘Mini-me.’ Wylie probably was a fitting name for him but he was renamed to Albus, after Albus Dumbledore.

Left: Posted on the organizations Facebook. The photo to the left was the first photo I saw of Albus on Right: One of the first videos I took of Albus on my Samsung Netbook. I sent this to the foster. Upper East Side, September, 2009.

He reached up and gave Joe a hug when we met him, frantically purring and nudging. Albus was separated from the other cats due to his high energy and vocalization. I knew then he had to be the cat for me. Albus’ left ear had a little clip in it and was explained to me that that was called “Eartipping,” used to identify neutered/spayed feral cats.

Albus was there in every apartment I’ve lived in since I moved to New York- He came with me from the Upper East Side to Chelsea, from Bed-Stuy to Bushwick. Albus was my companion during my time as an art student, to working as a film producer, to building my career as a designer. He was there with me when my spirit was broken and there, still, when it was pieced back together. Albus was my son and my little brother, my headache but also my emotional rock. He was a hot mess of loving, neurotic, persistent, smart (open doors, containers, you name it), annoying, loud, affectionate, and goofy.

Left: Albus licking Joe’s Head. Ainslie St, June, 2012. Right: Joe and Albus. Upper East Side, September 2009.

I’ve kept in contact with the foster and organization (Brooklyn Animal Action) through the years to keep them updated on Albus. I was overjoyed having him in my life.

One of the many letters I exchanged with updates on Albus.

Albus’ food insecurities never quite went away, even with years of living with us. He tended to overeat and get nervous easily between meals. Many people I’ve lived with found him hard to manage. There were times where we would have to keep him in the bathroom because he would cry and scream until the morning hours (We never found a medical cause for the wailing). I’d hold him under the sheets after he calmed down, where he’d finally fall asleep with me. He always liked to knead my back.

I’ve always felt guilty about the years I was working long hours and staying out late, instead of being home. I don’t think that helped with Albus’ anxiety.

Littles and Albus, Nostrand Ave, July, 2012, by Yuri Leonov
Left: Albus and Littles, Dec 2013, Montrose Ave, Brooklyn. Right: July, 2012, Nostrand Ave, by Yuri Leonov
Left: July 2011, Central Park West. Right: November 2010, Park Slope.

July 2011, I began taking care of Littles (Full name: Little Guy Bilbo), who was a part of a litter abandoned in front of a friend’s door. At first, I wasn’t sure if we were looking to find him a home or to keep him. Albus quickly took a liking to the kitten and that was it. I was working and living alone at this point with Albus, and thought he could use a friend. They fought and tumbled but were fond of each other. My life was chaotic as I attempted to figure out where my career was leading. I moved around and had wonderful friends that helped raise the two cats. Albus and Littles both loved people, but I knew then I should start thinking about our own place. My sister, Charline, had also moved to New York and was able to spend time with Albus for the first time.

2013, things began to change.

Left: Chelsea, September 2010. Right: June 2013, Brooklyn in my apartment on Ainslie St.

Growing up

September 2013 I moved in with my partner Joe as we built our lives together. Joe was very fond of Littles but always had some reservations about living with two cats. It wasn’t easy, but we were determined to make this work. Albus still threw fits when he was in a mood. One time I closed the door on his tail accidentally and broke the tip of his tail. I cried hysterically from guilt.

The next two years Albus became much calmer. I think part of it was him getting older but also the stability of our lives now. I was working in film production with irregular hours, but switched over to an e-commerce company as a designer. Joe began working as an artist assistant.

Both: Montrose Ave, 2013. Right: Charline with Albus.

September 2015 We moved once more to Jersey City. Albus was around 7.

It was a big apartment and Albus and Littles quickly adjusted to the new place. In November after we moved we noticed Albus had skin lesions around his abdomen and nipple area. I took him to the vet and since he had a history of allergies, we tried adjusting his diet. It seemed to help a little.

Left: Albus with Littles. Jersey City, December, 2015. Right: Albus kneading, Jersey City, January 30th, 2016

Late December 2015 I left to visit family in Taiwan over the winter holidays and when I came back January 2016, things were different. He lost some weight, and was more acting more erratically. His lesions had come back and spread to his back paws. In February 2016 we put a cone on Albus to stop him from licking his wounds. It seemed to help a little but the moment we took the cone off, he would rip his wounds open and start bleeding again. We knew something was really wrong when he started yowling all night and the lesions spread to other parts of his abdomen. The vet trips were stressing him out — Albus soiled himself in panic and fear from the repeated trips. The doctors diagnosed him with an autoimmune skin disease and started him on steroids. We thought he showed some minor improvement.

April 2016 Albus went from 16 lbs to 9 lbs. in a few short months. He was vocalizing in pain & withdrawn. The steroids didn’t seem to be helping him anymore. We took him to a specialist and they kept him overnight for a biopsy. I picked him up at 5:30AM from Midtown Manhattan and took him home. The assistant said that he did well and had a good appetite.

Left: Jersey City, February, 2016. Right: Jersey City, April 2016.

After a week, Albus’ vet called with the diagnosis. The sample was sent to University of Pennsylvania School of Veterinary Medicine and results were mostly likely determined to be Cutaneous lymphosarcoma, a type of skin cancer. I didn’t know what that meant, but the doctor assured me that they were sure enough to start Albus’ on chemo treatment. That can give him some more time, but with side effects. Probably 3 to 6 months.

I asked if there were any other possibilities or tests we could run. The doctor said that she would run another test on the sample to see if it’s a different type of infection. She would let me know in 2 or 3 days.

I asked if it could still be the autoimmune skin disease, the doctor told me it was unlikely and that he hadn’t improved in months. She mentioned that we could try a different steroid treatment if I felt strongly about it.

The doctor called back and mentioned that the test came back negative for an infection. She asked if we wanted to begin chemo treatment, which would be twice a week visits to begin. We would have to try different combinations and evaluate the side effects before we found the right one. I said I will have to think about this.

At home, Littles had been acting up and marking more than he had before. Albus was kept with a cone in in my room- He still purred and ate, but he was tired from medication and cannot clean himself because of the cone. He frequently missed the litter box and began violently scratching his body with his back paws. Every night we’d clean him and apply ointments on the wounds that were bleeding. I kept Albus in my room with the door shut as Joe slept in our second bedroom, since he cried through the night. I couldn’t remember the last time I slept well, we were so tired.

April 2016, we began hospice care for Albus and preparation for euthanasia.

The End

I read and contemplated on the various Quality of Life Scales and other resources out there. I spoke to my vet, to Joe, and to my friends. I realized that a pet’s death means very different things to people. I’ve heard both words of compassion and ridicule. I didn’t take the comments personally- instead I realized then that each relationship and bond is different.

You are The Person responsible for the life or death of your pet. You’ll hear this, and it’s completely true for me — You will never know if you made the right call. I will continue to wonder if we decided too soon. I can, wholeheartedly, tell you that I believe that it is better to be early than to be too late.

There is an option to wait until the crisis mode happens- it may be easier to make the decision, but I knew that wouldn’t be how I want to spend our last moments. We don’t often get to choose how to say good-bye, and I know I wanted to be prepared. I wanted to plan our last moments together.

I was horrified that I felt, for the first time in months, relief. The decision that we were going to put Albus to sleep was devastating but meant we didn’t have to watch him suffer anymore.

Albus’ last day. May 2016, Jersey City.

May 2016 — Albus and I spent the night before the scheduled appointment watching TV and he slept with me on the couch. I worked at home the next day and Albus napped on my lap. Joe came home and we spend the last few hours spending time together. He didn’t have too much energy at this point, but I could tell he was having a good day with us. I fed him his favorite Weruva cat food.

We didn’t want Albus to have to go through another vet trip. We used Lap Of Love home euthanasia. I remember thinking about how people have stories seeing their pets just knowing they were ready. I didn’t really see that. Animals don’t think about death or pain the same way we do, they live in the present. They know it hurts right now.

When the doctor arrived later in the evening (we scheduled our appointment for Friday evening, so we could have the weekend off) I put Albus into my room while we spoke to the doctor. Back in the day he would always take a glimpse at who was here, but he just stayed in the room at the edge of my bed, he’s tired.

The vet talked us through what was going to happen next, while Littles roamed around. I set up my room with candles and some peaceful music while Albus dozed off. I took off his cone. We setup at the edge of the bed — one of his favorite spots — with soft blankets.

First the doctor administered a sedative shot- Albus was alarmed and jumped away, the doctor explained that this is common. He was anxious. Soon though, he was sleepy and rested on my lap. He purred and purred out of fear, but he became really tired. Joe held me and we were both crying.

I held him on my lap and we pet his head- I told him I was going to miss his stinky face and hugs, and that everything would be okay. I thanked him for spending his life with me. The doctor administered the second shot and Albus lets out a long sigh. Then, stillness.

Left: by Jing Yu Right: Note from Lap Of Love

I originally wrote this on Facebook but as the year closes, I thought about expanding on what Albus and I experienced together. I’ve also received a few questions about the euthanasia process and hope some of this information will be helpful. It was an emotional process to find all my old photos and reflect on each phase of my life with Albus but I honestly couldn’t think of a better way to remember him.

Montrose Ave, March 2013


Musings of two Jaos

Carolyn Jao

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Musings of two Jaos