It was just a month ago that ScientificAmerican.com reported the happy tale of a lost cat named George that came home 13 years after rescuers traced his owners through information on a microchip in the scruff of his neck.
He was nearly 17, sick and rail-thin, less than half the robust nearly 14 pounds (6.4 kilograms) he was when he mysteriously disappeared in June 1995. But Frank Walburg and Melinda Merman of Santa Rosa, Calif., were happy to have him home, and set about trying to bulk up their long-lost kitty and restore his health.
They spent weeks pampering and comforting George, giving him antibiotics and feeding him baby food using their fingertips until he was strong enough to eat on his own. Their feline friend, gray with a tinge of brown and wide golden eyes, gained a few ounces and perked up mightily with all of their TLC, taking strolls in the garden and even playing a bit like he did in his younger, heartier days, Walburg told SciAm.com during an interview shortly after George came home.
He said that he and Merman were hopeful they might be able to save George, but they knew it would be a tough slog. After all, their boy was no spring chicken and was quite frail and under the weather. (His vet found he was suffering from a disease called toxoplasmosis that can often be treated with antibiotics.)
Merman chronicled their days with George on her blog after his return on November 5, noting that some days he did well, eating and gaining an ounce or two, but other days, not so well.
On November 19, she reported that George was hospitalized to pump him with IV fluids; the vet was "disappointed" the patient had not put more meat on his bones or showed more signs of improvement, and wanted to run more tests.
The next day, a sonogram revealed that he had cancer.
"We're bringing him home tomorrow," Merman wrote, "and will keep him as happy as we can for as long as he wants." It was clear, she noted sadly, that George would "not recover from the cancer."
After that, the cat that came back actually had some very good days.
"George is doing really well," Merman wrote on December 2. "He's eating very well, sleeping really well and is very interested and engaged in everything around him…. He still enjoys a daily stroll around the garden if it's sunny or around the house otherwise."
Alas, his appetite waned after that but would pick up once more last Sunday.
"I went in with the remains of the jar of chicken baby food I'd opened for him that morning. He finished it all and purred up a storm," Merman reported on her blog on Tuesday. Later that day, she said, he lumbered through the garden with Walburg. "He had a path in mind and followed it."
"George didn't eat anything more after the baby food," Merman noted. "He loved it as a kitten and I guess that's what he wanted for his last meal. We knew it was time." They had been giving him pain meds but she reported they made him "wobbly and disoriented" and, besides, they didn't always work. "I spent the night with him [on Sunday] during which he was restless and uncomfortable. I offered food a couple of times, but it was consistently declined."
On Monday, they found a vet who would come to their house to euthanize him.
"I couldn't bear to take him back to the busy, noisy and brightly lit hospital. I didn't want him to experience any more stress.… We spent the remaining time with him, talking and cuddling. He played peekaboo with Frank and rubbed his face all over my hand while I was petting him. He's a very sweet boy. He knows just how to convey his affection and appreciation."
"It was the best end of life I've ever been able to provide one of my friends," Merman wrote. "He was quiet and still because he'd had his last dose of pain medication. We were all with him and he was at ease. He was comfortable and peaceful when he left us."
Photo of Melinda Merman and George courtesy of Frank Walburg