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September 30, 2014

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After 24 years together, decision to euthanize beloved cat Kia is agonizing

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MONA SHIELD PAYNE / SPECIAL TO THE SUN

Rick Mills checks the flow of fluids dripping into his cat, Kia, as she calmly sits beside him in their home in Las Vegas Monday, August 12, 2013. Kia, a 24-year-old Burmese Siamese, is suffering with pulmonary carcinoma and arthritis and has received IV fluids 2x per day for the past three years.

Special Cat

Rick Mills holds his beloved 24-year-old cat, Kia, during her last few days of life at their home in Las Vegas Monday, August 12, 2013.  Kia, a Burmese Siamese, is suffering with pulmonary carcinoma and arthritis, which are taking a fast toll on her health. Launch slideshow »

The diagnosis is terminal, her cremation is paid for and her urn is chosen, so now Rick Mills waits.

He says he will know when the time is right. It’s a fatherly instinct of sorts.

After all, Mills and Kia, his Burmese Siamese cat, have spent 24 years and four months together. She’s the oldest Burmese cat on record, a veterinarian told him.

“I’m 76, and I’ve had that cat almost a third of my life,” he said.

But on July 26 — “18 days ago,” Mills clarifies — the pair received the bad news, typed in bold print on discharge papers from Kia’s stay at an animal hospital.

Patient’s diagnosis: Chronic kidney disease, pulmonary carcinoma, constipation.

It’s the middle condition that means Kia’s days are numbered. She has a cancerous growth in her lungs that’s pushing on her esophagus and trachea.

“If you feel that Kia declines at home, she is in pain, she stops eating or her quality of life is poor, humane euthanasia should be considered,” the discharge letter states.

And just like that, the task any good pet owner dreads became real for Mills: Kia’s fate, her pain and her peace are in his hands. It’s his call now.

“I’m just trying to keep her happy,” he said. “I don’t want to keep her longer than I should.”

Mills has had his share of animals since childhood, among them a squirrel, rabbit, monkey and 3-foot alligator. This one, with Kia, is the toughest goodbye.

When veterinarian Dr. Joanne Stefanatos rescues injured or abandoned wildlife, she often brings them to Mills’ home, near Pecos and Russell roads. A water feature in his backyard serves as home to an assortment of ducks and geese that often stroll into his house looking for food. He keeps a 100-pound bag of wildfowl feed in a closet for his visitors.

“That’s why I got a (carpet) shampooer,” he said.

But his relationship with Kia is different. She’s his closest companion at home in Las Vegas because his wife lives in Vancouver.

Mills, a former real estate broker, moved here in 1988 for his job. He and his wife, Bonnie, decided to give long-distance marriage a shot and travel to see each other for weeks at a time.

Click to enlarge photo

A climbing ramp and heated bed are permanent fixtures in the bed of Rick Mills as he makes his beloved cat, Kia, comfortable as she lives out her last years, now days, of life in their home in Las Vegas Monday, August 12, 2013. Kia, a 24-year-old Burmese Siamese, is suffering with pulmonary carcinoma and arthritis, which are taking a fast toll on her health.

“It’s a beautiful relationship,” said Mills, now retired. “It works like a charm.”

Since June 1989, when Mills adopted Kia from a local breeder, she has filled the empty spot on the right side of his bed. Now a carpeted ramp sits next to the mattress, making Kia’s trek to her heated cat bed, which lies on top of the real bed, a bit easier.

In her younger days, Kia would jump on his chest and watch cartoons for hours, Mills says. She has always been a little feisty, though, and Mills has some scars on his arms to prove it.

“She’s never been the nicest cat in the world,” he said. “She likes scratching and biting me.”

But as far as Mills is concerned, the good outweighs any bad habits, so when Kia turned 20, he began throwing her birthday parties. Specially printed invitations were sent to neighbors, friends, veterinarian and doctors. They would enjoy finger food at his home before venturing — without Kia — to Strings Italian Café for dinner. He picked up the tab every time.

Kia celebrated her 24th birthday April 18.

These days, he’s sticking close to home to care for his beloved feline. Mills estimates he has spent $6,000 in the last month on her medical care.

In his refrigerator, next to his Greek yogurt, sits Kia’s assortment of remedies: an appetite enhancer, blood pressure medicine, muscle enhancement, stool softeners, steroids and medicine to bring down the level of phosphorus in her system.

The last time Mills put her on a scale, Kia weighed 5 pounds, 6 ounces. Her normal weight was 8 1/2 pounds.

On Monday evening, Mills sat on the carpet as Kia meowed in front of him. An intravenous fluid bag hung above her from the fireplace mantel.

“Take the position,” Mills said gently. “There you go. You know what to do.”

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A photograph of a healthy and younger Kia is on display in the home of her devoted owner, Rick Mills, in Las Vegas Monday, August 12, 2013. Kia, a 24-year-old Burmese Siamese, is suffering with pulmonary carcinoma and arthritis, which are taking a fast toll on her health.

Mills inserted a needle into Kia’s back, then talked to her softly as fluids dripped into her system for three minutes. He does this twice a day.

He says it doesn’t hurt her. He won’t let Kia suffer.

“I don’t see how losing an animal is any easier than losing a child,” said Mills, tears dripping down his face. “It’s a tough deal, especially after 24 years.”

He’s speaking from experience. Six years ago, his youngest daughter unexpectedly died.

Even so, Mills vows to enjoy living after Kia dies. He wants to adopt two Singapura cats, so they can keep each other company, and him as well.

“Kia would want me to,” he said. “She knows I’d be miserable without an animal here.”

But first Mills says he will make one final tribute to Kia: an obituary.

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