She was purrrfect, everything I could have ever wanted and more. I still replay Christmas morning in my head at least once a day.
My parents and sisters, Julia and Camryn, all kept texting me asking when I would come downstairs. “We need to get your big gift ready,” my Dad had said.
My Dad is never to be taken seriously. He speaks in straight sarcasm 99.9% of the time. I curled up under my covers, trying to sleep in longer. Then Mom called me to ask when I’d be down. It wasn’t even 7 yet. I rubbed my eyes, groaned and rolled out of bed.
When I came downstairs, our little gray kitten, Stormie was hissing at my presents. I figured she was just excited about Christmas. Perhaps all of the wrapping paper and commotion freaked her out.
I turned around and my mom had her phone fixated on me. She filmed everything on Christmas, so I didn’t think much of it.
I noticed Stormie was actually hissing at a particular present and that it was partially unwrapped. “Stormie, how did you get into that?” I questioned her.
My family was chomping at the bit begging me to start with that present. I put it in my lap and pulled out my phone to take a picture of Stormie, who was still hissing at it, but was in prime position for a ‘baby’s first Christmas’ picture.
“Oh my god.”
“Hurry, I’m running out of space on my phone.”
My family was really hyped up over this one present. I finished unwrapping what I thought Stormie had started, only to find that it was a cat carrier.
“Wowwwww.... you guys are so funny.” I rolled my eyes. Then I felt something moving inside the carrier.
“No way!” I was in shock. I tucked my head down in front of it to find a tiny orange kitten. I was quick to pull her out and hold her tight against my chest. Then I started crying.
I don’t think I’ve ever cried tears of joy, except in that moment. I was in love. I kept telling her that too.
“I’ll name her Sunnie.” I decided instantly.
“Thank god,” my mom and sisters exchanged a glance.
It was really a no-brainer. My mom, sisters, and I had been talking about how Stormie needed a friend for a while. She always tried to play with our two big black cats, Hobie and Ninja, but they never gave her the time of day.
“We could get an orange one and name it Sunnie,” my mom had jokingly said a couple months prior.
I loved that idea and had told her that a big adoption event was to take place close to home soon. I never once thought she’d go.
The beginning of Sunnie’s story starts in my family’s point of view.
Sunnie was from a shelter in Georgia and had been transported up to Delaware with 1000+ other animals for a mega adoption event.
Mom, Julia, and Camryn walked into that event, looking for a Sunnie. They sought a female orange kitten, which is actually pretty rare. Only 1/4 orange cats are girls.
Nonetheless they found her. At first they had been looking at a couple older orange male kittens, trying to decide if one would be our Sunnie. Then, out of nowhere, Julia spotted a tiny orange ball of fluff, curled up, sound asleep, and tuning out the entire world, from a cage all by herself.
My sister scooped her up and help her tight until she could regroup with the rest of the fam and get in line to fill out adoption papers.
The papers they brought home noted that Sunnie was born in Georgia on September 13th, 2019, and that she had already been spayed. A medical note stated that the litter she was from had a diarrhea issue that had since been taken care of. One of the kittens also had a limp at one time. We still don’t know if it was our baby Sunnie.
My family hid Sunnie from me for the next few weeks leading up to Christmas. She lived in Julia’s room. Julia’s door was always shut, so I never questioned why she turned me down every time I asked to come in her room during this time. The door was always locked and she always told me “Go away! I’m wrapping Christmas presents!” She sure had a lot of presents to wrap.
There was even a time Sunnie went to hang out at my grandparents house for a couple days when my family worried she was getting too antsy and that I would hear her playing.
All in all, they were successful in making Sunnie the best Christmas surprise I’ve ever gotten.
Unfortunately, she turned out to be more of a Christmas angel. That’s what I tell myself. Baby Sunnie was an angel sent to bring me joy and fill me with love at Christmas time. She was too perfect for this world, too precious to stay for too long.
Sunnie was 6 months old when we found out she had Feline Infectious Peritonitis (FIP). From what I understand, FIP is the result of a mutation of Feline Enteric Coronavirus (FECV). FCoV is a virus that affects the gastrointestinal tract. Most infections are asymptomatic or cause diarrhea. Diarrhea very commonly occurs in kittens. Thinking back to Sunnie’s medical history, it makes too much sense.
FIP is one of the most complicated feline viruses. Scientists today have yet to find a cure. One of Sunnie’s vets told me that’s because they still can’t figure out what causes the disease. It could be that some strains of FCoV are stronger and more prone to mutate as they continue to infect the cat. It could also be the cat’s immune system. Though the disease kills roughly 5% of cats, kittens like Sunnie are the most impacted because their immune systems are not yet strong enough to fight it off. In the end, it’s basically a death sentence.
What scientists have found is that FCoV is common where large groups of cats live together. We gave Sunnie a home with three other cats. They mingled and shared litter boxes and food dishes. However, before she got here, she was exposed to thousands of other animals. She could have caught the virus from her own mother for all we know.
The thing is, most cats have some strain of coronavirus. The mutation is what’s rare. Sunnie was a rarity. She was part of the 25% of orange cats who are female and she was part of the 5% of cats who contracted and succumbed to the symptoms of FIP.
Sunnie’s first symptom was the diarrhea. Hers was laced with blood. My boyfriend and I took her to the vet on Valentine’s Day. He suggested it was a diet issue. She had recently gotten into the older cats’ food. He prescribed an anti-inflammatory to make her feel better. The diarrhea may have subsided, but a month later we had her back in there... only to receive the same treatment.
The third week in March, my Mom pointed out that Sunnie was pretty lethargic. She was moping around, hardly leaving my bed. She did venture to the floor sometimes, only to sit in loaf position and stare at it. At this time, we also noticed that her bloody diarrhea had come back.
My mom called the vet and he said “maybe it’s parasites.” Without even seeing her, he prescribed her something to treat that.
“No, no, no.” I told my mom that was unacceptable when I came home from work one day. I couldn’t believe he would prescribe her another treatment without even seeing her. “We need a second opinion.” I said.
Sunnie started going to a new veterinary hospital that‘s definitely more advanced and more equipped to diagnose rarities like FIP.
On Sunnie’s first visit, this vet ran bloodwork. She had a high count of white blood cells, which of course indicated infection. The vet put her on antibiotics for this. Any virus was TBD. The vet told my mom her globulin levels were still low for FIP to be likely. The vet then took Sunnie in the back for an ultrasound and to give her fluids.
My mom googled FIP and texted me an update. I called her crying, asking what that disease was and how we had never heard of it, considering we had had cats our entire lives.
”How would she have even gotten that?” I had asked.
“I don’t know. You just have to pray that it’s not.” My mom said.
Together, we picked Sunnie up from the vet later that day. The vet tech told us she had a fever that went down a little with the antibiotics, but then came right back up.
A fever that is seemingly resistant to antibiotics is another symptom of the disease. That was something I had read online. I had been doing my research, trying to rule out FIP.
The vet told my mom that an ultrasound allowed her to see fluid in Sunnie‘s tummy. “A pinkish, creamy fluid can sometimes build up in their tummies when they have an infection,” she said.
The vet also said that a straw-colored fluid would indicate FIP. She said she could take a sample of these fluids if the Sunnie didn’t get better and FIP still needed to be ruled out.
At home, Sunnie slowly stopped eating and drinking. That vet appointment had been on a Tuesday. The very next night, my boyfriend and I whisked Sunnie away into the night and headed to the animal hospital during emergency hours.
My mom had pointed out that her fur coat was looking dull and that she had hardly moved that day while I was at work. She advised us to go back to the vet and tell them the medications weren’t helping. So we did. However, the vet tech this time told us that we hadn’t given the antibiotics long enough to work.
“But she’s getting worse!” I started to point out how she was lethargic and that her eyes were droopy. I even told them I heard her sneeze and that her breathing was heavy like she was congested.
This vet tech and my boyfriend both tried to calm me down and tell me that there wasn’t anything to worry about. They told me that these were minor symptoms of a cold and to give Sunnie’s meds a chance.
Yet Sunnie continued to loaf around, staring at the floor. Her eyes got droopier and when I woke up to check on her that same night, she was curled in a ball as if she were sleeping, but her eyes were open and her breathing was fast.
I tried to tell myself that she just had a cold and that she would be fine by the next week. I knew I was lying to myself. I felt it in my heart that she was slowly saying goodbye to me.
I started the replay Sunnie’s three months as my little girl, searching for signs of the disease. I was finding them in everything and I knew I wasn’t being paranoid.
From the time we got her in December to what was now the end of March, she had only gained a pound and a half. Some of that weight gain was honestly probably from the fluids because she didn’t appear to be any bigger. We always thought she was just always going to be a small cat. Perhaps she was the runt. We’ll never know her true size. She’s frozen in our minds as ‘baby Sunnie’.
I also noticed that Sunnie didn’t eat much to begin with. More times than not, I had to throw her hard food away at the end of the day because she had hardly nibbled at it. I dumped almost an entire water dish out every evening too when I went to change it.
Sunnie’s personality was all too similar to the kitties in the articles I had read online, articles by others who have lost a dear kitten to an incurable, awful illness. She was the most cuddly and loving little cat I’ve ever known. She was never playful like a kitten usually is. Stormie would always try to provoke her to wrestle or play tag, but Sunnie wasn’t interested at all in playing with our other kitten, who we had intended to be her friend.
Other articles have said that FIP kittens are the sweetest. Perhaps they don’t have the energy to play and choose to curl up and love on their humans. Perhaps they’re using our bodies as a source of heat, since they’re also known to be anemic. (We often found Sunnie cozied up on top of the floor heater.) Perhaps they know their time is limited and want to spend as much time as they can just loving on everyone. Sunnie definitely loved on everyone she met.
My other cats have always been pretty shy and flighty around strangers, but Sunnie would instantly jump in the arms of and kiss any stranger that approached or tried to pet her.
My boyfriend and I treated Sunnie like a daughter. We’d take her buh-byes in the car and even to the beach. She’d willingly wear a harness and walk around with us. My other cats have freaked out and either alligator-rolled or tried to escape when we’ve put them in a harness.
Sunnie’s favorite spot to hangout in public was the Dogfish tasting room. We’d take her in her carrier and with her leash, but we really didn’t need to. Sunnie would sit content in my boyfriend’s lap while people at all levels of intoxication would approach us and ask to pet her. Sunnie would purrr in pleasure and rub her face against any stranger she met. Again, my other cats would be fighting us and trying to run away. Sunnie became a regular at Dogfish. She was adored by the staff and every customer who spotted her little orange self sitting there.
I knew these adventures were too good to be true. Sunnie was the calmest, most loving cat I’ve ever known. Her underlying disease may have been why, except we’ll never know when or how she got it.
Three different vets told me that. They wanted to make sure that I didn’t blame myself for what happened, that I knew there was nothing I did to cause it and nothing I could have done to save her if I had known.
In her final hour, I begged the vet who would put her down for an answer. I wanted to know why my baby had fallen victim to FIP and how I could save her. I also wanted to make sure he was certain that’s what she had before he inserted the needle.
This vet had been present to see the sample of Sunnie’s fluid. “The only other reason for a straw-colored fluid would he heart disease, but she doesn’t have a murmur,” he told me as my giant tears coated her fur.
I hounded him for a cure or treatment plan. “What if we gave her blood transfusions, fed her through a tube, gave her vitamins, antiviral supplements,” I listed possible treatments I had researched.
“You have to ask yourself, is the small chance she would survive worth her suffering?” He said.
I know there is no cure for FIP. In some cases, owners had been able to prolong their cats’ lives. However, in many of those cases, the cats had the dry from of FIP. Sunnie had the wet, which typically ends lives faster.
I still refused to believe this was it. The vet told me in his professional opinion that euthanasia was the best thing I could do for her. “It’s like a gift,” he had told me.
A gift? I hadn’t even wanted to take her that night. This was only the Saturday of that same week she started to show symptoms. My boyfriend and I couldn’t get her to play with us at all. She didn’t want to cuddle like she usually did and she seemed to be avoiding us, secluding herself to her little brown cat house and refusing to come out. Her breathing had gotten so labored that it sounded like how a person breathes in their sleep.
My family didn’t want her to suffer and honestly, we didn’t want her to die while we were asleep or not home. So my boyfriend and I whisked her away to emergency hours three nights after that other time.
I was starting to come to terms with the fact that our baby Sunnie was already gone. She had been throwing up her antibiotics and not getting better. All three vets I spoke with said I needed to let her go, and so I did.
Sunnie’s death is the most tragic thing to have ever happened to me and it will take a while for me to accept it. My boyfriend and I spent about two hours in the emergency room with her, comforting her and reliving all of our happy times with her until the end.
Once the euthanasia serum was pumped into her leg, the vet put a stethoscope to her heart. I cried silently staring down at the table in front of her, unwilling to watch her stop breathing. Her heart stopped beating in under a minute. “She’s gone,” said the vet. My tears came faster as I sobbed into my boyfriends hoodie. The world was spinning and I sat down with my eyes closed until I heard the door close and knew they had taken my baby away.
As I went through half the tissue box in the examination room, I replayed Christmas morning in my head again. I saw myself pulling Sunnie out of the cat carrier and holding her to my chest, teary-eyed with joy. How could those tears of joy turn to sadness just three months later? How could this have happened to her? Why did this happen to me? My cat? So many questions had me floored as I opened my eyes and looked at the world with hatred.
I think part of me will always be angry and upset about what happened to Sunnie, but I am learning to accept it. She wasn’t meant to live in that body or stay here for too long. We saved her when we gave her a home back in December and we saved her from her misery in March. We were just as much her world as she was ours. The love she spread here on earth will live on in the hearts of everyone she touched.
Now as I look at her paw prints in the cement slab the animal hospital gave me and I look at the picture of her in her little Christmas dress, I wonder if my little angel who came to visit at Christmas could come back to visit again. I have to believe she’s somewhere watching and waiting for me to scoop her up and hold her tight to my chest again.