We bid adieu to Maisie! Daisy on Feb. 13 — the day after our 20th wedding anniversary and 18 years to the day we lost the great Joan.
Twelve days earlier, the vet had extracted 650 ml of fluid (about a pound and a half) from her belly. It was not feline infectious peritonitis (FIP), which was a minor relief: at least the other cats would not potentially be affected. But it was unambiguously definitive for adenocarcinoma, a cancer of the glands. Maisie! rebounded somewhat after having her gut drained — who wouldn't feel better minus 15 percent of body bloat? But a week or so later she started vomiting bile. (My hunch is that the adenocardinoma had invaded her liver a few weeks earlier, leading to the ascites and eventual complete organ failure.)
We'll always think of Maisie! as the quintessential cat: self-assured and present. Our woolly bear girl, Madame Whoopdy Dooly (Mme. Whoopdy Drooly, even) was a delight from the moment we spotted her. Thanks for the memories, Maize.
Read more about her in recent posts and her bio.
Nearly two weeks post-steriod injection, Oscar became The Dude once again, plodding across keyboards, scudding across piled newspapers and magazines, trying to hump Murray. (Yes, Oscar really is gay.) His lungs were still full of fluid, though. The vet was pleased with his progress, but started him on antibiotics to treat the suspected severe secondary upper respiratory infection. Three days after an antibiotic shot and into a course of Clavamox, his rales ceased, he rejoined us in his regular sleeping place between our pillow, and he retook his place helping me at the bathroom sink. Still, when his mouth lesions return — and they will — the vet will biopsy them to confirm the tentative diagnosis of lymphocytic-plasmacytic stomatitis.
Up and Down
Maisie! responded well to her antibiotics, and a steroid shot boosted her activity to the point that she returned to her brief nightly sojourns for a few minutes in the yard before bedtime and started to regain a wee bit of the weight she'd lost. She also went abruptly from robust middle age to old cat. A few months ago, at age 12, her teeth had no tartar and she had no gum disease, no kidney disease (even now), no infections. Never a, uh, hyperactive cat, she now sleeps most of the time and retreated a few months ago from the living room to the bedroom.
In her, illness-driven behavioral changes are far from negative: an endearing dottiness and profound, renewed affection for her people have set in. She sleeps in my arms every night and has turned into a kneader (which is problemmatic only after she's moved from my shoulder to my cheeks [uh] to my lips [ouch!]). She does her "woolly bear" impression, rolling onto her back and waving her legs like late summer caterpillars, whose coloring she also shares. She also now hangs out in the hallway, common enough for the others but never her domain.
Two weeks or so ago, I noticed her stomach was grumbling. Loudly. After a few days we started calling her Gurgle Gut, and then this last week I noticed her belly was getting large and distended, but soft. Can cats get ascites? (Yes.) Thursday night, John saw her lose control of her hind legs for a few seconds as she headed upstairs. Off to the vet.
Ascites are most commonly associated with liver disease (think of those dissipated men you've seen who look like they're in their 8th month of pregnancy), but can also result from other conditions. The vet suggested the reason she temporarily lost her legs was actually cardiac in nature: the immense build-up of fluid (over a pound) pushed up and into her thoracic area momentarily. She received another steroid injection in the hope it would relieve the inflammation that triggered the ascites. She will undergo a procedure this week to remove as much fluid as possible.
Now, here's the really scary part that had never entered our minds: Brian will test a sample for feline infectious peritonitis, or FIP. This condition is invariably fatal, and it's contagious. As terrifying as this scenario is, I want to think it's highly unlikely. Stay tuned.
Chloe's intractable kidney and behavioral issues of many years finally forced the painful decision to have her euthanized. An incredibly sweet, pretty cat, she first attracted us not just by her beauty but because she refused to engage with a bullying cagemate. When he bapped her, she calmly moved aside: "I like to play, and that's not play! She had great boyfriends in Teddy, RuLu and Java; their mutual grooming sessions were second only to our primate brethren. She was the first to decide the automatic water dish made a fine bathing milieu, dipping her forepaw in the reservoir to wash her face. When she and RuLu took to constantly knocking the lid off the main tank to get at what they perceived to be fresher water, I finally taped it closed.
All who met her instantly recognized her as a princess. She was, alas, not one of the smartest cats. She'd cry plaintively at a door slightly ajar that any other cat would paw, nose or body-bump open. She'd stare dolefully at the array of wet food dishes in the morning (one per cat), and walk away to the dry food if she was not set directly in front of a bowl (neither would it do merely to set the bowl in front of her). In the movie Miami Blues, Nora Dunn's detective character refers to Jennifer Jason Leigh's dim protagonist as Little Princess Not-So-Bright. That was Chloe.
I'd like to say it's a New Year's resolution to post more frequently, but I'd be lying. Call it a pre-resolution; I've been meaning to do this since, oh, forever.
Velcro Jones is an unmitigated delight. Murray finally realized VJ was a suitable playmate and they've been chasing and wrestling ever since (well, except when Murray needs to put the moves on his one and only True Love, Freddie). Freddie's starting to play with Velcro, too, more boisterously than she does with Murray. Velcro's smaller, but leggier and far more agile than MurMur.
Trips is, well, Trips: adoring people, despising other cats. She's showing increased tolerance of the others, though, and seems to be considering Velcro Jones a possible play buddy.
Chloe seems to be developing her third kidney infection in eight months. We've now started her on Cosequin, which has been used with some success to "reinforce" bladders by rebuilding connective tissue (it may be familiar to readers as a joint treatment for arthritis). The biggest problem — I'll be frank — is when one of these episodes begins she communicates it by peeing on furniture. And the bed.
In early December, we suddenly realized that beneath Maisie!'s long coat was … very little. At the vet's, we learned she had lost a third of her body weight in eight months, going from 16.5 to 11.5 pounds. She had not exhibited any unusual behaviors and seemed to be eating and drinking well. Blood and urinalysis ruled out hyperthyroidism and kidney disease, the usual first-thoughts with a 12-year-old cat. But on physical examination the vet found "roughness" on the edge of a kidney. On reexamination, he determined it wasn't limited to the kidney but was in the abdominal cavity at large. Damn.
On the plus side, she responded well to antibiotics for a minor unrelated upper respiratory infection. She's moved from sleeping at the foot of the bed to snuggling with me neck-and-chest high, which we both find comforting.
And then there's Oscar. We've known for some time that he's prone to immunological funkiness, for want of a better term. The fact that he and his litter mates were all leukemia-negative, despite a mom who had the disease full-blown. But he's had a granuloma off and off since kittenhood, and a tendency toward dental and mouth issues more recently. He started barfing a bit a few weeks ago and then developed a cough that sounded deeply congested, as if his lungs had fluid in them. Nothing came up. He slowed down. We started thinking about congestive heart failure.
A 40-year snowstorm postponed a trip to the vet. Once we made it in, Brian was unable to hear Oscar's heart, his lungs were so full of fluid. But after a thorough exam and reviewing Oscar's history, Brian made a tentative diagnosis of lymphocytic-plasmacytic stomatitis, an autoimmune condition. The cause is unknown, but it tends to be associated with cats with immune disorders. Although the most common manifestation is gingivitis and periodontal disease, it can migrate into the lungs. A methylprednisolone injection has perked up Oscar's affect, but after a week, he still sounds pretty congested. Stay tuned.
We bade farewell to the elegant, goofy, dancing-legged Java this last Thursday, Sept. 11. He had been diagnosed with lymphoma last December after several months of increasingly abnormal blood chemistries and loss of appetite and weight. Successful management by our fabulous vet (periodic methyl prednisolone injections and, later, Winstrol [until this was no longer available from the pharmaceutical companies — not even compounded, alas] gave Mr. Swelegant many more months of quality time. He basked in the mid-summer heat and late-summer breezes on the back deck or in the cool garden dirt.
Whenever we've lost of any of our family, the accompanying change in the household vibe is palpable. There's the sadness we feel, and there's a noticeable shift in interactions and atmosphere. A day a half after Java's death, I asked John if I was imagining it, or had a new calm and tranquility set in? Java had grown agitated with discomfort in his last month, and more so the last five days. He deserved release and peace. He lives on in our hearts and memories of his sublime goofiness.
We had long talked of adding another young male to the household to help counter the spayed-female estrogen wars and to provide the active Murray a workout buddy now that Freddie has matured to the point that she doesn't want to wrestle constantly. This plan was on indefinite hold while Java was still with us; not only was he ill, but as much as most cats dislike change, Java LOATHED it.
We're well aware that many cat folks advise waiting two or three weeks after the death or departure of a cat before introducing a new one. Our experience is that in a multicat household of five or more felines, it sometimes makes sense to get all the trauma of change over with in one fell swoop. We had a bit of a timing issue, too: given the time of year (end of kitten season) and the fact we will be traveling in the near future, we thought our best option would be to see if we could find that magical addition who would fit in and settle in before we take off in a few weeks. And so, after checking out candidates at Petfinder.com and making a few calls, we ended up at a local shelter. We met with two fine potential catmates; the second, Velcro Jones, came home with us. He's a 5-month-old domestic shorthair with well-defined white socks and mittens. He's everthing one could dream of in a kitten: bright, active, sweet, affectionate. And oh, we wish we could claim credit for the name! Believe it or not, that was his shelter name.
Paper bags, boxes, strings, balls, foil wads, paper wads, pens, pencils, bottle caps, milk and juice carton pull-tabs, plastic measuring lids (from jumbo laundry detergent jugs), feather danglers, laser pointers, track toys, cardboard scratchers, hanging scratchers, hair scrunchies, neck rolls, terry bands, bobby pins, safety pins (nooo!), paper clips (ayieee!), emory boards (uhhh), twisties (bad!), rubber bands (worse!), eyeglass retainers, packing peanuts, single-dose sterile saline packets … rubber thongs (flip-flops)? bedroom slippers? stuffed animals? Furby?
A few years ago, my sister and sister-in-law's cat Rover developed a blockage. Their vet conducted a thorough physical exam and took an x-ray, but when the image proved difficult to interpret, the vet sent them immediately to the surgical specialist. Deep inside Rover was a chunk of flip-flop. After removing the foreign matter and stapling the cat's belly, the surgeon sent him home, advising Susie and Kaite to keep him quiet until the staples could be removed. Kaite cleaned and prepared a "safe room" in their home in which Rover could convalesce.
Five days later, Susie and Kaite realized Rover hadn't left any stool in his litter box. They returned to their vet, who took another x-ray. The new blockage looked similar, and the vet opted to do this surgery herself. Behold, a new piece of rubber thong — larger than the first. Back home, checking out the "safe room" one more time, Kaite and Susie found that Rover, like any practicing addict, had stashed a flip-flop perfectly out of sight: wedged between a bed leg and the wall. Hence, his second chunk. He recovered fully, although the back-to-back surgeries left him a permanent seam on his tummy.
Can well nourished, well adjusted cats have pica?
To the best of our knowledge, Murray has never consumed flip-flops. But he has laid waste to multiple computer cables, necessitating protective gear (1.25 -inch sump pump discharge hose). He has comandeered bedroom slippers, stolen stuffed animals, decimated Tigger and, yes, killed a Furby.
He started with small animals: the stuffed Babe giveaways McDonald's featured when that movie was in theaters. Then he moved on to the larger souvenirs that adorn our bookshelves. One of my slippers might be in the living room, and one might be on the stairs.
And finally, Furby. (We thought we'd given them away years ago, but Murray found them in the guest room and woke them back up.) The Furby was larger than Murray when the then-kitten discovered him. Undeterred, Murray hauled Furby up and down the stairs, up to the top of the scratching pole — and dropping Furby on his head. At one point, Murray was tussling and bapping the battery-powered critter so hard that Furby protested, "Me no like!"
Alas, repeated brain trauma claimed the poor Furby. When our catsitter arrived to care for the gang when we were out of town, she arrived to the sickly, creepy moans of a terminal Furby. (It so disturbed her she had to put him outside.) When we got home, we pulled his batteries.
The Naming of Cats is a difficult matter,
It isn't just one of your holiday games;
You may think at first I'm as mad as a hatter
When I tell you, a cat must have THREE DIFFERENT NAMES.
At least. Bestine was also known as Pee Wee, Peeweezers, Peewee Buttskins (sometimes sung to the tune of "De Colores"), Buttskins, PEE wee, Pisstine, Basketball Face (sung to the tune, of course, of "Basketball Jones"), Peewee Crabcakes, Crabcakes (she was famous for her crankiness at other cats), the Tailless Love Goddess (for when she decided she needed love NOW, and would walk, with a purposeful rolling gait toward the nearest person). This is also why we dream of visiting the Isle of Man.
And then there's the matter of how one arrives at the name. Bestine was a name John and I independently, before we ever met, thought would make a fine cat name. It sounds so sweet, so French, so feminine. The fact it was a rubber cement solvent only added to its charm.
Java hasn't had nearly so many (Yava, Yava Lava, Java Jackass, Yava Yackass, the Red-Furred Titbrain [after the summer sun has bleached his black fur red]), but lately has become the Old Man of the Cupboard, owing to his longstanding residency in the cabinet above the refrigerator. To be sure, we have heard more than one cascade of detritus from on high: stored grocery bags, the fish grill, a layer cake cover. The five-year warranty didn't cover falls from six feet up.
Maisie! is also Maisie Daisy, Madame Whoopty Dooly, Madame Whoopty Drooly (yes, she drools in ecstasy), Woolly Bear (as she looks like a caterpillar when she lies on her back and waves her legs in the air).
Oscar, long known as The Dude (as in The Big Lebowski), has also borne the nickname Petalsoft Lightfoot for his ability to put all of his 17-plus pounds into each single paw as he lumbers across the bed and our full bladders. (Well, it gets us out of bed.) But now he is also Horton, for his great love of lying atop warm laptop keyboards. While they're on.
One can assign to animals all those funny loves and goofy passions one dare not put on a human birth certificate. And so, a few that have entertained and delighted friends and family:
- Jean Marie (from To Kill a Mockingbird)
- Trask (from Don Berry's first book, about an 1848 Oregan mountain man of the same name)
And too many more I can't think of right now.
Freddie continues to settle in with her people. Her feral beginnings run deep: she's never had a moment's issue with another cat, but these big, clumsy two-footed creatures are still a wonderment. She was so unaccustomed to being held the first several times she had to fumble around and try out every possible lap and holding position to see (a) what it was about and (b) what felt right to her.
No more ringworm lesions!
Java was tentatively diagnosed with lymphoma a few months ago, but as long as he eats and can keep some meat on his bones — and seems to enjoy life — we're delighted he remains in our universe.
We hope your holidays were love and joy-filled, and that 2008 is treating you kindly.
Before I could finally get a picture of spirited newcomer Freddie and catch everyone up on the State of the House — after Oscar's second bout of ringworm, Java had to undergo another round of griseofulvin, but I THINK we are finally fungus-free — we had to face another not-expected-quite-yet ending. Blanche, beloved, quiet, but tough old broad of the highest order, had to be put down on October 4.
Blanche had as many nicknames as has any of our cats: Mrs. Bloomberg, Mrs. B., B and B-Girl were among the polite. We had some somewhat ruder monikers, as well: Blanche Bolt-and-Barf, for her bulemic tendencies, and Tubby Hoover, for the days when she would wait until the others had finished eating, then proceed to vacuum up every last scrap of food. She stole fries from the remodelers, and she loved hot Chinese chile oil. She always cleaned the last drops of milk from my cereal bowl.
She was a nut and set in her ways. For a few years early on, she held court in the bowels of the house, the musty basement where the litter boxes and laundry room live. We referred to this as "Queen Blanche's Mad Realm." In midsummer 2007, 14 years after joining us, she discovered the upper level of the house — which virtually all our other cats have discovered within their first month. But I can't begin to say what it meant to wake up to Blanche visiting me most mornings of her last two months.
Blanche was once mistaken for a pillow by neighbors. ("We never see her when we feed the cats." "Well, you can get a good look at her now, on the loveseat." [Looking where John was pointing] "Oh! I thought that was a pillow!")
And what could be more endearing than a large, quite mature white cat hugging the big scratching post from behind, peering out at us coquettishly and chirping?Blanche didn't meow per se, but chirped a lot.
She was diagnosed with hyperthyroidism nearly three years ago, but the tumor started to take off exponentially in the last year. We adjusted her methimazole. She made it through the ringworm episode okay, but then started losing weight again. We boosted her methimazole and successfully treated a kidney infection. She regained weight and was stable for a month. And then, abruptly, weight loss and dehydration. Her liver was all but nonexistent and her kidneys were failing.
She made me cry when we adopted her; she made me cry when we released her spirit. But her memories will always bring me smiles and deep joy. Thanks, B.
We almost made it past the fungus free-for-all without recurrence and perhaps would have made it had Oscar and Murray not engaged in raucous wrestling.
But they did, and a tiny wound that normally would be utterly inconsequential blossomed into Ringworm, Part II. Although "big disease" negative, Oscar has a less-than-optimal immune system so tends to be more susceptible to wayward spores. Damn.
We jumped on it and immediately started him on Tresoderm while waiting for the griseofulvin to be compounded. We also pondered ways to keep the dead fur — and fungus — contained. Bandages? No, I mean, how would we attach them? Doggie coats? John checked those out, but it would get expensive buying three or four (to allow for daily washing and changing). Then John went for a hot dog — and saw a toddler reveling in a Chicago Dog, spilling mustard all over his t-shirt. John went to Babies 'R' Us …
Silly? Maybe, but four weeks into medication and five weeks since Oscar broke out with fungus again, everyone else is symptom-free. Yes, I did get even more ruthless and threw away anything that could not be disinfected. Yes, I started using ChlorhexiDerm (ask your vet) regularly (daily, in the beginning), spraying furniture, scratching posts and favorite resting spots. See our new, improved, expanded practical advice.
Meanwhile, Murray nears 10 pounds, Trips continues to mellow out, Java continues to jackass, Chloe has turned into a chatterbox, Maisie! flops and rolls more each day and Blanche continues to amuse. She has lived with us nearly 14 years, but alone among all the cats, she has lived her entire 14 years on the main floor and in the basement. She has never ventured to the second floor — until this week. And this morning, for the first time ever, she came into our bedroom and, when invited, jumped onto the bed. Every single other cat we've ever had did this their first night in the house. Not Mrs. Bloomberg. But 14 years into her residence here, she has discovered The Den. Go figure.
And happy Fourth of July!
We first noticed the little red rings on us the day of John's cornea transplant. I'd found one on myself that morning and tried to ignore it. But chatting with John post surgery, I noticed he had one on his neck. I commented on it. Yeah, he said. The surgeons asked me how I got ringworm. We don't know. The cats all seem fine.
A week later, I notice red showing through Oscar's fur. It looks like a sort of rash and appears larger the next morning. We already have Murray scheduled for the vet, so take in Oscar as well. The vet thinks it likely is ringworm — John and I tell him about our symptoms — but Oscar has some other oddness going on that could signal latent leukemia or FIV. (His mother had active leukemia, but Oscar and his littermates astonishingly were all negative. It is possible to be a latent carrier of the disease, however.) The vet takes blood and skin samples for testing, including a retest for FeLV and FIV. Negative. The techs shave and treat Oscar, and we go home with two bottles of Clavamox.
This was Friday afternoon. Over the weekend, we saw spots on Blanche and Maisie!; they were shaved and treated on Monday. We returned the unopened Clavamox to the vet and took home griseofulvin and Tresoderm. Ringworm. Yuck.
The clinic staff instructed us to vacuum, to disinfect, to clean everything possible, to wash our hands even more often than usual. You don't want to get into an endless cycle, they warned, which happens all too easily in multicat households. That evening, I noticed Trips and Java were showing symptoms. They were shaved and treated the next day. We made it another eight days before taking in the hold-outs, Chloe and Murray. A too-perfect score.
The type of ringworm we have is not the most common variety, Microsporum canis, which accounts for 90 percent of domestic outbreaks. No, we have a variety that can be contracted only by direct contact with a rodent, Trichophyton mentagrophytes. Considering only two of our cats even go outside, and then for maybe an hour or two a day, this was truly against the odds.
Web sites advised us to do everything short of burning down the house. "Isolate the affected animal(s)." "Do not handle the infected animals." "Discard all bedding and materials with which the animals have come into contact." "Offer up the youngest household member to volcanic sacrifice."
Isolation is vital in a cattery, kennel or shelter. But ours is a small house, and the cats are too much a part of our and each others' lives and we, of theirs, to segregate them. I admit I was afraid to touch them other than to administer medication the first week or so, and then it occurred to me: we humans already had the fungus, and since all of them did to, we'd have to trust in bleach, vacuuming and common sense.
- First, ringworm is a fungus, not a worm. We humans get totally grossed out just hearing the word, but when's the last time you were revulsed by the mention of athlete's foot? It and ringworm are nearly identical. Get over it.
- It lives in the dead cells of the epidermis and hair/fur shaft, which is why topical as well as systemic treatment for animals is often desirable.
- If your vet doesn't do so automatically, ask him/her about topical treatment as well as systemic (griseofulvin, itraconazole, lufenuron).
- This may take the form of lime sulfur dips, special shampoos or antifungal solution. Tresoderm is great because it's a perfect trifecta of fungicide (thiabendazole), steroid (dexamethasone) and antibiotic (neomycin). It's convenient, and it doesn't involve bathing, dips or additional trips to the vet.
- Wash down all hard surfaces with a 10% solution of chlorine bleach. Let sit for 10 minutes before rinsing and drying.
- Floors, counters, etc.
- Pet carriers, inside and out, initially and after each use
- Plastic toys, rubber mats (including yoga "sticky" mats)
- Vacuum everything that can't be washed. Move furniture to get all sides, and reverse, vacuum and rotate all cushions.
- Try to vacuum daily, but if you can't, do it as often as possible — at least twice a week, but no less frequently than weekly.
- Discard vacuum bag after each use. Yes, you'll go through a lot of them.
- If you use a bagless vacuum, use particular care when emptying. If it's possible to wipe out the interior with a 10% bleach solution, do so.
- After the initial major vacuuming, disinfect all vacuum brushes and rollers with fungicide. Redo in a week or two.
- Vacuum central heat and cooling returns.
- If you have disposable furnace filters, replace them. Depending on expense, consider doing this another time or two during the first six weeks of outbreak.
- If you have an electronic air cleaning system, vacuum and wash the prefilters and wash the main filters every other week. Leave the fan running continuously.
- Wash all machine washable items in the hottest water possible, with chlorine bleach.
- This includes pet and people blankets, sheets, towels, bedspreads, coverlets, pet pillows and cushions, futon covers — you get the idea. If your washer has a super-hot sanitary cycle, more's the better.
- Throw away scratchboards, fabric catnip bags and toys — anything that cannot be washed with bleach.
- Depending on the location of lesions, consider — I'm not kidding — putting a baby t-shirt on the affected animals to keep the shedding fungus localized. Change daily, and ALWAYS wash in hot water with bleach.
- Inspect lesions regularly, and gently "comb out" loose fur and scabs. Soak grooming tools 10 minutes in 10 percent bleach solution immediately after use, and rinse well before drying.
- NEVER use the same comb on any two animals without bleaching in between uses!
- Ask your vet about ChlorhexiDerm. We keep it in a spray bottle and routinely spray furniture and even popular floor areas.
- Keep it up! This stuff is persistent. Check in with your vet regularly.
- After you have completed the medication phase, be vigilant!
Teddy's mighty heart ceased beating on Saturday, Jan. 27. It was 10 months after his three-to-six-month prognosis; we had several months more than we dared hope of his rare company.
Teddy was the cat who would abandon John, his primary person, to sit with me when I was having a rough day. If I cried, he was there. Once he dry-mouthed crunchies, carrying them from the kitchen into the living room, where he dropped them, then proceeded to eat as usual — just to keep me company. In sickness, after injury or surgery, Teddy would lie adjacent to or on the site.
He was our late-night sentinel who paraded throughout the house, crowing and frequently bearing prey: a catnip or glitter puff ball. He defended the house from racoons on our back deck: safe, inside the kitchen, he'd hurl himself, hissing and spitting, at the glass doors separating him from the outdoors.
He got along famously with the rest of the cats. The day he came home, Catullus stopped his then-routine dining room dumps. The only time he went territorial was when he was given a treat of ground buffalo, beef or steak. Woe be unto the cat who dared attempt a bite. It was all yowl and no bite, but it successfully deterred any sharesies.
He was more than passing odd at times; his threat displays alarmed more than a friend or two. Truth was, he was a marshmallow. But he was a presence, a force. We loved him, and we miss him.
This site was NOT intended to be an unending litany of dirge. It was meant to be a celebration. That said, 2006 has been emotionally and occasionally physically painful for us, but also for many close to us. We've had too many friends who've experienced serious health issues and family loss. Still, we have much to be grateful for:
- Loving spouses and partners
- Our animal companions
- No-kill animal shelters and rescue groups
- Vets, vet techs, emergency clinics and petsitters
- Four seasons
- Meaningful work
- Freedom and those who work toward genuine, respectful peace
- Faith, hope and charity
- Rain — because no rain, no rainbows
Love and blessings to all!
During a year of unmitigated suckiness as regards loss of our companions, the universe kicked us even as we lay on the ground. Sad though the losses of 16-year-old Bestine and 14-year-old Angelica were, we were emotionally prepared for them. Ten-year-old (not 2!) Mufasa's brief 10 days with us and wrenching fatal illness was tempered, if slightly, by the fact he had been a part of our lives such a short time. Twelve-year-old Teddy continues to lose weight and his skin grows more yellow even as he revels in his crunchies and steals burgers.
But we weren't ready to lose 6-year-old diabetic RuLu to acute liver failure.
In the middle of the night November 8, I woke up to the familiar sound of a cat horking. I was startled to see it was RuLu, who never barfed. In the morning, I noticed the bright, bile green vomit had no food remnants. I'd noticed a spot or two in the upper hallway the day before, but had attributed it to Teddy. I called the vet, and we decided to wait a day. RuLu retreated to his lair in the guestroom, did not eat or drink. We took him to the vet's Friday morning. His labs were pretty normal — except for his creatinine phosphokinase (CPK), which was astronomical. CPK indicates a degenerative muscle process; it can result from serious infection or cancer. He received fluids and IV antibiotics at the clinic, and came home Saturday with oral antibiotics.
RuLu couldn't keep the Clavamox down and continued to barf, so we took him back to the clinic on Monday. An x-ray revealed his liver was one third the size it should have been. The vet said it likely had started shutting down at least three weeks prior, even though symptoms only became apparent days ago. The diagnosis was acute liver failure, secondary to lymphosarcoma.
We brought him home for a final night with his people and feline fellows. Oscar, long his best friend, hissed at him. Chloe tried to clean him. Teddy studied him. But he rested and let us scratch him gently, cooing and sobbing. Our friend Collene, who looks after the gang when we're away, stopped by to visit a favorite cat whose life she'd saved last year. (She was alarmed by his weight loss and called us — which is what led to his diabetic diagnosis.)
It's taken me nearly a week to write this; it's now November 20. In the days after RuLu's death, Oscar and Chloe moped. Trips searched out the guestroom, where RuLu often hung out. We cried.
We didn't hear the mighty purring roar of Rootles the last five days of his life. We keep listening, expecting to see him lying on his side in the hallway, forepaws bent, or to emerge from the back bedroom to greet us and jump on the bathroom counter to drink from the faucet.
The Saturday morning I picked RuLu up from the vet's thinking we were on the road to recovery we had listened to a woman eulogize her late cat on National Public Radio. I came down to the kitchen to hear the musical interlude following the piece: "Memory" from Cats.
RuLu, thanks for the memories.
It's been a loopy several weeks: I broke my wrist over Labor Day weekend, had surgery the following week, fell behind on everything.
John and the cats were constant in the full sense of that word: constant presence, constant love, constant support. Teddy lay lightly across my splinted forearm. RuLu wanted to play with the tubing of my pain pump. Thunderpawed Oscar somehow managed not to step on any tender zones. And Angelica slept next to my pillow, purring all the while.
Teddy and Anglica: Much to our delight, Teddy abruptly rebounded fully from his funk and resumed being Teddy: Teddy, the night-watchman; Teddy, the molasses and ginger pig; Teddy, the buffalo-burger thief, who a few nights ago stole a 3-ounce half burger I had set aside for lunch. He snatched it right off my dinner plate, jumped to the floor and, growling all the others away, polished it off in two minutes.
Angelica, however, continued her decline. Shortly after Trips' arrival, the Bean took up residency under our bed (ironically, she was the one cat Trips didn't try to dominate and was even shy of), emerging only for a teaspooon or two of wet food with Epakitin in the morning and crunchies in the evening. It got harder to hydrate her: she was so thin sometimes we'd accidentally poke the needle through the other side of the pinched section (a "through-and-through"); in the last three weeks, she — a deeply affectionate cat — avoided us when we reached for her in the kitchen, fearing the weird needle-and-bag thing. Her appetite waned further. She stopped going outside, even onto the safety of the back deck. Finally, 10 days ago and then again last night, she did not purr.
I called the vet first thing this morning, and he agreed it was time. As we left his office this afternoon, I realized it had been 14 years nearly to the day since Angelica joined us. Her great emerald eyes, her lithe physique and extraordinary grace, her extreme oddness (well, she was!), her love and her purr are etched in our hearts and memories.
Every pet owner, sooner or later, must respond to The Question: When is it time to have my animal euthanized? This is assuredly among the most difficult and complex questions anyone ever faces.
Is it when the pet sleeps continuously? Is it when incontinence sets in? Is it when it stops eating and drinking or hovers over food and water? Is it when it cannot walk or displays atypical behaviors for more than a day or two? Is it when it takes three or more days to heal from hydration needle insertion points? Is it when the "third eye" protrudes a certain amount? Is it all, some or none of the above?
And then you ask yourself: Am I being lazy? Am I a cheapskate who's unwilling to pursue measures to prolong the life? Or am I being insensitive to the animal's discomfort and prolonging life needlessly?
There is no one correct answer, of course. I hope the following will provide some guidance or at least a starting point toward decision-making. These presume:
- Your animal receives regular veterinary care;
- Your vet is well informed as to the animal's current status and disease process; and
- You respond honestly.
- Has your animal stopped eating or drinking water for more than a day?
- Is it perpetually sluggish or sleeping around the clock?
- Is it exhibiting pain — withdrawing or vocalizing — when touched?
- Is it hiding or nesting out of the way?
- Is it exhibiting unusual behaviors or being particularly needy?
- Is it incontinent or unable to make it to the litter box on time?
- Is it moving with difficulty? What does its gait look like? How about jumping?
- Is it doing the "droopy" sit? When it sits up, does it appear to be slumping or bowing its head?
- Is it unusually restless or chronically dozing in a state of semiwakefulness? (Think of the last time you were really sick or injured and, miserable though you were, you couldn't really sleep because of the discomfort.)
- Is your pet's quality of life as good today as it was a few days ago or last week? If not, how has it changed?
- Is your pet as pain-free as possible? Talk to your vet about palliative care (pain medication, steroids, etc.).
- Check with your vet when you notice persistent change in any of your animal's behaviors: eating, drinking, elimination, sleeping, mobility, increased irritability, etc.
- Compare your observations with those of other household members.
- With any recommended treatment, ask the vet — and yourself : How will this improve my pet's health or decrease its discomfort? Am I doing this with the animal's physical comfort and quality of life foremost in mind?
- Am I doing this for my pet — or me?
We are at this juncture with both Teddy and Angelica. Over the last several days, Teddy's downshifted significantly. Ironically, he's also been clamoring to spend time outside for the first time in two years. Does he think the sun will lower his bilirubin (jaundiced newborns are exposed to special lights or taken into the sun to lower their bili)? He's sleeping more and shown unprovoked irritability toward the other cats, and his vocalizations have changed. We were awakened at 4 a.m. today to a low growl in the hallway, the sort of sound that that gets immediate attention. Was a fight brewing? No, it was only Teddy; the other cats were still sleeping or looking on from a safe distance. But then he ate a good breakfast this morning for the first time in several days.
Angelica, meanwhile, is so thin and healing so slowly from the 18-gauge hydration needle it is increasingly difficult to get sufficient fluids into her. Until this morning, she had not eaten for three days and had had only a modest amount of water. And then she ate a huge bowl of wet food.
So we love, observe, compare notes, consult and pray for discernment.
81Lives.com site launch day! Welcome!
All the cats are doing well. The diabetic RuLu is stable, Teddy's outstanding despite progressive liver failure (his enzymes keep climbing, and he's starting to lose weight), and Angelica, with kidney failure, is eating and drinking pretty well. Our triumph the last few days: we finally figured out the precise amount of wet food Angelica will eat in the morning — one to two teaspoonsful — so feel confident she'll get her full dose of Epakitin.
Epakitin, which is officially classified a supplement, is pretty amazing stuff: in the gastrointestinal tract, it binds with blood urea nitrogen (BUN) and creatinine to lower their toxic build-up in end-stage renal disease (ESRD). It comes as a powder that is mixed with food. Because of a steroid injection a week ago and now the Epakitin, Angelica's eating and drinking have resumed, and her activity level is far better than 10 days ago.
Stay tuned, and thanks for joining us on the journey.
Mufasa joined the household on Tuesday, June 20, 2006, and died 11 days later. Cause of death was either acute bacterial pneumonia or cancer.
His first week with us was uneventful, the new-cat orientation normal. The following Wednesday evening, however, I noticed he was breathing hard and felt warm. He already had a vet appointment scheduled, but we moved it up to the earliest time available, Friday morning. By then he had a fever of 104 degrees and was dehydrated. The vet gave him intravenous antibiotics and sent us home with oral antibiotics, fluids and needles. We also learned that Mufasa was 10 years old – maybe 6, with a lot of hard living – but not the 2-year-old youngster we’d thought we adopted. (It turned out the shelter had taken the word of the people who turned him in and had not had their vet age him.) We had blood drawn to retest for FIV and FeLV in addition to the full chemistry panel.
On Saturday, the vet reported the blood work was negative except for the expected elevated white count. He admitted, however, that every time his phone had rung the night before he expected it to be us. We crossed our fingers. By early afternoon, however, it was clear Mufasa was crashing, and he died as we turned into the parking lot of the emergency clinic.
I don’t know why his few days with us and abrupt, undoubtedly painful death upset me so, but they did. Was it his inestimable sweetness? Was it his unflappable calm when he first came home, sitting serenely while the other cats sniffed and hissed at him? Was it his easy settling into the morning feeding frenzy, just another member of the gang?
After the clinic pronounced him dead, they asked us about disposal. Just do a general cremation, we said, and left. That night, in tears, I decided that damnit, he’d been a street cat for too long, then a shelter cat for four months, but he died having a real home. He belonged here. I called the clinic back, and we picked him up the next day. Some of his cremains went to the roots of a Daphne we’d been waiting to plant, and others were scattered in the yard, including at the base of the catnip.
The night Mufasa died I was a riot of emotions: furious, sad and confused, eventually drained. Then I acted on something I’d only half about before, despite the urging of others: I registered this domain. As the Daphne roots in the yard, may this site help keep the memory of you and your housemates, past, present and future, rooted in our hearts.
Raku, we once read, means pleasure, enjoyment, ease in Japanese. The word is used in English most often to refer to the ceramic glazing technique that produces a rich, multihued, metallic-iridescent finish. Raku the cat ended up his name because it’s a good name and because his mother had taken up residency a few nights before queening with a local ceramicist – who had named mama cat Pots.
As much as we love our cats, we are always mindful of the fact they are cats. We don’t put clothes on them, we don’t anthropomorphize them. We read and talk to vets and other owners toward understanding feline behaviors as cats qua cats. None of this precludes the fact, however, that cats – as are all animals – are easily distinguished by their personal combinations of intelligence, agility and personality. Raku was hands-down the smartest cat we’ve ever known, and if any cat can be said to have possessed an actual sense of humor, that was also him.
Raku Trips Angelica
I was washing dishes as Angelica drank from the nearby water dish. Out of the corner of my eye, I abruptly saw her head land in the water, her front legs folded beneath her. Raku was sitting next to her. What? Angelica slowly rose to her feet, reestablished her position, and resumed drinking. Raku more slowly and deliberately extended a forepaw. After Angelica had once again settled into her drinking, Raku tripped her forelegs, and down her head went into the water dish. A bit confused, she once again rose, repositioned herself and resumed drinking. When Raku readied his paw to repeat the routine, I turned to him, “Raku!” He whirled around and glared at me, paw now raised to swat – me. “Stop that!” He did.
Raku and the Peanut
Off our back deck we have bird feeders positioned out of the cats’ way, and we also enjoy tossing peanuts to the Stellar and Piñon jays who from time to time have frequented the deck. The jays love peanuts and engage in a curious pattern: the bird will pick up one peanut, inspect it, reject it, then select a second peanut and fly off. On the other side of the deck, inside the kitchen, the well fed cats go berserk watching the display.
One morning, after the jays had left, we let the cats out. Raku found an uneaten peanut, picked it up in his mouth and sat, the peanut proffered alluringly skyward. He held that statuelike pose a full minute, hopeful. Alas, no jay returned.
Raku Pees — In the Toilet
I came into the upstairs bathroom one day to see – and hear – Raku peeing in the toilet. He glared at me, daring me to scold him. He was confused when instead I quietly affirmed, “Good boy! Good boy, Raku!” No, we have never attempted to toilet train any of our cats, and no, he never did this again.
Raku had abundant native feline intelligence, acute instincts and astonishing reflexes, even by cat standards. And — we don't care what you think — a sense of humor.
We know, from countless photographs and sightings, and from the writings of others, that the world is full of white cats who enjoy being held and whose physiognomy is long and lean. These are not ours. Our white cats are all of the solid, stocky variety, and none has ever permitted itself to be picked up and held for more than 15 seconds.
But each of our white cats has experienced noteworthy vicissitudes and thrived. And we have deep and fond memories of the great white cat Jasper, who belonged to a close friend. He survived horrendous abuse but somehow came to trust and love his adoptive person.
Asta, twice rejected before we adopted her at eight weeks of age, arrived at our home frail and sickly. In a few weeks, however, she dramatically transformed into an exceptionally glorious, healthy cat whose dense, soft coat remains a household legend. In an “I’m well!” flourish, the barely 4-month-old Asta went into heat during a mid-50’s February warm spell. (She had no issue.)
Blanche lived outdoors in the soggy greenery of Columbia County, Oregon, for some time before ending up at the shelter, quite pregnant. At the shelter, she made me cry. She also used to make our late vet Dr. G. cry at us, “she’s FAT!” Diet food and a strict feeding schedule have proven fruitless. (One time at the vet’s, I couldn’t stop myself from giving Blanche a neck fur snap: “But she’s not dehydrated!”) When we thought we were finally seeing real progress, it turned out she had hyperthyroidism. She had an iridial cyst removed from one of her eyes. She’s had mild digestive problems for years. And she’s the toughest broad in the house.
And then there’s RuLu. As a youthful diabetic, he is at particular risk for the same long-term complications well known to human juvenile diabetics: crapped-out vasculature (my terminology) of the extremities, potentially leading to toe amputation; blindness; and renal failure. Four months later, we finally hit the right insulin and the right dosages, and today he is doing superbly. Despite twice-daily shots and periodic glucose curves, which require poking his ears every four hours to test his blood, he loves his fellow felines and people as much as ever. Doglike, he awakens and follows us around the house, particularly during the evenings or during the night – purring loudly all the while.
Dr. L. was right. White cats are special.