Farewell, Old Friend

Death is inevitable, of course, and in the case of my beloved old lady, it didn’t come as a surprise, not really. She’d gotten creakier, and skinnier, and greasier, and tireder, little by little, year by year, even though her bloodwork tested normal during her regular checkups. When the vet handed us the dual diagnosis of hyperthyroidism and chronic renal failure in August, it confirmed my worst fears.

The downhill slide accelerated rapidly after that. She lasted longer than Eric did, partly because she actually allowed us to administer subcutaneous fluids, and partly because she had significantly more kidney function left, even at the end. I’m still amazed when I think of the Great Orange Bastard and how muscular and hale he was to his last breath; that kid sure loved his food, which helped mask the fact that his kidneys were more hole than kidney for the last couple of years of his short life. The old lady, on the other hand, was never a glutton; by the time she passed, I could feel every rib and vertebra under her loosened coat.

I did learn some lessons from Eric, chief among them the virtue of letting go before every scrap of hope is lost. The knowledge that I’d left Eric in the hospital, where he died terrified and alone, surrounded by strangers, abandoned by the person he loved most, has haunted me all these years. On October 1, I made sure the old lady was cocooned in blankets and love and whispers of what good cat she was, had always been, and she purred herself to sleep like she had thousands of times before.

It’s hard to lose someone you’ve loved and lived with for sixteen and a half years.

*blows off cobwebs*

It’s been a while since I’ve posted. Law school kind of blew up in my face after Eric died, and then I adopted a kitten, whom we named Callisto (“the most beautiful” in Greek, also synonymous with “Get off the counter!” and “Stop trying to eat that random piece of paper”). All my energies have been focused on a) trying not to flunk out of law school, and b) raising a kitten, up to and including dealing with various kittenish assplosions. Aside from the random gastrointestinal upheavals, she’s pretty amazing, and I want to write more about her. Until I find more time, however, please enjoy these cute pictures I took of her a couple months ago.

Callisto, looking all swank
Callisto, looking all swank
She is the hilariousest when shes playing.
She is the hilariousest when she's playing.
Enjoying a prime bit of sunny windowsill like a cat should.
Enjoying a prime bit of sunny windowsill like a cat should.

I still miss Eric. Some days a lot more than others. Callisto reminds me of him in some ways–she’s the same kind of attention/affection whore, and like Eric, she’ll try to eat anything at least once, and most things at least twice or three times. She’s marginally brighter than Eric, though that’s not saying much, because Eric, bless his departed heart, was dumber than a sack of wet hair.

In short: life is pretty good, if insanely busy. I want to update more, but that’s probably not happening till May.

Somebody needs a kitten

Hitlercat and Eric snuggling together, combining their powers of cute.
Hitlercat and Eric, combining their powers of cute.

Ever since Eric’s been gone, Hitlercat, who’s snuggly and affectionate but by and large a pretty independent sort, has become Velcro Kitty with +2 to Squeaking Sadly and +5 to Howling When Left Alone. She quiets down if we bring her into the Forbidden Zones (the zones that Robert and I are trying to keep cat-free as a concession to our allergies, like the game room, a.k.a. the Nerdatorium) and snuggle with her, but right when I come home from school? Oh man. “Squeak! Squee-ee-aak! Mew! Squeak! Mraoowww.” *belly-exposing flop, like, twenty times in a row, complete with curled-up kitten paws*

Last night, however, really broke my heart. She was sitting right by the window, staring out the window intently and meowing and meowing and meowing very plaintively. I thought she wanted love and attention, so I started scritching her head–and then I tracked her line of sight, and realized that she was looking at the neighbor’s cat across the way, who was sitting on the windowsill. She wasn’t pawing at the glass and acting aggressive, the way Eric would when he spotted a strange kitty across the way. She was sitting pretty calmly, tail not twitching, and crying her heart out.

Hitlercat has always liked other cats, even if they don’t like her. I’ve never seen her hissing or swatting at a cat unless they got all aggressive at her first. Her brother was probably the exception–she’d often hiss at him if he got too close and Had That Look In His Eye, but then, Eric, much as I love him, was a grade-A asshole and bully. He’d do things like wait for Hitler to get on my lap and settle in for a good cuddle, and then he’d run over and bite her in the face. But despite their constant sibling squabbling, they still spent all their time together and occasionally snuggled and groomed each other; neither of them had spent any appreciable time alone in their lives. Until now.

I’m going to see what I can do about getting her a new buddy before Christmas. It’ll be good for both of us.

Eric: April ?? 2002 – November 17, 2009

Eric doing the Happy Kitty Curl. Taken about 2 weeks before he died.
Eric doing the Happy Kitty Curl. Taken about 2 weeks before he died.

Eric’s heart stopped yesterday, and I had to let him go. I have lots I want to say about his death and the decisions I made along the way, but right now, I’m mostly heartbroken and speechless.

We buried him today in a sunny spot on a hill, and planted a beautiful Edgeworthia on top of him. I almost picked a dogwood, because a) I thought it’d be an antidote to all those people planting pussy willows in honor of their dead cats, and b) Eric loved to hiss and growl and spit at dogs, because in his head, he was the 50-foot-Kitten and not something a Samoyed could eat in one mouthful. Then I found out that dogwoods were susceptible to some fungal infections, and not only were the Edgeworthias hardier, they’re every bit as pretty, and they produce orange-yellow flowers. Here’s hoping there will be fragrant orange flowers in a couple of months.

Please enjoy these two videos of Eric back when he was 3 or 4 years old. The first is of Eric being spun really fast. The second is my favorite Stupid Cat Trick of all time.

On the Stoicness of Cats

Eric, doing his best Downward Facing Paperweight, a classic kitty yoga pose
Eric, doing Downward Facing Paperweight, a classic Hatha yoga pose

Eric’s still doing great, but I know how to read my Orange Menace, and he’s been in his discomfort pose more times this week than I’ve ever seen him do in his life.

Those of you who’ve had sick cats probably know what I’m talking about. It’s kind of like a breadloaf-with-legs. I associate the breadloaf position (all legs, paws and tail very neatly tucked underneath the body) with a certain sort of smugness with my cats; they seem to do it when they want to chill out without snuggling or sleeping. The breadloaf-with-legs involves a slight elevation, so their haunches are very slightly raised and their paws are visible. It usually indicates imminent horking.

Eric goes into discomfort pose at least three or four times a day now, and it breaks my heart. If I notice, I go over and pet him and give him love, and that seems to help; he gets out of the pose, and meows and purrs and head-butts, and rarely returns into the pose after the affection therapy. I have noticed that he’ll groom the area right over his kidneys right after I’m done petting him, and I wonder if his kidneys are hurting him—they’re about five times the size they should be, and completely riddled with fluid-filled cysts. According to what I’ve read, a lot of the time the polycystic kidneys don’t seem to bother the cats, but they do occasionally cause pain.

Sometimes, I think it’s nausea, and food seems to help—just a couple of mouthfuls of raw or a small spoonful of pulverized winter squash. He’s keeping his weight remarkably well, partly because he’s such a chow hound, and partly because I’m partially hand-feeding him these days, and he loooooooves being hand-fed. I’m going to keep him a healthy weight for as long as humanly possible, and he’s in fighting trim right now: 11 pounds, and all of it Orange Bastard muscle.

But tonight, something happened that has never, and I mean never happened before.

He was chilling in the cat tree and in classic breadloaf formation. I blinked at him affectionately, and he blinked right back, so I went up to him and petted him.

He unfurled, which I expected—and moved back from my hand, which I didn’t. I reached over carefully and scratched his head gently, which he allowed for a few seconds, then he just seemed overwhelmed by the sensation, and jumped up to the tallest platform on the cat tree, where he sprawled after a couple seconds of sniffing. He gave me a look. Not a mean look. An “I’m in pain and not in the mood to be touched” look.

Eric, enjoying some sunshine
Eric, enjoying some sunshine

I help up my finger for him to sniff, which he did, and I respected his wishes; I didn’t touch him. But man, was I ever sad afterwards. I’ve never known this kid to refuse affection. Ever. He’s a love sponge. (Which explains his drooling habit when he’s getting affection—he’s just squeezing out all the excess love he gets through his spit. I just wish his spit didn’t smell like 100% ass-hobo.) He’s my guy. I get to do all kinds of stuff nobody ever could get away with, like dig out his eye boogers, or pet his belly. But tonight, he was in too much discomfort¬† to even let me scritch his forehead. Given how stoic cats are, I can’t help but wonder how much pain the little dude’s in.

I wish I had the kitty equivalent of morphine. I’d give it to him in a heartbeat. With the polycystic kidneys, there’s really no reason not to, and my goal is to keep him happy and comfortable. The pain is one of the biggest obstacles, and it’s only going to get bigger and uglier.

I’ll try not to let this blog become a depressing document of Eric’s slow downhill slide, but I feel like tonight was this weird milestone moment. The initial dip in appetite was the shot across the bow. We’re now engaging the enemy in earnest, and they’re starting to throw grappling hooks. I know we’re going to have to surrender at some point, but by damn, we’re going to put up a magnificent fight, and have fun along the way.