Friday, April 30, 2021

I live with cat

I'm down to one cat now.

I've been a standard-issue bipedal humanoid cat-minder unit for nearly 15 years. I started with one (Grendel), which soon became two (+ Rhiannon), and then three six months after that (+ Maebh). For the next 9 1/2 years, they were my little fur family. During that time, all were healthy and happy and—for the most part—got along well. (Although there was that intermittent unpleasantness between Grendel and Rhiannon.) 

Losing Grendel to cancer in 2016 was hard. He was my first 'adult' cat (i.e., the first after the two we had when I was a kid). He carried on for six weeks after being diagnosed, but in the end I called a vet for in-home euthanasia. He died by the fireplace where he loved to sit. I got to tell him how much I loved him as he went gentle into that good night.

Less than a week after Grendel died, I adopted Bogart, whom I loved, but whom the other cats hated (especially Maebh). For four years, it's been like Cyprus at Chez Dave in beautiful, formerly bucolic Lynnwood, WA. I think it was hard on them to be alternately with me and kept away from me. I had to divide my time between Bogey and the girls, with each being jealous of my time spent with the other. Plus there was the need to keep litter boxes and feeding spaces in multiple rooms, so I could isolate Bogey or the girls alternately.

I lost Rhiannon two years after Grendel died. She was my sweetheart. Very fussy and very loving. She was the frowner I doted on. Her loss, too, was hard even though I was better prepared for it. At 18, she'd been in decline for a long time and I knew her time left was short. I took her into the vet hoping to get some info about geriatric care in her waning days, which I figured may be months, but in the course of the examination, she collapsed after the vet found (and manipulated) a lump in her belly: cancer. She spent the day in the vet with an IV drip. I took her home later that day. I knew she was dying and I wanted her to die at home, not in a steel cage with tubes in her. A week later, she died in my arms just before 4:00 am. I had arranged the day before to take her in to be put to sleep. Dying in my arms at home was better. It was what I hoped for. I called in the vet for Grendel because I wanted him to die at home. I'm happy that Rhiannon was able to do that as well.

Last year, Maebh was diagnosed with hyperthyroidism. I treated her (not easily or consistently) with methimazole and planned to give her the iodine treatment to zap her thyroid. She hates being medicated and fought every attempt to dose her, which needed to be done twice a day. Before I was to have the iodine treatment done, another examination discovered cancer in her mammaries. She was also diagnosed with kidney disease and heart disease. That canceled the iodine treatment; they wouldn't do it unless she was free of comorbidities. I didn't think she'd survive for long. I kept looking for signs of decline. Every morning I dreaded waking up to find her dead or dying, but every morning I was happy to see her come to me with her jaunty trot.

Fearing Maebh's death had only one real silver lining: that Bogart would finally have a house where he could roam freely without being shut in some room and shut out of another. The cats want to hang with me wherever I am. Denying them that at any point in the day is frustrating for them (that's why cats can never let you use the bathroom in peace) and for me, since being surrounded with my cats has always been a blessing. With Grendel, Rhiannon, and Maebh, there was always a cat-pile somewhere, mostly near wherever I was sitting or working. If I was home, the cats always had access. For the last four years, that hasn't been true.

The separation has also been trying on me just because I was as restricted as the cats in where I went. If I was working in the den, I might be locked in with Bogart or the girls. Going into and out of the room could be perilous. Maebh hated to be locked in, and I had to foil escapes when I came in or out by using a baby gate (which was an early attempt at socializing Bogey and the girls) to block her attempt. Being able to move free through my own house was a secondary silver lining.

But the silver linings could only come at the cost of losing Maebh. She was always the most cuddly of my cats and my mornings—especially the last two years when it was just Bogey and Maebh in the house—have always featured coffee with Maebh where I'd sit on the couch and she'd curl up by me or sit on me in my recliner purring wildly as I sipped and read from my iPad.

On Wednesday, after coffee with Maebh, I spent the day working in my den with Bogart. Maebh came and vocalized at the door a few times, but mostly settled in the hallway. I spent some time with her downstairs on occasion, but then around midday, I brought her food up to my bedroom and closed her in there so Bogey could be out and about, although he continued to hang with me in the den.

I went out to get cat food for Maebh, some more litter (I've been maintaining three litter boxes in the hall bathroom, the den, and my master bathroom), and a few things for myself. I also noted that I had to go on Thursday to restock on Bogart's prescription UR food that I can only get from the vet. The rest of the day I completed working and then spent time on the couch with Bogart, who was ensconced in the dimple in the right back that Grendel formed years ago. Bogart found that dimple right off and it's been his go-to spot.

As usual, when Bogart is out and Maebh is in, I have 'beddy-by' time somewhere between 8:30 and 9:00. That's when I put Bogart into the den for the night or into my bedroom. I've had to alternate having Bogart shut in my bedroom with me at night or Maebh. It's usually a few nights in a row for each, but each gets their turn snuggling with me overnight.

On Wednesday evening, I was going to put Bogey in the den because he'd been with me in the bedroom the last few night. I usually had to carry him up, because he's always resisted 'beddy-by,' even if he was going to spend it in the bedroom with me. That night, I gave him his furosemide pill and he shortly followed me up to then den, where his food was.

I had started working on something on my computer when Bogey sauntered into the room. He took a few nibbles at his food and then sat down on the floor near me. I was planning to get up and close him him in and then let Maebh out of the bedroom, where she'd been for most of the day.

Suddenly, I saw Bogart scuttle quickly out of the room walking as if he was half-dragging himself. I went to see what was up and he was in pain. I carried him back to the den, but he was becoming frantic. His back legs appeared to have gone out on him and he dragged himself around as if he were trying to escape something. He was yowling in pain and clearly frightened.

I immediately called the 24-hour vet in Lynnwood. As Bogart continued to scream and yowl, I talked to the woman on the line and arranged to take Bogart in. He eagerly dragged himself into the pet carrier when I brought it up to him (oddly, he's always liked going into it). I headed down to the vet. It was around 9:00 pm. Bogey was alternately quiet and frantic as we went. I stuck my fingers in the cage several times so he could rub his face against me; that was typical for car rides. With all the COVID protocols, I had to call in from the parking lot and have them come out and take him in. The doctor would call me on my cell phone after he'd examined Bogart. I waited in my car praying the Rosary.

When the doctor called, the news was grim. Bogart had had a blood clot from his heart break off and go down into his hips where it blocked the blood flow to his rear legs. The vet didn't use the term, but I subsequently learned that the condition is called saddle thrombosis. As the vet explained to me, the feeling for the cat is like the pain we feel when one of our limbs has gone to sleep, only much, much more intense: the blood stops flowing and the nerves are screaming back to the brain about it. As I listened, hoping to hear some positive news, the news kept getting worse. It's very rare for a cat to survive this. It may be possible to dissolve the clot through blood thinners, which will restore blood flow to the legs, however, when the blood flow is cut off, even for a short while, necrosis begins, i.e., cells start dying with resulting nerve and muscle damage. Cats who have the thrombus cleared may never be able to use the limbs again.

As my heart pounded, we talked a bit more. Bogart was still too frantic to be adequately examined and they were waiting for the pain medication to take effect. We ended the call and he said he'd call me again after he was able to better examine Bogey. Several anxious minutes later,  the doctor called back and we started to talk about treatment options. He mentioned that at this point, euthanasia was not unwarranted, given the vary low expectations from treatment. I couldn't make that decision. Treatment would be between 3000 and 5000 dollars. I guardedly decided to proceed and hope for the best.

Bogart had a near brush with death four years earlier when he had a urinary tract infection. Several days in care brought him back, though I think it left lingering health issues. A year later, he was diagnosed with heart disease. This is what ultimately lead to his thrombosis. His heart had an arrhythmia and beat very fast, so fast that its ventricles never filled with enough blood to get a good circulation going. He'd been taking furosemide daily, which is a diuretic and helps to reduce fluid buildup, but his breathing was always faster than normal. I spent years fearing sudden cardiac arrest; I had never heard of saddle thrombosis.

I was able to talk the vet into letting me visit with Bogey in his cage before I went home. He was still pretty frightened and frantic. I only had a couple minutes with him. You always hope in these moments that your presence will have a calming effect, but cats are animals and their animal instincts take over in times like these. He didn't settle down when I petted him. He flailed around the cage, still trying to escape the pain in his useless legs. 

I went home deeply somber and frightened. When the clinician first asked whether I wanted Bogart resuscitated if he went into cardiac arrest, I said yes. After talking with the doctor, I hesitantly said no when asked a second time. I felt, despite some hope for the best—really, hope for a miracle—that Bogart wouldn't survive this. I slept that night with the phone by me. I usually don't on the assumption that texts and calls in the middle of the night can wait till the morning, but the vet said they'd call if anything happened.

I barely slept. My waking moments were filled with prayer and anxiety—and most of the night was just a long waking moment with too-brief intermittent naps. Maebh spent a good deal of the waking moments beside my head purring loudly. She hated Bogart, so his sudden departure wasn't a bad thing for her, but she loves me and she was happy to have me all to herself that night.

Morning came with no news. I waited until the doctor called just after 7:00 am. He said he'd be going home by 4:00 am, but he was still there with Bogart hours after that. He told me that Bogart was much calmer and alert. Another vet was coming on duty and she'd call me later when there was more news. They'd contacted their cardiologist, who wasn't normally there on Thursdays and were waiting to see if she could come. I got a call later in the morning saying that the cardiologist had come and they were waiting on her report.

The other vet, Dr. Long, called me around 11:00 to discuss plans going forward. At this point, I had indicated that I wanted to pursue options to get Bogart through this. The talk was sobering. While not impossible, the margin of success for Bogart was very limited. After a lot of soul searching, I blubbed out (I was weeping as I said it) that I wanted to put him to sleep. We set the time for 1:00 pm.

When I came, I was brought to a room to wait until they brought him in to me. I picked out options for private cremation, which meant that I'd have his ashes back in an urn to put beside Grendel's and Rhiannon's. A technician brought him in and explained to me the process, which I already knew from my experience with Grendel. Bogart already had a catheter in him. With Grendel, they had to put that in while I was holding him. He snarled at me when they did. I didn't want Bogey to snarl at me.

He was bundled up in a blanket with his head and shoulders exposed. I took him and sat down in a chair while the technician who brought him in went out to give me time alone. He was alert enough, though I could tell that he was on pain meds. I held him and petted him and told him over an over how much I loved him. After about 15-20 minutes, the technician came in to ask if I was ready. I said I was, though I felt that if I could have spent forever with him it would have been too brief.

The doctor wanted to be sure I wanted to be there for both injections. The first was a sedative that would put him under; the second would stop his heart. Some people don't want to be there for that. I wanted him to die in my arms, as Grendel and Rhiannon had, so we proceeded. While the sedative was taking effect, I petted his head and told him I loved him. When the second injection came, I told him goodbye and kissed him. He didn't die at home, but he died in my arms, which was enough. 

The vet left me with Bogey after that. I cried and the tears flowed down my face. I'm crying now as I write this. I can't begin to say how much I loved him. He had brought healing to me after Grendel died and became so well-beloved that I couldn't imagine my home without him. The years of living in a divided household with other cats who hated the newcomer were no matter compared to the joy he brought me.

I loved his quirks and unique personality. He had a way of looking at me that was priceless. He was less playful after his heart condition developed, but he still loved a good romp and Da Bird was his favorite toy, along with various catnip toys, especially his catnip bananas. 

He would go through the big tub of cat toys I have in the living room and pull out several until the floor was covered with them. He always seemed less interested in playing with the toys than with dragging them all out. When I cleaned up and put all the toys back, he'd pull them out again.

I could spend a lot more words going through his personality and all he meant to me—and I plan to in a future post. Like Grendel and Rhiannon before him, Bogart has left an indelible mark on my heart, which will never diminish even in eternity. It's one of those theological questions that no one can definitively resolve, whether we'll see our pets in heaven (assuming we make it ourselves). I opt for optimism on this point, even if it puts me opposed to redoubtable theologians like Aquinas and confirmed ailurophile Benedict XVI. Yet Francis takes a more hopeful tack. I think that heaven without our pets is no less heaven, but somehow in a mystical paradox, while heaven can never be less without them, it can be infinitely more with. Animate, but without the free will to sin and exclude themselves from God, yet, too, without immortal souls, it's anyone's guess or learned opinion whether the bliss they brought us in life will be part of our bliss of heaven.

Although I don't always agree with our present Pontiff, I hold the same opinion as Francis that the new creation promised in Revelation, " not an annihilation of the universe and all that surrounds us. Rather it brings everything to its fullness of being, truth and beauty."

And he who sat upon the throne said, “Behold, I make all things new (καινος)." (Rev 21:5)

Within its variations of meaning, καινος can be seen a a renewal or transformation, as in one being a new creation (καινὴ κτίσις) in Christ (2 Corinthians 5:17). We are not obliterated, but transformed into this new creature and the indelible marks of the sacraments (e.g., baptism) remain with us. Perhaps, too, those indelible marks of love remain. As the Pope further said, "The holy scripture teaches us that the fulfilment of this wonderful design also affects everything around us," and that "what lies ahead … is therefore a new creation." I'm holding onto that hope, even if it seems maudlin.

So now it's just Maebh and me, and Maebh is still ailing. I don't expect her to last through the year—or even the summer—but then I thought the same last year and here she remains. It's marvelous to think that Maebh the Merciless is left to me now as an agent of mercy, to comfort my loss and bring healing to my soul.

The events of Wednesday and Thursday completely turned on its head my expectation of the future. When Maebh is gone, I'll address the question of more cats. I wanted the next several years to be just me and my Bogey Boy, but that won't happen now. If only to keep from having to rename this blog, my disposition is that I'll have cats (or cat) until the day I die, if God is merciful.