In Dearest, Loving Memory
October 1989 - September 13, 2001
If tears could build a stairway,
And memories a lane,
I'd walk right up to heaven
And bring you home again.
The text below was written when she was doing the best she had done in quite some time; she had been acting very much like her younger self, playing, doing things she had not done in quite some time. In some way, now, I believe it was her way of saying goodbye -- at least, that is how I feel. The last two weeks before her sudden, irreversible downward turn were joyous for us, and I will hold on to those precious memories forever.
September 2, 2001
I had a cat as a child, one that my family had for seven years, from the time I was seven to nearly fourteen years old. When we had to move, the landlord of our new house neglected to tell us he did not want pets until after we’d committed to the apartment. He pressed his standard (despite the hypocrisy of his owning a beloved dog, which we would end up babysitting later on) to the point where we were forced to give up Tony. Fortunately, he went to a loving home, but one we had no contact with. This had always left me with an emptiness, one that would stay with me for the next seven years after we gave him away.
So when our house changed hands, coming into ownership of a man who had been a favorite high school teacher of mine, I appealed to him to allow us to have a cat. He agreed, and no less than five days after the ownership of the house changed hands in January 1990, we headed off to the SPCA.
I had wanted a black or white cat, and wanted a female this time rather than a male. So as I looked over the kittens, I noticed several white ones, but they were all male. But way in the back was a little gray female, who turned out to be a pastel calico when the SPCA employee brought her out of the cage and handed her to me. I put her on a carpeted table, and she was apprehensive, but not really afraid. After a few minutes, I decided I wanted the little fuzzball, and carried her out to the desk to fill out the appropriate forms.
Everything was fine until we hit a snag – they would not release the kitten to our ownership until we had consent from our landlord. Unable to get back the next day (which was a Sunday), and with the SPCA unwilling to hold her for us, we called and hoped our landlord would answer his phone. Leaving a message on the machine, we waited in the lobby as the kitten I so desperately wanted curled up on the faux-sheepskin lining of my denim stadium coat and went to sleep.
After what seemed like an eternity, the landlord called and gave his consent. I buttoned the kitten into my coat and snuggled her all the way home, as she mewed plaintively, seeming more perplexed than afraid. I carried her into the house and right to my father, who immediately grinned and took her as I removed my coat.
She was mellow at first, as the veterinary tech at the SPCA had said, since she’d been given worm medication (preventative) and flea-dipped and had generally had a hard day (she’d only been brought in the night before). So she slept on my lap most of the night, during which I pondered a name for her. I remember it coming to me as I watched her head for her litterbox for the first time, and posed it to my mother: Patches. Mom liked it, so it stayed. Over the next few days, she would develop a few nicknames. She became surprisingly vocal, her tiny meow more like little peeps. Eventually, we found ourselves calling her Peeps, or Peepers; eventually, she would answer to those as well as Patches. Over time, that “voice” would become her most distinguishing feature, with distinct meows, churrups, twitters and peeps for various things, not the least of which was “feed me!” She also has very clear and distinct vocalizations by way of greeting for me, my mother, and my two sisters. For my nephew, it’s usually a growl, hiss, or low meow, more as a “I’ll-tolerate-you-but-don’t-invade-my-space” warning. And of course, there’s the plaintive, deep-throated “where is everybody???” wail when she is left alone.
at three months old.
Fetching an ornament
at three months old.
She developed quite a few more interesting traits over the years. In her first year, she nearly got herself killed twice – for some reason, she had a penchant for getting her neck caught up in things. She’d somehow found the stray thread that was hanging off the ruffle of the chair and got her neck caught in that. Another time, she was playing with a toy that bounced on a long elastic string that was hanging from the doorway, and managed to get wrapped up in that. Thankfully, I was with her both times, and took steps to insure such things didn’t happen again. She would continue to be a daredevil, flying off of furniture, and getting into and under things that no cat should be able to (including, as a kitten, a one-inch space underneath the TV stand). In the very beginning, she figured out that if she picked up something in her mouth that you'd thrown and brought it back to you, you would throw it again. She absolutely loved crumpled paper, and taught herself to fetch with no provocation at all. She would do this for several years, until she began to get a bit older and her “kitty crazy” times were less frequent.
She also has a temper from hell. She really didn’t like being petted like a normal cat until her later years. What she does like is being patted on the rump until she decides she’s had enough, after which she spins around and swats at you. She has a love-hate relationship with it, always coming back for more, then taking off in a huff, only to return. She hates being held, and will growl and hiss like crazy, even if you just cuddle her where she is curled on a chair arm. She isn’t a lap cat for anyone but my mother; she will sit next to me on the chair, pushing up against my leg with her back, but will never get on my lap. For my sister, she always sits on the arm of the chair next to her.
She is a very perceptive cat. I think the best example of this was a heart-wrenching incident a few days after my father passed away suddenly. Whenever my father mowed the lawn, Patches would get up in the kitchen or parlor window and watch him go back and forth. Dad had passed away while doing this routine chore; I’m not sure if Patches was watching that day. A few days later, our upstairs neighbor asked us if it would upset us to finish what Dad had started; we told him no. When Patches heard the lawnmower start up, she flew from my mother’s room and up onto the back of the chair by the parlor window so fast she nearly went through the screen, looking for my dad. I cannot tell you how much I cried then, knowing that she missed him as much as I did.
As a young adult.
She has an innate sense of illness. My mother began to develop heart problems soon after we got her, and whenever Mom wasn’t feeling well, Patches would not leave her side. She is very close to my mom because the first three months we had her, I was finishing college, so Mom was home with her every day. Somehow, she became attuned to my mother’s moods, and would react to them in kind. When my mother returned from being hospitalized after a stroke in 1999, Patches stayed with her constantly, keeping a vigil during the first rollercoaster year of her recovery, then tapering off a bit as Mom slowly got better.
It was during that time that Mom was hospitalized that my sister and I first noticed her drinking a lot, and urinating a lot. At first we pinned it down to the stress of the situation at hand; Mom was hospitalized for a total of five weeks, and Patches was alone almost all day because of my day-shift work hours and my sister’s night-shift, around which we fit in visits to the hospital. The symptoms continued once things had settled though, so in summer of 2000 we had bloodwork done, which showed nothing amiss. She seemed to improve as well, so we didn’t think anything of it. But by the beginning of 2001, the symptoms had returned, so we took her to a new veterinarian, unhappy with the seemingly passive attitude of our old one.
In retrospect, I wish I’d done this sooner. We thought the symptoms had come from a stray strand of tinsel Peeps had eaten during the holidays (which she’d passed), so the vet did an x-ray. This uncovered the fact that one of her kidneys was smaller than the other; bloodwork and urine tests revealed a urinary tract infection. At first, the vet though that accounted for the high numbers of her kidney function tests; this seemed supported when, after a month-long treatment with antibiotics, the kidney function numbers went down and Peeps returned to normal. For about a month after the end of the treatments, she was great, her old self… but then began to appear sick again, with the same symptoms. More tests finally revealed that she had developed Feline Chronic Renal Failure.
As you can see from the photo at the top of the page, taken at her healthiest in 1998, she was a big furball. At her heaviest, she was 15 pounds. This always surprised me, because when we brought her home, she could sit in one of the squares on the floor in the picture and there was room to spare around her. She pretty much fit into the palm of my hand, really, and when we’d had her a few weeks, she once climbed into a tissue box that was half-full of tissues, and still fit comfortably. When the illness was diagnosed, she was about 14 and a half pounds; she’s now down to 10.
I was away from home, though not far, when she had her first major setback on August 11, 2001. My sister rushed her to the animal hospital as my friend brought me home from where we were, which was about a forty-five minute drive. Patches was hospitalized for three days while the hospital staff brought her back around with IV fluids and other medications to “jump start” her kidney function and rehydrate her. When we brought her home, we were now charged with giving her fluids under the skin (“sub-Qs”) and medication. The first week after she was home was very difficult as she flatly refused to eat, and began to sleep more than anything else. Once in a while, she’d jump on the chair next to me, or onto my mother’s lap, but for the most part was utterly miserable. She still somehow found a way to be forgiving with everything we now had to do to her, eventually dropping her grudge and coming over to rub on our legs. But I wished for all the world I could make her understand that we were only doing what we could to make her comfortable. Eventually, about a week after she came home, she turned around, and since then has been doing pretty well, considering.
We are treating her as best we can, but attempting to give her special food resulted, at first, in indignant looks and hunger striking – she’d go to the bowl, sniff, then scratch around the bowl, “covering up” what was there in her usual sign of disapproval. We’ve since found some foods appropriate to her condition that she is eating with gusto, for now. Attempting to give her medications is difficult too – she’d always been a biter, and she fights us tooth and claw. The pill meds aren’t bad, with the use of a “pill gun”; her liquid medicine is more of a battle. Sometimes we make it, sometimes we don’t. The administration of fluids has gotten smoother, and as of this writing is only done twice a week. She tolerates it all as well as one would expect, really – but I think she is getting used to it now, as she stays mad for less time than she did at first.
Below: September 1, 2001.
Right now, as of today, she is hanging in there, eating well and still enjoying her life. I both don’t and do know what the future holds: I don’t know how much more we’ll have to do for her as time goes on, or how much time is left. I do know that eventually, we will have to make a very difficult decision if fate doesn’t make it for us. But I am trying not to focus on that right now – what I am focusing on is the fact that she is here with us now, and doing as well as she can. I am treating every day with her as a gift, every moment that she wants to cuddle with me on the chair as precious, because while the inevitable seems a ways off today, there’s just no way to really know for sure. For now, though, I have my Furry-Burr-Ball in my life, and that’s the most important thing. To be too afraid of what is to come is to waste time treasuring what you have right now, no matter what that ‘now’ entails. I will continue to hope and pray that there is still quite a bit left of Patches’ ninth and final life, and will do everything in my power to give her the best chance to enjoy whatever remains.
If you are a cat owner, I vehemently urge you to visit the Chronic Feline Renal Failure Information Center, aka the “Avatar Site”, for a comprehensive look at this fatal disease, which is the number one cause of death among cats.
And if you are grieving the loss of a beloved pet, please head over to Voula's website. This link takes you to the home page; once you're there please read "In Memory of Sachie", "In Memory of Pebbles", and "Sachie's Rainbows" -- you will be deeply comforted, as I was, by these beautiful stories, which gave me a great measure of peace in my grief. Her site is a wonderful tribute to her many animal friends, and I highly recommend a "cover-to-cover" reading.