Sunday, June 8, 2014

The Death of a Cat

            She was an unusual creature. She climbed up into your lap and sat there. We've had cats that followed you around the block when you took a walk, but this was an remarkably people-centered cat even by our standards.
            If you came to visit, she waited for you to settle into a comfortable spot, stay there for a while, and then jump into your lap. She was a bit promiscuous. She didn't have to know you very well. She was endearing, so we forgave her much. She had a temperamental stomach, threw up her catfood more often than was really necessary, never an appealing prospect to encounter before you stepped on it, or sat on it.
             We had decided, or rather Anne had decided, that she would be an indoors cat, and this put some stress on going in or out. On rare occasions she managed to get out, disappearing for hours if you tried to corral her. There was hardly any point calling her name into the night -- we'd never used it.Previous, outdoor cats ended up dying, after years of patrolling the neighborhood in the manner of cats immemorial; often it was some cat-born disease that laid them low. It was assumed, further, that if she didn't got out, she wouldn't get fleas. She got them anyway. 
             After Kitty (the only name we actually used for her; her official name Sasquatch just never caught on) returned from her longest adventure, we rushed her into the house and redoubled security. When she meowed pitifully at the door, her appetite now thoroughly whetted for the great outdoors, Anne bade her, unsympathetically, "Live on the memories!"
            Keeping her caged up in the house felt cruel to me -- I went around muttering "I know why the caged bird sings" -- but it did keep her alive.
           Then when the kids were out of the house and we moved to another house in a city neighborhood, suddenly we let go of the rule. She was an old cat now., and we lived in a flat, contained area where she seemed less likely to disappear.
            I don't know if we can blame the ear mites on that decision. I took her to a vet some years ago when one of her ears appeared to be infected. He said the opening in the ear canal had begun to close because of repeated infections and that made it more likely to infect again. The only possible cure was surgery. When I asked how much that would cost, the answer -- four figures -- seemed to take him by surprise. Had no one asked this question before? High-priced vet services began to seem to me one of those rackets, like orthodentics, that preys on the natural conglomeration of love and fear. Where was national pet health insurance when I needed it?
           Despite antibiotics, the ear continued to be a problem. The cat would try to scratch the source of the irritation, mites, probably -- whaling away at something inside her head with the claws of her hind leg. This succeeded in tearing up an open wound in the back of her neck that never healed.
            When she began to lose her mind, as we put it, we carried her around to the places when she forgot how to get there on her own. She'd go outdoors then meow pitifully when she found me in the garden. What did this mean? I carried her back into the house, and when she tried to go out again stopped her. For years she could not get into the house unless I picked her up and carried her. Anne said she had a phobia of doors. She perched at the cusps of doorways inside the house, looking fearful and at a loss. She hid from the kind neighbors who came to feed her when we went away to visit family. As she get older, she spent whole days in one place, often on our bed, sleeping until Anne came home in the evening and it was time for the next feeding. She sat on our laps, generally mine, in the evening.
            She slept on our bed for years, theoretically at the foot; sometimes determined to climb to the head and put her face in Anne's hair. Some deep neurosis was at work.
            This lasted until she peed on the bed while sleeping away the afternoon. She lost her bedroom privileges, but worse was to follow. She peed on my lap one evening spent in the customary fashion: the adults watching episode xx in some many-disced TV drama, the cat storing up enough human contact to spend the night in a chair.
            The vet (a different one) said incontinence was rare in cats. But it proved irreversible in ours.
            I beg the reader's indulgence if I do not lead you down all the steps in this dark decline. Suffice it to say that the cat was soon a smelly mess, and the nights she chose to sleep in her litter box were often an improvement over her other choices. And, oh yes, half the house was covered in plastic.
            In the last months we wrapped her in a towel first before we held her. Whatever disease was attacking her internally began to take the flesh off her even while she continued eating her medically formulated canned and dry food, and the hair fell off her lower limbs. When she stopped eating, approaching the bowl in the old routine, sniffing it, but then unable to feel any desire to ingest, we knew her days were numbered.
            She still wanted to be held. In fact, that's all she wanted. Anne came home on Friday night and held her weakened form in a towel for hours as we waited for our son Saul to call from the bus station. I suspected this visit would be his last chance to see Kitty. He had been a child still when we took her home from an animal shelter -- a lot of years ago.
            Kitty never appeared to be in pain. She piped a few strange, louder-sounding breaths, but not very loud, nothing that suggested a struggle... and let go of this world.
            We'll remember her with affection.