And Then There Were Two….

Trigger Warning: If you’ve recently lost a pet, are grieving, and would rather skip the details of the last day of a sick, old, and dying cat, you might want to skip this post. If you want to read a tribute to my cat Hunter instead, read my blog from Monday, October 6th.

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When I woke up yesterday, my husband told me that there was something wrong with my beloved 18 year old cat, Hunter. Mark had given him his medication and his subcutaneous fluids. Hunter didn’t move much, nor did he eat more than a nibble of his treats. Hunter did not come at all when food was put out.

I saw Hunter sitting uncomfortably by the water bowl. He moved away, and his back legs stumbled. You could tell he was in pain just by looking at him. When you can see that, you know it’s bad.

Hunter climbed into a chair where he likes to sleep, but he couldn’t quite rest comfortably. He moved slowly and did not lie down all the way. I decided to call the emergency line at my vet’s. I heard from my vet about 15 minutes later. She was already going into the office, so she said to meet her there.

Hunter looked so ill that I began crying. I went downstairs and told my mother to come up and visit Hunter because he was very sick. She was alarmed at how he looked and cried with me.

After getting some coffee, Mark and I drove Hunter to the vet. A physical exam indicated fluid in his stomach. The vet took some out and showed us the foam at the top, which indicated a severe protein deficiency. We considered draining his stomach, but the vet said it would probably fill right back up. We could take him to a specialist for it, but testing would cost at least a thousand dollars without giving us any real hope of him getting better.

Given his poor prognosis and that Hunter was excruciating pain, we decided it was time to say good-bye to Hunter and asked to have him euthanized.

I have loved animals all my life, especially cats. After you spend 18 years doing everything you can to keep your pet happy and healthy, telling a vet that now is the time to end your pet’s life  is nauseating. I hate the very idea of it.

But what are my options? Hunter was already in a lot of pain, and my vet said that he could die at any moment. I do not really feel there are any good options when you come to a point like this.

I called my mother to let her know what we were doing. I could only understand half of what she said through her crying. Since we moved down to New York, Hunter has been a constant companion to her. After she started to give him treats, my mother was Hunter’s queen. He would get on his hind legs and tap my mother’s arm to let her know he wanted food. Other times, he would grab her arm and pull it towards him. Or he would meow, which was more like a cute little grunt than a meow.

Hunter had the cutest little face, the most intense stare, and the softest fur you would ever touch. He used to flop over in my lap so I could scratch his belly. I’ve spent 45 minutes, an hour just petting that cat’s belly at least a couple of times a week since I got him. More recently, he did it only occasionally because he was no longer comfortable laying on his side. I think the last time that we did this was in the last couple of weeks, but it wasn’t for more than 5 minutes before Hunter had to move.

So now our home and our hearts are emptier. Yesterday was three years ago that I first met Gwendolyn, and today is three years that I brought her home. Life is like that. Sometimes you mourn and celebrate on the same day.

When you have them from when they are kittens, like I have with Hunter and Gwenny, they really do think you are their mother. That parent/child bond can exist between you and a being of another species. Hunter was an especially sweet and affectionate cat. He could not get enough of whatever attention that you wanted to give him.

I will miss his snuggling, his belly, his fur, his tail. I used to gently hold it and tell him it was my tail. If he was in my lap, I would lay it against my chest and pet his tail. He would let it stay there. So soft!

Some people claim that you cannot love an animal and that animals cannot love you back, that it is only attachment. To them I say, go to hell. I loved my cat, and I know beyond a shadow of a doubt that he loved me back. Sometimes, the final way that you can show them your love is to recognize when it’s time to end their lives. It’s just so painful and goes.

When Hunter was euthanized, he was surrounded by me, Mark, a vet tech, and the vet who had cared for him this past year. She thought he was a great cat, too, even though his pain meant he growled when he received the physical exam or was put on the scale.

After Hunter died, I pet him for a little while, gave him kisses, told him how much I love him, and how much I was going to miss him. I feel like someone shot a cannonball through the place where my heart and lungs used to be. The house feels empty, even though I still have two kitty babies in my life.

Each living soul is different from another. Getting or having another pet doesn’t make the grief less or the grieving easier. Even though it’s painful, I will open my heart and home to cats who need homes as long as I possibly can. The only thing worse than having to put your beloved cat down is having an empty house.

Bless you, my baby Hunter. I hope your journey over the Rainbow Bridge was a good one. If there’s an afterlife, I hope to see you again. Find us a comfy chair where I can sit down and rub your belly for as long as you want.

A Tribute to Hunter

One night, I walked into the Brookline Police Station to contest an overnight parking ticket I had received. I sat along the wall opposite where the hearings were being held. Several other people were waiting with me for their turn at the hearings.

A door to my left swung open. An officer walked partway into the room and said:

“Does anybody want a kitten?”

I looked down to see a gray face with blue eyes peeking out of his pocket. I started to fidget and silently tell myself that bringing home a kitten was entirely off limits. I already had two cats, Jolie who was 4 years old and Misha who was 2 years old.

Several moments later, the officer spoke again, “Well, if no one wants it, I’ll take it to the MSPCA.”

I no longer remember whether the kitten sneezed right before or after the officer said he was taking it to the MSPCA. In my heart, I heard a cry, “They’re gonna kill it!”. I immediately spoke up, “I’ll take it!”.

The officer walked over to a table that was in the middle of the room against a support pole and put the kitten on the table. The kitty started to walk around the table and everyone who was in the room gathered around.

Opposite from me at the table, an older Jewish man engaged me in conversation, “Is there anyone you need to ask before you bring the kitten home?”

I replied, “Oh, no. We’re not asking. We’re just going to go home with it.”

The older man said, “What are you going to name him?” I told him that I did know yet.

The man turned to the officer and asked, “What’s your name, Officer?”

The officer replied, “Officer Hunter.” The name could not have been more perfect for a kitten. I figured the universe was colluding to help me bring home an already-named kitten.

I decided aloud, “Then I’ll name him Hunter.”

The officer got me a box with a lid so that I could drive home to Malden without worrying about a kitten climbing all over the car or, Goddess forbid, go under the brake pedal when I was driving.

For a tiny kitten, he howled the entire 25 minute drive back to my home. I carefully picked up the box from the seat and walked up to the second floor landing in front of our door. I knocked. Mark opened the door and looked at me.

I said, “If you let me keep this one, I promise I won’t bring home any more stray cats. Three will be the limit.”

Mark looked at me and scowled. Then he stepped aside to let me into the house. Because I didn’t know what kind of illness the kitten may have, I decided to keep him in the bedroom separate from the other cats, and I brought him into the vet the next day.

Hunter was approximately 7 weeks old. He had fleas and ear mites. After getting an exam and a flea bath, I brought him home. Here are a couple of photos during this time. These are the ones that I have of him.

Hunter Kitten Hunter Kitten Closeup

For the next month, Hunter lived in the bedroom. I was managing the rehab of our unit so I was staying home to deal with workmen. Hunter got a lot of affection and play from me.  At night, he would often sleep on my pillow or he would crawl on my chest, sit down, and purr. He quickly became my baby and my favorite.

Eighteen years later, Hunter is still with us. Jolie and Misha have gone over the Rainbow Bridge. Norman and Gwennycakes are now the 3 and a half year old younguns. Whereas Hunter was Misha’s whipping boy, he definitely put down his paw when alpha kitty Normie joined the household and thought he could just get his way.

For an old man cat, I have yet to see Hunter give Normie the upper hand even as his health has significantly declined since December 2013 as a result of chronic renal failure.

Late last month, we celebrated a few family birthdays. One of my sisters took this incredible photo of Hunter:

Hunter in Light

As he’s aged and, especially, since he’s gotten more ill, his gray fur has turned brown, as you can see. His eyes are alert, he still knows us, and he gets so excited about meat and treats that you’d think he was a young cat again.

We give him subcutaneous fluids twice a day, Prednilosone twice daily for inflammatory bowel issues, and Procreit three times a week to help stimulate his blood production. He recently was diagnosed with very low blood in his system. Chronic renal failure means that, at some point, the kidneys may no longer make or make enough hormone to stimulate blood production. We went with Procreit and bypassed the blood transfusion hoping that it will work.

I bring him in next week for a checkup. We’re just keeping an eye on him, treating him as much as we can, and enjoying the time we have left with him.

He just screamed at me from the shadows of my desk to let me know that he wanted food. After jumping out of my seat and grabbing my heart, I laughed. Even if I have to take the step of having him euthanized, it will be worth every minute of joy and worry that has blessed my life all because I got a ticket in Brookline and went to the station one night to contest it.

I love you, Hunter.

I Think My Cat is Dying

I wracked my brain for a good title to this post. How can I adequately sum up this topic? I am feeling a lot of things right now, but witty is not one of them.

I would like you to meet my baby Hunter, who is  17 years and 8 months old.

Hunter

Hunter

In October 1996, I went to a police station in Brookline, MA to contest an overnight parking ticket. While I sat in the waiting room, a door to my far left opened. A policeman walked through the door, stopped, and said to those waiting in the room:

“Does anybody want a kitten?”

I saw a little face with gray fur and blue eyes peeking out of his pocket. Keep your mouth shut, Wendy. You do not need to bring home another cat. I already had two cats, Jolie and Misha, who were 4 and 2 years old respectively. I did not need a third cat. When no one answered, the officer said:

“Well, if no one wants him, I’m going to take him to the MSPCA.”

I can no longer remember if the kitten sneezed before or after the officer declared his fate. All I know is that in my head I screamed: They’re gonna kill him!

Looking back now, I realize that is a ridiculous statement to make. But I felt it so strongly that I found myself saying:

“I’ll take him!”

With that, the officer put the kitten on the table that was in the waiting room. Everyone else, including myself, gathered around to watch the kitten play. Across from me, an older Jewish gentleman wearing a cap said to me:

“Is there anyone you need to ask before you bring him home?”

“Oh, no! I’m just going to bring him home.”

“What are you going to name him?”

“I haven’t thought about it yet.”

The older man turned to the officer, “What’s your name, Officer?”

“My name is Officer Hunter.”

“Well, then I’m going to name him Hunter.”

I thought it was the best possible name for a cat. After my boy grew up, I started telling people he had the body of a cat, the face of a fox, and the soul of a chicken. I had never met such a scaredy cat in all my life. At that moment, he was going to grow up to be a ferocious hunter!

The officer found me a box. I drove from Brookline, MA to Malden, MA where I lived with Hunter in the box. He yowled his head off the entire ride back.

When I got home, I walked up to our second floor door and knocked. When Mark answered the door, I said:

“If you let me keep this one, I swear I will not bring home any more.”

Mark looked at me, looked at the box, groaned, and said: “Oh, alright.”

Later, the vet would guess Hunter to be about 7 weeks of age. This is one of the only kitten pictures I have of him:

hunter-shock

Kitten Hunter

Because Hunter was too young to get all his shots, I kept him separated in our bedroom from the other two cats. At that time, I worked at home getting the house in order. We moved in mid-rehab and the work was still underway.

I spent a lot of time with Hunter. He would sleep with me at night by cuddling on my pillow next to my face. When he got a little bigger, he would sleep on my chest. Eventually, he got too big but still preferred to sleep laying right up against my side, as he does to this day.

Although it really has gotten a little ridiculous. If I am laying on my left side, Hunter will spoon up against me. We have fallen asleep this way.

 

Hunter snuggles

Hunter snuggles with Momma

When Hunter’s kidneys started to go, I was nervous. His values stayed stable for a long time. When I switched vets after moving to NY, the vet suggested giving Hunter subcutaneous fluids to support his kidney function. First, twice a week and then every day, which was have been doing.

I brought Hunter in recently for a follow-up from December. He lost 1.5 lbs., which is far too much. Although his kidney and blood values are in range, his calcium values have skyrocketed.

Reasons for a high calcium level could be indeterminate, lymphoma, or thyroid cancer. Given his age, the rapid weight loss, and his lackluster appetite for anything but treats, I am fearing the worst. And it would not be without cause.

The first cat I ever had died of cancer. Jolie’s kidneys failed, and she had bladder cancer. Misha had some kind of stomach or intestinal cancer. Now lymphoma or thyroid cancer. Cancer, cancer, cancer! As I saw on an ad, “Wouldn’t it be great if we could give cancer to cancer?” Even if it’s indeterminate, high calcium values eventually lead to kidney damage. So it’s a no win.

On Monday, I am bringing Hunter back in for a follow up. If his calcium values go down, then it’s not cancer, but it means we have to keep looking. I am not sure how invasive I am going to get because of his advanced age.

I can only stand to put him through so much. I do not want to put him down too early, but I don’t want him to suffer, either, especially since my elderly mother has become seriously attached to Hunter.

As she says, “How can you resist the way he looks at you?”

Hunter boy

Hunter

I never could, either, which is why I fell him love with him almost 18 years ago.

I’d Rather Be Reading

Blogging too late in the day can be a health hazard in the same way that writing late at night pages is not as productive for my health as writing morning pages. I call blogging at 9:15pm too late in the day for me because my normal bedtime is in the 10:00-10:30pm range. Even though I use f.lux for my Mac, I find that I prefer to have reading as the last evening activity before I go to bed. 

Sometimes, cats get in the way of my reading. Every day, my husband and I give subcutaneous fluids to my 17.5 year old cat Hunter because his kidneys are failing. Giving subq’s means more water in their system, which helps their kidneys function better and the cats to feel better overall. After giving the fluids tonight, I sat down to read a book on writing a romance novel, which is the type of novel that I am in the middle of writing. 

That’s when I saw it: a bright, red splotch of blood bed sheet that covers couch slipcover and on a corner of a hand-knitted throw. The needle must have caused some bleeding at the site where we gave him his fluids tonight. After lifting up the bed sheet, I saw that the bloody spot had soaked into the slipcover underneath it.

Noooooo! Slipcovers are great, as long as you don’t get them dirty. They can be such a pain to clean. I dug out my cleaning instructions, which recommends either non-water cleaners, foamers, or mild soap. Then, it warns that tap water can cause rings and advises using distilled water instead. Who has distilled water handy to clean the slipcovers?

I removed the bed sheet and the throw, and I asked my husband to throw them into the washing machine while I tried to clean the bloody spot. I got a damp paper towel and a dry one. I patted the spot with the dry towel to remove any wet blood on the slipcover. I then alternated wetting the spot with the damp paper towel and carefully blotting it off with the dry one. Eventually, I got most of it until I did a little scrubbing to dry it off. It seems to be OK.

Here I am now, sitting in the corner of my couch, pillow behind my back for support, and Hunter napping on my left side while I write my blog post. I don’t mind the sitting, the pillow, or Hunter, but I’d rather be reading.

Cats Calls

If you think cats communicate their wants to humans only by meowing, I am here to set you straight: their ways and means are as diverse as the whiskers on their little faces.

My eldest cat, Hunter, has discovered that my mother is a sucker when it comes to food. His piercing, unwavering stares cut straight to her heart. On the first day that Hunter stared at her for three seconds, my mother whined at me to let her give Hunter some food. I warned her that Hunter would hound (feline?) her if she gave him food, but left it up to her.

At 17 and a half years old, I feel Hunter has earned the right to treats in the form of cooked meats, like chicken or beef. Two cats who used to live with him, Jolie and Misha, both passed away around 15 and a half years old. Hunter has outlived them both and shows no signs of slowing down, even with some kidney issues. Hunter stalks Norman, rapid-fire whacks him across the head, and then chases after Norman at full speed.

Every day, Hunter yowls at the bottom of the stairs until I let him into my mom’s place. At meal times, he sits right next to my mom. She looks down into his big green eyes, and he knows he has her. He stands on his back legs, brings a paw gently forward, and taps her on the arm before he sits down again. Repeat until she gives him food. My mom asked me to pick up a bag of his favorite treats so she could give him those, too.

Today, Hunter added a new twist to his food begging routine. He rubbed his face one way against the arm of the chair that my mother was sitting in, then he rubbed his face on the chair’s arm on the other side of his face, and then opened and closed his mouth a few times while licking his chops.

Personally, I think Hunter is only a few steps away from figuring out how to pointing a paw at his mouth when he is hungry like Simon’s Cat.

I would love to see that.