Sunday, March 5, 2017

Taking a Catcation

"Do you have any trips planned?" I'm frequently asked.  "Not this year" I reply."We need to stay home for our cat." It is not unlike having an elderly parent who depends on you.

This is Simba's 21st year and he is on that downward slope. He used to execute the leap to our bed with a graceful arc, now I often hear the thump of his body as he slips back to earth, ungainly and embarrassed as I, the human elevator, lift him aloft.  He stalks around on the bed and then jumps off as if to say disdainfully, "I didn't want to be there anyway." My husband tells me it is all a ploy to lead me to his food bowl.

A much younger Marty with Max
Our animals live a long time. This is the last of our pets from the past twenty years. We "inherited" our animals from my stepdaughters. One contributed a dog, the other two cats. I think they decided their father needed a pet, which has some truth to it.

Our dog, Max, was a wire-haired terrier with attitude who wormed his way into my heart. I'm rather partial to attitude. He lived to seventeen, but only because when his hind legs gave out, my husband constructed a contraption that allowed him to move with the aid of lawnmower wheels and pvc pipe. Together with our grandson, he watched the movie Babe, watching for the scenes of Flealick, the disabled dog who likewise relied on wheels. Using that for inspiration and his own ingenuity, my husband figured out how to construct this doggie wheelchair.  I remember him adjusting it at our studio as Max nudged him in anticipation. As my husband released him, Max wheeled out the door and down the hallway delighted to be able to move once again. It gladdened our hearts to watch him. 

The night Max died, my husband dreamed of him walking down the stairs. He incredulously thought, "He can't do that!" I am convinced that was the moment of Max's departure.  I still thrill at sightings of wire-haired terriers and have been known to chase people down to admire their pup.

Our cats came to us as a package, originally on loan when my stepdaughter was selling her house, but we knew them for years before they joined our household. We first met Simba as a small kitten when my step-daughter picked us up at the airport from our first overseas trip together. It was the Fourth of July 1996 as this little ball of orange fluff first meowed at us demanding our attention. He's never stopped since.

Simba and Kitters cuddling
His compatriot, Kitters, had black and white markings that emphasized the elegant structure of his face, while Simba as his name indicates is quite lion-like in his orange glory. Kitters was the elder and the alpha cat. He had the most attitude so I resonated with him. Simba was needy, more dog-like. He used to chase a stuffed fish down the stairs and play fetch and he was most happy when situated on your lap. I wasn't good at staying still so he quickly became my husband's cat.

Kitters lived for 22 years and that last year was difficult. My husband speaks cat pretty well. He has a natural empathy for animals and tries to put himself in their paws as he considers why they aren't eating or using the litter box properly. He factors in their sense of dignity as a behavioral influence which I always find quite touching. Soon we had a makeshift litter box without sides so the cat could easily enter and wouldn't run the risk of falling. Near the end when Kitters was having difficulty getting up, Simba lifted him with his mouth like a mother cat with a kitten. 

Now this is the point where most people grapple with a hard decision. We told ourselves we were going to the vet to get her perspective and to assess whether he was in pain.  We invited my husband's daughter to join us as he was once her cat.  The vet confirmed that Kitters was in pain and told us we could take him home to say goodby and come back when we were ready. My husband and I were both ready to hightail it out the door, the cat in our arms and never come back, when my step-daughter said, "I think it's time."  We meekly followed her lead, respecting her knowledge as a nurse in making this difficult decision that we felt so cowed by. For a long time afterwards I could feel Kitter's weight in my arms. It was harder than I had ever imagined, not on him, but on us.

We were not the only ones missing Kitters. He had been Simba's companion for 17 years. They used to curl up like yin and yang. Now we became Simba's companions, his surrogate cats. His loneliness was palpable. We cuddled him and played with him, trying to fill the void in his life, and ours.

Now almost four years have passed. We have all aged a bit, but four years in cat years is a much more substantial time. Now we cut blood pressure pills in quarters for Simba, sprinkle medicine on his food and give him eye drops. He often can be found under the covers between us, his favorite spot. He doesn't like when we are gone for a whole day. He makes his displeasure known by leaving us little "presents" upon our return. He can't walk a straight line, doesn't see or hear well and finds comfort in our familiar presence.

Master catnappers
My husband once vowed he didn't want a pet that wouldn't outlive him, restricting us to turtles and elephants. I believe he feels that, but not that he can act on that feeling. He is a person who loves and needs animals so I suspect there will be more animals in our future.

It is amazing how central animals become in our life, this living, breathing being for whom we are responsible. We often talk for our cat and write story lines around his behaviors. We know his personality well as he no doubt knows ours. Now in his elder years we still can recall that youthful kitten who first meowed at us to the pop of firecrackers so long ago.

1 comment:

  1. Beautiful,story. Brought back memories of our pets who have died.