How I Spent The Last Saturday Before Christmas

Sat 22 Dec 2013

Last night The Boss swung past the vet’s to pick up Foster Cat’s body from their freezer. They gave him to us in a big biodegradable cardboard box. We drove over to our old house late last night so we could bury him today at a pet cemetery close by. The Boss hasn’t been too affected by the old boy’s death up till now – partly because he was getting very fed up cleaning up the pee and poo he’d been decorating the house with, partly because Foster Cat had sprayed him a few times, and partly because I was the cat’s main carer – but carrying the little coffin from the boot of the car to our garage (very cold overnight) upset him. I’m glad we got to take him ‘home’ briefly because I think he loved living in this little town. He was well-known in our street, marching up and down that hill a few times a day with the kids! (He’d walk us all down to school, then sit and wait under a bush till I and at least one minx came back again, then shepherd us back up the hill, rounding up any straggling girls).

DSCF8148We went to the pet cemetery this morning and met the man who runs it. He does it out of the goodness of his heart and won’t accept payment (though he thankfully did accept a donation that we gave him to use as he sees fit, whether to buy supplies for the cemetery or to gift to a charity of his choice). It’s a beautiful place. He’d already dug a hole and picked out some stones to Foster Cat’s grave.

Westerly view

Westerly view

The ‘ceremony’ itself was a bit awkward, but in hindsight I think it was important to ‘end’ everything for the girls. The man made it really lovely for us as best he could: he wheeled Foster Cat’s coffin a few metres to the grave in his wheelbarrow, then he and The Boss took the cat out the box. I wasn’t expecting that, and wasn’t really prepared to see my lovely old boy again, dead, with his ears bent over with rigor mortis. Still, it did give us the chance to see that the

Northerly view

Northerly view

vet had taken the trouble to wrap Foster Cat lovingly in his fluffy blanket with his wee head peeping out, like he was tucked in the box for bed. The youngest 2 didn’t seem fazed by this, but sensitive Maxi Minx started to cry. I hurriedly reminded the kids that this wasn’t Foster Cat; this was just what was left of his body, now, and to remember that he wasn’t hurting anymore. I’d had a 60 second sort of memorial speech ready, but it kind of got bombed out the water with the sudden and unexpected appearance of the cat!

Easterly view

Easterly view

After The Boss and the man lowered Foster Cat into the hole, the man covered over Foster Cat’s head with the blanket. Maxi Minx dropped in a be-ribboned posy that we’d made that morning from all the flowers that were still in bloom in our garden (I know – at the end of December! Mad!), and bits from some of the plants that Foster Cat had liked to hide under. The man covered up the grave, then gently pressed it in with his feet. Mini and Midi wailed at him standing on the cat, so I quickly said “Tuck, tuck, tuck!”, which is a kind of code I’ve used since the girls were tiny: I say it as I’m tucking them into bed every night, and quietly again when they’re asleep and I have to tuck a little minx limb back under the sheets. I distracted the kids by telling them my favourite stories about Foster Cat while the man ‘tucked him in’ with sand from the harbour, then put on another dressy layer of pea gravel. On top of that, I put some painted stones that the girls had painted last year. They’d suggested themselves that we use those stones to decorate Foster Cat’s grave. Maxi used a stone to press in a paw imprint in the stones at the bottom.

The kids then legged it to explore the rest of the cemetery, The Boss trailing, while I stayed and chatted with the man for a while. Eventually we all left. I looked back to see the man stood still by Foster Cat’s grave for a long while, motionless. What a lovely old soul he is!

DSCF8156This evening I painted Foster Cat’s name and date of death on a lovely, heavy, flat stone I picked up from Bertha’s Beach, Falkland Islands, in 1999. I’d been keeping it to paint a landscape on, or maybe something to mark the house, but I figured it was better used as a kind of headstone. I’ll put it above his stone rainbow on the way back to Aberdeenshire tomorrow and take some photos.

Edit: photos now up. I’ve also included ones that show what a lovely spot the cemetery is at – wonderful views of the Moray Firth dolphins, cormorants and seals.

After the cat’s ‘funeral’, we went to a local cafe for big, late breakfasts. After the minxes were happily troughing (Maxi chose a very sophisticated scrambled egg and smoked salmon on a bagel), I commented that sitting quietly, eating, and sharing funny stories of the cat, made it feel like we were at a wake. It was actually just what we needed.

That lovely pause and reflection over, we were booted brutally back into the reality of the last shopping Saturday before Christmas when we stopped at Elgin for something to eat that night. In the carpark, a woman in an oversized Chelsea Tractor made a real mess of reversing out her space. She managed to mount the pavement, graze a lamp-post, and had me and another passer-by side-step for cover. I raised my eyebrows, inwardly reflecting that maybe she needed to use her mirrors and windows to see out of, instead of checking her reflection in the rear-view. She rolled down her window and yelled at me haughtily, “Are you actually looking at my car?!” I think the nonsense of the statement might be why I managed a non-confrontational “Naw, don’t think so, hen” instead of a more fun “Christ Almighty, go buy some driving lessons!” or “Arrrrrgh, you’ve driven over my child!” or even a witty “Feck off!” In defence of my sheep-iness, I was still reeling from the past few days.

In the shop, the heaving masses, long queues, aggressive shoppers, overly-loud music and antics of 3 bored, naughty minxes was a little too much for me. I fetched a bottle of wine and clung to it instead of letting it roll down the conveyor belt. “You can let it go now!” the patient till assistant smiled. I don’t think she *actually* uncurled my fingers from around the neck – I think I might have let go by myself so she could scan it. Oh boy, am I looking forward to sharing that with The Boss later!

Sleep Well, My Beautiful Boy

Update on Foster Cat:

1 Nov 2013: after switching from steroid injections every week or so, he started taking prednisolone (steroid) tablets. And suddenly he started getting his miaow back! He’s had an up and down month, but the ups have been very, very good and he’s been a happy old boy.

1 Dec 2013: The ups have plateaued off and he had a steady month of being spoiled rotten and loved.

9 Dec 2013: He’s struggling to eat and wants to sleep all the time. I can persuade him to eat his steroids by hiding them in lumps of cheese (ha! You should see me persuading minxy children and recalcitrant husbands to take their medicines…), and can always coax him to drink a little milk. But it’s taking him all day to eat a pouch of wet food – he’s interested, but he won’t or can’t eat much.

Wed 18 Dec

It was the usual hectic morning at Garrison Trout, but it came to an abrupt halt when I went in to fetch Foster Cat’s breakfast to feed him his morning steroid pill. He was lying awkwardly on his cushion, last night’s dinner still untouched. And the little lumps of his best-loved cheese that hid last night’s steroid pill were intact. I gave him his all-time favourite treat of a Crispie. Nothing. Not even a sniff or acknowledgement that it was there. He stiffly jumped down and waddled to the door to get out, breathing quickly. I let him outside and made him up a bowl of just-warm milk (another sure-fire favourite). He wouldn’t come in from his new hidey-hole and didn’t struggle when I carried him in. He looked at the milk and slunk off to the sofa.

I stopped the minxes from half-killing each other and sadly told them that they needed to say goodbye to Foster Cat: I was going to call the vet because I thought his time had finally come. They calmly and gently stroked him and told him how much they loved him. Maxi whipped out a pencil and paper and drew a quick portrait of him.

While they did that, I had a long mental check: was this sudden? Nope, he’d given us a few scares last week, and he’d never really gotten much butter. Did he seem to be in pain? Yes. Was the poor old boy suffering? Hell, yes. Could I think of any other alternative? No. Shit.

I tried to get hold of my brother via Skype, because this really would be the last time he’d be able to see his beloved cat. Yet again, the time difference defeated us. I called the vet. They wanted us in immediately. Double-shit – no time to really say goodbye. But… he really was beyond miserable. Even kisses from Maxi didn’t make him move (he usually scarpered very quickly at getting soppy kid kisses).

I had to take Mini in with me, and the receptionist kindly agreed to keep her occupied while I went in with Foster Cat. The vet gave him a quick check over, then shaved the fur off his leg. I quipped that this must be the worst part of her job and she agreed. I picked up some of his shaved fur and stuffed it in my pocket. I stopped trying not to cry and sobbed and blubbed over my beautiful boy. I gathered him in my arms and croaked stupid stuff, like what a good boy he was; a very clever boy; the very best boy. The vet gave him a sedative and he passed out asleep in my arms. She gave him the heart-stopper and he died.

For a long while I stroked his warm, soft fur and sniffed his strangely-sweet-smelling head. Then I stood up, turned my back on him, and walked out with his empty cat basket to collect my chatty 3 yo. And that’s when I discovered that I’d left my purse at home…

The vet will hang on to Foster Cat’s body until the weekend when we’ll go bury him.

cat pampered 2

One Poorly Cat

Remember I’d said in September how depressed poor old Foster Cat was at having to be an indoor cat? And how much he perked up at finally getting outside?

Well, the same day I noticed that his breathing was noisy and his purr was a bit ‘off’. We’ve been no stranger to Foster Cat’s strange vocalisations: when he came to us, he didn’t miaow – it was soundless, like a mime artist. He barely made any noise except for purring. Except when he had to go to the vet – then he’d make enough noise! We put the funny noises down to him maybe being over the moon at getting outdoors and thought nothing more, especially as his appetite had come back.

The next day, the funny breathing was still there, but otherwise he was a happy, active, normal Foster Cat.

Maybe 3 days later, although he still wanted out, he didn’t really want to explore or do much active. He was also sneezing a bit. When we took over his care, we’d gotten his annual injections back up to speed, so I’ve never seen him poorly or sniffly. Did cats catch colds and flu?

The day after that, though, when he went out he just sat down on the step. He didn’t mind if I picked him up and carried him indoors. His breathing was noisy all the time, not just when he was purring. He was definitely lethargic. I was definitely unhappy and watched him closely all day, willing the hours to pass quickly till it was Monday again and the vets would be open (I didn’t know about emergency vets… duh).

The next day was Monday. When he breathed that morning, I could see his tummy flaring below his ribs. Stop. Put everything else on hold. Straight to Yellow Pages and find a vet immediately. Luckily there was one in the next town, who saw him that afternoon. She wasn’t happy with his breathing either, and asked for him to come back the next day for a chest x-ray. She gave him steroid and diuretic injections in the meantime and told me to starve him because he’d need an anaesthetic for the x-ray.

Next morning (1 October) I took my now-hungry big boy to the vet for his x-ray. Overnight I’d wondered if the 3 engorged ticks we’d found on him 3 weeks ago – obviously a leaving present from the woods near our old house! – had given him a tick-borne infection? I asked if he could have his bloods checked. I was told to call back around 1pm.

The vet rang at 10.30am. It wasn’t good. She’d found a large mass in his throat when she’d tried to intubate him. The x-ray showed ‘suspicious little nodules’ in his lungs. The upshot was that he was too old and too ill for any operations; we could try and buy him a little time (days or maybe a few weeks) with steroids; or because he was still under anaesthetic she could euthanize him immediately. I surprised myself by bursting into tears. I’m not an animal lover (except flash-fried in a ginger and garlic-based sauce). Why was I breaking my heart over him? No way was he dying alone – he was coming home first to say goodbye. Oh hell, how was I going to tell the minxes? And I had the small matter of Foster Cat’s main staff (my little brother and his children) to tell first. The vet wasn’t too happy about letting him come home right away and kept hold of him till evening.

When we got him home, he wasn’t a happy cat at all. Neither was I – I was still tearful. I am never tearful. In general I am often angry but rarely upset. I think the old boy recognized this, because he spent the night cuddled up on a blanket I put beside my bed or right beside me on the bed. Now, he loves snuggling up beside Mini Minx, in a guarding, protective kind of way, and sometimes the other 2 if Mini pushes him away. But he’s never shown any interest in snuggling in my bed. We shared quite a moment that night.

Next morning, he was still depressed and unhappy, and the girls started the first of many painted portraits of him. Maxi in particular found it easier to express how she felt by painting than by trying to articulate her feelings in words. I’d sat the girls down after school and just told them simply that the vet had seen Foster Cat again, that he was very, very ill, and very old, and that he was going to die soon but not today. Maxi burst into immediate tears but the other 2 didn’t really process it right away.

Over the next few weeks, Foster Cat started a series of steroid injections. The first ‘big’ one turned him into a kitten again; he decided to attack the tree again… I opened the back door to let him out and he pelted hell for leather at the big sycamore tree. With a powerful pounce, he sprang at the trunk about halfway up, elegantly spreading his legs to catch the bark with 4 sets of claws. He hit the trunk. He suffered claw-failure. He slid cartoon-like down the trunk. I doubled over laughing. He prinked off aloofly, almost muttering, “You never saw nuffink; I wasn’t here”.

He’d lost so much weight that we decided to feed Mr Suddenly Very Hungry All The Time kitten food. We reasoned that if his throat was constricted, then it made sense to give him food with tinier chunks and to jam-pack it with calories. And with a prognosis of at best a few weeks left, we stopped stinting on the treats! He suddenly became one pampered feline: the odd bowl of warm milk, little bits of raw chicken when I was cooking it, little crunchie treats at bedtime… After a month, he’d regained most of his weight and was looking better, more alert, and far happier than he’d been in months, so long as I kept a close eye on him and got him an injection quickly as the previous one wore off: a lovely Indian Summer for him!

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Heinlein’s Cat

One of our cats understands English and can walk through walls and locked doors.

sleeping cat

Foster-cat: happy and dreaming of the seagulls he can chase

Foster Cat had to go to the vet today to get his broken fang removed under general anaesthetic, and have the second of his vaccinations done. The poor old boy had been starved since 6pm the night before and he was a bit confused as to why his life of luxury had changed. He protested loudly at the indignity of having to use a litter tray. He told us in no uncertain terms that he was hungry. Last night he lifted his tail and sprayed on The Boss because he’d said the V-E-T word aloud in Foster Cat’s hearing. This morning he peed on me for daring to put him in his cat basket.

Assessing the weight-velocity ratio of the local seagulls, and likelihood of catching one

On the 10 minute drive to the vet, Foster Cat amused himself by pretending to be dead: he miaowed plaintively, then gave a long, loud, truncated howl, then made no noise until I stopped the car and ran round to check on him. Then he started up the cycle again. Me and the minxes got to the vets, nerves in tatters.

I think I’m now looking for a new vet. Two weeks ago when I took him initially to our usual vet, I was told that he needed to have a complete primary vaccination course again (ie 2 jags, some weeks apart), a fang out, and a scale and polish. I agreed to the extraction (he was in pain – can’t have that!), but explained that he gets really stressed travelling – could we save him a journey and get everything done at once? The vet agreed, said that he could have the 2nd jag 2 weeks later whilst he was having his tooth sorted, and so we booked in for today. You can imagine, then, how grumpy I got when I was told at lunchtime when I phoned to check on him that he in fact *couldn’t* get the jag, and would have to return next week – there needed to be a gap of 3-4 weeks. I tried to pressurise the surgery to have the vet visit him at home to do it and save him some stress – her mistake, so surely it was the least she could do? Non. And don’t even start me on the impact this almost had on a last minute short little holiday I’d booked, with the cats at a friend’s new cattery. The owner and I pored over a flow diagram explaining when cats were safe to go to a cattery. I’d rather miss the camping trip than put Foster Cat’s health at risk, but we both think he’s fine to go. Phew!

When he returned home tonight, he looked a bit groggy, so we gave him his favourite dinner: pouch of chicken cat food in gravy (he’s no connoisseur). He settled at the top of the stairs and looked a bit out of sorts. I stroked his big, panther head for a bit. He stretched right out and put his head on my lap, purring like a lion, rubbing his chin on my knees. We had a bit of a moment, there, me and the old boy. He’s never let me tickle and rub and stroke him for so long – he’s strictly a “60 seconds and that’s enough of all that nonsense, thanks, where are your standards, stiff upper lip, what?”, kind of cat. I’d been a bit worried about him having an op, but I hadn’t realised just how much till then, when he was safely home and had forgiven us for bundling him in the basket! I think giving him second dinner helped with that…

“Bow before me, Furball” said King Cat

I guess that’ll be him back to normal, then, letting himself in and out. He can open any door on a mortice lock by balancing on his hind legs and pulling down the lever handle until the door opens. At night, he regularly scares the bejasus out of me by suddenly appearing at the sliding doors, up on his back paws, mouth open and front paws squeaking eerily down the panes. Foster Cat? More like Zombie Cat!

And the claim about walking through walls? Well, how else can a massive cat lumber from room to room totally unseen and unheard? Although his favourite spot in the house is at the end of Midi Minx’s bed (aye, he recognises a kindred rascally spirit in my 4 year old!), sometimes he goes missing. Then, The Boss will start at one end of the house, I’ll start at the other, but despite searching everywhere, we regularly can’t find him. Only to have him appear a minute or 2 later from somewhere that it’s *impossible* to hide in, eg the bathroom.

His owners (my brother and his family) are abroad for a few years and miss him terribly. They call him the Terrorist and say he’s always been like this. Today I’m reflecting on how much this tricksy, wilful, gentle, funny old cat is loved, and by so many people: Maxi whispered that she loves him even more than Killer Cat (shhhhhh, her real name is Daisy).

PS In case the title is bothering you, Robert A Heinlein wrote a book titled “The Cat Who Could Walk Through Walls”