Thursday, January 3, 2013

Baby-love: The life of a very good cat.

 He came to us already scuffed up.  There he was, this little fur-ball of a yellow tabby kitten with a hare-lip.  Someone had apparently tossed him out of a still-moving car towards the house where the “suckers” live that take in all of the strays (that would be us).  His little ole muzzle and chin were scraped raw, and the first thing Dr. Hendley did for him was give him a stitch on his upper lip.  He always kinda had a little snarl-y look after that.  My daughter was about a year old when he came into our lives…and one of her first words was “baby.”  Thus, he was christened.

Here's an artist's rendetion of Baby when he was three years old (the artist was the daughter, who was at the time, 4):

For those of you with no imagination, here's Baby with the kiddo when they were both relatively new:

Baby was an unusual cat in a lot of ways.  He never wanted to be an indoor cat, but he never wandered.  Usually, with a male cat, you know when it’s getting time to take him to his “special vet appointment” when he doesn’t show up for breakfast 3 mornings in a row and then comes home with his ear half dangling off from an encounter with a rival for his girlfriend’s attention.  Baby hung around the carport at our old house, napping in the mower seat of our Snapper riding mower, or sleeping under the big holly bush around the back of the house.  He was four years old when I took him in for his annual booster shots & Dr. Hendley realized we’d never neutered him.  Baby, ever the cool cat, barely seemed to even notice.
He did gain a little (okay, maybe a lot) of weight afterwards.  He may or may not have gotten too fat to clean the base of his tail good & had to have the matted fur cut off with scissors, giving him a rugged, edgy look.  But that was fine because Baby was never one to put too much stock in appearances.  By that, I mean that he was the dirtiest cat I have ever known.  You know Pigpen, the friend of Charlie Brown’s that had the cloud of dirt around him always?  That was Baby.  He’d roll in dust and dirt constantly…you could pat him and it would look like you were cleaning chalkboard erasers.  The only thing that ever seemed to piss him off was flea drops or ear mite medicine.  That stuff disrupted his eco-system he had going.
Baby, over the years, had become my husband’s “funky old yard cat.” When we moved to our current house, Baby made the move without a twinge of concern.  He seemed to actually enjoy the fact that the fenced-in back yard meant that his dog would keep away any unwanted feline distractions.  There was a mean old Tom across the street that tried to come into the back yard to harass Baby a couple of times after we moved in…but after our three-legged Lab mix (Rosie) consistently gave him a run for his money, he didn’t try to cross our backyard & Baby didn’t have to deal with him.  Baby had a glassed-in back porch with a cat door.  The porch had a ceiling fan in the summer and a heater in the winter.  Life has been pretty damn fine, even when he lost his last tooth about five years ago.  We thought about switching him to soft food, but he never missed a beat scooping up the Meow Mix, gumming it a bit and swallowing.  He certainly never lost weight.  In the summer, we still had to frequently cut the matted-fur places where he was too fat to reach.  Every winter, he seemed to be just fine coming and going off of his porch.
Two winters ago, we had a particularly harsh (for Alabama) winter.  We had something like ten sold days of temperatures in the single digits (Fahrenheit). The daughter and hubby conferred and decided that Baby was too old to endure that kind of cold, even with a cat bed and a space heater, and brought him in the house.  For the ten days that the temperature was really, really low, Baby was fine with being inside.  He didn’t much care for the bath that the daughter gave him to make him fit for indoor living…and he didn’t much care for the fact that he had to go up a flight of stairs to the litter box…and he didn’t much care for the indoor cats who were all acting like assholes and hissing at him…and…as a matter of fact, Baby decided he wasn’t fine with being indoors.  He started darting out between our legs every time we came in or out…he finally protested his incarceration by not obeying proper litter-box etiquette.  So, back onto the back porch he went.  Which was cool by him.  He immediately started cultivating a new population of fleas and ear mites to keep him company and scrounged around to find an un-frozen patch of dirt to get the proper patina worked back onto his coat.
Despite being funky, and snaggly-muzzled, and toothless, Baby was not anti-social regarding his humans or his dogs.  When any of us were out back, there was Baby, rubbing our ankles and purring.  He put up with the Golden Retriever puppy’s antics when he joined the family. He cuddled up with the Rosie on cooler days as they both got older and enjoyed sunning themselves together.  He always was in the middle of whatever activity was happening out back.
Jeff was really the first one to notice when Baby wasn't acting like himself.  About a week ago, Baby wasn’t following any of us off the porch anymore but was content to stay curled up in front of the heater.  And then he lost his interest in food, when he normally never skipped a meal.  As I explained earlier, Baby was never the sleekest, meticulously groomed cat…but even by his Pigpen standards, he was looking a little rough.
I took him in to see the vet hoping that he was just experiencing a cold…a respiratory infection…something.  But Baby is now 16.  And that’s a lot of years on a cat.  A WHOLE lot of years for a cat that insisted on being an outdoor cat.  And the verdict came back…renal failure.  We were told that we had a couple of options:
1.       Euthanize him.
2.       Give him subcutaneous fluids a couple of times a week, change his diet and put him down in a couple of months…maybe get so much as several months if we chose to add dialysis.
I asked the doctor to administer some fluid to rehydrate him enough to take him home and talk it over with the family.  I had already made my mind up about drawing the line before dialysis…but I wanted Jeff and the kid to be able to voice their opinions about how far to take treatments.
The vote was unanimous…we weren’t going to put Baby through anything that would only frighten, hurt and confuse him.  We’d spend the next day or so spoiling him rotten, and then we’d have him put down humanely, surrounded by his family.  The child asked if she could bring him in and let him sleep on her bed that night.  I said she could as long as she kept her door closed so none of the other animals would come in & bother him.

The next morning, she told me, "I prayed last night that Baby would just die in his sleep, safe in my bed."

And I had to tell her, "Oh, sweetie, last night I prayed that you wouldn't wake up with a dead cat in your bed."

Guess I screwed that up.
And that is where we are right now.  He doesn't seem any worse, yet; but he isn't any better...and God help me, but I just can't seem to pick the right day to do what needs to be done for him.
I love that damn cat.  And I'll tell myself that I'll do it when I wake up, or when I get home from work...and then he does something like he did this afternoon...which was to jump up on the counter out on the porch and inhale half a can of canned chicken.

But I remember reading a book a while back (Quinn Cummings: Notes From the it, she's HILARIOUS).  The book is full of really cute, insightful stories...they are not all about dead cats...but one particular anecdote involves Ms. Cummings was watching a cat for some friends and the cat in question NEEDED to die, but its owners kept DRAGGING this poor beast through life.  And I wonder: Is that's where I'm at?  I'm not actively prolonging Baby's existence by sticking needles into him twice a week...and he's still getting up (slowly, so slowly) and rubbing my ankles when I go out to check on him.  He's still going out in the backyard to potty.  He still purrs when I talk to him or pet him.

Some advice here, people?

Or, God: I take it back...the kid was probably right 5 days ago.

Update: I have had a huge outpouring of love from my friends (and from folks I don't know but begged advice from, because I know that they have had similar the lovely Ms. Cummings that I mention above and the fabulous Jen Lancaster herownself who were so kind to respond to me on Twitter).  Most everyone has told me that I won't have to told when it's time, that I will know without a doubt.

Checking on Baby just a few minutes ago, the sun was shining and he seemed to be enjoying his warm porch:

Final Update:  I realized recently that I never updated on my blog about Baby...After the last update I made, he rallied and we got almost another 3 months with him...and we didn't have to take him twice a week to the vet to give him dialysis or fluids or whatever. He was very happy and loving and those three months were a true blessing.
But everyone told me I'd know when it was time...and it was time. We took Baby in to the vet on March 28th. The lovely people at  Animal Clinic were so kind and compassionate...and my sweet, sweet kitty passed peacefully, surrounded by his family that loved him.
I miss him all of the's now mid-August and I swear, I still see him sometimes out of the corner of my eye when I'm on our back porch.  But all-in-all, he had a good life, he had a family whom he loved and who loved him and an easy passing.  We should all be so fortunate.


  1. Sweetie, here is my best advice, having lived through this with our dog: you will know when the day is here. When that day arrives, even though your heart (and Jeff's and the kid's) will all break, and you will be full of sadness, please take comfort in the fact that it is the ultimate act of love to our pets to not let them suffer. When that day comes, know that all of us love you, and that I am sure all of our pets are lined up in heaven waiting to greet Baby, and those of us that are far away from you will be saying prayers and sending virtual hugs to you and yours.

    You all have given that kitty a great life that he loved. So, when you feel the day is here that you need to take that final trip to the vet, you need to know that you are doing the right thing. That's the best I've got for you, but if anyone gives you any grief about making that decision you just send me a message, I'll take care of the rest.

  2. I wish very, very much that we had had the opportunity to choose the day with Brenna, our dog who died two years ago. It was on the agenda for discussion at her vet appointment in November, but she went on her own in August.

    So I wasn't any good at knowing it was time. Offered as another data point.

    I enjoyed his story very much!