23 March 2013

Yanked from Cheryl Lincoln on Facebook
The Cat Who Came Before Max, Dusty, was a lot like him: often grumpy, somewhat standoffish at times, but loved my lap, loved to wedge between the Spouse Thingy and I, and she had her place on the bed; she would jump up there in the middle of the night and land with a thud that shook the mattress, and she plopped down right next to my feet.

Unlike Max, she was less attached to me as she was to all of us, including Hank. When we brought him home--just weeks after having to give up our first dog, Chip--I worried that the Golden Retriever puppy would freak her out to the nth degree, but she surprised me and decided he was her puppy. Her little boy.

Hank did not seem to mind, especially once he had grown a little and grasped that while he was big, Dusty was small, so it was best to not try to sit on her or toss her around like a rope toy. He curled up on his bed and patiently allowed her to groom his face. If she hissed at him, he understood that it was a lesson of some sort, and he paid attention.

Dusty was a pretty big presence for a cat.

Not too long after we moved back to the Travis AFB area from Grand Forks, she developed a cough and a wheeze, which turned out to be a congenital heart condition. We were devastated; it meant that our time with her was limited, and we had no idea how much time she had left. On some level, I think Hank knew, because more and more I found them napping close to each other. And that was about the time that Hanks started eating his own poop; we went nuts trying to figure out what his issue was, but looking back, I think it was just his way of coping with the stress of feeling Dusty's illness.

One thing we held onto was that most cats with Dusty's particular heart condition didn't live past six years old, and she was almost 12. We'd already had bonus years with her, though we had no way of knowing that. We still took it as a little bit of comfort; she was tough enough to double her life expectancy, so it gave us some hope that she would be around for long enough for us to be all right with her leaving.

She tolerated her treatments well; she was hauled to the vet at least every other week initially--including times when I panicked and took her in because her nose was whistling or she had the hiccups--and she never fought all the medications she had to endure. She did quite well; for the most part, it was difficult to tell she was sick at all. If not for the cardiac ultrasounds and chest x-rays she routinely had, it would have been easy to convince ourselves that she wasn't really that sick.

She did quite well for an entire year; we got through Christmas and New Years, and were well into January before she was obviously declining. Her weight dropped, she slowed down to a snail's pace, there were difficulties with potassium and keeping her head up; as January slid into February we all knew that we had, at most, a few more weeks with her.

And that hurt, but we had gotten to the point of being mostly all right with it. Or thought we had.

On February 8th, 2001 the Spouse Thingy and I had doctor's appointments--mine was really stupid, I had a giant wart on a toe that needed to be frozen off--and when we left she was napping on the bed.

When we got home, she woke up and very slowly made her way down the hall, and stopped in front of her water bowl. She looked at it like she was desperate to drink, but could not make herself. She sat there for a full minute, then turned around and headed back to the bedroom to curl up on the bed again.

We knew, even though we didn't want to admit it. The Spouse Thingy called the vet; we hoped that maybe he could just give her some water via IV or something, even though I think we both knew that was hoping against hope.

He did a routine chest x-ray, and determined that her chest was so filled with fluid that her lungs were pushing against her spine. She could barely breathe; he could give her Lasix via IV and try to push that fluid out, but...

We both shook our heads. She had fought hard for over a year; we weren't making her fight anymore. And the vet, while he agreed, had tears in his eyes as he gathered the paperwork we needed to sign.

For the entire year she had gone through treatment, our grumpy Dusty tolerated it like a champ. She put up with all the blood work, needles inserted into her bladder to get urine, the x-rays and the ultrasounds, all the poking and prodding, but this time, she'd had enough. After the vet shaved her forepaw to find a vein to give her a sedative, she began to fight back. She reared back, hissed and growled...and then died.

Screw you, I'm going on my terms, not yours.

I never would have imagined that in the midst of such heartbreak, I would also feel pride and be so impressed. She really did go on her own terms, with a giant Fark You.

The thing is, I thought that year had given me time to be all right with the idea of losing her, but I wasn't anywhere near all right with it. It was two weeks before I could even go into the pet food aisle; Hank still needed to be fed, so the Spouse Thingy managed that for us.

Not too long after she died, I woke to the feeling of her jumping up on the bed and plopping down next to my feet. I blew it off, thinking Hank had walked past and bumped the bed. It kept happening, even when Hank was nowhere around the bed.

That October--in spite of my insistence that I never wanted another cat--Max arrived. He was a little wild man, a bundle of black and white energy, and he decided I was his. He jumped on the bed in the middle of the night as well, but never near my feet; he always jumped up near my head, and he never landed with the ceremonious thud Dusty had.

Every now and then, with Max curled up near my head and Hank fast asleep on the floor, I kept feeling that thud near my feet. There were also many nights when Max sat in the hallway talking to someone; he's always been a noisy pain in the butt at night, but there's a difference in his voice when he's singing out and when he's talking. Somewhere along the line it occurred to me that the nights he sat in the hallway deep in discussion with whomever, those were the night that later I would feel the thump at my feet.

One night I caught myself stirring from sleep and saying, "Hey, Dusty," when I felt the mattress give.

Awake, I rationalized it: there had to be something else going on. Maybe it was the bed itself, a wayward spring popping up and moving. Maybe it was something about the house we lived in, some weird little movement in the ground.

But we moved, and it continued. Through two bed replacements, it's continued.

Neither Max nor Buddah ever sleep in that spot.

I am not and will never be one of those people who think animals have no souls; I absolutely believe they do, pretty much to the point where I suspect that in the next life I will be apologizing to a bunch of animals whom I have consumed, and thanking them for the nourishment. I have no doubt that I'll be reunited with all the furballs I have loved, even the one we had to give up.

So I don't really have a problem with believing that Dusty could very well be paying me visits when she thinks I need her to. And I don't have a problem thinking that Max can sense her, and she's the one he talks to when he's vocal but not being obnoxious.

It doesn't happen nearly as often as it once did, and I admit it's could very well just be me, an occasional sleep quirk. But deep down? If there was a way, Dusty would definitely take a break from fun and games at the Bridge to curl up and take a nap at my feet. And whether she's really there or not, every time it happens now I at least mutter to myself, "Hey, Dusty."

It would be rude not to.


G.G. Mueller said...

((((Karen)))) Diamond is sitting on my lap as I read his. She started purring.

Victoria Henderson said...

Glad I'm not the only one this type of thing happens too. My 3 never play THoE without including 2 other kitties that passed way before the boys were born. Some of the very few people we allow in our home have noticed it, to. As long as my boys don't mind, I certainly welcome them to visit.

Heather and Amanda said...

We feel that our cat that died last May is around at times as well, and that our other cats see her. We cried while reading this post. Thanks for letting us know that someone else feels the same.

Angel and Kirby said...

Thank you for this story. Wizard visits us quite often. I was the only one that felt him jump up on the bed for a long time but now my husband has felt him too. we have even turned on the light to see if it was on or the current cats but they are elsewhere! it is comforting to me that he still visits.

Derby, Ducky said...

OK, you got us all leaky eyed here. Yeah, we will come back to visit mum when the time comes.

Erin said...

I've read tons of books on cats, by cats and for cats. I've read fiction, biographies and autobiographies...but I've read anyone who nails the kitty spirit like you do. Thank you for sharing your world with us. It is awesome!

Helena said...

I can relate to so much of what you've written!

My cat, Scooter, passed away last September. He had been diagnosed FIV 7 years before. Like your heroine, he proved the experts wrong, living to be 19 1/2 years old. Yesterday would have been his 20th birthday.

He had a seizure a year before, another a few months later. His weight had dropped and he had a cold that wouldn't go. But against everything, he got better. On his birthday last year we gave him a card as usual, with the envelope filled with catnip, and wrote on it how blessed, relieved and happy we were that he was with us still. Deep down I wondered if it would be his last birthday.

In July he had more seizures and it turned out it was down to low blood sugar. I had to work it out myself, then ask the vet to check it. I don't think he's have had another summer if I hadn't worked that out. Once I knew, I fed him little and often to keep up his blood sugar, even through the night, and I slept downstairs.

When he ate less, I took to putting honey in his water :)

I took a video of him just 7 days before he passed, and you would not believe there was anything wrong with him from that film. A few days later he stopped eating. The honey water kept him going. Then one morning, he just looked different. Like his age had caught him overnight.... the next day he slept in the sun till the vet came....

Well I have seen him, heard him, felt him pull the leg of my trousers with his claw as I walked through a door where he used to sit. I've had muddy footprints in the kitchen (photo's on my blog!), black whiskers left and the sheaf of a claw. And today, in the snow, pawprints coming from, and going, nowhere.

NO ONE will convince me it isn't him. I was an atheist. I was cynical. But I know he didn't really die, he just began to 'be' in a different way.

Your post gave me so much comfort. To think that even if I moved, he may follow... I have had a tough week, but you have left me all warm inside and smiling.


Mighty Kitty said...

Mighty Kitty here. I had the same experience with my dog Timmy and my cat Whiskers and my 3 yr old cat Higgins! I also had the experience of smelling my mom's hair after she died and it stayed in bed near 1 hour! I felt my Dad put a big bear hug around me one night before i went to sleep and even hubby said it was him when I did. It happens and I too know that our pets do have souls and will meet us on the other side! You are not imagining!

Anonymous said...

Thank you for this. I lost my beloved cat that I had had for 22 years in May of 2010. Even though we have 3 "New" cats since then I will never stop missing her. I wish that she would pay me visit like you Dusty does.

Shaggy and Scout said...

This was beautiful, Karen. I wish I could feel Scooby with me but I haven't, except for once (unless I haven't connected things together) Scooby always napped with me on the bed in the afternoon and once I felt his soft footsteps at the end of the bed by my feet, then felt the sensation of him lying down. He always settled down on a blankie that I still keep there. Maybe he is having too much fun in the sun at the Bridge right now. It's going to be a year on April 1. I wish I could feel my sister who died from Scleroderma 2 years ago at age 60. Maybe she doesn't visit, although we were close. She has come to me in dreams with advice and calming words twice. Maybe that's her way. I clearly heard my dad's voice say my name at the hour of his death. I was reading in the quiet house and I actually turned around and said "Dad?" (Mom & Dad lived in Grand Forks. Mom is still there.) Although he had been failing for a couple years I had no idea that he was near the end, so I wasn't preoccupied with him in any way. I was just sitting reading, enjoying the silence.
I think maybe one has to be "receptive" in some way. Attuned to picking up these visits just as animal communicators can focus on the thoughts and feelings of a cat/dog/horse/etc. so they can "talk" to the animal, find out what is causing the distress and tell an owner why the animal behaves the way it does. Or in the case of Kimo, locate a lost cat from across the country. (That story was amazing!) She described in a phone call the area where he was, mentioning a chicken coop...and that's where his person found him! She knew the area being described. Wow!
Even though I long to have contact with Scooby, maybe I'm just not one who is blessed with that ability. I wish there was some way to develop it. Maybe all it takes is just paying attention, being open and receptive, looking for the signs even though they come when you least expect it. In my Catholic faith, my favorite words in the funeral mass is the words "We believe life is changed, not ended." So true. -Lynne

Big Piney Woods Cats said...

Hi Karen:

Thank you for this! It is wonderful. I wish Patches and Mistrie would visit me, I so wish that. It is wonderful to read stories of others who get visited, I think Patches sent me Miracle, that was her way, Mistrie will find a way, too.

I don't think you are ever prepared, even though you think you are. I didn't think I would miss a semi feral outside cat like I am missing her. She was a staple of the Big Piney Woods for 9 years.

I agree with Lynne, some of us can't channel them like others. You are blessed.

Hugs, Toni