Monday, June 30, 2014

Unsentimental sentimentality...

Okay, time to get the painful blog out of the way...

As most of you know our family pet passed away a few weeks ago. It was a shock. We had no idea he was as sick as he was and once we knew it was too late to do anything about it. It was awful. We miss him terribly. But I have to say something that will probably shock a few of you and possibly insult others. He was a cat, not a person. We didn't think of him as a child but as a pet. A beloved and completely spoiled pet for sure, part of the family yes but as the family pet. He didn't "think he was people" and neither did we. And honestly no matter what most of you say you don't feel that way either.

I will tell you how I know.

"You need to go out and get a kitten right away."

Do you know how many times I've heard this? Not just since George died but before that when we lost Sampson, which is how we ended up with George. We did go out and get a kitten (actually two) right away.

But just think about that for a second, you would NEVER say that to someone who had lost their child, "You need to go out and get a baby right away. OH! You know the orphanage has some two year olds that are already potty trained, that way you wouldn't have to go through that again, but you would have a new baby to focus on." See? Ridiculous.

Now I'm not saying we don't love our pets. Or that we don't grieve when we lose them. But what I am saying is that we don't have to try and elevate them to "human" to feel this way about them. It's an argument I've had with some of my more umm...passionate vegan friends. They want to point out all the ways we should be treating animals as equals because they are so much like humans. Well, if your basis for compassion is that animals are like humans isn't that flawed? Shouldn't your argument be that animals deserve compassion because everything deserves compassion, not just things we can equate with ourselves? Isn't that more ego driven, or at least as ego driven as saying that animals are less than human? Just something to think about. And something I wanted to put out there before I write what will probably be a very long blog, you are free to skip the rest, about our pets.

I grew up with dogs and cats and birds and fish. Even a turtle for a stretch. And mice, I had mice for a brief moment in time. And many of those animals were completely spoiled. Very well taken care of house pets. But I also had parents that were raised on working farms and had grandparents we went and visited during the summer whose animals weren't pampered house pets but working members of their farms. There was my grandparents dog who let all of us kids pull his ears and ride him like a horse and sleep on him like he was a giant stuffed pillow. Oh did I mention he was a pit bull? Yes, the nanny dog. Very good with kids. If they are raised that way.

There was also Fred. Solid muscle with a purr like an outboard motor. You could hear him coming from the barn when he saw you on the porch. Fred didn't have a name until we came to visit. He was just the barn cat. Every barn needs at least one cat to keep the mice away. Fred was that cat. Cats, even more than dogs, get less love on a farm. They are there to work. The dog might be let inside to the screened in porch if it got too cold but the cat was left to find someplace warm to curl up. Though my grandfather also did leave him a platter of fresh milk when he would milk the cow, so he was a little spoiled.

Anyway, just like the cows, chickens, horses, and pigs the dogs and cats on a farm have jobs. Protection, sanitation, food, and you don't ever think of them as your brothers or sisters or kids. Because they are pets. So I had that in my upbringing.

But again, that doesn't mean you don't adore your pets. When we were first married Brent came to pick me up from work one day and said, "Your mother called, they had to put Brandy down." and I burst out in to tears. You can't just tell me something like that off the cuff! Brandy was my brother and sister's dog. They had Brandy and Jeremiah. Great pair of dogs. Jeremiah was the sweetest thing ever. He had a tuft of hair on the top of his head that was different than the rest of his wiry coat. Longer, softer and gray, like an old man. Brandy was the tough chick. She was the one who would protect the house if it needed done. She was also a fierce bird hunter. You had to watch the yard or she would have a snack. She also would sit at the base of our parakeet's cage and chatter at him. He would pace back and forth on the perch laughing my mother's laugh at her. Great dogs really. Not my dogs, but I still was so sad when we lost them. But I didn't think of them as my nephew and niece. They were my brother and sister's dogs.

Growing up we had Mitzi (smartest dog ever), Sunshine (bless her heart, she tried), Princess and George for dogs. Princess and George being strays my sister and I took in at different points. For cats we had Chris and Jeremy. Then there was Petey the parakeet, the fish and the mice I mentioned before and Yertle the Turtle who was around when I was like 4, I want to say. So a good mix of pets. When we moved away my parents still had Mitzi, Sunshine and Jer. When I would come visit Jer would still come running when he heard my voice. He was a great cat. But as pets do, they all got old and were eventually replaced with other pets by my folks. Right now I think they have two cats and two dogs and a bird again.

When Brent and I got married our first pet was a ferret. Super fun pet. People will tell you they are like cats, and maybe a little. But more like cats as imagined by a horror writer. They are sneaky, tricky, super entertaining things. But not cuddly sweet pets. More mischievous than cats for sure. She was great. But when we were transferred to California we had to give her away. They are illegal to keep as pets there and if anyone had discovered her she would have been confiscated and put down. Just not okay. So off she went to a new home. The young boy who got her was thrilled. The mom had no idea what she was in for.

We didn't have pets again for a long time. We moved a lot and worked a lot and just didn't have the time. Until we settled up here the first time. Thinking we were done with moving and that C was old enough for a pet we decided it might be time. And then we saw Sampson. In a pet store. I know! Can you believe it? We bought a pet store cat. Shame on us...but he was adorable. Little gray striped ball of fluff.

And he was awesome. And didn't stay little for very long. The vet told us he thought there must be some Maine Coon in him. Head the size of a softball and 20 pounds. He was one of those cats that you say thinks they are a dog. When someone would come over he didn't run and hide, he was right there to see who was there and what they wanted and if they would play fetch with him. When we bought our first house up here he spent the entire time we were drawing up the offer perched on the head and shoulders of our real estate agent. Good thing for Steve Sampson was still a kitten at the time and only about 8 pounds. Once he reached his full size he also discovered that if he took a running start at you and jumped at your legs he could hit the back of your knees and completely take you out. Did I mention aside from being the coolest cat in the world he was also mean as shit? He would bite you if he was in the mood and do the flying tackle.

He also didn't live very long. And here is where the argument against pet store pets comes in to play. He was a genetic mess. At three years old he got sick. Started vomiting and just wouldn't stop. We had gone through a stretch with him around 2 where he did the same thing. But that time they gave him some medicine, he stopped, and it was all okay. This time nothing was working. We had the rounds of testing, of x-rays to make sure he hadn't swallowed string, of medicine, of fluids and nothing was working. Though we did discover through the x-rays that at some point he had broken his hip and we never knew. I know how he did it, the house we had in Hillsboro had an open plan from the living room to the second floor, there was a plant ledge up there and we used to nag at him when he would crawl out there lay on it. At some point he obviously fell. But some how was able to get around without a limp that would have let us know he broke his freaking hip!

Anyway...after quite a few days at the emergency vet (it was over the 4th of July so holiday hours) he was recovering. We were going to get to take him home! Yay! Then the call came. We had to come right away because he was failing and they couldn't stop it. If we wanted to see him before he died this was it. I couldn't believe it. He was 3. There was no way we should be doing this! And they still had no idea what went wrong. It wasn't until he passed and they did an autopsy on him that they saw he had massive internal organ damage. And one system after another was just failing. There was nothing we could have done. Which would have been nice to know before we spent the right at three grand to keep him alive. Yes, three grand. Which we didn't really have. There went the bonus and savings for that year. Everyone would tell Brent, "You spent how much?" and he would say, "This was Denise's cat. You try telling her no we aren't." And honestly if he had lived it would have been worth it to me. He was our cat.

Also in those three years we had a dog for a stretch. One of the biggest regrets in my pet owning life. She wasn't a good fit for the family at that time. I was stretched to capacity (something I didn't know I would be when we got her) she terrorized Sampson to the point where he became very anti-social (of course now we wonder if this wasn't more his health fading than her) and I just couldn't give her the attention or the compassion that she needed. I regret that we got her and I regret that we gave her away. I feel like if I could have just lasted a year with her she would have mellowed out. But then again, lasting a year right then was a lot to ask. It wasn't a good time.

So after Sampson died people, including his regular vet, said we needed to get another cat right away. I knew I wasn't really ready, but everyone said it was best, so off to the pound we went. Where we found the most adorable little Harlequin faced cats! Oh my gosh! They were so freaking cute! And completely feral...not at all ready for adoption. The people there said maybe in a few weeks they would settle but in the meantime have you seen these two? Sam and Diane they were named...a brother and sister duo. Tiny little black cats. Diane was the braver of the two, coming over to check us out while Sam hung back a bit. But when I picked him up he started purring right away. Okay we would take the bold Diane and her chicken brother Sam. But we would find new names.

So Sam and Diane became George and Gracie or as I referred to them, the replacements. And they were. I just didn't connect with them for the longest time. Now it didn't help that Gracie had tricked us at the pound. She was not brave. She was scared of everything. Except food. Neurotic to the hilt. We spent years trying to get her calmed down. Kitty Prozac. Kitty pheromones. Different foods. Different environment. Different everything. And then there was George. He was a bit of a chicken heart. More social than his sister, but that wasn't hard to be. But still not ever calm. He would lay down next to you but in a perma crouch, ready to bolt at the slightest movement. And this is how it went for about 8 years or so. When I realized I had had the replacements for longer than I ever had Sampson but I still didn't bond with them.

Then Gracie lost what was left of her mind. We tried even more things with her, but she started treating the entire house as a litter box and since I worked out of the house this was really not okay. So I packed her up and took her to the local shelter. Where I was told that they had too many cats and the only thing they could do for her was put her to sleep. So I brought her back home. That was one of the worst days ever. Because I knew that I couldn't keep her. We had already spent so much time and money trying to get her to be "okay" I had nothing left. And I wouldn't live in a house that was constantly soaked in cat urine. The local cat sanctuaries were full and couldn't take her. The local pound wouldn't take her. Finally a no-kill shelter opened in Washington and a friend took her up there for me. I couldn't do the drive to the shelter again. As much as I didn't like her, as much grief as she had been, she was still our pet and I was still a failure as a pet owner. It was bad.

I had been really worried about how George would react. After all they were litter mates. He had never been without her. How would he handle it?

Turns out very well.

He calmed down quite a bit. Became a very social little guy. And he was little. Nine pounds on a good day. As opposed to Sampson's 20 and Gracie's 18. But he was able to keep his weight more steady now that his sister wasn't constantly eating all of his food. He was able to relax with us. Which makes me think she was probably beating on him when weren't around. She was a lot more temperamental so that would explain his nervousness. He was still really physically fragile.  He had always had a delicate system, prone to vomiting (which of course with our history with Sampson worried me) and he had never reached his full growth potential so he had his giant snaggle tooth hanging out of his mouth and his bat ears on his head that he never grew in to. We think he was probably malnourished between their time on the street before the pound and his sister stealing his food afterwards.

And as he spent more time with us we saw more and more of his personality. And, as I do, I gave him stories to tell about his world. "George thinks..." "George says...." Eventually my friend Scott said, "he needs his own web page so other people can hear this stuff." which I think was a way of telling me to shut up about my fucking cat, but worked. He got a web page. And between that and posts on my facebook page he became a smallish internet sensation. Full of snarky observations on life. No crazy spelling or bad grammar or cutesy overload either. He wasn't that type of cat. Odd right? I gave him a personality that meshed well with mine. Imagine that.

Even when he got sick this last time I posted about it in a snarky way. On his page and on mine. That lets you know how very not worried we were. He was only 13, yes fragile but mostly healthy as always so we were thinking we would have another 5 years with him at least. He vomited a lot on Friday. Which for him meant more than three times. Because he always would vomit in threes. But by the time Friday was over he had vomited 8 times. A lot. And he was warm. The plan was to wait overnight and take him to the vet on Saturday. But he got better overnight. Only vomited once on Saturday. We were feeling good enough to leave for the coast on Sunday without worry. Then Monday he was okay. Tuesday C and I went to Bend for the day and by the time we got home Tuesday night he was sick again. By the time we went to bed he wouldn't even keep down water. So Wednesday morning straight to the vet. He had to stay there for the day so they could fit him in around other appointments. He had lost weight, which was always worrisome because of his size. But he looked good, the vet thought, healthy coloring, good response, a little tired, but not terrible. Blood work and they sent us home. Then the call came Thursday. He was in acute kidney failure. His levels were off the charts bad. Sitting in the parking lot of the dentist while the vet told me our options but also let me know that the odds weren't good. Not with the numbers we were seeing.

How could this be? A week earlier he was fine. But he wasn't. Looking back I can see a few signs. Very few. Nothing I would have ever put together before we knew he was sick. He was eating a little less than normal, but his weight had been steady right up until the last few days. He wouldn't take treats from the boys anymore, just from me. He had pooped outside of the litter box in the study. Subtle things. But things that looking back let me know he wasn't his best. So anyway, we decided to try and treat him. A small chance is still a chance right?

Thursday he was back at the vet, kitty dialysis, fluids, the whole bit. Thursday night home with us and back for another round on Friday and then Saturday with a redoing of the blood-work on Saturday. Or at least that was the plan. But George had had enough. When I picked him up on Thursday they let me know they couldn't get him to eat or drink anything or use the litter box to eliminate the fluids he was taking in. And that didn't change when we got home. He wouldn't eat or drink anything for us. He used the box once. And it was to throw up in, which turned out to be the food I got him to eat on Wednesday. It had just sat there undigested in his stomach for a day. He didn't want attention. He didn't want to be touched. He hid. Which wasn't like him at all. So I made the call that we would stop treatment. I just knew it wasn't going to get better and I had two options. Keep trying and let his last two days be at the vet getting poked and prodded, or say this is enough and spend one more day with him here at home.

We chose home. Brent said goodbye to him before he left for work. C and I spent time with him petting him and telling him what a great cat he was. And crying. Lots of crying. He didn't eat or drink all day, but he didn't hide either. He stayed in the living room with us. Letting us fuss over him while he slept mostly. And then when the time came C and I took him in to the vet and let him go. We stayed in the room with him petting him until his last moments. As far as those things go it was the best it could go. And as befitted an internet sensation I posted a note to his page and mine about losing him.

What I really didn't realize was how much of sensation he really had become until I got such sweet notes from people all over the world, literally, all over the world, who would miss him.

So even though he started out as one of the replacements he ended his life full on in the spotlight.

And I won't be replacing him any time soon.

Because as much as I don't agree with the whole "they are people" sentiment, I do know that I need time to grieve for my pet. For the loss in our family. I don't want to bring another pet in to fill a hole. It's okay to have that hole right now. And no matter what I do it won't change. George and Gracie didn't make me miss Sampson less, they just distracted me from the missing and the missing kept me from bonding with them as much as I would have. But I still miss Sampson. Just like I know I will still miss George. They come in to our lives and we take care of them and love them and spoil them. How can we not miss them when they are gone? It's only natural. Grief is natural. And I'm okay with grieving him without trying to replace him.

And I'm okay saying he was just a cat.

Because just a cat is a pretty damn good thing to be.

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