Another maudlin indulgence ahead. You’ve been warned. If waxing philosophic about a stranger’s deceased pet is not your cup of tea, skip to another page of this blog or move along.

Then There Were Two

Sunday morning I climbed out of bed both hopeful and terrified. Seeing Lester, our nine-year-old gray tabby, huddled on the floor killed that hope. While the world mourned the tenth anniversary of 9/11, my grief was sharper and closer to home.

In 2002, we lived in a duplex on the southeast side of town. Our neighbors had a sweet little mongrel cat that ran free. In early summer, she gave birth to a litter of kittens. Momma wasn’t in the greatest of health, having been diagnosed with FLV – the feline leukemia virus. Her kittens were all extremely small and sickly. My wife had been dragged over on regular visits (as happens in any household with a handful of kittens to find homes for) and had reported to me that there was speculation none of them would survive for long after weaning.

About two weeks shy of said weaning she was dragged, albeit eagerly, over to have a look at them. Maybe ten minutes later, she entered our back door with this tiny little gray fluffball with a huge voice. The runt in a litter of runts, Lester had heard my wife coming into the bedroom where his siblings were feeding. Rather than fight for the real estate of his Momma’s teat, he ran to the foot of the bed and proceeded to regale her with a long tale. His voice was insistent, and he loudly spoke his mind. She picked him up, and brought him to me where he gave me his opinion on matters relevant to a six-week-old kitten. The next thing I knew, we had a new family member, our third.

We took him to a vet to get his shots. Fortunately, he didn’t have the FLV virus like his mother, but the veterinarian informed us that he had a weak constitution. He had eye infections that we cleared up with medication, but the doctor said he wouldn’t last longer than three years. Despite this, we kept him – he was too charming for us not to.

I worked graveyard shift, and would spend my nights off staying up all night to keep my schedule. That first month or so, Lester would start a discussion which I would be forced to deal with before he woke up the rest of the house. Invariably, he would end the evening curled up in my baseball cap beside me (making it easy for me to hold him in my lap, and set him aside to get munchies, or a book, or something to drink without disturbing his rest.) So long as he was being touched, petted, or played with he was quiet.

Other times, I’d be at my computer for hours which didn’t suit him at all. My chair is set high enough, and at an angle to make resting in my lap a losing fight with gravity. To combat sliding down my legs, Lester did what any kitten would do resulting in a blue streak sworn above his head as I dug those tiny razor claws out of my thighs. As a compromise, I would take two bulletin board pins, and pin the hem of my nightshirts to my computer keyboard drawer, creating a hammock for Lester to enjoy his naps.

About four years ago, Lester became much more vocal, even for him, using what we’d come to call his ‘outside voice.’ With four cats at the time, it took a bit to realize that he was having difficulty urinating. We rushed him to the nearest veterinary hospital, knowing we couldn’t afford much if it was something truly serious. He was diagnosed with a urinary blockage. They put in a catheter, kept him for two days, and charged us over a thousand dollars…when we had told them we couldn’t afford more than eight hundred. I scrambled to come up with the funds, stealing from Peter to pay Paul. It was with the generosity of many people who contributed items to an impromptu auction and donated money that we were able to cover Lester’s medical bills and still make rent that month. (And I can never thank everyone enough for that!)

When Lester was about five or six months old, we got into a fight. It was the only time I have ever seen him so mad, and I found it amusing. After having riled him up a bit on the couch, he side-hopped toward me, back arched, hairs sticking up, tail bottle-brush thick, and pounced on my knee. I took my much larger hand, put it on his head, and gently knocked him over. This went on for a good five or six minutes, with him getting more and more ticked off at me. By the end of the fight, his ears were so flat that he didn’t look like he even had ’em! LOL! Needless to say, he was a smart kitten and knew I was in charge. I think I inadvertently imprinted on him that I was Momma that night, something I didn’t recognize until very recently.

The benefit of that ‘argument’ was that my show of dominance, coupled with his early days of submitting to that nasty cream we put in his eyes, helped put him in the right frame of mind. When he did things he wasn’t supposed to do, he never ran far, never really tried to hide from me. Oh, he’d duck under the bed and behind the couch quicker than anything if it was my wife looking for him. But if it was me, he’d hunker down and await the inevitable. And there was always the inevitable with Lester. He was our bad boy, the trouble-maker, the one who climbed up on tables and counters, snuck food off plates left unattended, and any number of things that cats do during their lives. He was also damned smart! If he knew he wasn’t supposed to do something, he’d wait for as long as it took before making a sneak attempt. There have been times that every little doo dad on my desk was exactly where I left it…except one… Cat burglars are aptly named, and Lester was the best.

When we moved to our apartment complex, we had no screen door for our balcony. I ended up buying a baby-gate, and installing it on the back door. The furkids were all trained to not hop it (under threat of soaking and yelling and the rest of the ruckus that comes from being chased around the house by a large bipedal cat with a broom.) Transferring to a larger apartment, we put the baby-gate across the end of the balcony to keep them from roaming up and down the side of the building. This worked well until someone else’s cat started roaming. It suddenly dawned on Lester that he could actually visit those other balconies he saw down the way.

One afternoon, I counted cats to find one missing. I knew he had been outside, so I went to the balcony to find him. Looking in the usual hiding places – behind the large pine tree planter, in the corner between the planter shelves and a stack of unused pots, on top of the kitty furniture posted just outside the door, under the barbecue – he wasn’t there. I called his name and heard him clear as day. Looking down the line of balconies, I called again. Lester’s gray head popped out of a window…two windows down. Our immediate neighbor had left the screen off his balcony window, and the window open. Lester had gone inside, through to the man’s bedroom, and was talking to me from a position that had no balcony to exit onto. I had to break down the baby-gate, cross over to the neighbor’s balcony, and call Lester from the window to get him to retrace his path. I was just waiting for our neighbor to come home and ask why I had my head in his window. (Hope he wasn’t allergic to cats!)

Several weeks ago, Lester began having some difficulty peeing. The signs were pretty obvious – some urine in the catbox, followed by him yowling and licking his genitals. These last couple of years, though, our finances have been shot. We couldn’t afford to bring him in for another $1000+ bill; it was impossible. I did some major research on the internet, coming up with different home remedies that could correct the problem. We started him on a regimen of apple cider vinegar and water, three times a day. The results were almost immediate. Whatever crystals may have been developing to block his urinary tract were affected by the mixture. We dosed him for a week. By the end of the week, he was noticeably heavier, eating better, happier, and not yowling at all. He was also fighting the daily doses, so we drifted off of them.

During Lester’s early life, we owned a metaphysical bookstore. He became the shop kitty, going out with my wife every morning to hang at the store. He adored it. He was our slut kitty. No one could come into the house without having to dote on him. Our apartment is a secured building, requiring people to be buzzed in via the telephone. Inevitably, my wife would say the magic words, ‘Okay, come on up.’ Lester would wake from a sound sleep, stretch, and saunter to the door, waiting for his visitor. If no one came for a couple of days, he would sit in front of the door and call, hoping to net somebody.

In April, we put down our senior cat, Tinker. I was her Toy. Her absence left a hole in my heart – and Lester filled it. Because of his need for tactile contact and my need to connect with a gray kitty, I got into the habit of brushing him nearly every day. It became a ritual at lunch time for me to feed the cats, clean up the kitchen, and prep my lunch for work. When I was done, I’d step out of the kitchen to find Lester waiting on the cat furniture near the brush. He enjoyed a vigorous scrubbing with the brush, followed by a gentle brush down to get the excess fur off him. We’d finish with a cuddle before I had to pack up and head to work. He wouldn’t even eat lunch most the time until this was done.

When I woke up last Saturday, my wife told me Lester wasn’t feeling well. He hadn’t eaten his breakfast, which wasn’t that surprising…he hated the senior food we fed him. Living in the Pacific Northwest with it’s constantly changing weather patterns, we had come to realize he and my wife shared a trait, a weakness for headaches and sinus pain as the barometer shifted.

But Saturday was sunny. As was the day before.

He didn’t come down from the cat tree for his brushing. He didn’t show interest in food or water. He eventually did come down, crying, showing a possible recurrence of the urinary blockage. We immediately began the apple cider vinegar treatment, and dug out the UTI homeopathic medication we’d picked up with the last serious bout. But I had my doubts – I saw him struggling to defecate, finally producing a very small result. I researched other possibilities and became convinced he was either constipated or blocked. My wife dosed him multiple times over the night with hairball medication – a laxative. Canadian friends offered suggestions and to even buy the laxative product that I couldn’t get in the States over the counter. I spent most the night at work, worried, emailing back and forth with my wife a couple of times to hear that there was no change. Upon my return home, I dosed Lester again with the hairball medication. He was in pain, he couldn’t get comfortable, couldn’t sleep. But he still arched into my hand as I caressed him, still talked to me, and allowed me to talk to him. I knew that if things didn’t break by morning, I’d have to take him into the emergency clinic. And I knew that if I did so, I wouldn’t be bringing him home.

So I woke after four hours of useless sleep with hope and fear, and the fear won out. No change. I promised him that we would get him help, and that no matter what happened he would no longer be in pain. I said my good byes. We loaded him into a cab, hoping for the best, knowing it was the worst. It wasn’t constipation. It wasn’t an intestinal blockage. It was the urinary blockage back again. We had staved it off a few weeks ago, but it hadn’t been enough. The doctor gave him medication to ease his pain, and told us it would be $1200+ to make him better. The last time this had happened, we had made some major changes in the way we fed our cats, made certain to keep them super-hydrated as much as possible. No more bowl of dry food just sitting out for the taking; breakfast was canned as usual, but lunch and dinner were specific portions of dry, sometimes mixed with water or warm chicken broth (usually when Lester appeared to need the extra hydration.) None of it had worked, and the echoes of his last vet visit reminded us that THAT doctor had told us it would happen again and again because of his constitution.

I made the decision to put Lester to sleep, and I fled when they asked if I wanted to be in the room. It had been hard enough with Tinker in April; I couldn’t do it now. I’m consoled by the fact that he was ever the slut kitty. I said my goodbyes before we took him in, and he was lying in ICU with several women doting on him (I hadn’t seen a single man since walking in the door.) He wasn’t in pain, and he was the center of attention just as he always liked.

I love you, Lester. I’m sorry it took so long for me to figure out that I was your Momma. You were so independent, so involved with everyone else coming through the door, I never realized that I was as special to you as you were to me. Take care of yourself and your big sister, Tinker. Amber and Shade miss you, as does your other Mommy. We’ll see you again one day.

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