Sunday, December 6, 2015

Of Old Cats and Christmas Baubles

I've almost finished the Paris exhibition post I committed to a week or so ago, revealing the name of the artist whose work I teased you with, and sharing our approach to art expo visits in that city. I expect to click "publish" on that by Tuesday.

  It's taking longer than I expected, though, and meanwhile, yesterday we took our ancient cat (coming up to 21 years this spring) on a very stormy boat ride to town for a final visit to the vet, saying goodbye to this feline we adopted reluctantly some 17 years ago when our daughter and her partner moved to the big city, and their apartment didn't allow pets. She was always rather skittish, just enough feral to testify to her barn/field cat heritage, and she had an unfortunate tendency to very occasional, completely unpredictable lapses in her housetraining. These always involved fabric, our down duvet serving as makeshift litter box once, and our precious Persian tribal rugs soaking up cat pee far too often to recount with equanimity. 


For the last ten years, we've tried to keep her outside as much as possible, only bringing her in when we're able to pay attention to her whereabouts, but cat scats would still surprise us unpleasantly. (A favourite deposit area was on the rug under Pater's desk. In severe cold, we brought her in for longer periods and even overnight, but only because I was too soft. If Paul had his way, she would have come in only for feeding and the odd cuddle. Something about his tough love, I must admit, respected the wild animal in her, and her thick coat kept her warm enough that she was healthy and active through the end of her second decade.

These last weeks, though, she's aged noticeably, and we set up a blanket by the wood stove. She seemed grateful enough, but then twice in as many weeks managed to evade our surveillance just long enough to pee on the rug again (it's just small enough, at about 4x6 feet, that I can wash it in the bathtub with Eucalan, but oh, what an ordeal!). I'll admit those two incidents had us considering euthanasia, but we put off making a decision until Friday morning when Paul noticed her hind legs splaying out as she tried to walk across the floor, hips unable to manage any height.

So yesterday afternoon we came home without her, pet-free for the first time in 31 years. The emptiest our nest has ever been. 

Today, my cold almost gone, I tucked my iPhone into my vest pocket as I headed out for my morning run, and I snapped some photos of Shiny, Bright and Happy antidotes to stormy, grey, dark days. The solstice approaches, thank the heavens! And thanks to my island neighbours for their charmingly simple approach to outdoor Christmas decorating. It's not the Griswold approach, but it's just enough cheer to lift my spirits in a world with one fewer cat. (Would it be crass of me to admit that I'm not too sad I won't be washing urine-soaked rugs in the bathtub anymore?)

I suspect we're not the only parents whose empty nest was tantalizingly kept out of reach by the continued presence of a pet. Were any of you
foolishaccommodating enough to adopt a cat whose kitten-cuteness your adult child wasn't able to resist but whose more mature presence was not as compelling? Any one regularly paying vet bills and buying huge bags of petfood and hiring pet-sitters and getting up early to walk a dog foisted on you by the same "Please Mom's" you couldn't say no to when your child was 10 but were sure you'd be done with by the time s/he was 22? And have any of you become once again aware of your nest's emptiness when that last pet finally passed away. . . . Perhaps you understand my mixed feelings this evening. . .

Amended just to add, because I realize you can't really tell from reading this, that Kleenexes were used for eyes, not just for the nose, yesterday. I admired and grew to love, oddly, this cat whose feist was foisted on me. I will truly miss her. But some of that missing will be relief...







36 comments:

  1. Hi Mater - sad about the cat, but no need to explain the mixed feelings.

    I love the neighbourhood Christmas decor - I'd like to put similar baubles on our suburban tree out front, but that will have to wait at least another year - the branches are still too short, I could see everything flying off at the first gust of wind!

    Enjoy your truly empty nest!

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    1. I'm really surprised these baubles didn't get whipped off the branches in the last few storms (one yesterday, another one scheduled for tomorrow, ho-hum!).
      How many Christmases now in your "new" home? And will your guys all be home?

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    2. Hi Mater, this is the second Christmas in this home. I think the boys will be home, even if only for that one day, not sure yet. Batten down those hatches!

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    3. That's what I thought, but then I wondered if I'd telescoped time the way I sometimes do . . I hope you do get the boys home for a day. We'll have 3 of our 4 families here together, although some dispersing Christmas Eve or early Christmas morning...

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  2. Wow, you and Paul went a I've and beyond for that old hand me down cat. I too had a hand me down cat. Miss Dorkins - a Persian Manx mixed up cat that was my daughter, Andrea's kitten that was left behind. She lived 14 years and moved with me when Philip and I parted ways. The last year included daily injections of insulin and trips to the vet where Miss D peed on me and my car several times in her fear of the vet resulting in heading home to shower, wash my clothes and dropping my car off for detailing. Finally, she couldn't stand up and dragged her hind legs- apparently a side effect of advancing diabetes - so off she went to the vet for a final journey. I was 2 years pet free for the first time EVER and stayed that way till I decided to welcome Miss Orim to keep me company and to encourage exercise. She is such a delightful companion and I am more fit than I have been in many years.

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    1. Yes, we did, although see Anonymous Christine, below, who doesn't seem to agree. . . I can't remember if you guys had any pets in PR, but it was always clear you could fold anything into your life and make it homey -- you were a champion Mom! Not surprised you ended up caring for a leftover kitten way into old age...
      Your new girl looks like the perfect companion for your lifestyle -- I'm trying to resist the suggestions that are already beginning for us to get a little dog -- for the grandkids!

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  3. Hello Mater - sorry about your cat, and although we don't have pets, I sympathize with the mixed feelings. Those big outdoor ornaments are so pretty. I hope you've battened down the hatches with these strong winds we've been having. It's howling out there again as I write.

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    1. So many storms, day after day, it seems!
      (thanks for the sympathy -- it was definitely time, but we'll miss her)

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  4. Sorry about your cat! I understand the mixed feelings,but I was too sad when my dog or cat were gone to take another pet.
    Decorations are so subtle and nice,no agressive bulbs at your beautiful island, I hope the neighbours are the same :-)
    Dottoressa

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    1. Yes, we still feel the absence/absent presence of all our pets through the years, four dogs, and two cats, one of each adopted from family members who couldn't care for them anymore. It will be a relief in many ways not to have to be responsible for them anymore, but I will miss having an animal companion.
      Luckily, most of the neighbours are as non-aggressive (and very pleasant!) as the decorations ;-)

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  5. Oh, I am sorry to hear about the cat. We are ridiculously attached to our pets. We lost a young cat last year - he was only 6, but simply had terrible luck and after surviving a rare blood disease, developed a thyroid lymphoma. Then, because we are insane, we adopted sibling kittens from the cat protection society. We now have 3 cats, 2 dogs and 10,000 bees. I can't see myself ever being pet-free, although I am occasionally irritated by our oldest pet (a ratty little Maltese cross who was dumped on us by my MIL) and his habit of depositing things on pathways ... At least so far he rarely has a slip-up indoors, even though he is at least 17 years old.

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    1. Wow! That's a real menagerie. I'm envious of the bees, quite honestly. I've always loved the idea of having a few hives, but never got organised enough to do so.
      17 is ancient for a dog -- I suppose he's earned some tolerance... (and sorry about the loss of the young one last year -- we've never had to go through extensive veterinary care)

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  6. We had my daughter's childhood cat on and off for years. It has been 15 years since we had a pet and now seems like a good time for our puppy. She is pretty good at using her paper on the balcony. It means a clean-up but she is an apartment dog. Sorry about your cat. It is always sad to lose a pet even one that was foisted.

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    1. I'd never realized that dogs could manage staying in the apartment, using paper on a balcony for toileting. That would save you from having to get out the door early in the morning to let her "go."
      And it's true, foisted or not, you can't help get attached.

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  7. Sometimes those ornery animals just grab your heart. Thinking that you gave her a life, longer and doubtless more affectionate, than she would have without your care. And I really know about that intermittent box-training; our cat (who died just before we moved to Mtl) preferred guest's shoes... highly embarrassing. Unless we put them out of aim, he'd pee on them, often as not.

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    1. It's true, the heart-grabbing... I can imagine the embarrassment your cat caused, having once had a Golden Retriever chew a guest's shoe. Expensive and embarrassing.

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  8. I miss my older cat, Sam, who died in February still. But he was diabetic, and emotionally needy, and I don't miss not being able to have rugs in the house because in his final years he would pee on them. I don't miss not being able to bring in flowers or have plants inside, because he would eat them then vomit all over the house. He was a sweet lovable cat, who only wanted to cuddle, and I miss that. But I dont' miss the trouble I had to go to. But I still have a dog, and another cat and I can't imagine, at this point, being home completely alone....

    I love those outdoor ornaments on the trees. So cheerful! I'd like to do that here, but they would might seem strange next to my neighbor's aggressive light fests. Maybe next year.

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    1. You get what I mean, exactly, Mardel. We can miss and feel sad and feel relieved all at the same time. . . I'm glad your little dog Tikka found you -- you two seem so happy together. And you still have your other cat (whose name I can't recall, sorry)
      Yes, these trees are so very different from the Griswold approach to home Christmas decor... I think they'd suit your aesthetic really well, and I suspect you'll be softening the whole neighbourhood with your approach as your garden matures in place...

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  9. We had a lovely cat for some years after he was handed to me at the back door, a poor little stray looking for a home. Love at first sight...and a real family member for seven years before he was knocked down and fatally injured outside the house. He cost us a lot of time and money in his short life, being a complete bruiser and local thug but he was affectionate and friendly indoors. Miss you still, Charlie. They take up a space in your life without you even realising.

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    1. So sorry about your little cat -- we've been so lucky never to have experienced serious accidents or illness with any of ours. And even at that, when you speak of the time and money, I did a quick mental totting-up the other day, and realized that our old girl cost us at least $9000 over her lifetime...

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    2. Oh I love that definition "complete bruiser and local thug". We had a cat like that, Mr. C. he was so ornery that dogs wold sight him and cross the street. But with me he was a gentle purring kitty. Amazing how animals have real personalities- and like us, not always one-note.

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  10. So sorry about your cat! Pets do tell us when it's finally time, but it's still painful. When my old dog Finn, died 2 Christmases ago, our house felt so empty, I can still remember the feeling.

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    1. It took me four or five years before I stopped imagining our old Golden's movements -- I'd anticipate her coming into the kitchen as soon as she heard me peeling a carrot, for example, or expect her to come bounding to the gate when I arrived home. Are you thinking of getting another dog, or resisting for now?

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  11. I think you merely feel slightly guilty for not loving that cat. You should have made your adult child find a new home for it. Your obvious lack of interest and affection didn't help the cat one bit.

    Christine

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  12. ... but the £9000 spent on the animal at the vet probably didn't hurt.

    I contend with two 14 year old cats for which I feel neither affection nor interest but others in the household do. I feed them, look after them, scrub carpets, wash and iron full length curtains every time these rescue cats soil them but will I miss them when they go? Sorry, no.

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  13. Thanks, Ceri. I didn't follow the beginning of your reply, at first, but I see it's a response to the comment above, which I'm choosing to ignore because other approaches indulge the side of me I'm not as keen on . . . ;-) The $9000 was only partly spent at the vet -- luckily, her general good health meant she was scarcely there because her nearly feral nature would have made that very hard on her. But we regularly paid for pet-sitting, expensive the last few years when we were able to travel more. Flea prevention, food, it adds up, month by month, doesn't it?!

    I think the cat's longevity has to testify to something, as with your two 14-year-olds. I'm not sure I've ever felt Love for an animal in the definition I've learned through humans -- sorry, it's just the truth, for me -- but I did develop affection and interest in Aggie. And like you, I cared for her, dutifully, on behalf of others. I do miss her a little, but with a sigh of relief, I'll be honest. Thank you for leaving such an understanding and thoughtful comment -- always good to know we have company...

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  14. I think that ambivalence about the ending of a life of an elderly and ill creature has to be common. But still hard to go through. Sounds like she had a nigh-on perfect life for a cat - lots of time to be wild and nice humans on a cold night.

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    1. Thanks for understanding, Lisa. As far as we could tell, she had everything she needed here, and she surprised us by spending 18 years with us...now the surprise is that I come down in the morning ready to feed her, and of course, she's not here...

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  15. A similar, if somewhat backwards, experience was mine - when my elderly mother was auditioning to adopt a middle-aged dog from a man entering a retirement home (after we first passed the "test" of driving through a really awful neighborhood to reach his home, which he assured us meant that we were sincere in our desire for a pet), the original owner took me into the kitchen and made me swear privately to him that if anything happened to Mom, I would take the dog and give it a home for the rest of its days. And that I did, after Mom went to the Alzheimer's care home and eventually returned Home with a capital H, but I must say that those last few months with a now-elderly, blind, and very puzzled dog were wearing beyond belief and I think I was as relieved as it was when I finally, belatedly, put it down. Being without a pet is a new experience for me, but I find there are many compensations; perhaps later I will change my mind.

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    1. Marsha, this is so moving, on so many levels, a wealth of short stories here, each small vignette so sweet and poignant. How kind you were to your mother and to that poor owner, having to let go of a dog he obviously cared deeply for. And then how kind you were, in turn, with that old dog while you would have been struggling to reconcile to your mother's changed condition. Like me, you were relieved, and like me, I'm guessing, you felt glad that you'd persevered and done what felt like the right thing, to the best of your ability. It seems right to pause here, doesn't it, waiting in the quiet without a pet, before deciding perhaps we want that companionship again...

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  16. Feral , even semi feral , cats are very different to the domestic cat but my cat loving friends often manage to domesticate them . I have to admit to feeling sorry for the old girl when I read your post & I'm glad you added the final paragraph . Love for my dogs is very real for me , time & money spent is well rewarded & fortunately my hubbie feels exactly the same - but not everyone feels that way & at least you are honest
    Wendy in York

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    1. I should have been more clear, I suppose, that I spent many evenings with Aggie on my lap until she'd get impatient and spring away, often streaking a sharp claw across my thigh if something startled her. And I would regularly pick her up, pet her, talk to her as I got her food. Remind her where her dish was when she lost the thread and wandered away from it, then meowed to be fed, her last year of encroaching feline dementia . . .I have no doubt that love for animals is very real, and I've certainly been very fond of all the ones that have lived with us. Just saying that I'm not sure I'd use the same word for those feelings that I use for others. Thanks for being generous in accepting my response to our loss.

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  17. I remember wondering about your cat now and then when it made a fleeting appearance in one of your posts. I could see that you had mixed feelings about her then, but on the other hand, 17 years is a very long time and familiarity can also breed affection. In any case, your cat has had a long and wonderful cat's life, being able to run free and, at the same time, being fed and cuddled and looked after. Now that she is gone you will probably find that you still see her curled up in her favourite chair or hear her meeowing at the door.
    My last cat died one year ago (at the age of 19), but last summer the void was filled by our neighbour's two cats who would come over to visit regularly. But one disappeared (lost, killed, snatched - who knows) and the other one was run over by a car in October. Now, when I work in the kitchen, I often see, out of the corner of my eye,a little head at the window, but when I turn there is nothing there, of course. I think it is time for a new cat(or even two).

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    1. You've got it, Eleonore. Familiarity does breed affection, and I think we did our best for her. It's odd, now, in the morning, expecting her at the back door, and sometimes I think I hear her breathing on the chair she used to roost in, in my office... Just like the cats you see out of the corner of your eye . . .;-)

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  18. Some cats just need shelter, a cosy bed and regular food and water and a cuddle from time to time and luckily you met her needs. I do sympathise about the laundry though. Although my 3 cats are pretty reliable, thank goodness, our dog has the occasional inexplicable lapse during the night, and not wee either. Awful! At times, she has been very close to the edge!

    We have the pet/child situation in reverse, as my step daughter adopted my tabby cat 4 years ago as she couldn't adjust to the dog and was very unhappy. It has worked perfectly and she knows we would always have her back if required. I have only ever been pet free for a couple of months in the last 40 years and with 4 animals sharing our lives, it will be some time before I am in that situation again. I doubt it would last long though!

    Of course you have mixed feelings about the cat but the laundry will not be missed and honest of you to admit it!

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    1. Growing up in a large family where we often had pets, but they seldom lasted more than a few years, this was the approach I mostly saw. The general attitude has changed considerably since then, but that's a whole other post. Cultural anthropology! You're lucky to have been able to take advantage of the pet rescue in a different generational direction -- if we eventually get another dog, it would be with an arrangement that would include some shared pet time. A few families I know have worked out "joint custody" that gives everyone time with no responsibilities as well as time with all the enjoyment of an animal companion -- as long as the animal's personality works with the arrangement, it can be a win-win.
      Thanks for understanding my mixed feelings. This pet-free zone is odd after all these decades, but it has its good points, laundry being a prime one!

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I'd love to hear your response to my post. Agree, disagree, even go off on a tangent, I love to know you're out there, readers. Let's chat, shall we? I apologize, though, for the temporary necessity of the Word Verification -- spam comments have been tiresomely numerous lately, and I'm hoping to break that pattern.

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