Wednesday, March 14, 2012

The Cat Who Would Be Man--A Departure from My Diet Blog

Junior: A Man Among Cats
October 3, 1995 to March 3, 2012

The calico Cutie Pie yowled when a messy kitten popped from her suddenly. She growled at it and leaped from the dresser drawer where she lay during her contractions. The kitten remained attached to her by his umbilical cord and was dragged several feet before I gently took hold of Cutie Pie and returned her to the delivery drawer. Junior had a bit of a rough start. Remarkably, Cutie Pie calmed down, delivered and cleaned five other kittens, and became an excellent mother. It was her only pregnancy and all her kittens were either placed well or kept in our home with their mom, who was soon spayed.

Junior was the dominant kitten immediately. He pushed the other kittens out of his way at each nursing as he nuzzled for his special nipple and when he sucked it dry, he latched onto another and let no one get it. He remained the alpha cat in our home until his death. Yet he accepted any new cat or kitten we got and socialized with them like a big brother.

Never a shy or timid cat, he circumambulated the two homes he lived in, guarding them bravely, chasing away any interloping canines that might stray too close to his property. He could climb a tree with the best of cats. When he wanted to go outside to enjoy the weather, the hunting, and the job of security cat, he’d push his head against the door, and if I did not notice him, he’d meow while looking at the handle. To get back in, he “knocked” on the door so loudly I heard it a couple of rooms away.

Outside daily in good weather, he found the sunniest spots to lay when it was cool and the coolest spots when it was too warm. After all, his orange fur coat was quite thick and warm. Every neighbor who walked by got to know him. They’d laugh because he was so round, so orange, and so very friendly while never leaving the property itself. They had their own names for him—either Morris or Garfield. To me, he was Junior—or June-Bug, Junie, Big J, Big Boy, Juney-Booney, Buddy, J-Meister—but his original name was Tinker-Boy Junior, named after an older cat we had. Occasionally he found himself addressed as Pumpkin or Sweety-Puss. No matter what we called him, he always knew our tone of voice and he came to us.

He rarely brought us the game he harvested, choosing to eat most of it on the spot. He was a super hunter, true to his nature as a feline. We never had a mouse problem, and rabbits did not damage my garden until the last two years, as Junior’s arthritis and sway back slowed him down. He no longer climbed our stairs to the second floor where we slept. His physical condition, earlier so perfect, showed more and more signs of his age as deafness and vision problems made him increasingly cautious.

However, his general health seemed fine. He remained alert, fairly active, and had a good appetite. He knew that if he came to me when I sat in a certain chair, he would get his favorite treats. Every time I pulled out the cutting board and prepared meat for dinner, Junior immediately walked over next to me and looked up with expectancy, waiting for the morsels he knew he would get. And, as all cats, he knew immediately when I’d open a can of cat food or a can of tuna or salmon (he loved all things fish), and he’d be right on the spot for his share, which was much larger than the other cats’ shares. He was still the first kitten at heart. For dry cat food, he wasn’t so fast. When I would pull up some catnip and bring it into the house, he would push the other cats out of his way to get his Alpha-cat share, just as he did at his mother’s breasts as a kitten.
With such a good appetite, he naturally had to release a lot of digested food remains. Although that may not sound funny, we had to laugh at him. He did not make normal-sized cat poops. He made man-poops. He really did. I started calling him a man, and continue to do so. The joke was that a man sneaked into the house and used the kitty-litter box. In fact, instead of buying real kitty-litter boxes, I bought a few very large utility pans from a lumberyard.

Even the day before he died, weak as he was, he made it to the litter pan. Too weak to remain standing, he laid in the litter to urinate. He would not dirty his house.

Although a man of a cat, Junior was neutered at nine months of age. In spite of that, if a cat in heat came to him, he would make an attempt to service her! He’d try and try, and get a weird look on his face when nothing happened. We could just imagine what he was thinking. What a funny little man he was.

He loved us all, our family of five. Spending sixteen years with the same people, receiving love, kindness, lots of scratching and petting, and being treated as a true member of the family, he was very attached to us. Every time my son went on vacation, Junior prowled the house looking for him. When we went upstairs to sleep, Junior would join us when he was younger. And when he could no longer get up the stairs, he’d be downstairs on his futon, calling us with loud cries. It was pitiful to hear. Often we would carry our lonely friend upstairs and put him on my bed.

His love of us and our love of him surely helped him in his final months, which took place in the winter. As the end drew near, he ate less daily. He walked much more slowly, stopping every few feet to take a rest. He had a hard time getting on and off his futon, so my son made a little stairway for him out of pillows and a square wicker basket. We brought him milk and water several times a day so he wouldn’t have to tire himself getting to his dishes. My son feared that Junior was cold because we keep the heat low during winter, so he put his electric blanket under Junior for the warmth. Junior loved it.

When I would prepare meat at the cutting board, he’d lift his head and look at me—was he wishing he could still have the good meats he used to get from me beneath the chopping board?  I’d bring him a bit of fresh meat, but he would smell it without attempting to eat it. He would refuse cooked and blended gizzards and liver, formerly a favorite of his. It seemed he was saying he just doesn’t have the appetite anymore.

Even when I’d wash the dishes, he’d stare at me. All of us in the house came to him many times a day and petted him. He always responded to it like the purring machine he always had been. Often he’d get restless, and make it to his favorite spots to lie for a time. His haunches became bony, his spine showed, his skin hung, his eyes became narrower, and his formerly thick jowls slimmed down pitifully as he lost half his weight. Sometimes he would vomit bubbles. His breath was horrendous, much like decaying blood. Yet I still thought that if I could get more food into him, he’d recover and stay with us a few more months if not years. I cooked chicken for him and blended it into the broth to make a nutritious liquid for him. It was very hard to let go.

After my knee surgery in November 2011, it was too painful to walk up the stairs to my room, so I began sleeping on the futon downstairs with Junior. He got used to my being there nightly very quickly, and he cuddled up to me every time I lay down. I sleep poorly, and whenever I’d awaken, I’d see him looking at me, and give him scratching. I brushed him daily. When my knee healed enough in January to make it up the stairs, I decided to remain sleeping on the futon with Junior. By then we could see he was declining just a bit daily. I did not want for him to be lonely for me, or for me to be lonely for my little man.

Junior did not die alone. I did not expect him to die that day. He had only put his muzzle into the water I brought him, without licking any. I had a syringe full of chicken broth for him, and I was about to feed him after filming him for a few moments. He had been looking at me just a few seconds before I filmed him. I suddenly realized that he let out a small sigh and stopped breathing just as I stopped filming. I petted and called him. Shocked, I wailed loudly, sobbed, and called my son. We both decided to try and revive Junior. He revived for just a few moments, but never got to eat. His eyes covered with an oily film, he took several large, heaving breaths, then he again let out a small sigh. He was gone. No matter how painful for us, we had to let him go. Neither of us could leave his side for a long time. My other sons attended the wake, and a dear friend of one of them also attended. We waked him for several hours after decorating his resting place with Valentine’s Day flowers an older son had bought me. How appropriate that they were purple.

The beginning of his life had drama and stress, as did the end. We are all connected by that, and all subject to it as well.

One of my sons is making a little coffin for Junior. We are burying him beneath a large, full-branched white pine tree. We’re putting a stone on his grave, and every time I walk through our little woodland I’ll think of the devoted companion I had for sixteen years.

In this world of monumental history blasting into the news broadcasts every day, the death of one small animal is no more than the washing away of one grain of sand on an enormous beach in this enormous universe. Yet to Junior’s family, the loss is inestimable.

Would a pedigree have made him more lovable, a more devoted friend, a better companion? To anyone who saw him, Junie was just an ordinary, short-haired, orange domestic cat, the kind you could get for free by the dozens on Craig’s list, or through an index card tacked onto a message board in a grocery store, or from a crowded shelter. But to us, he was a mighty man among cats.

After Junior’s death, my son said that he is going to get his little female cat spayed. If he wants another cat, he’ll adopt. Good decision.

There are millions of cats and kittens whose lives have had no such loving care, no such healthy food, and no such comfortable home. They are abandoned for good reason or not. They exist in little cages in shelters, on freezing garage floors, in alleys, or much, much worse. Approximately 2.9 million meet their deaths in shelters every year because no one wants them. No one took care that they would not be born only to be euthanized. According to the American Humane Association, “71 percent of cats that enter animal shelters are euthanized”. This includes healthy kittens and nearly every older cat, all of whom are adorable and all of whom need a loving home. Everyone has love in his or her heart, love enough to spare for a fellow creature of this wonderful planet. If you have love to spare and a good home, please adopt a cat. The reward will be much greater than you could ever imagine. Love breeds love.

1 comment:

  1. That was so moving and I share your grief. Our furry family members are sometimes the most special. We can learn so much from them - to relax - enoy our food - snooze in a warm puddle of sunlight and play when the mood moves us. All we need is love. It was a beautiful tribute and I'm sure he would be proud to be so honored.