I didn't expect that BlueBear would be dead by Friday night.
BlueBear was one of a litter of feral kittens born in April of 2009. We took in his sister, Bowie, first, and then his brother, Thor. BlueBear we caught with a Havahart trap baited with garden netting. BlueBear loved to play in the garden netting, so I figured it would be an ideal thing to trap him with. It was.
BlueBear was the biggest of our cats, bigger than any cat since Ashes, and maybe bigger than him. He was one of two black cats in our house. I always felt very lucky to have two black cats in the house. "Miniature panthers," I called them.
|BlueBear as a newly-caught kitten. The blue had mostly left his eyes.|
BlueBear used to love to sit on the back of a chair and gently chew on my scalp. He would often hold my head in his paws to position it just right, and then extend his claws to make sure I stayed still. He didn't like when I let my hair grow long, but returned to this practice once it was short again.
I began a new shift a few weeks ago: Monday through Friday, 6:00 AM to 2:30 PM. This means that I need to be out of bed by 4:00 AM to do all that needs to be done, and also need to be in bed shortly after 9:00 PM. Fridays I can indulge myself a bit, staying up later than usual because I can sleep later than usual on Saturday. But this past Friday found me dozing in a chair while watching the news. Various cats were scattered around me. BlueBear was in the bow window in the front of the house, one of his favorite spots for sunning himself and watching the outside world. He, like the other cats, also has a habit of nibbling on the (non-toxic) houseplants in the window - and often throws up what he had eaten. So I didn't find it at all unusual when BlueBear began to make retching sounds like he was trying to cough up a hairball. He did this a few times, and then wandered off into the next room, creeping along with a wobbly gait. Bad hairball, I figured, and this thought was confirmed when I heard him give a brief yowl and another retch from the next room. I roused myself and went into that room to find him, but he scampered out into the room I had just come from. Fine, I thought. I had to write out a bill anyway. I would check on him after I was done.
|BlueBear (top), Bowie (left), and Thor (right) as kittens|
I wrote out that bill - the only one I still pay by mail - put a stamp on the envelope and sealed it up. I went to put it in the spot where I would remember to mail it the next day, and noticed a suspicious looking lump under a carpet. I nudged it with my foot, and BlueBear dashed out, to hide in one of his favorite hiding spots - inside the pedal chamber of a disused and depowered organ.
I returned to my bills and went through all the other bills I had, noting either each one had already been paid or the dates on which they were due. I marked the due dates in my ledger, sorted out the to-be-paid from the already-paid from the junk mail. I heard BlueBear yowl faintly from the other room, possibly from inside the organ. I sorted everything back together and put it on the organ bench, which serves as my mail sorting station.
|Thor and Bluebear, October 27, 2009|
Enough of this, I thought. I went down on my belly to pull BlueBear out from under the organ. I reached in and pulled out...another cat. Where is BlueBear?, I wondered. I looked around. I spotted him sprawled out under a coffee table, glaring at me.
I picked him up. He yowled again and struggled - with his forelimbs. His hindquarters were limp.
I took him off to a bathroom we use for cat isolation. I put him down and he proceeded to crawl away with his hindquarters dragging. I got my mom, let her know that there was a problem with BlueBear. Let her know that we would probably have to take him to the emergency vet.
I think we both knew that this would be a one-way trip.
We didn't know for sure what had happened. She speculated he had had a stroke, which didn't seem right. I have never heard of a stroke affecting only the lower half of the body, both legs and the tail. I speculated he had somehow broken his back, but there seemed to be no other sign of the sort of trauma that would accompany this.
We made it up to the emergency vet fairly quickly. BlueBear cried a bit going down to the car, but my mom was able to keep him calm during the ride. It was 8:00 when she was leaving messages for my sister and brother, letting her know where we were. Where we were going. What had happened.
Once there I quickly and succinctly explained his condition. They rushed him back immediately for an examination. We were directed to a nearby waiting area.
As we seated ourselves a young, athletic-looking woman approached us. She apologized for the intrusion, but said that she couldn't help but overhear our situation. And, she explained, she was here for exactly the same reason.
Now, her situation was not the same as ours. Her cat was 14 or 15, while ours was not yet nine. But her cat had experienced the same sudden onset of lower-body paralysis.
As we conversed, a young veterinarian came out and asked us to join him in a private room.
He took a quick history of BlueBear. Medicines, vaccinations, is he an outdoor cat? None of that, in retrospect, seems relevant to what he told us next. BlueBear had apparently experience a "saddle thrombus"
PetMD: Saddle Thrombus: Every Cat Owner's Worst Nightmare
Saddle thrombus is, basically, a blood clot that has traveled from the heart though the aorta and down into the area where the artery splits to feed blood to the lower parts of the cat's body. It has now created a blockage, and is denying - has been denying - blood flow to the lower half of the body. Treatment is possible, involving radical surgery, but the likelihood of recovery is close to zero - and the likelihood of death during or shortly after surgery is high.
We knew what the other option was. We knew what had to be done.
The doctor brought us back into the holding area where BlueBear was being kept in an oxygen-rich chamber. He seemed distraught, but we were both able to put an arm through an access port and pet him, That calmed him a bit. I touched his back legs, and as the doctor had told us, they were cold. No blood flow.
We stayed with him for a while, but we knew that he was upset and confused and frightened and, I believe, in pain. We wanted to make that stop. Bowie had died in my arms. Nikki had died in my mother's. Both suffered a lot in the end, I think. We didn't want to put BlueBear - or ourselves - through that.
When we were ready, we were directed to another room. BlueBear was given sedation before he was brought to us. He lay on the blanket they had provided - the one we had brought him in on had become terribly soiled on the ride up - eyes open, but motionless. We were allowed a final few moments with him. Not long enough. Never long enough.
Then the doctor gave the two injections that rendered him insensate and did something else - stopped the brain directly, he told us. And then it was over. The time was about 9:15 PM - I didn't check it. BlueBear was dead. Another box to be added to the collection.
I had wanted to get to sleep early Friday night because I had two things planned for the next morning. I planned to take my mom up for blood work as early as possible, to allow me adequate time to get ready for my dental appointment at 11:00 AM. We still went up for blood work anyway, both shocked and shaken by the events of the previous night, and I had time to take a shower, change into fresh clothes, and brush my teeth thoroughly.
I was getting some work done around existing fillings, and it required a lot of novocaine. I wouldn't be able to eat or drink for a while afterwards, and my speech would be slurred until the numbing went away. That was OK: I planned to run up to The Lands at Hillside Farms, a nonprofit farm dedicated to preserving a place that might otherwise be destroyed by development, the dream of the late local veterinarian and founder of Blue Chip Animal Rescue Dr. Doug Ayers. I had a glass bottle from milk to return, something I had picked up last November, and I had just been planning to spend some time with the animals. Now I felt like I needed it more than ever.
I made the twenty-minute trip from Nanticoke to The Lands at Hillside Farms. I returned the bottle and was surprised to find that I had a two dollar deposit being refunded to me. I pocketed the two singles and headed out the back. As I had entered through the front door I had seen a sign about a current fundraiser to build a new dairy barn, but I didn't see anywhere to make a donation. I figured I would look for one as I wandered about.
My first visit was to the peacocks. Beautiful birds, two of them, a male and a female. I wondered how they would do over the coming winter. I had no such worry about the alpacas, who seemed quite ready for any weather that came their way. I wandered along the path and saw some goats begging for food - but on my way there I first stopped and said hi to a chicken who seemed to want something from me. Unfortunately, the nearby dispensers only provided goat feed, not chicken feed. I popped in some quarters and got three handfuls of the goat treats. I held out a hand to each of two nearby goats who were eagerly looking for handouts and let them each eat about half. Then I moved over to a more forlorn-looking fellow with his head stuck through a fence and let him have the rest.
I stopped in a barn to commune with some cows, first calling out to a surly-looking orange barn cat who had business to attend to, but I quickly moved into the calf stables. I don't remember the separate area for calves when I came on my first visit almost exactly three years ago. The girl I was with then was surprisingly willing to get her new pink sneakers dirty as we visited the cows, but she surely would not have passed up an opportunity to be with calves. I spotted two rocking chairs and a bookshelf in the back, and remembered reading about a call for volunteers to come read to the calves during cold winter nights. I thought about picking up a book, taking a seat, and reading to the eager and curious calves right then and there. As I was contemplating this, a family came in. The mother expressed wonderment at seeing cows, and the little daughter quickly responded that these weren't cows, though she couldn't explain what exactly they were. I mentioned to them about the rocking chairs and the books in the back, but with my half-numb mouth it sounded like I had had a stroke. I decided it would be best to talk as little as possible for the rest of the visit.
Reluctantly leaving the calves, I walked through an empty barn that, according to the signs on the stalls, housed some donkeys. The donkeys were wandering around a nearby enclosure that they shared with some pigs. One pig was wallowing in some mud in a connected enclosure, but the other pig, Otis, who had recently returned to the farm following a bout of rheumatoid arthritis, lay in the dirt near his little pig house.
"Hello, Otis," I said.
"Grunt," he responded. I interpreted this as "I wish I had some mud to roll in. That mud is too far away."
Our conversation went on like this for a while. Finally I had to go.
"Goodbye, Otis," I said. "Take care. I'll see you later."
"Grunt." ("Don't forget to stop back in the dairy shop and donate those two dollars. You saw the bit about the two-for-one match, didn't you?")
Indeed I had. I stopped in the shop and found my way to a checkout counter where I mumbled about making a donation. The girl eagerly took it, and offered to have me fill out a form so I could get on a thank-you list. I realized that the postage and overhead involved in such a thing would vastly reduce the impact of my meager donation, even with the two-for-one match by an anonymous benefactor increasing the value to six dollars. I demurred. Maybe some other time with some other donation.
My spirits were somewhat lifted as I left The Lands and meandered home.
After we came home from the emergency vet's - without BlueBear - I sat down to finish working on my bills. I paid one after another, rapidly erasing the temporary windfall in my account produced by my biweekly paycheck. I checked my email and saw that I had received a coupon good for $5 off a $30 purchase at Pet Supplies Plus, good Friday through Sunday. I filed the coupon away for later.
Today was later.
I took my mom out for a ride. Today would have been my parents' sixty-second anniversary - my father died just a few months short of their fiftieth - so we stopped at his grave, where she left a single pink rosebud we had picked from one of my rosebushes. After a trip to refill the nearly-empty gas tank of the car, we headed out to Pet Supplies Plus. She didn't want to come in, so I left her in the car.
As usual I stopped first at the rescue pet they have available for adoption on a regular basis. Usually it's a cat, but not too long ago it was a rabbit. This time it was a cat, the same cat who had been there the last time I had stopped in. A big black cat of unknown age named Pa-Pa. Last time I had remarked that he was the spitting image of BlueBear, and now that reality hit me hard. Here, for a $70 adoption fee, was a cat nearly identical to the cat I had just lost. His face was not the same - Pa-Pa's eyes looked far more world-weary than BlueBear's - and his throat featured a patch of white far larger than BlueBear's. I opened the cage and pet the sleeping cat, who quickly roused and moved to exit the cage. I had to gently hold him back, but pet and cuddled him for a while until I had to move on with my shopping.
I quickly found some items that added up to more than $30 and which, with the coupon, would be much less expensive overall than I could get them elsewhere. I headed for the register and stopped to see Pa-Pa again. Opened the cage, pet him, cuddled him. Kissed him on the forehead and told him that someone would be there to adopt him soon.
I moved to the checkout and found myself telling the clerk about BlueBear, about saddle thrombus, about how much Pa-Pa looked like him, about how if I had an extra $70 I might just be taking him home today. Tomorrow the funds that I had transferred to my cards would be available. Maybe tomorrow.
I left the store, thinking about coming back tomorrow for Pa-Pa. As I loaded the cases of cat food into the car I mused that I would need to bring up a cat carrier to take him home - just like that couple walking into the store now.
They're returning the cat carrier, that's all, I thought. They bought it and it doesn't fit their needs, or it's defective in some way. Quality ain't what it used to be, amiright?, I mused as I pushed my cart through the parking lot, back into the store. No way could they have just shown up to adopt the cat that you had just started to try to convince yourself to adopt.
I entered the store, returned the cart. Got the customary "Thank you!" Saw the couple and their cat carrier next to Pa-Pa's now-open cage, playing with the cat they were about to take home. Another clerk was there, taking pictures with her cell phone.
I sidled up to them and intruded on their moment. Told them that the cat was the spitting image of a cat I had just lost Friday night. Told them how lucky they were to be taking home such a cat. Told them how I had thought about adopting him myself.
"See, Pa-Pa," I said. "I told you someone would adopt you soon."
I left the store, walked back to the car, and cried for my lost friend.