by Nancy McDaniel
An important thing to know about me is that, as a child growing up in the suburbs, I was a “dog person.” And nearly everyone I knew was also a dog person. “Cat people” were different; I didn’t play with them (neither the people nor their cats). Actually, I thought I hated cats. That seemed to be the politically correct opinion to hold in my homogeneous, affluent suburb. It may well have even been a question on the mortgage applications for houses in 60’s Hinsdale:
“Republican or Democrat?” (Guess who lived there?) “Caucasian or ‘other’?” “Dog lover or cat person?”
I thought that the cat and dog issue was a genetically preordained tendency, one that could not be altered. Sort of a nature/nurture dilemma.
So, I grew up with dogs. First there was a honey buff-colored cocker spaniel named Julie (sorry, I was a little girl when I named her. It seemed like a good name for a girl dog at the time). Then there was a real dog, a big German Shepherd named Duke. My dad really loved that dog. Duke was Daddy’s dog, although I loved him too. But he started playing rough and nipping at some of my girl friends. We were moving out of state anyway, so my dad found a home for Duke, “on a farm”. Of course I believed what my dad told me; I always did. But since that time, I’ve often wondered if the “farm” was “the big farm in the sky” or if it was like “going off to join the circus.” Perhaps it was my first experience with “putting a pet to sleep”. But I didn’t have to deal with it. I was blissfully unaware. I was still a child. And these were the pets of a golden child. My job was just to play with them and to love them. I had minimal responsibility for them. This was another ritual of a privileged childhood. How lucky I was.
I Discover Love… And Cats
At the end of my senior year in high school, I found a wonderful new boyfriend named Denny. His family were “Cat People”. Amazingly, despite this, he was my first true love (I guess this defined minorities in 1965 where I grew up: Cat People). His family had two Siamese cats, whose names I can’t remember. But although Denny and I broke up after a year of college, he and his mother taught me two important things: To knit. And that cats are really OK after all. (Thanks, Den. Thanks, Mrs. H.)
A Cat Replaces A Gone Away Husband
Shortly after I got married in 1973, my management consultant husband announced he had to work on a project in Syracuse, New York for six months. He would be gone Sunday nights through Friday. Being a newlywed, I was somewhat distraught (later, as the marriage deteriorated, I probably would have loved that arrangement. But that’s a story for another story). I needed a companion…. a furry four-legged one (although hindsight suggests that another play-mate might have actually been better). We lived in an apartment and I had a full time job so a dog seemed out of the question. Gee, I thought: here’s a crazy idea. How about a cat?
My sister-in-law had a big dude of a black cat who was quite adept at getting female felines in the family way. Thus, a kitten was shortly available. We got one on a trial basis. She was a tiny, runty, little bit. We named her Topsy. (I figured this little black kitty would “grow like Topsy” in Uncle Tom’s Cabin; thus, her name.) She was swell. At least to me. (One time in bed she made the mistake of jumping on Jack’s forehead with her claws out. Bad move, Tops! He went to spank her and inadvertently smacked her into the wall. She didn’t like him too much after that. The cat was smarter than I was; she learned more quickly!
Shannon Discovers Us
One day, a couple of years later, we were visiting friends in the suburbs. We were sitting having drinks on their front porch and a sweet little tabby kitten leaped onto my lap. He was just visiting from the house next door where a giant German Shepherd apparently eaten some of his sibs for a snack. So he was cleverly in search of a new home. He constantly purred. I was undone by him; I couldn’t resist, so he went home with us. I named him Shannon, after my husband’s favorite bar, the River Shannon (now, why I would bestow the name of the place my husband always was instead of home with me, I’ll never know. But it was a cute name for a cute cat. And it took.)
Many Years Later, The Cats Finally “Go Away”
I grew to adore these cats. Shannon ended up developing diabetes and I had to give him insulin shots every day for several years. The vet was astonished that he did as well as he did for as long as he did. Finally, at about age 15 he started getting really sick. By this time Topsy was about 18 and was pretty frail, geriatric and going downhill fast.
So, after a lot of soul searching, I had them both “put down”. At the same time. It was the hardest thing I had ever had to do (even harder than getting divorced. Now what does that say, I wonder?) Topsy and Shannon were my first pets as an adult and they had been through so much with me: my dad’s death, a pretty bad marriage, and lots of loneliness and turmoil in my life. They were my dearest friends. They knew when I was sad. They knew when I was happy. I was there for them and they for me. But it was time. They seemed to be suffering. That I could not bear, so we said good-bye.
(There’s also an interesting side note to all of this, which seems to reflect negatively on my choices in men. At the time of the kitties’ demise, I was dating a man with whom I thought I was in love. He neither had pets nor had he had attachments to pets as a child. I guess this should have been a clue about him. I missed it. Anyway, I told him I was going to have the cats “put down” and that I was very upset about it. I asked if he would be willing to go to the vet with me; he declined. And then he asked “Can’t you just drop them off”? Sort of as unimportant to him as the dry cleaning, I guess. I think that was when I knew he wasn’t really the one for me.)
Who Will Replace Them In My Life?
I assumed that, after a proper period of mourning, I would get two kittens from the Anti-Cruelty Society. This seemed logical to me as I wanted more cats, I wanted two, and I would rather keep some cats safe from being destroyed rather than buying them in a pet store or from a breeder. But then I found out that a man I worked with had three cats that his littlest daughter, who was asthmatic, was allergic to. He was desperately trying to find a home – for all three adult cats. Well, I didn’t want three and I wanted kittens, not adults. But I am a sucker, a real soft-touch, and they needed to find a good home for them. So after I met the cats, I agreed to take them: Mittens. Muffin. And Max. (Again, little girls had named them. Thank goodness they gave the boy-cat a REAL name)
On the appointed day, mom, dad and the little girls delivered the cats to my house. But, Max, in a harbinger of things to come, “had an accident” in his carrying case on the way (there’s no easy way to say this: it was “Number Two”) and before he ever arrived in my house the first time, they took him to the groomer to clean up him and make him presentable for me. By this time, the neurotic Mittens had hidden behind the fireplace and the ever-assertive noisy Muffin had taken over the household and made it her own. Sigh.
Two Plus One Equals Zillions
Three cats, let me tell you, are exponentially more than two. My house was a wreck. Mittens peed all over my house except when she was hiding in the closet. Muffin kept me awake by vocalizing much of the night; during the day, she shed her long orange part-Persian hair all over my house. But Max was a stocky, sturdy dude of a cat. He gave me head-butts and wanted to be chucked under his chin. I fell in love with him. Maybe it was a guy-girl thing; was I competitive with the two girl-cats, I wonder?
Mittens nearly was put on Valium (it was a choice of her or me. I almost tried it myself). Instead of doing drugs, she hid in the closet a lot. Muffin went to another home (a real home, not the proverbial farm). Max maintained his calm, stoic manner, except when I put him in the carrying case for his regular check-ups at the vet. Remember what happened the first time? It always happened. Ugh. But I loved him a lot, so I put up with it.
The Final Diagnosis
About two years ago, Max was diagnosed with chronic pancreatitis. This is apparently a pretty dreadful disease. The vet, Dr. Lynn, said we could control it for a while, by putting enzyme stuff in his food so he could process it better. But she said that eventually the disease would get really bad and he would likely have a bad end. We were fine for quite a while.
Max Comes Undone
I don’t think cats like change too much. Max started acting out (I won’t say how, but let’s quaintly say that he left souvenirs that weren’t too pleasant on the closet floor and on top of what ever was on the closet floor) when a wonderful man moved in with me just about a year ago. Fortunately The Man loved cats too and was way more philosophical and tolerant about these episodes than I was. I took Max to the vet and found there was nothing (new) physically wrong with him. He was probably just annoyed with the change in routine.
Max still gave me headbutts but someone new was sharing my bed as well as my life. So maybe I didn’t give him quite the same amount of attention that he felt he deserved and was used to. Plus The Man actually preferred Mittens, The Neurotic (but very much the Sweet Girly-Girl) cat.
The Man eventually and too-soon moved out (many of you have already read about that). Max and Mittens kept me warm and safe, eased my loneliness a bit, and absorbed some of my tears in their lush, soft, fur coats. Max generally started acting a little more like his old self again.
But when I went on vacation in May, Max started messing all over the house. Pity the people who came to look in on him. I thought he was just unhappy that I was gone. It got better after I returned. I took him to the vet. We ran tests. No change; he seemed to be doing OK physically.
It Gets Worse
Then it got bad again a couple of weeks ago. I actually considered taking him to a Kitty Shrink. But I just couldn’t do it; we WASPS have difficulty even taking ourselves, much less our pets, to a Head Doctor. So I took him back to the vet. She said he still looked OK but ran a “geriatric panel” just to be sure (on him, not me, though I wonder who needed it more). The days the results came back; all was quite normal. The results came back on the day that was the beginning of the end for poor Max.
He got really sick over the weekend. (Is there a code word for diarrhea? Maybe not.) He was really sick. He didn’t eat and he didn’t drink. Maybe more concerning was that he didn’t talk to me and he kept hiding in places he’d never hidden before. He didn’t sit in the window, didn’t try to lick my cereal bowl. He didn’t even try a head butt. He didn’t sleep with me; nor did he come greet me in the morning. I knew that something was seriously wrong with my dear Old Friend, Max The Big Black Cat.
The End Comes
I didn’t know what to do. I called the vet, thinking maybe it was time to put him down, as she and I had discussed many times before. Instead, we tried an expensive and icky tasting (it seemed) medicine called Flagyl. Two days later, he was no better, maybe even worse. I took him in to see Dr. Lynn. She said he was dehydrated and really sick. We had to intervene. This was an acute attack of pancreatitis. It wasn’t clear if it was the beginning of the disease spiraling out of control or not. I gave up. I couldn’t stand to see him so unhappy and in pain (or at least feeling really very much not-OK). So we decided to put him down. Dr. Lynn asked if I had enough Kleenex. She had the vet-tech bring me more; she knows me.
The technician was there to help her hold Max. They shaved his left front leg so they could insert the needle. I didn’t remember that from the time before. That was heartbreaking for me. He cried a pathetic little cry that Dr. Lynn said sounded like a really sick, not normal, meow. This made me feel better, somehow, like validation that I was making the right decision for Max. And me.
I stroked his head while the technician held him and Dr. Lynn injected the drug that would take my buddy, Max, from me forever. It didn’t take long. All of a sudden he just slumped down and went limp. She listened for a heart beat, we continued to pet him and then he was gone. She gently lay him on his side so it looked like he was sleeping. After all, I guess he was. Just forever this time. I hope I can go as quickly and softly some day.
Mittens is Alone for Now
I miss my friend, Max. Mittens is the only one left now. Although they were not particularly pals, she seems somehow confused. Maybe disoriented. Maybe lonely, who knows. She is spending more time with me. But she doesn’t sleep with me like Max did. She doesn’t do the masculine Max headbutt thing; I guess she’s too dainty for that.
Paul, the 12-year-old son of my best friend Ann was on a trip with his dad when he heard about me putting Max down. He was very sad. And then he said to his mom, ” You know, Mama, this makes me feel really old. I have outlived Topsy and Shannon and now Max.”
Max was a good, sweet, cheerful wonderful cat. Just as a human friend does, he supported and surrounded me and cheered me up when I was sad. He seemed to sense my moods. He will be greatly missed.