My Beautiful Kitten

“Until one has loved an animal, a part of one’s soul remains unawakened.”

Anatole France

I’ve never been good at eulogizing.  The words I write and say fail. How can you possibly sum up a life in a sentence? How can you convey the depth of love you have – the multiple layers of complex feelings and emotions woven around this single point in your life – limited by a vocabulary that is never quite big enough?  I’ve never been a writer.  I can’t paint a beautiful picture with words.  I’m merely an anecdotist.  My apologies, Sage as I look at my list of words and stories trying not to let you down one more time.

This post is for my kitten and for me.

15 years ago I was sitting on the back porch of my parent’s house with a dog crate in front of me.  My not-yet-ex and I sat in front of it waiting to see these two Manx kittens my stepmother had rescued from her tree.  A tiny “rumpy”, Hodi, who didn’t have a name quite yet, sprang out and fluffed up as big as she could to hiss at Thelma, my parent’s German Shepherd. Thelma had the audacity to take a sniff of this tiny precocious ball and Hodi needed her to understand that she’d made a huge mistake.  Fueled by Hodi’s bravado, Sage (a “stumpy”) confidently pattered out behind her.  “Do you want the kittens?” was the question that lingered in the air.  I didn’t.  I had my cat Jones and I was content. However, I didn’t have the final word.  No, that was my not-yet-ex’s call who enthusiastically replied, “we’ll take them!”

She didn’t have a name for a while.  My not-yet-ex had declared we could each name one kitten.  As I saw it, I had.  His name was Jones.  That didn’t get me off the hook. I had to name mine.  He had already named his Horangi (this eventually was shortened “Hodi” – pronounced Hoe-dee, thanks to Kati, which made things easier on her and everyone else).  I turned over the naming to a friend since I wasn’t particularly attached and she offered up “Sage” and so Sage it was.

Sage was tiny – skin stretched over jutting bones, with short sleek hair – a contrast to her larger, fluffier sister.  She was hard to pat at first – all you could feel were the vertebrae along her spine and tiny little kitten ribs, but she desperately wanted to be loved.  Early on I realized everyone gravitated to Hodi – she was big eyed and fluffy whereas no one really touched Sage.  Sage became my project to make sure she was properly socialized – a little project that eventually got out of hand as I turned her into an attention seeking love monster. Once she realized hands were maybe the best thing ever (right next to freshly opened cans of tuna) and all of these people seemed to come with a pair of them, she made it her goal to make sure that happened   If they weren’t touching, she’d start talking to them about how they should probably bend over a bit more and get to the touching.  She would also let it be known that if bending presented any special trouble, she would be ok with perching on their laps.  Very accommodating.  Until recently she would greet everyone at the door waiting for those lovely arms to lower themselves and bestow some patty goodness. She was the one who would stomp on us at night or curl up in Jay’s lap when he’d sit at his computer.

In the early years my cat Jones didn’t take to her.  In fact, truth be told, there were never “later years” that he did.  His one and only love had been for a ferret named Apple Juice and Sage was neither a ferret nor did she sound like a fruity drink.  Within in a couple of weeks the novelty of Sage had worn off for Jones.  He was 5 and well beyond kitten antics.  He decided that as the oldest he should address the problem, since clearly I wasn’t going to handle it, so he walked over her and plopped himself down on her body.  Jones weighed about 23 lbs. (a big guy) and easily had 19-20 lbs. on this tiny kitten. I couldn’t see a single bit of Sage peeking out from under him and Jonesy just stared ahead like nothing was going on.  Jonesy’s only attempt to rid himself of this obnoxious bony upstart and I unceremoniously ruined the moment by making him move.  He was incredulous in the way that only a cat can be properly incredulous.

Top: Jonesy, L to R: Hodi and Sage (in purple)

When my divorce happened, I had  three pets.  Jonesy had passed away and I had a fairly new puppy named Dakota. My ex was in no position to keep these cats he had insisted we get and most apartments were not going to allow three pets.  Since I had a more adoptable lab puppy, I had to give up my dog for his cats.  I wasn’t going to take a chance on these two being euthanized, since they were into their awkward teen phase – well past “cute”.  That decision sometimes made things hard. They were “his” cats and “my” cat and one of “my” dogs were dead due to his idiocy with animals (one reason he’s an ex) while my other dog had to be given away. (Another story for another time.)  I’d remind myself it wasn’t their fault and that they needed me to protect them – to give them the best life they could have.  I used to ask people, “do you want two free kittens” as a way to add levity to my feelings.  It was never a real offer and they were never going anywhere. I began working on appreciating them for their different personalities – their idiosyncrasies – their goofiness, which takes me to:

What I loved about Sage over these 15 years:

  • She never stopped being a kitten.  While her sister is content to pick out the best pet bed, Sage always wanted to bat something around.

  • She loved feathers and mousies and this ball that went round in circles in its track.  She loved the laser pointer and she loved batting my earrings off the nightstand.

  • She loved nuzzling into my hair and pressing her nose against my scalp especially if it was wet.

  • She always appeared on the edge of the tub whenever I was taking a shower or a bath and only fell in once, but proved she could fly once her haunches hit the water.

  • She loved to nuzzle my blush brush, burying her face between its bristles.

  • She loved being touched to the point that she’d allow us to put her in cat hats for her thanks to those hands we seemed to have.  A few of her cat hat photos were even selected to appear on a Cats in Hats website (which seems to have disappeared) and she also won “Fashionista” for one of those photos at our office’s charity fundraiser for the ASPCA.

  • She had this one little pink toe and the game was always to declare  “pink toe” and then stroke her paw, which made her flinch, but again there was touching so she didn’t want to run away.

  • She deeply loved Jay, her pet human, whom she always wanted to be near and would let him cradle her like a baby.

Both she and Hodi were indoor cats, going out occasionally on the balcony when we lived in our apartment.  I met my neighbor, Jessica, because of Sage when she jumped the wall that divided our balconies and a couple of hours later Jessica appeared holding her.  She’d scared Jessica, because Jessica had walked by her bedroom and seen Sage asleep on her bed.  Sage looked just like Jessica’s cat who’d passed away and Jessica had to call her boyfriend over to make sure she wasn’t seeing things.

When she stopped being able to clear the fence, she finally got to spend more time outside here.  (We had done a test run early on, but behind one of the fences was a pit bull who had a bark collar on. He was silent and I felt instant death waited for her if she went to that yard. Incidentally, that was her favorite yard. Of course.)  When she got to spend all the time she wanted outside, she’d hang out in the shade under the picnic table or bury her face in a tuft of grass. She was always the last pet to come in if it rained.  I imagine she just enjoyed the feel of the water as it gently fell on her fur.

One of many hats.

As a Manx we tried to encourage her to grow a tail.  She let us know early on she couldn’t be bothered.  She was absolutely fine with her sassy little nubbin.  Then we tried to convince her it was time to find a job and she scoffed as both Hodi and Sam have done.  Cats these days.

Where Hodi had her special issues and Sam has had her bouts with Horner’s Syndrome, torn CCL’s (yes, plural) and physical therapy, I always knew Sage would outlive all of them  She was the healthiest.  Sure, we had to give her subcutaneous fluids a few years ago once we discovered she wouldn’t drink standing water and needed water constantly flowing to stay hydrated.  Yay Drinkwell! And even when she started dropping weight last summer and was diagnosed with hyperthyroidism, I knew her condition was manageable – just part of her aging process – still in the best shape of the pets..  Sure. the vet noted raised kidney enzymes, but that was largely due to her age.

Then I came home in June and found her laying in a puddle of urine.  She hadn’t moved all day.  I rushed her to the emergency vet where they placed her on an IV.  The test results showed e-coli in her urine.  A round of nausea invoking meds was started to clear that up and it didn’t clear up, so a new round of meds started at a higher dosage where I had to force feed her to help with the nausea and it didn’t clear up, then a newer round of a different/riskier medication that could impact her kidneys started; we had to clear that infection out.  When the vet said the latest meds could be hard on her because of her pre-existing kidney problems I focused on the “could”. I knew Sage was the most resilient of my pets and “could” meant the 1% of the pharmaceutical test study where the animals had a bad reaction. Sage was in the 99%.  I knew that.  Unfortunately, she was the 1%. Monday, after a vet visit on Saturday,  we had to make a choice since she wasn’t improving.  I broke down. I failed her.  Today they ship her body to the crematorium.  A clay cast has been made of her paw print and then some time next week I’ll pick her up from the vet for the last time.

If I could make a thousand paper cranes and get one wish it would be for her to understand that I always loved her. That she was both a good and beautiful kitten.

Sam Update: A Wish

A couple of years ago I was polling my friends and family for blog ideas.  Normally, I can make an anecdote out of anything, but at that moment the best I could do was stare and quietly drool (actually, I’d like to think of that as a favorite past-time – my hobby).  My friend Lori threw out a ton of ideas which included a regular update on Sam, our rescue beagle and for a couple of years now I’ve been providing those updates.

Sam has made for the perfect subject.  Not only is she cute, sweet and a bit mischievous, she has also gone through a lot of personal struggles along the way.  From her two bouts with something akin to Bell’s palsy, which left half her face paralyzed, to two knee surgeries to repair torn CCLs, to rehab and finally to her struggle with arthritis.  These posts allow me to bring folks updates on her adventures and her health.

Our ultimate goal with Sam has always been to give her the best life possible given her limitations.  While that doesn’t include people food (although the occasional popcorn kernel or green bean may find its way to the floor) or eating the kitties (yet!), she enjoys pet beds in nearly every room, pet stairs to her favorite spot on the couch, a ramp that takes her down to the backyard and according to her, a well stocked yard filled with bunnies for her to chase and occasionally nom triumphantly.

Lately our focus has shifted from Sam to our aging cat Sage.  Sage is a 14 year old DSH who still believes she’s a kitten.  I’m sorry, I misspoke.  Sage is our 14 year old kitten.  Sage had started dropping weight over the summer due to undiagnosed hyperthyroidism – something that’s not uncommon in older cats.  To try to correct the weight loss, pre-diagnosis, I started buying a lot of fancy smelly wet cat food.  My thought was, “hey, she’s old – she can eat what she wants as long as she eats”.  Her sister (litter mate) Hodi, who does not suffer from hyperthyroidism and is a walking ball of fuzz with tiny hidden little legs was very interested in this new change.  New food started appearing on the cat stand – a small independent table that Sage can leap to with ease, that is too high for the beagle and that Hodi must be delivered to (thus allowing time for the special food to be cleared and the boring dry food to be spotlighted once again – all to the grumpy one’s (Hodi again) great dismay).

The wet food smell was heavenly. I know this from talking to both Sam who started licking the pet stand and Hodi who frowned every time I took the wet food away.

Once the wet food began to appear, I noticed Sam was spending extra time in the kitchen. I could tell she was carefully working out the geometry involved in getting to that table.  Lines danced through the air as she worked out the various angles, assessed jump points, imagined opposable thumbs, and sized up the relative weight of kitchen furniture to beagle mass.  It was all very complicated and I was sent away on several occasions, because I was being distracting.  I take the blame for this fixation. If the smell weren’t compelling enough, I had also started pulling a chair out to see if that would help Sage since she was growing tinier by the day.  Once Sam saw the chair, the final bits of the equation fell into place.  “AHA! A chair! That’s the last piece. Puzzle solved!” Now she just had to wait for an opportunity.

One Saturday morning a couple of weeks ago, I’d done my morning pet chores and headed back to bed.  I tossed around a bit then realized I couldn’t sleep, so I got back up, went to the kitchen, and flicked on the light. That’s when I found Sam standing in the middle of the table looking very surprised.  She had finally worked out a way to get up there and was trying to work out how to make the final leap to the cat stand.  Sam wagged excitedly while I tried to take a picture.  Let me say it’s hard when you’ve got a dog who really wants to get down, knowing this might fall under the list of “bad girl” things – so sadly, there were no pictures that weren’t incredibly blurry.

Sam's Foray

Normally an entirely clean table with fruit bowls, flowers and such. Sam doubtlessly felt the mail and reusable grocery bags would aid her in her adventure.

As I looked at her, as she nervously stood on the edge of the table, I was torn between being a bit mad and, “my arthritic dog with her repaired CCLs got onto the table without any help! You go, girl!”  I settled for an indulgent, “you’re lucky you’re funny.” Sam wagged and scampered off with a promise to never do that within my eye-shot again.  The same promise she makes whenever she’s caught in the litter box or sneaking something off of the counter.  “Right! You guys “see” things, I’ve really got to do something about that.”  We sleep with one eye open.

I surveyed the crime scene one last time before leaving the kitchen.  The chairs were barely touched.  In fact, I’m not sure which once she could have used on her way up.  Very sneaky this one.

Since then, Sage started receiving her thyroid medicine – a little dollop twice a day in each ear.  Sam has moved on to other interests, namely working on solving new food puzzles like how to deal with a table that’s now further from the cat food stand.

As we change our focus to getting Sage healthy, I look forward to Sam having more grand days like that Saturday.  For years my only wish for Sam was that she would have more good days than bad – that she know some amount of happiness and joy – things denied her in her early life.  I never imagined I’d find her proudly standing in the middle of our table.

I hope life continues to surprise her and us.

Sam’s Week: Toy Turf

The cats have never taken a real shine to Sam, because when Sam entered our lives, out went all of the digestible cat toys (aka the fun ones). Where they used to bat toy mice under the door for hours or throw them up in the air and chase them around the house, they now get to beat a ball around a plastic track or hope that a large cardboard box will appear and sit around long enough to have some real fun.  Sam has eaten feathers on a stick, toy mice and the larger catnip filled toys.  We would occasionally find a plastic husk, devoid of fake fur, sitting in the middle of the floor.  The only things Sam has ignored are those little plastic balls with the bells inside of them, for that matter, so have our cats.  They’d prefer we not insult them with such chintzy little baubles. On a really good cat day, a drawer might remain open long enough to curl up inside for a minute or two before being unceremoniously scooped out.

Earlier this week I noticed Hodi flirting with a polite young cardboard box.  She coyly paced around it, rubbing her face against it to show her interest.  Unfortunately, the lid on the box was closed and you could tell she was hoping the box faeries would allow her a few private moments of frolicking about on the inside.

Since the box fairy ran away with Santa, the Tooth Fairy and the Easter Bunny many years ago, it fell on me to begrudgingly assume the role.  I spun around in my computer chair and uttered the magic words, “FINE!” and TADA the box was open.  Within the box was bonus tissue paper, so I spread that out on the floor for their amusement.  (One of the joys of having both a vacuum cleaner and a pair of hands is the knowledge that no matter how big a mess the furry beasts make, you can actually clean it up.)

Immediately, the box was forgotten because “OMG! YAY! Tissue paper!” As you all know, tissue paper is not something you just lay next to and smack; it must be pounced on repeatedly from multiple angles while contorting your body in new and interesting ways.  Sometimes you need to stalk it a bit – that’s when you get a foot away, spy on it silently, wiggle your back end for many moments and finally fling yourself on top of the unsuspecting paper.  (In the wild, this would be the older or lamer paper that couldn’t keep up with the paper herd – a circle of life kind of moment.) Sadly, the noise of tissue pouncing has been known to draw the attention of your litter mate (aka your sister, that horrible thing you grew tired of after about five years – sure, you used to do everything together, but while tree climbing was fun, unceremoniously smacking her on the head or biting her ear became even MORE fun).  

Several days passed as the tissue paper became tissue confetti.  Then the game became “place the remaining larger tissue bit on the ball toy that runs on the track and smack the ball while also hitting the paper.”  FUN!

Sam, the cat’s own personal fun-sucker™, decided that too many days of fun had been going on right under her nose (and she realized she was helpless to stop it since she couldn’t digest all of the paper along with the ball in its circular plastic track), so she decided to make a stand.  Sam began to growl at Hodi who was lazily draped across the floor with a paw outstretched for ball batting and paper smacking.

Neither Hodi nor Sage put up with Sam when she “gets like that”.  And Hodi wasn’t about to make an exception that evening.  Hodi narrowed her green eyes and eyeballed Sam while taunting her by slowly smacking the ball just one more “I dare you” time.  The look made me stop what I was doing.  That look said “Mom, if you don’t stop her, I’ll be on her face like the alien parasite in the Alien series.  She’ll be birthing mini-me’s from her chest by the time I’m through.”  The kind of look that says “I mean business; I will tap dance big paddlewheels on her head.”  I stood up and got between the two of them, backing Sam down.  Where Sam might be able to bark Sage into hiding, Hodi would put Sam in a full nelson while mewing, “whose your daddy, now?” In other words, it wouldn’t be pretty.

So for now, the cats have reclaimed some “toy” turf and Sam has returned to her place at the omega pet (the one whose face has been spared being rearranged by a fluffy tissue predatory Manx with a bad attitude) and all is good.

Sage

As you can see, Sage survived. It was a miracle. First there was the uneventful yet some how perilous car ride (which involved a major “singing” protest). Next was the whole cleaning, IV-ing, and teeth extracting. Then more terror fraught car adventures and finally the food denial. “No Sage, I realize you’re hungry and GET OFF THE COUNTER… now where was I, yes the vet said GET OFF THE COUNTER – no, he didn’t say that – you know what I mean. Anyway, you eat at 6. Yes, I know you were traumatized. Yes, I SEE the bandage. You’re very pathetic. OFF… COUNTER… NOW!” I think Sage got it into her head that the yellow bandage must be the thing she’s been missing all these years, the security card, that would give her permission to parade around on the kitchen counters.

Before we actually left the vet, we received a couple of gifts – a bill (woo hoo! according to the total, they weren’t doing this out of the kindness of their hearts… well, they were, but they wanted a little something to sweeten the deal), some antibiotics (which always put a smile in my heart when I see them, because really nothing beats giving medicine to a cat – except maybe hammering your toe with a sledge hammer) and this gem.

Now, I know what you’re thinking. I had those exact same thoughts. The “WTF?!” feeling that kind of hangs out there as you stare at the pictures in morbid fascination – like a train wreck or that time someone explained that you needed to hit the “green” button on the copier that said “copy” in order for it to print. Anyway, I figured it was only fair to share regardless of what you’re actually thinking. Hey, who am I to deny my friends a close-up look at my cat’s teeth? I guess their intention was to give me the opportunity to say “ah HAH, you guys DID clean her teeth” but really, I’d rather sign a form that said that I waived my rights for proof and was completely willing to open her mouth myself if I thought there was something hinky. The graphics, while lovely (I’m personally at a loss on what frame would work the best to show these photographic treasures off – something that says “Mommy’s lil Kittums” perhaps? I mean honestly, how does one choose?), weren’t really necessary. I mean, I had been at the vets when he said “look at her teeth” and I nodded in a fashion that I thought conveyed “GADS! Let’s yank some teeth!” Maybe there was actually something lacking in my wide eyes, the wincing and my agreeable nod and he said, “ok techs, she’s going to need a picture – intubate the cat so she thinks we put Sage under. Get a shot of that tube. Good work, now let’s Photoshop some crazy colors in there so she gets the point that this was necessary.” And really, if they had to take the picture, I would have preferred the other side – where the little pulp florets were and where they actually took out teeth so I could have something to show my friends.

If you’ll notice, there’s a little fountain bowl in the picture with Sage. (There may have been a fountain bowl in the other picture, too but it was an extreme close-up, you see.) It turns out that Sage is dehydrated. Yes, despite two bowls on the floor that are filled 2-3 times a day, Sage isn’t drinking. I think I know the reason, which is basically Sage is completely disgusted by the dog so she’ll wait until we’re using the sink and nose in to get some water. Of course, I didn’t realize that was her only source of water. The vet suggested purchasing a “serenity” fountain. Here’s the thing. I’m not exactly a serenity fountain kind of girl. I appreciate that other people like them, but a tiny waterfall on my desk isn’t going to help me find inner peace, which is probably why my epitaph will never include the words “serene”. But I was willing to go buy one for Sage if it meant she’d drink water. Off Kendra and I went in search of one of these fountains and didn’t have a ton of luck. The whole time I’m picturing something cheap and plastic with hideous fake plants and maybe a few rocks and I’m wondering if cheap plant runoff is ok for the cat to ingest. Finally, Kendra suggests going to the pet store where I ended up with the “Drinkwell”. Ok, it’s probably even tackier looking than the worst looking serenity fountain, but I can stomach it more AND it has a little bowl. Let me just say that once it was up and operational, Sage was in HEAVEN (which lasted about 2 hours since she had to be at the vet’s the next day and couldn’t have food or water for 12 hours – kind of a cruel trick). Of course, now Hodi is disgusted and refuses to eat up there, because it just wouldn’t be any fun if the whole pet family was happy.

Now see, that’s like TWO updates in TWO days. It’s like I’m on a roll!

Morning Antics

Ok, so I’m woefully behind on posting. I have no “real” excuse, but I have some amazing half-baked excuses that work for me. (See, they work for me so I’m not sharing, you might go back to the whole “half baked” thing, which is a little judgemental. I’m a little hurt, actually.)

In 2 minutes, I get to wrestle a cat into a crate. She’s the one animal in the house that is completely against car rides and crates and without knowing it she’s already planning to sing all the way to the vet – which is “singing” more in air quotes, which is the way I “sing”, too so I really shouldn’t complain.
Little Sage has to have some teeth pulled. It seems the pulp in both a molar and one of her canines has escaped the tooth and is seeping to make these painful little florets. Poor thing. And like a good cat mom, I’m blogging trying to pass the time away before I load the little hollering princess with claws up.
Wish me luck.

The Kitties

A couple of you asked for a Hodi update. She’s doing fine. She’s going to have to keep her stitches in for another week and it looks like she may have some allergies which are causing her ears to be very itchy (which is what contributed to her little hematoma springing up). She’s starting a new diet – duck and peas. Don’t ask. I was told if I want to give her treats they should be duck and pea treats. Ummm… I’m sure she’ll love me tossing peas to her. Here she is in all her bonnet glory.

I’d like to point out that we do not decorate in leopard print, nor do we have swords on our walls or collections of action figures. Honest, we’re not geeks!

This other picture is of Sage. Sage is currently convinced her sister is an alien. Hodi smells weird, she doesn’t clean her face, she has a shaved paw and what’s up with that bonnet? Does she think she’s a flower? Jay decided it was time to help Sage understand how it feels to have something stupid on your head, so she’s been treated to playing “Reindeer Sage”. Admittedly this picture is from Christmas, but she has donned the antlers a couple of times since then. Sage, who is really good natured puts up with the antlers because it means someone is spending time with her and touching her. She’s honestly not being victimized unless you count having blue bonnet girl huffing around your house and sitting in all the wrong laps. I’m sure Sage is convinced Hodi just did this for attention.