"Until one has loved an animal, a part of one's soul remains unawakened."
- Anatole France
If such is true, then I have loved enough animals to keep my soul on full alert 24/7. It seems my entire existence has revolved around animals, from cherished childhood pets to the rescued and oft-dysfunctional menagerie of furred and feathered creatures that now share my life on a daily basis. Some might disagree, but I wouldn't have it any other way.
I believe an awakened soul, although a definite benefit to any wayward creature in need, also serves to increase the emotional impact of loss to those of us who provide them a safe haven. One may think that losing a pet is more acceptable if there are many around to fill the void. Unfortunately, in my case, this is not true. If you love each one for who they are and what they individually represent, then every loss is both heartfelt and painful.
Before writing anymore, I'll be upfront and tell you that the Dog Known as Butters continues to be troublesome, all while basking in a continuous atmosphere of good health. There was a slight scare when he got into a batch of chocolate fudge I made for Christmas but, in true Butter's fashion, he just shook it off and took a nap.
Actually, all three dogs are doing very well. Puppy Louie is asleep at my feet as I type this article and Reese is probably lying on my bed upstairs. Judge if you like, but he's my favorite and can sleep anywhere he wants.
My two parrots are busy scattering seeds deep within the freshly-shampooed carpeting outside their cages.
The chickens are in their heated coop and the fish are checking their aquarium in the hope of snagging any leftover flakes of food that may be floating on the surface. I have no complaints, except having to deal with a sorrowful soul. It's a condition I hope doesn't hold on for long and can hopefully be helped by writing about it if you will allow me the opportunity.
Recently, in the span of two months, I had two cats die. One was old and the other not so much. I can assure you that I still have many others around, but losing these two was exceptionally hard for very different reasons. Since I tend to mark the passage of time by the births of my children along with the accumulation of pets, I rely on a weird system of math in order to remember the ages of both.
For example, I thought I wanted to re-enter the workforce after my youngest child turned 13. I got a paying job that, after a couple of months, only managed to give my kids with what they said was their worse summer ever. According to them, I came to my senses only after realizing that I apparently didn't want a job, especially one that took me away from raising them and working to keep our house in a somewhat livable condition.
As an older mom, it was a rude awakening as well as a reality check. My husband and I talked it over and decided that he would work as much overtime as possible and I would hold down the home front. He jokingly called it living a "charmed-life" and, with the exception of me quickly learning how to stretch a dollar, was pretty much right. Thanks to him, I never worked outside the home again.
That summer, the kids found a litter of kittens running around our backyard. I call them kittens, but they were actually teenage cats, dumped off by someone after their cute-stage had already passed. I remember hearing "Kittens, momma! Can you believe we found kittens under the blackberry bushes!" Since it had already been their worse summer ever, how was I to say anything but "Hooray, just what we need, more cats! "
Of course they were all sick, so the majority of my newly-earned paychecks went toward their vet bills. The cats thrived and I was very fortunate to find homes for two. The girls got to keep one. It was the least I could do. Call it penance for ruining the three best months of their year. They had missed the beach, the outdoor YMCA pool, garage sales and all things summer-related but, as a trade-off, were now the recipients of a new cat. My two daughters have the same soft spot for animals as I so considered it a fair trade.
They named the little-tuxedoed puss Wheezier after a troublesome upper respiratory condition that plagued him early in life. However, within a year, "Wheez" prospered and grew to be a healthy 12 pound cat who sported a luxurious coat and dark green eyes.
His extraordinary personality was both lovable and entertaining. Everyone's friend, he soon became known as Uncle Wheez. Wheezier was the welcoming committee to any new additions into our home, both human and animal. He adored kittens, played with dogs and even licked mice. He was void of a killer instinct, choosing instead to coddle anything smaller than him and befriend the rest.
Around three years old Wheez developed chronic bladder stones. I'm certain they were painful and, often times, he'd make himself scarce for days until a stone passed. Our vet suggested an expensive cat food to correct the problem. Wheez hated it. We figured he'd eat it eventually and, if he lost a pound or two during this finicky stage, it probably wouldn't hurt. A fact I wasn't aware of is that cats can starve themselves to death when given food they don't like.
We took Wheez back to the vet's office only to be told that his liver had become fatty. His weight had dropped by half and there was a good chance he may not survive. Fatty livers apparently destroy appetites so the cat no longer feels hungry. We force-fed him a different (and more pricier) type of food and hoped for the best.
Three weeks later he began to eat on his own and slowly gained weight back. The bladder stones came back too. Trips to the vet's office became numerous, as did the tonics and experimental remedies we employed in the hope of making him well.
At this same time, I began feeding a stray cat that showed up. It was mid-winter and I had placed a heated shelter outside for any homeless creatures who may be in dire need during what was later classified as a Polar Vortex by weather forecasters. I found it odd that this big, orange Tomcat was friendly one day and skittish another. It only dawned on me after several days that I was apparently feeding two different cats.
The wary one was eventually hit by a car, a common end for most abandoned pets. However, the friendly one chose to stick around. He was smart enough to stay away from the road and eventually grew to become a 15 pound cat I named Marmalade. The name seemed appropriate and he and I hit it off from the start.
Unlike Wheezier, he didn't care for other animals, rather preferring to keep to himself. He proved an excellent hunter, always presenting me a variety of mice, snakes, frogs, chipmunks and birds for inspection. I was accepting of everything but the birds, so searched online to see if there may be a way to make it more difficult for Marmalade to raid my wild bird feeders.
I discovered that most birds see color so, in order to thwart his hunting prowess, adorned him with a number of large Elizabethan-era cat-collars made of brightly colored fabric which he begrudgingly wore around his neck. Some even came equipped with small bells that announced his presence when around. I'm sure the birds were grateful and, in his defense, Marmalade proved to be a good sport to the end.
Because he trusted me, I was able to place my fabric creations on him each morning and remove them at night. He lived in our garage and always came when I called him. He was rewarded with canned cat-food but, despite the temptation, never came when other family members tried to call him in.
We were always the best of buds…to a point. He would let me scratch around his ears until he thought it was time to stop and then bat my hand away. It was friendly banter between two friends. I often remarked "Marm, your previous owner's loss is my gain. You’re a great cat and I'm glad to have you around."
Getting back to Wheezier, I was informed by the vet of a surgery that might end his constant battle with urine blockage. He was about 7 years old when we had this done and you could almost see him smile with relief.
Earlier this year I noticed this usually chubby tuxedoed cat was losing weight. Except he ate all the time. I mean all the time. Our favorite household joke was "Did you feed the Wheez?" We thought to start a go-fund-me account entitled FeedtheWheez.com.
I returned to the vet for blood work thinking he might have a malfunctioning thyroid, or diabetes. It was extensive blood work but it only told of what was right with the cat, not what was wrong. I could have additional blood work done and sent out to a lab but I'd already spent a pretty penny on the first test.
Remember when I mentioned the weird math required when pets were involved? I had to subtract my daughters age against the number 13 (her age when she found kittens in the blackberry bushes) to realized that Wheezier was already 13 years old.
Now days cats can live to be 20, but Wheez was sick a good portion of his life so 13 was old for him. I decided to bring him home, feed him as much as he could eat and when it looked like he wasn't enjoying life anymore, have him put down.
Wheezier continued to lose weight while managing to eat four cans of cat food a day.
Meanwhile, I had called Marmalade in and proceeded to reward him with his favorite canned food when I noticed a lump on the left side of his cheek. The setting sun lit his face it just right, otherwise I never would have noticed. Thinking it was an abscess I called the vet and was told to bring him in.
He's a big cat, and ordinarily would never agree to squeezing himself into a cat carrier, but again he trusted me and off we went. The vet agreed at my prognoses and suggested I leave him overnight. He would have his jaw drained, given a long-term antibiotic and I could pick him up in the morning. I scratched behind his ears and told him I'd see him soon only this time he didn't swat me back.
The vet called about two hours later. It turns out the lump wasn't an abscess, rather he thought it might be bone cancer, what did I want to do? I didn't want him to wake up in pain only to live a severely shortened life so I gave the go ahead to have him put down.
Weird math put him at just 8 years old, or rather 8 years living with me. I'm not quite sure how old he was when he showed up with his twin during the winter of 2008.
Soon after Wheezier died. I didn't have to make the decision for him although I had a vets appointment for just that reason scheduled two days later.
So there you have it, two cats thrown away by their previous owners, dying within 2 weeks of each other… and my heart is broken.
Moral of this story, don't take on the ownership of pets unless you're willing to own them for life. Treat them with respect and please, in the words of retired weatherman Dick Goddard, get them spayed or neutered.