Where to begin?
First, I had a 3-day training class from hell last week, complete with an impossible test at the end that I am pretty sure I failed.
Second, my best friend since 7th grade had a heart attack. (Thankfully, full recovery expected.)
Third, Our cat JD died, and as a result, our house has been filled with sadness. He was a special kitty, and a beautiful boy. He was my wife's best friend and my faithful writing companion. He slept in the crook of my arm almost every night, and his unconditional love and his trusting personality made him better than most people.
If you'll indulge me, I'd like to tell you a little bit about him. This post is probably more for me than for you, so there won't be any funny this time around. If you are here for a laugh, check back later, or see this previous post about JD. This was, to put it mildly, a bitch of a week.
About eight years ago, we were driving home on a back country road during a rainstorm, when my wife said, "What was that? I think I saw kittens! Stop!" so I reluctantly pulled over, having seen nothing myself. It turned out she was right -- she did see kittens. They were lost, abandoned and scared, but when my wife got out of the car and called to them, they came running. She scooped them up and tossed them in the back seat, and suddenly we were the owners of two kittens who smelled like cow crap and looked like drowned rats. When we got them home, we put them in my shop, gave them some food and water, and turned on the heat so they'd dry off. They ate like they hadn't had a meal in three days, which may have been the case.
I hope there's a special place in Hell for people who abandon their pets on the side of the road.
The next morning, we went out to see what we had found and clean them up, but they had apparently spent the entire night cleaning each other because they were dry and totally clean. I got a friend to adopt one, we adopted the other, named him JD, and our adventure began. We took him to the vet, had him checked for worms and feline leukemia, got him his shots, and had his little man-bits removed.
We already had two other cats. I didn't really feel like we needed another one, but there was something about him. I'm not sure if it was his bright blue eyes, or the fact that he acted more like a dog than a cat, but he quickly wormed his way into our hearts. Our other cats are nice enough, but they're not the same. I don't know how to explain why he was different, or why we became so fond of him so quickly, but we did. Maybe it was because we rescued him from an almost certain death, and he acted as if knew that. Or maybe it was because he bonded to us both so completely. I'm not sure.
He never begged and never made a pain the ass of himself, which is rare for a cat. He'd sit and wait patiently for his food while the other two zig-zagged between my wife's legs and pawed at the counter and meowed like they never ate before. He'd follow my wife around the house, and he always wanted to be a part of whatever she was doing. He came running when she called his name, and he'd search the house for her when he noticed she was missing. He developed routines; we developed routines -- and he trained us well. To be honest, we spoiled the hell out of him.
He loved the summer and the warm weather, and would look forward to keeping my wife company as she gardened, or as she sat on the porch with her latest crocheting or knitting project. All winter -- on the sunny days especially -- he would run to the front door and wait to be let on to the porch, expecting it to be warm. It was always such a disappointment to him when it wasn't, and he'd turn around and march back into the house like it was somehow our fault.
After about 4 years, he started getting sick. We thought it was hairballs, or maybe he was eating too fast. To be on the safe side, we took him to the vet, and the vet gave us some sad news: An ultrasound confirmed that JD had small, malformed kidneys, and as a result they were only functioning at roughly 20%. He also had some stomach problems, and she suspected pancreatitis. Toxins were building up in his bloodstream, and that's why he wasn't eating. The treatment for this was to inject 150ml of saline solution under his skin every three days, to ease the strain on his kidneys, which I learned to do. She gave us two other drugs, one to help with his appetite when his stomach was off and he didn't feel like eating, the other to help with his stomach ulcer issues. This seemed to stabilize him, and he remained a happy cat for quite a few years, although he would go in cycles where he'd have a stretch of a few good weeks, then a bad week, then a few more good weeks, etc.
Every few nights, he'd sit on my wife's lap and patiently allow me to stab him with an IV needle, and he never complained other than a low-pitched moan here or there. He never scratched or tried to bite. He trusted us, and even though what we were doing to him must have hurt, he forgave us each and every time. He'd run away and hide, and in twenty minutes he'd be back to see what we were doing.
Because we had to give him so much daily medication, it was difficult to leave him behind when we went camping or visited friends for the weekend. We'd have to board him at the vet's office, and that wasn't inexpensive, or very pleasant for either of us. That's when we started taking him with us when we went places. He got used to a harness fairly quickly, and he loved going on canoe trips and camping in the Adirondacks, and having him there with us was actually pretty fun. I know our canoe trips this year won't be the same without him.
During one of his visits to the vet last year, we got some more bad news -- our vet heard a pretty significant heart murmur, and she suggested we take him to a cardiologist. Yes, believe it or not, cats have their own cardiologists. The cardiologist did another ultrasound, and it turned out that JD had an enlarged heart and high blood pressure, most likely as side effects of his failing kidneys. We agreed that we'd treat him as long as he didn't realize he was sick, and that's what we did. His life became a routine of pill-popping morning and night -- two types of beta blockers, plus antacids -- interspersed with squirts of liquid medicine down his throat, in addition to the subcutaneous fluids every couple of days. Still, he was spunky and happy, and other than a bad few days here and there, he was still loving life and being with us. His blood pressure was down, his enlarged heart started shrinking back to normal, and we thought the worst was behind us, at least for a while. His murmur seemed to have improved slightly as well.
Sometimes when you're lucky enough to find a good pet -- one of those animals that transcends the ordinary owner/pet relationship and seems to know more about your feelings than you do -- there is a kind of wistful sadness built into every interaction. I think it's because on some level, you know your time together is short, and even with a healthy pet, you realize the day is coming when you will have done all you could for them -- when there's really nothing left to do except to let them go, and hope they know they were loved.
For us, that day came early last week. On Saturday, JD and I sat together on the porch, soaking up the sun and waiting for my wife to get home from work. When she pulled up, he ran down the stairs and greeted her half way. That night, everything was normal -- he sauntered up the stairs, jumped on the bed and poked at me until I pulled my arm out from under the covers. I knew if I didn't, he'd walk around and start sniffing my eyebrows until I did. Then he curled up under my arm and I fell asleep to his big purrs and the small ball of warmth at my side. The next morning, everything seemed fine, and my wife and I both had the day off. We were looking forward to just hanging out in the sunshine and enjoying the day.
After breakfast, my wife noticed that JD was breathing a little funny, and looked like he couldn't get comfortable. He was moving a little slowly, and we thought maybe he just had one of his routine stomach aches, since he had suddenly stopped eating earlier. He walked over to me, gave my leg a little head butt, then plopped down on the floor. I petted him for a few seconds, and then he got up and went upstairs to find my wife.
As soon as she saw him, she knew it was something besides his normal stomach issues, so we immediately jumped in the car to bring him to the emergency vet. It was 30 minutes away, and I drove like a maniac. My wife was holding him in a blanket and about half-way there, his breathing became extremely labored, and he started crying and trying to breathe through his mouth.
He kept reaching one paw over and touching my arm as if he was asking me to fix what was hurting him. It was heartwrenching, and I could barely keep my eyes on the road. We finally got to the vet's office and they quickly put him in an oxygen tent, but it didn't do much good. The vet said they were going to give him a sedative and take a chest X-ray to see if they could determine what the problem was. We waited.
When the vet finally came to the waiting room a half-hour later, I could tell by her face the news wasn't good. She told us the prognosis was poor -- heart failure and pleural edema. She told us that that even if they could treat him and he made it through the night, the treatment would be extremely rough on his kidneys, and he would probably go back to being sick and uncomfortable all the time, and the chances were that the same thing would happen again.
We always said that we'd treat him to the best of our ability for as long as he maintained his quality of life. The walk to the clinic's operating room was surreal, and I felt like I was watching it through someone else's eyes. JD was lying on a soft, folded towel placed on an operating table, with the vet's assistant holding an oxygen mask to his face. The vet unwrapped a syringe, and placed it on the table next to him. We petted him and talked to him and told him how much he meant to both of us, and how sorry we were. The vet picked up the syringe, and I almost told her to stop. But then JD looked at me, and I knew it was the right thing to do. We couldn't put him through any more. Putting him down was one of the hardest things I've ever had to do. It wasn't the first time I've had to do this, but it was the first time I've had to do it to a pet that I truly loved.
I'm alternately sad and angry, and I know that such a sweet cat deserved more than the life that was handed to him. Most of all, I wish we could have given him one last summer.
I'm so glad we got to be with him for 8 years, and I'll never regret the lengths we went to in order to treat his illnesses. I hope he knew, on some cat-level, how important a part of our lives he was.
Rest in peace, buddy. We'll never forget you.
Adirondack Canoe Trip - Autumn, 2008
My favorite picture of him.