Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Cat Tragedies

We had two cats: Nadine and Grover. Nadine joined our household fifteen years ago about a year before Ben was born. Ben has been with Nadine his entire life.

Nadine was a tiny little calico. Feisty. Opinionated. If Ben was up beyond 8:30 she came over and told him to go to bed. Of course, since she slept with Ben, this was her bedtime, too, and she was pissed off he was keeping her up.

When Nadine joined us we had two large cats, Gus and Jack. Jack died of kidney failure about a year or so after Nadine joined us but Gus stayed strong another three years. He succumbed to the sarcoma that derived from the stabilizing agent found in cat vaccinations. That agent has since been removed from vaccinations.

Nadine was fun to be around as a kitten. She put Gus through the hell that only an elder cat trying to quell the energy of a kitten can truly experience. Gus was big. Very, very big. Greater than 25 pounds big with paws as big as saucers. He never hurt Nadine but was not above taking a large paw and, carefully retracting his claws, holding her down so he could get his breath.

Nadine adored him.

When Gus died she decided it was time to grow up and adopted Ben. From then on she took her mothering duties seriously. She brought in live mice so Ben would properly learn to hunt. Ben never caught on but she was patient with him, thinking that if she brought in enough mice he would eventually get the hang of it.

She always came over an supervised our gardening to make sure we were doing it right. Often, she shunned the litter box in order to make her own contribution of fertilizer. Nadine always contributed her part without complaint.

Nadine never complained as long as there was a warm fire in the wood stove and she could not actually see the bottom of the food dish. If she needed to make herself understood it was her gentle way to find a sensitive area of skin and lick that spot over and over and over. She had us well trained.

Grover came to us as a rescue. He was also a calico-- three color of spots-- male and not deaf. That's commonly believed to be impossible but it's not.

While not as big as Gus was, Grover was of respectable size. He was always a timid cat and it took a year for us to actually discover his personality. He was a lap cat. Subservient to Nadine, he had his owns likes, dislikes and preferences. Being a white cat, he preferred us to wear black, expensive clothes. Nothing made him more affectionate than a black suit or dress pants.

Grover liked nothing better than to curl up in front of the wood stove and sleep. Sometimes you could smell the hair smoldering and he'd have to be moved. He didn't mind. The sacrifice of some hair follicles was worth it.

Grover liked to be hugged. Ben often liked to lie down next to him and hug him. As long as that fire was going, Grover was up for it.

Grover was the kind of cat that wold come over and ask to be petted. Liked to have his hips and belly rubbed. He was the kind of cat that didn't like tuna and chicken.

We decided that either he was a dog in disguise or he was a mutant. Either way, he was ours and we loved him.

Last week we went on vacation. We left Nadine with Inez, Wendy's mother. Grover did not do well in kennels or with friends so we left him with enough food and water-- we were only going to be away a few days.

The night we came back, Inez called us. Nadine wasn't herself. She wasn't doing much. Wendy picked up Nadine the next day and she walked around the place and seemed okay. But that afternoon, Ben came down and told us she wasn't moving. I checked on her. She was breathing but fairly unresponsive. We took her to the ER.

Nadine had advanced abdominal cancer. The physicians at Tufts Veterinary Hospital discovered a large malignant mass in her abdomen. It had begun to leak blood which is why she started failed without warning. She died Friday evening.

We were in shock over the weekend. We had some friends and family over for Easter. Nothing untoward. Five o'clock on Monday morning I heard Grover yowling. I went downstairs and found him, hind legs paralyzed. We took him to the ER. He'd through a clot from his heart that clogged the where the dorsal aorta divides into the femoral arteries.

This wasn't a surprise in and of itself-- we knew Grover had a heart condition. But having it happen so close to Nadine's death is rough.

That was about 36 hours ago. He is still in the hospital. He has not regained the use of his back legs and his kidneys have begun to fail. In an hour or so I am going back out to Tufts and bring him home to be buried. It's cruel to make him linger.

Humans are unique in that we often adopt into our family non-humans. We bond with them. We love them and they, in their own way, love us. I remain convinced that the relationship between humans and animals is perhaps the salient difference between us and other lifeforms. It is not a relationship that we impress humanity on species other than our own, though that confusion can happen. But it is a true and real bond.

The cost of this bond is many of the species we bond with do not live as long as we do. It is a relationship that will inevitably come to a close and we end up burying members of our extended species family.

We're smart enough to realize this and, in the best of circumstances, kind enough to accept our side of that relationship without complaint.

We get as good as we give and we get a lot.

It's a hardship to outlive your family members.


  1. Addendum: It occurred to me that my road to atheism began when the minister in my church told me my dog wouldn't go to heaven. Heaven was reserved for human beings. Only human beings had souls.

    What sort of heaven was that? A heaven without my dog (or in this case cats) was no heaven at all.

    And I was off.

  2. Grover died Tuesday evening. He and Nadine are both buried on a little hill where they had liked to lay in the sun.

  3. I'm really sorry ... I've never had a cat but I've lost a few special dogs. It's awful. And two in a row...that's really sad.

  4. P.S. One stupid comment from one stupid minister. Amazing what an impact people can make and not even realize it.