Life in the Land of the Rising Sun

Monday, September 19, 2005

Not Alone

They say that good things come in small packages. Sometimes they go out in them, as well.

I’ve already talked at length about the newest and fuzziest member of my family, that lovable, little calico named Mint. Early last May she just showed up at our doorstep, a spunky ball of fluff not more than a few months old, after having followed our in-law’s cat, Aka, home. She was as affectionate as she was playful, far more interested in cuddling than eating, and she made it clear that she was not going to be vacating our premises anytime soon.

That fact that she bore an uncanny resemblance to Mi, the in-laws’ old mother cat who had died not long before, did much to convince us to take her in. Her bizarre habit of sleeping right in front of Mi’s grave helped strengthen the conviction, held by my wife and in-laws, that that little bundle of energy was, in fact, Mi’s soul returned to us.

Caring for her wasn’t easy at first. She was already housebroken, but she had a bad habit of pooping on people’s beds if she didn’t get her way. She wound up being barred from the house, but only for a little while, and after that she was good as gold. It was clear that Mint hated to be alone, so she quickly mended any erroneous ways that got her tossed out. She also had an extraordinary talent for imitating actions she saw people carrying out, such as operating buttons and switches on toys. It was clear that she was a smart, little thing.

However, Mint had one worrying problem. She had a persistent runny nose and a nagging cough. They were the main reason we hadn’t taken her in immediately, as a sick kitten is definitely a risk. We were also worried for the in-laws’ cat, Aka. That massive, lovable, orange tabby was getting on in years himself, and it wouldn’t do to have him catching any bugs. However, Mint seemed to get better as soon as we started feeding her, so we didn’t worry about it too much even though her sniffles and coughs continued to a degree.

After about a month Mint’s condition suddenly became much worse. Her nose was clogged shut, she could barely open her eyes, and she looked positively languid. A trip to the vet revealed that she had a very high fever. However, after receiving a shot, she recovered very quickly. It wasn’t long before she was tearing and purring her way around the house again even more energetically than before.

There were other problems, too. She got a bad case of fleas, which quickly led to my daughter having horrible boils on her legs, but that problem was easily solved. The fact of her femininity wasn’t. Heat was not something she took gracefully. She rolled around on the floor and moaned pitifully, and she became really aggressive, but I was determined not to let her outside. As any cat owner can tell you, trying to keep a cat in heat indoors is a losing battle, and she eventually made it out. However, to our amazement, she seemed to accept as her mate none other than Aka despite his having been neutered years before. (Once I saw him grab her by the neck and try to assume a mating position, but he stopped mid-course, released her, and then looked very puzzled for a minute or two before trudging gloomily away with her in pursuit.) The next time she went into heat, she just stayed close to Aka whenever she could and slept in his bed and ate his food whenever she couldn’t. As there was rarely a sign of the few neighborhood cats (and Aka quickly drove them away whenever there was), we just went along with it.

Even so, it wouldn’t do to have an unspayed female cat around, so I took her to the vet to get her “fixed” as soon as I was able to make the time. Once again, her persistent illness was a stumbling block. Her sniffling was probably less noticeable than my own, and her coughing now occurred only rarely, but the vet was adamant. Swollen lymph nodes meant no surgery, period. He gave us two kinds of medicine to try and asked us to come again later. We did so, but there was no change, so we tried two different kinds of medicine, than two more. Every time we tried a new medicine she seemed to become healthier, but she was never cured. All our hopes would be dashed by yet another messy sneeze. Plus, those lymph nodes just would not shrink. It was beginning to look like spaying was an impossibility, and I was beginning to imagine life with kittens.

I didn’t have long to wait, but it wasn’t Mint’s fault. The kids showed up with yet another furball, this time a tiny, little kitten whose eyes had obviously only just opened. Someone had dumped it off at my daughter’s school, and my kids, ever the animal lovers, had immediately scooped it up. It was an adorable, little ball of white, but it could barely walk, and we had trouble getting it to drink milk. I couldn’t see how we could possibly take care of it. I was also worried about Mint’s reaction to it.

Actually, Mint’s first response was to give the kitten a good sniffing and then start washing it. After a while, though, I caught her batting at it and biting it on the neck, but not aggressively. Apparently she only wanted to play, but I didn’t think it a good idea to let her continue, so I drove her off and moved the kitten’s basket into the kid’s room. She seemed pretty depressed after that, so the kids finally relented and let her into their room, where she quickly jumped into the kitten’s basket, gave it a good washing, and then curled up to sleep with it.

Later that day, Mint suddenly bolted out of the house like a flash of calico lightning when someone left the front door open. Not long afterward, there was a chorus of wails from the kids’ room. The little, white kitten had died. It didn’t appear to have been injured in any way, but it did look somehow flattened. It was very likely that Mint had inadvertently lain on top of it and smothered it. My wife and in-laws weren’t surprised. After all, Mi had done exactly the same thing to her first two kittens.

There was no sign of Mint for two full days after that. Then my daughter and I stumbled upon her in the greenhouse, where she’d apparently been hiding, and we were horrified. Mint’s appearance was ghastly to say the least. Her sickness had come back full force again. Her face was a mask of congealed mucous and filth, and her eyes and nose were stuck shut. She seemed delirious, and she could barely walk. I took her inside and cleaned her face up as best I could, which seemed to bring her around. After a bit we managed to get her to drink some water, and then she ate a little food, but she was clearly feverish. She also didn’t want to stay with us. As soon as we let her go, she immediately wanted back outside, whereupon she went and hid in the greenhouse again.

It was obvious that we needed to take her to a vet, but the calendar was against us. It was Saturday evening on a three-day weekend. The vets would be closed on both Sunday and Monday. We’d have to try to get her through till Tuesday. I was wondering how we could do that with her hidden in the junk-filled greenhouse, but she finally came back on her own. However, on coming in the house, she sniffed her food without eating it, and then she went straight upstairs and hid under my bed, where she remained until Sunday morning (except for a couple of dirt box stops during the night). Then she went and hid under the kids’ bed for a while, but she eventually came out and started staying near people as much as possible. We did our best to keep her clean and comfortable, and she did start to look happier, but we couldn’t get her to eat or drink anything. Her nose also continued running like a faucet, and she coughed frequently. On Sunday night she followed me upstairs and slept under my bed again, where her raspy breathing didn’t give me much peace.

Monday arrived. Just one more day. It was a national holiday, but not really a holiday. We had too much to do. We kept ourselves busy. Mint, meanwhile, came downstairs and parked herself under my desk, where she could keep an eye on everybody without being pestered. She still hadn’t touched a morsel or drunk a drop. As the day progressed, she came out a couple of times to go and be in the same room with everyone else, but she looked like she was having trouble walking. She also made no attempt to avoid my son’s torments, which was definitely unusual. We all hoped and prayed that she would last at least until the following morning, when we could get her to the vet, but I warned the kids that it didn’t look good.

I had a couple of errands to run about town that evening, and when I came back I found Mint back under my desk. Her breathing sounded awful. I crawled under the desk and stroked her a little, which elicited a thin, weak attempt at purring. That was too much for me. I had to at least try something. I remembered that we had a sort of squeeze ball suction device for clearing a baby’s stuffed-up nose. I was going to try using that and then try to force-feed her, since she was clearly too weak to eat on her own. Slowly but firmly, I slid her out from under the desk, prying her claws out of the carpet as she feebly tried to resist. Once she was clear, I gently picked her up, and she laid her head on my shoulder.

Before I’d taken two steps, her eyes suddenly bugged out and she let out a hideous, blood-curdling shriek. Then she started to struggle, but she wasn’t trying to attack me. Figuring that she was either frightened or in pain, I quickly laid her down on her nearby tower, her favorite perch, but she continued to thrash about, her limbs flailing wildly into empty air. All along, her eyes remained fixed wide open and her mouth agape. Then she began to piss uncontrollably.

Very bad.

I quickly lifted her convulsing body and placed it in a box-bed that my daughter had made for her only that morning. For several seconds, she continued to thrash about violently, but the grotesque angle of her head, the nightmarish expression on her face, and the empty gleam of her fixed-dilated eyes pretty much answered any questions. For a second she turned that horrifying death mask toward me, bulging, lifeless eyes leveled on me glowing with a demonic, golden light as if to accuse me. After that, she turned on her side, assumed a peaceful-looking position, and went silent, as she would remain forever.

The kids had already gone to bed, and they didn’t find out about it till the next morning. My daughter actually took it rather well, as she had been warned and had understood. My son, still rather small, was far more distraught. Ironically, the one that was the most upset was my wife, who had opposed taking Mint in from the beginning. However, as she’d always believed Mint to be the reincarnation of Mi, it was like she’d lost the same, beloved cat twice.

I’m still puzzled as to just what happened. Internet searching has revealed that cats with persistent coughs tend to be afflicted with heart disease, so Mint may have suffered a fatal heart attack right there in my arms. Feverish and delirious, she might have panicked and died from the shock. It could be that she choked on her own phlegm, but the loud shriek would seem to rule that out. It’s also possible that she had been suffering from a virus which had finally gotten to her nervous system, and I just happened to be there just at the right time. At any rate, even though cats generally prefer to die alone, Mint didn’t. It’s just as well. Fear of being alone is what brought her to us in the first place, and she died just the way she apparently hoped to live, with people that cared for her.

3 Comments:

  • Sorry to learn that. She arrived at your place about the time Momo dog appeared here, so I can relate to how she must have grown on you.

    At least she had good care and affection during that time.

    By Blogger Pandabonium, at 3:25 PM  

  • Goodbye Mint. Good kitty.

    By Blogger Don Snabulus, at 1:59 PM  

  • Thanks MM for sharing this wonderful post.

    Yes, pets are all packages of emotion and love.. they have the same arrival, sickness, old-age and inevitably death, like human.

    Death is often a closure. well, perhaps, a missing cat is better than a dead cat in this sense, since we out-lived the pets anyway.

    I have scooped up dead goldfishes from the tank, buried my old dog.. and now a missing cat.

    By Blogger Robin, at 12:59 PM  

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