Sunday, February 22, 2009


Dinah 2005 (Dinah on the OED over my desk, May 2005)

Here's the roots: I had Rusk, the original cat of cats, for 17 years. A red Abyssinian, he was the constant for all of my young adulthood, moving to California with me and back again. When he became ill at the end of his life, in what was eventually diagnosed as diabetes, I was not in a stable emotional place anyhow and the idea of losing him was unthinkable. So when he stopped eating (as cats often will when they are seriously ill or terminal), I persuaded the vet to teach me how to force-feed him.

He died anyhow, badly, but with never a loss of patience for how I tried to cling to him. It was a devastating lesson.

At that time, I had a second cat, Bella, who had belonged to my mother for 11 years and was taken in by me when Mama died. She had multiple health problems and never emotionally rebounded from Mama's death, although she did become attached to me after a while. When Bella was 16, not long after Rusk died, a kitten adopted me in the parking lot of my apartment complex. This was Alice, the ultimate Cat of Cats, a brilliant Manx who did everything she could to communicate across the species barrier. She became the great love of my life.

Alice 1997 (Alice 1997)

Bella did not care for the kitten, but then, Bella didn't like most living things. She was old and in pain, and Alice simply stayed away from her. Every time Bella became seriously ill, I'd haul her to the vet, we'd patch her up, and she resumed her cranky existence. She found some pleasure out of life, it was clear. Until the end, when she manifestly gave up. By this time, I'd learned to listen to the cues. I took her in to the vet. She didn't have a vigorous enough vein for them to inject her with the euthanasia, so I held her in my arms, comforting her, as they injected it directly into her chest. I felt her die -- peacefully, but it's still a horrible thing.

Alice really hated it when I was away from her, as I was eight hours a day, so for her first birthday I gave her a kitten, another Manx named Susan Gilbert. They immediately bonded in a way I've not seen other cats do. It was like one brain and two cats sometimes. The problem was that as Susan matured, she manifested a problem common to Manxes (why they should not be bred, in my opinion), gastrointestinal tract malfunction. This can run to either chronic diarrhea or chronic constipation. It was the latter in Susan's instance. No matter what I fed her, no matter who much Petromalt and other elixirs I gave her, several times a year I had to take her in to the vet to have a fecal impaction removed. She lived for five years, but finally she required major surgery, during which she died.

Alice was heartbroken, looked for her several times a day for weeks, calling the little chirrup they used to talk with each other. I let it be known I was in the market for a second cat, and was persuaded to take the grown, nearly blind Siamese mix of a family member, Nando. He was easily terrified and not especially bright, but I thought he'd become palatable to Alice in time since she was so very alpha. However, he lost weight steadily and six weeks after I got him, a trip to the vet revealed he had FIP. Probably had had it for months. He was too far gone to save.

I held him, too, as he was put down. I then had Alice tested, in a panic, and we discovered she had not contracted it. I cleaned my house top to bottom and waited a few months before locating another kitten, another male named Oliver.

This time it clicked for Alice. Not like Susan, of course, but she was maternal by this time and Oliver loved to play with her. In fact, he regarded her as the only companion he really needed. I was just the one who provided food and competed with him for Alice's attention.

Alice and Oliver 2001 (Alice and Oliver, March 2001)

During these Alice years, here's what else occurred in my life: Three friends with whom I had once been very close (one of them my former best friends) committed suicide without warning. Another friend, my oldest friend in San Francisco, died of cancer. My beloved Aunt Sarah and Aunt Lee died. My father's third wife died. I became progressively disabled, started living in terrific pain and limitation. I lost two jobs, in both instances being fired for disability (but they found a legal loophole around it -- this was George Bush's Texas). One job even tried to deny me unemployment, but with the help of a great feminist lawyer, I fought that all the way to a hearing of the Unemployment Commission, two out of three members of which were Republicans, and won. My friendship circle began shrinking. I went through a nasty break-up. I began living without any kind of safety net except I did still have health insurance. One of my close friends went crazy and I moved heaven and earth to get her through it without being institutionalized (successfully). I finally had my knee replaced, suffered anoxia during the surgery, and went through a year of trying to regain full cognitive function -- while unemployed and unable to look for new work. During that time, my little brother Bill died in a devastating manner.

Less than three months after his death, I came home one day from a brand new job to discover Alice lying on the floor by the front door. I rushed her to the vet, where she was diagnosed at first with diabetes, which was changed to unexplained kidney failure. She hated the hospital, freaked at being left there by me, but I had no choice. I went by every day before and after work, holding her for an hour, singing to her, convincing her to eat. She seemed to be doing better. The third day, I arrived after work to find she had gone into convulsions half an hour earlier and died.

An old friend in California told me, on hearing this news, that she was afraid for me, afraid I couldn't take any more. I was afraid, too. Oliver wouldn't have anything to do with me: I'd taken Alice out of the house and she had never returned. He eventually went to live with a friend whom he preferred to me.

A month after Alice died, I did something I never had before: I got a replacement cat for myself. I went through a feral cat network here in Austin and brought home a kitten of a captured feral mother. Dinah was six weeks old and despite socialization from birth, she's remained not especially fond of human contact. She and I are very bonded, however, since I've chosen to meet her on her terms.

For months at a time, she is the only other living thing I see or have interaction with.

So now, this week, she's been ill, refusing to eat, hiding from me in places I cannot reach. I myself had a back injury that kept me in bed an entire day, and it was only at the end of that time I realized she hadn't been coming around asking to play the way she usually does. It took me over an hour to find her, and even then, she would not come to me. I couldn't sleep; I kept imagining finding her dead.

I didn't have the money to get help for her. I don't have a car or a way to take her to the vet, and the person who does errands for me was unavailable.

Finally, the second day, I called a friend who said "I'll pay for an exam." By the next morning, however, Dinah had started eating a little. (She's always refused to eat anything but dry kibble, won't touch wet food or people food, which is a real problem at times like this.) More importantly, she's back to seeking my company, asking to play, letting me pet her a while before she recoils or tries to bite me. But she's not eating enough, and I'm not sure what to do. Taking her to the vet will traumatize her -- she hates other people, hates being in the car, hates contact. I mean, HATES it, more than any cat I've ever known. And I'll have to hand her over to a stranger for the trip.

I keep having thoughts that I don't deserve to have a cat any more. I'm too disabled, I'm too isolated and poor. I'm likely to wind up in a nursing home anyhow, maybe this is the Universe's way of telling me it's time. I try to argue with these messages, but they hit when I lie down to sleep.

During the last few days, as I cope with this and try to think it through, here's what else occurred:

I ran out of my asthma inhaler and the replacement got lost in the mail, so I eventually had to order an emergency one at a local pharmacy and pay someone to deliver it, cleaning out my bank account
I have new physical problems that make me less able to get around than ever
I have major issues regarding the aftermath of my father's death which require urgent attention (during daylight hours, when I usually sleep)
The novel I've been writing for two years has reached the most difficult, emotionally draining section and
I got a call telling me that another old friend, someone not yet 40 years old, had died in California of an asthma attack.

So, that's what's up with me at the moment. I'll sort it out and survive it all, I always do. But I thought I'd take the unusual step of letting the readers of this blog know the backstage events on a current-time basis.

Dinah 2001 (Dinah as a kitten, November 2001)


Jesse Wendel said...

As Chairperson of Maggie's Fundraising Committee, I'd like to take this opportunity to encourage everyone who isn't already subscribing to Maggie on a regular basis, to go ahead and sign up on the top right corner of the blog.

Anything you can subscribe to on a regular monthly basis -- $100, $50, $20, $10, $5 -- anything would be appreciated. You can mix and max the PayPal amounts to get to a subscription amount which works for you.

We have people with subscriptions ranging from $200 down to $5 with the most common amounts being $50 and $20 a month. But whatever amount YOU feel works best for you is what works best for you.

The point is, Maggie can't get out of her home. She can't go do stuff like other people. It is up to those of us whom love and appreciate her to make damn certain she stays out of a nursing home. All she needs is $1200-$1400 a month, which is NOTHING for the blogosphere to provide through small amounts.

Again, I urge you... If you're not already on board with a subscription, use PayPal now to subscribe even if it's a minimal monthly amount. Taking care of others matters.

For anyone whom might wonder, Maggie hadn't a clue I was going to tag this in. *smiles* Over at GNB we held a two-week fundraising for her back in the start of January.

Thank you to everyone for their support of Maggie and her writing. It is appreciated more than you know,

little gator said...

I know the feeling. Our dog Dixie is old and cranky but still enjoying life more than not. She learned to bite when she was abused in at least two former homes, and can never be entirely trusted, especially with small children. As a childfree couple we are an ideal home for her. No one else gets near her without supervision except the people at the vet and groomer, who know her and are careful in all the right ways.

We may lose our house. The first plan would be to find a rental that would let us keep her. BUt it we can't, we promised she'd never have to face a new home again, and I would not trust anyone to keep her away from children.

Which means if we leave, and c an't take her, she gets put to sleep. It will rip us apart losing this place. The hous eis nice, but nothing speical, and really too big for us. BUt I love the land and have been landscpaing and growing veggies so much I'd be lost without that. And for the only time in my life my best neighbors are close friends, and the worst ones are tolerable.

BUt my biggest fear is losing Dixie.

Dinah, get better. Lydia is off sacrificing catnip mice to Bast on your behalf.

And thank you Jesse.

Liza Cowan said...

I've had more cats than I can count, six dogs and a horse. All but the current herd of two dogs and a cat are long gone. I adore my animals, but they do die.

I'm more concerned about you and your loss when Diana chases the great catnip in the sky.

Other than Jesse's subscriptions, what do you need from us? Not a kitten, I imagine.

'Cause we need you. Love, Liza

Anonymous said...

If you have two cats that are companions, and one dies, bring the body back home; let the living cat see/smell her dead companion, then bury the deceased. I have seen this many times: cats need closure too - and then they can get on with life.