Sunday, February 21, 2016

The Gray Cat

Not too long before we met, Wendy went to the Humane Society in Colorado Springs and asked to meet some of their cats. The first cat she wanted to meet was already in with another family, so instead they brought in her second choice. That cat walked into the room and made a straight line to Wendy’s lap. She had no hesitation with these strangers, no caution, no fear – she just went straight for the lap. That was how the gray always remained - so sweet, friendly and certain that you would love her that you couldn’t help but prove her right.

Wendy took her home that day and named her Mithril - a reference to a mythical metal from Lord of the Rings. It’s a nice name that saw little use because really, who calls a cat by her actual name? She was always google (a name that predated the search engine), gray cat, grat, gerken, googly animal, googin’ beast, laplander, and on and on.


A while later I met Wendy, and eventually I came to think of Mithril as “our cat.” I think Mithril always thought of us as “her humans,” although I think she probably thought of all humans as hers. We’d have a party and she’d curl up on strangers’ laps or sprawl in the middle of floor and wait for petting. Once a friend crouched to pet her, but as soon as his thigh was level enough she just hopped up, sat down, and started purring.



The Goog’s favorite way to spend a day was sunspotting. Not an unusual activity for a cat, but she took it to the next level. She had memorized exactly when and where each sunspot would show up. About midmorning she would get up, walk to a certain spot in the back room, and within a minute the sun would be shining on her. And then she’d move across the room just in time to catch the next sunspot.


Her favorite way to spend an evening was laplanding; that is, sprawling onto any available lap. Actually she tended to sneak up on unsuspecting laps with such stealth that you didn’t realize there was a cat on your lap until she was already asleep and you’d been petting her for 10 minutes. And while any lap would do in a pinch, she had a definite preference for laps covered in blankets. She also learned to recognize the signs of impending lap availability. The sound of a TV warming up was her lap-raiding siren. More often than not by the time I went to sit down she would be waiting impatiently next to my spot.


Most cats might sit on your lap until you squirmed or repositioned yourself. Not the gray. If you were under a blanket she would just ride it out. Rolling from one side to the other side? No problem, she’ll just logroll on top of you and then lie back down. Want to work on your laptop? You can have a computer and a cat on your lap at the same time!



If a lap was not available, she’d move to any convenient place. Couch backs were a favorite, or under the Christmas tree. For a while took a liking to the back of my office chair. She would leap from the ground straight to the top of the chair back, letting out a mighty MRRRROW! to announce her own arrival. Which can be just a bit startling. But at least I got a purring, furry headrest to make up for it. Actually, she tended to meow after jumping onto anything – we used to joke that she was sound powered.


That cat did like to purr, too. She’d purr if she found a good lap, or a good perch. She’d purr while eating kibbles, especially if you petted her while she was eating. If she was napping on the couch you could pet her and he’d always make a tiny little noise, and immediately begin purring. She was just looking for any excuse to purr – every day was just a succession of purr-worthy surprises.


Her other great love was kibbles. She never really liked most other foods. She’d lick the gravy off of wet food, but that was it. Cat treats held no interest for her. If it looked like kibble and was in her bowl, she loved it. I trained her to stand up and beg for her bowl (we called it “Rory’ing” – a Simpson’s reference). If you were walking towards the kibbles, she’d run over to eat a few.


Her mild-mannered nature disappeared at dinner time. She would walk right in front of the other cats, no matter that they were bigger and have claws. She’d even sprawl across all three food bowls, blocking the other cats’ from dinner, while she ate her fill. The funny thing is she never acted aggressive – she would just stick her head into the bowl and never move.


She was such a happy creature, that there was no space in her for anger or meanness. I never, ever saw her even think about biting someone. She never once swiped at a person. Even if you provoked her, there was no anger. Hold her like a baby (which she hated), and you’d only get mournful meows. Not you’ll pay for this! but why would you do this to such a sweet animal?

She did vent her feline wrath in other ways – primarily against the twin evils of string and mousey toys. In her younger days she would chase a string practically forever, running about, spinning in circles, jumping in the air. She’d wait around a corner, waggling her rear end to get ready, and then pounce when it appeared. If I sat on the floor she’d pounce the string, then perch on my knee to await her next opportunity to strike.

The mouse toys had it even worse. It could just be sitting there innocently when she’d suddenly strike, pouncing on it and throwing it up into the air. When it landed she’d pounce again – but usually overshoot and just end up sitting on it. Then she’d stand there, eyes wide and darting, tail straight up, practically quivering – and then sprint off to safety. Those poor mice never knew what hit them.

When the evening was done, I’d carry her upstairs to bed. Yes, I had to carry her. She wouldn’t come up on her own, and if I left her downstairs she would wake up at 3:00 AM and let everyone know how sad she was to be alone. Thus was I trained to carry the princess cat upstairs with me when I went to bed each night. Once there, she would spend most of the night curled up next to Wendy. Nearly every night for 14 years she slept next to one of us.


Every morning she’d get up and follow us into the bathroom for her shower time steam bath. She had a chronically stuffy nose from her days in the shelter, which the steam helped to clear out. Plus people who are brushing teeth have nothing better to do than pet the cat, and a captive audience is the best. Then she’d wait outside the closet as we dressed, hoping she could sneak in. After that, it was time to run joyfully down the stairs for her first dose of kibbles. She’d see us off with a little rub or murr. And when we came home she’d be waiting by the door with a friendly mrowl and a demand for petting.

At some point I made let her get under the covers. A warm place made out of blankets was pretty much Nirvana for her. She dove under there, curled up, and started purring loudly enough to hear through the blanket. It was absolutely adorable, but also a mistake because once she had discovered the wonders of the warm blanket cave she never stopped searching for it. When I’d climb into bed she’d walk up next to me and start pawing at the top of the covers, then sniffling and nuzzling the edges – where is that cave entrance? I know it was here somewhere! Then she’d walk over me to the middle of the bed, usually stepping on my head or dragging her fuzzy belly across my nose in the process, and try to find it in the middle of the bed.


If she loved the Lost Cave of the Blankets, then our closet was her El Dorado. We made the mistake of letting her in there once, and from then on she knew it was full of clean clothes. Which to her mind was an entire room full of warm nests. Anytime you went in the closet she would come running, hoping that you’d left the door open. She’d stand up and push on it, just to check. Then she’d let out a loud and mournful mrowl. Thankfully she learned that trying to dart in didn’t work, but it still got to where I was surprised when I left the closet and she wasn’t standing there trying to sneak a glimpse of the Promised Land in the closet.

Our first clue that something might be wrong with her was when her love for kibbles waned. At first she just ate less, but eventually she stopped altogether. She seemed to want to eat, she just couldn’t. We’d shake the kibble bowl and she’d get wide-eyed and enthusiastic – but then she’d sniff the kibbles and look at us as if to ask What’s this stuff? Where’s the food? and then walk away. She also started throwing up, until eventually it was every night (usually while standing on Wendy).

We took her to the vet, and they gave her some shots that helped. But then they stopped working, and she stopped eating and started throwing up again. We took her back again, and then got shots to give her at home, but she was still losing weight.


Things slowly got worse. She dropped from a slim ten pounds to malnourished seven. She had been a compulsive groomer, to the point that she would clean anything in the vicinity – noses, hands, furniture, she’d clean anything. But after a while she stopped entirely, and he we had to start brushing her fur. She didn’t follow us around the house, or come to meet us at the door, she just stayed in bed all day. We started force-feeding her every morning, but she didn’t understand why so she always fought hard. It made all of us miserable and it still wasn’t enough calories.

We finally took her in for an ultrasound and biopsy. They showed that she had lymphoma in her stomach, which caused swelling that prevented her from eating. Initially we had hope, because the early stages of lymphoma are easily treatable. But two days later the pathology analysis revealed that it was large-cell lymphoma, which is much more difficult to treat and less likely to go into remission.

We could have started a chemo cocktail, but given her age and already-weakened condition we would’ve only prolonged things by six months or so. And we’d probably have to keep on force feeding her until the lymphoma receded some. Then after a few more months we’d be right back to the same place, but she’d be even weaker then.

We couldn’t see the sense in putting her through all of that unhappiness and suffering just to gain a few months. And once we had decided that we woudn’t do the chemo, then most likely each day would be worse for her than the day before – and they were already bad. So we made the call, with great difficulty, for the last gift we could give her – a graceful release from the suffering.


The second-to-last thing would could give her was the perfect last day, filled with all the fuzzy blankets, laps, sunspots and petting we could muster. I made her a double-thickness blanket nest next to my desk. Wendy came home from work early and created the perfect sun-drenched, blanket-covered lap all afternoon. All the while we showered her with petting, chin rubs and neck scratches.

When the sunspots were gone for the day, we “forgot” to close the closet door so she could “sneak” into the Forbidden Closet. She slunk around and sniffed at everything, expecting to be whisked away at any moment. She jumped onto the low shelves and dug at our clothes. I lifted her onto the high shelves that she could never get to on her own, and she explored to her heart’s content.


When the euthanasia vet arrived, I took her up to our bedroom to wait. She decided there was time to explore the closet a couple more times. But then there was no more time. Wendy sat on the bed with a blanket, and we placed our gray cat in her lap. And when the vet reached for her she purred, because the gray cat loves all people. As she got the first shot of anesthetic, she was still purring. When the vet gave her the final shot she was so weak that she stopped breathing almost immediately, but her little heart kept going for a minute, because it was the strongest part of her. And then our sweet gray girl was gone.

Farewell, gray cat. You are loved and missed. There will never be another like you.


(Many more photos on SmugMug)

1 comment:

James Turnbull said...

What a tribute!