07/17/2002

Today's Title Stolen From: Some CD Bill bought a while ago. It had to do with some kind of cat-health-related musical benefit. That title describes my mood a little too perfectly.

I'm going to try to focus more on the happy stuff here because I always find "death of a pet" tales excruciatingly painful to read. I wasn't even going to write an entry about this, but found myself composing one at work today and realized I wanted to write about her after all.

Bill already posted a wonderful tribute to her on his site, and it's also more focused on the happy than on the sad.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Cat-Shaped Hole In My Heart.

Cleo lounging on one of our leopard-print dining room chairs

I just love this picture of Cleo. For some reason, she looks like such a diva here. It's how I'm going to remember her.

I first met Cleo in the mid-90s when friends of mine in DC adopted her from an animal shelter. They told me as much of her story as they knew: she was probably two or three years old; she was a stray when the shelter got her. She'd had a litter of kittens but the kittens had all been adopted quickly, leaving her behind. (This part of Cleo's backstory always made me feel a little sad for her. I always wanted to know if she sensed the loss of her babies. I'd like to think she forgot about it within an hour, but then I see stories on the news about mother cats running back into burning houses to rescue their kittens, and I wonder.)

I visited them one afternoon and my friend rooted around in the bedroom for a minute and carried out this beautiful little brown-and-black ball of fluff with her tiny black feet stuck up in the air. Two luminous green eyes peered at me indignantly. That was Cleo.

She never took well to strangers and she only tolerated me for short periods of time when I'd visit their apartment. She'd let me wave a toy for her to bat, or stroke her beautiful fur, or tickle her belly for a few minutes, and then she'd smack me and run away.

After my friends had a baby, though, Cleo completely changed her tune. I visited them one night and Cleo ran right up to me. She rubbed against my legs, hopped up on the armchair next to me, butted her head against my hand, and purred madly. It was for all the world as if she was saying "Look at me! Look how darling I am! I'm tired of competing with that baby -- won't you please take me home with you?"

So a few months later, I did.

My friends were moving out of the country and didn't want to subject her to the then-mandatory six-month quarantine. I was moving in with Bill before our impending marriage and for some reason neither one of us quite understood -- we were worried enough about our own two cats getting along without adding a third unknown quantity to the mix -- we volunteered to take Cleo when a last-minute adoption prospect backed out.

If Cleo had known she was going to end up with two big and rambunctious brothers, she might not have been so hot to come home with us. The night we brought her to the apartment was pretty traumatic for everyone. She growled and hissed at a stunned Mindy and at anyone who tried to get close to her. After we'd gone to bed, I woke up during the night to hear her sitting by the door to our back room and mewing pitifully. "Hello? Strange people who took me from my real family? I'd like to go home now, please. I don't like it here." This was one of the few times in her life I ever heard her meow. She liked to purr and she loved to hiss and growl, but she almost never meowed.

She hid a lot at first but finally started venturing out and becoming a full-fledged member of our family. I noticed that she had a tiny little notch in her right ear. The nick looked completely out of place on such a gorgeous, elegant creature and hinted at fights in her past as an alley cat. It gave her character. Under her fluffy fancy exterior, I liked to imagine that she was a tough little broad. One of her favorite mean tricks to pull on Mindy never failed to crack me up. She'd hide under an end table and wait for him to walk by. She'd lunge at him, smack him on the butt, and then hiss in his face when he whirled around. This always left poor Mindy looking both hurt and extremely confused -- "Hey! Ow! And why'd she hiss at me? What'd I do?"

Girls can be so mean. Sometimes she'd position herself close to Mindy and start rolling back and forth on the floor, displaying her fluffy brown belly and staring at him like a big shameless wench, daring him to come closer -- for another hiss-and-run, of course.

She never tried any of that with Rascal, though. She and Rascal were mortal enemies to the last. Batman and the Joker. Superman and Lex Luthor. Seinfeld and Newman. Sometimes she'd sneak over and check him out when he was asleep and sometimes I'd catch him doing the same thing to her, but when they were both awake they were all about the hate.

With me and Bill, her moods swung from day to day. Some days she'd skulk under the end table and exude a definite air of "I vannnt to be alone. I hate you all." The next day she'd barely wait until I sat down in the living room before she'd jump on me and curl up on my chest or my lap. It was so hard not to fall back asleep with this lump of warm, purring cat cuddled on me, and on some mornings I'd just give in and doze off again. Rascal's never been a lap cat and Mindy sits on me only intermittently, so it felt so nice when she'd snuggle up against me for a nap. She rarely ventured into our bedroom, but one morning I woke up to find her perched on my chest, peering down into my face with a sweet expression and purring loudly. That was the greatest thing about Cleo -- she could often be stingy with her affection, so whenever she did something like that she'd make my day.

She loved the new house, and I was so glad. And relieved -- she was so neurotic that we weren't sure how she'd handle yet another move. The day before the movers came, I spent the night here with the cats to get them acclimated to their new home. I slept on the floor in the master bedroom. Cleo camped out right by my feet and growled any time the other two got near me. Because Rascal considers me his sleeping space and doesn't give up easily, Cleo growled on and off all night long and the noise kept startling me out of my uneasy sleep, but I found it oddly endearing. As I did most of her bizarre habits.

******

Cleo started declining over the last couple of months, slowly at first and then more sharply. We tried home care recommended by one vet. While she seemed to respond well to it at first, it didn't last. On Thursday Bill took her to another vet who ran some more tests and suggested care at a 24-hour emergency animal clinic. The situation was much worse than we'd realized; if she recovered we'd have a long haul of diagnostic tests and time-consuming care to get her liver healthy again, assuming that her liver trouble was even something treatable. We considered euthanasia the next day, but I backed down when the vet at the emergency clinic thought she seemed to be responding well to the care she was getting and suggested a few procedures to help bring her around. We just couldn't face having her put to sleep if there was a possibility she could be saved.

And again, she seemed to rally early in the weekend. I went from thinking we were going to lose her to believing she was really going to pull through -- yes, it'd be a long haul to get her healthy again, but it'd be worth it. But I guess we cashed in our "Miracle Kitty Recovery" coupon last September when Rascal bounced back from a devastating bout with ketoacidosis.

She looked bad when we visited her on Sunday afternoon, but the vet assured us her vital signs were still encouraging. On Sunday night the vets at the clinic called us twice. At nine, they told us she'd taken a pretty big downturn and we might want to prepare for the worst. At eleven PM, just as I'd started to allow myself to think she must have improved, they called us again.

I've never had a cat euthanized before (I was grown and out of the house by the time my two childhood cats died), and I was terrified. I didn't want to be there or see it happen. But I also couldn't deal with the idea of her going without me there to say goodbye.

So we went out near midnight into a hot, humid, misty evening and drove to Leesburg one last time. The vet gave us a few minutes of privacy with her. We took turns holding her and talking to her, and I sang her all the stupid little songs I'd made up with her name. And then the vet came in with the syringes and talked to us gently as we held Cleo throughout the procedure, which took a matter of seconds. And that was the end.

The last couple of mornings have been the hardest; I wake up with a dim recollection that something really bad's happened but can't remember what it was. And then it hits me all over again.

She'd become such an integral part of our life that I was actually surprised to remember that we only had her for a little over three years. She was a wonderful cat -- bitchy, loving, bizarre, flirty, testy, eccentric and very dear. We didn't have her nearly long enough, but I'm glad we had the time we did with her. And I'm going to miss her a lot.

The next entry.

Previously, in Insomniaville...

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