Monday, December 05, 2011

An Apology To Annie

Shelby died in August of 2000 at the age of 13 or so. Our family will always gauge dogs by Shelby’s example. He and Dean grew up together and were best friends. He was a beautiful, well-behaved collie with a remarkable skill at understanding human speech and intentions. We knew that he was not the sort of dog you could replace, so we didn’t. For a while.

After that while, I missed having a dog around. Not long after we moved across the river to Vancouver, I started volunteering at the Humane Society here, feeding and walking the castoffs. I didn’t want any doggie leftovers until Annie came in. I thought Shelby was the only collie to ever find itself at a dog pound, but here was not only a collie, but a rare smooth collie, with a delicate, feminine look and one floppy ear, maybe four years old (it’s hard to tell for sure with strays). And she was so quiet and sad. I couldn’t just leave her there. So she came home with us.

It turned out that it was not just the loud, desperate atmosphere of the dog kennel that made Annie quiet and sad. She was just quiet. And sad. And chronically exhausted. And embarrassed at having to go to the toilet while there were people watching. And unable to go to the toilet at all if it was raining. Or the grass was wet. And liable to run away in a panic if the door was left open. And a little leaky. We had to give her medicine in an attempt to shore up her weak bladder. It was never really 100% effective. And after a first, growly encounter, terrified of Coco the Basement Cat. If ever Coco felt that Annie’s fear level was waning, she would jump out from behind a corner and hiss-and-bat enough to send Annie back to bed for the day.

I took her for a walk every day. At first, I would have to take the leash to her bed, put it on, and lead her outside. It wasn’t long before she would wait at the door for her daily walk. She seemed to enjoy it (although she never smiled), until I took up running. Halfway through a (very moderate) run, she would lay down. I took her to the vet because I thought there must be something drastic wrong with her, but it turns out that lying down was just her way of refraining from running.

A couple years later when we brought a young Scotty (our third and FINAL collie) home from the Humane Society, Annie spent the first three days in bed in a pout, but Scotty’s bouncy attitude eventually won her over. Annie learned so much about how to be a dog from Scotty it made me wonder from what sort of puppy-mill situation she had escaped in her former life. OR she could have just been dropped on her tiny head. Whichever it was, Scotty’s normal-dog behavior brought home to us how odd Annie was and how we had just accepted her bed-ridden lethargy and blank looks as normal.

Annie has always acted like an old dog, and now she was a genuinely old dog. She had several illness scares over the years - barfing attacks, bloody diarrhea, spells of arthritis that left her even more immobilized than usual - but we always knew that her bladder would go first. It had been getting increasingly difficult to control. We kept upping her dosage of her medicine with no improvement. This summer, we couldn’t take her with us anywhere. If she didn’t barf, she left puddles behind everywhere she went. Our house was increasingly smelling like a kennel. By September, I was mopping up little wet spots and washing her bed cover every morning.

Drew had been threatening for the last couple of years, when she got particularly ill or drippy, to put us all out of our misery, but there is a big difference between saying and doing, when doing means stopping a heart. Even if that heart was inside a mopey, arthritic, senior dog who left a trail of urine like a foul-smelling dotted line everywhere she slowly went. One morning in September, after I filled the washer again with urine-soaked towels and her bed cover before leaving for work, Drew said “I’m making an appointment to take her in.” And instead of “not yet,” I said “okay.”

It was not okay, and it was not the right thing to do, but it is what we did. I couldn’t fix Annie. She was broken long before we were introduced, and I couldn’t stop her further deterioration. But I could have allowed her to deteriorate at her own pace. Washed more beds. Stood in the rain with her while she fought the urge to pee in the wet grass. But I didn’t. And for that I am sad and sorry.

Annie’s Final Appointment turned out to be the day I spoke about below - the day Coco died. That’s right. Two pets. One vet. One day of awful and icky. That was in September, and I am just now able to talk about it without Kleenexes handy. And as I write this, Scotty is curled up in the dining room, in Coco’s old favorite spot.


Sunday, December 04, 2011

She was just a cat.

Coco was supposed to be my Christmas present, but she was bad at being wrapped.

Eleven years ago, Drew and Dean went to the Oregon Humane Society a week or so before Christmas to pick out a cat. Drew figured we could use a ball of fluff to keep our minds off the loss of our long-time best-friend collie, Shelby, who had passed away in August.

They picked Coco out because she had the most spunk. I guess they shouldn’t have been surprised, then, when she did not go along with the “hide the kitten until Christmas” idea. She was little, and skinny, and black with just a little bit of white on her chest, and her face held a look that said “don’t even TRY it.” She kept us entertained by playing with the Christmas decorations, but not by curling up in our laps. She was all action, no snuggling. And that was okay. Dean, in high school at the time, would wage mock battles with her, pinning her on her back and throttling her little neck, or twirling her on a table like a pinwheel. She would always come back for more. She would play fetch, and chase a string, say ack-ack-ack at the birds outside. But she did not care for laps, as much as I tried to change her mind.

She was unhappy when Annie came to live with us, and she took it out on Annie. Meek and damaged Annie did not have the tools, mentally or physically, to oppose the onslaught of kitty rage, so she would scurry back to bed when Coco would hiss and bat at her, which, I’m sure, made Coco feel like a badass. And she was a badass. At the time the black Basement Cat was becoming a meme on the web, Coco WAS the Basement Cat. If she hadn’t been so black, I would have better pictures of her. Her blackness seemed to absorb all the light in a camera and I would be left with a photo of a cat-shaped blob.

Unfortunately, she was unable to intimidate our second dog, Scotty. Now SHE was the chasee, and the balance of power fell out of her tiny little paws. I felt sorry for her, being relegated to the margins of her own house, so she and I developed a routine. When the dogs were outside, in the morning during breakfast and right before bed, it was time to Pay Attention To Coco. If I did not Pay Attention To Coco, I would pay. The warning sign was a set of whiny cry-meows. If that didn’t change my behavior, then she would jump up and bat at one of my paintings on the wall, and then race around the house like a trapped badger, bouncing off the walls. At night, when the dogs went outside for their last chance at bathroom time, she would run to me to start our evening Pay Attention to Coco time. I would sit down and she would rub against me and do a somersault or two, and I was hers completely for a minute or two. She only needed a minute or two, and then I was dismissed to finish brushing my teeth.

Coco eventually acquired a taste for lap naps, especially in the winter when laps were warm, and after vacations, when we didn’t seem so annoying for a while. In the last few years, she would even run to meet me when I came home from work.

In August, we had to make an unplanned trip to California, so we cobbled together dog-and-cat sitting help, and left for about a week. When we came back, we noticed that Coco had not eaten much. And then she didn’t eat the next morning. Or at dinner. Was she mad at us for leaving? Had she grown tired of her favorite food? I got her some new food. Nothing. I gave her table scraps. She would try, as if she felt bad for me, but she wouldn’t eat much, if any. And now, we started to get worried, because it’s been like two weeks.

I thought maybe she has a bum tooth, so I took her to the vet. The vet could find nothing wrong with her mouth or throat, and couldn’t feel anything funny in her innards, but he suggested that I take her to get an ultrasound of her liver, because when cats stop eating, something is often up with their liver or pancreas. By this time, she was showing signs of muscle wasting.

So I took her to get an ultrasound and a biopsy because the specialist was pretty sure she had cancer. The ultrasound was inconclusive, and the biopsy was negative.

The problem had gone beyond expensive, but the thought never occurred to me that Coco might not pull through. Even though I went through with the specialists and the ultrasound and the medicine, I was sure that all Coco needed was time to pull herself through this, and that my job was to make sure she didn’t die of something dumb like a toothache or an impacted bowel.

The vet gave her anti-nausea pills, liver-calming pills (in case it would help - they weren’t sure), and antibiotic pills (in case it was an infection - they couldn’t tell), but they must not have ever attempted to give a pill to a cat - a cat who couldn’t even bring herself to eat fresh salmon. I tried hiding them in treats, I held her by the scruff with one hand and held her little jaw down with the middle finger of my other hand while attempting to slide the pill in with my thumb and forefinger, just like they tell you, I tried syringes. By the end of a week, by hands were torn and bloody, and Coco had maybe won half the battles. Coco, who had never scratched or bit us in anger, fought like a tiger to keep the pills away. And she would drool so much at my attempts, we would both be covered in goo by the time one of us won. She now looked like a fluffy, gooey skeleton, was still not eating, and was getting weak.

When the pain and the fear of losing her overwhelmed me, I would cry “SHE’S JUST A CAT!” Like that would somehow reset my love to an appropriate level.

One day I went to work, and when I got home she was gone. She had lost control of her bowels and begun to moan in pain, so Drew took her to the vet to end her suffering.

I just never thought it would happen to Coco. For someone as obsessed with her own death as I am, I just thought Coco was stronger than death. After all, she was the Basement Cat. The Basement Cat is the Bringer of Death, not the Receiver of Death.

And now the house is haunted with the memory of her. I can read the paper unassisted now, but I would rather not. If I don’t get up on time, nobody meows at me, but I didn’t mind it that much. I don’t have to stop every night in the dining room for a rub and a somersault, but I would if I could.

We got Coco to keep our minds off the death of our dog, and now she has gone and died. The joy of dogs and cats is so muted by their stupid life spans, it seems like a dumb idea all around. Just a cat. Just a cat. Just a cat.