26 April 2008

A Sad Farewell

Back in Doha after a visit to the U.S.A., where I participated in a lobbying effort in Washington before heading to New England to pack up some things at my parents, who are on the verge of retiring and selling the house they have lived in for the past 20 odd years. All of that went according to plan, but unplanned was the sad yet somehow fortunately timed demise of the second of two cats I left in their care when I left the USA 13 years ago.

Although they were litter-mates, Spike and Spud had very different personalities, and although my ex-girlfriend and I named them before we had a real sense of their characters, time proved both of them to be appropriately named. Spud was the gentle, affectionate smaller one, whereas as Spike was the independent, assertive one that dictated the terms of his relationship with his owners from the very beginning. Not long after bringing him home from the shelter, we learned that failing to rise promptly at six and immediately tend to his empty food dish was to risk having him tunnel his way under the covers until he found an adequately sensitive area of flesh to nibble on until you understood that whether you fed him or not, you weren't going to get any more sleep.

Spike in healthier, happier days

Spud died a few years ago after developing a carcinoma in reaction to a feline leukemia shot, but Spike carried on, despite his significantly overweight 10 kg bulk. In December, my mother emailed me let me know that his health was deteriorating, but after a few weeks he rallied and regained his energy and appetite. Then, as I walking up 24th Street in Washington last week, on my way back from a day of meetings on the Hill to my hotel in the west end, my mother called to tell me he had taken a sudden turn for the worse, that the vet had drained 90 ml of bloody fluid from his lungs, and that he might expire any day.

I arrived a few days later to find Spike sitting on a towel in his favourite spot, where one of the overhead spotlights in the living room created a warm spot on the floor. His breathing was laboured, and he uncharacteristically was refusing all food. He rarely moved over the next few days, his legs unsteady and clearly exhausted by moving just a few meters. Occaisionally he would drink water, but rarely took any food. But gently stroking his ears or his back still elicited a gentle purring. A couple of days later he emitted a pained yowl, something he would do with increasing frequency until Thursday, when he began complaining almost constantly. He stopped purring in response to my attentions. He was so weak that he was unable to make the trip to his litter box and urinated on the floor. Finally we made the decision to have him put to sleep early Friday morning. Thursday night I spent sleeping on the sofa next to him, stroking him and calming him when his yowling let me know he was suffering.

Saying good-bye, 25 April 2008

I got up early on Friday and finished digging the grave my Dad had started for him the day before, next to the spot where he had laid Spud to rest some years previously. Then it was time. I snapped a few last photos of the two of us, wrapped him in a towel and carried him to the car. Immediately he found reserves of strength, scratching my arm deeply and crying out loudly and repeatedly. As my mother drove towards the vet's clinic, I pleaded with him to calm down and not make it harder on me. Just then my mobile rang; it was my ex-girlfriend, calling to check on him. As I updated her, he cried out again, then emitted a gasp, and was limp. I was grateful that he seemed to be finally resigning himself. I stayed on the phone with my ex- until we pulled into the car park and it occurred to me that he had already expired. It was obvious this was the case as soon as we brought him in and laid him on cold steel examination table. He had collapsed in such a natural position, with his forepaws on my arm and his head resting in the crook of my elbow it felt like he did when he was young, when his trust in me led him to sprawl limply and languidly across my lap. The vet came in and checked for a heartbeat, expressed his condolences and remarked on what a good cat he had been. So Spike died the way he lived – in his own time and on his own terms. We took his still-warm body home and laid it in the grave we had dug with two of his cat blankets. My mother stroked his head in farewell and then left me alone to cover him over and spread a blanket of pine needles back over the bare spot of earth. I am mourning him still, but so, so grateful for the 15 years he brightened my life with his unpredictable antics and unique personality.

26 April 2008

1 comment:

Kim said...

It was so sad to even read this because I remembered Spike when we got him as a small (?) kitten and all the crazy things Spike would do, mostly involving eating lots of food, or enjoying the company of other portly friends (you know who they are)...As I sit with Simba in my lap now, patting him with tears in my eyes, I think of Spikely and of what the man at the Washington Animal Rescue league said of cats in general when we got Spike and Spud there, and it's the perfect quote and my sentiments with regard to all animals. "I could never give them back to them all that they've given me." Bye Spike, I know your journey is peaceful and you are happy now. I loved you and Simba and Elsa send kitty kisses to their cousin in the afterlife.