Getting ready to say Goodbye

D'Ar when he was younger. My Couch, he says..

D’Ar when he was younger. My Couch, he says..

We all know that the day will come. Cats don’t live as long as humans, so inevitably we will have to say goodbye. My cats tend to live fairly long lives – and they tend to die from strange things, because as a vet I can treat and manage most of the regular things that science has already sorted.  My old boy – D’Artagnan, 17 years old Somali – is no exception. In September last year I was getting ready to go out the door to go to Leeds to lecture – and in front of my eyes, he walked across the floor, started wobbling and then slowly sank to this stomach. By the time I got him down to the practice, he was better, but we measured a very low blood pressure – something that is quite rare in cats – and I knew that he was edging towards his final days. He has a rare heart disease. Something seen in old cats, but not often, and combined with the low blood pressure there is very little to be done about it. Most heart disease we can stabilise with medication – not with him..

He went about his life very well until about 5 days ago. Then he started having the sinking to the ground fits again. And I knew it was time to get ready to say goodbye.. The prognosis when you get to this stage is bad – average survival is around 11 days, and I am adamant about letting him go before he gets really bad.  We have had lots of cuddles. He has been purring happily, eating – though not as much as last week – and sleeping curled up tight against me every night.  But it is getting worse day by day, and today his purring is much less.. He can only walk halfway across the floor before he has to rest. And while there are no other signs of discomfort – his breathing is fine, he is still eating – he is obviously going downhill fast.

The challenge with saying goodbye is always the timing. I have had a couple of cats where I waited too long – and that has taught me that it is better to watch for the early signs of the cat letting you know that they are ready. Just two days ago when I talked with my husband about when the time would be, D’Ar turned his head and glared at me. So Not Ready, he said – very indignantly – Still Here! This morning when we had the same conversation, he just turned his head slightly. Maybe, he sighed. Getting Close. Will Let You Know If It Is Today – Later..

So I watch. And wait. And cuddle. And kiss lots. And yes – I cry.. Because he is my baby and has been for 17 long years. But I could do with another year.. Just one more…

Post script:

I went from writing this post into the bedroom and found D’Ar cuddled up on the floor with Penny wrapped around him. She looked at me with really big eyes. He Is Really Bad, Mum, she said. Time To Go Has Come. And so we said Goodbye. Less than 2 hours after writing the post. And yes – it was just as hard as I thought it would be…

Tyrants..

I know that I am a soft touch… D’Artagnan, my 17 year old Somali has trained me well. Everyone else in the household have strict rules – he has none.. He is allowed everywhere and can do pretty much anything he wants. He gets fed multiple times during the night because that is when he is most hungry (very normal for old cats – they get a bit confused about the whole night and day thing..), he gets cuddled whenever he asks – even if it means that I have to wake up and pay attention at 4 in the morning – and he gets to walk all over the kitchen counters, something that normally gets things thrown and very loud, rude things said in Danish when anyone else does it…

Yes, I Am Allowed. And Yes. Mum Washes The Countertop Before She Prepares Food...

Yes, I Am Allowed. And Yes. Mum Washes The Countertop Before She Prepares Food…

It is perfectly obvious that he is completely aware and relishes the difference in treatment. His favourite thing is to sit on the kitchen counter and just look with the most unbelievably smug expression on the mittens – the Somali girls – while they scream on the floor for whatever treat I have just fed him. Heh, Heh, he says.. Dream On, MY Treat! Can’t Have It Until I am Done.  Maybe. If I Don’t Eat It All. And then he looks at them again – and it is obvious what he says: Beg. Grovel. Then MAYBE I Will Leave Some For Mum To Give You. Maybe..

At other times he does regal with the best of them. This is especially the case if we have visitors. Much Better To Sit Where Everyone Can Admire Me, he solemnly declares. Can Give Me Due Attention At All Times Then.  (Penny has been watching him very carefully. Obviously Works, she says, He Gets All The Treats And All The Attention, So Must Do The Same). And when the time comes to go to bed, he issues an imperative meow – and stares at me until I pick him up and carry him upstairs to feed him extra dinner and give him his medication.  Slaves, he muses, That Is What I Have… Just The Way It Should Be..

It is still hard, though. He is getting old. He doesn’t walk very well, even with the arthritis medication he is on, and he is starting to struggle with jumping up on things. He sleeps a lot more as well, and I keep finding myself checking to see if he is still breathing… He has already had one heart attack, and though he is the most checked over and pampered kitty in the world, there is only so much you can do. His food is the best possible, carefully tailored to his various medical problems (all Prescription Diets) and his medication equally balanced and that gives him a really good quality of life. But the day will come… so there are no rules…he deserves his pampering while we have him.

The only thing that slightly concerns me is that Ianthe is being a very good understudy. She is already showing distinct signs that she Expects That She Will Get The Same Type Of Treatment When She Is Older – Like 3 Years Old – Not Too Soon To Start…Hmmm

Moods and cats

Penny and Ulysses tussling on the lawn... She lets him win..

Penny and Ulysses tussling on the lawn… She lets him win..

Cats are funny creatures. One of the things I find most fascinating about them is how powerfully they can affect us. Cats have the capacity to influence your mood with everything they do. And the range is extensive – from deepest love to complete exasperation…

D’Artagnan – my old Somali boy – is an expert at eliciting the full range – usually in a fairly short period of time and preferably in the middle of the night. He starts with a deep, rumbling purr next to  my head. Love You…. he purrs….Snuggles…Kisses…Cuddles… he sighs… At this point my usual response is to turn over and bury my face in his fur while my hand goes on auto-pilot and rubs his tummy. This usually works for a time and then – after I fall asleep this way – he changes his approach. He sits back up and starts chirping… Hello… Hello!…HELLO… HELLO!… HELLLLOOO!!… and if that doesn’t work (I can sleep through most things these days), he then escalates it into an energetic walk back and forth across my face.  Once he manages to wake me, (or, as is more usual, my husband), he leads the way to where we feed him. Hungry Now, he says. Important To Eat Regularly! Especially At Night – Fewer Disturbances! (Yes, he talks with exclamation marks..you would know what I mean if you saw him and heard him).

If we are lucky we then have an hour in which to sleep in before he starts up again. He usually asks for food 3-4 times a night – and then he moves on to other things. Need The Bathtub Filled Up With Water, he gravely announces. Water In Bowl Not Good Enough. So we put a bit of water in the bottom of the bathtub. Hmm! Not The Right Taste Today, he complains. And so ½ hour later he asks to be let out – downstairs.. Must Check For Rain Water, he insists. And by this time we have usually gone the whole way round – from love to being very, very tired….

Personally, I think you should never let life get you down without benefit of inhaling a kitty tummy. There is something so lovely about sticking your face right down in their belly fur, having them curl around on their back, deeply purring the whole time – and just settle in there… I am addicted – I sleep best with fur in my face…

After having a conversation with one of my friends about not watching much television, she asked me : ‘What do you do when  you sit in the lounge then??’, and my immediate response was : ‘We watch the pets’. With 5 cats and a dog in the house, action is everywhere. Watching the kittens pounce on each other, chew on Penny’s tail, chase Ulysses and go tumbling is lovely. Watching the body language as they all determine who gets the best spot on the couch and who gets the second best spot on the small stool in front of the fire is priceless. And we finally know exactly where the inspiration for movies like Matrix came from. Seeing the two kittens jump through the air, exchange karate chops in mid air and continue on unabated literally has our jaws dropping and sometimes (depending on where they land) us rolling on the floor laughing.. HAH! Got You! They both claim at the same time…and on they go..

The bathroom..

I needed a picture so went into the bathroom - 40 seconds later this was taken. The girls were asleep on the desk when I left...

I needed a picture so went into the bathroom – 40 seconds later this was taken. The girls were asleep on the desk when I left…

Have you ever noticed how cats are absolutely convinced that you can’t go to the toilet without you? They seem to find the bathroom one of these fascinating places with lots of activities – some of them rather strange.

The other day I commented to my husband that it was rather annoying the way my make-up mirror kept flickering. He immediately went all concerned. It is one of his rather lovely missions in life to make sure that everything in the house functions really well, and I could already see him lining up an internal list of ‘things that make make-up mirrors flicker’.  He was all geared up to go and get his toolkit – and then I continued, ‘guess it doesn’t help to have a kitten dangling from the chord all the time either…’, causing him to stick his head around the door and look at the make-up mirror. True enough, two kittens taking turn energetically playing with the chord with the predictable result of the mirror blinking on – off – on – off….

The bathtub is another fascinating item according to all my cats. Now, I have a Persian – Ulysses – and as with all Persians he regularly needs a bath depending on what he has gotten himself into. While he is a good guy who patiently puts up with being washed thoroughly, I don’t think he really enjoys it as such, so when I take a bath, he gets really concerned. Is Wet! He exclaims. You OK? He worriedly enquires while hanging on the edge of the bathtub by his front paws. Don’t Worry Am Here To Look After You, he reassures me while peering nearsightedly at my face and pacing worriedly back and forth next to the bathtub. I usually end up taking my bath with my hand dangling next to the tub so he can kiss it a lot… Better That Way, he gravely announces.

D’Artagnan, my old Somali, is also interested in the bathtub – or rather in the water. Water Much Better When It Tastes Of Mum, he claims, Must Test Every End of Tub And Both Sides – Might Be Different! Once he has reassured himself that yes, the water tastes the same no matter what end of the tub he drinks it from, he will then turn his back and sit companionably on the end of the bathtub – which inevitably means that his tail ends up gently swishing through the water without him noticing. (It is quite a lovely sensation to have a kitty tail swishing through the water around your back..). I always struggle to not laugh out loud (that would offend him) when he then jumps down, notices the wet tail and turns around and looks at me with a look of indignant reproach – because of course it is all my fault!

Ianthe, one of my young Somali girls has an even deeper fascination with water. When we first got Ianthe and Izabelle, they were quarantined in the guest bath room. Maria, one of our good friends, came to stay for some days and decided that she wanted a bath. Imagine her mortification when Ianthe promptly fell into the bath as she was filling it up! She immediately fished her out while profusely apologising and gently and carefully dried her with a towel. Phew! She said, and got into the bath. Whereupon Ianthe promptly fell in again…. and it wasn’t until Ianthe did it a THIRD time that Maria finally realised that the cat wasn’t FALLING – she was JUMPING….

The fascination with the bathroom also means that no matter how deeply they all sleep, there is a veritable procession of cats following you when you go there. I often end up sitting on the toilet watching in fascination as 2 young Somalis and a very big Maine Coon argue about who gets to sit closest to me on the countertop (Penny wins…she just waves her big Maine Coon paw around their faces and they back off or get slapped…), while D’Ar regally stays at the end of the bathtub and Ulysses weaves around my feet.  Good Place To Hang Out, they all agree, Mum Can’t Possibly Pee Without Us! And that is that.

Living with an old boy

My Bed - he says.. My 17 year old Somali boy, D'Artagnan

My Bed – he says.. My 17 year old Somali boy, D’Artagnan

My original love of Somalis rose many years ago when I met a fantastic kitten named Czardas. He MARCHED out of the cat carrier with such attitude and personality that I instantly fell in love. However – he was just as much loved by his breeder, so I couldn’t have him.. After about a year she decided to use him to sire just ONE litter, and I begged her to let me purchase one of the kittens. When they were 5 days old, I went to see them and immediately focused on a big, clumsy kitten – Must Have More Milk, he said while determinedly shoving his sister out of the way, Need To Grow Up Big To Take On The World! What can I say – it was love at first sight.
D’Artagnan (named from the Three Musketeers, because he was so clumsy when he was small, but I guessed he would grow out of it) developed into a cat of a lifetime. He has been with me for 17 years now, and as is entirely appropriate when you have such a special, old boy, he is the undisputed master of the house (yes, that includes my husband ..). As he has gotten older and a bit senile, the usual old cat patterns have appeared. He will wake us several times during the night for example. Must Eat, he demands. World Will End If Not Fed IMMEDIATELY, he proclaims – and when my husband gets up to feed him for the third or fourth time in the night – he changes his mind; Fuzzy Persian on Mum’s Pillow, he mumbles darkly. Does NOT Belong There – DO Something, he insists – and continues to pester my husband until he wakes ME up and asks me to move Ulysses to the OTHER side of my head….so D’Ar can get the preferred pillow and my poor husband can get some sleep.
As he has gotten older, his hearing has deteriorated as well. This leads to interesting situations where he will seek out a nice place with good acoustics – and proceed to exercise his voice. Just Checking, he cheerfully shares with us. Might Have Lost My Hearing Completely Since Yesterday, he explains. NEED To Shout Very Loudly! Important For Well-being, he insists…. As he sometimes does it when he doesn’t think that the litter box is COMPLETELY clean – we tend to come running..
Recently, he has been eating a bit less. He seemed to struggle to pick up the kibbles, and while it doesn’t entirely surprise us (he only has 5 teeth left, and yet he STILL prefers dry food), we did think it was worth it to get the teeth checked. After the mandatory blood sample found that he was in surprisingly good condition, we brought him into the surgery on a Friday (in case he needed extra nursing on the weekend, so we could give him more attention). He decided that regal was the right approach – sat completely calmly in his cage, only slightly ruining it by pressing against the front and STARING at the nurses whenever they came in – and sticking his paw out and poking my husband in the back when he had the audacity to stand right in front of the cage – and NOT pay attention to D’Ar. I guess I should explain – both my husband and I are vets – so veterinary stuff gets done between us.
Everything went fine with the anaesthesia – the only thing was that he VERY loudly informed the nurse that he has ARTHRITIS in his paws, thank you – so could she kindly not hold them so hard! The nurses love him – he is such a good patient and always lets them do whatever they need to. When I started – very gently – to clean his teeth, I noticed that his lower jaw was moving rather strangely…. Let’s just say that the lower jaw on cats is NOT supposed to have a hinge in the middle on the front!! Needless to say – a swift x-ray was taken and the awful conclusion was there to see – he had a broken jaw!!! Our only conclusion is that he must have hit his jaw while jumping down from one of our tables – because he only goes out in an enclosed garden.
I was mortified… my big, brown baby was hurt – and might have been hurting for a while!! Thankfully it was quickly and expertly fixed by my husband, so now we are waiting for it to grow back together again. D’Ar now has his lower jaw screwed together with a wire – and what does he say? Well, let’s just say that I am the most kissed kitty mom ever… He has been purring and rubbing himself all over me since he woke up from the anesthesia – and he is eating like a horse!!
I did apologise to him.. Daft, he said contentedly, Couldn’t Have Known, Could You? Was a BIG Boy Wasn’t I? Can Make It Up To Me, he earnestly commented – Just Need Constant Cuddles For The Rest Of My Life – Oh – And Food, he triumphantly concluded..

Help or hindrance?

D'Artagnan, Izabelle and Ianthe 'helping' with work

D’Artagnan, Izabelle and Ianthe ‘helping’ with work

As I sit at my very large desk which is my primary work place, I look at the surface. Not that there is a lot of surface to be seen, because naturally things accumulate. There is the keyboard – can’t do without that obviously as it would make writing blogs rather difficult. Then there is a mandatory box of tissues, a telephone, a headset, a pen holder – and the rest. The rest covers 2/3 of the desk. And consists of a lambskin and a soft quilt with currently 2 kittens and an old boy spread out on them. This is actually an improvement over 3 weeks ago. Before the kittens arrived, I would often have to do my work with the 3 full grown cats spread everywhere.
D’Artagnan – my 17 year old Somali – prefers to sleep stretched out over the depth of the desk. He expects me to do all my work with just one hand and to constantly have my other hand deeply embedded in his stomach fur, occasionally giving a gentle stroke. Any attempts to take my hand back is usually met with a pointed stare. Am Not Done, he says. Hand Needs To Come Back. Now! And the hand usually makes its meek way back to his tummy…
Penny, who is 4 and a Maine Coon is a very large cat. Funny enough, she is the one of all of them that at least tries to curl up and take up just a little bit of space. She will arrive politely, gently sink down next to D’Ar and carefully curl up. As time goes by, the curl will extend a possessive paw that inevitably ends up on my arm – especially if I am trying to use the mouse. Small enticing sounds may also occur – and stroking always bring about an even tighter curl, which somehow ends up with her stomach being presented upwards for further attention.
Ulysses who is 10 months older than Penny is slightly smaller, but you can’t tell – because as a Persian he is covered in fluff. I think of him as ‘that fluffy white thing’ (Old Dean Martin joke), but there is solid heft to him. Ulysses never does anything daintily. He is a boy and proud of it. He used to jump up on my desk and arrive on top of D’Ar, proceed to trample all over him and finally throw himself down on him so hard that D’Ar left in disgust. Then Penny decided to take up desk sleeping. And after 3 times in a row having landed on top of Penny and promptly been met with a right hook (she has a SERIOUS paw on her!) – he got the message. Now he stands on the floor and cries piteously (wait – that is what he always sounds like!) until I lift him up and gently positions him in any open space available.
It is wonderful to be able to work with your cats around you. If only you could find space for your papers. And if I could persuade them that I really need that marker pen Ulysses seems to have buried under him. And if I could have both my hands I could even type fast enough to finish what I need to write..