Tuesday, May 3

The Hoover

Hoover, in her salad days, caught reaching for the last bite of someone else's salad.

I've been kicking this post around for a while. I almost did it a few weeks back, only to find that TBogg had a nice tribute to a fallen basset just before. Then there was a discussion at Chris Clarke's where some folks said the pain of losing a pet was such that they didn't think they could ever get another. I left this alone for a while rather than ride piggy-back.

Hoover is still with us, but I doubt it will be for long. Yesterday she took a turn for the worse. There are a few hopeful signs; we'll just see how it goes.

Because we wound up with four cats at one point, we've gone through a period of ten years with at least one elderly cat around. Pups died four years ago at twenty, in her third bout with a very rare cancer. She was a lousy pet. She didn't like people much, or the other cats. Feed me and leave me the fuck alone. But in old age, deaf as a post, a subtle change came over her and she seemed to come to appreciate the things we did for her. Her loss affected me a lot more than I expected it to. Maybe it was just the sweet helplessness of her later years, when you had to stand guard over her food to make sure Hoover didn't get it all. Hoover was not named by accident. Maybe it had something to do with those twenty years which were now dead for all of us.

Lowell (Boy) went next, two years ago last September. Smartest cat I ever had, except for his proclivity to get stuck in neighbor's garages. First-rate mouser. He ruled the roost, but did it with absolute deference to all the others; never pushed his way into anybody else's food bowl or challenged their choice of favorite spot. His one rule was that no one else got to sleep with us on the bed. He was trained (more or less) to come to my whistle (provided he wanted to); the others picked it up from him. In the last year of his life he decided he wanted to sleep on my pillow and groom me before going to sleep. For, like, five minutes. Maybe he thought the hair would grow back.

Late that summer, his fifteenth, my wife noticed he was losing his balance. It was almost imperceptible at first, then got dramatically worse. He had a brain tumor, they thought, or some neurological disorder. We fought it for about six weeks. Medication would take effect and he'd be back to normal for four days, then spiral downward again. I had to put up a barrier on the open side of the basement stairs, else he'd just tumble right off. I slept with him in the guest room the last couple weeks so he wouldn't have to go upstairs. He was comatose one afternoon when I was home and it was clear his time was up. And the friggin' vet who'd been collecting $200 a week for his medicine told me when I called it was too late to bring him in, would I like an appointment for the next day?

We have a new vet. The receptionist at the old one knows some new swear words.

There weren't many tears for the Boy. I don't know why. So much had been taken from him so quickly, I guess. But it took a long time to stop looking at the bench on the deck expecting to find him there, or to get used to him not showing up at bedtime. The neighbor's daughter drew a picture of him for me when I was in the hospital two weeks later, and it's still on the refrigerator and still makes me smile.

Hoover's fifteen now, a stray like the others. Once she moved in we had to stop leaving food out because she'd eat every bit of it. An angelic face, wide with great cheekbones, but she always retained something of the alley. She'd growl and hiss and spit whenever anyone, cat or human, did something she didn't care for. You did not pet her except at times and in spots of her choosing. At age four we woke up to her vomiting one morning. You live around cats you get used to them heaving up all sorts of stuff, but this sounded different. She was jaundiced, and the prognosis was not good--feline leukemia or AIDS. But all the tests came back negative. We had to force feed her for a month, in the bathtub, six times a day, babyfood everywhere. She dropped to about five pounds. Then one morning she was up and around and back stealing the other cats' food.

A couple years back she started tearing out clumps of fur. The new vet did some blood work, then brought her back in to get some bone marrow. Turns out she's had leukemia all along, but was a rarity in that it didn't show up in blood tests. She's also hyperthyroid, but can't be treated because of her weakened state. "If she was a dog she'd already be dead," he told us, and he wasn't giving odds she'd make it through the summer, but she's still with us.

And a joy. The former queen of spitting at anyone who got into her personal space has become a real sweetheart. Now she purrs when you speak to her, and follows you around the garden, and gives you a little pat when she thinks it's time to be fed again, instead of howling her head off at the food bowl as you walk by. She's bony and stiff and her fur goes in every direction; can't keep herself clean and isn't up to being given even one of those dry baths. But she's still active, still the bane of chipmunks and moles in the wilderness out back.

Yesterday morning after breakfast she went outside, and the next time I saw her she was crouched down in an odd way, and I knew something was wrong. She took her vitamins as usual, but turned up her nose at dinner. She'll eat a little babyfood--voraciously, like her old self--but then she'll lie down right next to the bowl. No obvious pain, still purrs to be touched. Could just be a passing bug, but I'm hoping against hope.

I wouldn't give up their twilight days for anything. The pain is just a measure of the caring on both sides, the last tender years make up for what their slowing down tells you every day. She'll get her spot in the back of the garden with the other two, and there'll be a new kitten in the house shortly after. It's worth it. Through everything, it's worth it.

Yes, goddam it, there are bigger problems in the world and we show more pity to a mongrel dog in the rain than we do to our fellow human beings. It doesn't mean we're naturally selfish. It means we have to learn, someday, that the love we feel for our own extends, eventually, around the globe. We pride ourselves in our superior intellects. I hope someday we'll follow them to a little wisdom.


Anonymous said...

So sweet.

I think my son would like to be a "cat person." The parakeet probably wouldn't like it much...

Anonymous said...

Thanks. I have two cats, one of whom is getting older and a little lost and lazy, and I worry about her. Once we started to realize it'll be sooner rather than later, we go into the place where we refuse to deal with it, but that doesn't make what's going on with her go away. At some point, clinging because we love her won't be enough, and then it's down to the hard choices.
My sister lost her two in under a year and says she'll never have another because she can't take the losing them.
You've put into words here what I felt when she said that.
And, yeah, sometimes it goes down hard that what I feel for an unknown animal in a bad way can be more pure than what I feel for an unknown human in a bad way. But as the whole thing goes on, maybe what the animals have taught me about compassion and love helps when another human needs some, too.
I hope Hoover has more good years with you, but I know hope isn't always enough, and it sounds like you all cherish your time. Sometimes, maybe, that's all there can be.
Thank you for letting us learn from you, from your family on four feet and two.

Anonymous said...

Doghouse, I swear, you just may be the best writer on the internets. Doesn't matter if it's meant to be humorous or not, everything you write impresses the hell out of me. I think it's your "every guy" style of prose. (Not that I expect you to write about clearing brush anytime soon.)

Ray Bridges said...

This was a very touching post.

Anonymous said...

Aww, crap. They bring so much into our lives and then leave us with gaping holes in our chests where our hearts used to be.

But you're right: it's so totally worth it.

Anonymous said...

Thank you. You have taken cat blogging to new heights; I have felt your pain several times over the years when I've lost my own friends/cohabitants. This was beautiful. You and Hoover are lucky to have found one another. And yes, it's worth it, it is.

Anonymous said...

I'm a dog person and you got me all verklempt. Thanks for pointing out that the road to wisdom may start in the intellect, but it usually winds through the heart.

Ray Bridges said...

Hey Riley, go over and say hey to my friend Lisa at Fragile Industries. You two are so much on the same wave length about cats. Shit, I feel guilty. I told Beauregard (my 12-year-old cat) if he puked on my bedspread one more time, I was sending him to asssisted living for older cats.

greg said...

goddammit -- I come here for the snappy humor and the sarcastic take on popular culture, and what's this? Sappy cat reminiscing?

Wow. That was one of the most moving things I've read in a long, long time. Beautifully done.

I'm reminded of the night I slept on the floor with my elderly dog, after she'd had a seizure and was going downhill quickly. Neither of us got much sleep, but we each took great comfort in the other's being there, and I will never forgot it to the end of my days.

Please give Hoover a little scratch behind the ears for all of us in blogland.

Anonymous said...

Nicely done, Doghouse. I have four young and healthy cats now, but have had my share of loss over the years. They crawl into your heart and just make space for themselves, don't they?

Brought a tear to my eye. I wish Hoover an easy passing.

Anonymous said...

All best to you and Hoover. We lost three 19-year-old cats (Guppy, Molly, Sophie) and a 16-year-old dog (Magnet) in the last two years. Then last week our 10-year-old kitty Louie Louie died suddenly in the bloom of comparative youth of bone marrow cancer. I'm too numb now for "It's worth it" to get past my eyes to my heart, but thanks for saying it anyway.

Anonymous said...

That was a touching tribute. Best wishes to you and Hoover. I hope she makes an unexpected recovery.


Anonymous said...

I still haven't read this entire post, mainly because when I think about my pet losses over the years my eyes tear up to the point where I can't see anymore. Like Mr. Bojangles, after (in my case less than) 20 years, I still grieve. The pain sometimes still comes back with surprising force. Even so, I refuse to let that stop me from having more cats around; that would be unbearable. In fact, remembering that pain has helped make me a more tolerant and sympathetic person. Without cat interaction, I'd be a round-the-clock asshole instead of just when I'm in Beltway traffic.