Wednesday, March 15, 2006

See you in the next one, and don't be late

(Look, this is a bummer, and Alison's already said it just as well but shorter. Don't let this bring your day down. Read it later.

Well, you've been warned, bull-head. -Ed.)

We had a cat. What did we need with two?

Our friends Michael and Ann had found a dehydrated mother cat trying to nurse her litter of four kittens, under Ann's mother's steps, during the height of DC's 1995 heat wave. They took them in, and nursed all 5 back to health, but couldn't keep them all. They were selling us hard on the kitten they named Gus. Who I didn't particularly wish to adopt.

When Michael and Ann brought over this spindly little spider of a thing, all legs and tail and black fur with a kitten's white guard hairs and a humiliating green bow around his neck, well, I knew he was home.

And that night, when he curled up on my chest and started nibbling at my beard, I supposed that home was pretty fine.

Time passed, and we discovered that Gus was at least part Maine Coon. The signs were that he became (a) incredibly shaggy and (b) approximately the size of a small panther. His size and classic Halloween cat looks couldn't change the fact that he was also a fraidy-cat to the bone. He loved napping in the back corners of closets or the eaves of the attic, squeezing under the bed or the dresser. When company came, he'd hide out for hours; if the doorbell rang, he'd spring across the room to seek shelter.

It was about 18 months ago that his left iris started to look asymmetrical. The vets said that it was probably cancer, and that he probably had about 6 months to a year. Since then, he's had better medical care than I've had since moving to Ohio.

The little foundling fighter took pills and got shots and kept getting taken to the vet. A parade of veterinarians got to learn that he doesn't like strangers. Experienced staff used him to haze the interns. One vet tech did a great impression of Gus, stoned out of his gourd on anesthetics, trying to land a slow-motion punch.

He seemed to be doing allright, until his back legs started to weaken. The cancer was in his spine, and it was a matter of time. He'd respond to chemo or radiation, but lose appetite, and have to miss the next dose. He kept fighting, kept giving us flashes of hope. Last week, Gus flashed me enough hope that I decided, at the last minute, to go ahead to DC last weekend.

He never liked it when one of us was out of town. Our guy put up one hell of a last fight.

I came home, and he was pretty weak, and pretty cold. At night, I scooped him up and put him in bed with us. I felt him trying to crawl out of bed around 2 AM, and heard him hit the ground very wrong. I got up and tried to take him to the litter box, but now his front legs weren't working right either.

Gus yowled a little, tired and unhappy. He coughed hard, three times. He could only lay on his side and we wrapped him in towels, sat with him and stroked him and whispered to him. And in a little while he was gone.

He was stiff this morning, of course. I made a pining for the fjords joke. It helped.

I'll see you on the other side of the rainbow bridge, pal.

Gus the Cat, with humiliating red Christmas bandanna from MedVet, and living room clutter for scale


Blogger TeacherRefPoet said...

Dead Parrot sketch as grieving. Nice. (Seriously. Nice.) Makes it easy to think of Gus as resting or pining...

I love a cat now. I never thought it was possible, as grew up such a dog person. But I now really really love the cat that I got as a package deal with the wife. So please accept my condolences, as well as those of Swankette. And of Samson, the top of whose head I scratched in the middle of typing this sentence.

5:14 PM, March 15, 2006  
Blogger Reggiemonster said...

I tried to think of something amusing or witty or smart to say here. But I got nothing. So, I just want to say thanks for giving Gus a great life. You were great companions for him on his journey.

10:23 AM, March 16, 2006  
Blogger lemming said...

A priest once described Heaven as the place where we meet every pet we've ever loved.

I'm so sorry, Joe.

2:08 PM, March 16, 2006  
Blogger Rob said...

I'm sorry to read about this, Joe. Losing a pet is very difficult. Hang in there.

2:18 PM, March 18, 2006  
Blogger Joe said...

Thanks, everybody.

11:20 AM, March 19, 2006  
Anonymous michael said...

Thanks for taking such great care of Gus for the past ten years, guys. As you know, I was never exactly a cat person myself until Chloƫ and Max (two of Gus's siblings, for those who don't know) moved in and started shredding the carpet in my apartment. I could never really shake the feeling that Gus (along with his other sister Samantha, wherever she is now) was just a teeny bit my cat too.

Max has been really mrowly and over-affectionate lately; I think he's stopped hearing Gus through whatever quantum late-night yowlphone they used to talk through.

3:07 PM, March 19, 2006  

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