Thursday, June 22, 2006

post-vacation insights 2--disease, mortality, and "wook at da pretty puddy tat"

My dad was in the Air Force, and I spent my earliest childhood in Germany. When we moved back to the States, we decided that we needed a pet...they were problematic to have if you lived overseas, because often moving from one country to another would entail long periods of quarantine...the British, at the time, would hold pets for 6 months to make sure they didn't have, among other things, rabies (for whatever reason, the British seem scared to death of rabies...hence all the references in Monty Python...yet I digress).

On our first visit to my Florida grandmother, we picked out a cat. She was a mongrel, as most cats are, but mostly a mixture of tortiseshell and calico (we think). My mom named her (unimaginatively and inexplicably) Tigerlilly. We took her to our new home of South Carolina.

Tigerlilly was a great cat, albeit a little weird (as, we discovered, cats are wont to be). She loved olives...she would devour them, roll around in their juices, and generally look like a smack addict in the throes of a good buzz. She would fall asleep with her head in my shoe (again, a "high" thing?). She would fall asleep inside my violin case. If you were laying down on your stomach, she would climb onto and then fall asleep on your back.

Tigerlilly died after a bout of diabetes. I never even knew that cats got diabetes, but apparently so. It was sad giving her injections of insulin, and when her liver finally gave out, she couldn't really move, let alone get up and run around like she always we had to put her to sleep.

Our second cat was a stray my mom picked up and named (again, unimaginatively) Muffin. Muffy must've been beaten by her previous owners, because I have never seen such a nervous, anxiety-ridden animal. While she could be nice, she hid from most everyone save my mom. She also died before her time...leukemia, I think.

Next, we got two sisters, strays from where my grandparents lived. The first one was a long-haired siamese-looking cat, very fluffy, with gorgeous ice-blue eyes. Mom named her Cleopatra, but in order to escape the tyranny of what we considered dumb names, my brother and I called her fuzzhead. Fuzzhead loved to be outside in our screened-in porch. She liked to be cuddled, but usually only after making you follow her on a quick jaunt around the house...usually after circling a table five or six times, looking back at you to make sure you're still following, she'd dramatically fall over...that was her sign that "cuddle time" had commenced.

Fuzzhead's sister was a brown tortise shell-esqe cat with leopard print spots. Mom named her Sheeba, but my brother and I called her Spider in celebration of her overly long legs and tails. Spidey was a talker...she would howl for ages, almost never shutting up. She was also very fast, lean, and very smart. Once, when Fuzzhead fell into our hot tub, Spidey took it upon herself to notify us with those howls.

After I moved to Bowling Green, our vet found a lump on Spidey's back. They took her to a hospital for surgery, but the cancer returned after a year or so...and that was that.

The final cat was a long-haired black cat with white splotches who took it upon herself to sit in our driveway during a thunderstorm until Mom came home...she was rain-soaked and pathetic enough to be taken in. I like to think that word spread in the cat community that we were good people.

In memory of the slotches, Mom named her Smudge...finally, a good name. As a kitten, Smudge was not pretty...she had monsterous beady eyes and ears that were way too big for her head. She really grew into herself, though. Smudge was also strange...she was abandoned at an early age, and she never really knew how to purr...she wheezed instead; she also couldn't properly meow...hers was more a "mwah." She was also very sweet. She would run to the door to see me, she would sit outside the bathroom door as I showered, "mwah"ing at me.

Smudge was probably my favorite cat. Again, though, when I was in BG, they found signs of disease. By the time they caught the diabetes, it was really too late...another one of my pets I never really got to say goodbye to.

I thought about this a whole bunch when I was down on vacation. Mostly, this was because Fuzzhead is the only one left. She's about 15 and still healthy (although thinner). While Fuzzhead is as cute and loving as ever, I couldn't help but wondering how much I'm gonna see her again. However, I don't want my time with her to be spent in sadness, melancholy, or a weird "in memorial" feeling...I want to remember her as an alive, vital, loving do elsewise would not be doing justice to this wonderful personality who has made my life happy so I spent some of my vacation fighting my own emotions.

I also couldn't help thinking of the weird state of diseases and animals. So far, not one of the cats we've had has died of old age. Is this normal? Is cancer, diabetes, and leukemia really that prevalent in animals? Later, when we went to visit two of my best FL friends, we found out that their long time dog has had both of its eyes removed due to glaucoma. She gets along fine, but it did make me think again.

Of course, thinking of things like this are never a good idea. Not only can it spoil the general spirit of vacation, it can cause you to start treating those around you as potential source memories, rather than just getting out there and living life...thus creating good memories. It will also stop you from enjoying those around I had to make an effort to not nostalgize when Fuzzhead would have me follow her around the house en route to a cuddle.

Beyond that, I'm not really sure what the lesson to all this was...except maybe to enjoy the "now," whatever that might be, because the future is so uncertain...that, and to hug your kitty closely.


Jennifer said...

my parents have had 3 pets with diabetes - a dog & 2 cats. There is one remaining cat with them - and he's lived with diabetes successfully for a long time.

Yes, cancer is common in pets... diabetes not as much. Organ failure is pretty common too.

My parents also must have a blinking sign on their house that only pets in need of homes can see. They have 1 dog and 7 cats.... but my mom has just taken in 4 neighbourhood cats, 2 of which had kittens which bring the "new cat" total to 10!!! On top of their 7, that makes for a large indoor only pet population. the new ones are scheduled to be adopted out but we'll see if that happens....kittens are sure to go...

Meredith said...

I think diseases like diabetes and cancer are how pets die of old age. In the wild, they never live long enough to develop these problems. In a way, it's a symptom of being much beloved and well taken care of, I think. Or, I hope. My sister's cat, the (unimaginatively named, again) Tigger (I wanted to name her Puppy) died of a stroke caused by cancer not too long ago. Poor kitty. The Steve had better be immortal.
Tigger was our first pet to ever die in my lifetime. Every other pet was given away to someone with a better home (we gave my dog Fred to a farming couple), ran away (Molly dog) or was stolen (Cisco dog). My kitty from college, Houdini, is rapidly going blind.