Goodbye, Pete

For the first time in thirty years, I woke up this morning to neither a dog to walk nor a cat demanding to be fed. I said good-bye to my 17-year-old tomcat yesterday. I watched, masked and from a distance, as a vet drugged him into oblivion. He will be my last animal companion for a very long time, if ever again. I am both sad and relieved.

I’ve been thinking a lot about sacrifice and love and how it can reach a tipping point. With people, with animals, with any passion, there comes a moment when maintaining the relationships, the dedication, starts to feel like one’s life is draining away. This last year has aged me, short-circuited my brain, turned me into an insomniac. I’ve cried more, slept less, been less. Love and sacrifice have never been far apart. I have few regrets about this, but I’m tired.

Things had gotten bad with my cat buddy, Pete, but I didn’t realize how bad until this morning when I woke up without him. Feline dementia had him yowling throughout the night, sometimes during the day. In our small house, it was impossible to escape and his deafness meant no volume control. I would often get up to comfort him, turn on lights, anything to keep him from waking up the rest of the family.  I’d learned to get by on 4-5 hours of sleep. Last night I slept for 7.

He’d started to paw my feet to get attention while I was reading or writing and it was rapidly becoming an obsessive behavior. I couldn’t focus for more than 15 minutes at a time. And he’d returned to feral ways when it came to the litterbox. I spent quite a bit of time doing clean up. It happened slowly at first, until our house became a patchwork of plastic mats and makeshift litterboxes. After he was gone, I spent several hours with enzyme cleaners and hot, soapy water returning our home to a more hospitable state.

Making the decision to end another creature’s life is never easy. Like a person with Alzheimer’s, Pete would have moments of clarity and seem his old self and even as I knew I was making the right decision, I was riddled with doubt. It wouldn’t get better and I was exhausted. Pete was now anxious most of the time and began to lose his appetite, his hearing and vision, and arthritis turned his stealth walk into a bit of a lumber. In the end, he began not to recognize me, nor want human attention.

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Elliott, 1989-2003

Pete is one of four pets I’ve seen through long lives and silent deaths. Elliott was a Scottish Terrier who’d been marked down in a local pet shop. Sitting in his cage in a puddle of pee, he was the most adorable thing I’d ever seen. He was there through college and grad school, through crappy jobs, and even worse boyfriends. He was ferociously loyal and playful and I took him everywhere with me. In college, I taught private flute lessons (not a euphemism) and I sometimes used play time with him as an incentive for the younger students. He died at the age of 14. To this day, I feel a twinge of pain when I think of him. Some losses really stick with you.

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August, Adopted 2003-2008

For the next 16 years, I lived with cats. I adopted Pete and August from the local humane society. Pete was a kitten, August a cantankerous middle-aged cat who tolerated him. When August got kidney disease and I had to make the decision to end her life, I remember my daughter saying good-bye to her before preschool. August sat there, always the proper lady, while my 4-year old chattered away. When I returned from dropoff, August staggered to her blanket and collapsed.

Pete started getting a little more vocal after August was gone, strengthening his pipes for future yowling. We thought it was mourning and adopted Owney, a fickle, older Tortie. Owney had no interest in Pete and often took an active disliking to him. He

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Owney, Adopted 2008-2019

followed her, slept as close to her as she would allow, drove her insane with his constant lurking presence. She also succumbed to kidney disease. Near the end, she and Pete were still not friends, but she no longer hissed at him when he came near. That was last year.

Pete outlived his housemates. He was a laid back, gentle giant who had a rumbly purr and a penchant for suddenly flopping over in front of you while you were walking. Being underfoot was his trademark. He rarely took offense and even as his cognitive abilities began to slip away, never struck out in fear. He was, as we humans are wont to say about male creatures, a very good boy.

Pete in one of his favorite spots.
Pete, 2003-2020

There is a little garden in our backyard that hold the ashes of my animal companions. On the stone bench, the squirrels like to sit and chatter away before raiding our birdfeeders. The birdbath hosts cardinals and finches and dark-eyed juncos. At night, raccoons teeter on the wooden fence behind it, munching the Concord grapes. Occasionally neighborhood cats show up, eat some catnip and loll about in the grass. Pete has spent years in the study window meowing and chittering at the menagerie of critters. And now he’ll join that natural world, leaving me behind, to imagine I hear him meowing in the night. Grief is a funny old process.

Fearless Friday: All Creatures Great and Small

PeteandOwney.jpgThere’s a lot of little routines in our household driven by a lumpy old tomcat named Pete and an irritable tortoiseshell named Owney. Each night when I lay down to sleep, I hear a series of thumps. Pete comes down from whatever perch he has been flopping on, pads across the wood floor, leaps onto the bed, and plants himself firmly on my stomach. If I don’t get to the petting, he taps his paw on my face.

canstockphoto9615339As spring arrives, fashionably late, the cardinals, norther harriers, black-capped chickadees, finches, and dark-eyed juncos busy themselves all around our house. At this very moment, a male mallard has plunked himself down in the middle of our yard, while rabbits nibble about its edges. This is all to say, we’ve learned to coexist in a way that means our furniture never remains pristine, my gardens have a gnawed-at appearance, and animal food is always on our grocery list.

The most painful thing about sharing our lives with animals is that we will likely see them to the end of theirs. The cost and anxiety of dealing with aging animals is high. At some point, we have to measure their quality of life against the extraordinary means available to prolong it, and ultimately, in many cases, decide how they die. It’s a heavy responsibility and an unwieldy gift.

Welcome to Fearless Friday.

Feacanstockphoto13410470rless Fridays are about lives lived in spite of our fears, living a life that is about curiosity, compassion, and courage. If you just got published, something wonderful happened to you, you witnessed an act of kindness, or you have someone in your life who amazes you, drop your story into my contact page or email it to TheGreenStudy (at) comcast (dot) net and I’ll run it on a Fearless Friday. If you’re a blogger, it’s an opportunity to advertise your blog, but this is open to anyone who would like to share.  These will be 100-300 word stories, subject to editing for clarity and space.

Poetry in Furry Motion

LLuanne Castleuanne Castle is a poet and the companion to many grateful furry bodies. You can find her at Writer Site for a delightful mix of poetry, animal stories, and book reviews. She talks about how her latest cat found her (to both their good fortunes!).

My latest cat, Perry, wandered into my backyard one night, and I was determined to get him inside where he wouldn’t get eaten by the pack of coyotes or huge bobcat that live in my neighborhood. That’s how most of my animals have come into my life—me trying to protect them from danger or homelessness or hunger. Then I end up falling wildly in love with them. I volunteer for a local no-kill shelter. It’s wonderful for a shelter, but no place to call home.

Sleepy boy Perry
Sleepy Perry.

Besides helping cats find loving homes, my greatest joy has been busting a few cats out of there and offering them my own home.

My connection to animals really didn’t show itself clearly until I was in my twenties. I began to volunteer time to help both local and national animal welfare organizations. And because charity begins at home, I adopted a dog my mother-in-law found on the street. Then one I found on the street. Over the years, my husband and I have adopted many dogs, cats, and even a very sweet rat who was living in a stressful classroom environment.

Castle_Luanne_KinTypesWinner of the 2015 New Mexico-Arizona Book Award, Doll God, Luanne Castle’s first collection of poetry, was published by Aldrich Press. Luanne’s poetry and prose have appeared in Phoebe, Copper Nickel, Six Hens, Story Shack, The Antigonish Review, Crack the SpineGrist, TABRiver TeethLunch TicketThe Review Review, and many other journals. Luanne’s 2017 chapbook Kin Types, forthcoming from Finishing Line Press, was a semi-finalist in the Concrete Wolf Chapbook Contest.

Taking the Lead

DeborahTaylorFrenchDeborah Taylor-French is a novelist, arts educator, and full-time dog companion at www.dogleadermysteries.com. She is passionate about the care and safety of dogs, writing about everything from canine food recalls to adoption issues.

Deborah writes Dog Leader Mysteries that are full of positive dog leadership and animal rescue stories. She serves as Author Support Facilitator for Redwood Writers, the largest branch of the California Writers Club. Red Sky at Night, the first in her series of Dog Leader Mysteries will be published in June 2018. If you sign up on her email list you receive free updates, freebies, book launch invites and a free The Skinny on Dogs newsletter.

It’s Not All Cats and Dogs

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Cate’s light Brahma hen, Cal.

I’ve never thought much about chickens as pets, but Cate’s poem “Meet Me in Heaven” is heartbreaking and illuminates a relationship with these feathered creatures.

Cate at Meditatio Ephemera is a former journalist and runner who raises hens in the Colorado Rockies. Cate’s blog is a potpourri of one shot photos, poetry, and essays on a wide range of topics.

*****

Silence has now stretched across our household. I have about two hours before the noise canstockphoto18941416starts again. They’ve got me scheduled for treats. I’m pretty sure it’s a coordinated effort as they both manage to rouse themselves from naps and conveniently begin walking about the house meowing loudly.

Owney: You go first, gray lump. Do that low wail that makes her think something is wrong and makes her get up.

Pete: Yup. What if that don’t work?

Owney: Well, it’s my baby cry meow, then. How many times do we have to go over this, you dimwitted ogre?

Pete: No dimwit does speed bump way I do.

Owney: Anyone can walk in front of a human and flop over suddenly.

She licks the top of Pete’s head, followed quickly by a hiss and head swat.

Pete: Ack, arphh, glumph, cough, cough. Hairball. I go over there. She blame you.

Owney: Victory – she’s getting up from her chair! I don’t understand what she’s going on about. I wonder what hairy bastards means. Probably more treats.

TGS Writers’ Book Club Reminder: Sing, Unburied, Sing by Jesmyn Ward is the April Reading Selection. Discussion forum opens on May 15th. The May Selection is a collection of poetry, Afterland by Mai Der Vang. Follow the blog for updated selections, writer-reader guidelines, and discussions.

Have a great weekend!

 

Plan P

In psychiatric terms, I experience feline homicidal ideation every single day. Here was my mistake: I thought adopting two cats from the humane society would somehow ameliorate the grief I felt over losing my dog, Elliott, after 14 years of loyal and generous companionship. I’ve never ascribed to being either a cat or dog person. Now I can genuinely say I’m no longer a pet person. By the way, say none of the above in front of your vet, unless you want to be considered a “person of interest” in their files.

Pete and August were companionable cats. On occasion, tiny August would smack monster Pete in the head when he became too rowdy. One sunny October day, after a week of misery, we had to have August euthanized to end her suffering from kidney disease. Pete was inconsolable and began to prowl nightly with a lonesome yowl. We decided he needed another friend from the shelter.

Owney was a friendly, vocal cat right from the start and took to our daughter immediately. As I finished filling out the adoption paperwork and paid the fees, the helpful volunteer said “Oh, here’s some more history on Owney.” We were bringing her to her 3rd home. The first home gave her up because she didn’t like children. The second gave her up because she didn’t like other cats. That was my first inkling that this could all go horribly wrong, but try telling your 4 year old that she has to put the kitty back. I remained optimistic. Because I had to.

We followed all the advice on how to introduce a new cat to the resident cat. Owney adored my daughter and slept with her every night from the start. But cut to four years later – poop reprisals, hissing and spitting and swatting when there is even a possibility of food, meowing like a crying baby, which starts at about 4am, random peeing. And that’s just Owney. Pete, for his own part, has continued his tom cat prowling and yowling, stalks Owney at every opportunity and does his best to make us trip over him by walking casually in front of us and then recklessly flopping on his side, a furry speed bump. I do not like our cats, Sam I am.

At our last vet visit, after expressing my frustration with the fighting and the litterbox episodes, the vet suggested an anti-anxiety medication (Prozac, to be specific) for Owney. Really? Can’t she just take up yoga or maybe drinking? I’m a little wary of psychotropic drugs for people, much less for creatures who can’t say things like “I just feel so out of it, like I’m not myself”. I made some derisive comment about how I actually might need the Prozac and left the vet’s office.

Upon remodeling our basement, we realized, after seeing the stains on the old carpet, that things could not stand. Needless to say, our cat is now being medicated. I’ve taken to calling her Stowney and feel compelled to confess to everyone on the planet that my cat is now on Prozac. She still loathes Pete, but her anxiety about the litterbox has dissipated. It’s not the peace we hoped for, but it’s the peace we have.

I love animals and for most of my life, I’ve had a dog or cat. Maybe it’s caretaking at a time when everyone and everything else must be cared for as well. My husband, who had very few pets growing up, thinks it’s weird to have animals that go to the bathroom inside (excluding homo sapiens, apparently). Then that leads to a nonproductive discussion about why I think training cats to sit on a toilet is gross. I love them, but I don’t like them. As they stare at me balefully from their regular posts in my study, I’d say the feeling is mutual.

P.S. Does anybody remember the movie “The Uncanny”? It came out in 1977 and forever altered my ability to be comfortable when cats stare at me.