Rainbow Bridge

Just a short post to say that sweet, shy Smokey Jo quietly crossed the Rainbow bridge at about 1:30a January 27, 2014. One of the three kittens gifted to us by Inky in 1998, her tough appearance led us to first identify her as a male. Once we straightened that out and our younger daughter convinced Daddy to let her stay with us instead of becoming a barn cat, she became a much loved part of our family.

Smokey was the very definition of “Fraidy Cat.” The first time we brought a Christmas tree into her world, she disappeared upstairs, where she remained for the next month, forcing us to install food, water, and a litter box to our second level. Whereas her brother, Tyg, would rush to meet visitors at the door, no one EVER saw Smokey. That would include the folks who cared for our pets when we travelled. We received more than one panicked call from caretakers who were greatly concerned that she’d gotten out or died, which was never the case, of course. Smokey would no sooner have slipped out of the house than I would jump off a 200′ cliff.

Despite her fears, Smokey adopted our 55 pound dog as a second mother. I’ll never forget Reya’s agonized expression the first time this tiny gray furball snuggled up for a nap, but over time the adoption became a two-way agreement, with Reya also taking over the job of cleaning Smokey’s ears. Most of Smokey’s final days were spent curled up beside Reya on the dog bed that our cats occasionally allow Reya to use.

Smokey’s other distinction was being our premier – and actually only – biscuit maker. None of our other cats has ever held a candle to the kneading that little gal subjected our laps to when she decided to settle in for a nap. She spent countless hours napping on my lap while I did my computer work, doing wonders for my ability to stay on task. It’s oh so hard to boot a sleeping kitty off my legs!

Smokey’s last few years brought many visits to the vet as she battled thyroid problems she inherited from her mother and shared with both her siblings. Her lifelong problem with her sinuses developed eventually into an infection that we just could not beat, and after a valiant struggle, her little body had just had enough. It was time for her to leave. Although we miss her greatly, it’s a relief that she’s no longer in pain. And it’s nice to picture her reuniting with her mom and brother in a world beyond.

Published in: on January 28, 2014 at 7:00 am  Leave a Comment  
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A Time to Mourn

I’m not the sort who is moved to utter silliness for love of a pet, but with a tremendous sense of grief, I must say that we have suffered a great loss this week. I’ve lived with cats in my house for all but three days of my adult life, varying from one to as many as nine feline boarders, and though they’ve all had their individual personalities and quirks, there are only two whom I would consider truly special – my first cat as an adult, Dusty, and the one who left us on Monday, Tyg. Though technically he belonged to my older daughter, Tyg spent his entire life under my roof, being left in our care when she moved first out of state to live in a rented bedroom, then on to Honduras. He was always extremely happy, content, and affectionate toward us, far more so than all our other cats,  but whenever she came home for a visit, it was clear that he still knew who his “mommy” was, and without any grudge for her leaving, he’d make up for all the months of loving he felt she’d missed out on receiving.

I wish that Tyg’s youth had not been “pre-digital” so I had photos to post of his adventures. Even more frustrating is that my best adult pix of him are trapped on a computer that will no longer go online. The photos you see posted here are mostly phone pix my younger daughter took last night and sent to me as she rifled through her photo box. I apologize for the quality problems. For now I’m just happy to have these. 🙂

Tyg was the only boy in a litter of three kittens that came preloaded in a stray that adopted us in the winter of 1997-8. She stormed the fort, moving indoors in early April, and on the 23rd, she gave me the thrill of witnessing the only birth I’ve ever seen, as Tyg popped into the world. He was the third born, and he was unquestionably the runt, which fact later became quite a joke, as he spent most of his adult years tipping the scale between 21 and 23 pounds – the combined weight of his two sisters. We were unskilled at sorting males and females, but we knew we had two and one. Tyg was such a beautiful thing, and the other two looked tough, so we did the logical and assumed wrongly that he was the girl. He spent his first few days temporarily known as Marble, but as soon as my older daughter convinced Daddy she’d be entirely responsible for his care and vet fees – and we found out he was a he instead of a she – he was officially christened Tyg R., though I must confess that even in his final days, he was as likely to hear “Tyggie” as Tyg. Considering his linebacker build, it was an amusing appellation, but he was such a teddy bear it just seemed to fit.

Even as a newborn kitten, Tyg was affectionate toward us. While his sisters would squall and fuss when taken from their mama for even a minute or two, Tyg loved the adventure and the attention. As soon as he started crawling, he was nicknamed “Christopher Columbus” for his passion to explore, which about wore out his mother, I’m sure. Smokey was a ‘fraidy cat, and Doodle was practically velcroed to Inky, but Tyg was nothing if not adventurous.

We had a running dialogue about Tyg wanting to be a dog when he grew up. We couldn’t keep him out of the dog’s dish, and he was even known to break into an unopened sack of dog food left foolishly where he could reach it. He was never adept at creeping about in a cat-like fashion. In fact, his tromping down the stairs gave me more frights than I’d care to admit on nights I thought I was home alone. He sounded like an adult man coming down the stairs! Instead of being smitten with cat toys, Tyg’s favorite plaything was a sock, and before long, he had us well trained to put ours away. 😉 And whereas the other cats tend to run and hide when someone arrives at the door, Tyg was always right there with the dog, checking out the visitor as a potential attention giver.

It was impossible to give Tyg enough attention – let alone TOO much. Early on, my daughter had the wisdom to teach him to ask politely to be petted, rather than raking his claws down our leg a la Garfield. While this worked well for the most part, we quickly discovered that 30 seconds of ear scratching held him happy for a total of 31 seconds, and he’d be back to patting gently at skirt or pants leg. This desperate need to be stroked was both a boon and a bane in the springtime when I’d get the Furminator out in a vain attempt to cut down the dust balls that breed like rabbits in a house full of 9 cats and a dog. The moment Tyg spotted it, I’d find it nearly impossible to comb anyone else – not that that bothered the rest of the animals, all of whom seem to believe that it is some sort of medieval torture device.

As large as he was, he would look at “big enough” boxes with disdain and insisted on sleeping in the smallest box or container he could find, producing a distinct muffin top look most of the time. There were times we would about burst trying not to laugh and spoil the moment as he’d explore the possibility of getting into a box that even our smallest cat wouldn’t fit. Not surprisingly, he was always first in line for treats and dinner…

Three more kittens moved into our home in the two years following Tyg’s birth, and his character really shone during those years. While the other cats ignored them, he took over the care of the motherless babes, bathing them and teaching them important cat stuff with unmatched tenderness and care. All three of these little ones were more or less black, and the quartet became known around here as “Tyg and the Black Cats,” which we thought sounded like a great name for a band. I never figured out how he did it, but he managed to arrange with Sarah to give him back rubs in exchange for ear washings. I’ve never seen nor heard the likes of it anywhere else. There was just nothing like watching her climb up on his back and knead and massage him up and down for a while, his eyes closed and a blissful expression on his face. Then he’d roll over on his side, grab her with a paw, and hold her down while giving her ears a workover that would put even the best mama cat to shame. Priceless!

Tyg grew into a very handsome fellow. Despite his weight, he never looked fat. He inherited his father’s large frame, and he was built solidly. He had incredible green eyes that frequently garnered comments from visitors. He had two flaws to his appearance, though. During his nursery days, Inky had constantly chewed his whiskers short for some unknown reason, and when he was full grown, at least one side was nearly always trimmed down to the point of looking silly. And he had a naughty habit of teasing his sisters and the older cats, which resulted in him frequently sporting a scratch down his pretty white nose. As he matured, this bad habit was replaced by an equally disfiguring tendency to rub the bridge of his nose on people and things he wanted to own completely, leaving a somewhat bald patch where the scratches used to be. So much for total vanity!Yes, Tyg was a grand cat, but he did have his bad habits. He had a terrible fetish for corrugated cardboard, which was in large part responsible for any increase in the value of Sterlite and Rubbermaid stock in the last decade or so. It’s amazing how one large, determined cat can undermine a stack of sturdy cardboard boxes in so little time. 😦 Another problem we had with him was directly related to his size. It seems that the majority of litter boxes are designed for 10 pound kitties, and he just didn’t fit. It took us years to find boxes large enough for him to use happily and without messy incident. Despite everything, though, his personality was so sweet that we couldn’t help but love him.

Tyg’s last 6 months turned into a miserable, sad story. When he developed a lump on his cheek last autumn, we took him to the same veterinary clinic in Washington Court House that we’d been using for the previous two decades. The vet sliced his cheek open and prescribed antibiotics. The lump came back. The second trip resulted in the same treatment, and during the third trip, we were told if it recurred yet again, the treatment would be surgery. The fourth and fifth trips, though, resulted in more un-anesthetized cutting and useless antibiotics, while Tyg rapidly continued to lose weight. Our assigned home care of him was causing him more pain and discomfort than helping, and finally in desperation, I did phone interviews of some other area vets at the end of January. I wish I’d not trusted and waited for so long.

Our first visit to Country View Pet Hospital revealed that Tyg had some serious, but apparently treatable problems, all undiagnosed by our previous vet and some potentially deadly. His weight loss had actually been far more than we realized – half of his body weight – and was caused by a thyroid condition, which is what had killed his mother at an early age when our former vet told us not to bother treating it. He had two abscessed teeth, a severe ear infection, and, for a cat, a very serious heart murmur, which theoretically could have caused him to drop dead just walking across the room. He was treated for the lump on his jaw and we started thyroid meds, but when we went back in two weeks, the lump was still a problem. Happily the thyroid treatment was working very well. I okayed a culture on the discharge from his ear and still unhealed cheek wound, and we were stunned to find out a few days later that we’d been dealing unknowingly with another missed diagnosis – a MRSA infection. A prescription for an effective antibiotic was called into Wedgewood Pet Pharmacy, but they totally bungled the order, taking 5 days to get it to me instead of the two days they’d promised. During the wait, Tyg took his first serious turn for the worse, the most obvious change being that the infection advanced into his eye, swelling it nearly closed. At this point, the battle was on, and before long, I found myself learning to give subcutaneous fluids and administering a second antibiotic by injection while cleaning his wounds and drainage around his ear in nightly 30-45 minute nursing sessions that left us all emotionally wrung. Early last week, it appeared we’d turned a corner. His eye was less swollen, the lump on his cheek was gone, the ear had quit bleeding, the sores he’d created by scratching at the swollen area were healing, and his appetite was beginning to return – critical since his thyroid meds were administered in his food. We were sure he was on the road to recovery, and it was exciting to feel we’d beaten such a fearsome enemy.

And then came Friday evening. Tyg opened his mouth to mew, and what came out was the sound of a child’s “moo box” toy, which would have been humorous had it not been such an ominous change. He’d look longingly at his food, but only lick at it a bit and walk away. By late that night, he was starting to get wobbly, and worst of all, his ear had a new and foul discharge that was akin to the odor of a summer latrine. Tyg was still being himself. He trotted around the best he could, often with the tip of his tongue sticking out (a lifelong habit that both amused and annoyed his human mommy), indulged in long drinks from his favorite water dish in the bathroom, struggled up the stairs to his preferred litter box, and insisted on attention from anyone who held still long enough for him to approach. By Saturday, though, we both knew without a doubt that he was dying, but unlike any of the cats we’d watched through final days in the past, Tyg refused to give up. He wasn’t done being part of our lives. But we were certain that this change was fatal, and I allowed my husband to make the brutally difficult decision to take Tyg to the vet one last time. The appointment was for Monday.

Saturday and a large part of Sunday, I spent “in retreat.” Tyg spent many hours of that time with me, laying nearby, often purring loudly enough to be heard 10 feet away. He followed me to the bathroom and gave me time to read an entire magazine through (a rare treat) as he filled his empty belly from the water dish he loved. And he did something which, believe it or not, no other cat here has ever done. He usurped my special spot on the sofa, and I let him! And while he purred and slept away the weekend, I wove on my new loom and cried and tried to find a way to say good-bye.

Of course, there really is no way to do that satisfactorily. How do you say farewell to any living thing, be it a human or a beloved pet? Nothing you say will change the ache caused by the hole left in your world when the loss becomes real, and nothing but time and a will to grow life beyond the pain will heal the grief. I know this hurts now, and I know that the fond memories and a right attitude will ease it with time. I’ve lost other pets, many loved ones, and a much wanted baby. There are many regrets with several of those losses, including some obvious regrets over the early months of Tyg’s medical care, but this hurt will heal just as the others have.

Tyg died very peacefully and without any fear with the help of a loving veterinarian Monday afternoon, April 4, 2011, just days short of his 13th birthday. Four humans greatly mourn his loss, but were comforted by Tyg himself in this extremely painful decision – a decision we’ve never before made. An hour before he left for the vet, as he was staring longingly at the dish of kibbles near my loom, I wondered if I could find anything at all he could swallow. He licked avidly at the congealed chicken broth I brought him, purring so loudly that it was nearly echoing in the little room. Throughout his illness, he’d not once complained or acted sick, but as he worked avidly for 10 minutes to lick up about 2 teaspoons of broth, expressing his pleasure in such unmeasured terms, I realized he’d been hiding extreme discomfort for a long time. Still, he had refused to give up. Was it just a Tyg thing or was he holding on for us – because he knew how much we wanted him to make it? I don’t know – won’t ever know. What I do know is that even with 5 other cats and a pretty cool dog in our house, it feels empty here right now. Tyg was Mr. Personality right to the end, and his departure from our lives leaves a Tyg shaped hole no other cat will ever be able to fill.

Minutes before the scheduled trip to the vet, a strong, but relatively brief thunderstorm blew through, coming seemingly from nowhere. We felt as if the very heavens were helping us mourn. Jesus said,  “Are not five sparrows sold for two farthings, and not one of them is forgotten before God?” If He knows the sparrows, He certainly knows our Tyggie. 🙂

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