Living with a cat

A few months old, in her perch by the window

 

For much of my life, dogs were the preferred pet. Because most of my life I lived in apartments, I only had a few dogs over the years. My second wife wanted a cat, so I brought one home from the SPCA. We realized he had been born around the Autumnal equinox, so we named him Autumn. He was a blonde tabby, exceptionally clever and playful I even taught him to fetch. When we divorced my ex-wife kept him. I was called when he needed to go to the vet, and when he eventually died, I buried him.

My third wife was a dog person, when we met she had a rottweiler. She wasn’t exactly afraid of the dog, but she feared he would one day attack me. One night we were playing and he snarled, and she decided to have him euthanized. I do not believe I was ever in danger, but fear is not a rational thing. She had a deep scar on her face from the dog, and didn’t understand that dogs could snarl during play.

We went a few years without a pet, then we started to see mice in our apartment. Emma was unusually frightened by mice. She genuinely believed they were taunting her. One day she called me at work, from atop a chair, to tell me to come home immediately because the mouse was laughing at her. I arrived home a few hours later and she was still on the chair. This is a woman who threw a meat cleaver at me once. I called the landlord and got permission to have a cat.

A woman who frequented the restaurant where Emma cooked rescued cats, and had just found a litter in a box next to the highway in Delaware. We chose a little tortoiseshell furball, and Emma decided to name her Autumn because she looked like a pile of leaves. When we took Autumn, she fit in the palm of my hand. Today she weighs fifteen pounds.

Autumn proved to be an excellent mouser, although she didn’t always clean up after herself. I found a dried carcass under the sofa, and one time she entered the bedroom with one in her mouth, holding it by the tail. At first we thought it was one of her play mice, then she casually flipped her head, throwing the mouse onto the bed.

Autumn is a cave cat, she likes to hide in small spaces. When she was little she would climb under the covers. She has always slept with me, at first on my chest, then between my legs (try turning over with a ten pound cat on top of the covers between your legs), now at my feet. When we get in bed she follows me into the room, and once I’m settled she jumps up and finds a place to lie against me. I don’t know precisely which year we got Autumn, it must have been around 2005, making her about fourteen now. She bonded strongly to Emma, who was home most of the time, and Emma loved Autumn possibly more than she loved me. Autumn would hide whenever we had guests, one time when a home nurse was administering an IV of Methylprednisolone we heard a muffled “meow” from the sofa, Autumn was hiding inside. When Emma was preparing to leave the hospital for home hospice, all she could talk about was sleeping in her own bed with Autumn. She didn’t make it home, and with the first grieving visitor Autumn came out to the guests.

Since then she has moved with me to Princeton, to live with my new family and their cats. Rascal and Leroy were large males, used to living on the street. I once saw Rascal casually walk across the street to block the path of a bulldog walking down that side. The two males let Autumn know it was their house, and were rarely friendly to her. When we all moved to another house it was Autumn who was the first to explore every nook and cranny while the boys stayed huddled in the cat room. They accepted her as an equal.

Autumn has seen several women pass through my door, first Emma, then Lieve, then a couple of girlfriends, and now Sam. Sam was not an animal person at all, but she has come to adore Autumn. It is comforting to have another human to occupy Autumn, I am always the one who administers medicine and takes her to the vet, so at times she doesn’t trust me much.

One thing I have taught Autumn to do is whisper. Sam didn’t believe cats could whisper, and was amazed to see her do it on command. She “guards” me, according to cat body language folks; standing next to me and facing away. When I come out of the WC, there she will be standing guard. Following my TBI she rarely left my side. My psychiatrist wrote a letter identifying Autumn as my support cat, which came in handy when we moved to a no pets building.

Autumn provides a great deal of emotional support for me. I cannot consider losing her. I can not. But she is sick, and I have been forced to consider life without her. She started vomiting in October, so I took her to the vet, who did blood tests and X-rays and gave her anti=nausea meds. The vomiting returned after the meds wore off, so we tried it again, more tests and meds, this time when it returned the frequency had increased to more than once a day. The vet recommended an ultrasound, so we took her for that and they found a thickening of her intestinal wall, which could indicate irritable bowel syndrome, or lymphoma. To determine which it is, they want to do biopsies. I took her for the appointment, but the feline internist didn’t want to do the biopsies without more tests, so she ran those. When the results are in we will talk about biopsies. In the interim, we’re keeping Autumn on the anti-nausea meds.

The question that flashed by was “how much do you want to spend on a cat?” Autumn is far more than just a cat, and it really isn’t costing that much money. Yes, I’ve spent about $2000 so far and the biopsies will run closer to $3000, but in her lifetime she has cost me very little. Vets, food, and litter probably run about $250 a year, so an additional $5000 amortized over fourteen years slightly more than doubles that amount. My greatest fear is she might have a bad reaction to the anesthesia. Biopsy would be either through endoscopy or surgery, the internist seems to prefer surgery, but to me that is too big of a risk. I prefer the endoscopy.

I never thought she would live forever, I just didn’t think about her mortality at all. I am fairly sure she’ll pull through this, I just hope whatever meds she has to take taste good. She hates the anti-nausea pills, even when I crush them and dilute them with a can of food.