category: My Pack
Three major storms in four weeks, dumping a total of 36 inches, more snow than we usually get in an entire winter, and another storm coming our way on Wednesday. It’s easy to understand why people are complaining, especially if they have to constantly shovel. I’m a New Englander through and through and usually don’t have a problem with winter. My dogs and I get out into the woods every morning regardless of the weather because it soothes our souls. But watching the snow plow push snow back into my driveway after I had shoveled for the third time almost brought tears to the deep down, little delicate flower side of me. So I thought, it’s time for some fun in the snow with Georgia and Pippin. Moments later, tutti bene (it’s all good).
A life spent in the company of animals is a rewarding life indeed. It’s a life filled with laughter and lessons where the communication is based almost solely on the quiet and subtle art of body language. Most important, is the friendship and companionship that develops through the years, bringing with it a bond that has no rival.
Most of you will remember my little friend Houdini from my posts HERE and HERE. Diagnosed with Squamous Cell Carcinoma, he adjusted the way he did things in order to accommodate himself. When he was unable to lap food from a dish, he quickly learned that the sight of a needle-less syringe was his new and improved food source and ate easily from it. A faucet with a slightly flowing water stream became the way he quenched his thirst. He learned that when he was hungry, all he had to do was sit in the kitchen sink and wait for me to notice him. I always noticed him because I was always aware of his presence.
We did well this way for a little over two months. But soon, changes began. These changes, expected and inevitable were hard to watch and even more difficult to accept. As fantastical as it sounds, I prayed for some kind of miracle and dreamed the cancer would suddenly resolve itself. Instead, Houdini began to turn his head from the syringe whenever it was offered. Even as a kitten, Houdini never once refused a meal. I found myself having to squirt a bit of food into his mouth to encourage him and once I did, he would eat. Shortly after, he began to have trouble swallowing and I came face to face with the realization it was time to keep my promise to him. A promise to let him go peacefully with dignity and to keep him from having to live any amount of time unduly suffering.
On October 14th, I lost a dear old friend and that loss is being felt not only in my heart but in the hearts of Lance, Valentino, Georgia and Pippin. Houdini’s fight with cancer was a valiant one but in the end, cancer was the victor. I’ve refrained from writing about him because I feared mere words could never pay homage to him and his influence on my life. Every time I would start, the wounds left by the loss of such a great soul reopened and words escaped me. Soon, I began to realize that not writing about him was a diservice to his memory so I picked up my private journal and let the sadness, trickle from pen to paper.
Today, we are adjusting ourselves to life without our little court jester and a new hierarchy is taking shape amongst the rest of the crew. While new routines develop as the old ones slowly fade, I still expect to see him around every corner or hear him wake me in the morning. I even catch myself sometimes playing goalie to his attempts to run for the door as I let the dogs out into the backyard and sigh softly when I remember, he is no longer physically here.
So while a life with animals is a good life indeed, the life never seems long enough. Whether death comes out of the blue in an unexpected manner or is the result of an ongoing illness, the grief is always the same; overwhelming, painful and in many cases peppered with guilt. Did I do right by my friend? Should I have waited? Did I wait too long? Was there anything I could have done differently? Could I have prevented this? Did I give him a good life? We can run these questions over and over in our minds until we make ourselves crazy. It’s all too easy to blame ourselves as we look back on their lives. Sometimes, even wandering through the memories will bring tears until the pain subsides enough to allow these very same memories to bring what they should, wistful smiles and laughter.
While I grapple with these questions and continue to grieve, deep in my heart I know I did my best for Houdini and I am grateful for every extra day we were allowed to spend together. A cat like no other, he brought so much to my life. When he was tired of fighting he showed he needed my help and I gave it to him. He went peacefully to sleep in my arms, surrounded by his friends, in his own home; an environment where he always felt safe and loved.
His physical body no longer trots to the door, belly swishing side to side to greet me but I sometimes feel his prescence just as surely as if he were standing right there next to me. One morning, three days after he passed, as the sun was rising, I felt that old sensation of being watched by him as he sat on my bedside table waiting for me to wake and for a moment, I thought his death was only a dream. When I opened my eyes, instead of Houdini, there sat Valentino (who you will meet soon) watching and waiting and when my eyes opened he meowed…loudly….something he has never done before.
A few weeks ago, a giant orange butterfly floated to me, danced it’s way alongside me to the car and then disappeared into the bushes just as quickly as it had appeared. I can’t ever remember seeing a giant orange butterfly, let alone a giant orange butterfly at the end of October so I can only conclude that perhaps he comes by from time to time to make things easier for me and to say hello in ways that I’ll recognize as solely Houdini.
I dreamed of him last night for the first time since he passed. It was one of those dreams, you know the ones, where things are so real you wake thinking it was actually happening….
See you on the other side Little Bean…
As most of you know, Houdini is struggling with Squamous Cell Carcinoma of the tongue. You can read his story here: Houdini The Court Jester . Two weekends ago, he stopped eating. Rather, he wanted to eat but his tongue no longer allowed him to lap food or water. One day he could, the next he couldn’t. Instead he began pawing at his food and water bowls, became dehydrated and lethargic. Saddened by the fact that the time had come but adamant I wouldn’t put him through suffering, I contacted a travelling vet with the intention of having her come to the house and help him onto the next life. An appointment was made and we discussed giving him fluids intravenously in the interim. I tried, he squirmed, it was a mess. Then a lightbulb went off and I attempted water orally with a needleless syringe. He lapped it readily. Maybe it would work with food? I tried. It did. I cancelled his appointment. Now he takes all his meals and water in the kitchen sink.
An internal debate with conflicting views is a part of my daily life now. Yes, he is eating and drinking again…as much has he used to eat and drink before he even got cancer but he is not able to eat and drink on his own. He must rely on me and a syringe and as his friend, I change my routine to make sure I am there to accommodate him. Is what I’m doing right? Am I prolonging his misery to selfishly keep him here? I ask this of myself every day.
The travelling vet responded to my moral dilemma with “If you were forcing him to eat and drink and fighting with him every time, then I would suggest that you rethink the measures you are taking. However, if he is happily and readily eating and drinking with the help of a syringe and he’s having more good days than bad, then go for it…why not? A friend told me to look to Houdini for my answers as he is the only one who can truly make the decision and will let me know when it’s time. And I do believe that. All of the other animals I’ve had the pleasure of accompanying me through life’s journey, had communicated their need to move on quite clearly. So I’ll wait for Houdini to do the same. And if there’s one thing he’s telling me now, it’s that he is absolutely not ready to move on yet. Instead, he continues to live up to his name. He’s back to meowing me awake in the morning, running under the dogs to get outside (where he’s now allowed hours of supervised exploration or lying in the sun) and being his old, talkative self. He’s used his intelligence to train me rather nicely when he’s in need of food or water. A cat like no other cat I know. One who happily adjusted his way of eating and drinking in order to get what he needs. While he certainly has his bad days, there’s no denying that, his good days outnumber them. If I happen to not see him sitting in the sink waiting, he scratches at the stainless steel and that, I can hear anywhere in the house. ”Um, excuse me, waitress, may I please have a syringe of water?” Houdini, you’re one brilliant baby.
Barely five weeks old when dumped on the stoop of the dog groomer I worked for, Houdini was a giant personality from the minute I laid eyes on him. He and his brother and sister were left in a small, easily opened box in the excruciatingly high temperatures of summer. It’s a wonder they didn’t escape or die of heat exhaustion before the shop owner came to open up. When I arrived that morning for work and went out back to prepare for the days clientele, I was met with their tiny yet persistent meows. Far from timid and shy, Houdini was the front man of the trio chirruping and talking to me throughout the day.
Because the kittens were only five weeks old, the store couldn’t sell them. They needed to be at least 8 weeks before they could let them go so, I took them home to “foster” for the next three weeks determined not to get attached. I was adamant in not naming them but set up the second bedroom as a temporary nursery. It wasn’t long before I failed Foster 101 and my little gray kitten became Smokey while my little black and white princess became Angeline. My little orange and white tabby was aptly named soon thereafter when he kept escaping his confines in a manner that was magically and uncomprehendingly that of Harry Houdini.
Each kitten had their own unique personalities. Angeline was as sweet as they come. My little angel. Smokey was the strong, silent type; more elusive but loved those he was familiar with. They have since passed away and while I miss them very much, this story is Houdini’s; a cat whose personality and love of life infuses every room he enters and every heart he comes in contact with like a giant sun on a warm summer’s day.
He grew from a tiny alien looking creature with eyes too large for his extremely high forehead into a lanky adolescent to a pleasantly plump adult weighing in at a grand 16lbs at one time. He’s lived his entire life amongst dogs which is probably how he acquired his dog in a cat suit attitude that has been his trademark for the past 16 and a half years. Fearless beyond belief, his confident yet friendly attitude has been instrumental in helping many a foster pup learn quite quickly not to chase the resident kitties. Because of my experiences as a liaison in a veterinary office and the things I’ve seen happen to cats allowed to come and go as they please, Houdini and his siblings have always been indoor cats.
As Houdini grew, so too did his personality. He greets me at the door alongside the dogs cheerfully meowing while they bark in excitement. He follows me from room to room, races me into the bathroom before I can close the door, comes running when called (belly swaying side to side) and we share many conversations chit chatting and cat talking away. While the other cats in the household are content with staying indoors, he makes endless efforts to hide beneath the dogs and trot out the back door as they make their way outside to play or do their business. Unfortunately for Houdini, he hasn’t quite learned to stifle his excited cries and he gives himself away almost every time he makes an attempt.
He makes me laugh and lightens my heart whenever he’s around. It’s been proven that living our life with animals lowers your blood pressure and I sometimes wonder if it’s been proven that life with them can also raise those levels. Because while I love my little friend with all my heart, there have been many times when his vocal shenanigans directly in my sleeping face, shocking me awake while perched on my bedside table at 5am randomly now and then, caused me to repeatedly place him in a cat carrier and remove him to another room lest I go completely out of my mind.
Two weeks ago, Houdini was diagnosed with a cancer called Squamous Cell Carcinoma of the tongue. Because of where it is, under his tongue at the base of it, surgery isn’t an option. The oncologist we went to said that chemotherapy wasn’t an option for this cancer and it’s location, nor has radiation therapy been used with much success. 10% of cats treated with radiation don’t make it beyond a year of treatment and very few survive past a few months. With side effects such as blistering throughout the mouth, I am unwilling to put my old friend through that for a mere and selfish few more months. He deserves much better. He deserves dignity.
Faced with the fact that my little friend has no options and overwhelmed with feelings of helplessness, I’ve spent the last two weeks going through a myriad of emotions from complete shock, to denial, to grief at knowing all too soon, I’ll be without him. That someday, I’ll be wishing he would wake me in the middle of the night just one more time. I’ve cried in private but keep a brave face in front of the animals, especially Houdini because I believe they sense and react to our emotions accordingly. I’m preparing myself for the final decision. A decision I have made before and am never comfortable with making. A decision that fills me not only with grief but with guilt. In this instance, the ultimate result of the cancer will cause him to be unable to swallow and not be able to eat because of it. The decision, in this case, will be made for me.
But until that time comes, I will take every second of the remaining time allotted to us to make his life as pleasurable as I can make it and to show him how much I love him. He gets to do whatever he wants now and is allowed outdoors under supervision (as too are Lance and Valentino now) and the only thing he seems willing (or able) to eat is raw ground chicken and turkey so that is what he gets.
Instead of eulogizing him in death, I’ll celebrate him in life because it’s in life that we can tell those we love just how much they mean to us. And that, among all the other things in life we have to do or think about, is the most important.
I love living in a home with multiple pets of different species. Not only has it taught me a lot about the communication between dogs and cats, it provides me with so many photo opportunities.