Monday, October 2, 2017

Reggie: End of an Era

He was our plumpest, our most enthusiastic eater, and our cat with consistently good blood-work.  

And now he's gone, too.

Really no warning this time.  No hiding under the bed.  No dicey vet visits to give us a heads up.  One day, Reggie was fine, and the next, he just didn't want his entire plate of food.  Usually, when cats are as sick as Reggie turned out to be, they stop eating, start vomiting, stop being able to walk.  

Not Reg.  We just thought he'd decided the food wasn't his favorite.  He liked it enough to eat it, but not enough to finish it.  After a few days of this, we took him to the vet on Monday afternoon.  The vet examined him, found a benign growth on his jaw, and commented that he really looked pretty good for a 16-year-old cat and he didn't expect to see anything particularly alarming on his blood-work, which we were scheduled to get back the following day.

The next day, we received a call from the vet's office:  Reggie's kidney values were sky-high.  How he was still standing was beyond them.  He needed to be brought in immediately for fluids.  

We dropped everything and took him.

For two straight days, they pulled out all the stops trying to save him.  Reggie was on anti-nausea meds and appetite stimulants, as well as a cornucopia of other drugs, each one prescribed to fix the side-effect that was created by the previous treatment.  It's not the vet's fault--it's just that with cats, these things quickly become moving targets, and a bad medical situation can spiral rapidly out of control.  One medical treatment gave way to another until by Thursday night, he was profoundly anemic.  The vet wasn't sure he would even make it to Savannah if we made the decision to take him to the emergency vet down there.  And even if we made it, our chances of a positive outcome were diminishing dramatically.

The decision was heart-rending, but it seemed like the right one.  He lay on my lap, tucking his head into my inner elbow.  We told him how incredibly important he is to us, how much we love him and how there would never be another Reg-Roo.  We cried until our eyes ached.  Then we let him go.

It feels almost impossible now.  Reggie was supposed to outlive all the other boys in the crew.  His appreciation of mush-time never wavered, no matter how many times he heard the song or how many times he ate Indoor Turkey and Potato.  He licked us awake every morning, and snuggled between the two of us every night.  At least, he did after some of the other buddies moved over and gave him room to be king of the hill for the first time.

Reggie did much better in the role of Big Brother than he had in the role of Little Brother.  He was patient and kind with the younger buddies.  His territorial marking all but ended once there weren't cats that were higher on the totem pole in the house.  He was content just to get along with everyone, throwing out the occasional Zen-judo-master moves when Cooper wanted to play or hanging out with Coco on the bed when the other buddies weren't giving her the time of day.

It doesn't feel like he's really gone.  Reggie was special in a way that would be hard to describe.  If Wanda was the soul of the house, Reggie was the anchor.  He was the one who kept everyone honest when the older buddies were alive, and grounded once they had passed.  So much of our world had been crafted around him in so many ways, small and large, that we are a bit set adrift without him here.  We come home at night expecting to see him sitting on the couch, eyes like a kitten, whiskers forward, waiting on us to sing the song and serve him mush.  Sean's voice catches as he realizes again that he can no longer sing the special part of Reggie's song:  "Reggie gets his very own mush, very own mush, very own mush.  Reggie gets his very own mush so nobody else can eat Reggie's mush but Reggie."  He created that extra part of the Kitty Mush song because Reggie had to be closed in a room to keep him from eating the other cats' mush, but this way Reggie got to feel like we were protecting his mush from the other cats.  We know it's silly, but it was meaningful to us and I'm 100% certain it was meaningful to Reggie, too.  We realized after the fact that Reggie had more special songs than all of the previous five buddies.  Maybe more than all five put together.  That's got to count for something.

Losing Reggie has been hard enough, but we realized as we continued to process his loss that by losing Reggie, we also lost ties to all of the other buddies who meant so much to us.  Reggie was the last official tie to Elroy.  He was the only one of this crew who knew the other cats when they were young, and the only one to live in six different houses with us.  He was a cosmic string connecting us to our past lives with our buddies and leading us into the future with the new crew.  The Fates have now severed that string, and we have to figure out how to move along without him.

Reggie's passing marks the end of an era.  I remember having a fleeting thought when I was young and foolish about how surely having six cats would make the loss of one of them less painful than having only one or two and losing them.  I had no idea what a ridiculous notion that was at the time.  Having six cats didn't make the loss of any of them one iota easier.  If anything, it compounded the loss because of the intricate connections between each one of us, and the fact that we all had to grieve one another, in our own ways and in our own time.  Losing one of six doesn't make the pain one-sixth as bad as it could have been.  It makes it six times worse than it might have been because each cat is so different and each one brings so many specific things into our lives and into the whole.  It's the real reason I started this blog some eight years ago.  The whole is much greater than the sum of its parts. 

We'll make new memories with the remaining three--of course we will.  Now they're like "The Buddies Eclectic:  The Next Generation."  I realized a few days ago that a more appropriate term for them might be The Boo Crew since we seem to call all of them "boo" these days.  And this is absolutely not a referendum on which group of cats was "better" or who we loved the most.  We love them all, more or less equally.  It's just that the first six were really extra-special somehow, maybe because they were our first six.  They were weird and wonderful and...well...eclectic.  Maybe it's more about who Sean and I have become as people than about the cats themselves. This group is awesome and all, but the magic that was created when we eight became a family is not something that is ever likely to be replicated.  We were blessed in ways we could not have imagined to have experienced the love of those perfect little creatures.  And even the most remarkable, enduring things in life eventually have to end.  We have to be okay with that.

We have to face the sad truth that Reggie and the original six Buddies Eclectic are no more.  

Long live Reggie.

And long live the Buddies Eclectic.

In Loving Memory:  Reggie Dennis 2001-2017

Wednesday, August 23, 2017

A Tale of Two Choppers

I might not have mentioned earlier that CoCo went to the vet a few weeks ago and didn't exactly get a clean bill of health.  Turns out CoCo had a raging double ear infection.  And a heart murmur.  And tape worms.  And some pretty bad gum recession.  She was handling it all like a champ, but she was still a bit of a mess.  

We got meds for the ear infection and tape worms, and did a full blood workup for her.  Her blood work, interestingly enough, actually looked kind of good, particularly after all she'd been through.  Unfortunately, though, there was no avoiding another trip back to the vet for a dental.  

We were hoping not to have to do that so soon, because she still doesn't trust us, or at least she doesn't trust us every day.  Some days, she cuddles with me, flips on her back and purrs and kneads in my underarm for fifteen minutes at a time.  Other days, we're so scary she has to leave the room and trot under the bed the second we walk in.  That seems to be the majority of the days.  

So, taking her back to the vet and enduring her wrath for several days (weeks?  months?) didn't seem like a happy prospect.  We were pleasantly surprised when she made it through her dental with flying colors and only one tiny extraction with no stitches, AND she came back to the house and spent the next two days glued to my side.  She literally couldn't get enough petting and loving and cuddling.  It was kind of amazing.  

Things are back to normal now, though.  Oh, well.

Meanwhile, back at the ranch, the day before this all happened last week, I looked up to see Cooper running through the house with the "I've-got-something-in-my-mouth-that-I'm-not-supposed-to-have" stance that we've come to recognize immediately.  This was exhibited with an added dollop of "and-I-don't-care-what-you-say-I'm-not-letting-go-of it."  Turns out it was a VERY.  LARGE.  SKINK.  

When I say "large," I mean that the middle part of it was roughly the diameter of a quarter, or maybe a half-dollar.  I know this, because the back half of the poor little buddy had fallen prey to Cooper's choppers, and he was essentially gone from the back legs back.  I've seen a lizard drop its tail many, many times.  This one dropped the entire back half of its body, and it didn't appear to be voluntarily.  The fact that it was still alive was some kind of miracle, but there it was, breathing frantically in the corner of our lanai.

But before it could make it to the corner of the lanai, it was still in Cooper's mouth.  So I yelled at him--loud.  There were four buddies on the porch that day, and they all simultaneously froze, except for Reggie, who I think just kept sleeping.  Cooper looked at me defiantly and didn't drop the skink.  I may have mentioned before that blue skinks can be poisonous to cats.   In Cooper, they can cause serious breathing issues, and in other cats they can cause paralysis and sometimes even death.  So I yelled again.  Louder.  I clapped my hands.  I loudly called him a bad kitty.  The other cats continued to stare at me as if I had taken leave of my senses, and perhaps I had.

Finally, Cooper dropped the poor skink, who then made it to his place over in the corner.  Cooper dove for him.  I dove for Cooper.  I scruffed him and hauled him off the porch, hoping the other cats would follow.  No such luck.  The girls sat there staring at me with their big blue eyes getting bigger by the minute, but were too scared to leave.  Reggie just snoozed.  

So with Cooper watching raptly from the living room, I grabbed a cup and piece of cardboard and tried to get the skink into the cup.  He could still move pretty well and was running all over the right side of the lanai with no back-end, but I eventually corralled him into the cup and escorted him out to the area by the pond.  I really hope he made it.  If he didn't die of blood loss and shock, I was afraid he was going to die of a little reptilian heart attack.  

I checked the house thoroughly for the remains of the little buddy, but found none.  My guess is that Coopie had already disposed of it.  We watched him closely for the rest of the night to make sure he had no issues breathing.  Everything was completely normal, except for one thing:  Cooper's feelings were hurt.  He pouted the rest of the night.  I don't think he minded being yelled at, and I don't think he minded being scruffed.  But I DO think he minded being called a bad kitty.  So for the rest of the night, I kept kissing him on his head and telling him over and over that he is a good kitty, and that I didn't mean what I said earlier.  I told him that, from now on, he had to fight his instincts to kill things and just watch them instead.  I said he would be a much better kitty if he did that instead of killing things.  He eventually seemed to pull out of his funk and start acting normally again, like the confident, happy, playful kitty that he is.  And he had no breathing issues that night, thank goodness.

Interesting postscript:  A few days later, we found a tiny tree frog (also potentially poisonous) on our lanai.  Actually, Cooper found it for us.  But instead of us prying it out of his mouth, he was just sitting there--watching it.  I don't know if he actually listened to what I said or not, but at least this one time, he decided to sit this one out.

Good kitty.

Sunday, July 16, 2017

The Peaceable Kingdom

Isn't it weird how you just kind of get used to something, and then you think that's the way it always is?  Like if you have a large number of cats all living together under the same roof, then maybe it's just natural that they wouldn't all get along?  

We got so used to the shifting alliances and the vying for power in our original crew of six, that it just seemed normal.  Or if not normal, at least the normal landscape of a reality TV show.  Even though Wanda was always the alpha, you'd never know it from the way Otto, Mister and Reggie seemed to always be vying for the title.  It was a fairly regular occurrence to hear Reggie in some far corner of whatever room you weren't in, screaming like he was being disemboweled.  When you would run in there, inevitably you would find Reggie backed into the corner with Otto looming over him, getting ready to swat him.  Usually, it was pretty obvious that Otto hadn't even touched him yet, but just the threat of touching him was enough to send Reggie into "mom-he's-touching-me" conniptions.  Or, all the times that Mister would go slinking through a room while all the other males lined up around him to pounce on the creature that was "moving like prey" through the house.  See and for more details on these hijinks.

Here's a handy guide so you can keep track of who got along with whom:

Otto wasn't a big fan of any cat who wasn't his sister and Siamese.  Consequently, Mister, Mango and Reggie often felt his wrath and poor little Elroy was mostly tolerated.  

Mango kind of felt the same way about everyone.  They were all basically okay but she hissed at them anyway.

Mister couldn't stand Otto or Reggie but tolerated Mango, Elroy, and Wanda, particularly after Wanda saved his life once:

Reggie truly loathed Otto, at least in his younger years, and disliked Mister pretty consistently.  (It's a weird stroke of irony that it was the three of them who managed to survive after the others had passed.)  He actually seemed to like Mango and had no problems with Wanda, and he and Elroy were bestest play-buddies.  

Wanda was the alpha, so she had equal respect for everyone.  She would also put anyone in their place who, by all rights, needed it:  For some reason, I couldn't find the original post that this references, but I'll keep looking.

And Elroy, you will already know if you've spent any time reading this blog, unequivocally loved everyone.  Otto was his favorite (don't tell Reggie), but Reggie was a close second, with Wanda, Mango and Mister coming in next.

So it's weird.  We were looking around the living room the other night, noticing that everyone was calm and peaceful together, and we didn't even have a wood stove on.  Zelda and Cooper are best play-buddies, Coco sleeps with Reggie on the bed (not touching yet, but give it time), and she has licked Cooper on the head a few times.  She hangs out with Zelda on the porch and Reggie spends time with Zelda as well.  

They all get along.  It's weird.

That's not to say we don't still hear caterwauling in the middle of the night after Cooper has gotten too wound up and is playing with Zelda or Coco too hard.  He's not trying to be a bully--he just gets over-excited and doesn't always know his own strength.  He actually has some success playing with Reggie, who gamely takes him down by using the Taekwondo moves he's perfected from years of fighting with the older cats.  Reggie has adapted much better to being the big brother than he did to being the little brother, or maybe he's just gained some chill and wisdom from his sixteen trips around the sun.  All I know is that the disemboweling shrieks seem to be a thing of the past.

So now we have a Peaceable Kingdom.  I wouldn't have believed it could happen until it did.  I still miss terribly all the other buddies who aren't with us physically anymore, and always will, but Da Buddies Eclectic 2.0 is working out very nicely, too.  It's certainly a lot quieter.

Sunday, June 25, 2017

One Big Happy Sleepy Family

I thought it would eventually happen, or at least I hoped it would:  that moment where all the buddies were sleeping with us in the same bed at the same time.  It seemed pretty unlikely in the immediate future, what with Coco still running under the guest bed sometimes because we're still scary, and Zelda not being into the whole "cuddling" thing, and Cooper having the zoomies all the time.

So the other night, when we turned in for bed two hours past my normal bedtime, we got a little concerned when we didn't find Coco right away.  She wasn't on the guest bed, and she wasn't under it either.  It had been super-humid, so we'd closed up the house early and turned on the A/C, but it had been hours since we'd done that, so we were a little afraid she'd been stuck out on the screened-in porch the whole time.  As Sean was checking out there, I went into our bedroom, and found her lying on our bed (I'm pretty sure for the first time), as nicely as you'd please.  It was like she was making a point that it was way past our bed time and time to cuddle already.  I crept into the bed slowly so as not to spook her, and Sean did the same, followed closely by Reggie.  Zelda jumped up on Sean's side and lay down at his feet, book-ending Coco on the other side.  Then Cooper jumped up and curled up around my hair and snuggled in tight.  For a minute, I was sure I must be sleeping and this must just be a dream, but it wasn't.  We really did have all four buddies sleeping in the bed at the same time, and in record time.  

Sweet dreams, indeed.

Thursday, June 22, 2017

Well-Orchestrated Sneak Attack

Followers of this blog may remember how patient Cooper can be from the posts about when he joined our family and camped out on the kitty tree on a level below Zelda for hours, hoping that she would eventually get used to him and play with him.  The cat is preternaturally patient, in a way I didn't even realize cats could be.  At least not the domesticated ones who aren't having to sneak up on a gazelle to get their food.  Cooper kind of breaks the mold, though.

I was in the bathroom this morning and Zelda wanted to be petted.  She kept winding around my feet asking for loving, and I gave it to her.  I was getting ready for work, and so I wasn't focused on her, but I had enough awareness to know she was there and looking for attention.  For about a minute, she left the room, then she came back and started winding around my legs again.  Bear in mind, this whole process took at least ten minutes.  

She wandered into the bathtub part of the bathroom and out of the corner of my eye, I saw her leap back suddenly.  Then there was a brief scuffle.  I was initially alarmed, because what could possibly be in our bathroom that was large enough and scary enough to put Zelda on her back feet?  Then I saw Zelda fly out of the room like she was shot out of a cannon, followed closely by Cooper.  Apparently, he'd been waiting in there for just the right moment to jump out and pounce on her.  Who knows how long he'd been in there?  

The cat deserves a high five, or at least some some extra mush this morning.  Never underestimate the power of a very patient cat who's determined to play with someone.

Sunday, June 18, 2017

Steady Progress

It's hard to know where to begin with Coco.  She's awesome, but she's also a bit of a mess.  She's tiny, but she has so much hair she looks like a walking carpet.  Her legs are already short, not unlike Zelda's, but she's got so much hair covering them that it looks like they're about three inches long.

And I'm completely smitten.

Coco's evolution with us has been two steps forward and one step back.  It's not surprising, really.  Coco is a refugee from a pretty intense hoarding situation.  Without going into too many details, let's just say that the cat comes to us with quite a bit of baggage.  The fact that she trusts us at all and that she spends every night cuddling with me is some kind of miracle.  And if she spends a lot of time under the bed, getting the lay of the land, I think that's just to be expected.  I can only imagine the horrors she endured as part of a hoarded colony of cats.  I try not to think about it too much.   

The important thing is that she's demonstrating more confidence and seems happier more of the time.  She's spending less time under the bed now, and her cuddling has stopped seeming as needy and just seems like she kind of enjoys spending time with us now.  She still gazes at me with that adoring look that Wanda and Otto used to give, unless I do something really scary like stand up too suddenly or walk into a room.  (Seriously, we considered it a milestone when we could walk into the guest bedroom without her diving headfirst under the bed.)

It's pretty much the exact opposite of when we introduced Zelda (see, in that she's the one under the bed and everyone else is carrying on as though nothing has happened.  But there's something about the flash in her eyes and the sauciness of her step that makes me feel like it's only a matter of time before she comes out from under the bed permanently, and when she does, watch out world. 

Thursday, June 1, 2017

Reflections on Loss, and a New Beginning

We lost Otto one year ago today.  I'm astonished that so much time has passed.  It went by in an instant.  It seems like just yesterday, Sean was cradling him like a baby in his arms, and taking him for adventures outside and watching wildlife together.  For that matter, it seems like just yesterday that Otto and Wanda were cuddling on the bed together, and Otto was smacking Mister on the rear-end as he ran by.  The memories are still so strong we can feel them in our gut.

But time marches on nonetheless.  And whether we want it or not, change will always come. But with it comes the opportunity for new beginnings.

Meet Coco, the newest member of our small family:

Coco is a little shy--okay, a LOT shy--but I think with enough love and patience, she's going to be a great addition to the crew.  Cooper has already sent out the Welcome Wagon, and Zelda and Reg are giving her space but remaining open to the possibility of friendship.  I know that she seems enormous in this picture, but she's really a little wisp of a thing, with adorable tufts of hair that poke out from the bottom of her paws, and the softest fur I've ever felt on a cat.  She likes her belly rubbed (a bunch) and goes into a trance while kneading, much like Wanda used to do.  

I know, I know...she was supposed to be the shop cat, but for reasons I feel like should belong to another post, she hasn't shown that her temperament would be suited for that.  She's perfectly suited for being our buddy though.  Here's hoping this is the start of another beautiful friendship.