Wednesday, September 19

Our Zachary

Warning: sad stuff contained herein. I don't usually write sad stuff, so I wanted to warn those who don't do sad, are not in the place today for sad or are strongly moved by sad things. Today might not be a good day to read, here.

Zachary was our cat who died, today, in the wee hours of the morning after a brief illness. Like most others who have loss, I want to talk about it and him and I figured this was the best place to do it. I can't find any good pictures of him without some serious digging, so I'll put those in later.

Poor Zachie (or Zachary Taylor Thomas, as I called him when I was frustrated with him - after all, you need 3 names to properly address the situation, right?) had a hard end. He was pretty miserable, unable to do more than crawl a few inches, crying out piteously, not clean, unable to blink, unable to be held because movement stirred his pain... So, we took turns sitting with him in the kitchen, talking to him and stroking him, even though for the last few hours, I don't think he was aware of us... He'd started out 2 or 3 days ago with some sniffles and watery eyes and we just figured he had a cold. By yesterday afternoon, it was looking like it was more serious than that and about 10 pm, we were really concerned. It was really hard to watch such a sweet guy suffer, so after the last bout of struggle and calling out, it was kind of a relief to me (I was the only one still up, at that point) that his suffering was over. We'll miss him, but watching such a laid-back, sweet, cheery guy suffer (without being able to do anything substantial to ease it) was torture.

Now that the hard stuff is over, let's get on to Zach's life.

Late in my pregnancy with Wyl, in the end of the winter of 1998/99, we had a small, thin, scraggly mama cat with tabby stripes and almost no white patches who found our porch very attractive. We had a lot of stray cats in our neighborhood at that time and with preparations and anticipations of our first child, we didn't pay much attention. She was so thin, her vertebrae were visible from a distance and her ribs stuck out, almost painfully. She was quite a bit smaller than your average cat, so her pregnancy was hugely obvious - she was almost entirely tummy!

At that time, we had some old, '80s furniture with the Early American designs on the cushions, wide wood frame with no springs - just a mat of S springs & nylon cords underneath and wooden button/stud things here and there on the wooden frame. There was a lot of it around in the '80s - it was cheap and it had been our first set of furniture, and as we'd acquired more pieces, they'd gotten shoved to the peripheral areas and finally out onto the porch. We'd had a whole set: chair, couch, end table, coffee table & 2 lamps - " 'Skitty", as we'd named her from a character from one of the stories in CatFantastic, preferred the chair.

Like I said, it was winter and cold.
 After she'd hung out on our front porch a few days, it was clear she wasn't passing through. Being a mama, myself, I believed she needed extra attention and care. So, Dave and I found a box, lined it with styrefoam pieces we had lying around, then put in old shirts & towels and if I remember correctly, we even did something to the front to keep the wind out. We tucked that box under "her" chair and she took right to it. We put food and water out for her regularly and when it wasn't too bitter, we'd pet her and chat with her. We already had 3 cats in our house and coming up on my due date with one cat who was *very* particular about who he shared his space with, *and* as scraggly and flea-ish as she looked, we just couldn't bring her in. 

My memory of those days right before Wyl was born is kind of foggy. I don't remember if she gave birth (SIX of them in that tiny little body!) shortly before I went into the hospital or while I was in the hospital, but I *do* remember missing our furkids terribly. We'd only left them before for our honeymoon and a trip to Atlantic City in the late '80s, so it had been a while *and* we were particularly attached to one: C.C., our "baby" before Wyl was born. Anyhow, I remember asking (pestering, really) Dave to care for them each time he left the hospital (don't forget to make sure they have extra food! "We don't know how long it will be until someone can get back to them! Extra water, too! Talk to them! Give them extra attention!" and on and on... I remember being concerned about 'Skitty and her kittens as my own baby was working on being born. All I could think was that it was *cold* - I completely disregarded our snug box and the fact they had fur (and it was late March, so not really all *that* cold). 

After we'd settled in with our new baby, I'd spend what time I could trying to play with the adorable kittens on the porch (at one time, she'd moved them to the big bush across the street - one of the busiest in town! - and I was frantic), but they were frightened of people. We had a very old (1940s?), big stove on the front porch, having 2 at the time and not wanting to throw it a way (I have a problem with not being able to toss out something functional or that might be appreciated by someone else). This became the kitten's play place & refuge. Whenever we'd appear on the porch unexpectedly, they'd scramble for the underside and back of that stove and climb up in the inner recesses of it! You could look and look and still never find them. I'd have Wyl in his versatile baby carrier and we'd sit on the porch, soaking in some sun and they'd slowly work their way out. It was rare if they'd come within petting reach, though sometimes I was able to take advantage of one's distraction and scoop it up to snuggle and pet. They'd not scratch or bite, though they would escape at first chance. Never, in those first months, did they ever show signs of warming to us. As much as 'Skitty would wind our ankles and purr like a can of shaken marbles when we petted her, those kittens did *not* like people. 

While they still resided on the front porch, 3 of them disappeared. They were too young to strike out on their own, so we can only assume that they died some how. Never saw any signs of how or where. Who was left were 2 black-and-white tuxedo and 1 beautifully vibrant tabby with pristine white chest, belly, mittens and tailtip. The 2 black-and-whites clearly had a father in the strays of the neighborhood. He had a white face with a little black Charlie Chaplin-type mustache, and so we called him Chaplin. His two girls who lived with us were Charlie and Little Tramp, whom we called L.T. for short. But the tabby just defied naming. We couldn't think of anything and his personality was so mild, he didn't name himself. And of all 6 originals, he was quite obviously the runt. So tiny, so behind his siblings in development, speed... it even seemed his brain was less developed. Not obviously, just hints here and there. Maybe we thought he wouldn't make it, since he was the runt, I don't know, but we had the hardest time coming up with a name for that guy.

Eventually, 'Skitty moved them to the back porch. I was relieved. That road we live on is highly trafficked and people very frequently do far more than the speed limit (25 mph at the time) and we'd had plenty of cats die on it. 'Skitty was an *awesome* hunter - probably the best I've seen. She thinned our bird population (as a non-morning person, I was grateful!) and harassed the squirrels who liked chewing their way into our attic. We have a peach tree right off the back porch that used to have a branch that went up over the roof and she'd *fly* right up that tree to the roof and catch squirrels. The only thing she left was the fuzzy tail. Oh! How we'd praise her for getting those nasty, wood-chewing house-invaders! I kept trying to win over those kittens, without much success.

Eventually, I hit on the idea of Reddi Whip. I shared it enough with our indoor cats that they *knew* the sound of the stuff coming out of the nozzle! That "ffsssshhhhhhtt" would be immediately followed by a sound of scrambling kittyfeet and pleading cries. So cute! So, I hit on the idea of using whipped cream to befriend the kittens. At first, I'd spray it when they were near and could see what I was doing. That sound is a lot like an angry cat hissing, so at first, they'd take off into the greenery of the back yard. Eventually, with their mama begging, they'd tentatively venture over and found that sound equaled a creamy treat! Over time, I had them licking it off of my fingers. I'd put a spotch on my pinky, my middle finger & my thumb, so each one had their own portion (teat?) and they'd lick away and then when it got thin or was gone, they'd bite with their sharp little kitten teeth. :~) I'd refill. Slowly (over days & weeks), I worked my way from the edge of the porch to the door, then left the door open during whipped cream time, then slowly into the house. I'd leave the door open so they didn't feel trapped and they could go out whenever they wanted. When they were comfortable with that, I started closing the door for a few moments and worked it up to longer periods. They'd stay inside for a bit, looking around, but when they asked to go back out, I'd let them out. The later it got in the year, the more they'd stay in the house. 'Skitty never did come in.

Then, sometime in September, the tabby disappeared. I think at that point, we were calling him "the boy" or something vague like that. The kittens had been spending an hour or two in the house at that point, and sometimes, I'd even have to insist they go back out. They always came when I sprayed the cream, though, and very often when I just called "kittykittykittykittykittykittykittykittykittykitty!!" I didn't think very much of it the first day, but we casually looked for him. The next day, I was pretty concerned. We looked and called and nothing. The third day, I was really upset. I asked Dave to go look in weird places we'd never think to look, to search very thoroughly. I don't remember, now, who thought to look under the car, but there he was. All curled up in a hollow in the dirt. He looked terrible. He was dirty and his whiskers were broken off, he had missing teeth and he was sickly looking and not very responsive. Poor little kitten! We'd had no idea what happened!! I tried to nurse him to health, myself, but he wouldn't take *water*! I had no idea what to do with him if I couldn't even get water into him, so we took him to the vet.

Well!! The vet pointed out that all his whiskers were the same length and not frayed at the ends. She said someone had *cut* all of his whiskers off!! Who would do such a horrible thing?! She examined him and I don't remember if she did an xray or not, but as she examined his mouth, we saw that *all* of his teeth between his canines *and* his two canines on the bottom were gone! She treated his dehydration with a shot of saline under the skin in the middle of his back and told us his little, baby lower jaw was *broken*!! Eventually, we put 2 and 2 together and realized that someone had abused this poor little sweet thing! They'd cut off his whiskers to disorient him, then either hit him with a bat or something *or* kicked him in the face!! We were horrified. And so sad. I was so grateful to the vet, Dr. Hanson, who was doing her residency at the Animal Hospital, I made her his namesake. If you'll remember, "Mmmmm Bop" was at its peak about then, and the band was Hanson, and Zach was my favorite, so that's how the nameless little kitten got his name - finally!

The vet had given us (expensive!!) medicated food and instructions to mix it 1/2 and 1/2 with water and put it in a syringe and squirt it into his mouth so many times a day (I forget, now). Since he hadn't met the indoor cats, yet (we always shooed them out of the kitchen when the kittens came in), we isolated him in the bathroom to keep him safe. We spent time in there keeping him company and using a damp wash cloth to keep him clean. The thing that amazed me the most is how attached he got to us. He trusted us from the moment we pulled him out from under the car like we were his mama and daddy. Like none of them had ever trusted us. He curled up and slept on us in the bathroom. He snuggled us and mewed so quietly and begged for our attention. Not only was it unusual for these 3 kittens, but after some human being had treated him like that?!??!! I was amazed. We fed him that special food and water mix and as he healed, he *grew*!! And grew, and grew and GREW!

Eventually, he outgrew his sisters. Goodness, he outgrew most other cats we'd ever known! (All but C.C.'s papa, who was a *huge* orange tomcat, the size of which I've never seen again.) His personality shown through, too. He was just the gentlest, sweetest thing. He often stumbled or lurched into things or had some other equilibrium mishap, but we chalked that up to his injury... Until it continued long after he was healed. Maybe there was permanent damage... Maybe that's just who he was. He loved to play - especially with feathered toys!! I think he got some hunting skill from his mama, because he caught anything that ventured into the house (birds, a couple times and mice a couple times - the disadvantages of an old house!!) and when he played with those feather-on-a-stick toys - !! Oh, *my* was he *fierce*! The intense concentration on his face and that killer look - he was just a different cat in hunter mode.

Yet, as big as he was, until the end, he never did have much of a voice. Thankfully, he only rarely got closed in a room, because you could stand right outside the solid wood door and not hear him unless his nose was under the crack of the door. He had the softest "mew" that always sounded pleading or apologetic. Sometimes, his mouth would open and he'd clearly be making his signature call, but you couldn't hear anything - inches from him and nothing! His purr was more substantial, though. He'd curl up on your feet or beside you or on your lap and just *touching* you was enough to set off that smooth, steady purr. His eyes would half-close in contentment and you'd *swear* a little smile would spread on his face... Eventually, he'd be so enthralled with your stroking him that he'd be unable to resist rolling over on his back so he could get a gentle belly rub. <3 font="font">

I don't remember him ever scratching or biting in play. He'd reach out a paw with sheathed claws and touch your hand, but he wouldn't bat at your or hit you with his claws. He was *so* gentle - with everyone, not just the kids! Though, for a long time, he was quite nervous and shy around Wyl. Wyl tended to move unexpectedly, lurch off in unexpected directions, yell, jump, run and just overwhelm the cats. But, as Wyl got older and came to understand this other beings in his home, he gentled and got more careful around them and he quite doted on Zachie. They were good buds.

After that, Zach was definitely an indoor cat. We wouldn't let him out and take a chance on something happening again. He was pretty content with that idea, himself. His sisters spent a good portion of their days indoors (it was pretty cold by the time he healed) and his mother had rejected him when he came home from the hospital, so he was a housecat after that. We had another incident a few months after that, when we lost L.T. and then Charlie became an indoor cat. She rather balked at that, and we still have a few times a year where she'll sneak outside for a day.

Zachie was always calm, always sweet, sometimes funny, always a good guy to share something with: whether it was a secret, a lap, a morsel, a snuggle, a nap or some play, he remained steady, calm, sweet, gentle, lovable *and* loving. His passing will leave a big hole in all our lives, but we are ever so grateful for the wonderful 13 years we got to share with him. <3 font="font">

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