And then there was one…

Last night I returned home from a day trip skiing at Seven Springs to find my cat, Cleo, dead. She was curled up in one of the cat beds in my bedroom, as though she were just sleeping. I knew something was wrong when I walked into my bedroom, calling her name, and she did not respond with her customary “Ew” nor did I hear the purring that always began the moment anyone said her name.

I guess I’d been prepared for this for the last year, since she was first diagnosed with diabetes (last March?).  At first, I didn’t think much about how it would decrease her life span, only that it caused a major inconvenience in my life to have to give her twice daily shots, and find someone to do it whenever I went out-of-town. I thought I would have trouble learning to give her shots, but it turned out to be quite easy.  I was annoyed at how much the diabetic food cost. Still, I was up for the challenge of taking care of her. For the most part.

The medicine never really seemed to work. She still was urinating a lot more than normal (always in the litter box, good kitty!).  Whenever I did manage to give her a glucose reading, it was usually too low.  I took her to the vet once and we adjusted her medication down from 3 units to 2. But she still didn’t seem to improve much. Taking her to the vet was a hassle, and I probably should have kept trying, but I didn’t. I didn’t take readings from her either because I couldn’t consistently get a good reading. The only place you have to prick a cat to get a blood sample is the ear and it’s EXTREMELY HARD to get enough blood to get a reading.

So my laziness, in the end, probably killed her. I feel horrible. Like a negligent parent. Someone more responsible might have made her live longer. Someone less selfish with less of a social life.

Cleo’s health had been deteriorating for the last month or so. She stopped grooming herself and I couldn’t brush out all the snarls in her hair. I had to move the litter box upstairs into my office because she twice pooped on the floor of the office while I was in there. I hate having to bring litter boxes into human living space in fear of being that crazy cat lady with a smelly house. So that annoyed me too.

Over the last several days, she seemed even worse than normal. She was even more listless and she seemed like she had a cold. I heard lots of sneezing and her eyes were a little runny. She didn’t seem well. I think I felt it coming to some degree.

It wasn’t very surprising that she didn’t greet me when I came into the house. She didn’t always do that any more. But she usually ambled over to the kitchen by the time I’d taken off my coat. When she hadn’t done that, I immediately started looking around for her. This wasn’t the first time I’d done this in panic. Usually, though, it turned out she just hadn’t felt like walking out to greet me. The bedroom was the first place I always looked. At first, I thought she was just cuddled there as usual. But then, I knew, when she didn’t look up when I turned on the light.

I touched her, she was still a little warm. But her eyes were half-open and, admittedly, there was some oozing of some kind around them. I touched her back several times to feel for the rise and fall of breathing just to be sure she wasn’t just sick. But I knew.

Still, there is a disbelief when a person encounters something dead. You have to be sure. You have to keep checking, just to make sure you didn’t make the wrong determination. So I went back about three or four times to touch her body, half afraid of “death coodies”–things I didn’t want to see about a body that might be beginning to decompose.

After 15 minutes of trying to figure out if I should call an emergency vet to take her in right away for cremation–because the thought of having a dead body around my house creeped me out even more–I got an empty cardboard box from my closet. I lifted her out of her cat bed. Her body was stiff and stuck into the O-shape of a curled cat. Of course she was dead.  She hated being picked up and if she were alive, she’d surely have struggled. I set her into the box, assuring myself that because she didn’t move to get out of the box, she really, really was dead. I then left her in the box for 20 minutes more, just to be sure, as I furiously corresponded with my friend Mindy on Facebook to figure out what I was supposed to do now. Thankfully, Mindy talked me out of going immediately to the emergency vet and convinced me to wrap Cleo in two garbage bags and put her somewhere safe outside. I set Cleo on the work bench in the garage, worrying that it wasn’t cold enough in the garage to prevent her from decomposing… and smelling up the place… (God, why am I so selfish about everything?)

Once I did all that, I teared up a bit. I didn’t full-on cry. I don’t know yet if I’m going to do that.I felt bad because when Tanya died in 2006, I bawled my eyes out in a private examination room in the vet’s office where they left me alone with her recently dead body (she stopped breathing after having some sort of breathing problem that caused me to rush her to an emergency vet at midnight). Tanya was not even an affectionate cat. Cleo and Nicki had always been my favorites because they were affectionate and liked to be around people. Tanya was like a stereotypical cat–aloof and temperamental. Yet I cried buckets of tears for her.

Maybe it was because Tanya was Mike’s cat. They’d always had a special relationship with each other. Mike was the only one Tanya would let approach her on his terms. Mike loved her fierce independence and stand-offishness… Maybe those were  just a quality he enjoyed in the female gender (for he picked me as a mate).

I guess when Tanya died, I felt like yet another piece of Mike was gone from me. I loved that cat more for what she represented to me than what she was. I was taking care of something of Mike’s that he loved. It made me feel closer to Mike. I didn’t realize it at the time, but when I called my mom at 2am to tell her that Tanya had died, my mom pointed out that it was Mike’s birthday that day. Tanya died on Mike’s birthday. Serendipity, I suppose.

All of the cats were our children, though. Nicki and Tanya came with Mike–they were a set before I even knew Mike. Cleo, however, was our adopted cat–the one we got together shortly after we were married–after days and days of searching through kennels and shelters for “the perfect kitty.”  We always referred to our cats the way one would their children. We even gave them their own mailboxes on our voice mail. So the loss of each and every cat should punch me the same way.

We found Cleo at the Humane Society of Greater Akron. We loved her because she had spunk. They had kept her in the room with cats who can socialize with other cats but she was in a cage by herself that had a hammock. She was always a butterball. She sat on that hammock with a look of nonchalance on her face. She seemed calm and wise. I pet her for a little bit, then moved on to look at other cages, but she let out a quick meow that sounded to me very spiteful, like “Fine! Go over there! I don’t care.”

I turned back to see her sitting in the hammock, the same look of nonchalance. I fell in love with her at that moment.

Mike told me I could name her (since he had named his own cats already) and then he urged me, with a wicked grin, the name her Aurora because he hated that name and didn’t want me to use it for a future daughter. I refused to fall into that trap and called her Cleo because the little white spot on her black chin reminded me of an Egyptian empress like I saw in pictures of tombs. Okay, that was a little stereotypical, but it’s true. We ended up nicknaming her “Boogie” because we thought she had a “Boog face” which was something of an inside reference from my family… (My dad used to call a face I made the “boog” face.)

My dad called Cleo Jabba (after Jabba the Hutt). My friend Gwenn called her Pillow Kitty. My cousin Angy’s husband called her Roley-Poley Kitty. She reminded me of Miss Cleo from those late-night astrology commercials and I used to say that if Cleo was human, she’d look exactly like Miss Cleo. She was the favorite of at least two of my ex-boyfriends and possibly a third. Everyone loved her spunk. When I tried to tease my cats with a mini remote control car that my ex-boyfriend T gave me for Christmas, Tanya and Nicki ran away. But Cleo, she walked right up to it and knocked it over with a paw. She wasn’t going to take no crap from a little remote control car!

I did love her. I’m sorry that she possible died from low blood sugar or something awful. Preventable with a more diligent parent? Probably. I should have done a better job of taking care of her. I should have struggled to help her lose weight way back when she started to get fatter. I should have leash trained her and made her walk around. It would certainly have helped get her used to the outside world so that I could take her to the vet without her crapping in the carrier every time.

I got the impression, though, that Cleo was a little agoraphobic. She never tried to leave the house and when I did set her outside every once in a while, she would moan like an overwhelmed person until I put her back in the house. She hated every move I made–both across country and across towns. She was probably happy when I finally settled down in one place in Ohio in 2005.

I don’t know if I will cry. I will say that the house seemed kind of different this morning. Like some part of it was missing. I hugged Nicki fiercely to me last night in bed, even though she inevitably drove me nuts in the morning as she always has. Nicki wouldn’t stop pestering me this morning as I got ready for work. So I stopped and hugged her a few more times before I left. It’s just me and her now. I’ve come a long way from a small condo that once contained a husband and wife and their three cats to a new house where only a sometimes lonely widow and a single, waving cat remain. Nothing ever stays the same, does it?

I admit that the night was a little rough. I kept thinking about the box in the garage. What if I’d made a mistake? That always comes to haunt you when you face to death, the acceptance of the reality of it. I imagined that I was wrong, that she was merely in a deep sleep, and that I’d come to the garage in the morning to find claw marks from where she’d tried to get out but couldn’t and suffocated in the plastic of the bags. There was such a spell of relief that washed over me when I walked out into the garage this morning to find bagged box exactly as I’d left it.

I put the package containing Cleo in my car. In the trunk. Because, again, I was worried about smell, but it was an open hatch back so it’s not like we were separated. I drove to the vet before work. I paid to have her cremated and the ashes returned to me. I’m going to put some of them in my current backyard and then save the remaining for a future trip up Mt. Elbert. She was still Mike’s cat, after all, and he’d like to have what remains of her physical form with what remained of his. I put all of Tanya’s ashes there in 2008. Call me sentimental. Even an agnostic feels the need to complete an unfinished circle.

2 thoughts on “And then there was one…

  1. Thanks, Sarah!! I love pets… but it’s so sad that they cant live as long as we do. I will be very sad when Nicki goes. The only thing that comforts me is the thought that I give these cats better lives than they could have had anywhere else. They are so pampered and loved. They never have to worry about anything. Wish I were so lucky! ;)

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