Tue 15 Aug, 2017 04:58 pm
One cold and wet winter day in late 2000 (cold for Okinawa, anyway), my wife Sumako and son Motoki came home late from a hamburger place in a local shopping mall. Despite cold heavy rain beating almost deafeningly on the cars, Motoki heard a raucous howling coming from the bushes in front of the hamburger place as they were getting into the car. He found the cat, soaking wet and making a rough sound that might have been a meow on better days.
She didn't run or struggle as Motoki lifted her out of the bushes in the pouring rain and took her to the shelter of the car. In fact she seemed to be waiting for someone to pick her up.
“She has a lot of heart, trusting a stranger to pick her up and bring her to the car” he said to Sumako. “Also, she has a big white heart on her underbelly”. The white fur was definitely heart-shaped, and so she was named Heart even before she got home 15 minutes later.
Sumako brought the small shivering black cat with her into the warm dry bedroom that evening. Heart hid under the bed, taking in the strange smells and lighting, and the wonder of the food and water dishes that magically seemed to refill endlessly.
Heart was the strangest-shaped cat I had ever seen. She stayed small, like a kitten, her whole life. Her tail was just a very short stubby barely-protruding lump. She was sort of pear-shaped, or perhaps more like a lumpy potato with legs. Her strange shape left her slightly off-balance; when she walked or ran, she had a sort of wobble that made it appear she was avoiding treading on something with every step.
As I spent more time at home with the animals than my wife and son (she was working as Chief of Civilian Security on Kadena Air Base at the time, and Motoki was in middle school), Heart bonded more closely with me than the others.
Heart was about a year old when she came home with Sumako and Motoki. We found that out when we brought her for her shots and to see if she needed to be spayed. She was already spayed, and the doctor estimated her to be at least a year old, maybe 2. I arbitrarily gave her my wife’s birthday from the year prior to her arrival in our Nagahama home. That would have made her 1-1/2 years old when she came to us.
She would often head-butt me and hold the position, not moving or rubbing, just pushing slightly into my chest, if she was on that level (as on a table or the desk). Her voice remained rough and more like a croak, but she had a deep beautiful purr, like the rumble of a contented lion.
When she head-butted me and purred, I could feel it vibrate through my chest.
We all loved her.
She got along with the other cats OK. Actually, she was a bit aloof and mostly ignored them, but she was the cause of no fights or arguments. She was easy to get along with.
For the last year or so, her hearing became poor and lately she became nearly deaf. However she quickly learned simple sign language, such as the “C’mere” wave. A finger pointing meant a destination across the room such as the outer door, the litter box, a chair, and so forth. A palm-down hand opening and closing seemed to mimic a mouth eating, and meant food was in her dish. During the past several months, she ate and slept in a cage because the other cats were still much younger than she, and made her nervous when they ran and played, and she couldn’t hear if they came up on her side or behind her. They never bothered with her, just startled her unintentionally with their play. But I also wanted to be sure she got her kidney-care food and sometimes her favorite tidbits without their being taken away by the other cats.
She still made a rough growling noise in lieu of a standard-issue cat-meow to indicate that she wanted attention, and went outside when she liked. I was always around to let her back in when she was finished or became nervous over the proximity of the pigeons or if the weather wasn't to her liking, and eventually she didn't go out unless I was present. I guess she knew I was paying close attention to her whereabouts while others might forget and leave her outdoors overlong.
Her decline as a very old cat came about rather quickly. She had undergone surgery to remove most of her teeth as she had picked up a very common gum infection that was eradicated with tooth removal. The vet told us she was in fine condition for an older cat; her heart, lungs, liver, and kidney functions were all those of a much younger cat. There were some concerns about her arthritis but with care and in our stress-free home, she was managing nicely.
About 3 weeks ago, she started walking with a definite list toward the right side. When she ate or drank, her head was inclined to the right and she was beginning to put the right side of her face in the dish. The vet guessed her arthritis might be flaring up and gave her some pain relief, and anti-inflammatory, and an antibiotic just to be safe. He warned us that at her age, some medications might do her kidneys more harm, than good, but the initial dosage would not harm her. He was thinking of long-term treatment, as he was used to seeing our cats reach a much older age than the average cat on Okinawa.
But the list became a definite lean, and she began stumbling to her right. Her hearing became worse, and it soon became obvious to us that she was having trouble seeing with her right eye. We took her back to the vet.
“Not a tumor” he said, examining her eyes. “And not organ failure; in fact her bloodwork shows some improvement in some areas. Her temperature is slightly lower than normal. It may be an infection in the brain. At least it is a nervous system problem, possibly swelling in the brain or brain stem. We can try another antibiotic, and anti-inflammatory that is safe for her kidneys.”
She was old, maybe very old for her particular strain of feline. While 18-1/2 is not old for our cats (they typically live to be that old and older), the vet surmised that Heart may not be so long-lived as some of our others, and she may already have gone beyond lifespan expectations. Her body shape and the shortness of her tail seem to have been the result of careful genetic selection and breeding. In other words, at the cost of appearance, she was born with deficiencies.
And there is no staving-off of old age.
Heart’s condition worsened swiftly. She could no longer stand and walk, or eat without assistance. I blended her food into paste and fed her by pushing it through a syringe. She was able to eat and drink this way, but she was eating and drinking less each day.
We returned to the vet and Heart stayed in the ICU with an IV for the usual nutrients, very weak and barely able to lift her head. The next morning I visited and surprisingly, she was actually lying almost normally with her head up. This was encouraging. She seemed alert and made loud noises when she saw me. But the afternoon brought bad news; she was down again, and the vet had to put her on a feeding tube.
Yesterday morning I visited as soon as the clinic opened. Heart was on her side, eyes barely open, feeding tube through her nose, and very limp. She made a weak sound of greeting (or maybe complaint). It was obvious she was nearing the end.
Her right side was paralyzed. Her right eye was blind and there was no reaction to touching the fur around the eye, as there was with the left eye (she reacted and blinked). Her right legs were limp and unresponsive. She was unable to move more than to incline her head slightly forward to see me better.
I felt there was no need to prolong this, and the doctor, grave-faced, agreed. I set the time for 4pm so I could discuss it with Sumako beforehand, and left.
And so, yesterday afternoon, we removed the feeding tube. I held Heart in my arms while the doctor prepared. She opened her eyes and looked to see what was going on, but just for a moment. She closed her eyes again as she became comfortable in my arms. She was limp but still firm, living, and awake but unable to respond much. I had spent about 30 minutes stroking her fur and talking to her; she was relaxed and even managed a soft purr – not of pain but of pleasure at not being alone in her sterile-white towel-lined cage.
The doctor injected the first syringe into the already-placed IV that had kept Heart alive with water and nutrients for the past few days. It was a powerful drug to induce sleep and painlessness. Heart fell asleep immediately. He waited for a minute then injected the drug to stop the heart from beating. She went limp, like an under-stuffed ragdoll.
Heart was gone.
The tech spent a few minutes preparing Heart for her last trip home, combing out her fur and arranging her in a curled sleep-like position in her cage. I took the cage and departed through the back door so the other clients would be spared seeing the passing-away of a pet.
I felt bad for the vet, who does a euthanasia maybe once or twice a month and is usually affected by it. He had performed his duty and left the room wiping his eyes. He had come to feel for every animal in his care, especially those who spent time in the ICU for any length of time. Now, he would have to show a happy face to the next client, and laugh with their jokes, and tell them light-heartedly "Oh, this is not so serious, we can fix this rather easily".
Actually he left to room to walk into an emergency situation with another pet who required immediate surgery.
Within 20 minutes and until this morning, Heart lay in state in her cage on the table in the front room.
Two of my visiting Indian students, Selvam and his wife Geetha, began digging Heart’s resting at 5:30am. The ground here is not really soil but filler – mostly beach sand and rocks, broken concrete from other construction sites, and crushed coral. The grave took about 30 minutes of digging, breaking through chunks of debris, and chipping away at larger rocks. They wanted to be finished before Sumako left for work this morning.
At about 6:30am I placed Heart on a fresh sheet of linen and folded it over her. Sumako gently sprinkled the first shovel of soil back over Heart. I did the second; Geetha did the next, and finally Selvam. They then filled in the grave.
According to an Indian custom, a cup of milk was poured on the gravesite.
Sumako left for work a little late this morning, but before leaving she went back to the yard and visited Heart once more. She came back inside, took her tumbler of coffee, and wordlessly, she left.
As we face her from the kitchen, Heart sleeps between Hatha on her left, Harmony to her right, and Gypsy further in the yard nearer the Oceanside garden wall. It’s her favorite spot in the yard, not too far from the kitchen door. She faces the ocean she used to watch, mystified, whenever she went outside to nibble on tender grass sprouts and clover. I will pick up her marker this morning, a red heart-shaped stone about 9 inches in diameter, and about 3 inches thick.
Coming to us at about 1-1/2 years old, she spent the next 17 years as our friend and family member. Despite being outdoors anytime she wished, she never once disappeared on an “adventure”, preferring to stay close to the door and always inside with us each night of her life.
None of our other cats ever head-butted my chest like she did.
Another old friend gone. Life is far too short.
RIP Heart, you are sorely missed.
A wonderful tribute. So sorry for your loss.
I just edited it. I may add a few more details later; you know how us old folks are...
Sad to see a wonderful animal go.
Saddened to read this news. Fortunately, Heart had several years surrounded by love, from the day she was found right through the very end as you held her. My thoughts are with you and yours as you adjust to this loss.
Beautifully written tribute to an animal that gave you so much joy. Adios, Heart!
This is my favorite thread, not that I like animals dying, as we all do, but that I care about their care.
Sorry again. When weve had to euthanize a pet cat, it always gives us a feeling that we cared for this life through its life, and, by its loud purr during the brief time its being euthanized, it trusts us and its comfortable and calm.
Ats about all we can do, besides mourn em.
Better days ahead man.
You are all very kind; I wish more like you were here on Okinawa, where so many lost and strayed or abandoned animals need care.
Sumako and I are only two people, but we do what we can. There are others here too, but we are too few...
Cats we still have (and their ages) are
Mr. Chandra (probably 10, looks same as Chandra but male)
We have recently been adopted by two kittens:
Bon-Bon looks like our older cat Candy. A feral kitten who found us about 2 weeks ago probably by the scent of other cats at our home. She was tamed using "kitty milk" imported from Australia (so now I am both Daddy AND Mommy). She is mostly white with black patches, one of which is a perfect heart-shape on her side. She is about 2 months old.
Tim (aka Tiny Tim) who followed one of our lodging students back to the dojo last week. Tim limped all the way -- a bit of a distance and up a steep hill to our home, following the student. The next morning Tim couldn't stand up, so off we went to see the vet. Tim is currently vacationing in the vet clinic, with left rear leg taped up to his side to keep a broken hip joint in place while it heals. He will come home this Friday but will keep the leg taped up for 2 more weeks. Tim seems to have adjusted nicely to being 3-legged for now and will probably need some help in readjusting to having 4 legs around the end of August. He too is about 2 months old and extremely friendly.
One pure-breed American bulldog, Musashi. He is now 6. He thinks he's smart.
There are stories behind the naming of each animal, and more stories behind each story. In the end, these are all heartaches waiting to happen. But we won't fail them.
They are life-sparks -- like our own -- and need our attention and care.
My sympathies on your loss.
My congrats on your enormous generosity of spirit and acceptance and caring for these amazing felines. Warms my heart!