This post was supposed to be a pudding recipe. But, I started writing my post and somehow it became about something else entirely, and I realized I couldn’t just give you another recipe. I had to tell you about a sad event in our household first. As you know, we are a kitty household. As a college sophomore I brought home two cats to live with me. The first was a little orange ball of fur that I encountered at a pet shop. He came right up to me and my significant other, meowing energetically, and so we thought that we had better take him home. I had been planning on getting a cat, and he seemed more than willing to sign up for the job. We carried him home in a box, mewing all the way. His plaintive kitten mews tugged at my heart and I had to stop every few minutes to reassure him. We had just seen Stargate, and the vibrancy of his very orange fur made me think of nothing else than Ra, the sun god. It seemed an imposing title for such a cuddly orange ball of fluff, but I was convinced he would grow into the name. The first night with that kitten was stressful. We lived in college townhouses, and at first we put him in the downstairs bathroom with a litter box, food and water to sleep. The shrieks of lonesome-ness that came out of that tiny little creature could have woken the dead, and I was pretty sure our next door neighbors (fellow college students) were considerably more aware than that. Clearly this was not going to work. Finally we took our mattress from the upstairs bedroom, put it on the floor of the living room, and let him sleep with us. True, we woke up with a little puddle of kitten pee on our feet, but that little kitten wormed his way into our arms and hearts that night, and life would never be the same (or as quiet) again. Ra was an adorable kitten. Most are, but he was more adorable than most due to his long fluffy fur and big yellow eyes. Our neighbors made such a huge fuss over him I was a little afraid they might try to cat-nap him, and kept a cautious maternal eye on him when they “just stopped by” for a pet. It was such a joy having a kitten for the first time. I’d had cats before, but always older ones, with street experience and chips on their shoulder (although with accompanying hearts of gold). This tiny little creature was a baby, and knowing only loving care and tender laps, he was more trusting than any other cat I’d met before. I feared he had been separated from his mother prematurely due to one funny little habit. The second morning we had him, he came bounding out of the bathroom where he’d slept and literally leapt into my arms. He climbed his way up, nuzzled into my hair and began enthusiastically sucking on… my earlobes. The purring that ensued was impressive out of such a tiny creature, and I didn’t have the heart to stop him. (He did eventually wean off earlobes, but it was a sweet, if somewhat sad, beginning to our relationship.
When he became a teenager, things changed a bit. That sweet little ball of fluff became a ferociously playful fighting machine that ambushed us (and our defenseless legs) on the stairway and leaped up screen doors in a single bound. After one particularly painful attack on my legs (with no malice behind it, mind you, just pent-up energy), I went to my significant other and said “Ra needs a friend.”
And so a quest began. It was surprisingly difficult to find another cat. The local newspapers were full of pedigreed puppies, but not so many kitties. I wanted another kitten so that he could grow up together with Ra as a brother, and thought an older cat might not appreciate his antics. Finally, one day I was at the grocery store IGA and saw a notice on the community message board for a free kitten. I shrugged, and thought “Why not.” I called the number, found out that the kitten was quite a drive away but that it would be taken to the Humane Society if it was not adopted soon. Apparently its mother had died a week or so after the birth and it was the runt of the litter. They were keeping the other kittens, but not him. We arranged for friends to give us a ride to their house in their van. When we arrived at their house, overflowing with cats and dust, we found the kitten crouched pitifully in a baby play pen with his brothers and sisters. He was covered in dried canned cat food and the smell of it seeped from every pore. It was hard to imagine a less appealing animal, but as I looked into his lost, wide green eyes, I felt overwhelmingly that I couldn’t just leave him there. And so, we took him home.
I bathed him several times a day for a week and the smell finally subsided somewhat. He was so tiny that he fit in my hand, and his head was disproportionately larger than the rest of his body. I was concerned Ra would think of him as a cat-food flavored mouse, but to my relief, Ra seemed to recognize him as family and (perhaps attracted by the aroma de cat food) lovingly bathed him with his tongue, and taught him to bathe himself for the first time. I fed them treats together and watched in amazement as that tiny little creature growled ferociously over his food and kept Ra at bay. Despite a certain possessiveness over the food bowl, natural perhaps due to the necessary competition over food as an infant, he was sweet, and loving.
It took time for me to think of a name for him. He was so small and young that he seemed to have little personality at first, and barely seemed like a cat. Finally I settled on the name Neko, Japanese for cat, and gave him as his full name Maneki Neko, the Japanese good-luck cat. It suited him, although years later when we lived in Japan, my students found it very amusing that I had a cat named cat. He was an affectionate, almost clingy baby. He liked nothing more than to climb up my chest when I was sitting at the computer and nestle his head under my chin to sleep, tiny kitten arms wrapped around my neck. He slept in our room for the first week, and my significant other would lift him up to the loft bed every morning when he got up so that I could kiss Neko good morning. I love Ra and adore every bit of his loud, forceful personality, but Neko, with his quieter demeanor and difficult beginning in life, was my special baby. Even as he grew into a handsome, magestic long-haired cat with wide, expressive eyes capable of conveying hurt, loneliness, or contentment in a single glance, I could still see traces of the baby in the way he would instantly calm at a touch to the nose, or the way he would nestle his nose into my arm in the car when he was frightened. And, while Ra will greet visitors and befriend them instantly, Neko was always uncertain with strangers, evaluating them carefully before befriending them, and always retreating to Mama (or under the bed) if needed.
Oh how I loved him. While Ra was always bumbling into things, getting into fights on the rare occasions he got out, stumbling into ringworm, creating chaos as if he was born to it, Neko was cautious, graceful, rarely ill, and reserved. And sadly, this characteristic did not serve him well when it really mattered.
I don’t know if we could have prevented his passing, or delayed it, but the regrets of what if will probably always be with me. Our life has been chaotic, and more difficult for senior kitties than strictly ideal. The birth of my daughter, the darling Baby Yum, strained both kitties, but was especially hard on Neko, who was no longer the baby of the household. While Ra patiently endured most of her attention, Neko would usually retreat to higher ground. He seemed sad, and more than a little lonely, but changing diapers, feeding times, and other baby maintenance left me with little time to give him the comfort he needed. It was hard enough to change litter boxes and give them food. Meanwhile Ra, whose lust for food had given him an impressively robust physique (read: had become extremely obese) was suffering from arthritis and the vet recommended a special canned kitten food diet to get him to lose weight. Apparently it has high enough water content that it keeps them satiated while allowing calorie reduction. Since Ra has always been the type to howl unrelentingly if his tummy feels empty, it seemed like a miracle when this diet actually worked and he slimmed down to a much more reasonable weight. Unfortunately, Neko also lost some weight on the diet, but they both seemed more agile, especially when fed cosequin (glucosamine) for arthritis management.
And then, we bought a house, and moved in. In the midst of all the chaos, Neko seemed slightly sad and aloof, but I put it down to a dislike of change and the stress of living with an increasingly aggressive toddler. On the positive side, our new house has a completely enclosed back yard that the senior kitties could not escape from, so both of them had the freedom of a green yard and rich dirt for digging or sleeping on. Neko seemed a bit skinnier, but I thought it must be from the diet, and resolved to try to sneak him more food when Ra wasn’t looking. He still seemed active, slept cuddled up with his brother Ra, and came in and napped on the couch arm, soaking up whatever love and attention he could get without attracting the intrepid toddler. I felt he was a little distant, but thought his tender feline feelings must have been bruised from my attentions to Baby Yum, and resolved to spend more quality time with him when our household was a little less chaotic.
Fast-forward to a certain week in December. The DH was away in New York on business. I fed the cats lunch as always in the garage but Neko was nowhere to be seen. I thought he must be playing in the yard. It was a little unusual, but I didn’t think too much about it. Then, evening. I feed the cats again, but no Neko. Where could he be? I went searching. Finally I found him, crouched by the house near a bucket of water. He raised miserable yellow eyes to me, and I knew. It was late- midnight. I brought him food, and he wouldn’t touch it. I brought him to his water bowl, and he hovered over it with his paws on the edge. Spittle was on his chin. I brought him inside and sat with him and his water bowl, talked to him and tried to pet him. He was distant, and didn’t respond much. I felt he barely knew I was there.
I called the DH. It was 3am there. He said “do what you think is best.” Baby Yum was asleep in bed, and so was my Dad, who was visiting. I tried looking up Neko’s symptoms online, and found little information. Perhaps he’d eaten something that didn’t agree with him. I didn’t know what to do. Ordinarily I would have taken him to the vet, but I wasn’t sure if they could do anything. And, he didn’t seem violently ill. Surely it wasn’t serious, I tried to convince myself.
Finally I went to bed, more than a little afraid of what I would find in the morning. To my relief- oh how deluded I was- Neko was still active, moving around, but still searching out water. He walked down our hallway mewing, looking for a bathtub. My baby always loved water from the bath the best. I think he was addicted to the flavorings of diluted shampoo, or perhaps just the assured freshness of it. I put him in the bathtub and let the water drip into a bowl for him. He crouched there, drinking, while I called the vet and made an emergency appointment.
My Dad drove the three of us there, baby Yum in her carseat, and me in the passenger seat with Neko in my lap, nose pressed into my arm. We saw the vet, a kind woman, and she told me that Neko was in kidney failure. When I began to hyperventilate, she had me sit down, and brought me tissues. He had a 25% chance of survival, she told me. She gave me an estimate for bloodwork, xrays, and an IV for him, since he was seriously dehydrated. I lifted up Baby Yum to give Neko a kiss and hug, hugged and kissed him myself, and had him admitted to the clinic.
We drove home, and I was numb. Was I losing him, my baby of fourteen years? I stepped out of the car, turned the corner, and saw this:
Overnight, the tree in our front yard, which had burst into yellow leaves with the advent of winter’s cold, had dropped its leaves. They lay in a golden pile on the green of the grass. I looked at the leaves, so vibrant and yet so fleeting, and I saw Neko. For me in that moment, it was his tree, and those leaves whispered “goodbye my friend.”
Time passed slowly, waiting for the vet to call. And when she did, the news was not good. In fact, it was horrible. His kidney had completely shut down, flooding his bloodstream with urine. And, while they usually give them liquid injections to clean out the system, his heart was severely enlarged, and these measures would undoubtedly result in heart failure. She didn’t tell me in so many words what I had to do, exactly, but she said that if it were her cat, she would put him to sleep. And I knew that was what had to be done. Truthfully, I think I knew that night before, but I let myself hope that I was wrong, that there was still hope, that my baby was still in there and could be rescued.
I went to see him one more time before it happened. I brought his favorite toy, Mr. Penguin, pictured here. He loved the sound its beanies made when it hit the floor. I can see him leaping and tossing it into the air. And every night, he would make a funny little cry, like a squeaky cat bark and meow all in one, and bring it to us like some kind of treasure that he had caught especially for us. I lay it next to him and kissed his head, where there was a little spot that, before he was sick, always smelled delicately of powder, and babies, and sweetness. I told him I loved him, and not to be afraid, and then I left him. And moments later, he left me. The vet brought me Mr. Penguin, and gave me kind words, and I left alone.
When I got home, I went to Ra, lying on the couch. He purred when he saw me, and let me put my arms around him. I told him that his brother wouldn’t be coming home. I knew he wouldn’t understand, but I had to tell him. It will take time for both of us to understand what that means.
With love for all feline companions and sadness,
*I don’t usually write about things like this here, and I always try to share something useful for those on the gluten-free diet. In this case, all that I have for you is a recommendation. I’ve always had trouble finding foods that both kitties like, and will eat. I usually haven’t fed them gluten-free, but recently found this food for Ra that he loves every flavor of. Amazing! It is called Soulistic. And, it doesn’t matter if Baby Yum (or I, for that matter) gets it on her hands and eats it, because it is whole ingredients, and the only starch is tapioca. We’ve also found a very good gluten-free dry food by Origen for when we go on trips and need to leave it out. I hope you find this recommendation useful.
And finally, I would like to encourage all of you to take your kitties in for yearly wellness visits. Over the years, Ra has received more vet visits than Neko and I would have liked to know earlier that he needed care, both in the hopes that this might have been avoided and so that we had more quality time together in the end.