Monday, July 28, 2014

Long Distance Hugs

The kind messages and 'virtual hugs' from my blog friends and Face Book friends have warmed my heart today.
As I have written before, there is a kinship amongst those who love animals, who delight in having pets to share their space.
When we post the amusing [or exasperating] stories and photos of our cats or dogs or horses, we know that others are relating-- chuckling over acts of mischief which we recognize all too well, delighting in the cleverness of an animal we will never meet in real time.

And when a friend loses a dear one we grieve with them. Tears well up and we are quick to send words of sympathy, because we have been in that painful place and know that we will be 
there again.

I have noticed previously that when one of my cats dies, the other felines in the household are aware.
They cannot articulate in words and perhaps their feelings of loss or change vanish far more quickly than ours.

In most cases they notice that one of their number has been taken away in the cat carrier--and that the carrier returns empty.

Teasel Cat was solicitously concerned for Eggnog in the days of her decline.  She spent much time hovering nearby, often staying beside her for hours in the bed atop the storage bin.
After we buried Eggnog I removed the towels and old blanket from the top of the bin, put them into the wash.
I swept the floor, wiped down the bin and folded a fresh piece of fleece material on top.

It was after 11 PM when I finished canning the green bean harvest of the day. I had tidied the kitchen and was headed along the hall to the bedroom when I realized that the light was on downstairs. For the 18 days of Eggnog's residence downstairs I had left on a florescent light--day and night.
Having the light on made my frequent forays downstairs safer and simpler. Also, perhaps unreasonably, I didn't want to leave my cat in the dark.
Teasel followed me down the stairs.
She walked to the bin, sniffed the clean blanket, prowled about, returned to the bin where she had so recently kept vigil over Eggnog.
As she paced back and forth, she'talked' to me--seeming to ask, 'Where is she?'
Several times today I have found her sitting half way down the stairs. Was she waiting for her friend to return?
I think that by tomorrow the feline ranks will have closed, their skittishness will subside.

My own sadness reaches out today to encircle my older grand daughter who lives in Colorado.
Her rescue cat, Captain Eugene Breakfast, keeled over dead this afternoon while being chased through the house by his jealous housemate, Smokey.
We support each other--with our tears, our words, our hugs, we who are 'foolish' about our animals.

Sunday, July 27, 2014

Eggnog, April, 1998-27 July, 2014

More than 2 weeks have passed since the strange episode which marked the downward spiral of Eggnog's health.  I have been in awe of that vital spark which has kept her alive and alert seemingly with no nourishment.  She accepted strained meat [baby food] from me, a teaspoon or two at a time, during the last week.  She was less interested in it on Friday evening, and when I went downstairs on Saturday morning I saw that she had vomited. 
I sat by her for more than an hour on Saturday evening, lightly combed her matted fur. Her eyes had a bit of gummy residue at the corners; she objected slightly when I used a tissue to dab it away.

Each morning I have gone downstairs as my first duty of the new day.  Each day I have been braced to find a still form on the well-padded storage bin which Eggnog chose as her special place when she became feeble.  Incredibly, my little cat continued to greet me, indicating that she would welcome my attentions.
This morning I noted immediately the change which I have both anticipated and dreaded.
Eggnog raised her head when I spoke to her; her 'merouw' of acknowledgement was faint.
I lifted her and held her with one arm against my chest while I straightened the layers of soft towels and blankets on her bed.
Perching on my makeshift stool by the bin I cradled her in my lap.
After a moment she turned to curl up on her bed.
Her eyes were dull. For the first time she seemed not to enjoy even the lightest touch of the fine-tooth comb on her shabby fur, so I laid it aside.
Sitting there, touching her gently, crooning to her, I felt that the vital essence of her was gone.
Her eyes were closed, her breathing uneven.
She didn't seem to need me.
Jim came downstairs to tell me that we must go to the 'other house.'  Storms were moving in and there was garden produce to pick.
He bent to pet Eggnog's head.
Alone with her for a last few moments, I curved my hand around her fragile sides.
"Go to sleep," I told her. "I love you, Eggnog--go to sleep."

We were away about 2 hours--the downpour caught us as Jim attempted to mow the lawn.
I stayed in the garden, drenched to the skin, picking green beans.
Jim had managed to gather cantaloupe and tomatoes before the deluge.
I changed into dry clothing while Jim loaded buckets and baskets of produce into the trunk of his car.
The trip from one house to the other is about 15 minutes.

It has become my routine in the past two weeks that when ever I have been out of the house for a bit, on returning I go directly downstairs to check on Eggnog.
I was not surprised to find that she had died while I was away.
I was distressed to see that she had slipped off her bed and was lying on the floor.
Common sense tells me that she could have fallen even had I been in the house--unless I had been sitting beside her.
 I wish I had been there. 
I can only hope that the final struggle for breath was quickly over.
Her little body had started to stiffen, but I was able to gently tuck her feet into the folds of the soft old T-shirt of Jim's which I used to wrap her.
I began to fall apart a bit when I realized that the 'grave' I had readied two weeks ago now held water from the night's rain.
'Where can I put her?" I asked Jim, feeling frantic.
He suggested the edge of the garden, but then went off to look at my spot behind the hay barn--the same place that I buried Mrs. Beasley two years ago.
Jim came back to assure me that he had dug the hole deeper, into dry soil.
I laid in the bunch of mint and nepeta that I had ready and returned to the house to carry my cat for the last time. Thunder muttered in the distance, the sky was lowering and a hot fretful wind fanned my 
tear-streaked face.
I could hear Jim walking behind me, but didn't turn.
I laid Eggnog in her soft wrappings on the layer of fragrant herbs.
Jim put his shovel into the pile of earth.
I turned away, voice breaking.
"I'll bring stones to cover the dirt."
I chose several of the large flat rocks that once edged Mr. Rogers' flower bed behind the garage.
I met Jim crossing the back yard, shovel over his shoulder, looking bleak.
"Imagine," I croaked, 'Those pioneers on the westward journey--a child or family member dead on the way and they could do no more than we have done for our cat!"

My heart is sore tonight.  I know that the loss of a pet in no way compares with the death of a loved person.
It is a particular kind of sorrow, a loss of companionship, the breaking of a deep and special bond.
I ache with unshed tears.
I know from past painful experience that to open the floodgates of grief--any grief--is apt to have a devastating effect--that old sorrows, other loses, other partings, may all roll in compounding the 
present misery.  
In time I will adjust to the knowledge that Eggnog's cherry "Merouw" will not greet me in the morning.
I won't be making room in my lap for her, moving my book to one side as she settles, purring, to keep me company.  Winter will not find her stretched in blissful warmth on the hearthrug.
We were blessed to make a home for her for 16 years.
"Sleep well, my Eggnog, sleep well."

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Beetles, Be Gone!

CM editor Ed Waggoner's tongue-in cheek intro says it all.
Jim's better beetle buster went a bit viral on Face Book last evening with family and friends eager to try his remedy.  I'm off to concoct one for the 'other house' garden.

Columbia Magazine

Tuesday, July 22, 2014


This brilliant moth caught my eye when I walked to the garage at about 7:30 this morning.
I have seen these in the past but don't recall that I had searched for their identification.
Anisota Senatorea, the Oakworm Moth.
There are several variations, one with a pink stripe on the body.
Daughter G. seeing the photo claims it inspires her to want a garment in fake orange fur!

A tattered little moth, in quiet colors.
I am less than positive about the ID on this one.
I found many similar photos online, but identifications were inconclusive.
It appears to be the Common Gray, Anavitrinella Pampinaria.
[I'm considering how I might drop that name into a conversation!]

This pretty thing is a Regal Walnut Moth, Citheronia Regales. 

Side view of the fat body and gripping little feet.

A marvel of design.

Cecropia Moth.
This one appears a bit battered.

 "Although they only live five or six days, the adults capture the eye of anyone lucky enough to see one at night. The adults hatch from their cocoon on mornings in spring -- May through June throughout much of their range. Their first day as winged adults is spent clinging to a branch as they allow their bodies to dry and quickly pump their wings to get blood flowing to them and lengthen them. The females remain perched due to being egg-laden, and send out a pheromone to attract males just before dawn. After mating, the male will hide during the day and continue finding females just before dawn. The female, however, will almost immediately begin laying eggs in small clutches. She diligently spreads out the small clutches of eggs to help minimize the risk of competition among larvae. Once she's done, she'll have laid about 350 eggs."

I found this Cecropia clinging high up on the building when I went out late in the afternoon.
Not sure if it is the same moth I watched in the morning.
This one seems less frayed.

Isn't this a stunning creation?
Giant Imperial Moth; Hyalophora Cecropia.
This one was clinging to the top of the garage window frame.
After several attempts to zoom in on it, I dragged out a crate and clambered up for some closer shots.

At such times I wish I had a camera capable of refined detail--and, of course, the wits to use it!

Trying to hold the camera steady.
Fortunately, the moth was oblivious to my presence.


This battered and damaged cecropia clung to the bottom of the door frame.
By afternoon it was obviously near the end of its lifespan.
The two black spots on the body were crusty--wounds? Parasites?
Sadly, I found a cecropia crushed and dead, lying at the edge of the carport when I returned from gardening at the other house.
The boy cats will swipe at a moth or butterfly which lands with in their reach.
Did the moth of the morning blunder down from the top of the window frame and become an instant victim?
Or were there several in various stages of their short lives who found our dooryard appealing today?

Thursday, July 17, 2014

Sharing My Cats

Eggnog, unbelievably, is still clinging to life. She is very thin and frail, yet still greets us each time we go down to the basement.  She stretches up to be stroked--ever so gently, gives a little chirping mew and settles back down.  I sit beside her, feeling her faint purring beneath her now ragged fur.
As you can see, Teasel has appointed herself Eggnog's companion. The contrast between my emaciated oldster and her very plump 'nanny' is evident.

When I decided to allow Eggnog to 'die at home' rather than cutting her time short with a trip to the vet, I couldn't imagine that 8 days would pass in this process.
There were two episodes when I felt that she was stressed: that first spell of vomiting and another shaky session 24 hours later.  Since then there has been nothing but the slow and quiet diminishing.
Her eyes are clear, there is no indication that she is in pain or distress.
She is clean, not smelly.
I've had my moments of stress, questioning my decision.
 In addition to sadness at the looming loss of a pet who has spent her 16 years of life with us, there was concern that I hadn't been right in my choice. 
This is not the course I would take with a very ill cat or one who was in pain.
In the many years of sharing my home with cats I've many times made that final visit for the vet's merciful needle to be administered.

On Tuesday evening I worked in my flower gardens till darkness was falling.
As I snipped faded flower stalks and carried them to the trash heap, the boy cats skittered around me. Birds were settling for the night, their voices mere sleepy chirps.
In the pasture across the fence a neighbor's cows munched.
As dusk deepened the cicadas began their scraping tune.
Inside I scrubbed my earth-stained hands, picked up a book, went downstairs.
I shook out Eggnog's bedding, holding her bony body for a moment before putting her down. I brushed her fur very lightly. I found a stool and pulled it close to her bed, settled myself with the book.
Eggnog laid a gentle paw against my thigh, moved closer.
Teasel hopped onto the bin and wrapped her furry self around her friend.
Often I closed my book, reached to stroke, murmur endearments.
It was nearly midnight when I left them, still curled together.
The peace which had stolen over me while working in the twilight had deepened as I kept my vigil with the two cats--the one so fragile, the other so attentive.
It was in some odd sense, my real 'goodbye' to Eggnog.
I don't know how many hours or days she has left--it can hardly be many.
Her persistent spark of life has amazed me.
I think I can see this through.

Having this many cats is ridiculous--unreasonable.
Jim's elderly Raisin on the far right--the three 'moggies' who appeared two years ago this month--the two Siamese-y rescue cats from the Indian Reservation in Wyoming.
I won the ebay bidding for the vintage white bedspread last week--how long will it stay white with the bed being appropriated for cat naps?

Bobby trolling the meadow as evening gathers.

"Could I interest you in a mouse?"

Nellie and Bobby--never far away when I am gardening.

Willis trails along as I gather up my tools and return them to the shed.
The evening song of coyotes rings from a ridge to the west, is answered by an echo far across the creek.
The hummingbirds make a bedtime dash to the feeder.
Willis sits on his observation rock, head snapping from side to side, making sure that no coyote could stroll into the dooryard unseen.
[They usually keep their distance, but one must be alert!]

Cats make messes.  They dig in the garden, leave hair and muddy pawprints on my bedspread.
They hawk up hairballs.
My heart is sore when it is time for them to pass on.
I can't imagine my life without their company.

Sunday, July 13, 2014

The Dilemma Of Waiting

Dilemma: a situation in which a difficult choice has to be made between two or more alternatives, especially equally undesirable ones.

Unbelievably, my little cat, Eggnog, still clings to life. She is so thin that I fear anyone seeing her might call me to task for abuse or neglect. 
She spent a day upstairs [ Wednesday] curled in her usual spot on the windowsill that looks onto the front porch. She ate perhaps half a teaspoonful of the canned food which I offered. She seemed contented--she's never been a bustling creature. 
Late in the evening she had another of the distressing spells of choking up a white froth, was twitchy and restless. I thought her heartbeat was shallow and too quick. I spread a soft blanket on the loveseat for her and braced myself to sit close by and see her out. She folded herself near me; I gently stroked her head.
After an hour she suddenly hopped down, headed for the stairs. By the time I turned on the light and followed her, she had clambered onto the storage bin where she had spent the preceding 24 hours. I folded a clean fleece for her to rest on, hovered over her until it seemed I really must go to bed. I expected that when I went down in the morning I would find her life ebbed away.

She hangs on--staying downstairs, becoming thinner, if such is possible.  She greets me each time I go down--appreciates being lightly brushed, petted. Sometimes she seems tired, other times she chirps, butts her bony head into my palm, encouraging me to rub along her jaw. Tonight while I was tidying litter boxes, I saw her hop down and drink from the water bowl--tiny, tiny sips. 

I wanted this painful time shortened--for her--and, in truth, for me. I know there is a tendency to attribute human ways to our animals [that lovely word: anthropomorphizing?]  I know I don't have to follow through on this commitment to let her 'die at home' without the stress of the half hour drive to the vet. I can change my mind, have it over.
Part of this is about me, of course--about my reticence in sharing the moments of parting with anyone else, no matter how kindly. I have usually made this 'last trip' with my cats on my own, cat carrier on the seat beside me, fingers of my right hand stretched through the wire of the carrier, to try and sooth the occupant. I can drive while crying!
There have been times I've handled the final moments without breaking down--not making conversation, surely--but keeping my hands on my pet while the merciful needle slips in. Other times, tears have blurred my eyes as I wrote the check at the office desk, I've felt too choked to make much response to the comments of the vet or the assistant.
Eggnog's death, however/whenever, is going to be one of the more difficult ones. 
So, I wait--and I observe--and I feel the sadness of this stretching out. I question my decision endlessly.  I tell myself, 'Surely, tomorrow. Wait for tomorrow.'
There is no indication that Eggnog is in pain. She is fragile, diminished, tired, but still responsive.

The ready tears sting my eyes as I read your expressions of sympathy.  We don't know the cadence of each others' voices--but we recognize the kinships of the heart--the bond of those who treasure animal companions.

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Vigil For A Beloved Cat

Eggnog perched on the footboard of our lodgepole bed in the Lander, WY house.

My dear cat, Eggnog, was 16 years old in April, 1914.
We adopted her in June, 1998, soon after our move to Wyoming.
A female Siamese cat had taken up residence in the tack barn at the home of Jim's niece.
There were two batches of kittens on hand--and we've never been sure if Eggie was born to the Siamese mom-cat or to the black and white cat who lived in the woodpile.
We brought her home, along with "EJ" --her brother, or half-brother, as the case might have been.
[EJ succumbed to a cancerous tumor at age 4.]

Eggnog doesn't have the strident voice which is so noticeable in her sister from the next litter--Jim's spoiled darling, Raisin.
Eggie has always been a cheerful, companionable creature, conversational, a very pleasant little cat.
You can see that her fur is not the silky smooth coat usual to a Siamese.  Rather, she has always been fuzzy.

Eggnog helps to lay out a quilt. 

When Eggnog was about 8 years old, she had to have all her teeth extracted.
Her little mouth healed well and soon she was eating kibble again.
It was perhaps from this time that she became terrified of being put in the cat carrier.
A trip to the vet for routine shots became a nightmare.
No matter how I tried to conceal the cat carrier, she knew why she was being caught. On at least one occasion she peed down my front as I attempted to insert her.
On the road a noxious odor soon announced that in her fright she had once again 
pooped in the carrier.
In the autumn of 2010--our first year in Kentucky, Eggnog presented with a fungus disease which caused lesions over her entire body with hair falling out in patches. 
Treatment included several trips to the vet, bathing with an anti-fungal shampoo, two courses of antibiotics.
You can imagine how gracelessly she endured these frightening indignities, struggling, crying out, becoming afraid of me, avoiding me.
Her recovery was slow, leaving her thinner and with a permanent scabby roughness to her hide.
Slowly she befriended me again, though the mere sight of nail clippers or a tube of hairball paste sents her skittering under the sofa.

Eggnog helping to clean the kitchen in Lander, WY

We've noted the inevitable slowing down of Eggnog  in the past year.  A bit quieter, sleeping for long hours in her favorite spot on the windowsill that faces east.
She no longer came into the bedroom at night to curl on my feet.
Occasionally, for several days running, she seemed to have a 'catch' in her brain, being confused as to the location of the litter box. Each time she revived, reverted to her tidy habits. She continued to 'talk' to us, putting out an imperious white-tipped paw to demand our attention.
She knew at exactly what time each evening Jim should pick up the container of 'kitty treats' and dole out the bedtime snack.  If he was late, she marched across the floor and pleasantly reminded him that it was time. 
In the past 6 weeks she has been less interested in food. Her thick coat has matted, needing to be raked with a fine-toothed pet comb. 
Sometimes, coming in from work at the other house, I've watched her in repose on the windowsill, the rise and fall of her sides so slight with her breathing.
I've worried that when the time comes to move to the other house, it would be a major and confusing adjustment for such an elderly cat.
This morning I found that Eggnog had vomited in several spots on the living room floor--no residue of food, just white puddles of saliva.
She hopped down from the windowsill and repeated this process three more times before going down the basement stairs in wobbly fashion.
She stood by the litter box, straining, but producing only a pea-sized kernel.
I brought her blanket downstairs as she seemed disinclined to return to the living room.
Eggnog finally chose to clamber onto a covered storage bin under the basement stairs.
I folded two old T-shirts to pad the surface.
I go down at least once per hour to touch her, stroke her bony frame, speak her name.
My instinct is to bring her upstairs, make a cozy bed, coax her to eat.
I don't think this is what she wants.
Her breath is stale and her fur is dry--dehydration, no doubt.
I have vowed to spare her a last ride to the vet--a last hour of stress and anxiety.
I so want her passing to be over as peacefully and [dare I say it?] as quickly as possible now that the evil time has come.
I went out in the steamy heat of noontime to dig a buryhole on the west side of the barn--a few feet from where I buried Mrs. Beasley in August, 2012.
Tears blur my eyes and clog my voice when I bend to stroke my little friend.
I, who have never had that frightening privilege of watching at the deathbed of a loved human, have so many times hovered over a cat.
How quickly an animal becomes a part of our lives, their care part of our routines, their company well worth the messes or expenses.
I've been told there is a local vet who, though he is a large animal practitioner, will make a house call to put down a cat or dog for a client. He is the same vet we have had for Pebbles the Horse.
I will explore this option if it becomes clear that it is the kindest one.
Go quickly, Eggnog. 
Tears threaten, even as I type these words.
Still--go peacefully.
Go soon, dear Eggnog.