Monday, February 8, 2016

Who's A Hungry Kitty?

To tell you the truth, I was never much of a cat person. I grew up with two dogs - both Shetland Sheepdogs - and always found cats to be way too aloof and independent for my tastes. I much preferred a pet that would come when I called it, not look at me like I had two heads.

So you can imagine my surprise when my wife announced the weekend before Thanksgiving 2000 that she wanted to get a cat. Reluctantly, I went along with it. We went down to the local shelter on Black Friday and it didn't take long before my wife found this black kitten with a white spot on one side of his mouth and white paws. There was an instant chemistry between the two of them. He had a great personality and didn't act like any cat I had ever heard of. When he jumped up on my wife's shoulders, she was sold. This was the one. His name was Puffin and the next day I went down to pick him up and bring him back home with me.

Puffin had a very unique personality. He brought new meaning to the term alpha and it didn't take him long to put his stamp on our home. Maria and I fell in love with him almost from day one. Whether we were sitting down on the couch or sitting down to eat at the dinner table, Puffin would jump up and let us know he was there. He would head-but you in the face as a sign of affection, but also to let you know he was in charge. He would then curl up in your lap and put his paw on you expecting you to pet him. You just couldn't resist his "charm."

Puffin's first few years with us were exciting to say the least. He managed to escape from us and was presumed lost in his first year. Miraculously, he found his way back after one night. The following year, he suffered the first of three medical problems. After several days of not eating his food, I took him down to the Vet where he was diagnosed with a blockage in his intestine. An emergency surgery to remove it saved his life. The surgeon called me up afterwards to let me know that I not only made the right decision but if I had waited even a few hours, Puffin's intestine would've shut down and he would've died.

Yes, he dodged quite a bullet that time, but it was only three years later that he had a similar problem eating his food. He exhibited the same symptoms, but this time the Vet, after taking a close look at some X-rays, opted not to operate. It wasn't a blockage, in his opinion, it was pancreatitis. After a couple of days of taking some medication, Puffin was good as new. Once more he had dodged a bullet. Once more lady luck had shined her light on him.

Only one year later, however, Puffin once again went under the knife. A blockage in the same general area threatened his life. Just like he done the last two times, he made a quick recovery. The Vet strongly recommended that, owing to his susceptibility to blockages and pancreatitis, we change his diet to a no-grain food. Though it cost more, we gladly complied. It worked. For the balance of his life, Puffin never again had any issues with his intestine or suffered any more bouts of pancreatitis.

I should point out that by now Puffin was one of three pets my wife and I had. Skye, a female cat that I picked up along with Puffin that same November day in 2000 and Henry, a dog that we adopted from my wife's friend in 2004, completed the trio. Together they were quite a bunch. My wife and I often had our hands full keeping Puffin and Henry from tearing each other apart. They were like Felix and Oscar in The Odd Couple.

When Henry succumbed to cancer in 2013, Puffin regained his status as numero uno. He became even more affectionate and more needy. If I was typing away on my laptop, Puffin would jump up and sit down on my chest, forcing me to close the laptop and pay attention to him. If I was eating in the den, he would jump up on the hassock next to me and put his paw on my plate. Like Henry before him, my food was his food. Virtually every morning Puffin would sit on my wife waiting for her to get up and feed him. When my wife didn't move fast enough, I would suffice. When it came to eating, Puffin didn't much care who the chef was. A meal was a meal.

When he turned 15 this past May, my wife and I both assumed he would live to be a grumpy old man. After all, he had survived three near-death episodes that certainly would've felled a lesser cat. With a new addition to the family, a black kitten my wife rescued from our backyard, we once more had a trio of pets. Lily helped lessen the pain of losing Henry and kept Puffin on his toes. After a painful and tearful 2013, the last two years were shaping up as pretty good.

Then after returning from a December trip to Florida to visit my father, I noticed Puffin was hiding under the Christmas tree with drool coming out of his mouth. My wife told me he had just started doing that and that it was probably due to an abscessed tooth. Christmas week my wife brought him down to the Vet to have him checked out. Later that day we got the bad news. Puffin didn't just have an abscessed tooth, he had a mass in his jaw that was later diagnosed as cancerous. Worse yet, the tumor was so big that operating on him was not a viable option. They would've had to remove 85 percent of his jaw. The prognosis was bleak. Puffin had weeks to live.

My wife and I were devastated. For the second time in just over two years we were faced with the loss of a pet to cancer. Our beloved Puffin was terminally ill and this time there would be no last minute miracle. We resigned ourselves to make what little time he had left as comfortable as possible.

Over the next five weeks, my wife did her best to make his food as edible as possible. She would mix it in the blender and I would call out "who's a hungry kitty?" and bring it upstairs to the guest bedroom so he could eat undisturbed. As his tumor grew, though, his ability to eat became diminished.  Last Saturday he ate what would be his last full meal. No matter what my wife did, no matter how thoroughly she mixed his food, it didn't work. Puffin simply couldn't eat anymore, not because he was sick, but because the tumor prevented him from using his tongue to lick up his food.

As each day passed, he grew more and more frail. My wife and I knew it was only a matter of time. We originally thought Thursday night, but opted to wait till Saturday afternoon to take him down to the Vet. That day was the longest day of our lives. We each said our goodbyes to him before we left for the Vet. Even in his weakened condition he still managed to head-but me while I held him in my arms.

I never thought I would grieve the loss of another pet like I had done with Henry, but I wept like a baby that afternoon. Puffin had meant so much to me, and to my wife as well. I couldn't wrap my head around the idea that we would not be coming home with him. After seeing him slowly deteriorate over the last six and a half weeks we were torn on the inside. On the one hand, we didn't want him to suffer anymore; on the other hand, we didn't want to lose him. In the end it was our love for him that guided our actions.

I have many fond memories of Puffin that I will always treasure. Like the way he would drink from the faucet in the sink or bathtub. It was uncanny. Or the way he would greet you at the front door when you came home by jumping onto your shoulders and riding all the way with you to the kitchen. Talk about needy; my wife was often the recipient of this since she was the first to come home from work. Or the way he could open the drawer in the living room table to get one of his toys out. We still have the scratch marks to show for it.

But my fondest memory of all was the time he was recovering from his second operation. I visited him in the recovery room and kept him company for a couple of hours. As he curled up in my arms, I could hear him purring and occasionally he would reach up and head-but me. He felt safe in my arms and I was grateful that I was there for him that night. You could say we bonded in a way few pets bond with their owners.

Before Puffin came along, I was convinced that cats were cold and uncaring. Thanks to him, I now know how wrong I was. Henry and Puffin were two peas in a pod. Full of personality and full of love. It is fitting that they are now both waiting for us at the Rainbow bridge. One day we will all cross over that bridge and be together forever in Paradise.

Until then, sleep tight, my Puffin, and rest in peace. Your daddy and mommy love you very much.

P.S., be a good boy and play with Henry. He finally has his buddy back now.

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