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11 years, 10 months, and 2 days: a mewlogy

August 10, 2014

Back before I became Vancouver’s least smilingest ESL teacher and most unpublished writer, I spent a bunch of time studying super useful things in Calgary, or as it is known to most Calgarians, “C-Town.” Having spent four years living in university residence and one living with a friend who became rather unbalanced and finally moved out of our place after four crazy and tense months during which I basically never left my tiny bedroom lest I accidentally run into her and, e.g., be accused of attempted murder or incur bizarre retribution for sitting on her couch, I found a nice one-bedroom apartment ten minutes from campus and moved in at the start of the school year in 2002. I recall that the rent was $699, which holy shit, because out of curiosity I have just now gone to the property management company’s website and found that apartments in that complex now rent for $1260. Good flaming gravy Christmas.

Anyway, more or less the first thing I did after moving in was go to the information commons at the library and start creeping the profiles of available cats on the MEOW Foundation website. Cat ownership had been a lifelong dream of mine in much the same way as home ownership is for some people.

The standout was Midnight, a black cat with wonderful feet (five extra toes! five!!) and a sad history of abuse. I will stop here and ask one of the Great Questions of My Life: What the fuck is wrong with people? Because who goes out and gets a cat just to treat it like shit? If you don’t like cats, how about you just don’t get one? That was three questions, but anyway. Midnight’s profile said that she disliked other cats, was skittish around humans and jumpy in general. Challenge accepted, I said to her telepathically as I filled out the adoption application.

On October 1, she was dropped off at my place for a one-month no-obligation free trial. The adoption counselor advised me to keep her in one room rather than giving her the run of my apartment; she would hide otherwise. I pointed out that my place was “only 650 square feet” (at the time the number seemed small; I couldn’t know it would turn out to be the largest place I would ever be able to afford) and that I had no furniture other than a lamp, a TV stand, and needless to say, an IKEA Poang chair. Where could she hide?

The next morning I woke up and found that Sappho (rechristened as soon as the adoption counselor left) was hiding. I spent half an hour looking for her everydamnwhere, getting more and more freaked out as this was technically not my cat and I had somehow managed to lose her within 12 hours, and it wasn’t like she was a kitten or something, like, Jesus, she was a plus-sized adult cat. I really didn’t have any furniture, and I was confused as fuck as I checked every possible cat hiding spot in my apartment, including the cupboards, fridge, hallway, and balcony, 47 times. Finally I found her wedged under my TV stand, which from the front looked as though it extended right to the floor but at the back turned out to have just enough space for a big-boned cat to slip herself under.

The adoption was made official a month after she was first dropped off. She was slowly learning how to relax and beginning to show me affection in ways that suited her. She would step up onto my bed (I say “step up” because it was just a mattress on the floor—seriously, I had no furniture) and sleep beside me for exactly ten minutes every night before heading off to do her own thing. She would come say hello or at least meow something at me from the couch when I got home.

We lived in the decadent balconied 650 square-foot apartment for three years. Sappho’s anxiety level decreased to a point where most of the time she seemed like a pretty normal cat–until the phone rang or there was unexpected noise in the hallway or a person who wasn’t me had the audacity to enter the apartment. She spent hours flopped over the arm of the couch, one paw hanging off either side. She loved rolling around in the dust on the balcony, especially at night, and struck porn-star poses that she held for as long as it took for me to notice what she was doing and tell her how cute she was. Although she hated to be picked up and wasn’t a lap cat, she enjoyed wedging herself between my leg and the side of the couch when I was working or reading. She would sit near my feet and “pet” them with my tail as I worked on essays, marked exams, watched TV. She woke me up at sunrise most mornings with a polite but insistent request for breakfast.

In the fall of 2005, we moved to Seattle. The least said about the two years I spent there the better; I will say only that Sappho was there through every day I spent trying to negotiate the elementary school social hierarchy of my department, every 14-hour workday, every day lost to the fog of yet another different medication. After every pointless date, after every so-called platonic hangout that was later revealed to be actually a date, Sappho was there. The day I e-mailed, for the first time, the half-sister I hadn’t known existed, Sappho was four feet away, sprawled across the loveseat. She was there the day I decided to leave my PhD, leave the city, give back half of a four-year SSHRC fellowship, move back to Calgary, and restart my life, and despite the upheaval it created for her, this cat accepted the decision with less complaint or confusion than many of the humans in my life expressed at the time.

Sappho was my roommate and friend through seven moves to and from and within three cities, two degrees, two certificates, the lowest, saddest, most drunk, most fun, most stressful, most fucked-up, most important and most meaningful times of my life. Through ballsy decisions, unemployment, excessive employment, shitty employment, creepy landlords, lost friendships, and weird bullshit of all descriptions, there was Sappho. Whenever I was hung over and lying motionless on the couch, or passed out with a migraine, there was Sappho, who always knew when I was unwell and would abjure her 10-minute physical contact time limit in order to sleep beside me until I recovered.

I will, out of respect, not describe in detail the time I found her “hiding” under a plant, her entire gigantic butt end still totally hanging out onto the sidewalk, while a crow stood on the fence nearby and beaked her off. I will almost completely pass over the night I came into the kitchen for water and saw, upon turning on a light, my cat being chased around the living room by a spider. Let’s just say that while Sappho had many fine and noble qualities, she was not endowed with the usual feline feelings toward birds and insects.

This past March, during the week I was packing for our most recent move, Sappho got sick. At first I thought it was anxiety from the move, but her health got dramatically worse two weeks after we moved in and I took her to the vet. She was diagnosed with pancreatitis, which in hindsight she must have had off and on for many years. After a week of painkillers and anti-nausea medication and a switch to prescription food, she was much better: expressed in terms of “Shaft” lyrics, she was the cat who wouldn’t cop out when there was pancreatitis all about.

But she never went back to 100%; something was still a bit off. More and more often I’d come home to find her sleeping on the floor rather than on one of the armchairs that she normally parked herself on during the day. She no longer came to pester me for breakfast in the morning, and she stopped coming to sit on the bed with me when I was working or reading there—a part of my routine that she’d always looked forward to before. She never hung out on the perch at the top of her scratching post anymore, even though the new view was a million times better than the old one. I blamed all this on the toll taken by years of undiagnosed illness, on old age (she was around 70 in cat years), on our move and the resulting changes in routine. But in July she became less and less interested in food, and by the end of the month she was eating almost nothing and was losing weight quickly. She slept behind one of the chairs a lot and had little energy. Her meow was quieter and I’d catch her wheezing occasionally.

Last Saturday I took her back to the vet. He noticed that she was straining to breathe in an alarming way that I’d never seen before, and after a physical exam revealed no obvious problems he gave me the option of doing an x-ray, a blood test, or both. He recommended an x-ray over a blood test because we could get the results immediately, whereas with a blood test I’d have to wait over the long weekend. With the condition she was in, three days suddenly seemed like a long time.

A few minutes later I was called in to see the x-ray. For context, the vet showed me the x-rays of several healthy cats. The shape of their lungs was clear and their hearts were easily visible. Sappho’s chest, in comparison to theirs, was a blizzard. The heart was nowhere to be found and her lungs were an almost complete white-out. While he didn’t want to make an official diagnosis, the vet told me that this was unlikely to be infection as her temperature was normal, and that it was therefore probably cancer. “How does a cat get lung cancer?” I asked, pointing out with my impeccable exactly-wrong joke timing that she was not a smoker. He said it probably wasn’t lung cancer but rather cancer of the thymus. I could take her to the emergency clinic and have a bunch of tests done to confirm what I could see clearly in the x-ray, and then maybe have some invasive procedure done that could maybe make her more comfortable for maybe a couple weeks or so–but ultimately this appeared to be a terminal situation. He apologized for the bad news, I told him it wasn’t his fault and thanked him for having had the idea to do an x-ray, and we scheduled euthanasia for the Tuesday after the long weekend. The emotional shape I was in as I left the office need not be described. I was grateful, if nothing else, that I was not in a position of having to make a choice. I had always worried that Sappho would develop an illness that could be treated, but at a cost that exceeded my resources. Thankfully, the x-ray made it clear that no amount of money could change the story’s ending.

I had hoped she could hold out over the long weekend, but the next day she grew worse and I could see that she was really struggling to breathe—wanting to sleep, but constantly having to shift her position or stand up to catch her breath. I couldn’t see any reason to let this continue for two more days, nor was I willing to leave her alone in that condition while I was at work on Tuesday. Very reluctantly and after crying four thousand (more) times, I called the emergency clinic to find out what the procedure and cost would be if I brought her in later that day.

We left for the clinic in a cab half an hour later (Sappho went willingly into her carrier—an unheard-of event), and half an hour after that I walked home without her. The whole thing took maybe five seconds. She was sweet and cooperative with the technician who inserted the catheter. Before and during the injections, she voluntarily sat on my lap for the first time ever.

For a week now I’ve been returning to a catless home every day after work. I come in, I don’t have to step around a trail of litter. I can sit in whichever chair I like without having to talk anyone into getting out of it. Nobody follows me into the bathroom, horks up hairballs, cleans her butt in front of me while I eat dinner, or wakes me up at 5:30 a.m. I haven’t had to vacuum all week. It’s total bullshit. I can’t believe people voluntarily live this way. I’ve submitted an application to an adoption agency and am hoping to put an end to this foolishness by the first week of September.

There’s no replacing Sappho. She was the cat love of my life. But I’m looking forward to meeting my next little friend, showing her around, and seeing where it goes.

Friends and lovers, if you have a pet, give him/her a hug. Or a treat. Or leave your bathroom door open a crack next time, if s/he’s into that sort of thing. If you don’t have a pet and are living somewhere where you could and have ever considered adopting one: do it. Even during the longest long weekend of your life, you won’t regret it.

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One Comment leave one →
  1. August 10, 2014 9:31 pm

    Best thing I’ve read on the internet this week – thanks, MR. But sorry about Sappho. I never met her in catson, but feel like I’ve gotten to know a fair amount about her these last four or so years. You were lucky to have found each other!

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