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January 2, 2015

My statviewometer says I have over 40,000 friends and lovers now. Wow! Let’s be real though, 67% of you came for the Burt Reynolds recipe, 13% Googled “grandmother anal,” 54% are homepeeps from grad school and most of the rest of you are relatives who think I don’t realize you come around to spy on me. I realize. Still, friends and lovers are friends and lovers.

This horrible thing happened in the fall and I still can’t talk or think about it without crying so I thought I’d set aside a night to have three drinks (that’s the most I can have now, for I am very old, and migraines wait at the gate for the slightest intimation of an invitation) and see how writing about it goes. Probability of ocular precipitation: 103%. This is more for me than for anyone else, but feel free to tag along.

About four months ago I wrote a post about losing my cat Sappho to a blizzard of cancer, and a couple months after that I wrote one about the new cat I had adopted. (In between there was the one below about how I was having oral surgery the next day and might die, which it turns out I didn’t, but ever since then I’ve been checking the mail daily for my World’s Longest Panic Attack trophy. That thing is going to be here any day now, I’m sure of it!) I took down the post about my new cat for reasons that will become obvious. I don’t want to say her name because–leaving aside my lifelong weird subconscious belief that names have tremendous mystical powers and must not be uttered in certain contexts–I want to tell the story as anonymously as possible, so let’s call her…uh…Neko. I know it’s kind of fucky to give a pseudonym to a cat but here we are.

So Neko was a rescue and I found out during my screening interview that she’d been living in foster homes for an extremely long time. In my application I’d listed a few available cats that I’d be interested in seeing, but as soon as I heard how long Neko had gone without a real home I put her at the top of my list of cats to “view” and decided I’d take her unless she visibly despised me. Not that a pet can’t get love and care from a foster, but living somewhere “for now” isn’t the same thing as having someone choose you and love you for the rest of your life.

When I went to visit Neko she was scared but not homicidal. Success!

She spent her first night hyperventilating on top of my kitchen cupboards, but over the next couple of weeks she slowly settled in. The second night at around 11:00 I was awoken by her doing a dance of manic purring happiness on the bed. Probably as a result of her homeless kittenhood, she had some strange quirks, became a vicious claw demon if I tried to pick her up, and was easily scared, but she got more and more comfortable and affectionate as time went on.

About a month after I got her, I noticed that she would scratch herself behind the ears quite vigorously whenever she woke up from a nap. I thought this was super adorable and praised her fastidiousness. Then a series of disgusting discoveries and internet searches led me to the realization that she had fleas (and a tapeworm). I booked her a vet appointment immediately, but it was the first day of a long weekend (of course), so I had to wait three days to take her in.

I had never dealt with fleas before. I didn’t know how they “worked.” My contract with the agency said that flea treatment and deworming medication were included in the fee I had paid for her, and I thought that meant she’d been treated shortly before I adopted her. Discovering that that was not the case, that in fact her last treatment for either had been in 2012 when she was initially found, and that not only my cat but my whole home was infested with fleas, horrified me. Neko had been sitting on my bed–as she did for many hours every day–at the time when I’d realized she had fleas, and a brief search I found several in my sheets. In. My. Mother. Fucking. Sheets.

Getting Neko into her carrier on the day of her appointment was an ordeal in which I chased her around with reluctant persistence while she knocked over almost every ornament on my bookshelves and almost every bottle and appliance in the kitchen. Finally she ended up back on top of my cupboards, hissing in terror, while I, standing on the counter with winter gloves on, held her carrier in one hand and tried to push her in with the other. I had already experienced the wrath of her tiny little razor claws a couple times before, and if she’d become scared enough to lunge at me again I would have lost my balance and fallen down on top of receiving a face full of scratches. It wasn’t safe for either of us and I would have abandoned the project had it not been totally necessary to bring her to the vet.

I couldn’t take her to my usual vet; I’d been given a list of vets I had to pick from for her first post-adoption appointment. The one I took her to gave her a very brief checkup–by this time I learned it was her first since she’d been found as a kitten–and confirmed the fleas but didn’t do much else. He didn’t say anything about the tapeworm, but he did tell me that a certain brand of flea medication killed parasites, and I chose it specifically because I thought it would take care of the tapeworm as well. I assumed that was why he was mentioning it. (Never assume…) He also sold me a can of ridonkulously expensive spray that could kill fleas in three of the four stages of their life cycle. When I got home I used up the whole can in my bedroom. I took my mattress and box spring off the bed frame and gassed the crap out of them. I washed and dried all of my bedding. The next day I went back to the vet’s office, bought a larger can of spray, came home, coaxed Neko into the bathroom, re-sprayed my bedroom, and sprayed the living room. Reluctantly, but feeling that it was necessary for my own well-being, I closed my bedroom to Neko, since it had now been sprayed twice and was the one place so far where I had actually found fleas.

A couple days later I realized that Neko still had the tapeworm. I spent more time online and learned that the flea medication I’d chosen actually didn’t kill tapeworms, that the vet must not have checked her for them (despite the signs being very obvious, and despite fleas being the one and only source of tapeworms in cats) and I’d have to go back for a prescription for dewormer pills.

Meanwhile, as soon as I brought her home, Neko had realized that the carpet was the source of her troubles and embarked on a “floor is made of lava” lifestyle that would have been cute had it not been rooted in suffering. As she was afraid to be picked up, there was nothing I could do when she stopped sleeping on the floor and began spending most of her time on top of my bookshelves and fridge–hard uncomfortable surfaces that wouldn’t be any cat’s first choice.

I thought that spraying my place would be the end of it, but it actually seemed to have the effect of temporarily increasing the hatched flea population in my carpet. I began to get bites on my legs and would occasionally wake up to bites on my arms. I started sleeping with socks on and my pyjama pants tucked into them. I tucked my pants into my socks when I was working at home. I couldn’t go five minutes without checking my feet for fleas or Googling flea-related topics. Being bitten by insects I couldn’t see and apparently couldn’t control, combined with seeing Neko suffering and uncomfortable, pushed me downhill into a shitstorm of panic attacks. Every evening was hell. I couldn’t work, I couldn’t think. Part of me wanted to be away from home as much as possible so I could avoid fleas, but since I was such a crying agitated mess it was difficult to be anywhere else, crying and agitation being generally frowned upon in public places. I can work around my usual level of anxiety to some extent, but panic of this magnitude and frequency was new to me and I couldn’t get on top of it. I lost my appetite almost completely and couldn’t sleep without taking the anxiety medication I’d finally dragged myself to a walk-in clinic to get.

Weeks went by in this way. I continued spraying my place with $30 cans of vet-grade flea killer but was still seeing occasional fleas in the carpet and getting occasional bites. Neko was trusting me, and her home, less and less all the time. She was still scratching herself, still sleeping on the bookshelves. Eventually, in hysterical tears, I wrote to the agency I’d adopted her from and told them I’d have to surrender her as this situation wasn’t working for either of us. I received a curt reply that I needed to have my place sprayed by a pest control company.

Around the same time, I e-mailed my landlord to let him know what was going on and ask that my carpet (15+ years old, worn, and stained; the only unawesome part of my suite) be either replaced or cleaned. He’s an excellent person and told me he’d do whatever I thought was best. I was like, No, it’s your decision because it’s your house, but I put in a vote for replacing the carpet, since steam cleaning old raggedy carpet wouldn’t make much sense moneywise.

He agreed. I was relieved. I thought that was going to be the ending. If the carpets were replaced soon, the fleas would be gone and I wouldn’t have to give up Neko after all.

But more time passed and I didn’t hear from my landlord. Neko got worse. I got worse. After I found out my carpet would be replaced I had told the agency that I would try to keep Neko, but one day after a sobbing appointment with my therapist it was decided that giving her up was the best way to go for both of us. She was miserable, I was in mid-breakdown, there was no way to know when or if my carpets would be replaced…it all-around wasn’t working out.

I wrote to the agency and explained in meticulous panicked detail that I would have to surrender her and why.

No response.

About a week earlier, the agency had offered to have my place professionally sprayed, and while I’d declined to let them pay for it (it wasn’t their fault that my cat had fleas), I had asked for a recommendation of a good person or company since they had more experience with this stuff than I did. But it took them almost a week to respond, by which time I’d set it up with someone else. Even though at this point I didn’t know if or when I would be surrendering Neko, I arranged for her to have an appointment with my own vet on the day of the extermination, since by this point I was sure she was seriously allergic to flea bites and I also thought I had given her a chemical burn when I tried to apply her next month’s round of topical flea medication. She would spend the night there while the exterminator gassed my place.

The vet couldn’t find a single flea on Neko, confirmed her flea bite allergy, alleviated some of my guilt by telling me that what I’d thought was a chemical burn was a raw spot from constant scratching, and put Neko on prednisone, which I would have to sneak into her food twice a day. I came home later that night to a place that absolutely reeked of chemicals. I aired the place out as much as I could before bringing Neko home the next day, but the fumes were still overwhelming.

Over the next week Neko became increasingly mistrustful of me at meal times–formerly the happiest and most looked-forward-to parts of her day. She realized I was hiding pills in her food and would eat around them, and I’d hide it in some new food, and the whole thing became a horrible game. Then, a couple days later, she started sneezing constantly. I called the vet and the receptionist said she was most likely having a reaction to something the exterminator had used. A few days after that I discovered she had another tapeworm.

I was still having constant panic attacks and not eating. At this point I’d spent over $700 on medication, extermination, vet care, and flea spray in six weeks. Neko had been sick, uncomfortable, and unhappy for over half of the time she’d spent with me.

A week later, I wrote to the agency a second time and essentially begged for a surrender form. The most counterintuitive e-mail I’ve ever sent. But this time it achieved its horrible purpose.

Feeling like the biggest piece of shit alive, I Googled various pet surrender phrases, thinking maybe there would be some kind of emotional support available, which no, there wasn’t, but what there was was a seemingly endless stream of unconscionably judgey and high-horsey blog posts and comments written by people who very confidently proclaimed that no unforeseeable and unimaginable life circumstance, including terminal illness and/or homelessness, warranted the surrender of a pet. They hoped the former owners rotted in hell, suffered mentally and physically for the rest of their lives, were never ever permitted to go near another animal ever again, etc., etc. Commenters praised the Jesuslike (honestly!) compassion of the rescuers and in the next sentence seconded their “Whoever surrendered that dog/cat deserves to be slowly tortured by Satan for eternity” sentiments. I’ve actually disabled comments for this post because, friends and lovers, I don’t need it and I can’t take it. Intellectually I know that attitudes along the lines of the above are logically untenable on top of being self-righteous ignorant bullshit. Emotionally it would crush me to read any more of it and I’m in enough bits already.

The pickup was set up for a Saturday afternoon. Just before the volunteer showed up, I was looking out my living room window and Neko jumped up onto the coffee table beneath it. I petted her. She purred. It was a peaceful moment and it would have been an acceptable ending, if not a happy or ideal one.

Then my buzzer rang and I went downstairs opened the door to a woman with a cage. While I was reluctantly letting her in, Neko slipped into the bathroom. The lady went in, shut the door, and I stood in my kitchen hyperventilating to two minutes of panicked hissing and terror. After they left and I’d gotten somewhat of a handle over my emotions, I went into the bathroom to straighten up and found that Neko had been so scared during the caging that she’d peed everywhere and there were scratch marks on my walls. The agency had criticized me when I described how hard a time I’d had getting her into her carrier for her first vet appointment and asked them for suggestions to make it less stressful–and then they sent someone whose way of doing it involved literally scaring the piss of her. It didn’t make any sense. If I’d known it was going to be like that I would have taken her to the foster myself.

Everyone I know, with the exception of the adoption agency people, has told me I did the right thing for Neko and have nothing to feel guilty about. It’s nice of them to say this but I’m not capable of believing it and I feel like Satan probably should come by with his bag of torture instruments irregardless. I know her current foster is fond of her and I know she won’t be euthanized; it’s a no-kill organization. And I know that Neko doesn’t obsess over this. She doesn’t cry every fucking day. In fact there’s a very good chance that she’s much happier now. She lived with this foster for a year before I came along; she enjoyed the company of the other cats there, and she never went through any itching/sneezing/shelf sleeping/medicated food bullshit there.

But I just can’t make myself care about any of the above. This is the worst thing I’ve ever done. I don’t know how to get over it. Neko’s been gone since mid-November and I still cry two million times every fucking day. I don’t know how to be a person who surrenders a cat. Cats are my favourite thing in life and a cat abandoner is the last thing I ever would have thought I was. I have twenty-five articles of cat clothing and I feel ashamed and self-conscious whenever I wear one now because I don’t “deserve” to. I can’t forgive myself for leaving her. She finally found someone to adopt her and then two months later I let her go. I constantly fantasize about somehow getting her back, even though I know this agency would never again approve me to adopt. She’s been in foster care for so long and I’m afraid nobody’s going to want her and love her like I did and still do. I feel like maybe if I’d had it in me to do things differently, opened my bedroom door to her again or been more stoical about the infestation or something, maybe this story would have had a less shitty ending.

What’s been stuck in my face in higher resolution than ever before is the awful fact of how quickly and how often my anxiety becomes bigger and louder and more real than my love. When this happens with people, I at least have a shot at explaining it during or afterward. A shot at putting it into words, being understood to some extent, and maintaining the relationship if that seems best for everyone involved. Whereas Neko is never going to read this post. You can’t apologize to a cat.

I haven’t had a flea bite since November. I bought a new bed last month, not because of the fleas but because my old one’s saggy bottom had been fucking with my back for years and I found a good sale. My mismatched living room furniture is next on the replacement list–again not “because of” fleas but because I’m in a financial position to enact my adult fantasy of having furniture that matches and that I chose for myself. The carpet replacement was finally set up last week. It was supposed to happen on Wednesday the 31st, which was a load off as it meant that externally if not internally I wouldn’t have to drag this horror story into the new year and Thursday would bring a new start for realsies. I spent several hours the night before moving all my stuff from the living room and bedroom into the kitchen so the carpet people would be able to move my shelves easily.

I checked my phone during my break at work on Wednesday and found a text from my landlord saying that they’d come and then left without doing the carpet because they hadn’t brought padding for it.

I was super enraged, because for fuck sakes. For fuck fucking sakes! What the fuck! Why would you come to a job without the fucking essential supplies?! Whenever I get sick of the bullshit of teaching, I tell myself that I could learn a trade and blow the competition away just by showing up at the scheduled time and place with the correct supplies and doing a competent job within a reasonable amount of time.

So all my books are on my kitchen floor and counter and I’m sitting in chaos until tomorrow when, gods willing, I’ll disappear for four hours and come home to unstained unraggedy flealess carpet.

After that, I don’t know. I really don’t know. I can’t imagine myself without a cat. But now I’ve lost two in four months and right now I also can’t imagine myself with one. As of tomorrow evening I’ll have every reason to believe there are zero flea cocoons in my life, but I don’t know if it’ll make a difference. If I did get a cat I’d freak out every time I saw it scratch an itch. If I somehow got Neko back I’d worry about her constantly. If I got a different cat I’d feel guilty for having it at Neko’s “expense.” Auld acquaintance can’t and shan’t and shouldn’t be forgot, I don’t think.


What’s the take-away message here? I don’t know. Hug your pets. Don’t be a total dick to humans. If you’ve got mental health bullshit going on, do whatever you need to do to take care of it before you end up in a place like this. If you’re a carpet guy, come when you say you’re coming and bring what you need to do the job. If you’re a flea, fuck off.

That’s all I’ve got.


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