Sunday, December 01, 2002

D.C. 1984 - 2002

"Good Kitty"

When I was twenty-three and knew everything there was to know, my then-girlfriend moved in with me in my small apartment in Oklahoma City. Since it was important to set up a proper household together, we needed a pet. We went down to the animal shelter and of the three kittens there I picked the calico one with the white chest and paws, because she sniffed my hand and had the biggest eyes I had ever seen on a cat.

By the end of the year, the girlfriend was gone.

On the other hand, I had a cat named D.C. She was a very good kitty, and I loved her very, very much.

Everyone thinks that their pets are the best pets in the world, but D.C. truly was special. She was very smart, and very loyal. As the one cat in a one-man household, she didn't take too well to other people (especially in her younger, more rambunctious days), so when she moved out to Massachusetts with me it took a while for her and my then-fiancee to work things out. After D.C. spent about a week hiding from Chris under the bed, Chris eventually forced the issue by pulling her out from under the bed, sitting her down on it, and matching her growl for growl, hiss for hiss, and meow for meow. After that, they had an understanding, and soon D.C. was Chris' baby.

The bond they developed over the years was incredibly deep, and often they were inseparable. D.C. went from sleeping on my pillow to Chris', and then to sleeping curled up next to her like a hot water bottle - but not in the summertime. Chris was also D.C.'s principal English teacher, and eventually taught her to understand and appropriately react to over a dozen words and phrases - "no", of course, but also "wait" (useful when filling up a food dish) as well as "dish", "comb", and "little bear", which was D.C.'s cue to sit up on her back lags with her paws out, begging for a treat. She could still do "little bear" when she was eighteen, and even after she started going deaf could still understand "wait" and "dish" by hand signal.

Since D.C. also had a bit of a sweet tooth, she and Chris would often share an Oreo (she liked the cookie, not the cream) or a Mary Jane candy. She also was known to ask for, and gladly eat, onions (preferably cooked), bread (anything made with Pillsbury dough was her favorite - we never knew why) and even potatoes and French salad dressing. It's not that D.C. thought she was a human, she just thought she was an improved variety of cat.

I was still her Phil, though, and as such I was the only one allowed to do certain things, like comb her out to make her all pretty, or clean her ears and teary eyes. I was also the only person allowed to pick her up without a big fight (although until late in her life there were still plenty of little fights, even with me). D.C. had class and dignity, and being picked up and carried around was not high on her list of priorities. Lap-sitting was right out.

For about the first ten years of her life, D.C. was an apartment/condo cat, a.k.a. an indoor cat.

I had not removed her claws, though (nail-clipping was another job that only her Phil was allowed to do), so when Chris and I moved out of Boston she got the first opportunity to try being an indoor/outdoor cat instead. We were very nervous, but we shouldn't have worried - like I say, D.C. was a smart cat.

She loved being outside, and learned pretty quickly where her yard stopped, and where it was safe to go. From then on, as Chris said, it was "let me out, let me in, let me out, let me in ..." Being outside, though, did lead to one of the scary points in her life. It was a Sunday morning after one of our famous parties. The survivors were picking up beer cans, half-heartedly cleaning up, etc., when Gail came by to see what was up. We didn't know that Gail had brought her shar-pei until we saw a brown streak dart across the back yard, chased oh-too-closely by the very same shar-pei, who had squeezed out of a rolled-up car window. D.C. hit the back of the yard, leapt up and out, and hit a tree about ten feet up and didn't stop climbing until she was 20 feet in the air. All those years, and I never knew she could climb a tree.

I screamed for a ladder, and that broke everyone's momentary paralysis - everyone ran this way and that, Gail drug the dog back to the car, and I ran down the bank to the base of the tree that D.C. was in. I kept telling her that it was okay, that I was here and she'd be down soon and before I knew it she had jumped out of the tree straight down into my chest. I caught her almost involuntarily - I also never knew that she could jump from a tree into my arms. I held her tightly, rubbing her forehead with mine, and told her over and over again that I would always love her and would never let anything hurt her.

Around that time we started to notice D.C. was starting to really show some effects from the condition we had known about for a while - a while back, she had lost a lot of weight and gradually got more and more hyperactive. Our vet did the tests that showed her to be hyper-thyroidal, and we had been giving her pills daily to control the effects. Now, it was clear that one of the thyroid glands was either swollen, tumorous, or both - her neck began to swell, and she started to develop a rasping, labored, breath pattern.

We kept having her thyroid level checked regularly, and upped the dosage to it's eventual top level - one half pill every morning, one full pill every night. Although we could crush the pill and mix it in with her food, when she would get finicky and refuse to eat (or immediately throw up what she had eaten) it was time to get out the towel, wrap up a struggling, hollering ball of thunder, and stuff a pill into her mouth. And keep her mouth closed until you were absolutely sure it was down, because otherwise it would come back out, secreted from it's hiding place somewhere in her clever mouth. Through it all, D.C. kept her dignity, and her strength - she was surprisingly strong for a small cat, and not at all afraid to assert herself when she felt it was necessary. Checking her thyroid level involved drawing blood, and Dr. Weitzman went through many assistants who learned to be very careful holding D.C. She was "feisty", to use his charitable term.

Inevitably, though, the gland continued to swell, and block her throat. Her breathing became weak and forced. She could no longer swallow solid food, and we had to feed her a porridge of broth and weak cat food. She still attempted to make it into the downstairs bathroom whenever she needed to throw up (one of her tricks that amazed our friends) and would never to fail to come downstairs, whatever the weather, and demand to be let outside. And let back in. And let back out again. But over the years, her demands diminished their frequency, and she began to slow down.

Finally, she seemed to give up. She spent almost all her time huddled in the corner of our bedroom, not wanting or caring to jump onto the bed or even to go outside and lay in the bushes. She was clearly waiting to die.

And so, I brought her to the vet in the morning before I went to work. Like every other time, her naturally standoffish nature receded as soon as we were away from her own territory, and she clung to me for reassurance and protection. While we waited, I kept her still on the shiny metal table, nuzzled her forehead with mine and told her over and over again that I would always love her and never let anything bad ever happen to her. When the nurse came to get her I told her goodbye and sadly watched as she was carried into the back room. I cried all the way to work, unable to forget the image of her sad, frightened face looking back at me. My heart was breaking, and I knew I would never see my D.C. again.

That was three years ago.

Dr. Weitzman successfully removed her right thyroid and what he called the biggest tumor he had ever taken from a cat's neck. He later told us that he really didn't expect she would survive the surgery, especially after she seemed so slow to recuperate afterwards. All I knew is that when we went to see her the next day, I was so glad to see her again but she was pissed, and she wanted to go home. She clearly wasn't going to get any better in a little cage, so we took her home, and let her out of the carrier in front of her own house. She wobbled forward on shaven, unsteady legs and flopped down in the bushes to pant, unimpeded for a change, for a little while. Then she stood up and walked around the bushes to the front door, and silently meowed. I picked her up and carried her upstairs to lay her in the blankets at the foot of the bed, but as soon as I laid her down she turned around, braced herself, and jumped onto the bed. She was home.

After the operation, D.C. couldn't really purr properly, but eventually she could, and did, do anything else that she wanted. Of course, as time went on she gradually wanted to do less and less anyway. She stopped catching mice. She stopped wanting to play, and became more and more dependent on Chris and I to the point of always having to be around one of us, just to be sure that we were there. Chris being home during the day, she took the brunt of D.C.'s increased clingy-ness, but there were still some things that only her Phil could do. Like take her for regular check-ups, where everyone in Dr. Weitzman's office now knew her as the "miracle kitty", and didn't seem as afraid of her anymore.

Then, her single remaining thyroid gland started overproducing. The weekly pill organizer came out of storage, and it was back to the same regimen. One half pill in the morning, one in the evening.

Time went on, and D.C. became weaker and frail. Although the other thyroid wasn't enlarging as rapidly as the first, she again started having trouble eating, and keeping food down. She started to lose weight, as well as teeth. We started to talk about what we knew would inevitably happen. Although it was theoretically possible that additional procedures or surgery could give her a little longer, none of us wanted to put her through that. She was by now eighteen years old, and had had a good, long life - not even counting the three extra years. There was none of the despair we had seen previously, only a general weariness.

Over the last month, she went downhill rapidly, and finally got to the point of only being able to eat gravy. I took her to see Dr. Weitzman last Saturday, and she was down to just a little over four pounds - a third of her young self. She sat still but not silently on the metal table, curled in my arms, breathing and rasping heavily. I needed to hear it from him, though - it was time. She was not in pain, but would be soon, and there was nothing else to do. I would always love her, and would never, ever let anything hurt her.

So, on Wednesday morning I took D.C. to the vet for the last time. Chris came this time. We both choked back our tears, held her tightly, and told her over and over again that we loved her, and that she was a very good kitty. There was no way I was going to let her be afraid this time, so when the time came, I held her in my arms, and she rested her front paws gently on my arm; holding on, but not frightened or fearful. Dr. Weitzman sadly inserted the needle into the catheter that had already been placed in her foreleg, and the familiar rasping paused. Behind me, Chris asked if she would go to sleep now, but Dr. Weitzman was already putting his stethoscope under my arm to confirm what I already knew.

She was gone.

Now, I know that one more or less cat matters to the world nothing at all. I also know that in the world there is more pain, suffering, and genuine despair than I can even comprehend. People die, every day, in every circumstance. Loved ones are lost, lives are ended, families are torn apart. Evil men do bad things, and random people suffer for their actions. This world can be a brutal place, and unnecessarily cruel.

On the other hand, I had a cat named D.C. She was a very good kitty, and I loved her very, very much.

Goodbye, baby. I will always love you.

And I will never, ever let anything hurt you.

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