The Reverend Nermil Paka Sauce of Alaele Place: 2007-2019

Cats & Animals

Screen Shot 2020-01-23 at 8.43.44 PMDid it cross my mind, as I sat cross-legged in my underwear on the floor of the house we rented in Maui, cradling you like a baby, crying because I didn’t know if I would figure out how to get you home, that one day I could be holding you the same way as life seeped out of you?

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In 2007, in A sleepy Maui village called Hana, there were a few friendly stray cats hanging out on the lanai of the guest house we rented. There was fluffy, sweet marie, who were regulars, and a few others, who came and went. On our second day on the island, a little grey tabby showed up, and followed us around. We decided to call him Reverend Jaime, or The Rev, because of a little patch of white on his neck. I have no idea where the Jaime came from.

Screen Shot 2020-01-23 at 8.43.56 PMThe Rev could be seen staring up at trees, and analyzing plants. Whenever we came “home,” he would come running. He would sit on the edge of the hot tub. The other cats hated him, and he feared them, because he was a wimp. When the house owner came over to mow the lawn, The Rev got a flip flop tossed at his pointy little head for no good reason. It was then we decided,  if he came into the house and brought fleas, we wouldn’t feel so bad.

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Did it occur to me, the years we slept, spooning together, that I would feel the warmth leave your body? That the gums you strangely liked having pet would one day no longer feel the breeze of your breath?

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The Rev slept with us at night. Any time we were on the property, he was at our side. Neither of us had work lined up when we came back- I was freelance and Dave was between jobs, and I had just spent $800 that I didn’t have on my car, so naturally, our next step was to spend more money bringing a cat home.

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Getting him home took a lot of time out of our vacation. Because of some landslide, no local vets were open. We found a vet near the airport with a red Afro and a vanity plate that said TD BEAR, but we knew that if the vet didn’t clear him to fly, we would miss our flight back returning him to Hana. Thankfully, he was all cleared and ready to take his (seperate) flight to LGA.

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Did I think about it, ever, when people stopped what they were doing and remarked about your size that one day you would waste away to a much smaller cat as your kidneys failed?

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We met him in the cargo area of LGA, having had to walk in the snowy slush in flip flops on a busy road with practically no shoulder. Less than 20 hours after his first car, van, and plane ride, he had his first subway and bus ride. The bus was the “drunk” bus to bloomfield, the last of the night. It was packed and he had to rest his carrier on the lap of a very nice Spanish lady next to me. We walked the last 1/2 mile home, just over 12 years ago to the day, and started our lives.

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The Rev soon became Nerms, after Garfield’s nemesis, Nermil. He was the sweet to our other cat, The Mayor’s, sour. He took himself very seriously and was the most unintentionally funny cat I knew. He had no awareness that he was goofy, and walked around with a Sherman Helmsley-as-George Jefferson-like swagger.

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What about that time, close to the end, when i tried to record your purring sound so I would never forget it, but you were laying on my throat so it was punctuated with heavy breathing? Did I know I wouldn’t get a chance again to hear you purr?

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Anyone who met him said “whoa, that’s a big cat!” We we’re so used to it, we never noticed. He dragged corn cobs off of your plate and sucked off any remnants of vegan butter. He waited patiently at your feet for greasy chinese takeout bowls. He stuck his nail in your pizza if you didn’t share it fast enough. He pissed with his tail hanging out of the litter box.

Screen Shot 2020-01-23 at 8.46.33 PMHis favorite spot in the bed was smack dab between our chests, the more squished, the better. In the sun, he looked like a reptile. By indoor light, he looked like one of many Rankin-Bass protagonists. At some point in his life, he lost his left fang and started to look like Elvis. He liked to bite, not to break skin but to crush bone. And then he would gently lick you. He was the alpha cat of the 5. He demanded to be taken outside, and would sometimes try to get under our bikes as we brought them out of storage. If he didn’t greet us at the bottom of the stairs every time we came home, he most certainly would be at the top.Screen Shot 2020-01-23 at 8.46.23 PM

Did I bask in the moments you were stealing food, or pigging out, knowing that someday you would stop eating, despite clearly wanting to?

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His favorite thing was to roll around on the sidewalk outside, bathing in the sunlight. He also liked to play gingerbread man- running around in the yard so that you couldn’t catch him.

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He was healthy most of his life, but every time he had a medical issue, it coincided with vacation plans. It made sense- he came into our life screwing up our vacation, and he went out that way.

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After his initial foray into trying to be friends with 4 ferrets and his feline sister, and failing, he decided that he hated all other animals, and spent the rest of his life letting them know. He also hated vets.

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Once, he got into our kitchen cabinet and found a bag of xantham gum. He chewed it open, licked it, and then cleaned himself. He ended up looking like a stegosaurus. 

Screen Shot 2020-01-23 at 8.47.35 PMDespite the very cool personality he developed over the years, Nerms had heart. He had a nice, warm purr, and he was soft, and cuddly when he wanted to be. Even up to the end, if I carried him outside, he would relax and dig his nails into my shoulder, flexing each of them alternately, sniffing the air, watching the birds, the squirrels, the bugs.

Screen Shot 2020-01-23 at 8.48.28 PMOne October, he was sunbathing on our deck and he caught a bird and brought it in. I ran out to see what the commotion was just in time to see it leave his mouth and fly into the shower (while Dave was showering) and out a window. He wasn’t much of a predator otherwise. He was as shocked as we.

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The last day I took him outside was a sunny December day. I had been thinking we were at the end but he was having a good day and he rolled on the sidewalk, scraping his skull in the sun like he loved. And then it rained for a few days and I knew in my heart he would never roll in the sun again. I took him outside, at night, in the Christmas lights and the weather was mild and he relaxed in my arms as we walked around, He sniffed some mud, chewed some grass, cheeked a tree.

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I cried into his fur and told him I was sorry I couldn’t fix him at the same time that I signed the paperwork for the procedure. He hated the vet, I was starting to regret not getting an at-home euthanasia.

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The vet quickly gave him the sedative before he even noticed, and slipped out, leaving me in a chair, with him, looking out the window and rocking him. it took him awhile to fall asleep, and he did so on my chest, comfortably, seemingly happy to be snuggled in. Each time his eyes closed, it took a little longer to open until he was fully sleeping, an arm up on my shoulder. We spent about 5-10 minutes without the vet in the room and it was nice to just be present with him.

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They came back and and I gently laid him on the table, on a blanket. They gave him another shot while I put my face in his face and he was gone in mere moments.

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He didn’t look different dead. I pet his tail, it felt the same- his nose no different, his nails came out and retracted the same as they ever did when i gently squeezed a paw. His bunny legs moved just like they ever did when I carefully pushed and pulled them.  He was simultaneously totally there, and not. At that moment, I understood Schroedinger’s Cat.

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A lot of people have messaged us that he was so lucky that we took him home from Hawaii and gave him a life as a spoiled housecat. But it was us who were the lucky ones.

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If love could have saved him, he would have lived to be a crotchety old 25 year old man. I wish.

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Its hard knowing his life had to end. Even harder though, is knowing that it goes on mostly the same, without him.

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Foster Failures

Cats & Animals

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After my last blog, I thought I would be writing letters to 2 or 3 more cats as they graduated from my care into their own loving homes. 10 kittens were born into those two litters, 7 survived living outdoors, and came inside to live with me. 3 of those kittens left without too many tears on my part, and maybe you recall how distraught I was when the 4th one left me. The longer they stuck around, the more attached I was.

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The hot summer night that 7 baloney scented meat bags moved into my house.

With three kittens left, I had a great home lined up for one of them. It could have been the very last, unwanted one, or it could have been Slobulous*, my sort-of-favored kitten, if my partner and I did not decide to keep him. We were on the fence for a long time- surely three cats (we have 2 adults) would be too much.  I would do it, but I needed buy-in from my partner who would not commit.

 

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Because my friend was going to take which ever one was left, and we weren’t sure who was leaving, they all stuck around a little longer. Long enough to realize that Wojo was a cuddler, and Gorgon might be the worlds perfect cat.

 

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One day, I got my partner to commit to keeping Slobby and Gorgon. That meant that my friend would take Wojo. We decided it would be easier (on us, and maybe on her) if we took her over to his house.

 

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He called and said he was home and I could come any time.

I packed up a little white paper bag with some toys and treats for her.

She rolled around in the sun on our porch.

 

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This is literally the moment we decided to keep her. (PS, they are indoor cats. We have a fenced in porch that they hang out on, or the nearby roof, under supervision.)

She cuddled with her kitten friends.

Dave quietly wrote “Nope.” on her bag.

 

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I balled my eyes out.

My friend asked when i was coming over.

Lets just say that some friends know you well enough, and thankfully, understood the situation.

 

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Which is to say I now have 5 cats. and zero regrets. The kittens, they all are very different from each other, even though they have been inseparable their whole lives.

 

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Slobulous became Nozzy, which is short for Noz-Fur-ato. Because he is a little vampire and enjoys biting his friends’ necks. Because we were watching “The Night Of” when we named him and the main character was named Nas. We mostly call him Fluffy. He is weird and aloof, but likes to cuddle on his terms. When he first came here, we wondered if he was going to make it-  although he didn’t seem sick, he seemed off. He walked funny, was always filthy, rubbed his entire head and arms in his food every time he ate, and didn’t understand how to play. All of the other reindeer would have laughed and called him names, except I didn’t raise no bully kittens, so they kind of just winced and put up with his dorkiness. His big breakthrough was when he learned how to use the scratching post. He was the first one. He is by far the biggest of the kittens here, although he was one of the smallest before.At 6 months old now, he is now the boss of the entire house. I don’t love him MORE than the other kittens, but I have not loved a pet in this way since my Mollie. Its complicated. He is super special.

 

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Gorgon became Pumpkin. He has eyes like a big jack-o-lantern. I call him Practically Perfect Pumpkin because he is a really good cat. He lets you cuddle him and he is the most interactive. He is super curious about everything and wants so badly to learn how to do human things, like make coffee and temper chocolate. When he was a kitten, he would climb up onto your chest, stare at you (he and Goo were the “Starers.”) without blinking until his giant eyes slowly closed. He only has 2 expressions; wonderment and crabbiness. I suspect its the same expression, as viewed from different perspectives. He sniffs around like a bloodhound, is a hydrophiliac, and has a stocky build. He doesn’t take anything personally like cats usually do, and he really is practically perfect. He can’t be wholly perfect, because he is inclined to climb up your entire body like a tree if there is food involved. He is really a special guy too.

 

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Wojo became so many things- The Howling, Howly, Little Girl, Chicken. We settled on Ghost, since she flits all over the place, but we often call her Little One, Bug, Cricket, Insect, or Spider. She has little tufts of hair on the top of her ears, giant amber eyes, and long, slender legs. She is much tinier than the rest, and she likes to wander around with toys in her mouth, growling and mumbling to herself. She loves to cuddle, and has no problem if there’s no room- she’ll just lay on you and purr the purr of a thousand purrers- but god forbid you try to pick her up, or follow her- she’s flinchy and flitty- and although we let them all out on the roof under supervision, she likes to play games about coming down. She is still the sweetest of the 3 cats. Am I overusing the word special? Maybe, but, it applies here.

For as long as we’ve had our two adult cats, (10 years, give or take.) they’ve hated each other. Both my partner and I would see photos of other people’s cats cuddling with each other and be jealous. Now we have 3 kittens who love each other, 2 cats that hate each other, 2 cats that hate kittens, and 3 kittens that hold no malice towards cats (Although, Fluffy can hold his own in a wrestling match with our adult male cat, Nerms.)

There is something about taking a helpless little thing and turning it into the best little thing it can be. I can see how parenting can be appealing to some. I had planned on raising these guys, and fostering them until I could find them great homes. And although I am what you would consider a three-time foster failure, I still think I succeeded: they have a great home, and my home is 3 times better for it.

More photos (click any thumbnail to enlarge.)

A Letter to a Dumb Little Kitten (Who Used to Smell Like Baloney.)

Cats & Animals

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Dear Goo,

It is Thursday morning, and tomorrow is Friday. Tomorrow morning is your birthday. You will be ten weeks old. When I wake up, you will hear me, through the door to your room, and you will cry to be let out of the room. Your cry sounds like an old 60’s Marx Spooky Tree. More of a whistle than a whine. I will see the shadow of your paws under the door before I let you out, and you rush into the living room, then the kitchen, and demand your food. You will do this loudly. Once I finally present you and your siblings with breakfast, you will chow down, and you will most certainly be the last kitten at the bowl after all of the rest get distracted. This will be the last time we ever have this exchange.

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Goo. You are ten weeks old. Which means you have been with me longer than anywhere else. Your first four weeks were spent in the mud and bushes, behind a folding table and a boogie board, against the apartment complex. There were ten or eleven of you; two litters born two days apart by a mother and daughter cat. You were from the younger crew.

 

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Over your first 4 weeks, I would pet you and your siblings as much as I could. I would hold you, I would clean gunk out of all of your eyes, yet upper respiratory problems and probably malnutrition would take three or four of you. While your eyes were not sealed shut like several of them, you were the second most recognizable kitten next to the black one- you were Derpy Eyes. Something wasn’t quite right with you and your inner eyelids were outside.

 

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That stormy day when we caught your mother, we had planned on spaying her and keeping an eye on the other mother to make sure she was feeding you, until we could send your mother back and spay the other. However, the sky Turned that weird type of grey-purple and I could feel weird electricity in the air. I bet the mother cats could too.

 

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Between the dead kittens, and the infected kittens, and the impending storm, my friend asked if I could keep you guys indoors and foster you. My brain said no, it wasn’t a good idea, but my mouth said that I could in about four days if she could take you first. So there you were, a bunch of mud kittens taking your first car ride and sleeping in a bathtub for the holiday weekend.

 

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I was away for the weekend, and filled with dread. How was I going to take care of 7 nasty little kittens? And find them homes? When I picked you guys up, I was warned that you were messy, but nothing prepared me for the smell of fish, baloney, and feces that followed you. “The derpy eyed one still seems weird,” my friend told me.

 

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When I brought you home, I gave you all a bath. I know I wasn’t really supposed to, but none of you knew how to eat or shit without getting it all over you.

 

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Your eyes were a little less derpy. I put you in your cage for the night and you all stared at me. 14 blue eyes. I think something happened to me there.

 

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We had you for at least a week before we named you, or any of your siblings. It was hard to tell the difference between anyone as your eyes quickly got less derpy. I would like to say your eyes got better, but you traded derpy eyes for wet, oozing, gooey eyes, leftovers of the upper respiratory infection that likely killed some of your siblings. Thankfully, a rescue friend had sent some antibiotic ointment and over 2 weeks your eyes slowly got better.

 

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Of the seven kittens, we had groups. Later you would get names, but initially we had The Slobby one, the black one, the big one, the normal ones, and the starers. You were one of the two starers. You would sit on my shin and stare in my face with your runny eye and fall asleep while the other Starer would do the same on my chest. You also fell asleep standing up everywhere.

 

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Eventually, the starers would be named, appropriately, Gorgon, and Medusa. Medusa. That’s your real name.

 

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Goo came about because of your right eye, the wetness around it, and the antibiotic goo we had to put in it. Goo stuck. As far as the medicine was concerned, you never took it personally when we gave it to you, never struggled. You were by far the smallest kitten as everyone started growing, but you had tons of energy and a hell of a purrer on you. You were a good cat.

 

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I left you for a week, but paid for a $200 Internet connection so I could keep up with you all. Dave would alternate a touching email about how great you kittens were with an email about how you were all ruining his life because he got no sleep. That was because he was letting you all sleep in the bed. The sweet emails, and the angry emails, both seemed to center around you. You and your cries. You and your toe munching at bed time. You, the last night of my cruise, deciding to try my bed out as a litter box. Well, Dave had no proof it was you, but he suspected it. Fun fact: kitten pee is much less disgusting than cat pee. I’d rather have a gallon of kitten pee dropped on me than a teaspoon of cat pee. Still, Dave did not appreciate having to clean up after you. Then you did it again just a couple hours later, in front of me. It was just you and me in the room, Goo, and I didn’t pee on the bed. I sniffed it to make sure it was pee- it smelled like water but it was warm. I changed the comforter, again.

 

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To your credit, you never peed (or pooped) outside of the box again. I think you didn’t want to leave the only room with an air conditioner running, to go pee in a 100 degree room and then lose your spot on a bed that contained 8 other cats and a human.

 

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Goo, Gooey, Goop. Always the first one to greet me on the stairs when I come home from work. Always. Always happy to see me. Goob. Goon. The second best at playing with the jingleball, keeping it from falling down the stairs, growling and carrying it in your mouth to keep it away from your siblings. Goo, the finder of receipts.

 

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Goo Goo, a disciple of the Church of the Refrigerator. When I open that door you stare and meditate on tofu, beans, blueberries, and almond milk. As I take you out of my home for the last time, I will take solace in the fact that I no longer run the risk of decapitating you during the act of getting salad dressing.

 

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Googy. You love playing with your siblings. Right now it sounds like rolling thunder in the dining room, but I know it’s only you and one other cat. You will miss them when you leave. Since you were taken from your mother so early, they are the most stable thing you know. It will be scary for awhile, but you will adjust. You will have a whole family to love you, including some adult cats who may be a little more friendly than the adult cats here. I wish I could give you a chance to say goodbye to your friends, but you are just a stupid little good natured little cat, in fact one of the best cats I ever met, and you don’t understand goodbye. You understand the sound of the fridge opening, the trajectory of a jingle ball, where to grip the top of a chair so you don’t fall off. You understand leaning up against a human hip and closing your eyes is a great way to relax and practice purring.

 

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Goo Bean. You’ve already grown up so much in these six weeks. You are the same size as the rest, and your big kitten eyes are getting less and less cartoony. You posture like a cat, and cheek and rub. I don’t know who taught you how to keep clean in the absence of a mother, but sometime between when I brought you in as a smelly baloney worm and the next week, you learned how to take care of yourself. You prance around, without pretention, across the room, tail high and curled, just at the top, to the right. If you catch one of your buddies, you swish it a few times for good measure before dive bombing the poor sucker.

 

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Goo, there’s no way to say this delicately, but your farts are smelly. I am sure they are healthy, but damn, are you waiting for me to let them loose?

 

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I have always lived under the impression, my Goog, that cats are inherently evil. It’s a much lower rung of evil, than, say, a terrorist,  but I’m gobsmacked that i just  don’t see the potential there for you. You are a Good Cat. A Very Good Cat. Not an evil, or even sassy bone in your body. It chokes me up. At this point, I have cried so hard that tears are pooling in my ear. Despite that, I can still hear you and Slobbo playing jingle soccer.

 

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I’m gonna take you for a ride tomorrow, Goo. You’ll see where I work and then get transferred to another car, then another car, and finally, 3-4 hours later, to a happy home full of females. Girls, Women, She-cats (I think!) You will love it. You will be living with someone I have known and trust for 30 years. You will be happy there. But let’s get real, Goo; I will never see you again or rub your belly or have you tap me with your little paw, and this is a bummer.

 

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But, I don’t want this to be a bummer for you. I write you this letter not so you can remember me- after all, you are a dumb kitten who, despite being one of the best cats who ever has and ever will live, cannot read. My hope is that you forget me. Have a great life and allow yourself the ignorance of forgetting your first 10 weeks. May you live your long life thinking it has always been wonderful. I write you this letter because as much as I want you to forget me, I want to remember you.

 

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Happy birthday, Goo.

 

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Our last photo. A grown up, very good cat.

Elderly Animals

Cats & Animals

I’ve been honored to experience the life, and end of life, of several little animals that I loved. In my adult life, in all but one case, I’ve had the privilege of being the person who helps decide when the time is right. In also all buy one (different one) of those cases, those animals were on the upper range of their lifespans, and had a particular ailment that was doing them slowly in.

My current mammalian companion is much more past her expiration date. She has blood sugar issues that need to be medicated daily. Her diet needs to be monitored and supplemented. She gets an implant every 6 months to slow the progress and help the symptoms of the benign tumor on her remaining adrenal gland (she had surgery to remove the other one a couple years ago for the same disease. She is blind, has trouble getting around sometimes, doesn’t always make it to the litter box, shivers a lot, and her once soft and fluffy fur has changed to course, brittle and sparse, barely covering her wrinkly visible skin and bony joints. Her belly is pink and bloated from the steroids she takes. She is easily confused. I sometimes have to give her a half bath because she drags her hip or tail in poop.

But just try to put her in her cage. She’ll bite the bars like a champ. She still carries her ball, and she always manages to find my boot to read her head on, or climb up my leg till I pick her up and cuddle her. And she’ll come stumbling like a drunken bat out of hell if you’re eating chocolate (the good stuff only!) 2 rooms away for a lick ( at her age, if she wants it, she gets it- a lick only.) and god help the car that gets in her way when she’s blindly bumbling around- she will lunge at you with the ferocity of a cobra.

She IS a survivor. A refugee from a place where all her kind are gone, where she should be gone too, but has no specific ailment, other than time, taking her out, yet many conditions that get in the way. She overcomes.

Little animal, you’ve been my companion for eight and a half years, when you were a baby who cried so pitifully if your feet touched the floor because you were scared of the slickness of hardwood and tile. Little thing who shook and stared at rhe sky afeaid of what winged boogieman might swoop down and eat you and because of this, preferred indoors to grass and sunlight (until your much older years.)

Lady, I protected you from that floor and those boogie-birds and the sub and your best friends who were anything but friendly the first few months we were together. I did my best to protect your body from disease, and your brain and heart from the depression of losing all of your same-species companions years ago.

I am honored, little one, to continue to protect you however I can, from pain, and to be with you for the end of this journey, whether we have weeks, months, or years. So I will continue to warm up your feet and wash your tail and clean up your messes and feed you by hand, and help you live and die in dignity.
I saw this video of this photo project by Isa Leshko, which I suppose brought this all on. Been crying for an hour over it and her, with sadness and joy. If that’s not experiencing, I don’t know what is. Please watch:

Elderly Animals: Photographs by Isa Leshko from Walley Films on Vimeo.

See the photos at http://www.isaleshko.com