:: Thursday, March 25, 2004 ::
Popeye the Cat
I don't know how old he is, really. A vet in 1995 thought he was about 8. In January 1997, when we visited our current vet for the first time, he put Popeye's age at around 11. So, maybe he's 18.
He's a domestic short hair, black with white feet and chest, and the white on his chest comes up under his chin and curls around so he looks like he has a white mustache. A big guy too. Long, tall, 13 pounds. Bryan, with affection, used to call him the Monster.
Back in November of 1993, my ex-partner Bryan and I moved into a house we rented in Fort Worth. It was a stroke of luck really. We'd been looking for a while, and then we came on this one, a 1940s era bungalow in west Fort Worth -- Arlington Heights, though at the east edge making it almost in the Cultural District. I looked inside the windows of the empty house and all I saw was this shining. place. I knew we were going to live there -- things shine when they're right, you know.
When we moved in, there was a couple living next door who had cats who lived outdoors. There was Comet, the little yellow tabby with the long incisors, lean from being such a hunter. There was Popeye, with major attitude, who'd made himself the alpha cat, mostly because the others were happy to let him have his way because they knew he was so insecure inside. And there was the other cat, marked just like Popeye but without the mustache, whose name I can't remember.
The house we moved into had been empty for some time, and the cats had adopted our yard and front porch as their second home. We were happy to have them as surrogate guests too. For quite a while, we didn't know their names, so Comet was the sabertooth-tiger kitty (because of those incisors). Popeye was the black kitty. And his twin was the white-kitty-in-disguise. This was because, unlike Popeye, his undercoat was completely white.
The white-kitty was the sweetest, and he was Bryan's favorite. Loved being petted. Loved being affectionate with the other cats. Popeye was the most recalcitrant. Hated being petted. Ignored the other cats. But the white-kitty loved him, and Popeye appreciated that. Only the white kitty would ignore Popeye's attitude and groom him. Only from the white-kitty would Popeye tolerate such attention.
Comet was my favorite. When we moved in, he was third in the pecking order, but I cultivated him, in favor of Popeye, and he grew in status, at the expense of Popeye's.
All went well. We got acquainted with one the guys next door, the cats' owners.
Then, in the summer of 1994 disaster happened. The guys next door were planning to move to a different house a block away. In the midst of this, one morning I went outside and saw that Comet had been injured terribly in one of his eyes. It turned out that he'd been shot by a BB gun -- eventually we heard that he'd done ok, but we never saw him again, and I think they put him down.
It was about a week after the injury that the guys moved down the block, and the trauma to the other cats was absolute. They refused to stay at their new home. Popeye and the white-kitty immediately came back to our house if they were outside. And the personalities of both completely reversed.
The sweet white-kitty wouldn't let us come near him. He'd hiss and cry, and became completely antisocial. Independent, aloof Popeye craved our attention. Eventually, the guys kept the white-kitty indoors, but they decided to let Popeye come to our house as long as we didn't mind. Gradually, we kept him fed, and then, by the end of 1994, we agreed with his owner that we'd take responsibility for him.
Sometime in 1995 we turned him into an indoor cat. Another couple had moved into his old house next door, and they had a cat with whom Popeye shared a fierce territoriality. After one particularly bad fight and having to nurse the resulting abscess on Popeye's head, that was enough. He was indoors.
Well, Bryan and I broke up. He moved out. Popeye stayed with me. Where else would he go? Who else would he live with?
We moved to Arlington, and here we've been for the last 7 1/2 years.
I'm trying to remember the progression of his aging. He used to get up on the bed with me while I was reading before going to sleep. He'd put his front paws up on the front of my shoulder and start kneading. It was so nice. I called it my kitty massage. It's been a couple of years since he stopped doing that.
He used to take interest in animals outside. Dogs or cats. Birds on the balcony. It's been at least a year since he even noticed they were out there. What a difference from before. It was in May of 1997 that he bit me. And meant it. Or rather, didn't mean to bite *me*, I was just in the way. At that time, there was a cat in the neighborhood who'd climb up on my second floor balcony. This, of course, would drive Popeye crazy. One evening, the patio glass door was open, and I didn't notice the cat had climbed up on the balcony until Popeye started lunging at the screen and the two cats were about to start fighting with the screen between them. I jumped up to close the door. My hand happened to be cat-high. Popeye bit, thinking of his enemy on the balcony, but my hand was what got bit. Man, I have never experienced such pain. Not the bite itself, but the infection, which started within hours. A cat bite in anger is not the usual bites, even that draw blood. I swear cat bites in anger have a special toxicity.
Apart from that, besides paying attention to the animals outside, he'd even get territorial when other cats were around outside the apartment building -- why do I say this? Because he'd get into his litter box and spray instead of pee. He'd pee too, but it's the spraying that made me know he was feeling territorially insecure. At least it was in the vicinity of the litter box, in the bathroom, and easy to clean up!
But, it's been at least a year since he's even noticed other animals exist outside. He doesn't even notice birds on the balcony. Maybe it's been two years.
I'm trying to remember how long he's been hyperthyroidic. Maybe that's been three years. He's had times when he'd get lethargic. A year and a half ago he stopped eating once, but I'd been traveling a lot, and both I and the vet think he was just "on strike".
I just couldn't get him to eat. I tried all kinds of food. Even human food -- tuna -- which the vet said to give him as an enticement. Nothing. Until finally, in desperation, I started talking to him. I told him how frustrated I was. I told him he might be the cat, and I might only be a human, but I wasn't stupid or mean. I reminded him of how I took him in, and gave him a home. And he listened, I swear. He looked at me, looked surprised at my outburst. Then started looking ashamed. And then he got up and went to his food bowl and ate.
It was over the past weekend that I noticed the change. He's been reducing in activity gradually for years, but from about Friday he was moving even less. He started peeing over the side of his litter box. I didn't think much of it, remembering the old days, and got puppy pee pads to put under the box so I wouldn't have so much cleaning up to do. But he was also eating and drinking less. And walking slowly, as though it were uncomfortable. He'd mostly sit, rather than his usual sprawl, shifting occasionally also as though he were trying to find a comfortable position.
Then Tuesday I started noticing nothing in the litter box. By Wednesday, yesterday, after work, I confirmed that he still hadn't had a bowel movement. He was urinating, but at the doorway to the bathroom, where the litter box is, as though he got that far and said "eh, close enough..." He wouldn't actively seek his food and water. I could get him to drink and eat a little tuna if I put it right in front of him, but he'd lose interest after a few licks at the tuna and laps at the water. I also thought I noticed him breathing heavily, but I wasn't sure if it was that, or just me being hyperobservant. But Dr. Absher noticed it too, today.
So, I took him into Dr. Absher this morning. We got the bloodwork back. It's nothing specific. Maybe a little pancreatitis along with the hyperthyroidism. A little dehydrated from not drinking enough. Maybe some cardiac problems, but $1000 for an internist and tests are required to confirm that diagnosis. I'll get the thyroid results back tomorrow, but they probably won't be different.
When I got home from work in the afternoon (he'd been home alone for about 6 hours), he'd finally pooped a little, and it was well-formed, but he'd been on the glass-topped coffee table at the time, and hadn't gone to his litter box (at least the glass is easy to clean and the stool wasn't loose). And he's still peeing on the carpet -- the last time, he only got halfway to the bathroom doorway.
I'm not going to do the internist. I'll see how he is over the weekend. And then call Dr. Absher on Monday and tell him what I've decided. If he's still not happy, and especially if he hasn't rediscovered his litter box, I'm going to have to have him put to sleep.
Popeye the Cat. That's how Walgreen's knows him, how he's named on his prescription.
I think I'm ok. I'm ready for this I think. I've been afraid of having him die at home. I've been afraid of what it'd be like to make this decision. Maybe the peeing on the floor is a blessing -- makes it easier. Can't lock him in the bathroom to keep him from peeing on the carpet. Can't have him peeing on the carpet indefinitely. But it's also sad. I'll not spend some $2k a year on food, medicine, supplies, boarding, and exams. I'll have half of my bathroom cupboard, freed from litter box supplies, and space to walk where the litter box has been, which has been a third of the bathroom floor space. Half a shelf in the pantry that's had food and treats. I can travel without spending $200 on boarding. I can take off for the weekend at the last minute and not have to have arranged for boarding in advance.
I guess the house will seem empty though. I'll miss the people at the vet's office. When they told me today that, if he died at home, I could just bring his body in to them, and they'd take care of things, that was the most comforting thing I'd heard. As I told them, I was happy I could do that, and would do that in that case... because they almost feel like part of the family by now.
Even during his exam, after the preliminaries when it was clear that this was a "serious" exam, the other girl, Mary, who has liked Popeye so much, came in to watch, and she looked so sad. I'll miss those people.
But I'll still have the stories, these stories I've told tonight.
Popeye the Cat. He's had quite a life.