This is for Patches.
We met Patches at the Humane Society. She was looking for a home. In her favor, she was cute, in an odd sort of way. But she had two strikes against her. She was one year old, an adult cat, not a little kitten. And it seems there are always more homeless cats than there are homes to welcome them.
The staff named her Patches. I cannot recall how she ended up at the shelter, but many cats arrive there when they’re down on their luck. Her coat was white, broken by patches of orange and black. Her tail, of dark gray and brown striping, looked like it belonged on another cat. Her official adoption description said, “calico.”
Patches’ predecessor, Krista Lee, had been a wonderful cat. She had a sweet temperament, used her scratching posts and enjoyed allowing humans to scratch her behind the ears. She loved curling up in sunlit squares to nap, batting toy mice and watching the great outdoors from her window perch. She had died of a brain tumor a few months earlier.
My husband Ron felt the loss of Krista Lee more deeply than I did, but I missed her too. Angie, our Cocker spaniel/Afghan hound mix (don’t ask—it’s a dog secret how Angie’s parents managed that) was a sweetheart, but we concluded she might be missing the companionship of another four-pawed creature while we were at work during the day.
So we found ourselves in the Humane Society’s get acquainted room while Patches strolled around evaluating whether we might be worthy of her.
We went home. We thought about it.
“She seems like a nice cat,” Ron said.
We signed the adoption agreement on April 11, 2003, and Patches came home with us. She took one look at Angie and leaped for the top of the bookshelf. She made it. Impressive, but unnecessary. Angie was not your average nervous spaniel. She had a Type B temperament. She was not the sort of dog who would go after a cat without a good reason. The mere presence of a cat was not a good reason.
Eventually, Patches came down. She and Angie signed a non-aggression pact. As time passed, they found they could share nap space on an area rug in the dining room. The site was out of traffic, but convenient for observing any kitchen activity that might be interesting.
It’s too easy to say Patches was a Jekyll and Hyde cat. All the expert advice we could find, all the products we could buy, all the cat training techniques we read about, did not stop her from scratching deep gouges in $1,000 worth of furniture. Her destructiveness was not a single act. She scratched when and where the impulse struck, in front of human witnesses, in front of the dog, no matter. And then, within a few minutes, she climbed onto a convenient lap and purred her affection for the lap’s owner whose furniture she had just gouged.
Patches was not quite a Jekyll and Hyde cat because her behavior was not a moral issue for her. One website says calicos have “cattitude.” http://cats.lovetoknow.com/Calico_Cats_Behavior Patches was simply doing whatever she pleased whenever it pleased her to do it, and nothing from squirts of water in the face to loud noises deterred her. She was, her veterinarian said, “being true to her breed.”
Patches settled into life with us. She sat in the dining room window sill, where late afternoon sun bathed her and she had a good closeup of bird in-and-out activity in the yews outside. She ate when she pleased, slept where she pleased.
Ron and Patches were simpatico. They were television buddies. Approximately two minutes into the first program of the evening, Patches would land on Ron’s lap, settle herself and purr. He would stroke her. The two of them could stay that way until the end of the program, when Ron would get up to get a diet soda and Patches would find herself summarily dumped. But only temporarily. After commercial breaks, the tableau would re-form for the next program.
In autumn, 2006, Angie got sick. She tried to eat, but could not keep food down. We put her on a diet of chicken bits, broth and rice, which worked for a short time. But soon she was unable to keep even the bland food down. Her efforts to walk went sideways.
“Vestibular disease,” the veterinarian said. Peripheral vestibular disease, which is probably what Angie had, can be related to ear infections or trauma from head injury. http://healthypets.mercola.com/sites/healthypets/archive/2012/06/04/canine-vestibular-disease.aspx There is no way to know whether Angie had any ear infections or head injuries before we met, but she was deaf. The Cocker spaniel rescue people hadn’t told us—did they think we wouldn’t adopt her if we knew? We figured out within a few weeks that Angie could not hear.
Angie compensated. She watched us closely. She learned that the sight of her leash was the cue for a walk. She learned dinnertime by scent. She learned that when I went into the kitchen at night and got out a Milk Bone, it was time for her and the cat to go downstairs to bed.
When the vestibular disease struck and the chicken and rice diet did not work, we took Angie to the veterinarian, carrying her into the clinic because she could not walk straight. It was scary to watch, as she tilted her head and tried to straighten out a world gone suddenly crooked.
The veterinarian gave us pills for Angie. Within an hour, I was on the phone to the clinic. I gave Angie a pill, she threw it up. Repeat. How could the medication help if she could not keep it down?
Bring her back, they said. That time, the vet gave her a shot. It seemed to help, temporarily. She was able to keep the next pill down. As dinnertime came, Angie could not stand up at her food dish. I sat on the floor as she lay down, feeding her small bits of cooked chicken and rice and chicken broth. She threw them up.
We carried her downstairs at bedtime and put her on the rug. The next morning, she had not moved. We carried her outside. She tried to urinate, but staggered. I held her body so she could urinate.
Over breakfast, we decided. The pills were not helping because she could not keep them down. She could not walk or play or eat.
“There’s no quality of life,” Ron said.
We did for Angie what we would want her to do for us if our roles were reversed.
Patches was our lone four-legged householder for a few weeks, until Greta came into our lives. When they met, Patches leaped to the top bunk bed in the spare bedroom. Greta stood below, barking. They called a truce by dinnertime, and each went to her own food dish. Patches’ dish was moved atop the counter, as Greta revealed a taste for cat food.
They settled into a routine. Greta received twice-daily walks. Patches got all the outdoor time she could by slipping out when the screen door closed too slowly. She was generally recaptured within a few minutes.
That autumn, Ron was diagnosed with a brain tumor. He still loved Patches, and she continued to sit on his lap whenever he watched TV. But Greta licks hands, a habit he found offensive. I tried unsuccessfully to train her not to lick, but Ron was unable to help with reinforcement. His tumor-attacked brain would not process fast enough. As a result, he tended to avoid the dog.
Fall slid into winter. Ron grew worse. And worse. He died.
Greta and I put a life back together, slowly, over a horrible long year. Patches, too, but a cat cannot offer the loving empathy a dog can provide. I believe Patches missed Ron. On the rare occasions when I sat down to read, she would crawl in my lap and purr and wait to be stroked. She would bat her string when I dangled it for her. The mice with rattles were a less successful toy, as Greta chewed them into dank furry clumps.
Patches continued her furniture destruction program. I fought back with sheets to cover the living room sofa and chairs and mailing tubes cut to slide over and protect the dining room chairlegs. Patches won. She had time, patience and motivation. She also had the ability to get under the protective items to the deliciously scratchable wood or fabric beneath.
As fall, 2013, began chilling the region and shortening the days, Patches began to boycott her food. She had boycotted occasionally before. On a boycott, she was not tempted by her favorite Purina One salmon and tuna dry cat food, nor by the best of savory canned food that corporate America could pack into tiny cans at nearly $1 apiece.
I tried assorted recommended brands of canned food, but nothing met her majesty’s approval. I resorted to a high-calorie supplement that optimistically suggested on the label that cats would eat it voluntarily. Clearly, they hadn’t met Patches. But when I got some down her throat, she would eat a little cat food.
Two weeks into the boycott, I noticed Patches was losing weight and nothing I did was helping. Time to see her doctor.
“Kidney cancer,” he said. He could feel the tumor. An X-ray revealed nodules along the bones where more tumors were growing. He could give her steroids as a palliative, he said. Treatment would buy her a bit of time, perhaps a month.
I said no. I would want Patches to say no for me if I were the patient. When death is inevitable, is it not better for it to come now than after a month of slow decline?
After Patches was gone, I put the empty cat carrier in the car and drove home. The sun was painting the clouds with warm colors. I don’t generally believe in signs, but if there is a little cat at play beyond the clouds, I’m fine with that.
If the Spirit has found a home for Patches out beyond this planet, I am grateful. Just one cautionary note: Dear God, Watch your heavenly furniture.