Tuesday, September 09, 2008

Sad Day

My cat
Superior creature expresses doubt about human's ability to remove red-eye

Her official name was Strawberry, a brain fart that I let loose when I brought her to the vet's office for her first checkup. The receptionist insisted that their filing system worked by pet's names and I hadn't figured one out yet. What the hell -- she was a black and white manx with a bright pink nose. Vanilla, chocolate, and …

Or so I explained afterwards.

She was never Strawberry to me, and certainly never responded to that name. I had about a thousand nicknames for her, each one of which I feel certain would nauseate you more than the next. She did not respond to any of those either, but a variety of other sounds would always make her come running. Probably her favorite noises were me crumpling up a piece of paper or tapping my fingernail on a bottle cap. Always up for a few rounds of fetch, she was.

It was she who taught me to play this game, as a matter of fact. One day, back when she was a kitten, she dropped some object at my feet and communicated through body language as plain as a puppy's that it was my duty to throw it. I couldn't believe it, but sure enough, I tossed it, she chased it down, brought it back, and went through the same excited motions. When she was very young, she'd play this game to the point of exhaustion if I'd let her -- I'd finally call a halt, pick her up and put her in a chair, and she'd be sound asleep in seconds. As she got older, she learned enough to stop on her own. Her technique was to take the toy and hide it under the couch. This made for some embarrassment on moving days.

I got her from a rescue shelter when she was about four or five weeks old, according to the vet's best guess. She may have imprinted on me, or maybe she was just naturally affectionate, but she never stopped jumping into my lap, following me from room to room, napping on the chair behind my butt when I sat at my desk, and spending the nights curled up on my chest, tucked into the crook of my arm, or sprawled against my back.

She was a big one for climbing. In one past apartment with floor-length drapes, this cost me the entire security deposit. No biggie -- cheap at twice the price, considering how much affection she's given in return. Next place, I rolled up a seven-foot wide carpet remnant and stood it against the wall. But only because the new place had mini-blinds.

She sneered at the coffee grinder and holds the feline world record for length of stay in a room also containing a running vacuum cleaner. She once survived a transcontinental flight in a cargo hold that culminated in the baggage handler knocking her, in her cat carrier, off the top of a pile of suitcases, all the way to the ground. One protesting mew and a few blinks were her only signs of complaint. She was also liked dripping faucets, desk drawers cracked open one paw width, everything to do with plastic bags, walking on the edge of the keyboard without stepping on the keys, and licking the tip of my nose, especially at six o'clock in the morning.

I'll spare you more recitations of fond memories, at least for the moment, and cut to the sad part. Pardon the excessive details. For some reason, I felt compelled to type them out.


Strawberry died today.

For about the past month, she's finally been acting like the old girl (almost 15) that she was -- eating a little less every day, sleeping a lot more (even by cat standards), showing some occasional creakiness when jumping. I thought about bringing her to the vet, but I decided not to. When she was up and about, she seemed pretty much her old self. Though she wasn't eating as much, she was eating. She was also drinking water and using the litter box, pretty much as regularly as always. She did not seem to be in any discomfort, even when I picked her up, palpitated her belly, and manipulated her in other ways. I decided that she was nearing her natural end and did not want to torment her just to prolong her life for my sake.

Yesterday, she didn't come running into the kitchen for the morning feed. First time ever. I had to search the house, and finally found her hiding in a place I've never seen her go before. She was responsive and stood on her own when I carried her to where the food and water were, but she did not even deign to sniff. She immediately turned away, walked to an open cabinet nearby, and curled up in the back corner. I left her alone for a bit to see if she'd eat when less crowded by my nervous vibe. When I checked again, I found that she had left the cabinet and had to search the house for her again. She had managed to find a different hiding place, another one that I'd never seen her explore before.

I know that cats like their dignity, and I've heard that they tend to hide to die, but I couldn't bear to leave her alone like that. I spent most of the next twenty hours holding her in my lap. I thought about bringing her to the vet to be euthanized, but she wasn't showing any signs of suffering. She was asleep (or unconscious, perhaps) pretty much the entire time. She came to, struggled to her feet, and went for a short walk a few times, maybe looking for another hidey hole. She did not seem to mind, though, when I'd bring her back to my lap. She showed no interest in food or water, even when I held them in front of her nose.

At about two this afternoon, after laying quiet for a few hours, she stretched her head back and let out one of her trademark chirps. She seemed to stop breathing after that, although she let out a few hitches over the next ten or twenty minutes. Cheyne-Stokes respiration, I guess.

When that stopped, I took her off my lap and placed her body in a flat box that she loved to nap in, on the side table next to my desk.

I can't shake the idea that she really is just sleeping, and that if I walk out of the room and come back in just one more time, she'll be sitting up.

I have placed a crumpled-up piece of paper next to her nose and a bottle cap between her front paws.

I am now shaking my head, whether from irritation at my mawkishness or to clear the tears, I cannot say.


bjkeefe said...

P.S. For those of you in the know who may be wondering: Phineas (her adopted brother, obtained the same day from the same rescue shelter) is fine. He is even, for the first time in his life, showing a little weight gain -- a fringe benefit, no doubt, from the wet food I began buying when Strawberry started showing less interest in their regular dry food. I can't tell if he is yet even aware of what has happened.

I am curious to see if he changes his personality at all -- the one time he had me to himself (while Strawbs was at the vet's overnight while being neutered), he seemed to love it. I saw him more that day than I did most months. He always got along with Strawbs fine -- from wrestling and games of chase to sharing food and water bowls and a litter box without complaint to napping in each other's arms on winter days, but maybe he always wanted to be an only pet.

Anonymous said...


Sorry to hear about Strawberry. It is a sad day.

I actually have a Strawberry, the cat memory. When you were helping me with my blog, before I went to Ghana, you posted her picture on my blog.

Cousin Kathleen

bjkeefe said...


I'd forgotten about that. Thanks for reminding me.

I'm not sure whether to be embarrassed or proud that I have very few pictures of my cats.

Well, truth be told, I have lots more, but most of them were taken back in the old days of film cameras, and I wasn't up to searching through those at the moment.

And thanks also for checking in.

Anonymous said...

Very sad. I was sorry to read this.

Anonymous said...

Ugh, I am so sorry. My deepest condolences.

Anonymous said...


I'm very sorry to hear about Strawberry.
I've had cats all my life. They are my favorite animal companions.
I have lost a few. My first one died when she was 21. At that time she was back in my old home country, and I was here. It was old age, of course. My parents told me that the last few days, she wouldn't eat or move around much. She would sleep on my old bed, her favorite place for most of her life.

I have two cats now. One of them is 17. She's become very light. She follows my kids and lies down near them. My youngest son is giving her so much attention and love that I think at times, that she is living off that.

I'm sorry again, and I hope you feel better. Take good care of Phineas.

bjkeefe said...

Thanks, Don. Thanks, Twin. Thanks, Ocean.

O: I especially appreciate your words. It helps to keep things in perspective, for one part of my brain, anyway. Strawberry was my first pet (by five minutes) and the first one that I've lost.

My mother did not want pets when I was a kid, and she won that family battle every time it came up, as my Dad always said, 1-4. I think often of my nieces and nephew, who have had the opportunity to love, and yes, to lose, pets in their far more resilient youth. Good on my sister for that, among many other choices.

Strangely enough, I lost very close human family members in my formative years, and as much as I grieved for the later (and even closer) ones, I still feel completely like a rookie today.

Anonymous said...

I never had the pleasure of meeting Strawberry, but I'm so sorry to hear of her departure. You should feel good that you gave her a happy, comfortable life. That's the best we can do for our animal friends. As you know they return it in kind many times over. It's always so sad losing a member of the family no matter what.

jiminy jilliker said...

I can't properly express how sorry I am. She sounds like such a delight. I too have a fetch-playing cat that I dote on to an unseemly extent. Don't be embarrassed at feeling so bad-it's not just the only natural reaction, but really the best way to show your respect. For what it's worth, it sounds like she had quite a dignified end-and as you well know, that's quite fitting for a cat.

bjkeefe said...

You know, tc, there's a lot to what you said about giving her "a happy, comfortable life." I used to tease her, or more precisely, make jokes with her as the object when easily horrified humans were around, like "One more stunt like that, and tomorrow, it's right back to the shelter."

But really? It has always been an unalloyed satisfaction, shameless anthropomorphizing though it may be, to reflect on having rescued another sentient creature out of a cage.

I'm sure I've caused massive eye-rolling on the part of almost everyone who's read this far, but for the remaining few, let me say it once again, nonetheless: if you want a pet, get one from a rescue shelter. There aren't many other things that you can do that will feel so unqualifiedly good.

John Evo said...

Brendan... I don't know if we had discussed it before, but I'm also a "cat person" (big surprise, eh?) and I was deeply effected by your story of Strawberry. One of my two cats is a 6 year old girl whose face looks a lot like Strawberry's. It always kills me when I lose one and it killed me to read this story. But thanks for sharing it.

bjkeefe said...

Thanks, JJ. Once again, you've revealed our mind melding: love the playfulness, respect the dignity.

A pity everyone can't understand that's all cats ask.

Well, apart from tuna water, I mean.

bjkeefe said...


No, we haven't touched on this before, but I'm not surprised to hear that you are a cat person, too.

I'll resist the gratuitous generalization that leaps to mind (since I've probably already at least implied it).

Thanks for your kind thoughts.

Anonymous said...

Brendan, your loss reminds me of the disappearance of Ginger, my favorite dog.... Condolences....

Anonymous said...

Brendan, let me add my condolences to all the others on such a sad occasion.

Unsurprisingly, I don't have anything profound to say, but I do empathise.

Cheers, and do look after yourself.

bjkeefe said...

Thanks, Alastair and Gerry.

Gerry: I can only say that your loss sounds even worse than mine. Not knowing must be awful.

I hope you have been able to convince yourself that Ginger got picked up by someone who loves dogs as much as you do.

belindadelpesco.com said...

Demonstrating her utmost cuteness, Strawbs can be seen here and here.
I'm so, so sorry, and so sad...
Pet Phin for me.

bjkeefe said...

Thanks for those pix, B. They hurt to look at now, but I'm glad to have them.

Beth said...

Sorry to hear about the loss of your friend Strawberry.
My dog is getting to that stage - we're watching him very carefully and with lots of love.

bjkeefe said...

Thanks, Beth. May you have many more long and happy days with your four-legged friend. I'm sure you don't need me to tell you this, but I'll say it anyway: treasure them.

Anonymous said...


I'm so sorry for your loss. No one who hasn't been through it can understand what you're going through. Just be glad that you had all those years with her and that she didn't have a horrible painful death.

Auntie Deb

bjkeefe said...

Thanks, Deb. Yes, you're quite right -- there are lots of things to be thankful about. Just wish I could have thirty more years' worth.

Anonymous said...

A brand new baby was born yesterday
Just on time
Papa cried, baby cried, said your tears are like mine

I heard some words from a friend on the phone
Didn't sound so good
The doctor gave him two weeks to live
I'd give him more, if I could

Y'know that I would now
If only I could
Y'know that would now
If only I could

Down the middle drops one more grain of sand
They say that
New life makes losing life eaiser to understand

Words are kind, they help ease the mind
I miss my old friend
And though you gotta go
I'll keep a piece of your soul
One goes out, one comes in

Y'know that I would now
If only I could
Y'know that I would now
If only I could

Jack Johnson -- "If I Could"

<3 Matt

bjkeefe said...

Thanks, Matt. <3 back atcha.

John Evo said...

Beth reminds me that we are facing a similar situation. We got a dalmatian puppy for my daughter when she was 6. Her dog is 13 and looking (to me) like there isn't a lot left. I don't have the same attachment for her as I do for the cats, but she's a good ol' gal. Life.

Anonymous said...

So sorry to hear about this Brendan.


bjkeefe said...

Thanks, Phil. I appreciate the thought.

merlallen said...

I have a cat just that looks just like that. she came through my pet door one night and made herself at home. I gave up trying to get rid of her.
She just had 3 kittens under my bed.