The Summer of Zoey and Trixie

Zoey relaxes at home

It hasn’t been quite three months since we said goodbye to Sophie and frankly, we weren’t sure if we wanted to bring another cat into our household. So many well-meaning friends suggested that we “replace” her with another pet but of course she is irreplaceable. Any loved one–human or otherwise–cannot be replaced.

But then another person suggested that a new pet might “enhance” our life, not replace Sophie. And poor Trixie, she seemed so lonely and needy in a way we’d never seen her before.

So, finally, we visited the SPCA and fell in love with a little gray three-month-old kitten. One paid adoption fee later, she was ours. We were able to bring her home the next day after she got the requisite spaying.

After just 10 days it’s as though this little three-pound baby was always a part of this family. We named her Zoey but she already has so many nicknames, the poor thing is probably going to have some serious identity issues. Among our myriad terms of endearment for her: Bear Cub, Zo-Bird, Baby Bear, ZoZo, Smokey the Bear, Smoke Monster and the Veep.
The term “Veep” is bequeathed to her by Trixie who, in turn, has been promoted from her role as second-in-command to Sophie. With Sophie’s passing, Trixie is now the Boss.

Trixie, the Boss

The rest of the summer will be spent trying to convince our home’s two rulers that they should work (and play) together for the better of all mankind. Or at least this family’s personal happiness. It’s actually going surprisingly well – some hissing, yes, but also a little bit of playing and lots of obsessive stalking on Zoey’s part. She’s absolutely in love with Trixie and follows her everywhere. On Friday I caught her sitting outside of the  litter box staring at poor Trixie who just wanted to do her business in peace.

In any case, it’s true that Zoey has hardly replaced Sophie — I miss that little orange cat more than ever — but she’s also oddly exhibited some of Sophie’s habits and there’s a part of me that’s convinced that, in passing, Sophie gave her a checklist of things to do so that she could enhance our life.

I’m not teaching this summer so, in addition to trying to facilitate kitty peace, I’m also hoping to revamp this blog (details, new site info TBA), write, learn to sew, cook more, read more and generally enjoy life in a way that’s so far escaped me for much of the year. The first half of this year was really, really tough in ways that I didn’t expect and those difficulties came at every possible juncture–work, family, home, friendships. Now, I hope to have a productive but fun summer. I want to finish a book. I want to write more poetry. I want to eat fresh fruit and enjoy the summer sun and ride my bike and go for walks and listen to amazing, new music and swim in rivers and go camping and wander through fairs and bask in the evening breeze.

2010 is nearly half-over but it’s not too late to make it turn out alright.

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Life after death

A few days after I posted that last entry I meant to come here and happily share that adjusting Sophie’s medication seemed to make a big difference in her well-being and her behavior.

And although it seemed true, I waited. I think that somehow I knew it couldn’t be that easy.

Of course she’d been sick for a while — the latest round of maladies started in late September — but then the end came swiftly, more suddenly than we could have expected. We had a great night together last Monday, the 15th. She relaxed in her favorite spot on the couch, stretched out to touch me at one point and even stood up and gave me a huge kitty kiss on the cheek as I gave her a little massage (one of her favorite things) on the shoulders.

And then by 4 a.m. she was dying. That thing they tell you about “knowing” when it is time to say goodbye, to make that awful decision — it’s true

I wrote about her death and my sorrow and the culture of grief for this week’s SNR.

It’s been just over a week now since we said goodbye to her and, to be honest, I’m still not coping very well with losing her. In the days and hours since I’ve cried more than I ever thought possible;  the tears are still there and they probably aren’t going away anytime soon. I’ve felt sick with headaches and stomach aches and although there other factors contributing to my lack of well-being, it’s mostly this —  this sadness, this missing her.

Yesterday we received her paw print in the mail from UC Davis. Cast in concrete and adorned with an angel kitty in miniature, it’s the kind of thing I’d see offered in a mall kiosk and dismiss as too silly but when I opened the package and felt the imprint, well I started crying uncontrollably.

Today it was a sweet and loving card from our regular vet that made me lose it.

I know there are people with worse problems, who’ve lost friends and family members and significant others and the loss of an orange cat probably pales in comparison on the Things That Are Bad in Life scale but this is MY thing that is awful and although I tell myself every day that she is no longer in pain, that she is better, that we made the right choice, I am still missing her horribly.

Sophie came into my life following a bad break-up and at first  I was a pretty questionable kitty mom. I remember, shortly after I got her,  taking a stupid magazine quiz that tested one’s readiness for having a pet. It advised me against even getting a plant — the outcome, the test results theorized, would be too awful. Still, she put up with me and loved me and along the way taught me selflessness and compassion and, most importantly, how that cliché about unconditional love can be so, so true.

Of course, while we’re on the subject of clichés, life goes on and lucky for me I have a wonderful husband and, of course, Trixie — a particularly needy gray cat who, in her own way, seems to be grieving Sophie’s loss as well. I imagine we will someday give Trixie a new companion, a new playmate. Someday, just not right now – we’re not ready yet.

This will probably be the last I write about her for a while — at least in this space. I mean I’m OK with being known as the weird cat lady but for now I just have to grieve until the mourning shifts into something less painful, something sweeter and more fitting for a scruffy little orange cat who, as Cory said,  “used more than her allotted nine lives to make ours a little better.”

Goodbye Sophie. I miss you but more important, I love you — past, present and future tense.

Where the soul meets body …

I haven’t been writing here lately for a number of reasons. Mostly I’ve just been incredibly busy with class and the News & Review. I’m teaching two classes including one I’ve never taught before and the workload is exhausting. There’s a lot of grading but mostly I think it’s the prep work for the new class. I keep telling myself this will get easier. It has to, right? What keeps me going is that I like being in the classroom; I like interacting with students and I like that sometimes I get to learn things that are new to me as well.

In addition to the workload I’ve also been consumed with taking care of my cat Sophie. Some of you know the full Sophie story. I won’t go into all the details today but let me assure you that she is one special cat for a million reasons, not the least of which includes having a pacemaker.

Sophie received her pacemaker in August 2007 after she started to suffer a series of seizure-like episodes. Extensive and exhaustive testing at the UC Davis Veterinary Medical Teaching Hospital showed an irregular heartbeat and one long, scary surgery later my cat was just like Dick Cheney — only much sweeter and cuter.

That was nearly three years ago. After some initial complications, Sophie seemed like a new cat after she got the pacemaker. We hadn’t even noticed how much she’d slowed down until she got the pacemaker and sped up to kitten-like behavior–playing, running, loving life. It was pretty incredible to see and we felt more than justified our decision to go ahead with that surgery.

And so it went. Life was mostly uneventful until about six months ago when Sophie started to suffer from more seizure-like episodes. I don’t have it into me to go into all the details right now but numerous tests seemed to rule out everything except epilepsy — well mostly anyway. She can’t have an MRI because of the pacemaker but the doctors over at UCD put her on phenobarbital and that seemed to stop the seizures.

It also created a drastic change in her behavior, slowing her down and making her very uncoordinated. Still, we reasoned, she continued to be loving, continued to want to be around people, continued to eat like a champion. On the doctor’s advice we tinkered with the medicine a little to try to strike a balance between coping and doped up

But now, several months later things are getting worse and to be honest nobody has any idea why or what should be done about it. In the last few weeks we’ve watched Sophie become increasingly less coordinated to the point where sometimes she can’t walk more than a few steps without lying down in frustration. She falls over, her back legs sometimes seem to move as if they were attached to another cat. She’s undergone numerous tests in the last few weeks and has had pronouncements ranging from “terminal cancer” to “too much medicine, maybe” to “who knows, we just need to monitor her.” She’s had ultrasounds and X-rays and blood tests. We know that, aside from the brain, there is no cancer except for maybe this one tiny spot on the spleen that could be something but it’s too tiny to tell right now so let’s check that again later. Sophie's Pacemaker

We know her pacemaker is working and nearly three years later we got to see for the first time what it looks like inside of her. It’s kind of amazing to look at the x-ray and see that contraption with all its wires and fixtures, incredible to realize how big and clunky as it is in relation to her tiny, seven-pound body

We also know that her blood work came back OK except for slight variations here and there. We know that her medicine levels are technically OK, we know that she is slightly anemic, we know (we already knew) that, yep, she has irritable bowel disease.

I’m not blaming the doctors, not even for that horrible terminal cancer misdiagnosis that left me crying uncontrollably. I know they are, truly, doing the best that they can. I know that they are mystified as they hold her up in the exam room and test her neurological reflexes and try to decide if her increasing yet still intermittent inability to control her hind legs has something to do with the phenobarbital or if it’s something much, much worse.

The only thing they can all agree on is that she’s adorable and loving and so, so sweet.

Of course,  I didn’t come here to just go on and on about what it is or what it isn’t. I only wanted to write this because my heart is breaking watching her. On Friday the vet told us she doesn’t believe Sophie is ready to go — “she’s still eating, she’s still bathing, she still wants love, she still wants to be here” — and of course I wanted to hear that, I wanted to hear that we’re doing the right thing, trying to figure out what’s going on.

But we also talked about all the what-ifs. What if she has cancer? She’s 16 goddamned years old with a pacemaker. I think that speaks for itself.

“I don’t want Sophie to feel as though we’re giving up on her,” Cory said to me as I picked through my lunch while we waited out more testing on Friday.

I assured him that we weren’t, that we wouldn’t. But we both know that at some point — a point that may come very fast — we may have to make a decision for her, for us.

And of course it hurts to even think about it. As I type this she’s sleeping in her bed next to my chair in the office and I’m just trying to enjoy every moment I have with her. This morning she’s already eaten at least three times, sat in my lap as I typed and also engaged in one of her favorite hobbies:  chewing on the cord to the blinds on the office window. I know, weird – but chewing on blind cords has always been one of her favorite things. Seeing her do that this morning made me laugh but she’s also stumbled around quite a bit and, just a while ago, knocked herself over with a sneeze. That’s a new one, the sneezing – she’s never had colds or allergies before but in the last week, there you go, we add it to the list.

Right now we are listening to Death Cab for Cutie because, along with the Smiths, they are one of Sophie’s favorite bands. For reals. Go ahead, laugh. Maybe it’s just a little in-joke that Cory and I have but maybe, also, I believe that animals have souls, if not favorite bands. I’ve been reading Jonathan Safran Foer’s Eating Animals and I’m only about one-third of the way through and every now and then he mentions that, despite his growing unwillingness to eat meat, he’s still not convinced that animals have souls, that they have the capability to love, the ability to feel something other than hunger or thirst or pain.

When I look at my cat, who likes to sit in my lap when I grade papers, who greets me at the front door when I get home from work, who gets jealous when I give too much attention to our other cat Trixie and will literally snake her way between my hands and Trixie’s fur so that she gets the pets — well obviously, I couldn’t disagree with him more.