2012: A Bad Year for Calicos, Part 2

I wrote earlier of losing our ancient calico cat, Nikita, in June this year. Sadly, we’ve now lost a second ancient calico cat.

We’re not sure how old Nala was. Lisa found her at a shelter-cum-clinic nearby, where she took foster cats to be spayed or neutered before being adopted. Nala — that’s the name she’d been surrendered under — was scheduled to be put down… because she was considered too old to be adopted. According to the shelter, she was eleven years old, and nobody wanted a cat that old.

(That was seven years ago! And frankly, we think the shelter’s records were off by a year or two. She could very well have been older.)

There was no way Lisa could allow this cat to be killed simply for being eleven years old. We had a very good track record at placing older cats in good homes, so Lisa filled out the paperwork and had her transferred into our care. Not long afterwards, we found a home for her with a woman who seemed perfectly sane and stable. We figured that was that.

A few months later, we got a call from the local Animal Control office. A cat had been abandoned in a carrier at the side of the road. It was Nala. When we got her back, she was all skin and bones: we thought at first that she’d been starved before being abandoned, but we soon found out what had really happened. Nala had developed a thyroid condition, and had started losing weight in a frightening manner. Her owner had panicked, but had been afraid to contact us or the local shelter. She’d left the cat on the roadside about a quarter-mile from the shelter, hoping that someone would come along and find it.

Once we got her back, we were determined that nobody would ever abandon her again. We held onto her; we got her treatment… which meant for almost a year she was living in quarantine in our bathroom. I donned rubber gloves twice a day and gave her medicine that would have seriously screwed with my metabolism if I’d ever got it on my bare skin. Eventually we contributed over a thousand dollars to getting her the radiation therapy that would stabilize her condition. And cranky though she always was, and though she would continue to have health issues for the rest of her long, long life, she became our cat de facto.

Nala started going downhill late in 2010. We thought she was about to die in November of that year, but she bounced back miraculously. For two years, she wobbled back and forth from death’s door — you know how cats are about doors: you can imagine her standing on the threshold, rubbing up against the jamb, while the Grim Reaper shouts, “Are you coming in, or aren’t you?!”

Each time she fell ill, it looked as though she couldn’t possibly recover. But then she’d spring back to life in vibrant, kitteny health, and stay well for quite a while. And with each passing year, she got sweeter and sweeter. She’d always been a good kitty in her way: demanding, yes, and irritable — it used to take a whole shift of staff at the vet’s to draw blood from her — but you expect that sort of thing with a calico. She mellowed as she aged, and seemed really to be enjoying her last years (during the times when she wasn’t actually ill).

But recently the troughs had been deeper, and the peaks of her recovery less pronounced. Her bad periods were coming more frequently, and it would take a longer for her medication to bring her out of them. The vet had warned us her body would not last much longer: her poor kidneys had shrunk to the size of raisins, and it was frankly a miracle that she’d made it as long as she had. Who even knew exactly how old she was? She was at least 17, but then again Nikita, our other ancient calico, had been 17 when she died… and up until the end she’d looked far more robust than Nala. From the look of her eyes, the vet guessed Nala could have been as old as 20 (though for my part, I suspect that when she was a kitten, dinosaurs ruled the earth).

And then we realized the end had come. Even with a cat who’d come back from the edge of doom so many times, the moment arrives when you know there will be no recovery. For Nala, that moment came abruptly. First she refused food; then she refused even water. Soon she lost the ability to stand, or even support herself. After that, nothing helped — not antibiotics, not subcutaneous fluids, not syringe-feeding; and about three days later, it was time.

And now she is gone.

I thought it might be easier to grieve when you’ve had a little practice. After all, we’ve expected Nala to die so many times that I suppose our first reaction’s been shock that it actually happened. Here’s one thing, though, that complicates matters: her special care and feeding had become a huge part of our daily routine. Now that that’s gone, everything’s changed. Habit is waiting to remind us of her, for a long time to come. A month from now, I’ll still get up early to grind a can of food with water — soft mush for the aging cat who’s gone now. I’ll realize with a shock I’m using one of her special bowls for something else. I’ll expect her to curl up with me in the night, or come to visit me while I work, as she often did, and I’ll reach out to give her her expected scratches… and it will be somebody else, and suddenly I’ll remember.

And the other thing? Old as she was, decrepit as she became, you could always see the kitten behind her eyes… up until the moment she died. It seems impossible that she should be gone. And we will miss her terribly.

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