Stewardship of a Friend

I hope I won’t be tossing too much of a wet blanket on things with this story but I’m writing this entry as more of a catharsis than a literary exercise. More than anything, I just want to get some of the emotion off my shoulders. Tomorrow morning, I will be putting an old and deeply loved pet to sleep. I’ve only done this once before and I’m dreading doing it again.

It’s been a rough year or so for pets in our house. A few months ago, I told the story of Peanut, the mouse and his discovery in a box at my shop. He was a good little mouse and though the extent of our interactions could be boiled down to feeding and cleaning his cage, I liked having him around and miss seeing his antics. For a mouse, he was ancient and finding that he had passed away in his cage one evening was hardly a shock. Tomorrow will be something totally different. It’s time to say good bye to my cat, Sylvester and he’s been with me a long, long time.

Action Girl and I wound up with Sylvester and his sister some time back around 1995. The road that went from my place to her apartment also wound by the local animal shelter and every time we drove by she would try to talk me into stopping. One day, weakened by home made pancakes and sweet talk, I pulled the car in. As we looked at the various cats in their sad little cells, I noticed that each one had a card next to it. The card detailed the name of the cat, its age and what it did well with, such as other cats, dogs, kids, etc. One little black and white cat sitting in his little cage caught my eye. The card said that his name was Sylvester, which is hardly original for a black and white cat, I’ll grant you. What was interesting was what it said he did well with.

“I do well with _Misty_”

As I looked to my left, there sat a scared looking calico who was, sure enough, named Misty. We decided to test drive them in the petting room and Sylvester quickly proved him self to be a lover. What he wanted to do was play, rub and purr. He was a great self promoter and I had no doubt that I had just found my new cat. Misty, on the other hand, hid under the chair. When we asked about them we were informed that they had been brought in together by a woman who had become allergic. Because they were brother and sister, the shelter really wanted them to go to the same home. The problem was that they were already past their time at the facility. This was not a non-euthanizing shelter. The woman who were were looking with said that there was someone who wanted Sylvester, but not Misty. They had hung on to them a bit longer in the hopes that they could still be placed together and both saved. We were hooked and took them both. We actually were ushered out a side door since shortly after filling out the adoption paperwork, the woman who wanted just Sylvester had come in the front. We were told that she would not be pleased.

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Oddly enough, we changed Misty’s name to Jade but kept Sylvester as is. He immediately proved himself a great cat and his antics would send us into peals of laughter. Jade, on the other hand, clearly wanted to be a single cat. She simply did not want to be part of a two cat show and took it out on her clownish counterpart. A short time later, she found her way to my folks house and lives there now, fat, old and happy to have all the love and affection. Sylvester has been with us ever since, squeaking his paws on the wood floors as he tore around the house at top speed. Along the way, we picked up a Maine Coon Cat named Beeswax and the two of them became best buddies. They kind of reminded me of the Odd Couple. Beeswax as Oscar and Sylvester as Felix. They made life a lot of fun and we enjoyed their company if not the lost space on the bed. They’ve moved to many new homes as we have tried to find our spot in the world.

The last addition to the fuzzy side of the family was our third cat, Owlie. A fluffy little fool who, being far younger than the other two, took over the difficult stage work of keeping us laughing and gave the other two old men a chance to kick back and heckle from the box seats.

For a while, we were a three cat household. That, for the size of our house and the fact that they were all indoor cats only was just too many cats. Someone was always underfoot, puking on something or shedding on your new coat. Then you toss an infant into the mix, and things were really getting crowded. We loved them all though. Then about a year and a half ago, Beeswax started to fail. He had been a huge cat, weighing in at over twenty pounds without an ounce of fat on him. In a few months, he had lost a lot of mass and rapidly went down hill. He was fourteen and on his way out in a long, drawn out illness. It was the first time I had to help a pet go. He couldn’t do it with out me. So, as an adult and father, I took our wonderful Beeswax down to the vet and he passed quietly and painlessly away in my arms. I heard his heart’s last beat. I was a wreck for the rest of the day.

That was over a year ago and now, it’s time for Sylvester to go and meet his friend. I had noticed that something was wrong a few months ago. It was one of those things that only a long term friend would have known. Even though outwardly he looked fine, I could tell that things were not right. Even after this summer’s routine checkup at the vet’s this which he passed with flying colors, I knew he wasn’t his old self. Over the last week, things have fallen apart. His coat wasn’t being cleaned, his appetite dropped and then, he started to stumble. He’s lost a lot of weight and a blood test that we had done confirmed it. Acute kidney failure. For him, there’s no turning back. He’s dehydrated, week and feels sick. He’s still a lover though and will purr at the lightest touch.

vester
(Sylester In younger and healthier days)

Tomorrow at ten, we’ll get a home visit from the vet. He’ll pass away on his favorite pillow on our couch. Short Stack will be away at pre-school, but I’ll be sure he gives ‘Vester a kiss goodbye before he heads off to play. It will be hard to explain later, but I’ll tell him that he’s with Beeswax now. There are some who would say that animals have no souls. I know this cat’s soul. He’s bared it to me for seventeen years, just as I’ve bared mine to him. I’ve breathed his breath and he’s soaked up my love.

I’ll miss you terribly, my friend. I know it’s your time to leave and we both knew it was coming. It doesn’t make it any easier, though. You’re the best black and white cat there is.

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The Silent Spinner Runner

A few years ago, I was working in an ancient and massive mill building. The rent was cheap, the land lords were good guys and it was an ideal place to set up a small scale manufacturing business. It was however, pretty rustic. No… rusty. It was pretty rusty. The roof leaked when it rained, the heat was come and go and though I never saw a rat, guessing by our proximity to a river and the shear number of ferrel cats who stalked the tall grass outside the castle walls, you had to assume that they were there. Actually, I quite liked the place. It was built of red brick and granite some time in the early eighteen hundreds and operated as a textile mill. The building is massive and imagining it packed full of clanking looms, twisting machines and chattering French Canadian girls is not hard to do. Though the galleries that saw all this life are now empty, the massive building remains and if you squint just right, you can see the ghosts of that time.

One think I learned early on was that if you were going to be a tenant there, you needed to put all foodstuffs in closable, air tight containers. Though I never saw a rat, there were mice. Plenty of mice. If you left anything tempting out over night, you could bet that by morning, some little fuzzball had helped them selves to your carelessly abandoned snack. I lost a lot of snacks that way. Setting traps would have been farcical. You might as well have decided to kill all the mosquitos in a swamp by standing there swatting them as they landed on you. You’d never EVER get them all, or even enough to make a dent, really. Besides, I’m a live and let live kind of guy and so long as they aren’t in my house, what did I care? I was a manufacturer! Mouse poop on one of my grease smeared, eight ton, hydraulic presses? Heavens! What ever will the neighbors say?

So, there were mice, but that was fine. Heck, they were here first after all. One day as I was working in a back room I thought I heard something. Usually the machinery was loud enough to drown out most other sounds but it was off at the moment and for some reason, so was the radio. I stopped and pricked up my ears. There it was again! I slowly walked around the room listening for the sound and tried to zero in. There! It was over there!

In a box that was half filled with foam packing peanuts was a small greyish-brown cotton ball with a tail. It wasn’t merely a mouse, but a baby mouse. To say that he was small was an understatement. About the size of a prize shooter marble, and with only one eye partially open, he was in a box and couldn’t get out. How he got there, I have no idea. Obviously he was too young to be out and about on his own, having only a little bit of one eye yet open. All I can guess is that his mother had moved him when her nest was threatened. Mice will do that if they think their brood is in peril. No other little brothers and sisters were to be seen, so I assumed that he had been abandoned.

He was too young to make it on his own and though I have set up and cleaned out mouse traps at home many times in the past, I also have a strong sense of empathy that gets the best of me rather often. He hadn’t been doing anything to bother me and now was in dire straights. He’d die if I let him go. What to do?

One empty bucket, some wood shavings and a bottle cap with some milk in it later, I had a pet mouse. Since he was so young, I was sure that he’d die over the next few days and tried not to enjoy him too much. A week went by, both of his eyes opened, he became accustomed to me and I started really having fun watching him in his little bucket-world. A few weeks later, I had picked up an inexpensive glass aquarium, a screen top for it, more shavings and a squeaky wheel for him to run in. That was quickly replaced with one called the “silent spinner”. It had a ball bering to keep if from squeaking like mad and setting my teeth on edge when he used it. I decided that I would call the mouse “Peanut”, not just because if his size but because of where I had found him. Peanut, he became.

Here’s one thing that blew my mind. Here’s this little, wild, white footed mouse that I had found. He had never seen a mouse wheel, but the second I had placed it in his cage, he was off and running. Immediately! How the heck do they know? That’s some seriously strange pre-programing that mice come with. I’m tempted to put a wheel out in a field some place with a camera watching it and see if they turn in into a little mousy-fitness center.

Mice aren’t very long lived. About a year is the norm and being wild, I didn’t expect Peanut to be long for this world. I kept him fed and watered, which wasn’t exactly a difficult chore. He escaped only once. I had carelessly left his cage top open over night and the next day came in to an empty cage. After twenty four hours, he had returned on his own volition to his cozy glass home. I guess he decided that a life of dried dates, rolled oats and clean shavings was better than a life running through the grimy halls of a dilapidated mill searching for dead bugs. I enjoyed his antics and liked watching him zip around his tiny home. A year and a half later, I moved him from my shop to my house. Short Stack was just old enough to notice Peanut and he also liked to watch the runner in his wheel and would ask to be lifted up so he could peer in and visit.

Last month I noticed that Peanut looked like he was slowing down a bit. I didn’t see his little brown and white shape zipping around his cage much any more and he wasn’t eating as much. He did still hang out in his wheel but mostly he just curled up there and watched the world walk by. Last night, I found that he had passed away, curled up in a bed of fluff and shavings. He was three years and three months old. I believe that’s about 286, in human years. Not bad at all for a mouse lost in a box in the back room of an old mill.

We’ll miss you, Peanut. You’re a good little mouse. Spin on, fuzzy runner.

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