Pure As the Driven Slush: Heather Corinna's Journal and Diary, Online since 1999
January 27th, 2010

Ugh, my poor old cat.

So, for those of who who have followed my pet sagas for the 10+ years I’ve been keeping this journal, I’m down to one. When I started writing here, I had four cats. In the interim, two have had to be euthanized — Rosie got severe kidney failure when she was 11, and I had to euthanize Rita when she was almost 20.  I had to find a different home for Rosie’s sister Zoe in ‘05 because after years of having her, I developed really intense allergies to her to the point I couldn’t even pet her anymore. Which leaves Flora.

People who know me in person know that Flora, while seemingly a very small calico cat, is actually an orange goldfish. (I’ll get to that in a second.) She’s almost 18 now. It was Flora who assigned herself the role of Sofia’s protector when she was a puppy and the other cats clearly wanted her dead. I earnestly watched one of my cats kick a knife off a counter when Sofia was walking under it once, I kid you not. Flora has always been tiny, never more than 8 pounds, but over the last few years, she’s been around 6.  At this point, I’m guessing five.

She’s been one of those old cats that will seem to be taking a turn for the worse, and you worry she’s starting to go, but then she’ll turn a corner out of nowhere and be totally fine for months.  Just the other night, I was saying that she seemed to be okay now, and that I might just get lucky and have a pet go, when she’s going to, in her sleep for a change, like my bunny did ten years ago. She’s still pretty spry, seems to hear and see okay, still eats decently.

I so shouldn’t have said that.  Two days ago, I found blood in her urine, and she keeps just going off by herself.  last night she was just acting really weird and listless.  I slept downstairs with her because I was so worried. She seems a little bit better this morning, but not much.  And I don’t know what to do.

When pets get really old, I don’t like to subject them to a lot of tests or treatments: it strikes me as needlessly unpleasant and painful for them.  With my cats, too, because they’re indoor, I have never done vaccines for them.  They seem to live longer when I don’t.  So, when I do have to take them to the vet, they often insist on those when I’d prefer not to.

I need to switch vets anyway.  The vet I have used for Sofia is very conveniently a few blocks away, but they’re expensive as hell, and I haven’t been very satisfied with them.  Sofi gets chronic ear infections.  Our vet in Minneapolis did great with these, just vacuuming out her ears now and then (with a machine our current vet doesn’t have), while I did gentle ear washes for her regularly.  This one keeps giving her the same round of meds that keeps not working, and isn’t open to trying anything else. I recently discovered there’s a naturopathic vet about 20 blocks away, so have been planning to give them a shot soon to see if I like them better.

So, the crux is, do I go ahead and make an appointment for both of them?  Or do I let Flora’s little old body either work through this like it has with other things before or let her just let go if that’s what’s going on?I have no idea, but I’m leaning towards taking her to the vet, in hopes that since this one is a naturopath, they’ll understand that a) I don’t want to do any vaccines and b) I don’t want to do any treatments for her which will ask a lot of her old body, or potentially cause her to suffer additionally in any way.

No matter what happens, Flora will be my last cat for a while, which is a strange thing. I’ve had cats since I found Rita starving to death under a van in the winter in 1988.  I’m actually not a cat person, but I have loved my cats, and when it came to being a renter in Chicago, dogs were totally out of the question. I had as many as I did due to a stray my college roomie brought in who promptly went into heat, screwed every other cat in a ten mile radius, and wound up pregnant in milliseconds: Rosie and Zoe were from that brood.

When I first started my little alternative school in ‘93, I did so with no capital at all. Nearly everything in there was either dumpster-dived or something I built with my hands. I was exceptionally proud of being able to make something out of nothing like that.  So, when one of my first wee students came in, cased the place, and remarked that it “wasn’t a real school” I was crestfallen.  In asking why, I was informed that real schools have orange goldfish in a bowl.  This little boy could not tell me the origin of this particular standard, but he was quite firm in it.

I tried to explain that I was horrible with fish, going right back to my first fish in the 5th grade, which I’d won at a school carnival.

My mother works in infection control, an amazingly perfect job for her because she is and has always been profoundly germaphobic. If she could have sprayed my sister and I head-to-toe with Lysol when we came in from playing, she would have. There was a year as a child where I kept a secret collection of pigeons under the nearby El tracks. Likely not knowing what I was doing with them, the man who ran the corner grocery would give me plastic milk crates and I set them up like a little aviary condo dealie back where no one could see. I’d grab old bread and whatnot from his dumpster and set the pigeons up there, sitting and playing with them when they came to hang out, making room assignments and gently moderating squabbles between neighbors. The volume and pitch of scream that issued from my mother’s mouth when she got off the El one day to catch of glimpse of her kid and walked back to find me with a dirty pigeon in each hand is one I have yet to ever hear the likes of again. If a casting agent for a B-movie had been nearby, he would have snapped my mother up instantly, heralding her a star. My evening at home after that day is an experience in scrubbing and sanitation I think only Karen Silkwood shared.

Anyway, unbenownst to me, when cleaning out my fish’s bowl, she felt the need to sanitize it in ways you are not supposed to. I came home one day, slipped my shoes off, went to check on my fish, and saw only a bowl with water in it: no fish.  In yelling to my Mom I couldn’t find him anywhere, I then felt a sickening squish between my toes.  Said fish had clearly suicidally jumped out of the bowl and unto the floor.  And I had stepped on him, and had to rinse pieces of him from my feet, bawling. No more fish for me for a long time.  later when I tried, no matter what I did, they always wound up floating belly-up.  I gave up on fish.

Even this story (told in a far less horrific way, mind) did not deter this kid. So, we agreed that we’d take a field trip to the pet store, the kids would learn how to take care of the fish so it could hopefully avoid my curse, and he would then agree he was, in fact, attending a “real school.”

Of course, did they have EVERY freaking color of fish that day but orange?  Of course they did. Then I hear the kid calling my name from across the store saying he found one. Thank christ. Except that when I got there, he was standing in front of a cage full of sleeping kitten, save one calico troublemaker pouncing on all of them, to their great annoyance. He’s pointing at her. I say that is a very cute cat. He says “She has orange.” I agree that she does have orange, but that she is a CAT, not a fish, and there are three cats at school already. He repeats that she has orange several times, firmly. I repeat my end of the conversation. We make no headway at all. I ask him if — if — we get said cat-with-orange if she will fulfill the requirement for an orange fish, a conversation one would only have with a four-year-old. He is quite certain she will.

And thus, we left with a very fluffy fish with orange who made our school real. Suffice it to say, as the token goldfish for a handful of kids, and the baby of a larger cat brood, she’s been through a lot and is a resilient little thing. It’s really sad to realize she may be getting to the end, here.

Like I said, she’ll also be the last for a while.  With the two dogs, now, and a possible move in the next year, less pets is better than more, and I’m also actually mildly allergic to most cats, so I’d like at least a few years without any skin rashes or sinus issues. But I’ve had cats my whole adult life (so has Blue: in fact, he was also there when Zoe and Rosie were born in our living room), and life without them seems strange.

I’m getting maudlin now, perhaps needlessly.  And I still need to decide what the heck to do about Flora right now.

Update:  I went ahead and took her into our existing vet, who was exceptionally great about seeing all of us on short notice, and with getting a look at her and giving me a set of options.

Ultimately, I decided to choose the option of having them take her overnight to get some fluids in her (she was way dehydrated), try and get her temp up (it was very low), try to get her to eat, and to run some tests to see what’s going on.  Euthanizing her today was put out there as an option, but without knowing if this is just about age, something terminal, something that would require a lot of care or suffering on her part, I wasn’t ready to make that call.  She also just wasn’t giving me the vibe that’s what she wanted, and the pets I have had to put down have all always done that.

1/31 Update: Friday afternoon I got Flora and brought her back home.  She no longer looked like (still doesn’t) she was moments away from death’s door.  The treatment they gave her for two nights seemed to make a really big difference, and they landed pretty soundly on a severe kidney infection diagnosis.

So, she needs IV fluids here at home indefinitely, which I think I can swing.  She’s still eating very little, but she is behaving a lot different and looks a lot better.  She’s got a little abode here in the living room on an ottoman with a heating pad, which she seems to like, and has walked around a little bit, too.

5 comments so far

  1. Ariel Says:

    Aww, this is a really sweet awesome story Heather! Just my 2 cents on Flora, as a fellow animal person: Go ahead and take her to the new vet. Even if this vet says “tests and food trials and all sorts of things that will be challenging,” as they are wont to do (we pay them to offer help, after all), a good vet will ALSO respect the wishes of the owner and do what he or she can within those constraints to support the least suffering for all. I say take her to the vet because then you won’t be going “what if…” or doing that second-guessing I tend to do, and you may come home with some tools for keeping her comfortable if the natural path is the way it will go. Best of luck honey!!

  2. Lisa Says:

    Oh, I know that particular cat situation all too well. I have always loved cats, ever since I was a very little kid. My sister and I pestered our parents for years to get a cat, and they finally relented when I was 9, and we got Pina, a female longhaired tabby/Maine Coon mix. That was the only pet we had growing up. Finally, 20 years after we got her, she really declined, and just like your kitty- every time we thought she wasn’t going to last much longer, she rallied around. Eventually it got pretty bad, though, and our family vet helped us decide that it was time to put her down. She came to our house to do it, which was nice. It was so hard though. We all still miss that cat, even though my sister and I each have two of our own, and my parents adopted a silly tabby boy kitty this year. Pets are family. The other commenter is right, though- a good vet will help you determine what course of action is best. Take care!

    Here’s a photo of our old kitty in her later years:

  3. Jenny Says:

    I’m so sorry to hear she’s doing poorly. The story, however, is wonderfulness.

  4. Christopher Says:

    Here’s hoping she continues to be her usual very elderly self, and chooses the last part of the nature of her life, so you don’t have to.

    I miss my old dog(s) regularly, and both of them still appear in my dreams, so they never really leave us, it seems.

    Good luck with the new vet.

  5. Martin Palas Says:

    You mention some good stuff here, but I must disagree with you on a couple points.

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