Friday, August 13, 2010

Bearface Tribute

The following story is true, and tragic. As a warning, you are also about to be inundated with cat photos/videos. It’s been a rough few weeks for us, and for Bearface. And given recent events, I thought a memoriam/tribute to Bearface was in order.

I know a lot of people (haters) will say she was “just a cat” but the fact is, she wasn’t. She was part of our little family. She greeted us at the door after work, spent every evening with us watching TV on the couch, or hanging out on the deck in the afternoon. She was the last thing we saw before falling asleep and she was there, without fail, every morning when we woke up. She was more than “just a cat” to us, and it’s been really hard losing her.

As many of you know, our cat Minnie, teenage impregnated by our Thai Meez, had a batch of 5 kittens on March 1. The first one that was born, Bearface, seemed special immediately. I knew right away that I wanted to keep her.

The other kittens seemed to shun her at times, and poor Bearface spent much of her time alone, and I think this is the reason she grew so close to us. Since I have more compassion and sympathy for animals than I do for people, I insisted that we keep this kitten. She clearly needed us, even when she had her whole family around, she would choose to sit with us and play with the string on my sweater instead of with her sisters. In fact, both videos I have of her playing, she is playing alone. Somewhere deep down, I felt that no one else would ever bother to give this kitten the care that I knew I could.

About 2 months into her life, it appeared that Bearface really was special, and seemed to be having some health problems. The first issue that crept up was chronic diarrhea. Bearface seemed to have some serious intestinal issues. I bought a de-worming medication on the advice of a friend and we treated all the kitties in the house. That seemed to help out, and things cleared up. But about 10 days later, around the same time she should be receiving her second dose of de-worming meds, her diarrhea came back. The second treatment didn’t help, in fact, I think it made her worse. So I collect a stool sample and haul her into the vet nearest to our home.

Instantly I get a bad vibe from the doctor. She seemed confused and extremely indecisive, forgetting her stethoscope several times and leaving the room constantly to get things she should’ve been carrying with her. And even though she’s got a fecal sample, she can’t diagnose anything. She sends us home with 5 day worth of antibiotics and some different food.

These shots in the dark seem to work, because her stomach clears up and she seems better. I am ecstatic, and hope to see her running around the house like this again:

Then, the day after her antbiotics are finished, Bearface gets slammed with an Upper Respiratory Infection (URI). She starts sneezing, sniffling and can’t breathe through her nose. At this point, we find a better vet at Erindale Animal Hospital. It’s likely that she was exposed to the infection on her last visit to the vet, but it’s nothing she can’t get through. We take Bearface in to see her, and she tells us simply to steam her in the bathroom every night, and slowly but surely, Bearface comes out the other side of the infection.

But she still seemed to be very lethargic, rarely trying to move around. When she did walk, it seemed like her back legs were strange acting funny, like they were weak or misaligned. We attribute this symptom to having been sick for more than a month, and give her a week or two to “get her legs back”.

She doesn’t get them back; Bearface’s legs seem to be failing entirely after less than a week, and then a new symptom develops: incontinence. She tries hard, but she seems to have lost control over her urination. I do a bit of research and find that hind leg weakness and incontinence are both symptoms of feline diabetes, so I book her in for a vet appointment.

IMGP3931Our vet visit that morning revealed that the problem was not diabetes, but rather the dry form of Feline Infectious Peritonitis (FIP), an untreatable disease, for which there is no vaccine, causing neuropathy, paralysis and eventually death. The vet laid out our options very clearly: blood and urine tests to confirm a terminal diagnosis, or if they were inconclusive, the only other way to determine definitely what the problem was, would be to do a kidney biopsy. Unfortunately (expense of that aside), Bearface was already quite sick, and had been for a while, she may not survive a kidney biopsy anyway. The doctor seemed quite confident in her diagnosis without those tests, and if I stood back and looked at the situation from outside, it was clear to me that this was a very sick kitten. Dr. Jones also seemed fairly sure that Bearface’s kidneys were already failing, and so the disease had progressed quite far already. She even said it was possible that she had been born this way, which did not surprise me. Perhaps she was born sick, and that’s why Minnie and the kittens seemed to stay away from her. And maybe, Meez with his FIV/AIDS felt an extra kinship with her, because they would spend hours laying together, cleaning each other’s faces.

Anyway, after a solid hour of deliberation and tears, we chose that morning, to have Bearface put down, since the disease would just continue progressing. She was already so weak and suffering from such a poor quality of life, I couldn’t watch her get worse. I remembered how when she’d been unable to breath properly because of her respiratory infection, how scared she had looked, and I didn’t want the paralysis to move up to her diaphragm and suffocate her, it would be too scary and cruel. God I wish it would’ve been diabetes.

We stayed with her right until she took her last breath, and I told her that I love her, and was so sorry and I told her how hard I tried to help her, way harder than most would have. I am so glad that Matt was there with me, so that I didn’t have to go through it alone, and so that she had both Matt and I there with her until she was gone. And I am thankful that we got to say our goodbyes, that she was comfortable, and is no longer struggling to walk. Watching her drag herself around the house and fall down all the time broke my heart.

I am going to miss that cat forever. Bearface was one of a kind, and the end of the couch looks empty without her. I feel awful about the whole thing, but I'm also relieved.

This is one of the hardest decisions we've ever had to make, and needless to say we are devastated. We tried so hard with her, but it was just one thing after another. The vet was really good, though, and she made it clear that no matter how soon or how late we'd acted, FIP is not treatable, once symptoms show, it is too late. Since we couldn’t vaccinate her for it, none of this could be considered our fault, or a failure on our part at all. There is really nothing we could have done differently. We always knew there was something special about Bearface, from the moment she was born. Part of me wishes we would've given her away, only so that I wouldn’t be going through this, but most of me is happy to have even had 6 months with her. She lived here happy, comfortable and well cared for, with both her parents around, as well as Matt and I home every night for her.p_00232

Bearface was an especially loving cat. She was very cuddly, and always insisted on sitting on your lap, or if you weren’t sitting down, she would often plant herself at your feet and put one paw on top of your foot, like if you were standing doing dishes.

Many of my Bearface memories are simply about looking into her little bear face, and sensing from the moment she was born that she was special, and I loved her. She had the most unique and kindest honey-amber eyes. And no matter how sick she got, she was always happy to see us and excited when we would come through the door. Sometimes she would flip onto her back and want a belly rub, and as you scratched her belly, she would gently hug your hand with her paws and close her eyes in ecstasy.

IMGP3920There were three places in the house she loved to sleep if not on our laps: the end of the couch, in my drawer by the side of the bed, or across my neck at night while I slept. Many nights I woke up to a baby bear scarf across my neck. And many mornings I woke up to find her laying between Matt and I, not sleeping, just laying there, almost guarding us while we slept. She would sleep all day so that she could stay up and watch over us at night. Upon opening my eyes in the morning, she would be looking at me, sensing that I was stirring, and squinting her eyes lovingly. When Matt would get up an hour before me for work, she would get up and hang with him until he left, then come back to bed and doze with me until I got up an hour later. She learned the sound of my alarm, and when it would go off, she would wake up, roll over for a belly rub and then stand up and stretch, ready for the day. Most mornings she would follow me into the bathroom and sit on the bathmat while I showered, and then on a little blue towel on the vanity while I did hair and makeup for the day.

Even in the vet’s office, she wanted to be close to us. Sure, she was a good patient and would comply with no problem while the vet poked her and examined her thoroughly. But when that was over, she would walk across the table and crawl into my arms or Matt’s. And then she would sit quietly as we held her, often looking up at our faces, trusting us fully.

She spent time with me outside while I weeded the garden, and liked to hang out on the deck with us while we enjoyed a beer in the summer sunshine. Since she was only allowed outside with supervision, when she wasn’t outside, she liked to sit in the sunniest kitchen window and watch the backyard, particularly if we were in the kitchen too.

She loved to have the top of her head kissed, and she loved to have you pet her face. Often, if you just held your hand out, she’d grab your finger with her paws and use it to rub her face and nose. Then she’d tuck in to your chest, roll her head in and nap, listening to your heart, and sleeping so soundly.

She was a fixture of the house, and much less independent than the other two kitties. So she was always around, never far from our reach. Sometimes she’d be at your feet, and if you looked down at her or said her name, she’d chirp and mew in response. She learned her name more quickly than any cat I’ve ever known, and she’d often answered to it.

She was even popular outside of our house. Most people who know me had heard about Bearface at least once, and I’m so glad for her unique name, because this way many people will remember her.

The day that we had her put down, I was at the fruit stand that afternoon. One of my regular customers came by, and could tell I was upset. He asked what was wrong, and I told him about the morning’s events. He extended his sympathies, but told me that while today I lost a pet, he had gained one. He went back to his car to get his puppy and showed her to me. I asked him to name her Bearface, after my lost kitten, and he said he’d think about it.

This whole experience has been really awful. It honestly feels like I’ve lost a member of my family. The last few mornings, I wake up and the first thing I think of is “where’s Bearface?” because I spent so many mornings, waking up, instantly worried about my sick kitten. So in a way, this will be good for me too. I won’t have to feel guilty about leaving her home alone, and I won’t have to live my life worried that I’ll come home to find a dead kitten in the house. I don’t think I could’ve handled that. At least this way, I know that we have done all that we possibly could for that kitten, and our final choice for her was the right one. Despite knowing that, though, I feel a huge loss and it hurts. My grief is compounded by the loss of 2 of the other kittens from our litter, and the fact that Meez is now fixed, there will be no more baby Bearfaces, or any kittens similar to her in our lives ever again. The permanency of the situation is hard to swallow.

Even today, I couldn’t sleep in happily, because I kept thinking how happy Bearface would be if she were here to doze with me all morning in the rainy weather. She loved just hanging out while I slept. I think it made her feel like MY guardian for once, returning the favour. I picked up and cleaned Bearface’s food dish yesterday, but I am not yet ready to move her litter box or the small blue towel on the vanity. It’s too final. I’m not ready to put her out of my mind just yet. And that’s why I need to write about her, and flood my blog with pictures and memories. They need to be somewhere so that as they fade in my mind, I have somewhere to remember her as vividly as possible.

We just loved that kitty. 26795_392949086879_508046879_3885571_7718324_n

Here’s a link to the slideshow of all the pictures of Bearface, from her first few days of life, to her last few.


Lojo said...

Bearface :'( <3

Hang in there, Cat-Robot.

Anonymous said...

Sorry Jacqueline and Matt, she clearly needed you and had a great life. Hugs xoxoxo Audrey