Friday, October 24, 2008

My Old Cat

I stopped blogging a while back. I had to. Not enough time. Although it was fun and a lovely way to keep in touch with friends and family, it began to feel self-indulgent. I had to get back to the work of work and job of life, etc. Until today.

Late afternoon. A knock at the door. Not a pushy knock, just a knock. I figured it must an Obama supporter with a clipboard to talk about the campaign. They've already come to the house twice - once for Julia and a second time for Kristara - the youth vote. Good.

It was a woman without a clipboard. She wanted to know if I was the owner of a long-haired calico cat. I thought for a moment. Mishra is long haired but he's no calico. He's a brown tabby Maine Coon cat. Calico? I asked. Yes, calico. I do have a brown tabby Maine Coon cat, I said. Oh no, she said, shaking her head. They're very large. She went on to describe my skinny, sometimes glassy-eyed, 14-year-old baby boy. He's gotten wobbly in his old age; skinny for sure, although he's always been thin. His fur is a bit matted in spots since he's not so much into grooming anymore and he is a bit demented, I'll admit. Yep, he's mine. She then proceeded to tell me that she proposed he be kept inside and/or be taken to the pound where he could be adopted by a family that would love him and provide for him appropriately. She indicated she'd be the one taking him if I didn't keep him inside.

Taken aback, I started out slowly. He is skinny, I said, because he has liver disease. He almost died a year ago. At the time the vet said he'd need a feeding tube for at least three months in order to save him, although there was little guarantee that it would work. Rather than leaving him at the animal hospital for several days to surgically implant the tube and begin his treatment I took him home. After much thought and family discussion we decided to love him and feed him. I talked him into a couple of bites, then a few more bites and soon enough the entire household was on 24/7 feed Mishra detail.

A year later he's out and about, visiting his friends in the neighborhood. Beth gives him treats daily. He scratches on Con and Ann's back door to ask for snacks. Teresa, when she lived next door, believed cats were some sort of reincarnation vehicle for dead loved ones. She sensed her mother in Mishra. I'm just saying. I figure Fran takes him inside to feed him. He sometimes comes home smelling like perfume. I know because every night at around midnight I call him. He usually comes home and I pick him up and bury my head in his fur while he purrs. I ask him about his day. He purrs some more.

I tried to share some of this with the cat lady. I told her I was glad that she cared but that clearly we had differing philosophies of care. Mishra has been going outside for at least a dozen years, I said. He hates to stay in. And yes he's thin, but who isn't when they are old and a little sickly. The more I spoke the more upset I became and much to my surprise I started to cry. Let me just say - I am not a crier. It's not something I'm proud of. It's just a fact. I do not cry easily. But there I was, standing on my front porch, wailing at this stranger who was threatening to take my old cat away because she disapproved of his care. I left her standing there and retreated into the privacy of my home. Door closed. Click of the deadbolt for effect.

I sat and I cried and I thought. I thought about Mishra. I thought about my mother who weighed all of 88 pounds when she died. Then I began to think about countless elders, caught in webs of both good and bad intentions. For their own good. Sitting in nursing homes in chairs equipped with alarms set to go off if they dare to try to stand up. Parents and grandparents removed from their own homes, sent to live in institutions far away from their beloved Mishras and all else that they hold familiar and dear. For their own good. I thought of countless adult children of elders who make decisions about their parents care based on what? Fear; judgement; love; greed; appearances; advice/coercion of "professionals"? How conflicted we can become when faced with drugs, equipment and procedures that are available. What child would feel right turning down a drug that might, and a stress might, slow down the course of dementia due to Alzheimer's disease. How well does the drug work? What are the potential side effects? If it doesn't work how will we know and what will we do? In all likelihood, we will add more drugs on top of it if it doesn't work.

I cried about Mrs. Rehberg who spent her final days unable to talk, sustained by a ventilator, legs bound in intermittently squeezing "socks" to prevent clotting. She hated those socks and wanted them off. But they kept on squeezing as staff awaited the go ahead from her children to unplug the vent.

I cried about strangers I'll never meet.

I cried about Mishra.


Eric Valentine said...

Very good post thanks for sharing. Despite all the good intentions and caring though, don't you sometimes just want to give those do-gooders a swat! :)

Judith Shapiro said...

Indeed, Eric! A pleasure to hear from you.

sharryb said...

Blessings on Mishra. Our kitty Luna would be miserable if she had to stay indoors. Our cat's deserve a life they can enjoy, not just endure. As do we all.

pumpkin said...

A lovely, heart-tearing post, been there myself with both pets and people.

Crying is good.