Coolidge and Yucky Ducky

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Coolidge, 17, diabetic nine years, hyperthyroid two years, has always had some real limitations on his enjoyment of life.

As a kitten, he was tiny and shy. He was born in a feral pride, gashed by a raccoon within his first month of life. He was rescued by Vashon Island Pet Protectors, and received lifesaving hernia surgery and neutered at the same time, at four weeks. His mother was also rescued, and some of her blood was used for the transfusion Coolidge required. She was healthy, and adopted by a Seattle family with a garden estate that was also a dedicated cat preserve.

My husband and I adopted Coolidge. He just looked so clever, even if he seemed terrified of everything. He was 10 weeks old. He came with two assignments: he was to have a safe, indoor-only home; and I needed to treat him for lungworm for 10 weeks. I found my true calling in treating our sickly, terribly shy kitten. Seventeen years later, I’m still at it. Coolidge offers no retirement incentives.

The biggest challenge he presented was his endless resourcefulness at finding places to hide: cubby niches along the wall of the basement stairway; small drawers in my desk approachable, somehow, from the back; and, of course, under the bed, right in the middle, just beyond reach. Coaxing was ignored. Sometimes a wooly object on a mop was deployed to slide him out.

We spent lots of socializing time with him–lap time, aka “cuddle Coolidge time.” He got the hang of it, but only with us. He and our 12-year-old Shetland sheepdog didn’t hit it off until Coolidge asserted his alpha standing when he was about three months old. If Coolidge was on the bed and Hardy walked past the bed, Coolidge would reach down and bat the dog’s head. If Hardy resented Coolidge, he took it well. And Coolidge retained a faithful vigil at Hardy’s side, as my dog quietly passed his final hour on Earth.

Now Coolidge is infirm, but sweet-natured and still given to long naps under the bed. I look back on all the Friday evenings my husband and I spent one summer before Coolidge became diabetic, selecting 15 different varieties of cat food, hoping he’d find one of them interesting. But he developed hepatic lipidosis. We were thrilled–at least it wasn’t pancreatitis. He had a feeding tube installed. I cooked chicken, added supplements, pulverized it in a food processor, and syringed it into the tube. I can’t remember how many times a day I did this–four or six.

He required a body sock to keep from yanking out the tube with his teeth. He found a way to slip the body sock. At first we laid out clothes at night, ready to bolt for the emergency vet clinic. That was not an enduring hit, and my husband took over stitching the tube back in. This happy cycle lasted nine weeks.

Toys acceptable to Coolidge were as difficult to find as food. Finally we found this little fleece duck with a Velcro pocket. I dubbed it Yucky Ducky, because well-loved cat toys are well seasoned with cat saliva. We planted catnip in the garden, and put fresh leaves in the pocket. Coolidge is in ecstasy when the leaves are fresh, and for several days once they become dried.

And so, a fairly extensive chronicle explains the significance of the fuzzy ancient object between my cat’s paws on what blogger Marc-André calls “Tummy Rub Tuesday.”

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