Tag Archives: Coolidge

How soon is it thinkable to replace your faithful feline companion when he or she passes on?

001Coolidge (1998-2015)

p1020095Effie (b. 2014)

Our shy and amazing Coolidge came home with us when he was nine weeks old. We wanted just one kitten, so he was separated from his sister. When I realized how shy Coolidge was—he let me know by hiding in desk drawers, which he did by pushing them open from behind, and then somehow pulling them closed—I regretted separating him from moxie little Sasha, his litter mate and protectress.

The Pet Protectors had rescued a litter of kittens from a feral pride, in a field behind a travel agency. They had named our little kitty Romanov, presumably because he looked like a Russian Blue. We renamed him Coolidge, after the presidential tradition of Garfield, selecting Coolidge among the presidents because he didn’t say much.

When we brought him home, Coolidge made a beeline for cover under the bed. I got down and extended a treat to him with my hand, and he deftly took it. But he wasn’t coming out.

We waited a few hours, and my husband put his hand on Coolidge’s back, and gently pulled him forward till I could pick him up. Coolidge looked terrified, but snuggled into my arms. He seemed to feel safe enough with us, but hesitated to leave the safety of the bedroom. I coaxed, and finally carried Coolidge into the kitchen and showed him a bowl of kitten kibbles. He ate them. I put him on the litter box we had prepared, optimistic that we would come home with a kitten. He knew what to do.

Coolidge had one more family member to meet: Hardy, our then 12-year-old Shetland sheepdog. They established a mutual tolerance and non-persecution compact.

We successfully persuaded Coolidge that he was too precious to go outdoors, and he never pushed the issue. The outdoors had been only trouble in his first two months of life. For one thing, he had contracted lungworm, which took close to a month to resolve with medication.

It was a month before Coolidge ventured into the dining room, but as he grew, he explored more. When he was two years old, he broke one of his hocks on a routine prowling mission. We suspect he incurred the injury prowling the rafters of the basement ceiling. The vet put a cast on his leg, with instructions to keep him confined to a cage, with no running or jumping, for 10 weeks.

My husband built a large cage for him with wood and light fence wire. Coolidge wasn’t happy, but he wasn’t as morose as I expected he might become. His quarters were in the living room, where I could spend a lot of time with him. I made an advent calendar to check off the days of our kitty’s captivity, and hung it on his enclosure.

Coolidge became diabetic when he was eight years old. He hated tinned food and would eat only kibbles, which are high-carb. I joined the Feline Diabetes Board online and learned how to treat Coolidge’s diabetes and how to cope with the sorrow of his compromised life. I checked his glucose and administered his insulin shots twice a day for the next nine years.

For the last two years of his life, Coolidge also had hyperthyroid, and I treated that as well. Then, at 17, chronic renal failure struck. There is no surviving it. Coolidge lived to be 17, which is exceptional for a cat with his health issues. He was never over-strong; he simply had people with a never-never-never-never-give-up ethos.

Coolidge surrendered his vitality on God’s time, without euthanasia, at home in my arms, on August 13, 2015, at 3:45 in the morning.  It was peaceful and awful at the same time. I held him through his throes. My husband built a wooden casket for our amazing cat of 17 years, and we put him in the ground in our small orchard. That was when I finally cried.

I called our vet when his office opened to let him know, and we commended each other for Coolidge’s good care over the rigorous years. But I had a question, and it was hard to ask, because I thought it would seem terrible. But I had to ask. I called our vet again at 4:30 in the afternoon. “Dr. A, I have never slept in this house without a cat!” (We had moved here five years earlier, when Coolidge was 12.) “I don’t think I can! Would it be horrible to get another cat right away?”

Our vet was not judgmental, but reassuring. “Sometimes it can be very healing to get another cat right away,” he said kindly.

My husband agreed. I called the pet shop that hosts select pets for the Animal Shelter. They had two kitties: a small, sickly male kitten; and a small, pretty, healthy, young, active, year-old spayed female Tabby, who less than half an hour later was ours! We named her Euphemia, Effie for short.

And no regrets!

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Coolidge: A Tribute

Coolidge lived a life of protected luxury and taxing health challenges for the 17 years we were blessed to enjoy his company and inspiration. He inspired my two volumes of poetry, Glamorgan’s Tales and Glamorgan: He Who Would Be Cat. He was the inspiration behind my first blog, Mrs. B and the Cat, that I started in 2006; it morphed in 2007 to Oikos mou, and finally this blog in 2010, when we moved from Puget Sound to the Palouse. Coolidge was on board through the entire journey, until his passing four weeks ago, on August 13, 2015, at 3:45 in the morning, in my arms, from advanced renal failure.

Coolidge was diabetic for the past nine years. Every day of those years, at 6:30 AM and 6:30 PM, I tested his glucose and gave him an appropriate dose of insulin. He developed hyperthyroid, a very sinister condition for cats, in his seventh diabetic year. I put methimazole cream in his ear twice a day.

When he first became diabetic in 2006, he developed hepatic lipidosis and needed a feeding tube for nine weeks. He yanked it out so many times we quit taking him to the vet’s ER. My husband simply stitched the tube back in place when Coo pulled it out. After all, our cat could not know the tube was where his belly snacks came from. I cooked chicken breasts, pulverized them in a food grinder, and syringed the food into the feeding tube six times a day. Coolidge wore a body sock, supposedly to secure the tube. We called him Coodini, for his way of slipping off the sock so cleverly over his head.

Y2K wasn’t Coolidge’s best year, either. He was two, and he somehow broke his hock on a routine indoor prowling mission. A veterinary orthopedist operated and put his foot in a cast for 10 weeks. He had to remain in a kennel cage in the house to keep from running, jumping, or using the stairs. I put an advent calendar up on his cage so I could better stand my poor cat’s captivity. It wasn’t much help.

Coolidge was born into a feral pride behind a travel agency on Vashon Island, Washington. Once rescued, Coolidge was always an indoor cat. I had promised his rescuers, the Vashon Island Pet Protectors heroines, that we would not subject him to the hazards of the outdoors, and we kept our word. He had lungworm and a hernia from a raccoon gash when he was rescued at four weeks. He was the sort of kitten I could dedicate my life to keeping safe.

He wasn’t always cooperative. But a ripe age and natural causes, as horrible as renal failure is, presented God’s challenging assignments in a gracious light, and we were given the motivation to take up each new challenge.

Coolidge was a trooper and an unforgettable companion. He’s a hard act to follow. But little spritely Effie is taking up Coolidge’s charge as her peoples’ champion. I adore her to pieces. She’s no replacement–she’s the Cat of the House. God’s mercy astounds me.

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Coolidge: The end of an era

Coo BW

Coolidge

1998 Boy Cat Swing & Swat Champion of the World

June 2, 1998 – August 13, 2015

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Whoa! Coolidge is eating!

There aren’t a lot of things more horrible than watching a beloved companion starve.

Coolidge pretty much quit eating two days ago. I began giving him sugar water from a syringe. He took it well, but it didn’t get him back to eating his food. This morning I diluted some of his special renal diet soft food with some water and tried to get it into a syringe. The uptake hole was too small to draw much, but what he got in his mouth he took with the same relish as the sugar water.

I dumped the remaining tinned food, along with a fair amount of water, into my Kitchen Aid’s bowl, and used the whipping attachment to make a thin slurry the syringe could draw. I fed Coolidge the slurry and he downed what didn’t dribble down his chin with increasing gusto. Oh God, my cat was never inappetent! He just didn’t have the strength to stand over his bowl and eat!

It’s not an easy maneuver to syringe feed a cat while sitting in a chair, and it’s hard on my back, sitting on the floor with Coolidge in my lap while I draw his life-sustaining food into the syringe and slowly express the slurry into his mouth. His acceptance is my magnificent reward. We knew it was going to be tough terrain along this journey—which was, after all, assigned to us.

Our vet called to check on how Coolidge is doing. We are blessed to have a vet who is so thorough, comprehensive, earnestly interested in Coolidge, and encouraging to work with. I presented some concerns about Coolidge’s ability to stand and walk capably, his receding desire to eat a sustaining amount, and urinary and bowel retentiveness. Our vet thinks these likely indicate a Vitamin-B deficiency. My syringe-habituated hands will give Coolidge a new weekly injection.

Some might consider these things heroic end-of-life measures, but I have come to see that you cannot be your cat’s hero, unless your cat is a hero.

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Fallout: Rigor Exacts Rigor

End of life care for a companion animal is always rigorous. Everything is hard right now. Taking care of my 17-year old, very ill cat, knowing he will never improve until the final resurrection, is hard.

I’m not heroic. I have multiple energy-diminishing conditions. I need nine hours of sleep at night, and I’m getting up with Coolidge, sometimes for one to three hours, often twice in a night, because I can’t bear to leave him alone. Or he dropped a bit of food in his water and declared it disgusting, and bellows his need for fresh water, several times a night. But those were the good nights: those were the nights he was still eating.

Now Inappetence wields its sword, advancing on my cat’s life. I confront the foe, unarmed except for some sugar-water solution. “Be gone, fiend!” I spritz some sugar water on my cat’s soft food. He is not impressed. He lies on his towel next to his living-room water bowl, guarding it with his arms. Coolidge, like galactic hitchhiker Arthur Dent, is very proprietorial about his towel. He has never had one before.

Things that go bump by day and by night are lack of sleep, grief over the inevitable coming end, not far off, of a longtime companion under my limited protection; frustration with my own limits, and fielding blind good will in the form of cheery optimism, sent by dear people afflicted with the cheery optimism gene. I wish there were a mutagen readily available, but the only known remedy is disciplined grace—on my part, not theirs. Why should they not hope for the best? The clinical realities are my problem. Theirs is to be a friend to me, and that is certainly more than enough of a load.

I proceed through my normal homekeeping routine, but now I stretch it out so that it takes longer. I take a lot of timeouts to tend to Coolidge’s details: clean-up, cajoling to eat, more clean-up, administering medications, more clean-up, consulting with my husband, our vet, etc. With proper pacing, I can work in an adequate spin on my stationary bike, write something, shoot some photos, and do anything else to avoid reading. Reading is exhausting and frustrating right now; the mental gauze of fatigue deploys its allies, depression and anxiety, making it too hard to track anything worth reading.

Only God’s merciful grace has enabled me to accept these days with my sense of purpose intact and the ability to press on; and it will be by God’s abiding grace alone that I will be appointed the strength to continue for the unknown number of days ahead.

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Coolidge currently

Through Coolidge we have met some of the Valley’s best and brightest—veterinarians, of course: four, so far. I have been grateful for the earnest interest in Coolidge and the resourcefulness all of them have shown. Some work Saturdays, and all rotate to cover emergencies. We’ve always been impressed with whoever’s on.

Coolidge presents the challenges of advanced years and multiple chronic conditions. He was recently prescribed a course of antibiotics for a UTI, and a new infection set in, immediately behind the one we thought resolved. It wasn’t the wrong drug. It’s nine years of diabetes, confounded with hyperthyroid, and more recently the slamming blow of chronic renal failure. The multi-lateral crash has opened Coolidge’s system to new, opportunistic UTIs with worse bleeding than the one preceding. Immune compromise is a near-inevitable sequel of JTM—Just Too Much.

Gordon Lightfoot has a song, “Christian Island,” I think, that includes “She’s a good old boat, and she’ll stay afloat through the toughest gale and keep sailing. . . .”

That’s the way Coolidge is, and has always been. And we purpose to see him through.
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Surrounding things abounding

I feel a bit surrounded, but I find breaches in the murk. I am staying home from church, the third week in a row, too nervous about both of us being gone for over three hours and leaving Coolidge alone. Coolidge is in the stage of life in which no one, much less an exceedingly precious companion cat of 17 years, should be alone for more than three hours, while dealing with medication side-effects on top of multiple debilitating conditions. Next week the antibiotics will be out of his system. The UTI is gone, but his kidneys will continue their advance from failure to shutdown. Accepting the reality of his decline is hard, too hard: one of the hardest things I have ever done—and one of the hardest that I would never not do.

The usually inspiring view of the Palouse-bounding basalt plateau we see through picture windows along an entire side of our house is muted in a disheartening haze. Forest fires burn in every direction. We are safe; we are under no watering restrictions, and we are not in a forest. The grass is dry, but a fire station is nearby; and in any case, people have so far been sensible and careful.

This morning I took a video of Coolidge drinking his water from a pretty periwinkle Fiesta bowl. He makes an enchanting “nyar nyar” sound when he drinks. Mostly, I’m thrilled at his motivation to stay hydrated. We also give him weekly subcutaneous fluids. He is considerably less exuberant receiving fluid through a needle inserted in the skin of his back than he is when drinking water on his own. But he can’t drink enough to keep his kidneys functioning even marginally.

I had a World History teacher in high school who always described any cataclysmic event as “the usual floods, fire, famine, rape, and war.” The snippet does seem to have urged perspective throughout these ensuing decades. Almost everything could, truly—and justly—be so much worse.

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Not to be outdone—Coolidge. . .

Coolidge

Coolidge

As I was turning the corner from mid- to full resolution in the matter disclosed in my previous post, our cat’s urine suddenly displayed blood. There aren’t many things in a uric matrix that can be mistaken for blood, so, after confirming she could work us in, we packed him up for a trip to our vet.

The blood-tinged urine was evident in a Potty Pad that provided extended coverage for occasions when our neuropathic, arthritic Coolidge overshoots the bounds of his litter box, which is nearly always.

Our empirically minded vet was unconvinced beyond reasonable doubt that the stain was actually blood. Okay. . .no matter. . .a urinalysis would be necessary anyway for a diagnosis. I knew it was blood; I wanted to know why it was suddenly showing up in my cat’s urine. Coolidge is diabetic. Chronic renal failure always looms at this late stage. Blood in the urine can be associated with a fair number of things, including cancer.

The pad was not sufficient for testing, so the vet tech sent us home with the most ridiculous collection set-up I have ever had to stifle a laugh at seeing. Really: a shallow baking dish containing a sprinkle of tiny plastic beads which, the exuberant tech averred, no cat could resist peeing on. From there, she exuded, it’s a simple matter to pipette some of the fluid into a test tube and return it for analysis.

Trust me: Coolidge would find this resistible. But people with sick pets have to be very tactful with people who generalize their limited experience with other people’s pets to an atypical individual. Coolidge, if only because he is 17 and has lived with diabetes for nine years, is an atypical individual.

Coolidge managed an adroit dodge of the baking pan and its artlessly beckoning beads. I waited a couple of hours and placed him in the center of his litter box; he dutifully commenced urinating, and I collected a sample in a bowl, pipetted the contents into the test tube, and took it to the vet, along with the unused baking pan and Coolidge-resistant beads.

While awaiting the lab results, more serious thoughts began messing with my mind. “Will Coolidge and I be diagnosed with cancer the same day? After all, we share the same birthday. . . .” It couldn’t happen. Coolidge’s results would be available in a couple of hours. My biopsy results wouldn’t be back for a few days. Somehow that quashed the superstition demon.

The vet’s office called and relayed that Coolidge had an “uncomplicated” UTI. I picked up the two-week supply of amoxicillin from the vet. Of course, it gave Coolidge diarrhea, but he had no more bleeding episodes. I called the after-hours vet and asked whether probiotics were okay to give to cats; she said they definitely were, and a feline version was available. My husband rushed to Petco, arrived shortly before closing, and returned with feline probiotics in a salmon oil matrix. They help Coolidge swallow the amoxicillin pills as much as they serve their intended purpose.

One absolutely incredible thing to me is that so many simplicity advocates have cats. . . .

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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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Unwished-for inevitabilities

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I don’t like it, I don’t want to concede to its reality. But there it is, the rough beast slouching, crouching, armored with the manifest covenant threat.

My precious cat’s survival has been pulled out of so many hats, and now symptoms of mortality leech through some imaginary vanguard.

He’s had lungworm, a broken hock, diabetes, hepatic lipidosis, hyperthyroid–and our tough cat brawls his way to his 17th miraculous year. He’s tired. He isn’t hungry. He throws up clear liquid and white foam. I hand feed him half a bag of treats. Blast the torpedoes; I can chase his glucose with insulin, at least to a point. There’s no way to chase starvation except with something he’ll eat.

When Coolidge was eight, he nearly martyred himself when we had to convert him from high-carb kibbles to wet food. That’s how he got hepatic lipidosis, and its resolution was a feeding tube. Six belly snacks a day, ground in a food processor and hand syringed into the tube. Coolidge yanked his tube out so many times, and my husband, a former farmer/rancher, stitched it back in each time so we could quit going to the veterinary ER.

sewingcoo

Now he wants his kibbles back, and he’s right to. He’s been losing three to four ounces a week. The dry, higher-carb food that once conspired to join forces with probably genetic factors and precipitate his diabetes, should now help him regain some safety-margin weight. And the tasty food should also help our pessimistic vet reverse her countdown mentality, and recall that our cat is a fighter. Her life-expectancy algorithm can jolly apply elsewhere.

I’m really not given over to magical thinking. I know the hairs, scales, skin cells, or whatever covers the heads of the creatures of God’s wondrous creation, are numbered, as are our days. But I don’t know how much knowing this reduces the other inevitability of life: grief.

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