Nine years ago. Jaeger’s 5th birthday was approaching and we thought he was ready for a cat. Humane Society. Storm (named thus due to the streaks of dark gray and white). Distemper. Undiagnosed until after an unsuccessful surgery and a cell phone call to the family as we were on a downtown Spokane sidewalk. Her heart just couldn’t take it.

Distemper. That means waiting awhile until we could bring home a new kitty. Luckily our vet was a part of the Second Chance adoption program. Buzz was identified as “the one” shortly after, and the vet was willing to keep him at the clinic until the distemper quarantine expired.

Welcome home Buzz! Hmmm… He’s not eating. Looks weak. Better today! Not as good now. So weak one night after us being gone all day. Got up on the blanket with us and tinkled. Called the vet. He purred as if he knew comfort was near.

A five year old kid should NOT have to deal with TWO cat deaths within a few months. (Nor should his parents). Hard lessons.

Tammy worked for Dr. King. Her sister had a farm in Rathdrum and there were always barn cat litters. We could have another cat. WHEN we were ready.

I’ll never forget Gray-C. It was snowy and as we drove up the one-lane drive towards the barn & house she was sitting on a fence post or something. She looked like she had just come out of the dryer. Or stuck her paw in an electric socket. She was loaded for winter. Fluffy gray dandelion fur. Static electricity fur. I don’t really remember the selection process. It was Jaeger’s cat afterall. But I know that she was the first one I saw.

We headed home with Gray-C. (For “Gray Cat.”). Nothing too eventful to recall from the early years. I think she ate a bat once. That was weird. And loud.

Then we moved to “THE CITY.” We had already decided that Gray-C would be an INDOOR CAT. Already lost two, life expectancy and all that. Things were good for awhile, but you could tell she wanted OUT.

In her best interests of course, the compromise was made that we would let her out into the backyard. With a harness. Attached to a stake. Like a dog. I cringe when I think of it actually, but in her little 40 foot circumference of yard she was happy. Or so we thought. By then Jaeger was 6 or 7. Maya was 3. We had noticed neighborhood cats in the area and thought it would be cool if Gray-C would get “visited” by a boy cat and have some kittens.

We started letting her stay out past dark. I will never forget looking out the screen door towards the backyard and shining a flashlight her way (ATTACHED to the stake IN a harness mind you) with a boy kitty ready to make his move. We caught the reflection of the tapetum in her eyes, telling us in no uncertain terms, “ARE YOU SHI*TING ME!… You have harnessed me. You have staked me. And YOU ARE SHINING A LIGHT ON ME NOW??!!”

Gestation happened. Kittens were born. Papa was an orange tabby, which meant two all gray kittens (Gray Belly & White Belly, aka Mer-row and Squiddy), and two tortoise-y, tabby-orange-gray kittens (Big Gal and Adventure Gal, aka Sally and Missy).

Squiddy (named by Jaeger) and Sally (named by Maya) stayed with us. Big Gal, who came to be known as Missy and Mer-row went to live with Grandma Karen.

Gray-C was the perfect momma kitty… That is until she went into heat again. Then, as far as we could tell, her children were evil and in direct competition for food & affection from us. It was NOT pretty.

Gray-C was clearly not happy, so even though we were worried about the statistically significant reduction in life expectancy, we let her go outside. No harness. No stake. She called the shots. She killed stuff. She came home at the wee hours with cold fur and smelling like wood smoke, but she was happy.

During this period of time she also managed to find her way under the back tire of the Suburu as Kevin was pulling out of the driveway one evening.

She Tasmanian-deviled herself under the back deck all bloody and mangled. The prognosis wasn’t good. The Dr. didn’t think she’d get use of her back leg. It was pretty shot. The vet gave her a shot to anesthetize her. Not enough. One more? TWO more? She was ornery. Back at home all splinted up and in a little “nest” we made for her in the kitchen she was NOT happy. No she was not. We heard from the vet(?) that some cats who are unable to get around just lay in one spot and starve to death because they are too damn stubborn to figure out how to get where they need to go to eat or drink. Gray-C’s mentality matched that stubbornness.

We watched as she laid there all helpless. It occurred to Kevin (who is amazing with small children and I guess animals also) that he should SHOW her how to walk. He picked her up and propped her against the wall and showed her how to at least make it down the length of the hall by herself. I think that gave her hope, because after that the recovery accelerated to the point that within a week or two her splint/cast lie abandoned in the middle of the backyard. She was ready to get back at it.

I’m not quite sure when it happened, but she started to get fat. We had always been fairly liberal with the dry cat food and just figured they’d stop eating when they should. Not so much. She got bigger and bigger. She wasn’t healthy.

We started to watch the food distribution and then she started to lose weight. A LOT of weight. She went from about 17 lbs to about 12 lbs. That is a BIG percentage at that amount of poundage.

Guess what. Turns out that if cats lose a lot of weight quickly, their body has trouble absorbing the extra fat. What happens is something called “Fatty liver disease.” Can be fatal. Our first vet said it was. We got a second opinion.

Force-feeding. Special food. Getting her weight up. Pills. Gels. Watching lots of “pilling a cat” videos on YouTube. Laughing, crying, caring for bites & scratches received while pilling OUR cat. NOT fun.

Got her weight up. Good! Wait. She doesn’t seem right. Listless. Glassy eyed. Still not sure what’s going on. Ultrasound ($$) Spokane. Shaved tummy. Apparently when one of a cat’s major organs is compromised, it often leads to problems with other organs. Diabetes. Check. She’s got that now. Insulin. Twice a day. Started out fairly reasonably priced by then issues arose with that manufacturer which led to the cost of the vial being about $130.

Got the blood sugar under control, but she’s still not right. Visit after visit after visit after visit. Blood panels, tests, potassium, tests. The TOP small (AND large) animal veterinarian student from WSU finally concluded that her diagnosis was hypoaldosteronism. (In all his years this was his first case of this disease). Huh? Her body doesn’t retain potassium. OK. Add a syringe of spironolactone and some Tumil-K potassium gel ($40+ and $12+) to that twice per day insulin regimen. We can still handle that… can’t we? At least we know what it is now…

After we started this regimen, it still took some time to get the dosages right. Too lethargic, still listless. Let’s increase that and decrease this. Quality of life… sub par. Enjoyment of the outdoors… not so much. Stress on family… yes.

Between being ill and having previously been run over by a car, Gray-C didn’t seem to be enjoying life very much. She purred. That was always hopeful. She clearly still loved us. Loved the regimen of “wet food” (mixed with the potassium gel). But she didn’t groom herself. She was a snarled mess of dandruff and cat dread locks. We tried to cut them off on occasion because they caused her poor skin to stretch and be tender, but that was never pleasant for anyone involved.

One time our friend Urban was at our house. He stared at Gray-C with some concern. We told him it was OK to pet her (even if she looked horrible). He replied that he didn’t really like to pet other people’s bald cats.

Poor Gray-C. She’s doing OK. She looks bad. But she loves us. We love her. We’ll stick it out a little longer.

Summer/Fall 2010. Litter box efforts fall short. Meds are expensive. She looks horrible. Breathing is labored. Fur is matted. What are we doing. The vet tells us she is lucky to have owners who are willing to take this good care of her. I’m not feeling so sure about that. Out of town for us means boarding for her. She doesn’t like it. We don’t like it. Makes me sad every time and I KNOW she’s no picnic for the Vet techs who have to come in on the weekends and give her meds. She has a reputation at the vet. She’s a tough cookie.

But she’s my Gray-C. Ever since she had her babies, Squiddy has sort of taken the place of Jaeger’s “replacement” cat. Gray-C is MOM’s cat. She attends to me. I attend to her. She loves crawling up on my chest at night in our bed…. Or at least until she started using my bedside table as a litter box. Or breathing so loud and labored that I can’t sleep (even with earplugs) and have to kick her out of the room.

Where is the vital, healthy, lovable, soft Gray-C of years’ past? She’s not here anymore. Is that worse for HER? Or worse for ME. Us.

I used the last of the insulin on Sunday. The prospect of spending $130 was depressing. Feeble. Sickly. Sleeping all of the time. Labored breathing. Peeing where she shouldn’t. Dreaded and matted fur. I would scoop her up and hold her close. Her loud purring somehow influencing me that her life was OK and that we needed to endure… pay… sacrifice.

Discussions. Crying. Quality of Life. Hers is not good. Neither is ours. Rational vs. Emotional. Schedule the appointment. 24 hours or so of REALLY BIG SADNESS. Guilt. What if. Are we doing the right thing? Are we being selfish.

Kevin was brave for me. He took care of the hard part. He held her. Was the last. The kids were strong. I told Maya we needed to be tough for each other, because if she cried, I would cry and vice versa. They were stronger than me.

I stayed home that day. With her. Listened to her labored breathing. Over-feeding her wet cat food. Sure but not. Then I said good-bye and left the house. Went to the office for awhile. Left in time. Positioned the cup-holder in the car so I couldn’t see the clock. Couldn’t bear to know exactly when it was happening. Happened.

She bit him when he was holding her. He had to go to Urgent Care and get checked and given antibiotics. Really? I thought? We really need to add a visit to the doctor to this already crappy day?

Talked to Maya later. She said “It was way worse BEFORE it happened.” Agreed. How can you look at an animal with anything but extreme remorse, guilt, and sadness when you know its HOURS are numbered. Gray-C looked at me with those glassy, sickly eyes that day. She can’t possibly know. Can she? If she does know, she MUST know how hard this is for us. Right? That this really is the best. Right? What if she knows and thinks we’re wrong. What if we’re doing the wrong thing. What if she’s really OK and we’re just being selfish.

Officially, I am supposed to believe that animals don’t to heaven. I prefer to believe that they do, and that I’ll see her again there someday (along with Storm and Buzz, Phoebe, Phaedra, Sylvester, Brown/Mittens/Milhouse, Tigger, Missy, and all the other cats I have known.)

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