Thursday, October 23, 2008

What Completes My Family?

This one is really long (sorry Charles). I actually started it 3 days ago but I put it aside.
I don't mind writing about my feelings, whether good or bad, but I prefer that the feeling not be too intense at the time that I'm writing.
This one isn't about politics.
It's about one of the most emotional things that many people face in their lives.
Family pets.
I was brought up to love and treat animals well. It is difficult sometimes living in a province with so much hunting.
One of my best friends is a hunter and loves to tell his stories. I'd love to share the enthusiasm but I can't.
He created an amazing multi staged geocache with a hunting theme. It puts the cacher into the role of a hunter tracking the kill.
My son and I really enjoyed it.
But it's just pretend. The blood is paint and we knew that.
Regardless, Sporty is a good friend and I would not judge him by his activities if I don't share them (as he doesn't judge me for being a politician).
Besides, he has a great dog that he and his wife treat as their child.
This dog goes hunting with Sporty but only if he's up to it. Otherwise Sporty goes solo in the woods while Archer stays home and guards the fort.
It is by the kind gentle nature of this dog that the characters of Sporty and his wife are revealed.
I have found over and over again that if a pet shows hostility or fear towards people the chances are good that the animal has been abused at some point and has yet to recover.

Over 19 years ago my girlfriend (now wife) and I moved into an apartment together in south Mississauga, Ontario.
We agreed that a pet would make a great start to our family.
My mother was very involved in the Alliston and district humane society and arranged for us to go and pick a cat.
We looked around at the beautiful cats we spotted 2 that had similar colouring but were not related.
It made sense that we take two of them since we would be at work all day. They would be company for each other.
We named the boy Lester and the girl Maggie.
The names fit them perfectly.
For the first few months we ran back and forth from Mississauga to Snelgrove, Nobleton and points in between to the vets for various ailments.
When all that had worked out we were good as gold.
Lester was a lovable suck right from the start. He was daddy's boy.
The picture is him sitting on the toilet waiting for me to finish my shower.
To say he was friendly is understating. Everyone who knew us also knew Lester. He said hello to everyone.
Maggie was more timid and nervous.
I don't recall their backgrounds but I know they weren't nice.
There are so many situations out there of abusing animals that it makes me sick.
But right away Lester was willing to give humans a chance to be as nice to them as he wanted to be to us.
I appreciated that and made sure that I was worthy. Les was my little pal.
He always said hello when I came in the door and asked me about my day.
We had a couple of scares but the vet always sent them back home with us.
Once, we had to leave Lester at the vet overnight. He was not happy about that but forgave us as soon as he got home.
It was funny whenever he was really happy and enjoying a good stroke his mouth and nose would scroonch up. We knew then that all was good in his world.
If I was in bed on my side Lester loved to scoot in beside me to demand some loving. If I stopped for some reason such as to sleep, Les bopped me with his paw to get my attention.
If he was right up close to me having a really good time he gave me little bites.
These tended to be on my nose.
I couldn't even see for the tears and pain.
Lester had a heart murmur so purring was pretty rare from him. He never really needed to purr to express himself though.
Maggie was a less outgoing but still very lovable little girl. She was much mellower.
They were perfect for each other.
The two of them loved to lie there and give each other a long wash.
Most times it would end in Lester getting too playful and biting Maggie to get her stirred up. She would go along with it but when she didn't want to play anymore she told Lester in no uncertain terms.
Lester and Maggie followed us all along our trail of houses and apartments.
It was a nightmare when our apartment on Mississauga Road was flea infested. Someone before us had left us this gift.
We got out of there as soon as possible.
We ended up leaving my favourite sofa as a sacrifice to the fleas.
Lester and Maggie were always indoor cats so we took them from the flea palace directly to the vet for a flea bath before being taken to our new condo off Southdown Road.
It was while we lived here that we were married.
The next step was to buy our house in Meadowvale and go for the next part of the family.
Through every step, Maggie and Lester just bounced along with us and made themselves a home where we landed.
Just over 10 years ago we did something that created some concern among the kitties.
We had not 1, but 2 babies. At the same time!
During the first couple of blurry years Lester and Maggie were there for us whenever we wanted to stop and talk for a few minutes but stayed out of the way whenever we didn't. I was surprised that Lester hid whenever the kids were tearing around but Maggie stayed and didn't mind the two whirlwinds running rampant in the house.
As time went on and the boys got older the cats started to come out for longer periods.
The peppy little lad Lester didn't always like to be where the action was.
Maggie just strolled by on her way to chill out somewhere.
Almost every night as soon as the boys were in bed Lester would pop out to rule the roost again.
In January 2003 our family moved out here to New Brunswick.
We didn't have our own house bought yet so we stayed at my father's house outside of town.
Dad has always had plenty of cats and dogs so it wasn't a good idea to throw Lester and Maggie into the mix.
My mother and step-father Tom offered for our kitties to stay there until we had our own house to move into.
A couple of months later we had that house and were ready to introduce the furry kids to the maritimes.
While this was going on Tom began to get sick. First the doctors thought it was a back problem then a lung problem before realizing that he had cancer.
There were discussions of the best action plan to help him.
My mother told me that herself, my sister, Tom's daughters and the doctors were planning a meeting to decide treatment. I was to sit out here in New Brunswick to wait for the date of this meeting before heading to Ontario. One night I was in bed and said to my wife "I'm not going to wait. I'm going to see Tom now."
I packed up my little Suzuki Aerio and off I went to Ontario.
This turned out to be one of the smartest plans in my life.
I spent some great time with Tom talking about everything. He knew I loved him like a father and he loved me like a son. We also both knew this would be the last time I would see him.
Harsh reality is good for clarity but does nothing to ease the pain of a loss.
Thinking back I think I should have left the cats for a while longer instead of taking them home with me.
Mom had been through an awful lot and having the happy cats around certainly helped cheer her up a bit.
But I packed up a big metal cage with the litter box, food and water bowls for the kits. Very early on the morning of April 1st 2003 Lester Maggie and I said goodbye to Tom for the last time and my lonely mom and trundled to the east.
A big nasty ice storm was crashing into Ontario from the west that morning so I spent my first several hours watching it in my rear view mirror as it followed me towards Quebec.
Lester lay on top of the litter box lid and Maggie lay on the towel in the bottom of the cage.
Every time I turned my head to look their way they both said "Meow! We're still here with you keeping you company! You're doing just fine."
The ice storm got further and further back until it was gone just before I hit Montreal.
With that off my mind and I had time to reflect on my Ontario visit.
I'd like to think that Lester and Maggie knew how sad I was feeling since they stayed right there behind me talking to me the whole way to cheer me up.
It was so funny the way that Les would reach out of the cage to tap me on the shoulder when he figured that I should pay a little less attention to the driving and more to them.
The arrival home was a great reunion for us all. Cheryl and the boys were so happy to see the kits.
The kits took some time to explore the new digs but must have recognised our stuff and that was good enough for them. The place was all theirs in no time.
It was back to the old routines in a new place.
Tom did pass away shortly after my visit. The timing of my visit had been perfect.
The SARs scare hit Toronto at that time and when Cheryl arrived there she couldn't get into the hospital to see Tom before his passing.
The boys and I met Cheryl at the airport when she came home from Toronto and I got right on the same plane to head back to Toronto for Tom's funeral.
Tom's death hit me very hard. I had lost one of my best friends to cancer years before but this felt worse.
Cheryl and the boys were a great help but I was still in a sad place for quite a while.
One thing that remained totally constant was the affection that Lester and Maggie gave.
They never cared what was going on. They saw us as the people they were growing up with and were happy with that.
The following year Cheryl took a trip to Ontario to see her father. The trip was overdue for her and well timed.
The boys and I took care of business while she was away and Lester and Maggie took care of everything else.
For a while we thought that Lester was becoming hard of hearing or scared of being left alone. Many times in the night we would hear him yelling from some part of the house.
Often we would call him and he would come running to our voice and all was well. If he was further away in the house and didn't hear us I would get out of bed and find him.
As soon as he saw me he was thrilled and came along with me to chat. Even if it was really late or far too early.
Maggie would look to see what was going on but return to her napping once everything was okay with Les.
One night when Cheryl was in Ontario I heard Lester yelling. I called him and he didn't yell again.
I don't recall if he came to see me but I must have gone back to sleep.
The next morning I got up and went in to wake the boys up for school.
When I came back into the hallway I saw Lester lying on the living room floor. He never slept there.
"Lester, what are you doing sleeping there?" I asked.
He didn't move. Right away I knew that something was wrong and said "Oh no."
The boys both heard me and asked what was wrong.
We went over to Lester and he was gone.
It looked like he had lay down at that spot and went to sleep. That's all.
Maggie came into the room but didn't seem to react at all. I wonder if they know what goes on at times like this?
We cried and called Cheryl to tell her. It was very upsetting to us all.
Before heading to school the boys wrote letters for Les telling how much we would miss him and not to worry about Maggie since we would take good care of her.
And we did. We took care of Maggie and she certainly took good care of us.
She was graciously patient and tolerant with us when we disrupted her life and moved her again to another house.
For years Maggie slept between Cheryl's legs at night in a ball which felt like concrete.
One night Maggie looked over at me and decided that she wanted to sleep between my legs instead. She walked over and did just that from then on.
Did she know how much I missed Lester?
I was her new pillow.
If I wasn't there or was sent out of the room for snoring Maggie played it smart and stayed with the bed.
From that time on Maggie became more and more lovable.
Any time I sat down to do something she was right there ready to jump up and get comfy.
We developed a nightly routine.
After I had put the boys to bed I would go out into the living room and lie down on the couch.
No matter where she was in the house Maggie would know. She would jump up and lie on me while I read, watched TV or typed on my Blackberry.
We agreed that if I had to get up I don't do it suddenly. She needed to dismount properly.
Every day she would come to the door to welcome us when we came in.
I would pick her up like a little furry ball and she didn't resist as when she was younger. She always trusted me that I would put her down safely. I'm proud to say that I always did.
The picture was taken less than a year ago while was lying on me.
I'm convinced that we were her pets.
We placed cups and bowls of water through the house so she was never far from a drink.
The recent passing of my sister has affected me worse than anything to date. More than Andy or Tom.
Since returning home from the funeral in Ontario many people have given me space to sort this out. I appreciated that.
Maggie, on the other hand would have none of that and jumped up on me where I landed.
My job had was to be her pillow and in return she'd let me.
My grief wasn't going to keep her from giving me loving.
Who would have known that hers was the best idea to help me feel better?
Her cuddling and purring made me forget about feeling sad for a few minutes.

Over the last year or so we found spots of blood here and there once in a while.
Early in 2008 the vet decided it was likely a bladder infection as he did not see any tumours or blockage.
We gave her pills which helped.
We knew deep down that it could not last forever. She looked like a kitten but was now 19 years old.
She was as loving as ever but moving a little slower every day.
Maggie still purred like crazy but it was quieter now.

The most worrying change was when she started losing weight.
She wasn't eating or drinking very much. I got some cans of the food which she loved but it just sat in the bowl.
I tried mixing up water and milk. She had a tiny bit but went for a nap.
She stayed on our bed all of the time.

It was so cute when she lay in the sun in dining room bay window. I called her little sun bunny. If I looked at her at the right angle she reminded me of a rabbit.
I would come home and she would be in the window but when I came in the door she was there yelling hello and waiting for her stroke.
She wasn't doing this as much anymore.

Over this last Thanksgiving weekend I became very concerned. She was not well.
I had hoped for a miracle but on Monday she didn't look good.
I decided to go to the emergency vet. We talked to the boys and explained what the outcome may be.
Cheryl drove and I held Maggie in a blanket.
The vet confirmed that she was dehydrated and too thin.
We didn't know why.
The vet took her out for a blood sample. When she came back Maggie looked awful. She couldn't even move.
The poor little girl looked so sad.
The vet came back saying that they needed more blood in order to do tests. They didn't have enough.
I looked at Maggie lying there and said "No, we can't do that to her."
Then I looked at Cheryl and the boys and said "I think it's time."
I told Cheryl and the boys to say goodbye to her. We spent a few minutes.
The looks on our faces said it all. We didn't want this but this was about Maggie. She had a great run but it was time to go.

She was taken out to put the catheter in her leg for the needle.
I talked with Cheryl and the boys about staying in the room or not.
At first I thought they should leave but knew how sad they would feel if they weren't there and wanted to be.
We all stayed with her.

I held her gently while the needle was put in.
I almost stopped the vet.
Maggie pulled back a bit as the needle went in. I said "it's okay". I didn't want her to hurt.
A second later the vet said "she's gone".
I looked at the boys and Cheryl who were crying and walked over to try and comfort them.
I was worse than they were.

I was the last in the room with Maggie. I put my face to hers like I always did and said "I'm so sorry sweety. I just wanted the best for you."
Then I left her alone in the room on the steel table.

When we got outside we all cried.
We quietly went home.

Maggie had been helping me get over my sadness and now my sadness includes her.

It will take a very long time to get over her.


Charles LeBlanc said...

Very sad story..Did you get another cat???

Tim Scammell, Professional Technologist said...

Not yet Charles. Maybe after Christmas.

Allison Zapata said...

OOF :( I held my dog as they put her to sleep. It was the most surreal moment of my life. She was there one moment, and then her body went limp. I felt myself panicking. On my way out I collapsed on the stairs and cried. Heartbreak. I love animals more than people. Sounds like you do, too.

Our newest addition was abused before we rescued her (she really rescued us). Makes me sick. I am so happy for her that she is so spoiled and safe now. Thanks for sharing, this. xoxo