6th Saddest Canary

A big peachy beige cat showed up on my doorstep in the spring of 2009. He liked the sun in the afternoon, and the catnip sprinkled on the doormat. I took photos of the strays that showed up through the side of the bay window. At first I thought there was only ONE peachy beige cat – which actually turned out to be several, some with white feet and chests. I fed them as they appeared, and examined them for illness or injury. One by one I took them in, had them neutered, treated them for things like ear mites, and they were adopted through a cat rescue.

This big guy was a little older than the rest. My guess was that he was the father. He really loved catnip – but he was anxious and wary. He would show up early in the morning for a meal, but I never saw him after dark. He came almost every day, and I worried when he didn’t show up. He looked like he was in good condition, and healthy, but he was intact. I hadn’t noticed any peachy beige kittens in the area before, so I guessed that he was a fertile fellow. One day he came and he was covered with what looked like motor oil – which I soon realized was blood from some tomcat battle. I made a plan and got him inside, then whisked off to a neutering appointment. He had made a cautious friendship with me outside, but this took a few steps back inside, as he was recovering. He couldn’t be picked up, and when he was scared he would revert to a hissing, defensive guy. One thing he DID love was to sit in a lap, so we worked things out. He seemed extremely relieved when he saw another one of my cats, and he turned out to be a friendly, social guy. He was absorbed into my household.

His first name was Werther, like the butterscotch candy, then Werther Sr. as I realized he had some copies running around. Eventually he just became Pa, then Gramps as he got older.

His health had always been good, except for some terrible teeth, which came out with an extensive dental procedure. As he got older, I saw some of my late cat Percy’s personality quirks – like the digging at water while he yelled at it, and the stiff legged run. The shape of the tail was the same too. Percy had been an elderly stray when I took him in in 2006 – intact – so he certainly had some genetic material far and wide in my old neighbourhood. I think Pa was related through blood, but how or why I would never know.

Pa was friendly and affectionate, though he could get offended and become reactive. In his senior years, in this cursed house, a jerk tomcat began visiting the yard at night. He would jump on the windowsill, with my cats on the other side. This would incite a cat brawl through the glass, with Pa at the lead, screeching with fisticuffs. This always happened at 3:00 a.m. – and was frankly terrifying. Finally I moved a large stained glass panel down so if this jerk tomcat came to taunt my cats, at least they couldn’t see each other. They had to look out through other windows, where the tomcat couldn’t get to.

Pa was always an exciteable type. He loved to go in the backyard, and run around, doing some yelling and tree scratching. Because he was also a difficult guy, I couldn’t just pick him up and carry him back inside. He was always very weird about walking past an open door with a person standing nearby. I had all kinds of tricks to attempt to entice him back inside, but he spent a couple of chilly nights in the backyard, by himself, when he just could not be convinced to return inside.

Everyone who met him thought he was very handsome, like a 1990’s Calvin Klein underpants model. He was big and sleek, and his fur had the texture of a Siamese cat I had once known. With his high strung personality and constant blabbing, maybe he was secretly Siamese ?

After Brutus died in March, the household felt empty and strange. All the worry and care for Brutus took up a lot of emotional space. The other cats didn’t seem to be grieving his absence, but I’m sure they all understood his decline.

Spring took a long time to arrive. When it was finally sunny and pleasant, the cats were overjoyed to resume their time in the backyard, with their various concerns, like inattentive birds, squirrels, and any cats that might pass by on the other side of the fence. When this did happen, Pa was always in the lead, and usually did some swearing. For an older guy, he seemed healthy and happy.

Pa, for as long as I knew him, always had small spells that seemed a lot like a migraine. He would be off his food for a meal or two, and be a little barfy, and just wanted to sleep. After 12 or 18 hours this would pass and he would bounce right back.

In early May I noticed that Pa wasn’t running to the back door first thing in the morning, and he seemed pickier about eating. When he did go out, he was less active, and would often come back inside without any prompting, and go to bed. After a few days of this I was concerned. When he was outside he wasn’t running around, he wasn’t yelling at his water anymore, and didn’t have anything to say inside or out. One morning I had to prompt him to go out – on a very warm and sunny day. He just sat in one spot, and looked unhappy.

I felt very scared, and knew this wasn’t just one of his “migraines”. The vet could see him that afternoon. After the horrible cancer surprise with Honky, and the very large tumours in Brutus, I felt frankly shook. I was hoping for some minor treatable thing, but didn’t feel very optimistic.

The tech took him to the back then the vet came out a few minutes later, looking subdued. She said that his heart sounded quite bad, and that he was receiving oxygen. I consented to an Xray.

This revealed severe pleural effusion – fluid collected around the membranes that surround the lungs. It was intense enough that his heart was mostly obscured. This was exactly what brought Grey Guy to the end, too(May 6, 2019). This is is usually the result of traumatic injury, cancer or heart failure. The vet was patient and kind as she explained what she saw on the Xrays, and told me about the possible options – to drain the fluid with a large needle, then aggressive treatment with diuretics, and overnight stays in the ER hospital in the oxygen chamber. However, the prognosis was really not good, particularly given the severity. The fluid would always come back as it was a symptom of a greater issue. I told her I had been been down this road before, and that I knew that euthanasia was the only kind choice. Since it was probably heart failure (there were no obvious masses on the Xray), and his decline had come on rapidly within the last 5 days, I knew that the probable outcome would be harrowing, like a saddle thrombus. I could tell that today was the worst day he had ever had, since he joined my household.

I wasn’t emotionally prepared for Pa’s end. It went as well as expected, for a sad, awful but kind procedure. I was a wreck. One of the vet techs kindly volunteered to drive me home, with late Pa.

I laid him out for his friends to see, while I dug his grave. He is next to Brutus, who is next to Honky. Rumpy, Grey Guy and Birdy are nearby.

Pa’s last photo was taken perhaps a week before his sudden end. He looks like a normal healthy cat, in great shape for his age. His coat was good, his energy level was normal and he was fine, it seemed ?

Cats get old and have health problems that bring them to the end. This is typically chronic kidney failure, usually preceeded by hyperthyroidism. Old cats get dental issues, diabetes, arthritis, various cancers, heart conditions and other maladies. There are predictable presentations and symptoms as the conditions ramp up. Pa was healthy until he wasn’t, quite suddenly.

Yet two cats in my household were brought to the end (euthanasia) by acute pleural effusion, probably as a result of heart failure, two cats had acute kidney failure, one cat had unusual tumours on his adrenal glands (Hyperaldosteronism) and one cat had a large cancerous mass and metastasis in his lungs. This pattern is extremely unusual. While it is true that all these cats were older cats – how much life was stolen from them from being exposed to huge amounts of gas vapours ? If they had never been exposed to this – would they have had another good month, six more good months, a few good years ?

Pa, euthanized May 11, 2022.

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