Saturday, April 2, 2011

R.I.P. Menelaus, May 1994-April 1 2011

Menelaus, our star cat and my shoe thief, nicknamed "poof-poof" because his fur was so puffy, left us today (April 1, 2011.) He was about 17 years old.

Our Orange Cat, Menelaus.

He adopted us, the only cat we've been adopted by. He showed up on our back porch, determined to make us his family. We already had 3 cats, and really didn't want another. But he was unshakable. We finally started feeding him, though he didn't appear to expect it. He expected to provide for us. He left nicely butchered and cleaned gophers on our back porch. All the bits were laid out in a row, liver, kidneys, split bodies. He ate the hearts and lungs. But what he left was as nice as you'd find in a meat shop (if you got gopher meat at a shop.)

He was very slight and rangy. It was fall, and we didn't expect him to survive the winter. We couldn't bring him inside, we'd already destroyed the balance of the household by bringing Yuri in. Even though I built him a little house, we didn't expect him to survive winter. He was just too small to keep himself warm.

We didn't want to name him, because it would only make it hurt more when we lost him. We just called him "orange cat" or "marmalade cat".

Well, he survived. He moved with us from Placerville to Colfax. He hunted gophers for the first two years we were here, too. Then left the job to younger cats in the area.

Menelaus sleeping on my shoes

When Phillip had to become an outdoor cat again in his later years, Menelaus appointed himself as Phillip's bodyguard. He would keep Phillip on the porch until the yard had been inspected. Then he would patrol around while Phillip visited his favorite rose bushes for a sniff. If Phillip wandered toward the driveway or anyplace else Menelaus considered dangerous, Menelaus would herd Phillip back to safety. He also moved Phillip around during the day to allow him to catch the sun the best. He'd move him from the porch to the back patio and back as the sun reached different areas.

After we lost Phillip, we made Menelaus a full time house cat. He was getting old, and seldom moved off the back porch by that time. Since then, we thought we were going to lose him on at least four different occasions. Each time, Menelaus pulled through. In three cases, it was the improved medicines available now. Phillip probably would have lasted longer if they'd been around when he was alive. The last time he got through thanks to intensive care I gave him. Under the circumstances, there wasn't much for the vet to do. But I put in about 48 hours of effort and managed to save him. That was a bit over two years ago.

Menelaus laying claim to a blanket I crocheted for my mother in law, Christmastime 2009. I had a hard time getting pictures of it without him in the frame. Finally I just went with it. He won.

The past 18 months or so he's been slowly deteriorating. There were a couple of times this winter I thought it was going to be time to let Menelaus go. He made it, but just barely.

Last Saturday we came home in the evening to find diarrhea across the floor, and a cat that couldn't walk. His back legs have been quite weak for some time, and he has trouble telling when it's time to go to the box. But this was suddenly much worse. He couldn't use his back legs. They weren't paralyzed, but he couldn't stand. He just drug himself across the floor.

The vet's opinions were that he may have suffered a spinal injury, or that a deterioration of his nervous system was responsible. We put him on pain medicine and hoped for the best. On Tuesday we called the vet to set a date for his euthanasia on Thursday. He was limp, weak, and generally disinterested in life. He hadn't eaten or produced a stool since the blowout on Saturday.

Wednesday night he was much better. He was walking, up on his back feet again though just barely and often unsteadily. He ate a little bit. He was here with us, lovable and as energetic as he could be. The next morning we cancelled the appointment.

Then Thursday evening he was weak again, as he had been on Tuesday. All day Friday, he was limp. He had eaten just a little bit, but showed no interest or signs of nausea when offered more. He drank, and piddled, but hadn't produced a stool (since Saturday.) He couldn't walk. He spent the day limp, withdrawn. Some extra pain medication helped draw him out a bit, but he was barely here.

It was time. We got him an appointment for a few hours later. I would take him down. My wife later decided to come, too. Our kids came home from school and some errands just before we went. Since my younger daughter had had the least opportunity to say goodbye, I offered to let her go in my place. The vet's examination rooms are big enough for two people with the doctor and nurse, but not really for three. She decided to go, so she and my wife were with him. My daughter was petting him and talking to him when she realized that his eyes weren't looking at her any more. He was gone.

It should be noted these weren't the only problems he had. He's been acquiring new medications for several months, with a few rounds of antibiotics to get him through infections that came on in winter. We had a false spring, and he got much better, but when it turned cold again last month he got a lot worse again.

I was hoping he would make it to warm weather and have a nice spring and summer. Last year he'd had a rough winter (though not this rough), but he'd been doing well last spring and summer. I didn't expect him to make it through another winter. As it was, spring came late this year, weather-wise, and it pushed things over the edge. He'd been sort of generally declining, but this sudden turn for the worse made it clear that it was time for him to be let go.

It's hard for us, and we're grieving. But it would have been worse if we'd tried to draw things out. Even if we'd committed ourselves to heroic effort to solve one problem, another would likely have left us in the same position, or left us with the same choice but a more emotional basis for choosing our path after the heroic effort.

I feel that two of our cats were let go too long before we sent them on. Neither case was terrible, but things should have ended sooner, we realize in retrospect. I didn't want the same situation here. We've worked very hard to keep him healthy and happy as much as we could within our means. He repaid us with interest. But it was time.

We'll miss him. We'll be adjusting for some time. But it was the right thing to do, and the pain of losing him will be less than the pain of letting him suffer more.

Farewell, Menelaus. You've been a good kitty.
Menelaus sleeping on a dance bag in 2003. It smells like his girls, so he likes it here.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Yuri Cat, Deer Hunter

Our first outdoor cat was one who adopted us on our rural property. He was likely abandoned by his prior owners. He arrived at our house in a terrible state, nearly starved to death. He was about six or seven weeks old, very lovable but scared of everything. He wanted to be loved, he would stand and quiver his tail at us then trot away whenever we approached. Finally he walked into a shed we had on the property, and we were able to catch him.

Once caught, he was as lovable as could be. He was small enough to fit in the palms of our hands. We fed him milk off our fingertips then took him to the vet. Once he came back, he became our outdoor cat since the indoors already had its quota. In his starved state, he appeared to be a female. So we named the kitten "Europa." A few weeks went by, and pretty soon it became obvious that Europa was not a little girl cat.

So we renamed him "Yuri", which sounded enough like Europa that he still responded to it. Since he was "the first cat in orbit around the house," the full name we gave him was "Yuri Gagarin."

Yuri Gagarin, stalking a string.

Once Yuri grew he became quite the hunter. He left plenty of presents for us on the back patio. We didn't mind him catching pocket gophers at all, much the opposite. We did mind him catching birds, and we really didn't like it when he learned how to hunt bats. He'd figured out that if he jumped at them from behind, they wouldn't avoid him!

We tried to do what we could to let him know what he should hunt and what he shouldn't, but we never got very far with him. If it was human, he loved it. If it wasn't human, it was prey. He hunted everything, it seemed. Frogs, lizards, insects, snakes.

One day I looked out the back window and saw Yuri stalking something from underneath one of our oleander bushes. What was the cat after now? I called my wife over, then I followed his line of sight along the ground, and saw nothing. Until I came to the four point buck deer. He couldn't be stalking a deer could he? I asked her, and she agreed.

He was. He was watching its every move as it grazed. Sixteen pound Yuri was stalking a deer over four feet tall at the shoulder. With antlers. With lots of points on them. Yuri was stalking the deer.

I turned to go to the door to break things up. As I did so, Yuri squared up his hindquarters and pounced at the deer. In my mind I saw the cat being picked up in the antlers, flung across the yard, and me going out to find what was left. But the deer jumped.

The deer ran about twelve feet, then stopped. It tilted its head, then looked back at Yuri. It seemed to think, "It doesn't look like a mountain lion..."

Yuri beat a track back under the oleander bush while the deer was thinking things over. The deer lowered its head for another look, then decided the better part of valor was to mosey along to someplace else, just in case this was a mountain lion.

My wife and I let out our breath.

Not too long later, Yuri got sick and went to the vet for some expensive treatment. He hadn't been back home again a day before he was stalking something outside the window again, closer to the house this time where we could intervene effectively.

He was circling something on the ground. We couldn't make out what, at first. He wanted it, bad.

It was a rattle snake, about 18 inches long. We saw it as it drew itself into a coil.

We popped out the door. Yuri didn't want to be shooed off. That snake was his! We made some noise and spoiled his concentration, and were finally able to catch him without getting bit by the snake ourselves.

Yuri playing.

Then Yuri left "orbit," and became a house cat. We had too much love and money invested in the cat to let him go around hunting deer and rattlesnakes any more. We had too many cats indoor for comfort now, but Yuri made up for it. He learned to sit up for treats, lay against the backs of our heads and purr when we sat on the couch, and generally became the buddy of our little girls in a way that the older cats wouldn't.

Yuri lived with us for twelve wonderful years. His health was always weak as a result of his bad time before he found us, but we bore with him and kept him going for as long as it was possible.

Yuri is still my "mascot" for my personal blog, An Infinite Number of Cats on Keyboards.
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