Aug 24, 2014

The most difficult cat I ever knew

My cat Spike died this past Friday night. He was fifteen, nearly sixteen. I thought I'd be relieved, but honestly, I've been crying all weekend.

Spike was orphaned when he was about two weeks old. Someone found four tiny kittens, two of which had already died, and placed the two still living with a family whose cat had recently had a litter. When I adopted Spike from them, he was five or six weeks old, weighed only eight ounces, and had so many fleas that the vet said it was affecting his heart. Fortunately, vets can get rid of fleas. It sure didn't affect Spike's spirit.

The family that fostered him called him Velcro because he would latch on to them and stick, and that's just what he did to Daniel's jacket as soon as he picked him up. We looked at each other and knew we'd have to take him. We decided to call him Spike, after my favorite vampire. At a con, not long afterward, I got to tell James Marsters that I'd named my new kitten after his character because he was cute and obnoxious. Marsters laughed and said, "Cute and obnoxious. That's Spike."

Even when he was tiny, Spike had a strong personality and a will of iron. He was so careless with his claws that Daniel's friends thought he had started cutting himself. In bed at night, Spike would often plaster himself close to my face and purr loudly while head-butting me so that I would pet him, an obnoxious and somewhat adorable habit that he retained right up until his final night on Earth. (I got used to it.) Spike rarely meowed. He didn't have to. When he wanted something, he would sit quietly and stare at us until we figured out what it was and provided it for him.

Spike had crossed eyes, bowed legs, and drooping black and white whiskers. The vet told us he could only see with one eye, and he clearly had depth perception problems; he would always pat the water in the water bowl with his paw before he drank. He liked petting, but only when he initiated it and he would not allow us to brush him. Sometimes Daniel would chase him around the house with the brush in an attempt to rein in the shedding. Mostly, though, Spike just looked unbrushed, a bit bedraggled and rough around the edges, although as a permanent indoor cat, his fur was always soft and clean.


Since he was five or six weeks old when we adopted him in January, we decided his birthday would be Thanksgiving. That turned out to be perfect, because turkey was his favorite food. As soon as he smelled it cooking, he would start doing what we called "the turkey dance" and he'd drive us nuts crying for it. And yes, he'd get a plateful. We're people who feed our cats bits of whatever we're eating, if they want it. Spike always wanted it. He would wind himself around our feet while we were cooking, and launch himself at our food, occasionally knocking over drinks in the process. Sometimes we'd have to lock him in the bathroom while we were eating.

Okay, he was a pain in the ass. Every now and then I'd think, wow, he was lucky we were the ones to adopt him because I bet a lot of people would have either strangled him, or dropped him off at the pound.

Spike loved treats. He loved the laser pointer; he'd follow it in circles until he was dizzy. He was obsessed with the kitchen cabinets. My theory was that he was trying to figure out how to burrow into the refrigerator from the side. As soon as we'd open the refrigerator door, he'd jump up and try to grab what he wanted. Once when he was a kitten, he actually jumped into the refrigerator. I closed it for a moment, thinking, hey, maybe that would teach him not to do it any more. But no. He was completely unfazed.

He loved the bathroom, too. Especially the bathtub. He and our other cat Fox often played a hide and seek sort of game that I never understood, with Fox down the hall peeking at Spike from around the corner, and Spike peeking at Fox over the edge of the bathtub. Spike loved to sit on the bathroom scale. He would lower himself into the toilet if we left the lid up. We couldn't leave a trash bin uncovered. We couldn't leave out string or rubber bands because he'd swallow them. I kept the apartment toddler-proof, and we often joked that Spike had a death wish.

He covered hairballs with anything he could find. Once I found one of my bras in the hallway piled on top of a hairball, and I must have laughed for an hour. He also would pee on clothes that were left on the floor. As he got older, his peeing on things became a real problem. We'd have to cover empty chairs with pillows, put bowls of dry cat food on our beds, and make sure he never got into a closet.

Daniel and I were always sure that Spike would live to be an ancient grumpy old cat so that he could continue to cause as much trouble as he could. He'd always been super healthy and had even made it through our cross country move this past March with no trouble at all, except for daily sessions of sustained hissing so that we would be aware of his displeasure. I hadn't internalized how his eating habits had changed in the past few weeks until I suddenly realized he was barely eating at all. We were hoping the vet would tell us it was an infection, his teeth, something fixable, but no -- it was kidney failure. We could have dragged it out with subcutaneous fluids and medications, but I'd done that with my beloved Serena, the first cat I adopted as an adult, and she'd only lived for a few more weeks. I admitted to myself afterward that I had been selfish and had made her miserable because I couldn't let her go when I should have. Spike would have been nearly impossible to treat, too. So we decided to let him go.

Spike was the most controlling, stubborn cat I ever knew. He was such a constant presence, following me into the bathroom or the kitchen and often tripping me, standing on my stomach and demanding petting, pushing his way into my arms at night. Even with two adults and another, much quieter cat still remaining, the apartment feels empty without him.

I don't have to deal with all of the problems he caused any more, and I thought I'd feel relieved. I don't. I'd rather have Spike back. And I will always miss him.

13 comments:

ChrisB said...

What a lovely post! Spike sounds like a character.

I'm so sorry for both you and Daniel. Sending you both lots and lots of warm wishes.

Anonymous said...

I'm so so sorry for you and you son. That was a lovely and moving story, beautifully written as always, but I really feel for you. Best wishes to both of you!

Josie Kafka said...

What a wonderful essay, Billie. It sounds like Spike was a real presence in your life.

The thing with the bra and the hairballs is hilarious, too.

Gavrielle said...

A wonderful essay, and a gorgeous picture of Spike at the end enjoying the luxurious life his human servants provided.

Juliette said...

Oh no, poor Spike - I'm so sorry to hear this.

drnanamom said...

Beautiful Billie, Spike was lucky to have you and you were lucky to have him.

Nadim said...

Such weird timing with this post Billie.
My cat is 15 years old and I feel like he's reaching the end. He has some kidney issues and hasn't been eating as much as he used to. He's very similar to Spike with the laser pointer and the constant following etc...

Anyways he's been meowing WAY TOO MUCH lately. He'd never done that before. The vet said he's fine and it's too soon to think about putting him down. He insists about that and that there's no pain at the moment. I don't know but the meowing is so bad that I often feel like I'd be relieved if he were gone (even though I love him so much). That's why your final line struck me like a knife... maybe I WON'T be relieved when he's gone. I guess I will try to appreciate what little time I have left as much as possible (but he's really making it so hard with the 24/7 meowing).

Beautiful post anyways, and I'm so so sorry for your loss :( I really feel you. It's hard for people who don't have a pet to understand how attached we get. My cat really is family.

Vanessa Gonska said...

Thank you for sharing this wonderful article about Spike. Sorry for your loss, Billie. Know he's waiting for you at the Rainbow Bridge. Our cats are our loves, aren't they?

Billie Doux said...

Thank you all so much for the lovely comments. Surprisingly, we got a handwritten condolence card from the vet's office in the mail today, signed by everyone, and with Spike's pawprint on it. I actually started to cry.

Nadim said...

So my 15 year old cat was put to sleep yesterday :( I feel you Billie.

Billie Doux said...

I'm sorry for your loss, Nadim.

Remco said...

What a lovely tribute to your pal, Billie. I lost my first and only cat a year ago to cancer. Not even 7 years old. That's not something to get used to. I am glad that we diagnosed him early and didn't drag it out. We let him live until the very first signs of discomfort. Still, it was heartbreaking to see such a fearless beast, who was in the prime of his life go down for his final sleep in mere seconds. Ugh, at least I can take comfort in the fact that he had not even the slightest idea that something was wrong with him.

nancy namaste said...

What an incredible love letter to a cat that must have been impossible and yet, impossible not to love. I am crying now so must sign off.