To the beautiful lady I married, and for what we made together.
Penn, the Holy Orange Terror, is not in a good way. After much fucking around, the internal medicine vet got back the results which neither confirm nor deny the presence of FIP. In his professional opinion, though, he thinks it’s nonspecific cancer of some kind, which sucks, because we can’t treat it with anything.
After several days of forcefeeding, general apathy and lack of sleep, the little guy was wandering around like a meth-head on a four day bender, so we brought him back in to the referring doctor (herself a subject for a later post in detail) for some subcutaneous fluids, a steroid shot, and a healthy painkiller/tranquilizer to help him sleep. Of course, because he’s Penn, he’s burning through the trank like it’s a glass of Coke, so he’s still awake but very interested in checking out the floor from eye-level. (If you remember, this is the cat who went through an entire pharmacy of attitude adjustment medication in the search for the One True Drug that would allow him to roam the house free and not view Geneva as the target of ninja assassination. Jen recently threw these expensive drugs away, as they were all taking up valuable space in the egg holder of our fridge, and the urge to self-medicate with some of them has come up now and again.)
I picked Penn out of a lineup at the Baltimore SPCA for two reasons: He was orange, and I have a love for orange cats. He was also the only cat in a room full of cats begging for attention who (I thought) was smart enough to be meowing constantly, at a metronomically precise rate, to get my attention. He was staring straight out of the bars of the cage at me, his little mouth yammering at a frantic pace, until I asked the lady to pick him up, and then he was quiet. He crawled around my arms a little while until he found a comfortable spot, and then he started purring contentedly. I was hooked. (Little did I know that his method of gaining my attention was also his standard method of being alive; this hyperactivity got exponentially more hyper as he got older.) His given name was actually Dandy. I can’t think of a more horrifying, stunting name to give a child or a pet than Dandy—besides, perhaps, Britney.
His brother, Teller (originally Raymond) took the opposite tack. Teller laid in the bottom of his cage on his back, playing contentedly with a yarn ball, oblivious of the people outside the cage staring at him and forty other cats. I thought this hard-to-get ploy was pretty slick, and as soon as I picked him up, he seemed to fit perfectly in my hands. Again, this naiive process of selection has come back to haunt me in later years, but at the time it seemed reasonable.
Back at home, in my rowhome in Canton, we settled into a comfortable routine, and the boys seemed to get along with each other pretty well. After I finished the basement, I would let the boys run free in the house, and every once in a while one of them would sleep in the sidewalk-level window. Before long, some of the kids in the neighborhood saw them, and they became a fixture on the walk home. I had the opportunity to introduce them to the kids, and one of the girls couldn’t get the name right, so she called him “Mr. Ben.” This name stuck, and we’ve been using it ever since, along with Pennyonce, Penndandy, Mr. Pencil, Pendleflex, Pendleton, and Pennsyltucky, to name a few.
As I’ve mentioned here before, merging two households of cats was 4/5 successful. Penn, who thought he was alpha male, did not recognize Geneva’s rightful claim to that title, and they fought to the point of bloodletting.
After having Geneva stitched back up, Penn got banished to the upstairs office (dubbed the Pennitentiary) and the atrium by himself, and in the summer he had the run of the attic as well. The first year of captivity was pretty lousy, as he didn’t get to see as much of us as anybody wanted. We weren’t in the office more than a couple of hours a day, and the loneliness got to him. His favorite trick was to wait until we were comfortably asleep and then he’d sit on his haunches and scribblescrabble at the office door, making it bonk against its hinges, until I got up and put him out in the atrium.
I’m having a hard time with this situation because I have a lot of guilt over having to lock him up by himself. The other cats got to glom all over us in the cold winter months, stapling us into the bed under their sheer weight and leeching our precious body heat; they had plenty of lap time on the couch, and they got to socialize with guests who found themselves unlucky enough to be trapped in a house with the crazy cat people. Penn had to sleep and eat by himself for two years. There were many days when I had bad things to say about our problem child, and plenty of days when I just wished he was gone so we could have some harmony in our household. For these thoughts, I’m feeling horrible, like Penn deserved a better Dad than me. I am a pretty selfish, misanthropic human a lot of the time, and I didn’t spend enough quality time with Penn when he was on his own.
After our failed attempts at chemically altering his behavior, I looked into adoption services with little success. There is no easy solution for adoption when the cat is full-grown, and I couldn’t bear to think of Penn sitting alone in a cage at a PetSmart for three months waiting for someone to pick him, especially after he’d already been through that experience before.
Since Jen’s been working from home, and especially this last year after I joined her, we’ve been around him for eight or ten or twelve hours a day, and he’s been much happier and a lot mellower. Jen set up a wine box with a pillow in between our desks and he’d spend long afternoons asleep with us, relaxing us while we stressed out and staying up with us to hit deadlines. He became a fantastic studio cat, only occasionally spilling the odd glass of water or scrabbling at the door. (He never did grow out of his habit of meowing constantly the minute I got on the phone with a client.) This summer we remarked more than once how different he’d become, and that the change made us both feel better.
This last month has been tough for all of us. I didn’t notice the changes in behavior or weight loss until Jen pointed them out, and because they were gradual at first, it took a long time for me to accept that something was wrong. As his condition worsened, the changes sped up until he became a shadow of his former gregarious self. I feel guilty about this too, although from what the doctors are telling us, there really is nothing we could have done anyway. That’s cold comfort, though.
Last night we corralled the other cats in the basement, moved his box into our room, and let him stay with us for the first time in ages. He laid on the bed and stared off into space, unable to sleep, and he was like that when we both drifted off. This morning, after the painkillers wore off, he gave us a wheezy purr as we scratched his back, and that made us feel a little better, like he actually realizes we’re there and that we love him. I’m making an appointment with the vet in the afternoon, and I have to decide if I want a wooden box with a plaque or something more ornate for his final resting place, but that seems kind of garish for a working-class cat like Penn. I’m also wondering where I’m supposed to put this thing. On the mantle? On my dresser? In the closet?
A bad cat dad would’ve just booted him from the house, so don’t feel guilty about having to keep him separated. You did what you needed to do to keep the harmony of the fourlegged family (and the twolegged too), and there is never any wrong in wishing sometimes that things were different. He has had a wonderful year and that’s what matters. He knows you love him, and you’re doing the right thing.
I’m really sorry you’re having to go through this and I’m thinking of you today…
Oh Bill I’m so so sorry. Don’t beat yourself up, we all wish we had done things differently but you’ve been a good dad and ypu’ve done what you could. I refer you to your kind words to me when Stoli was in his final days. As to the box with the plaque – frankly, I think all those things are a total rip – When stoli passed away I opted for the cheap and cheerful fancy (and free) coffee can to get him back, and had an urn made by an artist friend. You’re an artist, save your money and make something more personal. And keep him somewhere he liked to be.