Miss Jenny: 1997 (?) - July 3, 2013
I felt the minute I saw her photo on Petfinder that she was our kitty. I'm not sure why, because in the photo she looked terrified. Maybe it was her markings, which reminded me so much of our "cow kitty" Oliver, who had just left us a week earlier. So we went to the Ramapo-Bergen Animal Refuge to look at her. For a few minutes we were distracted by a large, very friendly male cat, but our remaining cat, Wendy, was also fifteen as Ollie had been, and we felt he would be more than she could handle.
The shelter had given her the name "Jenni-purr", a saccharine moniker the significance of which was obvious, as she lay in her cage, on a fluffy blanket, kneading and purring so loudly it was like a subway train. Everything about her said "Sweetness." The shelter volunteer told us that she'd been a stray, found in a park and fed by a local resident until he'd been able to trap her and her kittens and bring them to the shelter. The kittens had all found homes, and Jenny had only about three months earlier been up to being in the "general population" after they'd worked on her fear for ten months. We knew she would be a challenge, so we decided to go home and think about it.
We couldn't stop thinking about the scared kitty on her fluffy blanket. On Christmas Eve, we decided "That kitty needs us," and we went to go adopt her. Usually they don't like to do same day take-home adoptions on Chritmas Eve. But we had no children and no big plans so they let her go home with us.
We decided to let Jenny take up residence in the downstairs bathroom, so she would have a small space in which she could adjust. She spent a few days crouched behind the toilet, then moved into her litterbox, which is where one often finds terrified cats at shelters. After a week of this, we couldn't take anymore and decided to let her find her own way. She then proceeded to our home office and moved under a reclining chair for the next three months.
Over those months, she would see people coming in and working at the computer. I would get down on the floor, life the fabric panel on the bottom of the recliner, and just talk to her. Occasionally I'd put a treat under there, which she would never eat until I left. We knew she was eating the meals we gave her, and we knew she was using the litterbox. But she never emerged while we were in the room.
Around the same time we brought Jenny home, having decided to keep a variation of her shelter name because it was a sweet, gentle name for a sweet, gentle cat, Wendy began to go downhill. Her kidneys were failing. But SHE started spending time in the office where Jenny lived under the chair. It was as if she was giving her approval of this new cat. On January 2, 2001, we lost Wendy too. I can only imagine how traumatic it must have been for Jenny, in this strange house with this sick old cat who was then suddenly not there anymore.
Little by little, she came out of her shell. First she adopted the tall cat condo by the window, where she'd sit, her back to us, looking out the window. After a while, we could even pet her as long as she couldn't see our hands. Then she become more comfortable having us near her, but she'd turn around and face away from us when she wanted petting. We called this "the petting position." Then after another while, we could pet her in the cat condo even while she faced us, but only there, while she was high off the ground. (Those of you who watch My Cat from Hell
on Animal Planet know that difficult cats do better if they have high places to which to climb. It's probably related to some cats in the wild bringing their kills up into trees to keep them from other cats.)
After still another while, she came out and appropriated the living room sofa, then the storage bench in front of the windowsill. But it was about six years of her living with us before she really allowed herself to be part of the family. In retrospect, if we had put a TV in the living room so we were with her more of the time, this would have happened much sooner.
Jenny and Maggie never got along very well. Maggie is needy, vocal, and stupid, and Jenny was sweet but independent, quiet, and scarily smart. We often had to break up cat fights, though now that we know that Jenny had a tumor in her brain, I wonder how much of her picking a fight over the last few years was the tumor. Right now Maggie is mostly just confused. I hope her stupidity allows her to forget in a few days that Jenny ever existed. I don't want to lose her too.
Jenny was the "good-est" cat I've ever had. She always seemed grateful to us for giving her a nice home, with lots of fluffy blankets and quilts and poufy things for her to use for her many naps. Jenny was a soft, gentle kitty who deserved to have soft, gentle places to lie on. And as she came out of her shell, the brick wall that always seemed to be behind her eyes fell, and she would look at us with an expression that could only be described as gratitude, and even love. Jenny knew what she had and always appreciated it. And we appreciated that she was so good. She never scratched the furniture, only her posts. She never shredded toilet paper or climbed where she wasn't supposed to go. We never had to shoo her off kitchen counters or tables. She just knew what good cats do and don't do and was just a good cat. The only time we ever had to intervene was when she picked fights with Maggie, and who could really blame her? Maggie is a dear, but she can try your patience sometimes. And yes, I know that some day I will kick myself for writing this today when I have to write about her.
You always know, when you bring an animal home, that someday you will have to do what we did yesterday. With Jenny it was worse, because for all that she became trusting, she never sat on our laps, nor were we able to pick her up at all, let alone put her in a carrier. For years she wasn't visited by a vet at all, but she was so hardy she didn't need it. Eventually we found a mobile veterinary facility that does house calls, and we figured that when the time came, we would just have Pets Aloud
come out. But of course it never works that way.
Jenny had been getting thin a few months ago. She was diagnosed hyperthyroid and put on the same medication Maggie takes. But she continued to lose weight. Her blood work was normal; her thyroid normalized and her kidney function seemed fine. But a few days ago, she started to go downhill precipitously. By Tuesday night she was refusing food and by yesterday morning, her walking was very slow. Her hindquarters seemed weak. She would walk ten steps and then sit. She would sit in a corner staring at the wall. She'd collapse onto the floor. She was clearly miserable. I drove the 46 miles to drop Mr. B. off for chemotherapy, then came home and took her to the Big Veterinary Hospital
on an emergency basis. This is a cat that would have fought like a banshee at being put in a carrier, but yesterday I brought it in to where she was, opened the door, and she walked right in. It was as if she was saying, "I'm ready to go" or "I'm sick...take me to the doctor." Her bloodwork was still normal. An echocardiogram showed evidence of slight heart disease, but not enough to account for her condition. An ultrasound of the belly revealed no masses or blockages. Nothing accounted for her condition, until she had a neurological exam, where they concluded that she had some kind of mass in her brain. It didn't seem to be a stroke because so many parts of her functioning were affected.
We had always promised that when her time came, Jenny would be able to leave this world at home. But these things never work out the way you want them to. The house call vet couldn't come out till Friday, and of course we were headed into the July 4 holiday. So even though we're not crazy about the Big Veterinary Hospital (and I don't even want to THINK about the final bill, having given them a deposit of $1500 towards what could have been $3000-$5000 worth of diagnostics, 2-4 days hospitalization, and monitoring), we decided to just do this there. I must say, however, that they do this about as well as it can be done. They have a special room with nothing clinical in it. We put her poufy quilt on the floor, the vet brought her in, and she went to each of us in turn with a head-butt before laying down on her own.
It is such a blessing and a mercy that when our pets no longer have any quality of life, we can be with them in a quiet room, perhaps with some soft music, say goodbye and watch as they go gently to sleep with the first injection, and quietly leave this life with the second. It is quiet and gentle (like she was) and dignified. And for all that it is heartbreaking, it allows us to keep our promise to our pets that we will never, ever let anything hurt them. Pet owners know that as painful as it is, we will be able to help our "furry children" leave without pain, without enduring months or years of diminishing quality of life; something we can't do for our human children, spouses, parents. I remain optimistic about Mr. B.'s chances for recovery, but it was important for him to "be able to do for her what no one will be able to do for me," should that optimism prove unfounded. And as soon as the raw wound heals a bit, that will be a comfort to us both -- that Jenny was not in pain and had her people and her poufy quilt around her as she set out on her next journey.
Goodbye, little Jenny-Lee girl. Thank you for being good. Thank you for being our kitty. Thank you for opening yourself up to trust us. Now go see what your next adventure will be.
Labels: cat blogging, grief, personal musings