Monday, November 26, 2012
Saturday night was supposed to see the Van Horn family back in St. Louis for a day and a half. Mrs. Van Horn heads East for a couple of days tonight. Sadly, our sixteen-year-old cat, Miss Maple, lasted just long enough to see us return. We came home to an immobile, intermittently yowling cat sprawled on a bathroom mat.
A few days before we'd left, Miss Maple had vomited a lot one day. Although it was hairball season and she sometimes would vomit a lot around then, something was different. With the trip looming and knowing that I'd be leaving the cat with a brand new cat sitter who did not really know her, I took her to the vet, who ordered up blood work that turned out to be "beautiful". A little bit relieved, but still concerned, I asked the sitter to let me know if any more vomiting occurred, and we left.
Based on my conversation with the vet yesterday, Miss Maple had heart disease, which usually is first detected in cats by a heart murmur during checkups. Our cat had no such murmur, so the problem went undetected. Based further on my conversation with the sitter, the blood clot that blocked flow to both of her legs lodged in place some time during our flight home, leaving her in the condition we found her. (She had acted normal during the sitter's visits.) Her prognosis was poor and, after calling my wife, I had our cat put to sleep immediately.
Sixteen years ago, I met Miss Maple when, on the heels of separating from my then wife ahead of our divorce, I decided to get another cat to keep the very sociable Jerome company. Since my new address included the number 13 twice, I decided it would be amusing to go with a "bad luck" theme and get a black cat. So it was that I found a breeder who had a litter of black kittens. Miss Maple, with her spiky fur, immediately stood out as having more personality than any of the other kittens I looked at. So I picked her up for a closer look and she immediately rubbed my nose. That won me over, so I bought her and brought her home.
Although Jerome and Miss Maple would eventually become good companions, his initial reaction to the new cat was to go into hiding. In fact, he hid so thoroughly that I didn't see him for two weeks and had begun to fear that he had escaped. In the meantime, I got to know Miss Maple: I have pictures of her sitting on my shoulder and standing in the palm of my hand during those first couple of weeks. I also fondly remember how she held her head crooked when she looked at me.
And then, Jerome came back in full force. He loved and demanded attention and, of course, I would give it to him. Unlike for many cats I knew growing up, Miss Maple's reaction was always to leave. Eventually, she would leave even if Jerome simply showed up. Over time, Miss Maple would seek me out less and less, unless Jerome was napping. Basically, Miss Maple went into a shell and stayed there for years. I'll never know whether I might have formed as strong a bond with Miss Maple as I did with Jerome for this reason.
Miss Maple did start coming out of her shell during our Boston days, a little after Jerome died, but her day in the sun was to be short-lived. With the arrival of the baby about a year and a half ago, Mom and Dad Van Horn found ourselves with much less time to give Miss Maple than we would have liked. Miss Maple seemed to understand: She still would seek us out when the baby was napping and we weren't busy, but that was once in a blue moon.
What saddens me the most, though, is that she didn't last a little longer. The baby loved her and, despite little contact with children before the baby, Miss Maple was fantastic with them. For example, my brother's family visited us in Boston one spring, and she patiently held court at the foot of our bed while my two nephews played with her. (They know how to act around cats, but we're still not talking about adults here.) More impressively, Miss Maple never once injured my daughter or even complained about anything she did. This included having her fur or tail pulled by the baby when one of us couldn't react fast enough to stop her.
Or being body-tackled. Pumpkin's reactions to soft, furry animals like Miss Maple are precious. She smiles and immediately tries to hug them. If her affections are returned (as in the case of her aunt's dog licking her on our recent trip), she giggles and turns away. Although I always kept an eye on her around the cat, Pumpkin would still sometimes manage to body-tackle Miss Maple or even sit on her. Miss Maple always took it without complaint. I will miss seeing the baby play with her and am sad that, being so young now, Pumpkin will have no memory of her.
I will miss you, crooked kitten.