We’re finally both home. Our one week of vacation turned into two weeks of dealing with stuff as it came up. The good news is that Carla’s dad is doing great and we were able to come home. Last night Carla slept in our bed for the first time since New Year’s Eve.
Miss Mia Milk Stout
The cats were, of course, waiting for us to scold us for abandoning them. That is their job, after all. We are their staff and they don’t like it when we leave them to fend for themselves against the cruel world stocked with large amounts of fresh water, food and multiple litter pans all inside a house that’s kept warmer than it would be if there weren’t cats in residence. But that is the nature of cats. I admire them for how quickly they deign to forgive us. In all seriousness, we miss the boys terribly when we travel. It’s always good to come home. We tend to come in and get some cuddle time in before we go out and unload the car. Priorities.
Something the extra travel meant was that a family reunion has been delayed. Another cat is joining our family. Mia is Dunkel’s sister. She was part of the litter born in the attic of a doctor’s office that also included Dunkel. She’d been adopted, but it didn’t work out. The wonderful family who fostered her when she was a kitten had arranged to take her back if something like that happened. When we heard about it we pretty much knew we were going to take her. Porter has really come out of his shell in the last six months or so and has become much more affectionate and a bit more outgoing. Dunkel is still a hirsute ball of energy. He can get a little rough sometimes. We had begun playing with the idea of a third cat merely to split Dunkel’s attention.
She has been Mia from when she was adopted. Given that she’s 2.5 years old, it seems to be a little late in the game to give her a new name. We have, however, a pretty strict rule about beer names for cats. Her markings are remarkably like a Holstein cow. That is reason enough to name her Miss Mia Milk Stout.
She will be joining the family on Thursday. We can’t wait.
It turns out Porter probably is mourning, but the 105-degree temperature he’s running isn’t helping. I thought I’d noticed him limping yesterday and earlier today I saw him land awkwardly when he jumped off the desk. We decided pretty quickly that running him up to the vet wouldn’t be the worst thing for him. I can accept a cat in mourning, but I’d hate for it to be something else and miss it because I was too busy projecting my own problems on him. Cats can run temperatures when they’re stressed, apparently, but the vet thought this was a little high for just that. She’ll call with the results of some blood work tomorrow. She gave us some mild painkillers for him. There was nothing really wrong with his front paws, but you know how you just kind of hurt all over when you have a fever? It’s probably that. He’s not dehydrated, so that’s a load off my mind.
While I was checking out, the receptionist — who was working that horrible day two weeks ago — told me that she had Bock’s ashes. She offered to walk out with me with them since I had Porter in the carrier. I took her up on it. It’s a beautiful carved wooden box and, like everything else at Hebron Animal Clinic, everything was done with the utmost class.
I’ve been struggling for the last couple of days to write a post that has nothing to do with cats or anything terribly serious. I’ve not been having much luck. I’ve got a post started. I’ll eventually finish it. Today has been hard, though. It appears that Porter is in mourning. He’s pretty much done nothing but sleep since yesterday. He’s always been a talker and he’s not had much to say. He’s lethargic. He does seem to be eating and drinking, so that’s good.
It really makes sense. From Porter’s point of view there was a lot of confusion a while ago and he saw us take Bock away in the carrier. The carrier came home, but Bock hasn’t. We leave for a while sometimes, but we come home. Dunkel has been a distraction, but it’s pretty clear that Porter is ready for Bock to come home. And at some level I think he knows that’s not going to happen. We talk to him. We pet him. We make sure there are plenty of twist ties around for him to play with. He’ll half-heartedly paw at them. There’s a bookcase downstairs that most of them disappear under. I use this long plastic spoon to dig under it and get them out and that’s turned into one of our little games. Even today he’ll come right over if he sees me by the bookcase. He’ll bat at the spoon while I’m digging around with it. But there haven’t been any twist ties under there today.
Dunkel is a pretty smart kitten. Last night he wanted to play with Porter and Porter was having none of it. He was sleeping at Carla’s feet, which is where he spends most nights now. This was more than the usual teaching moment; It was clear that Porter might have actually hurt him if it had been allowed to continue. I came out to the living room and slept on the couch knowing Dunkel would hang out with me. A couple of hours later I woke up and saw Dunkel walk over to me, yawn and stretch. “Hell,” I said to him, “if you’re sleeping, what the $%@% am I doing on the couch?” So I went back to bed. All day Dunkel has been treading pretty lightly around Porter. Porter, for his part, has been perfectly willing to have Dunkel get close as long as he doesn’t want to play.
I’m sure this will pass. There’s no rushing it. Just like Porter accepted Dunkel in the house because his innate curiosity took over, I’m sure his playful nature will eventually overcome the sadness of losing his lifelong companion and he’ll form a bond with Dunkel. A different bond, but a bond nonetheless. It’s an adjustment for all of us.
I just wish there were a way we could help him understand.
It couldn’t have gone better without it being a Disney movie.
We picked up Dunkel about 6 PM last night. After talking to the amazing woman who, along with her whole family, provided Dunkel’s foster care (and still provide care for a number of homeless animals), we ditched the idea of isolating Dunkel for the night. He was used to having the run of their house and locking him in a bathroom would have been confusing and more like punishment than anything else. We decided to introduce Dunkel to Porter slowly and see what happened. We always had isolation as a backup in case Porter really freaked out.
We kept Dunkel in the carrier we brought him home in so Porter could see and smell him. There were a few hisses and low growls from Porter, but his body language was showing some curiosity, too. Dunkel really wanted out, but when Porter got really close to the carrier he settled into his bed. We did this for about half an hour and then got a big bath towel that we could have used to throw over them if we needed to separate them. We let Dunkel out and took him to the laundry room where we put the carrier with his bed in it. It’s also where the upstairs litter pan, food and water are and we figured he could track his own scent to the bed and find it. We closed all the upstairs doors and the basement door at the bottom of the stairs so their range was somewhat limited. Then we watched.
The next hour or so was Dunkel ripping around the house and sniffing everything. He was born in the attic of a Doctor’s office that was being worked on and apparently the whole litter had some respiratory issues due to the insulation. That’s what we figure makes him snuffle so loud when he sniffs. And he was sniffing everything. He kind of did this constant circuit around all the areas we had left open. Porter would follow him. He’d hiss if Dunkel got too close, but no swiping or attempts to make physical contact. After an hour of this, Dunkel started jumping up on the back of the couch and snuggling with us. It was at this point Carla and I looked at each other and said out loud that we had a new cat. Before we went to bed we went ahead and opened up the basement door so either of them could get to the finished part. No cats are allowed in the unfinished part of the basement since there are cleaning chemicals and just things that we don’t want cats in.
Then we went to bed.
Dunkel came in to visit us, but then disappeared for the rest of the night. Porter slept in his spot at Carla’s feet. About 4:30 this morning Dunkel meowed and Porter was off like a shot. Dunkel came in, then left, then Porter came back and left. This went on until 5 AM.
We decided to get up. It’s Saturday. Naps are not only allowed, they’re encouraged.
Since the night had passed without any major incidents, we decided that it was time for them to work things out for themselves. There’s been a little hissing on both sides. There’s been a little shadowboxing. There was one adorable moment when Dunkel and Porter pawed at each other through the bars of a dining room chair. There have been nose-to-nose sniffs with no drama. Things have sort of settled out where they’re keeping their distance and not getting in each other’s way. The upstairs litter pan has been used by Dunkel and Porter’s made no move to block him from using it or anything like that. For the most part we’ve settled into a détente where both sides are curious about the other.
Dunkel has handled himself well, but he came to us directly from a home where there were a lot of other animals. While being only six months old and a full year younger than Porter, he’s probably clocked more time with other animals than Porter has. I’m extremely proud of Porter. From his perspective, his lifelong companion and playmate just up and disappears. Then there were a couple of days of getting all the attention. Porter liked the attention. Bock, rest his soul, was an attention hog. In that way Bock was really the alpha cat (though Porter could make Bock do anything through the strategic use of grooming). Porter and Bock wrestled all the time and Bock was so much bigger than Porter. Porter could take Bock down, though, so I have no question in my mind that Porter knows good and well that he can take Dunkel down anytime he wants. He doesn’t want, of course, because he’s a sweet cat at heart. But Carla and I are making sure we give him a lot of attention. Porter’s a talker and I make sure I answer him. His favorite thing in all the world is getting rubbed on the belly with a foot (preferably bare) and I’ve made sure he’s getting one every time he asks.
We’ve already declared the experiment a success. This is technically a trial adoption with a 7-day length, but we’ll likely make it final on Monday when we take the carrier back over for the foster family.
I’ve thought a lot about Bock today. There’s no question I wish he were still alive. He’s not, though, and given that’s the reality of things, I think where we are right now is pretty awesome. We’re a two cat family again.
With no further ado, here’s your multimedia extravaganza!
Here are some stills:
And here is some video of what happened when Dunkel found the catnip pouches last night. Sorry for the dark video.
I have two reasons for writing today. The one that I’m probably the only one to care about is that I’m trying to establish writing at least a little bit every day. Over there on the right I say that this is the place where I write whatever the hell I feel like. I fully understand that just because I write it doesn’t mean you want to read it. I’m grateful to those who do and hope you get something out of the experience. If you don’t, you aren’t going to insult me by not reading. You should only do things when you get something out of it. Even if it’s just a sense of smug superiority. I decided a long time ago that the purpose of my life was to serve as a cautionary tale to others. I’m OK with that.
The main reason I’m writing, though, is because I completely understand if your reaction to yesterday’s post was “Yes, yes, yes, journey of self-discovery and heartfelt self-disclosure, blah, blah, blah. But what’s happening with the cats, man! That’s what I want to know about!” You have a point. There are priorities, after all.
So here’s the deal. Porter’s essentially OK, but he’s not quite getting the level of overstimulation he’s used to. Like the rest of us, you can tell that there are times he starts looking for Bock and then realizes he’s not here. He’s clearly enjoying getting our undivided attention and he does seem to amuse himself just fine.
The big news is the little guy over to the right. He doesn’t know it yet, but his name is Dunkel. He’s going to find out sometime this afternoon. We went over to the mind-blowingly amazing Boone County Animal Shelter last night and were introduced to him. He’s six-months old and is in a wonderful foster home with other cats and dogs. He’s great with them. You see the white fur behind him? That’s a cat who’s lost the use of her back legs. Dunkel has become attached to her and routinely grooms her. Since coming into the shelter can be a bit stressful, the foster caregivers thought he might do better with a buddy around. I could see Porter doing that.
So many of the descriptions of his personality sound like Porter. I’m going into this optimistically, but I’d be lying if I said Carla and I aren’t a little nervous. It’s unrealistic to expect love at first site — we’re talking about cats here — but am I going to see a side of my sweet little boy I’ve never seen? We do know that Porter’s littermate and sister Chunk (who owns the woman who introduced Bock and Porter into our lives) is pretty accepting of other cats and dogs, so I’m not worried about genetic predisposition. This is probably just pre-first-date jitters. I remember those. All my old dates probably do too. Their worst fears were realized, after all.
So the plan is that later on this afternoon we’ll meet the foster caregivers over at the shelter and do the paperwork for a trial adoption. We have this elaborate plan involving keeping Dunkel in Carla’s bathroom (well appointed with all the comforts a cat could need) and rigging things so that Porter will be eating and using a litter pan right outside the door. The idea is to get them used to the idea there’s another cat and get them accustomed to the smells. Then, starting tomorrow, we’re going to wing it.
I’ll let you know. I’m excited. I’m scared. And I’m still a little sad. But I’m mostly excited.
I woke up this morning with a Bock-sized hole in my heart.
It’s finally been more than 24 hours since things started going to hell and that’s a good milestone to be past. I very badly need to forget what happened between 8 and 9 yesterday. The sooner the better. It was such a small part of Bock’s life. There was so much more. Bock never had to anyone in his life who didn’t love him. That’s a pretty good life. We could have kept that going for quite a while, but it’s not to be. I want to focus on the good stuff, because there was so much of it.
Carla had to go into work today, so it’s just Porter and me. We’re The Odd Couple. In that we’re both odd (“One’s cranky, neurotic and needy. The other’s a cat.”). Porter has never been alone in his entire life. For much of his life his companion was Bock. It’s not that they were inseparable, they didn’t spend every minute together, but they were both always in the house. To my knowledge, Porter is unaware of the fact that the world doesn’t come with at least one other cat to play with. I don’t intend for him to learn. As it stands at this moment — and everything is subject to change — this Friday afternoon Carla and I will go down to the Boone County Animal Shelter and find Porter a new buddy. We want someone of similar size and age to Porter, easy-going and not all-black. We’re not replacing Bock: we’re finding Porter a new buddy and us a new cat to love. The Bock-sized hole in our lives is very precisely sized — custom-made, even — and will never be filled. To try is pointless. But, as I said, Porter has never been alone and I’m afraid he’d get bored and, as I also said yesterday, that’s a terrifying proposition. I’ve always called him my little empiricist. He has to try everything. We need to have another cat to distract him. So we’re going to get one.
It is, of course, impossible to know what goes on in a cat’s mind. While Porter loves attention when he wants attention, he’s always been a little more solitary than the “Hey what’s going on OK fine why don’t you go ahead and pet me now then?” guy Bock was. There were certain things he’d do that would attract Bock’s attention and be a prelude to play. I’ve seen (and heard) many of these since yesterday evening. The first time just made me melt.
It’s hard not to see Porter this way. Click image to see a larger version from ComicsKingdom.com
An important ritual around here has always been The Giving of the Treat when we’re getting ready to leave the house. To keep them from bolting out into the garage when we headed out, we learned to give them a Pounce treat in the food tray of their carrier. That would distract them long enough for us to get out the door. After a while it became clear they didn’t give a crap whether we were leaving or not, but they sure liked the treat. We always — always — waited for them both to be there before we gave it to them. Yesterday evening and this morning Porter got his treat solo. Add to that the fact that no smells have been added to the litter pans or food feeders overnight and I’m pretty sure Porter knows Bock isn’t here now. He’s not moping around or being more (or less) vocal than usual. We leave sometimes and come back, after all. Maybe he think Bock will too. Or maybe cats don’t work that way. It’s just been a day, but right now he doesn’t mind being the only cat. Carla is right that nighttime will be the real test. That was their playtime.
This is the last picture Carla took of our cat Bock. She took it yesterday as the temperature plummeted and hunkering down seemed to be the best way to go. He slept with us last night, sometimes up against me, sometimes down at Carla’s feet. He’s spent most nights with us since we got back from our cruise over Christmas. Our bedtime ritual was for him to come in to be petted, and then he’d settle down.
He seemed perfectly normal this morning when he walked in on me as I was in the bathroom, as he always did. He stretched out on the door frame and sharpened his claws . He walked in and gave me a look that said he wanted to check out the shower, so I slid open the door to let him in. He walked to the other end of the shower, nearest me. I heard a little thump and asked him if he found something to pounce on. Through the frosted plastic door I could see him moving, but not too much. I opened my end of door after a moment and he tried to come out. But his back legs weren’t moving.
I called for Carla and the nightmare began. It’s only been a couple of hours since all this happened, and this is the point I already want to forget. He was in some distress, but he only yowled some. There was undoubtedly pain, but there was also the confusion that comes from something being wrong and just not understanding. We got him to the vet as fast as we could. The drive was awful. We had no idea what had happened, but Carla knew when she saw him it was over. I did too, especially by the time we reached the vet. It was clear he was dying. They saw him immediately and had the answer within minutes. A congenital heart condition, a clot that paralyzed his hind quarters, little hope that the clot could be treated or that it wouldn’t happen again even if they could treat it. The vet had tears in his eyes when he told us the most humane thing was to put him down. Since we already knew, in our hearts, that this was coming Carla told him to go ahead. They’d taken him to the back and we could still hear him yowling on occasion, but part of that was putting in the IV and sedating him so he’d be more comfortable. After a few minutes they brought him in to us so we could spend some time with him. His eyes were open and he was looking straight ahead. Who the hell knows what’s going on in a cat’s head on the best of days? Could he hear us tell him we loved him and thanking him for making us so very, very happy? I don’t know, but when the vet came in for the final injections, we were petting him and he knew he was loved. Because he was.
We got Bock as part of a pair. Porter is a week younger than Bock and they never knew life without each other even though they were from different litters in the same household. Bock was the gregarious one. He was outgoing. In an act of desperation the day we got him, I gave them these silicone beer bottle caps to play with because we had everything for them but cat toys. Bock became obsessed with his bottle caps. He carried them around in his mouth. He chased them if you threw them. He’d bring them back to you. Or partly back to you. He never did figure out that whole “you have to bring it all the way back before we can throw it to you” thing. We called it the “mic drop.’ He’d chase after the cap, pick it up and bring it back about half way and drop it. Then he’d come and sit at Carla’s feet and expect her to go get it. It didn’t happen. Sometimes he’d wander off and do something else, but other times he’d finally go get it — you could feel the eye roll as he tolerated the simpletons he was saddled with — and bring it over so Carla would throw it.
This is an important point. Bock was our cat and we loved him very, very much, but Carla was Bock’s human. He liked me. He knew how to get me to give him a belly rub or to brush him. But Carla belonged to him. She knew how to throw the bottle caps right. Because of the way we work, I’m home most of the time and we spent hours and hours together, but when Carla came home she was the center of his attention. He’d follow me to the bathroom like he did this morning so he could stare at me, but if Carla made a noise somewhere else in the house he was gone.
It’s not a big secret that I don’t care much for people, on the whole. Bock had a different personality from Porter and between the two I could anthropomorphize the hell out of them. I’ve spent many an hour talking to one of them or the other, and I have to say that Bock was the guy most likely to come over when I’d been staring at this laptop for hours on end and and paw at my elbow and say “Hey. You. Primate. You need to pay attention to me now. Let’s keep our priorities straight.”
As I write this with tears in my eyes I can’t believe I’m never going to feel him doing that again.
I’m worried about me. I’m worried about Carla. I’m worried about Porter. My sweet little boy (for I am his human) has never been without the companionship of Bock. My favorite thing was when Porter would go and start grooming Bock. Bock would enjoy it for a while, then it inevitably set off either a wrestling match or an epic chase around the condo. Just yesterday — yesterday! — I laughed as I watched it play out as it has so often.
Because I’m 50 years old and have buried more people that I’ve cared about than I can count, it’s not surprising how fast I’ve become accustomed to putting Bock in the past tense. But goddammit, he’s supposed to be in the bed on my desk right now. I’m supposed to see him curled up in front of the speaker by the TV. He’s supposed to be asleep on top the tower or the Kitty City. We only had him for a little over a year. It’s not fucking fair.
I don’t let much in anymore. The Buddha was onto something with that whole “all existence is suffering” thing. But Mr Bock? He got in. Deep. And it’s going to take awhile. As awful as this is, it could have been worse. I was right there. Carla was off school today. We have the most wonderful vet practice (Hebron Animal Clinic) nearby. It could have been worse. We’ve already made the decision that there will be a new cat joining our family someday. Not too soon, not too long. The idea of a bored Porter is, frankly, terrifying. Bock was always there to help him burn off his considerable energy. He hasn’t started to do a search for Bock, but I expect it soon. Like everything else this awful, awful day, it will be hard.
Early on when Bock and Porter were just little fuzzballs, I made up this little ditty that I’d say to them when I was getting dressed in the morning and they were playing in our bedroom window. I don’t know if I ever said it when Carla was around. It was our thing:
Mr. Porter and Mr. Bock, Coolest kitties on the block.
Mr. Bock and Mr. Porter, Best darn kitties from border to border.
I got to say it to him one last time this morning, just about three hours ago.
Goodbye, Mr. Bock. I miss you more than words can say.