Thursday, March 12, 2015

The rest of my crew

The cats have been demanding equal time on the blog. That's how cats are, I suppose. A dog will ask nicely, hat in hand (so to speak), eyes averted. A cat will make a demand and stare, exasperated, as you apologize for not being able to fulfill her whim more quickly. At least, that's how it is around here.

Eight years ago I brought home a stunted black female cat who'd had her tail chopped off by someone or something evil. For the first year, she'd let me stroke her head and shoulders, but I couldn't reach my hand near her tail or she would (gently) bite me. The rescue had named her "Sugar Plum"—stupidest name ever for a cat, I said. And then I never changed it. She slept curled by my feet but otherwise remained somewhat aloof, which was fine.

We moved to Mt. Baldy with Boo Radley, my black panther of a male cat, but two years later Boo died after a lengthy illness. Sugie and I, bereft, were left to bond with each other through snowy winters and warm summers as we watched bears, bobcats and raccoons scramble onto our deck. I couldn't have a dog up on the mountain, so Sug was my only companion for five years. By the end of that journey, she had learned to crawl under the covers when it was cold, burrowing in against my side like a kitten. This remains her habit now, even when it's warm at night in the summer, and she usually stays long enough to purr me to sleep. One night, after I'd been gone for a week to Missouri and she'd had a housesitter feeding and caring for her, she crawled in beside me, then reached up and licked my face. This has become her habit as well, licking my hands when I come home from work or my face when she purrs me to sleep at night.

Now I can pet her anywhere on her body, stroke the brush all the way down her back and up her stub of a tail, pick her up if I need to and she is never, ever aloof. When I read in the morning, she jumps into my lap, purring loudly and kissing my hands over and over. She is one of the most loving cats I've ever had. And yes, for those of you who are familiar with her story as it appeared in Chicken Soup forthe Soul: I Can't Believe My Cat Did That, she still rolls over happily when I sing "I Can't Help Myself (Sugar Pie, Honey Bunch)" by the inimitable Four Tops to her.

A year and a half ago, a friend posted a photo on Facebook of a tiny gray kitten her sister had found abandoned in a Target parking lot. I had been looking for a black kitten as a companion for Sug, but this gray kitten with her adorable face and urgent plight (in a household where the patriarch was demanding there be "no more cats") kept calling to me. I had named her Purrl before I'd even met her. I brought her home, screaming and crying in the cat carrier, and my life and Sug's have never been the same since. For the first five months, she was quite an impressive eating and pooping machine. I had her claws trimmed when she was spayed, but they grew back with a vengeance, and she has managed to pretty much destroy two very lovely loveseats.

But Sug and I adore her. Purrl (aka Purrlie Girl, Purrl Jam, Jameez, Jamerz and PURRL-STOP-IT) is a bit... quirky. Sug still tries to offer her nose touches and head kisses, but Purrl invariably jumps away, her eyes growing round and stupefied, as if she can't imagine why another cat would ever approach her in such a way—despite the fact that she allows me to regularly pick her up, hug her, kiss her head and otherwise lavish her with affection. She is a bit of a lunatic, and when she's really happy, she celebrates by simply galloping through the house at top speed, her tail crooked and her ears flattened like a kitten.

So when she stopped eating on Valentine's Day, I was more than a bit concerned. I'd been out of town overnight, and when I returned, I noticed she hadn't eaten much. I watched her closely that Sunday and saw that she wasn't very interested in her food. By Monday she was lethargic. As the week progressed, she slowly stopped eating altogether and wanted only to curl in a ball and sleep. I took her to see my vet on Friday and held her while he shaved her neck, drew blood and gave her an IV to hydrate her. When the blood work came back the next day, there was nothing definitive, no infection, no common cat disease. (She is vaccinated against everything). I spent that weekend sitting close to her, stroking her head, asking the Universe to heal her and telling her every hour or so that she had to try to get better because Sug and I couldn't possibly continue our journey without her. For the most part, she remained curled in a ball, getting up to vomit once every four or five hours.

On Sunday, just after I'd been on the phone with the vet discussing methods of hydrating her, she got up, ambled slowly to the water bowl, and drank a few sips. Forty-eight hours passed with no change, but Tuesday when I came home for lunch to check on her, she seemed ever-so-slightly better, just enough to weakly trudge to the backyard and lay in the sun for the time it took me to wolf down a sandwich. I picked her up gently to carry her back in to the couch, and she purred. That night, she ate one single tiny kitty treat, the first sustenance she'd had in nearly a week. She slept beside me all night without getting up to throw up, and the next morning she ate two tiny bites of food. I cried.

We are two weeks past her illness now, and she is back to tearing up the furniture, running around the house for the sheer joy of it and chasing kitty treats across the hardwood floors. I have no idea what made her sick, but I am thrilled that she is still with us. Before Purrlie, Sug and I had become like two old dowagers, set in our ways and clinging to our daily routine. Purrl shook up our lives, made us play with toys and laugh out loud again. And in her fearlessness, she showed Sug how a cat can actually be friends with a dog because when Sgt. Thomas Tibbs came along, Purrl thought he was just one more slightly large plush toy to rub up against and play with. Even Thomas, I think, is glad that Purrlie Girl has survived.

As I have said before, at the close of every day, I spend the last moments before climbing into bed on the floor with Thomas, petting his head and telling him what a great dog he is, and now Purrl joins us, lying quietly beside me, purring and smiling at her big red friend. I feel blessed every day that each of these slightly flawed, slightly quirky characters has come into my life.

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