Friday, October 25, 2013

About My Cat Tehya

My first full-time job was at Broward County Libraries, they had opened a new Regional Branch which was a joint-use with Broward Community College's North Campus.  This was back in 1994 (Good Lord: 20th anniversary is around the corner!).  One of my co-workers was Judi, with the college but part of the Reference team on the second floor.  She was active with the local cat rescue groups, rounding up strays and abandoned cats for re-adoption.

By 1999 she had convinced me - and my personal budget was steady enough - that I ought to have a cat in my life.  She was at the time counseling a newly-caught feral mom and three kittens, so I came by for a looksee.

The mama kitty and two of her kittens were calicoes, a special hair color pattern of motley black, orange and white (the male was black: it's rare for calicoes to be male).  The mama was pure feral and avoided people.  The kittens were skittish but if you held one and petted one they weren't too vicious about it.

There was one with a pretty little orange stripe running up her nose to a point just behind her ear line.

I asked to adopt her and went looking through the baby name books in the 929.44 shelf range.  I was a librarian and I was going to show off with a cool name.  I went with Tehya: it means "precious" in Native American.

Tehya was jumpy, flighty, inquisitive, skittish, clawy, scratchy, and meowy.  She was also pretty.  I quickly nicknamed her "Pretty Kitty".

Because of her meowing and clawing at the doorways, I came to believe that she felt herself lonely and was seeking companionship, so about a year later I asked Judi for a second kitten and brought home Page, a kitten born of a litter from an abandoned mom cat.  Page was more well-adjusted to people and more relaxed around me.

Tehya hated her.  I had completely miscalculated the situation - Tehya didn't want a friend, she wanted to hunt - and didn't realize that Tehya needed time to adjust to the idea of another cat in the house.  In time the two developed a guarded but accepting relationship, but never became the closest of friends.


Tehya and Page quickly got used to a few things... such as me moving half across Florida as by 2001 I was moving into a condo in Coconut Creek, and then moving out of South Florida altogether to Gainesville to work at UF Libraries in 2003, to moving down to New Port Richey to work in the Pasco Libraries system by 2006.  They adjusted as best they could - in particular they LOVED an apartment in Gainesville we lived in for seven months that had a wide screen porch overlooking a forest full of SQUIRRELS - and settled in fine each time.

Page had become the talker of the two, as Tehya went relatively quiet most of the time.  Tehya instead became the jumper, the climber.  When I moved into a huge house in Gainesville that had an open alcove to the kitchen and dining room areas, Tehya would find a way to leap on top of the cabinets and then leap ACROSS to the pavilion over the dining room.  Getting her down took forever, but she loved it.
I made this on I Can Has Cheezburgr site...
When I got to bed at night, Page would be first to bed with me: jumping on my right side, and sliding herself butt-first against my arm near my waist.  It would take a few minutes, but Tehya would jump onto the nightstand next to the bed, access the situation, and come over to my left side where she would knead my upper arm, pushing my shoulder to open up a little so she could curl up head-first in my arm.

A few years after moving to New Port Richey, Page developed a bump on her hindside.  At first I thought it was a bad reaction to one of the booster shots she'd recently gotten and that the inflammation would go away.  But it didn't.  By the time I got her back to the vet's, the bump had gotten worrisome.  And it turned out for good reason: the bump was cancerous.  We tried for surgery, but the biopsy revealed the tumor was malign, and indeed within a few months the bump had returned.  Page wouldn't have survived any chemo... I didn't have the budget, I was unemployed at the time... this was the Monday of Thanksgiving week 2011.  I had to take Page in... for her... last visit.  God curse me for a coward, I couldn't stay to watch.
The last picture I ever took of Page, five days before her skin cancer got bad enough to...
With Page gone, Tehya became a bit more expressive.  She'd meow more often, at least that I'd noticed.  Where Page would join me on the recliner arm, Tehya preferred the headrest: without Page, Tehya would jump and check my lap first.

This year in January I got interviewed for a librarian job in Bartow and got it, meaning another move.  Tehya didn't mind it too much but missed the large porch she had access to in New Port Richey.  She'd still jump onto bed at night, with a new bed alignment she'd jump on my right side where Page used to be, jump right onto my chest making me go "ooof" and then checking out my left side before coming up to curl in my arm like always.

A month ago she started coughing bad.  Like a hairball wasn't coming out right, if at all.  I took her to the vet here in Bartow and he checked her out: she seemed healthy, was eating well, her lungs sounded normal.  I didn't think she needed an x-ray or bloodwork.  The vet gave me meds for her system to help with any hairball issue, and after a few days of taking it - she actually ate the pills I stuck in the meat! - her cough went away.

But then I took a trip to New York City - a personal vacation, one I hadn't had in years due to the lack of employment - this past weekend and when I came back Tehya seemed to have stopped eating.  Mom and Dad noted she'd still eat her meaty stuff but left her dry food untouched.  She'd eat her snack bits - ever since we moved to Bartow she constantly parked herself in the middle of the apartment with the insistent look of "give me my snackage" - but that was about it.  But this week, she just... stopped eating.  Everything.

By Wednesday I was concerned enough to schedule an appointment for Thursday afternoon.  I tried different meat flavors to see if it was just a flavor issue.  Tehya was losing interest in anything other than sleeping in spots on the floor where she'd be out of the way.  There would be occasional meowing, like she wasn't happy.  Like she was in pain.  And she wouldn't stay on the bed even if I picked her up and put her there with something comfortable to lie on, like my pants or a towel (her usual comforters).

Thursday afternoon couldn't come fast enough.  When it did, we got bad news: the x-rays spotted a lump in one of her lungs (the source of that cough), and her bloodwork showed low platelet counts.  The vet didn't want to give me absolute confirmation that it was cancer, and suggested bringing in an ultrasound guy to check Tehya on Tuesday.  The vet tried to give Tehya an appetite stimulant pill to help with her eating so that she'd regain some strength.

At home, I kept trying to feed Tehya.  She'd drink some of her water, but the food... no, not a bit.  I tried rubbing my finger in the wet stuff and rubbing it against her mouth to make her taste it, she refused.  Tehya's meowing got worse.  Deeper, hurting.  Mournful.  She didn't jump into bed to sleep with me.  When I woke up in the morning and picked her up, she was lighter, fragile... weak.  Her purring wasn't contentment, it was anxious, painful... more growling and grunting than ever before.  She insisted on sleeping in one spot now, a place on the futon where she would try to fall asleep, but meow in pain and roll around into another position to find some comfort...

Further efforts to feed her got worse.  Her body temp was getting cold.  I called the vet's this afternoon and asked him bluntly how certain he was that lump was cancer.  He said he was certain.

I took Tehya - my Pretty Kitty - in for one last visit.

I brought with her a toy that Tehya liked.  A green cloth fishie toy that she would use as a pillow whenever she lay on the living room floor when I'd watch television.  We waited in a small room while the vet took care of the other appointments he had that afternoon.  While we waited she lay down in the cat carrier, using the fishie as a pillow.  I rubbed that orange stripe on her forehead.  I always rubbed it from the day she was a kitten, and I'd have her in my arm or lying nearby I'd reach over and trace a finger along that stripe from her nose to her head and she'd purr like mad and lean her head into my arm as I rubbed that stripe.  She tried to purr this time but it came out like a wheezing grunt.

The vet finished his scheduled cases and then came into the small room.  We were the last one for the day.  I waited as the vet took Tehya for the catheter for her foreleg.  I was given a minute with her one last time while the vet went to get the shots.  I wasn't going to chicken out like I did to poor Page... poor Page, she died alone, I will never forgive myself for that... but I was bouncing between tears in my eyes and snot out my nose.

The vet came in with two needles.  He asked if I was ready, I said no... but that it had to happen anyway, Tehya would starve to death in pain... He gave her the needle to put her to sleep... but her eyes stayed open... less than a minute later, he slid in the second needle.  Tehya just... stopped.  Stopped.
Tehya's fishie.  That and her photos are all I have of her now.  I can't remember how Page meowed at me sometimes...

I returned for the first time in years to an empty house.  No expectation of a friend, a cat, someone who waited for me for more than just food or snacks or ear rubs or anything...  This is the loneliest I've been in ages.

Dear God, I should have taken better care of you Tehya, of you Page.

I'm not in a good place right now.  I hope to God Tehya and Page are, and that they're finally getting along.

Hug your pets.  Do your damnedest to let them know you love them.  Please.


2 comments:

akbrown said...

Hang in there bud. It will get better with time. Just know that Page and Tehya both had great lives and a great owner. Pets are more than just "pets" to many of us they are our family.

akbrown said...

Hang in there bud! Pets are more than just "animals", they are our family. Just know that both Page and Tehya had a wonderful dad. They lived good lives and are now resting in peace. Be strong, it will get easier with time.