"Mom. They took Tux off the shelter site." She was crestfallen.
"Really?" I tried to look surprised and concerned at the same time.
"I'm really glad I went to meet him in person."
"So am I sweetie. So am I."
What she didn't know was that I had gone to the site and put in an adoption form for this cat she fell in love with from his picture and his story on the site, right after we went in to see him, "to prove to myself," she had told me, "that there won't be a connection with me in person."
But there was.
He was about 4 months old, and he had been at the shelter for two months. He was so shy and fearful that nobody wanted him. But my cat-whisperer daughter saw something in him. And we had just lost our older cat - perhaps to an eagle, we couldn't be sure.
His back story was heartbreaking. He had gotten stuck in the fan-belt of the engine of a summering snowmobile ... at just eight weeks old. His mom couldn't get him out so she abandoned him there. A neighbor was out walking and heard his cries, so she set about trying to get him out. The rescue process was long and tedious, and many hours later, the woman called the PEI Humane Society. An Animal Protection Officer came and helped free him from the belt. But the damage was already done: with so many hands coming down from above, the pain of being stuck, and the sight of work boots and sound of raised voices, he was traumatized and was a black and white bundle of hissing and spitting.
They put him in a crate to transport him to the shelter. Then they transferred him into a cage in the receiving area, where they assessed him. After his quarantine, they transferred him to another crate to go to the vet to be neutered. Another crate to get back to the shelter. Then transferred into his cage, then to another cage to be available for adoption. Nope. A foster family took him in (more crates to and from) as well as another kitten about his age. He and his foster brother lived with a couple of large dogs and a couple of cats; he liked another cat that was there. When he was four months old, they took him back to the shelter (yet another crate). No method of transferring him to a crate worked. It just added more things to be afraid of: blankets, towels, clothing, you name it.
But then my daughter saw his pic and read his story. And she fell head over heels for him. We went to see him (as I mentioned, above) and she had resigned herself to leaving him there. So unknown to her, I got the adoption ball rolling, and the conversation happened, the one I shared at the first of this post.
A few hours later, she got an email. She opened it and started to read. It was from a friend of hers at the shelter, who was thrilled that this cat would go to her and who was congratulating her! When the realization came that he was coming to live with us, and that was the reason they took his profile off the website, she was so happy that she cried.
We picked him up the next day. Poor kitty - still another crate experience. My daughter took him to her room, where she had set up a litter box and a feeding station, and spent the next few weeks doing nothing else but teaching him that people were okay, that it was safe here, that he would be fine, that he was loved and that it felt good to get petted.
We all changed his name to Callum - which means peace - and it soon got shortened to Cal.
I remember the first time she allowed me into her room to give Cal someone else to interact with, to teach him that it wasn't just ONE human he could trust. She told me how to sit, what to do, and how to talk. Within minutes, his terror ebbed away, and I had a tuxedo-clad kitty rubbing up against me and purring. He drooled, but we figured that he had been rewarded with food for letting people handle him, so he associated being stroked with receiving food. He never got over that habit. After a while, it was one of the endearing things about him, as he got to know us all, including the other cats and eventually, last year, the dog. (Well, okay, he never really enjoyed the dog, but you can't have everything.)
There was a one-sided 'bromance' between him and our black cat Loki, who was about six months older than he was. The first time he saw Loki, he ran right up to him and head-butted him so hard it knocked Loki into the wall!! Loki was taken aback, and gave one short hiss - out of surprise more than anything else!
He never knew his own strength. The largest of our cats, he was the resident scaredy-cat. So he let Loki rule the roost. And he and Eris (our female cat, around his age) played together. They'd play chase, take turns running after each other, and sometimes Loki would join in. When he finally stood up to Loki (after Loki had been picking on him too much), the fur flew, but Loki respected him more after that.
And so did the dog - he had to swat at Bullet a few times before the dog got the message.
His favorite piece of furniture was our bed. He would sprawl out on the bed and lay on his side and his older (adopted) brother Loki would lay within three feet of him. They would stay there all day. And when they weren't there, they were on the cat tree (the ledge of which he is laying down on in the picture provided.) Being up high increased his confidence. He learned that he had a right to take up space, and we saw him slowly heal from his traumatic kittenhood. It was so inspiring to watch! "This," we would mutter, "is what love can do. So powerful. Just love. Pure and simple."
Last Friday, he started to have a hard time breathing. We thought he was trying to cough up a hairball, but he was doing it more and more often. By yesterday morning, we knew we had to call the emergency room vet. They took us right away. Apparently (we had no idea) breathing problems are equivalent to an animal being hit by a car when it comes to deciding which cases are most urgent.
They calmed him with medications, did an X-ray, and then showed us what the problem was. His chest cavity was filled with fluid, which was compressing his lungs and making it really hard for him to breathe. We saw two little black blobs on the X-ray ... the size and appearance of prunes. The vet explained. "Those are his lungs. All this white stuff in the rest of the chest cavity is fluid. It's pressing in on his lungs and there's not enough room for him to get a full breath." So she recommended taking a good bit of that fluid out to make his breathing easier, and testing the fluid to see what the cause of his problem might be. Not all of it, she said, because the risk of a collapsed lung was more if they took it all out. So we consented. They gave him some intravenous liquids and put in some anti-nausea medication. We brought him back home around 4 pm. Dr. Marlene is AMAZING. Just saying.
That night, after he had found a hiding spot under my side of the bed, Cal managed to eat some tuna (his favorite), and drink a little water. He stayed there all night. The family gathered in the living room and talked. We all knew it was just a matter of time. If he got worse, we couldn't keep subjecting him to that crate and to the interventions of strangers.
There were many tears. Nobody got much sleep that night.
I checked on him in the morning. He had stopped panting, so I thought he was doing better. I petted him; he purred. His breathing was still too fast, but I went forward with my plans for the day, which included meeting a friend for an early-afternoon coffee nearby. I took my phone with me "just in case you guys need to go back to the vet with him." I made it clear that I wanted to be there too. All they had to do was call.
I got that call around 2:30, while I was finishing up coffee with my friend. "I'll meet you there," I told my daughter.
When we got inside, I checked on him inside the crate (again with the crate!!) He was in clear distress, panting open-mouthed and slavering. Strings of drool hung from the sides of his mouth. I saw panic in his eyes. The vet met us shortly and immediately took him back into ICU. They started an IV and put him on oxygen.
That's when we had the "quality of life" conversation with the vet.
The next hour or so was a blur. Lots of waiting for medications to kick in so he would be more calm. Long minutes of petting him and saying our goodbyes. Tears. Hugs. More pets. Then the vet came in with the needles - 3 of them (sedation, an agent to stop the heart, and saline solution to go into the vein after the deed was done to avoid blood leaking out when they took out the IV.) Everything was designed for maximum comfort, minimum stress for both us and him. The vet was great: respectful, compassionate, and knowledgeable.
While we were waiting for them to do the paw-print, the vet from the previous day, who had dropped by because she had 'forgotten' her notes, came in to see us and express her sadness at how things turned out. What a blessing! We had the unique opportunity to thank her for everything she did to ease his discomfort and make him as calm as possible. She had been his vet when he was younger, and that made it easier to talk to her about him, and to share memories ... the scene reminded me of a funeral home in a way.
Yes. Yes, she cried. It meant a lot to her for us to thank her. I'm so glad we got a chance to do that. Vets don't get a lot of thanks. They should.