Hi kitties, below is the post I wrote for WCD 2010, so if you read it and commented last year, please do not feel obligated to do so again. It is about our beloved kitten Max who died in March 2009. It is a long story and a sad one too, but Max was such a special boy, I think I might reprint it every year in tribute :-)
I do not know about Max’s life before we adopted him, but I’m guessing it was probably unsettled at best and perilous at worst. I do not know if his beginnings were humble or lavish, but somehow he ended up at a high-kill shelter in Hamilton, Ontario and that began a chain of events which brought him into our lives and into our hearts. I think Max was on his way somewhere, which is how I have come to look at what happened. I think Max was on a journey, and before he left this life he had to learn what love was and that is why he came to us. He had to know what a safe and relaxed home was and what it was like to live in the heart of a family who adored him. He had to experience plenty of food and a soft warm bed, he had to sleep curled up with his brother and he had to feel the kindness of human hands and the cuddles of true affection. He had to watch TV on a cozy lap and he had to play until exhaustion with all the toys he could ever want. Max was not long for this world, and before he left he had to know all these things. I like to think that we gave him what he sought and that he relished every moment. To look at it like this is the only way I can make sense of what happened. I can’t begin to tell you how much I miss Max: our little cat with the huge personality who went to the bridge
before his first birthday.
We got Max as a result of our search for a companion for Casper, the gentle giant we already had at home. A blue-eyed beauty who is deaf, we had taken Casper in a year before. At nine months old, the people who owned him since kitten-hood decided he was too hyper and difficult to handle, so they gave him up. He was playful to be sure, but not one thing about him was difficult and he was a joy from the minute we set eyes on him. We probably should have consulted the “high-priestess of nasty”, our eighteen year old calico and ruler of the roost before we rescued Casper, but he needed a home and I acted impulsively. Molly was not at all impressed with having a high energy youngster running around the house, in fact she was completely terrified by him. I’m sure she would have liked to live out her twilight years in peace and quiet, but the deed was done and like it or not Casper was here to stay. We read every article we could find about introducing new cats to each other and I am certain we did everything right. Unfortunately nothing worked, Molly would not accept Casper. We persisted for eight months with our attempts at integration but to no avail. Molly hated Casper and showed it at every opportunity. The funny thing was however, that Casper seemed to love Molly! He pined for her, spied on her, stalked her and probably would have bayed at the moon too had he been a wolf, but Molly’s heart would not melt. When Casper was approaching his second birthday and we decided the time had come to end his misery. It was never going to work with Molly, she was simply too old and ornery to change and we could tell he was bored and lonely. So we would try again with another cat, hopefully the two boys would bond and Molly would be left in peace. We made an exhaustive search of shelters and rescue groups to find a friend for Casper. We saw literally hundreds of cats before we chose Max, or should I say he chose us. I had very specific criteria for what I considered to be the “right fit” for Casper. I had to plan carefully and select a cat who would not threaten Casper’s tender psyche since he had already been rebuffed so many times by Molly. As I tried to explain this one day to a friend at yoga class, she looked at me incredulously and said “they’re just cats”. Even my man Robert also quipped that it would probably have been easier to adopt a black market baby than it was to find Max. I was undeterred by their comments, and would not be rushed into anything. Casper is so gentle and easy going, I did not want him to be afraid or have his power usurped in his own home. To achieve this, I thought it a good idea if we picked a cat that was younger and therefore physically smaller than Casper. Conceivably this would ensure Casper had a chance to be the dominant cat, help him to feel like the big brother and hopefully protective toward the newcomer. It was important to do everything I could think of in order to try and have a smooth transition since things with Molly had been such a disaster. Max it turned out could not have made the process any easier. If there was such a thing as a goodwill ambassador for cats, Max would have occupied that post. From the minute we got him he was a gentleman, a cat among cats. I’m not certain if I realized at the time of our first meeting how special he was, but he made it clear that he knew what he wanted and he informed us in pure cat fashion.
We began our search with Toronto Animal Services
and visited all four of their shelters in the city. Although I was greatly impressed with the cleanliness of the shelters, how well the cats were looked after, and the alacrity of the staff, we did not find a cat for us. Truth be told, I think we were overwhelmed by the sheer numbers of cats, so we turned to a smaller organization called Toronto Cat Rescue
. TCR has no public shelter per se; instead all the cats that are available for adoption appear on their website with pictures and bios, sort of like online dating. The cats themselves are fostered in private homes. We thought this sounded like a good set-up because the foster parents would be able to tell us some details about the different cats and their personalities. Once we were interviewed and approved by TCR, we told our adoption liaison which cats we were interested in. She provided us with the contact information for the fostering families and we went about making arrangements to go to their homes and meet the cats. We had seen several cats that were for one reason or another unsuitable by the time we drove to Brampton on a chilly Sunday in January to meet Max; a five month old Russian Blue we had seen online. We were greeted at the door by two young boys who spoke only at volume eleven and a woman who held a small grey cat in her arms. We were ushered into the kitchen and she put Max, who at the time was called Mystic, on the floor and I knelt down to have a closer look. He had a very round face with enormous, bulging gold eyes, actually more like a lemur than a cat and comical downward pointing whiskers that reminded me of a Fu Manchu mustache. He was no Russian Blue, but he was an exquisite dove grey colour and he had a small white patch in the centre of his chest. When the sun hit his coat it revealed amazing variations in hues, his delicate toes looked almost silver and you could see darker grey stripes on his body and rings on his tail. When I stroked him he felt like plush velvet. Without a moment’s hesitation, he walked onto my lap and curled up into a ball. Max knew immediately that we were supposed to be his people, so without bothering with any further pleasantries he proceeded to nap. I looked at Robert and said “this is the one.” We had seen a lot of cats on our quest to find a brother for Casper and none of them had behaved with such conviction. We filled out the paperwork, scooped him up and began the drive home to Toronto.
Max was so good in the car, there was not a peep out of his carry case. I imagine he was accustomed to long drives as his history indicated that he came from a shelter in Hamilton where he was saved from death row. However, what we did hear emanating from the carry case was a number of sneezes. It is very common for shelter cats to have upper respiratory infections (URI’s); cat colds. Most often these are not serious, but they sometimes can be and I didn’t want to bring a sickness home to Casper. So, from the car I called my vet and asked for an immediate appointment before we took Max to the house. The vet managed to squeeze us in: squeeze being the operative word here as it was standing room only in the waiting area when we arrived. An assortment of cats and dogs were already ahead of us. A couple was called in to see the doctor and we were able to sit together on the bench. Max had been in his carrier for well over an hour at this point and we thought he must be terrified. Robert took him out and placed him on his knee, for some petting and reassuring words from us. Without any fuss, he snuggled in and began to survey his surroundings as if it were the most natural thing in the world. A portly French bulldog ambled around making snuffling noises, an energetic black lab alternated between barking and cowering and movement could be seen in at least three other cat carriers. Max sat still on Robert’s lap not once trembling or crying or trying to hide. The only thing that might have betrayed his calm exterior was that his huge round eyes seemed even larger, if that was possible. But I think Max knew he was exactly where he was supposed to be – with us, and we would keep him safe.
Almost an hour passed before our turn came to see the doctor and the entire time Max sat quietly accepting our comforting strokes and watching the comings and goings of the bustling animal hospital. Once inside, Max’s check-up began. The vet listened to his chest and it sounded clear and took his temperature, which indicated a slight fever. He also peered into Max’s ears which looked a bit gunky and could be a sign of mites. A swab was taken and examined under the microscope. No mites, but white blood cells indicated a probable infection so an oily ointment was prescribed to be administered twice a day. He checked Max’s teeth which placed his age closer to nine months and not five months as the TCR told us. Then as if on cue, Max sneezed a blob of yellow kitty snot right onto the exam table. Yes, definitely a URI and the vet administered a shot of broad spectrum antibiotics. He also had blood taken for a “Snap” test; this would tell us if Max had Feline Leukemia or Feline Aids both contagious and deadly diseases. Thankfully both tests were negative. So after a thorough going over and a hefty bill, we were on our way home with our tired little trooper for a well deserved rest in our comfy guest bedroom. It would be necessary to sequester Max until his cold cleared up and oh, did I neglect to mention he had not yet been neutered?! Although I was proud of Max for being so well-behaved, I was a little concerned we had adopted a cat that was sick AND un-neutered. The vet had filled my head with stories of aggressive behaviour and smelly territory spraying from cats that were still “intact” and I was becoming apprehensive about what was in store and how this would affect Casper. Nevertheless, he was now part of our family and we would do right by him.
We made a quick stop on the way home for supplies, we had seen and rejected so many cats that we didn’t even have the room ready. Max and I waited in the car while Robert ran into the local pet store and bought a new litter box, a snuggly cat bed with high sides, the same kitten food he had been eating at his foster home, and some toys, just the basics to get Max settled. I was very excited to get Max home, he had had a rough start in life but it was going to be smooth sailing from here on in. My sister said he had “hit the kitty jackpot landing with us” and indeed he would be loved and looked after in the lap of luxury for the rest of his life. Who knew it would be such a short life.
Finally we arrived home and went upstairs to the guest bedroom with our newest family member and his load of goodies. In the room there is a chest of drawers and a large freestanding wardrobe, a wicker laundry hamper (handy for scratching), a bedside table with lamp and a double bed which is pushed up against a large window that overlooks our back garden. For some reason it is the warmest room in the house, so even though there is another spare bedroom (Casper’s spy zone where he watches Molly through a decorative air vent in the wall), we thought this one would be ideal to make a new kitty feel cozy and safe. I set up Max’s litter box in the far corner of the room and beside the bed I put out his dishes with water and food. We scattered some toys on the bed, then released Max from his carrier and watched him survey his new surroundings. He went first to his box first and had a pee (what a good boy), then we thought he might head under the bed and cower there for a while given what an eventful day it had been. Instead, Max went to straight to the door and sniffed underneath, Casper was of course on the other side, he knew something was afoot the minute we came home and had followed us upstairs. I stepped outside into the hall and closed the door. I thought Casper may need some reassuring strokes while he investigated this new smelling thing holed up in the bedroom. We live in an old house and the floors and walls are not exactly straight. There was a considerable space under the door at the handle side which tapered to almost nothing at the hinge side. Max placed a tentative paw under the door to feel around and I could see his nose sniffing under the crack too. I got a hand towel and stuffed it into the crack beneath the door to stop any further interaction. Casper gave me a “you can’t be serious” look and dug it out with his front paws. Meanwhile on the other side of the door, Robert had picked Max up and put him on the bed. He lay down and Max settled into the crook of his arm for a long overdue rest, it was adorable. Max was asleep in seconds, purring and content in his forever home. Max was good as gold from the minute we got him. We were afraid that he would be lonely, coming from a house where he slept with his foster brother and two young boys. It would be such a drastic change to bring him to a strange new home and then leave him by himself at night, so Robert gallantly offered to sleep in the spare room with Max. When it was lights out, Max snuggled in with Robert and went to sleep without any fuss or fanfare.
I’m sure it must have seemed strange to this little cat all of a sudden being away from his foster brother and all the noise and frenetic activity that goes along with a young family. He was now in our quiet house and isolated in this small space, I wonder if he thought he had done something wrong. I went in and out of the room frequently that next day while Robert was at work. Every time I entered Max would be at the window looking out. He seemed to love the view, so I put a pillow down between the wall and the bed to bridge the gap so he could lie comfortably while watching the activity outside. Whenever I lay on the bed he would run over to me and jump on my chest and try to lick my nose, all the while purring loudly. He would lie down and snuggle his head under my chin, it was a wonderful feeling to be trusted and loved so immediately. Something else that Max did which no other cat of mine had done before was give hugs. When I picked him up in my arms he would put a paw on each side of my neck and lay his head on me, it was unbelievable and melted my heart over and over again.
It was still four days away from Max’s neutering. The vet had wanted to wait a week for his URI to clear up before performing the surgery. However, Casper and Max were clamoring constantly at their respective sides of the door and I knew it was going to be hard to keep them apart for so long. That night when Robert returned from work, we decided to start letting them see each other. So Robert would hold Max and I would hold Casper and we would open the bedroom door and let them look at each other. I insisted on heavily monitored encounters until Max was neutered because I didn’t want any spraying or other testosterone-fueled behaviour. All of the encounters were positive and the boys took to each other immediately. The days passed and Max played in his room and patiently waited to become a full access member of the family. We continued with the face to face meetings and let them sniff at each other as things progressed without incident. Finally Friday rolled around and we prepared to take Max to the vet. I put his fleecy red blanket in the carry case and marked his name on masking tape and attached it to the front and back to make sure we got the right cat returned to us. Robert took him in on the way to work, and was told that pick-ups were around 4:00pm. Like an over-protective mother I phoned to check on him in the early afternoon and was told that his surgery went well and he was resting comfortably in his cage. It is a relatively minor operation they said, but he may still feel effects from the anesthetic and need to sleep and stay quiet for the rest of the day. He was also getting his shots, and I remembered that Casper experienced extreme fatigue after his vaccinations so I was prepared to receive home a very groggy kitty. Robert arrived with Max and he looked like nothing had happened to him! He was his usual alert and inquisitive self and not the least bit lethargic. If it had not been for the fact that his fur was shaved on the back end I never would have guessed he had any sort of surgery at all. However we still felt we should follow the vet’s advice and keep things low key, so we took him back upstairs to his room for what was the last night he ever spent by himself. In the morning the quarantine would be over, Max was healthy and neutered and all was well in our world. First thing the next day, we opened the door of Max’s safe room and let the chips fall where they may. Casper was of course waiting outside the door and Max walked straight up to him for a nose to nose greeting. They sniffed and looked at each other, Casper licked Max’s face, and I just about died of happiness. We thought it best to take Max down to the living room so things could unfold in a larger space than our upstairs hall. I carried him in my arms, and Casper galloped down in front of me then turned at the bottom of the stairs and looked up expectantly. I set Max down on the carpet and that was the beginning of a beautiful friendship…
|Hey let's play!|
There was running and playing from the moment of Max’s release from his bedroom quarantine. Tentative at first, then boisterous galloping and a prolonged game of you chase me then I’ll chase you. Robert and I watched from the periphery holding our breath, dreading the moment things would turn from playing to fighting, but it never came. They interacted all morning and afternoon and we slowly began to exhale, we looked at each other smiling and said “this might actually work out!” Casper finally fell into an exhausted sleep in his basket in the dining room bay window, and Max fell asleep cuddling on my chest while I lay on the living room sofa. I was so thrilled, the day couldn’t have gone better, it was like Casper and Max were long lost buddies. At night we thought it best to put Max back in his room, but they meowed so loudly for each other that didn’t last for long. They were now spending twenty-four hours a day together and never more than a few feet apart; it was a wonderful thing to see. We put a cat bed beside Casper’s in the dining room and they slept happily together usually with a paw reaching out touching each other. Days and weeks passed they were inseparable I had never seen anything like this and we lived in a state of bliss. Max was unbelievably affectionate not only with Casper but with us too. He loved to snuggle and if we were watching a movie would lie in my arms for hours until they were aching. I never put him off me though and accepted everything he had to give. When Robert got home from work in the evenings there would be great excitement and he would insist on being picked up for a cuddle. When family and friends came over to visit Max never ran off or hid he was in the thick of things interacting and experiencing everything!
Then one morning after we had Max for about six weeks we were sitting in the living room, the cats were with us and Robert said, “Max is sure filling out, he’s actually starting to look chubby”. I looked at Max closely and indeed he seemed to have developed a paunch. After a couple of days his abdomen had become quite bloated and I called the vet. Robert said not to worry it was nothing, but I had a sinking feeling that something was wrong. I went to the vet hoping it was kitty gas or even worms please, but the vet (not the one at the practice that I like) shook his head and said as casually as if he were talking about the weather that it’s probably Feline Infectious Peritonitis (FIP), once the symptoms appear the disease progresses swiftly and it is always fatal. What? He said they would run some tests, even though there are no definitive tests for FIP only a series of markers that point to a diagnosis. Something to do with a mutated Corona virus (I cringe just writing it now) there is no treatment and no cure. The tests would take a couple of days but he gave me a prescription for Prednisone because he already knew what the results would be. The powerful steroid would help his distended abdomen which would only get worse as his own immune system tried to fight the virus. It’s been more than two years since Max died, I don’t remember all the details about FIP and I can’t even bring myself to go on Google for a refresher, but it is a horrible wasting disease that is quite rare and affects cats either very young or the very old. Max was probably already infected when we adopted him.
I left the vet and my head was reeling did I hear him correctly? I came home and brought Max up to his old bedroom thinking we better separate him from Casper. I called Robert at work, I was crying, Max was sleeping and Casper was scratching at the door. How could this be possible? That evening when Robert got home he said that Casper was a robust and healthy cat and he would not catch this from what he had seen online when he did some research at work. We let Max out from the bedroom the two of them stalked off together probably to discuss the day’s events. The tests of course came back all pointing to FIP and it was ten days from diagnosis to death. We went back to the vet to see the doctor that I like and he confirmed the diagnosis. He also told us what to expect and said that we would know when it would be time to bring Max in so that he didn’t suffer. Max declined quickly and tender Casper was always at his side for comfort. Casper’s play became more and more gentle as Max’s lethargy increased, then sadly they stopped playing altogether. On Max’s last day at home he just lay on his side on the kitchen floor in a puddle of sunshine with Casper grooming his face. His huge abdomen was pressing against his lungs and he was struggling for air. The vet said that anything over 35 breaths per minute was high. I knew Max was around 70 breaths per minute because I had sat up with him the night before and counted. I thought he might die that night and I did not sleep at all, I just listened to my little angel labouring and cried. In the morning I said to Robert that it was time and we called the vet and made an appointment to come back in that night. The vet I liked was working and he would be ready for us. I spent Max’s last day tiptoeing around the house trying not to disturb him, he slept mostly in the kitchen or his wooly perch at the back window. I talked quietly to him and told him if he wanted to go now that it was okay and he should just fly away. At one point during the day he went down into the basement and hid in the back of a closet, I thought it was over only to turn around a little later and find his sweet little face looking up at me. He could not get comfortable and he did not know what to do with himself, he stood in the kitchen and let out these terrible moans. My heart broke over and over. He had stopped eating his food the day before, but I plied him with treats hoping I could entice him to take one. When Robert got home he had a long cuddle with Max, then we steeled ourselves, I wrapped Max in his favourite blanket and we went to the animal hospital. The strange thing was that I could not find Casper when we were leaving, I think he and Max had already said their good-byes.
|Max's last day|
Max died in my arms, my tears falling on his velvet fur with Robert stroking his paws and speaking softly to him, telling him how much he was loved. After just seven weeks with us, Max was gone. Our emotions however knew no time frame and we loved him completely. Max faced his crisis with a quiet dignity well beyond his years and we were so proud of him. This was a tragedy for us to be sure, but I am so grateful that he came into our lives; everyday with Max was a delight. I am also thankful that we were able to help him, the thought of him languishing in a metal shelter cage and dying alone is worse than the ordeal we went through. He had an enormous impact on our lives and I know he was cherished completely during his short time with us. When Max died I did not know the story of the Rainbow Bridge
it was only some months later that I discovered it. The thought of Max restored to health and frolicking with other cats while waiting for the day when we are reunited gives me great comfort and I always picture him that way.
|My favourite picture of Max and Casper|