Life lessons from a wobbly little cat

Theodora Roosevelt Brassard

Theodora Roosevelt Brassard (better known as Teddy), June 2015-Jan. 22, 2016: the sweetest kitty ever.

I almost can’t believe that the latest news from the Manse is the loss of another beloved cat. Readers mourned with Raymond and me when we lost our dear Sieste (the first Manse Cat); and even before that, when Bayona the chubby and loving calico died suddenly before ever getting to see this big old house that was just made for cats to chase each other around in.

But this past Friday night, little Teddy (short for Theodora Roosevelt Brassard) succumbed, at the age of only seven months, to the neurological illness that she was born with and that began to manifest itself a couple of months after we adopted her and her sister, Honey Bunny, from a feral-cat rescue organization. That illness affected her balance so that she could not jump or climb, or raise her head really; and she had a bit of a to-do getting herself up and onto her feet – finding her sea legs, as Raymond liked to say – when it was time to get up and walk. And then when she did get upright, she walked with a wobble. But she had determination, and she always got there. “Teddymarch!” we would say. In fact, here she comes now:

Teddy was, quite simply, the sweetest cat ever. She loved her people. She loved new people, visiting with them without shyness and with great affection. She loved to be held, or just to be close. Here she is showing how much she adores her dad:

Teddy loves her dad

As Raymond (still in bathrobe) gets an early start on the day’s National Newspaper Awards work, Teddy shows her appreciation for being allowed into his lap.

And here she is helping him at foot level in the kitchen, something she was very fond of:

Teddy helping Raymond in the kitchen

“Teddy underfoot!” Raymond and I would say to each other when we noticed she’d parked herself beside us in the kitchen. (Our highly unrenovated kitchen, I should add – but that will change soon.) One didn’t want to step on her!

Here’s Teddy with Raymond during what was her first and, very sadly, only Christmas. It was a lovely Christmas at the Manse, and it makes me happy that she shared it with us:

Teddy's Christmas

Teddy’s Christmas, 2015. What does she do while curled up in her dad’s lap? Why, Teddypurr, of course. It will be hard not to have her with us next Christmas.

We’d had a close call with Teddy’s health once before, but to our great joy she pulled through. I wrote about that experience here, giving Teddy the Harry Potter title of The Cat Who Lived. Sadly, it turned out to be only a reprieve. Teddy died this past Friday evening.

I hope you’ll pardon me for revisiting the theme of the loss of a feline pet, but I feel like I have to write about Teddy. Mainly it’s because I am just so sad, and telling you folks about what a sweetie Teddy was will make me feel better. And then there’s this: if I don’t write about Teddy, I won’t get a chance to share with you one of the funniest and cutest cat photos you’ll ever see. And we can’t have that. (It’s toward the bottom of this post.)

Teddy’s death was as peaceful as it could have been. For the previous couple of days we had vaguely noticed her showing some small signs of weakening – moving around a little less than was normal for her, and having a slightly harder time getting her legs under her. But it never crossed our minds that she was approaching the end of her short life. Teddy was pretty much herself on Thursday, beginning the day as usual by quietly asking me if she could sit in my lap while I had my morning coffee. Twenty-four hours later, she suddenly could not walk at all, and then lost interest in food and water.

Her final illness really only lasted a day, and we looked after her all of that day. She slept in her soft bed, and she allowed her sister to nuzzle and bathe her:

And then she quietly breathed her last at about 9 o’clock in the evening. She did not suffer. She died in complete peace in a warm, happy and comfortable place, with Honey Bunny, Raymond and me all with her. It was the kind of death we all should wish for when our time comes.

While Teddy’s life was very brief, she had a big impact on our lives – just how big we are in some ways only realizing now that she is gone. I am beginning to understand that the reason for the immense love we felt – and always will feel – for her is the fact that she was a special-needs cat. She needed our help: to steady her sometimes as she tried to get her balance; to clean up after her when she temporarily forgot, during that first health crisis, how to make it to the litter box in time to pee (something she fortunately figured out again eventually); to lift her up and down from places she couldn’t jump; to stop her rambunctious sister from playing too roughly with her; and most importantly, to show her that she was loved as deeply as she loved us. In needing these things from us, she taught us what a gift it is to help someone in need.

I’ve been thinking about all of this a lot over this weekend, in between bouts of weeping for my dear Teddy. And I have concluded that we could all stand to learn some life lessons from the late Theodora Roosevelt Brassard, aged seven months when she left this world for a better place where, I hope, she doesn’t wobble any more. Here they are:

  1. Life is short. Spend all of it being gentle, kind, open and loving.
  2. Be close to the people you love for as much time as you can possibly manage. March after them if you have to.
  3. Don’t complain.
  4. Don’t let physical impairments stop you from getting where you want to go.
  5. Love everyone you meet unreservedly and unfailingly.
  6. When you’re happy and you know it, purr.
  7. It is sometimes all right to be unladylike. Especially when your legs don’t work very well and a big stretch makes them feel better:
Teddy looking unladylike

When Teddy was really, really comfortable in someone’s arms or lap, she would stretch herself out as far as she could. It seemed to ease the physical discomfort she experienced. It wasn’t very ladylike, and it was pretty funny to see, but if it made her happy, then we were happy too.

Our friend Jill said something perfect about Teddy in a kind note of sympathy:

She had the best care from all of you (including her furry mate) while she tiptoed this earth and warmed your hearts.

I love to think about Teddy tiptoeing this earth. That really was what she did: tread lightly and gently for a few short months, spreading goodness wherever she went.

It was peaceful outside as Teddy was buried yesterday afternoon. A gentle snow was falling, and a gentle winter sun was shining. It was just right for saying goodbye to a gentle and loving kitty who in the five short months she lived with us taught us a very great deal about showing kindness and gentleness and love. Her life was … a Teddygift.

The Cat Who Lived

Teddy on the hassock

The Cat Who Lived: our Theodora Roosevelt Brassard (or just Teddy if you prefer), at home on one of the Manse’s vintage hassocks. Isn’t she beautiful?

Anyone even mildly familiar with the Harry Potter stories will know that Harry is sometimes known as The Boy Who Lived, because he is the only wizard to have survived the Killing Curse (sent his way by the evil Voldemort). Well in this week’s instalment of Meanwhile, at the Manse, I want to tell you about The Cat Who Lived. She’s not quite as famous as Harry Potter – not yet, anyway – but her story is much dearer to my heart. Which is saying something, because I am a huge fan of Harry Potter.

The Cat Who Lived is the Manse’s very own Theodora Roosevelt Brassard – Teddy for short. She is one of the two kittens whom Raymond and I adopted at the end of this past summer from the Cat Care Initiative cat-rescue operation and shelter in Campbellford. The other adoptee was Honey Bunny, and here she is:

Honey Bunny in the tunnel

Tortoiseshell Honey Bunny can be hard to spot in pictures because her colouring makes her blend into the background. Here she looks out at us from the bottom level of her nothing-but-the-best-for-our-cats leopard-print at-climbing tower and scratching post.

Like most of the cats at the Cat Care Initiative, Teddy and Honey Bunny – who are close to the same age, to wit about five months as of this writing, but not sisters – came from a feral-cat colony. Volunteers rescued them and socialized them until they were ready to be adopted, and that’s where Raymond and I came in:

eddy and Honey Bunny on adoption day

Raymond and me with our new kitties on the day we adopted them from the Cat Care Initiative. (Photo by Irene Lawson)

Why did we choose Honey Bunny and Teddy from the other cats and kittens up for adoption? Well, we thought they were both beautiful – but then, all cats are beautiful. Teddy also struck us as exceptionally sweet, which has definitely proved to be the case. And Honey Bunny – well, we chose her partly for her name, believe it or not. “Honey Bunny” was Raymond’s pet name for Bayona, the big-bundle-of-love cat whom we had in Montreal and whose sudden death a few years ago left a great big hole in our lives. (You can read about that, and see lots of photos of Bayona and Sieste, who went on to become the First Official Manse Cat, here. Sieste died of old age last spring, which broke our hearts; that story is here.) When we learned that the striking tortoiseshell cat who looked up so lovingly at Raymond as he held her had been given the name Honey Bunny, we looked at each other and decided it was a sign. We were meant to have her.

Here are the girls on their way home in the car:

Teddy and Honey Bunny on their way to the Manse

They must have been wondering what their new life would be like! “Can we get out now?”

Both kittens proved to be playful and cuddly and full of beans, with Honey Bunny soon impressing us with her unceasing energy, her acrobatic skills and her smarts. Have you ever seen a cat play fetch before? Well, here you go:

(Honey Bunny can keep Raymond amused with that game for hours.)

But Teddy? Well, Teddy was just the sweetest kitten ever, with beautiful soft fur made for petting and a propensity to sit in your lap and purr while helping you with your work:

Teddy is a good helper

Teddy helps Raymond with his work on the National Newspaper Awards.

But before too long we realized that Teddy was a little bit fragile. For one thing, her balance didn’t seem to be particularly good; she had trouble jumping into laps, and when she tumbled (as cats will do when climbing and playing), she sometimes fell awkwardly – uncharacteristic for cats, who are almost always graceful. One time when she fell she seemed to have something like a seizure; she twitched oddly for a few moments and couldn’t seem to get her legs under her to get up. We were hugely relieved when she was back to normal after a few minutes of being held and petted. But several weeks later, when she fell again, the result was a lot worse and a lot scarier. That time her twitching and struggling were much greater, and even hours later she absolutely could not walk – she could barely stand up. Her hind legs dragged under her, and it was sickening and terrifying to watch. Her eyes were glazed and she seemed completely out of it. We thought she was going to die.

I stayed with her all that night, waking frequently to check to see if she was still breathing. She was, but not much more than that. In the morning – it was a Sunday – we drove her to the animal hospital, worried sick.

I’ll spare you all the ins and outs of the story, save to say that the eventual diagnosis was that Teddy was suffering from a neurological illness that she’d acquired while still in her mother’s womb, and that is very common in feral cats. It begins to show up when they’re about three months old, which was exactly what had happened with Teddy. The kindly doctor said the best-case scenario was that she’d just be a wobbly walker for the rest of her life, but that there was a strong chance that the neurological problems would progress and cause other physical problems. There is no cure.

Well, Teddy got a bit better in the next few days. Her walking improved somewhat. But she wasn’t eating much, and she didn’t seem to be drinking any water at all – not a good sign. And in a very unpleasant turn of events, she forgot how to use the litter box. A followup visit with the doctor revealed that she was losing weight, and that she had developed some pain in her spine that hadn’t been there on earlier visits. Things were not looking at all good, and the doctor told us – in the gentlest possible way – that she might start to suffer and that the kindest thing we could do for her if that happened would be to put her down.

You can imagine how we felt. Teddy and Honey Bunny had captured our hearts the day we met them, and they had become part of the family immediately. And Teddy being the sweetest cat ever…

Things did get worse. Teddy could barely move, and pretty much stopped trying. She cried in pain when I tried to pick her up. She ignored the cat food and refused to touch water. She ceased grooming herself. It was heartbreaking to look at her.

Teddy and Honey Bunny share the bed

This was about all Teddy could do when she was feeling so sick and lethargic. Her sister Honey Bunny was very good about snuggling up with her and even washing her when Teddy was too weak to do it herself.

Last Tuesday I called the animal hospital and made an appointment for her to be put down. And then I hung up the phone and sobbed.

And then… well, then something happened.

When I came home from work that evening and went to see Teddy – feeling miserable that I had had to schedule the end of her sweet little life – she greeted me with interest. She got up and wobbled around. She wobbled after me and she wobbled after Raymond, wherever we walked. Her eyes were brighter than they had been in days. She went to the food dish! And ate a little bit!

And then peed on the floor. But at that point we were so happy with this sudden change in her condition that it didn’t matter. (Oh, okay. It mattered a bit to Raymond.) We cleaned it up and carried on watching with delight as our little cat seemed to perk up by the minute.

Was it a last gasp, the final spark that creatures (including humans) often display just before the end of life? We thought it very well might be. But the next morning, Teddy was still bright-eyed and bushy-tailed. She stayed that way all day, and the next, and the next, and – well, needless to say, the appointment at the animal hospital was joyfully cancelled. Teddy ate with relish, drank water, gained weight, walked better and better all the time, and even started to show some interest in cat attractions like rolling balls and dangling strings.

It is quite something to be certain you are going to lose someone you love to illness and death, and then have them restored to you. I really can’t tell you how happy we are, but you can probably imagine.

Teddy may never be the kitty she once was. She doesn’t jump or climb anymore, and she’ll probably always be wobbly when she walks:

And while her toilet habits are much improved from a week ago, she still forgets to venture to the litter box sometimes when she needs to pee. (If anyone has any ideas about how we can help her get better at this, we’d sure love to hear them.) She may well not live a long life, and we will always have to be careful with this fragile little creature.

But Teddy is back. As I write this, she is sitting purring in my lap, supervising my work. She’s just had a great big feed. She’s about to launch into a bath.

She is one happy kitty. Almost as happy as we are. Here are Teddy and Honey Bunny, signing off from the Manse. More adventures await tomorrow!

%22Good morning!%22 say Teddy and Honey Bunny