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:
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:
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:
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:
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.
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!