Monday, July 20, 2009

Saving Tum-Tum

Kelsey at one point had both a hedgehog and a cat when she first lived on her own in her little Hyde Park apartment. Why exactly she decided to try and care for not one, but two other creatures when she was struggling to care for herself at that point defies logic, but not emotion. I was not really in a good position to pass judgment on her, given that I had adopted a dog within a few months of moving out on my own, sometimes barely having enough money for dog food, let alone vet bills, and I have ever since had more dogs than sense. I stand at eight currently. She did get the standard parental lecture about not repeating my mistakes, but her loneliness I think outweighed any rational thought, and so Tee-Dub and Tum-Tum came into our lives. Hedgehogs, like my daughter, have a thorny exterior, but are fragile creatures, so hers met an early demise. The theory is that the cat scared him one night by sticking her head in the enclosure and giving the poor prickly thing a heart attack. That left Kelsey and the cat.

Tum-Tum is named after a rapper. She in no way suits her name. If I had to pick a name just based on personality, I would call her Celine. Like the Canadian singer, she is small and thin with a loud voice and a total Diva. When Kelsey moved back in with us, along came this spoiled cat. She hated the dogs, not unsurprisingly. She disliked our cat, not unsurprisingly, and he wasn't too thrilled with her. She established the upstairs as her territory, but made it pretty clear she wasn't happy about being here at all. When Kelsey was not around for longish periods of time, Tum-Tum would eventually get lonely enough to wander down to the landing and whine at us until someone went over to pet her. She would tolerate it for a few minutes, then take a swat at whomever was petting her as if to say, "You're not Kelsey." If that caused the person to walk away, she would complain loudly. As soon as the real deal walked in the house, Tum-Tum yowled until she got Kelsey's attention. One thing about Tummy, she loved her owner, but it was clear that she felt restricted and restless upstairs, so as Kelsey spent more and more time with her last boyfriend, she took Tum-Tum over to his apartment. And that was where she was the night Kelsey died.

I do not understand what the circumstances were that caused the police to take the cat, but they did - straight to the pound. In all the chaos of my traveling back to Austin, then trying to handle funeral arrangements, dealing with the grandmothers and all of the things that come along with losing a family member, it was Tuesday afternoon before Marissa and Greg went to get the poor cat. She was completely traumatized, but seemed physically fine. She swatted and hissed at me the next morning, so I figured she would eventually get back to normal. She spent the next few days on the periphery of our notice. We made sure she had food and fresh water and the occasional brief acknowledgment, and therefore I did notice she was increasingly detached and quiet. I put it down to grief. I assumed she didn't fully understand what had happened that fateful night, but was sharp enough to figure that Kelsey had not been around for several days. Beyond that, she was out of sight, out of mind.

But, then she began showing up in odd places. Downstairs. She crawled into the kitchen sink and refused to leave. Marissa originally theorized she was trying to be near the coffee smell, associating it with Kelsey. Then, we found her in our shower. I even took a shower with her one morning. I pulled her out of the washing machine. But the strangest was when Greg and I woke up in the middle of the night and found her curled up between us, surrounded by dogs. I still put it down to loneliness and grief, but real concern had started to sink in. She wasn't eating at all, and the litter box was all but unused. Then, finally, through our own veil of sorrow, we noticed the mucus around her nose and something clouding her eyes. Finally, with most vets closed for the July 4th holiday, we realized she was actually really sick.

When I finally got her in to see a vet the following Monday, her situation was clearly dire. This kind hearted, clean cut young man who looked like he should still have a learner's permit as opposed to being a graduate of veterinary medicine laid it out for me carefully, making sure he made his case in a way that if I decided to have her put to sleep I could feel justified in my decision. She had an upper respiratory infection. I assume she contracted it somehow at the shelter. In and of itself, it's not that hard to deal with. The real problem is that cats won't eat what they can't smell, and when they don't eat they lose liver function fairly rapidly and, of course, without the liver doing its job, well... The tests they ran proved his theory.

There I was, all by myself with a snot-nosed, cloudy eyed cat belonging to my late daughter, whose funeral I just unexpectedly paid for, trying to make a decision. I looked at the cat, miserable and completely lethargic in the towel lined box I had used to transport her and considered my options. In the end, it wasn't that long of an inner debate. If there was one thing Kelsey would have said to me before she died it would be to make sure I took care of her cat.

The vet had been careful to explain the course of treatment if I wanted to pursue it, but also to stress that there was not a guarantee she would respond. He had suggested leaving her there for a couple of days for a regimen including force feeding her and seeing how she was doing after that before going further. I agreed. He didn't say precisely, and I didn't ask, but I'm pretty sure I had just signed off on long odds.

Leaving the sick cat behind, not sure if I had just seen her for the last time, was a low moment.

To find out her fate, stay tuned.

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