My Friend Spook


April 1, 1992 - May 9, 2010

 I heard a kitten meowing in the house, the plaintive wail of a starving kitten that had been discarded by some heartless human. I saw you for the first time in the back patio room and you ran outside through the cat door which you had come in by as soon as you saw me, spooked. I went outside with a bowl of milk and you ran to hide under the deck. I left it there overnight and the next day it was empty. I went outside again with another bowl of milk and I called "kitty" to you and you came out from under the deck and walked straight over to the bowl of milk. You let me pet you as you lapped up the milk and I finally was able to pick you up and hold you, a tiny black boy kitten with yellow eyes who was small enough to comfortably stand on my outstretched palm.

 You adopted me and immediately began sleeping with me on my pillow beside my head. You became my friend and I named you Spook.

 Hambone growled at you the first two times you approached her and then the third time she just started licking and grooming you. She very quickly became your surrogate mother and you loved her deeply as she did you, and she took on the duty of raising you. You also snapped Hambone out of the deep depression that she had fallen into after having her foreleg paralyzed in some unknown accident.

 You would get up on my chest while I lay in bed and stand there and say "meow" in my face and I would respond "meow" and you would respond "meow" and we would continue in this fashion sometimes for more than an hour. You continued this response to my meows throughout your life and long after the heart ailment which eventually ended your life had mostly taken your voice away I could still see your mouth making the characteristic motion of this meow and we communicated this way, though I never knew what you were saying for sure, maybe it was "Daddy" or "I love you" but it was a special meow reserved only for me.

 You would often come beside me in bed and gently begin kneading the bed covers at my side with your front claws, a movement which I referred to as "making biscuits" until your claws were digging into the flesh of my side and I'd have to fend you off, only to have you move to a different spot to begin again. I would squeeze your paws to try and communicate to you that I didn't like it but it had no effect. You continued this habit for more than 15 years and even up until the week before you died you would still make biscuits on my pillow beside my head.

 You once went with me to my father's farm because you were too young to be left alone and immediately put my sister under your spell and for her efforts she got a nasty bite from my father's mean cat while saving you from a vicious attack.

 As you grew into a teenager, you became a true hellion who would chase all of the other cats up onto high places out of the way to watch as you literally flew around the room, bouncing off the walls.

 You were endlessly entertained by the fishing pole that I mounted so that it suspended a small patch of leather about 2' in the air and you would leap skyward and grab the patch, pull it to the ground as gravity returned you and then let it go to be flung wildly around the room by the whip of the fishing pole as it snapped back straight, and the process then repeated until you just had to lie down on the floor and pant, too out of breath to continue.

 You constantly explored everything and undertook all investigations presented to you. So much so that I started calling you S. Tuffkitty Bugbiter : Private Kitty, the first of several of my nicknames for you. Other nicknames that I called you by during your life and which you didn't seem to mind were Spookie, Pook, Pookles MacDookie, and Bonkie Donk.

 You definitely had your own unique personality and ways. A trait that you kept throughout your life was to express yourself using your tail. You often held it in the exact form of a question mark and when I saw it that way I knew that you were doing just fine, while a fast swishing of your tail back and forth told me that you were peeved at something which I hardly ever figured out what it was, but a quick stroking would make you forget all about it as your tail always popped upright to attention at my touch. You became a talking kitty and it was entirely typical of you to say something loudly when you found me that I came to understand meant "Hey, what's goin' on". I won't ever forget how you loved catnip and I smile as I think about you looking at me with your catnip craving finally satisfied and your face covered with leftover green bits of the herb and a green tongue, saying "Thanks. I needed that".

 You never missed a meal. After devouring your food, you would then go to Hambone's bowl and that sweet cat would always let you eat what she hadn't yet finished. You liked Purina crunchies but you loved Fancy Feast and, because that was all I ever bought for you, your life was spared in a later year when much animal food from China arrived laden with poison.

 In fact because you never missed a meal I was able to quickly detect that you were sick when you didn't come for dinner one evening and I rushed you to the vet who diagnosed a systemic bacteria infection that likely would have killed you if I had waited any longer.

 You were always alert to human meals which were eaten from a plate on my knees and within your reach and you would doggedly rub the legs supporting the plate as your tail stuck straight up in the air and the very tip would curl over the edge of the plate to point like an index finger at the food that you wanted. You were never however impolite to the point of grabbing what you wanted.

 Whenever food was potentially offered you'd be there to speak up and readily volunteer and I always thought that you said "I'll eat it. What is it?".

 You and the others were fed your wet food in the evening and as I knocked the food loose from the fork used to stir it up, each food bowl made a ringing sound which became a dinner bell to you and we continued this practice throughout your life. Your bowl is now kept in a place of honor.

 When you didn't sleep with me, you would find Hambone and curl up with her and I swear that you would sleep with her like a baby with a smile on your face.

 You would often meet me as I came home from work to the point that I had to watch for you to make sure that I didn't run over you in the driveway as I rolled in.

 You always answered me when I called out your name. You always announced yourself as you entered a room that I was in and you would always come to me when I called you, always ready for stroking which you couldn't get enough of.

 You loved hunting in the weeds behind the house and I remember the present that you brought me from there one morning. Right outside my bedroom door you left a collection of snake parts (which I stepped into barefooted on my way to the bathroom in the morning), each about 1-2" long, but not enough parts were there to fully assemble back into a complete 2' long snake. This was the time of "Livin' Large on Love and Lizards" and lizard parts were frequently found in our house.

 There was the time when you were too young to be left to fend for yourself while I was out of town for a week and so I boarded you at my vet's office. When I came to pick you up after returning, the vet's assistant told me "We're all going to miss Spook here" since they all had fallen under your powers of affection in just a short time.

 You and the others took it well when I began driving a truck and would frequently be gone for a week or longer and you had to live on crunchies alone until I came home to give you your real food.

 You also loved the visits from my friend Susie who would come over to feed and pet you and the others if I couldn't get back in a week's time. She told me that she really enjoyed your company too.

 You went with me on one road trip in my truck, only to escape from the truck out of a very small opening in one window at a truck stop in Cuba, NM while I went to get coffee one morning. I went through the truck stop and asked all of the other truckers there to switch off their idling engines to make it quiet and as I called out your name you ran out straight to me from some bushes at the edge of lot. I felt joy when I found you. I would never take you away from your safe home again no matter how lonely it got in the truck.

 You took it in stride as I got a new woman friend, moved out of our house and in with her parents and you and the others had to be housed at a stranger's house for 3 months as I began driving a truck over the road and stayed away from you for that whole time. You were overjoyed when we were finally reunited after we were able to get our own house, though you hated her teenaged sons that I think were sometimes mean to you.

 After the relationship with the woman ended, we all moved to a small old duplex in the student ghettos surrounding the University of Texas and I started a new life working in an office at a state agency. I built a miniature multi-level kitty deck so that you and the others could come and go through a cat door that I installed in a window and you and Hambone could often be found lounging on the deck platforms or exploring the jungle of bamboo in the back yard.

 Though you normally stayed around the duplex, you sometimes gave me anxious hours because I couldn't find you, only to show up (go figure) around dinner time. I couldn't walk down the street to the convenience store because you would follow me to see where I was going and the others  would fall in line behind you, we all looking like a really third rate parade.

 I once came home from work to find my landlord standing in my driveway with an absolute dumbfounded look on his face, and you at his feet. As I approached, he said to me in wonderment "Your cat just said 'Hello' to me" and I replied, smiling "I've told him many times not to talk to strangers but he doesn't listen".

 You loved to visit the cattery at the abandoned house two doors down where a group of women came by daily to feed a group of about 10 wild cats, and they told me stories of you coming to visit and play with the wild cats that ate there. This was where you disappeared to when I couldn't find you. They told me that you would bound like a gazelle as you played with your friends. The cat ladies quickly came to love you too.

 You loved to sleep against our backyard fence in the clumps of grass that grew there and you stayed there sleeping even in cold drizzling rain, resting comfortably curled in a ball while I wondered at your apparent lack of common sense. You never paid any attention when I told you that cats were supposed to be fastidious as I cleaned the mud and other trash off of you, though most of the time Hambone took care of it for me and you loved it.

You hated the flea collars that I put on you - a new one typically was gone in days and after only a few months I gave up and allowed you to live the way that you wanted - like a natural cat, and we used other measures for the fleas.

 You would come into my woodshop in the garage and stay with me while I was working as long as I wasn't running any power tools and you would find a nice big pile of sawdust to lie in, leaving it later completely filthy and covered with sawdust. Maybe it was so that you could get a clean up brushing, which you loved. I still have memories of your sawdust trails throughout the house and in my bed.

After the other cat disappeared, we became a two cat household with only you and Hambone and I living there and for 6 months this was the happiest time of your life. You were the undisputed king of the house and your surrogate mom was always there near you.

 I tried to comfort you as you stayed curled on top of our garbage can outside the back door for three straight days after Hambone was murdered one evening by two cat killer dogs released by their asshole owner to run the neighborhood. You found her lifeless mangled body and learned about death then. You finally responded to me and came in to get something to eat. I know that her loss hurt you deeply. I became your sole object of love and affection and I thank you for letting me comfort you.

 During this time, your voice started slowly getting "wet" sounding and diminished in volume. You stopped talking as much as you had always done before. I know now that this was probably the first symptom of your developing heart ailment which eventually took your life. My vet tested you and found that all of your blood work was normal and so I didn't insist that he keep looking. Perhaps your life could have been extended if we had found the cardiomyopathy at this early stage.

 As my own health problems surfaced, you were right there beside me to comfort me from the misery of two years of chemotherapy, and finally we both lived through it and got back to our normal lives. I thank you for the true loving comfort that you gave to me while I was sick.

 You were right there with me when I bought an Airstream trailer and we moved to a lot in the woods by the lake, leaving all of your friends behind at the cattery in the student ghetto. I know that you missed them.

 Since I still was working in an office and I couldn't leave you locked up indoors all day, I built a large pen for you to stay in during the day, safe from the dogs and coyotes that are not uncommon in the area. I purposely built it with a series of ramps and cat walks up high in the covered pen and you seemed to like it. I invariably would find you lying on the top level somewhere when I came home in the evening, content with being outdoors which you loved. I felt relieved the day that you wandered away from me while I was supervising you during some outside time and I feared that you were gone forever, only to find you back in your pen through the open door lying on the top level. You obviously liked your pen and felt safe there.

 You tolerated the young stray cat that I tried to adopt as a companion for you since the others were now all gone, but after it had clawed you for the third time resulting in nasty infections and trips to the vet, he was returned to the cattery from where he came and you became an only cat. I focused all of my attention and love on you and our love for each other reached an even deeper level than before.

 During our first spring here I decided to put in a small garden and you were intrigued with the project from the start. You loved digging in the fresh dirt as I tilled the soil and after you tired of that you would lie for hours on the cross tie border watching me while I worked. Hard work never bothered you - you could lie right next to it and take a good nap. After planting was done you were intrigued by all of the different smells as the plants grew. You didn't know it until later when the plants emerged but I planted a small row of catnip next to the border. As the plants grew and you discovered what they were, you would walk into the garden and have a few bites whenever you felt like it and taking a nap underneath the overhanging branches was a favorite pastime while the plants lasted.

I don't think I'll ever understand why you had to have a drink from nearly every muddy puddle of water that you came across when there were several bowls of fresh clean water nearby.

 My job changed after some time and I became a telecommuter so that I worked from home and there was no longer any need for me to leave you every day. Both of us really enjoyed this change since it meant more attention for you as well as some company during the day now. You took it upon yourself to become my "alarm cat" and you never failed to wake me up before work time, meowing as loud as you could until I awoke since it also meant that you got to have your breakfast as soon as I got up. We also began the shared ritual of taking care of our "morning paperwork" together with me on my throne and you in your box in the shower. Your attention to the condition of the litter in your box was conscientious, and I never once saw you take care of business outdoors and instead you would wait until you could come inside to your box. If I was tardy in changing your box once the litter had become too fouled, you would leave me a present in the hall as a gentle reminder that it was time.

 I let you outside during the day and you began the pattern of sleeping underneath the trailer in the darkest area where I had a high confidence level that you were safe since it was very difficult to see you hidden there, a black cat in the darkest shade. On full moon nights it was difficult to get you to come inside but somehow I always managed to bring you in, away from the dangers of the night woods. A favorite tree outside of our door was clawed nearly bare by you stretching up on it and raking it to maintain your claws.

  During the fall nearly two years ago, I saw you limping as you returned to the trailer from your pen. Upon inspection I found that you had a claw which had grown curled into the pad of your paw and I trimmed it short. The next day I found that you were still lying around and refused to eat and thinking that you might have an infection in your paw I rushed you to the vet emergency room. They found that you were very dehydrated and your urine was weak and dilute, all indicating Chronic Renal Insufficiency. They rehydrated you over the weekend and on Monday I took you to a new vet's office not far from our home and they continued the rehydration, finally restoring you to normal eating habits.

 The vet confirmed CRI and then informed me that I would have to begin giving you IV fluids under your skin every other day as well as oral Pepcid daily to control the acid stomach which accompanies CRI, and we began a new phase of our lives together with me being a much more active caregiver to you. The vet also noted that he had detected that you had a heart murmur. He projected that you might have 6 more months to live and this caused my first bout with grief which I brushed away. You would last 20 more months with my strict attention to your health care.

 After coming home from the vet's, we were able to finally cure the also detected kidney infection practically overnight after switching to a particular antibiotic and you responded in a truly remarkable way. After 24 hours, you felt so good that you were frisking around and running up trees like I hadn't seen you do in many years. Instead of looking 16, you looked more like 6 years old. It truly gratified me to see you feeling so good and I didn't know it but this was to be your last time to feel this chipper.

 Though it took me a while to develop my skills inserting the needle under your skin in a painless fashion you tolerated my learning and fumbling attempts and eventually came to enjoy our sessions since the fluids made you feel better immediately and you particularly enjoyed the concentrated petting during the sessions.

 Since I didn't want you to get dehydrated again, I began keeping you indoors out of the hot Texas weather with some supervised outside time in the evenings. I knew that you longed to go outside but with the dangers there you had to adapt to this new lifestyle and end your previous "all-weather cat" days and so your pen and your spot under the trailer fell into disuse. You spent your days now sleeping on top of my printer near where I worked at the computer so that I could easily pet you when I remembered. I tried to help you adjust by introducing extended evening petting sessions which you readily accepted and came to demand. I would keep doing it until my arms were nearly in cramps. You didn't purr loud enough to hear but I could always feel it in your throat.

 Your coat now took on a prominent rust color over the winter which I could remove by lots of brushing and to which you didn't object at all. I later learned that this is a symptom of your heart condition which was advancing unknown to me. We had a nice birthday celebration for you on April fool's day when you turned 17 (84 cat years) and it included some shrimp which you found especially yummy. In fact we changed your routine to include a can of Fancy Feast for breakfast, a boiled shrimp for lunch and another can of Fancy Feast for dinner, and crunchies at will. Since you had totally rejected the prescription diet recommended by our vet I made the conscious decision to let you live out your life on your own terms rather than by imposing health care dictated miseries. We followed this feeding pattern to the end.

 In the following fall I took you to the vet for a vaccination for rabies and distemper since I was considering taking a vacation and you would have to be boarded at the vet's while I was gone. Immediately after the vaccination you became very ill and I was concerned that I had perhaps killed you by doing so. You stayed curled up in a corner of the bedroom and appeared very frightened and would only get down once or twice a day to eat a little bit. Finally after four days I picked you up and put you on the pillow beside my head and I began an intensive petting session which lasted for at least two hours. You responded and snapped back to your regular self, and began acting normally again except for some apparent confusion and clumsiness. I canceled my vacation plans.

 As I watched you hunting for your dinner bowl I suddenly realized that you were totally blind and had been hiding it very well. All of the confusion and clumsiness that I had seen could readily be explained by blindness. At first I attributed it to the vaccinations, but thinking about it I realized that I had seen symptoms of blindness before you were vaccinated and you had just hidden it well. I later learned that this was a common result of the still unrecognized advancing heart ailment which was overtaking you.

 Once I had learned and adapted to deal with your blindness, we began the evening ritual of spending time outside with me acting as your guide. We would go on walks with me leading you by shuffling my feet as I walked slowly so that you could follow the sound of my footsteps and we would make several laps of our circular driveway with you thinking that we had been on another grand adventure. The number of laps gradually decreased over time as you weakened but we did make one final lap three days before you died.

 It became more difficult for you to find the particular places that you used to climb up onto the cat feeding platform (which had ceased to be a dinette table many months ago) but since it made you so angry when I helped that I just had to allow you to find it in your own time. I placed guards on the edges of all surfaces that you still climbed onto so that you wouldn't walk off the edge and I only failed to catch you twice as you were learning them. You went through a series of favored nesting spots, each used exclusively for a while and then abandoned when it was time to change to the next. The next to last one was on the nightstand near my head and that's the one that I liked the best.

 We celebrated your 18th birthday (88 in cat years) and you had an especially good time since I gave you all of the shrimp that you could eat and we had a very long petting session in the evening afterwards. It was obvious that you loved it and had had a very good day. Your purr motor ran for the whole time and you spent nearly the entire petting time with your face so close to mine that your whiskers tickled my nose.

 Last Monday, you didn't wake me up and I called you to breakfast by ringing your dinner bowl. You came in and had a little bit to eat and then went back to your spot in the bedroom. At lunch time I called you in to eat your shrimp and you wouldn't get up. It was obvious to me that something was wrong. I determined that if you didn't eat dinner then I would rush you to the vet the next morning, and so at the vet's he ran a series of blood tests and found all of your tests to be normal and he prescribed an appetite stimulant. He commented that your heart murmur was now 5 on a scale of 0-6 and that your heart condition might be the reason that you stopped eating. Back at home, I found that it hadn't made you eat and so I took you back the next day for an ultrasound of your heart, where it was positively determined for the first time that you had advanced hypertrophic cardiomyopathy.

 I brought you home and began feeding you a prescription diet from a large syringe, thinking that I could keep you going long enough for the drugs to kick in and you began to feel better and resumed eating on your own. After the first day of your heart meds you actually ate a little Fancy Feast on your own and I took heart at it, but sadly it wasn't to be repeated. After a couple of more days it became apparent that the force feeding couldn't continue and that you were continuing to deteriorate. I finally realized that I was doing it to keep you alive for me, rather than allowing you to make your own choice. I stopped feeding you Sunday afternoon and gently stroked you though it now seemed uncomfortable to you. Your tail didn't pop to attention now or even twitch when I stroked you.

 In the evening of Mother's Day, you came into the bedroom and laid down on the floor beside my bed. You stayed there several hours only changing positions slightly as I stroked you. Sometime after I fell asleep you returned to your final nest underneath the computer desk. I found you at 1:30 am, cool and stiff, lying on your side with your tail stretched out straight. You died not long after leaving the bedroom. Knowing that your time was near, you came into the bedroom to say goodbye to me on your own terms and at your chosen time. I thank you for that and for the loving lifetime that you shared with me and I'm a better person for having experienced it.

Goodbye Spook, my best friend.


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