Sunday, December 30, 2012

The Life of Poog

Look at that face.

The Poog's biography is available on his facebook fan page if you want a condensed backstory. To find out how he got his weird nickname, though, you'll have to go almost to the end of this post.

(Warning: Ma and Krissy, don't read further unless you want to cry.)

Alternate title: Why I haven't felt like blogging lately.

I was supposed to be working at Home Depot today, but I called in sick. I told the manager, "I just got home from vacation, and my cat died, and I need a day to deal with it." She was very understanding--the slightly hysterical tinge to my voice probably
made my case.

Needing to "recover" from a vacation is an idea I can now truly relate to. In the midst of Christmas festivities with family in Minnesota, and rushing around to do and see everything, we had to euthanize our 17 year old cat. Yesterday, I flew back to Colorado and, as I cried into my spaghetti water, realized I still had some internal processing to do.

It's not like we didn't see it coming. For the last year, The Poog has been on medicine for failing kidneys.

As a matter of fact, one of the first things I said to my mom once we'd gotten to Rosemount was that I didn't think the Poog would live much longer.

But I was thinking in terms of months or weeks.

I didn't suppose he would die only five days later.

He has been comfortable this past year. . .Still relished bird-watching, and sun-bathing, and the occasional rampage from one end of the house to the other. He seemed only to be troubled by the sort of sporadic nausea typical in Chronic Renal Failure (CRF) cats, and was getting skinnier and skinnier.

I had seen him last in August, and was surprised at just how much skinnier he seemed after only four months. He also didn't bother getting up or purring when I or any of the other family members arrived which was unusual.

Still, though, he seemed to be doing pretty well. Researching CRF in cats we had read dire stories of seizures and self-imposed starvation during the last stage of the disease.

The Poog was still eating, still maintaining a good quality of life. At the end of every meal, he still jumped into my lap to survey the scene and beg for table-scraps. . .

On Christmas Day, we were watching Happy Feet in the afternoon (I don't recommend it) and The Poog was sprawled full-length on my lap, napping luxuriously as I ruffled the fluffy fur on his belly. Not a care in the world. I snapped some photos of him (the one at the beginning of this post, in fact.)

After dinner, though. . .something was wrong.

He hadn't been much interested in eating or drinking all day, and was sitting crankily under the piano bench. I scooped him up, thinking to redirect him towards his food bowl, but as I was setting him down he shot out of my arms like his tail was on fire.

I realize now that that's the last time I held him.

He ran in a blind panic, lurching behind a table of plants, and hurtling out of the room. I followed him and he was under the dining room table with wide, scared eyes. Krissy, I think, was moving a chair to bend over and look at him, but the noise set him off again and we searched for him for an uncomfortable length of time before finding him hiding behind a rocking chair in the back bedroom.

Such antics wouldn't have been extremely odd just a couple of years ago when he charged around in play. . .But now, something seemed wrong.

Crouched behind the rocking chair, his eyes seemed to be watching an invisible creature crawl back and forth across the floor. We decided to let him rest there in peace until he calmed down.

But he didn't calm down. His hallucinations and panic attacks increased in severity. He was hissing and rocketing around as if for his life, being tormented by something we couldn't see.

My grandma brought out a jigsaw puzzle as a distraction, but tear-blurred eyes were slow to piece it together.

It was Christmas, after dark. No vet would be open, and we were helpless to comfort the Poog as he faced his imaginary demons. We had to lock him in a bathroom overnight to keep him from hurting himself in one of his fits; the breakables were taken out, and his food, water, and litter box were taken in.

My sister sat with him for awhile. Through most of his last hours he didn't seem particularly aware of us, though he submitted to cautious, careful stroking.

The helpless suffering of The Poog was torturous to endure for all of us as well as for him. He continued to have fits throughout the night, overturning his water dish and leaving a claw mark in a bar of soap that ended up across the room.

We began to realize he would have to be taken to the vet. . .not for help, but to be put out of his misery. . .as soon as they opened.

By morning, he had worn himself out and was hiding shell-shocked behind the toilet. We called the vet and their first opening was at 1:45 in the afternoon. More torturous waiting.

Krissy and I took turns sitting with the Poog. He no longer seemed to be hallucinating, or if he was, he was too tired to care. He was calm, but not interested in coming out from behind the toilet, so Krissy put his blanket underneath him.

He still wouldn't drink any water. If his kidneys were still functioning at all, fluids would have been the only help for him, but he just wasn't interested.

A little after one, Ma put him into his carrier and brought him to the living room, to a patch of sunlight -- Grandma had kept remarking how he had loved to lay in the sunlight, and maybe it would comfort him. We set him in the sun and tried one last time to get him to drink.

He seemed more alert than he had been--

As if he was perking up, coming out of it. . .But all he wanted to do was slink away and hide. He was walking stiffly, as if his kidneys were aching, and he simply wouldn't drink.

At one-thirty we put him back into his carrier, and Dad, Ma, and I went to do the hard thing.

Perhaps we could have kept him alive longer. Pumping him up with fluids via IV might have cleared out the toxins for the time being if he still had any kidney function. . .But it would only have been prolonging the inevitable. He would eventually have missed a (medicated) meal, toxed out, and crashed again.

We didn't want him to have to go through another night of terror and hallucinations like that ever again.

The vet was very kind.

She was just a girl who seemed hardly older than me, and she just about cried with us.

The Poog was taken into another room where they made two clay paw-prints for us, and inserted an IV catheter. He was brought back in, and Ma held him as the anesthetic was injected.

Ma and I stroked him and loved him as he fell asleep, and the vet listened for his heart to stop.

It was very surreal and I have since had nightmares about him dying--the way his little head plunked down so suddenly when he became to sleepy to hold it up, the shock and sorrow and helplessness of everything.

His little body was soft and pliable, and when the vet carried him out swaddled in a pink towel he looked at once like a sleeping baby and like a little old man.

Pa put his clay pawprints into the kennel we had brought him in, and we went away without him.

I couldn't piece together any coherent thought; I was overwhelmed with a feeling of desperation which felt, in hindsight, like, "no! please! where is the rewind button?"

On the car ride home, I imagined all sorts of crazy scenarios. Surely, The Poog would have come back to life moments after we left, and the doctors would have done some tests on him and realized that he was perfectly healthy, and would call us any minute to come back and get him. Right? Right?


I have written this sitting in a patch of sunlight that The Poog would have loved. The sun is beginning to slant long now and slip away. It's about four in the afternoon.

The Poog was 17. A good age for a cat to reach.

We had gotten him as a shelter kitten in Wisconsin, where Ma had chosen him for his purr. (A deep, throaty one when he grew up.)

I remember dragging a pencil across the floor for him to chase shortly after we brought him home, and being surprised when his sharp little teeth made such big dents in it.

He would jump nearly six feet in the air chasing light spots on the wall from a laser pointer or flashlight.

He grew to be an enormous cat. Not just rather fat, but long from head to tail. Nothing dainty about him.

Except for his funny, chattering little mew when he was watching birds or chipmunks.

His furry little head caught and comforted tears when our grandpas died wtihin the same year, and probably many lonely adolescent girl tears as well.

He moved with us from Wisconsin, to Minnesota, to Washington, and Connecticut, and he was the childhood friend we never had to leave behind. . .

Though one time we almost did have to when he climbed into the rafters in the basement of a house we were moving out of and we almost couldn't find him and fish him down in time to catch the plane.

In his later years, paper wads became one of his chiefest joys. He would happily bat a freshly crumpled sheet of paper around the house for hours (only notebook paper would do) or pick it up in his mouth and utter strange yodeling meows around it.

He found canned asparagus to be a rare and delicious treat.

He was everyone's favorite bed-time foot-warmer, and all the more happily obliged when there was an electric blanket to hunker down on.

His tail was as expressive as American Sign Language, and we became fluent in reading it.

His actual name was Buster. Or Bubba. Krissy called him Bean.

But mainly we ended up calling him The Poog, I think because my dad had grown up with a black poodle they nicknamed the Snoog.

In fact, all cats are now members of the species Poog in our family lexicon. (plural: poogies.)

Obviously a gift for pet naming does not run in my family.

Yes, The Poog was 17. For comparison, I am 24, my sister is 21, and my brother is 20. Our family can hardly remember a time when he wasn't with us.

He was, and is, a true member of our family, and at the center of most of our family jokes and memories.

To be with him as he died was probably the hardest thing I've ever done, but it was also the most worth it. The Poog deserved all the love he got (it was a lot,) and we couldn't have not been with him to the end.

I am glad we saved him from having to suffer any more. He lived a long, fat and happy life, and deserved a peaceful, love-surrounded end.

But it is hard.

I was sitting on my bed with my laptop, looking at the pictures I'd taken of him just hours before his health crashed. And the warmth on my lap was from the laptop. Not from the cat it displayed. 

It is hard.

That cat's peace and comfort has probably been more prayed for in the past year than any other animal in the history of the universe. I have told God over and over how satisfying it is to have the purring Poog draped over your knee, furry and warm, and I wouldn't be surprised if He decided to give the Poog a straight shot up to heaven because of it, regardless of His usual procedure. The Poog may be draped on His holy knee right now. 

Or chasing cloud puffs around or something like that.

Ta said of some recent snowflakes that they were Poog's dandruff sifting down from heaven. Well, different strokes for different folks.

I cannot imagine that our family will ever stop missing that squishy little bundle of fuzz, The Poog.