Betty, Who Ran Out of Lives Too Soon: A Cat Tale, with Claws

So, it’s been awhile since I blogged last and the only thing I’m going to say about that is that I’ve missed it. 

Also, a lot has happened in the world. The Amazon is burning. Today, in advance of his trip to the G7 this weekend, the Orange Nightmare threw the stock market into free-fall by ordering US companies to stop doing business in China. Also this week, I found out that I am a bad Jew for not being loyal to the Republican King of Israel.

Betty looks at the camera while Grover keeps an eye on Matey

Matey, the most vulgar thing Betty and Grover have encountered in their 18 collective lives.

My life has not been nearly as eventful, but still, there have been events. We’re down a cat.

One minute, Betty was doing her feline thing; the next she was screaming in pain and her back legs didn’t work. It was 8 on a Friday night, so off to the Emergency Vet we went. I had a bad feeling, so we took her best buddy Grover along. Within minutes of arriving Betty was somewhere in the back. Sweetheart, Grover and I had been shown to a room. A vet soon joined us. 

Bad news

“Your cat had a saddle thrombus,” she said, and went on to explain that what happened to Betty is the way most cat owners learn their cat has a congenital heart condition. It was pretty clear from her description of what Betty was dealing with – intense pain and a lower body that would take months to heal and probably never be right again – that the kindest and most merciful thing we could do would be to let her go.

The vet, having briefed us on the devastating consequences of saddle thrombus, began addressing treatment options. 

I held up my hand, not quite as dramatically as Diana Ross singing “Stop (in the name of Love),” but it did the job.

“I just spent four years watching my mother die,” I said, “and there were a million moments when if I could have brought her to a vet and gotten her a shot of ketamine, I would have done it.”

“That was my whole life with my father,” the vet said. 

I was shocked, because she seemed very young to have had a father who was that ill for that long, but she explained he’d been older when she was born. 

“We have it all right with animals and all wrong with people,” she said.

Cat grief?

We asked about Grover, who, after warily cruising the room upon being sprung from his carrier, had retreated to a spot under the table. Grover and Betty loved each other. There were mutual grooming sessions and quiet lounging in close proximity to one another. Betty always let Grover eat first, and on more than one occasion they would indulge in what I will delicately describe as “kitty porn.”

We were sad, confused and numb but also reconciled to losing our Girl. There was never a doubt for Sweetheart or me that it was exactly the right thing to do.  But we were concerned for Grover. 

Our furry pal, Grover.

“He might be a little clingier than usual for a few days,” she said.

We looked at each other, then I queried the vet.

“How will we know?”  

It took a few seconds for her to realize what we were getting at, then she laughed.

“A Velcro kitty, eh?” she said.

“We should have called him Barnacle,” I responded. 

In the absence of Matey, who Betty and Grover agreed was the most vulgar thing they’d ever encountered in their 18 collective lives, Grover can be found plastered to anyone in a sitting or prone position. If he were a human male, he’d be a #metoo nightmare.  When head-butts against your hand don’t work, he escalates to kneading with his paws, sharp little claws in full extension mode. One of my stock phrases to Grover is “Your mother didn’t do you any favors.” 

But he’s a sweet-natured boy, and we adore him. 

The Universe delivers…

Both cats just showed up one day, approximately two years apart. With Betty, loud, sustained meows from outside the living room window announced her arrival. When I walked out of the house as quietly as I could to see what was going on, she trotted out from beneath the car and began to wind her kitten self around my legs. 

I picked her up, carried her to the enclosed front porch and put her down. I intended to leave her there. Then Sweetheart opened the vestibule door (you have to pass through three doors to get in our house), phone in hand. The kitten slipped through as Sweetheart quickly closed the inner door behind him.

Baby Betty

“You found a cat!” he said, his words close enough to the mouthpiece for the caller to hear, as handed me the phone. “It’s your mother.”

“I certainly hope you don’t intend to keep it!” Mom’s voice was loud enough for Sweetheart to hear. Inside my head, I was instantly transported back to being 7 and 8 and 11 and all the ages I ws when I’d bring some stray creature home and be forced to abandon it to the elements. My parents ran a pet-free operation.

“When you’re grown and have your own house, you can have all the animals you want,” she’d say. 

Before I could respond to Mom, Sweetheart was, and he was doing it out of phone range.

“That makes me want to keep it,” he said. I blew Sweetheart a kiss. Later that afternoon, Sister-In-Law the Cat Expert came over to inspect the kitten. SILtCE told us the kitten was probably about 4-6 months old and female. We named her after Sweetheart’s aunt, who’d died a few months prior. Betty stayed on the porch until Monday, when we took her to the vet to have her tested for Feline Leukemia (FIV).  She was FIV negative and otherwise healthy. 

Murder in increments

Two years later, on the sidewalk between our houses, the Little House tenant (we are Accidental Landlords, another story for another time) informed me that four days prior she’d begun feeding a kitten who was being regularly attacked by the small colony of feral cats that had taken up residence in the neighborhood. Every day, she said, the kitten looked worse.

She didn’t want to bring it into her house because she had a small dog that didn’t like cats. It hid close by in the back yard, and always came when called.

Off to the backyard we went.

Sure enough, within seconds of  “Here, Kitty,” the bushes parted. The kitten looked awful. One eye was bloody and its nose was a mess. When I picked it up, there was a scab on its neck where its fur had been torn off.

Baby Grover

I asked if she’d be okay with me taking the kitten next door where it would at least be on the enclosed porch and out of harm’s way. She gave me the bag of Little Friskies, and it was porch kitten redux. This time, SILCE pronounced the kitten a male, and, as with Betty, the vet proclaimed him FIV negative and healthy. 

We fixed up my office as a cat den and put the kitten into Protective Custody while we got Betty used to her new housemate. Sweetheart named him after Jim Henson’s favorite muppet.

A little blood between housemates

Mom’s dementia had progressed to the point where she had forgotten she didn’t like cats, so she was pretty happy when I brought Grover to the nursing home to meet her. Within days of bringing him into the house, though, we also found out that Betty had Redirected Feline Aggression. 

I’d been reading “Animals Make us Human,” by Temple Grandin, in which she described the condition. Cats don’t have much in the way of executive function, and some have even less than that. The frontal lobes of their brains aren’t particularly well-developed, which is why they can go from tranquil to terrifying in an instant. 

We were getting ready to turn off the lights and go upstairs to bed. Betty was growling at something on the other side of the screen door. Before closing it, I bent down to see what was out there. What happened next was fast, scary and painful. There was shrieking and yowling. The cat jumped off my head and tore up the stairs. 

Sweetheart stanched the blood with a napkin and led me up the stairs to the bathroom, where he began to gently wash my face with a warm washcloth. 

“You’re going to need some stitches,” he said. “I think we should go to the Emergency Room.”

Sweetheart chose the hospital he’d been taken to when he’d broken his ankle on the way to work a couple of years prior. It was a new hospital in a fancy suburb. We were the only ones there. 

An hour, one tetanus shot and several stitches later (a few in my pinkie finger and the rest to close the three gashes in my face), we were home. Betty was her usual sweet self, sniffing my face and rubbing herself against my cheek.

This was right after we got home. My youngest daughter said I looked like “a really badass supervillain.”

The next day, I looked like an extra from a chipmunk zombie movie. I stayed home and ate antibiotics until I looked like a conventional zombie movie extra, or, as my youngest daughter put it, “a really badass supervillain.”

Forever souvenir

Cat people understood why we kept Betty. Everyone else thought I was nuts. Truth was, Betty owed Temple Grandin. Because if I hadn’t been reading that book, I would have had Sweetheart put her in the carrier and run the car over her nine times (one for each life). 

But I had. So I understood that if cats with Redirected Feline Aggression got arrested, good lawyers could easily get them off on a temporary insanity defense. 

Betty never attacked another human or animal that way again. When we got home from the vet with Grover, we poured shots of Death’s Door White Whiskey and drank to our newly departed pussycat. 

“She was so young,” I said. “Five years. It doesn’t seem fair.” I ran my finger slowly across one of my badass supervillain scars. “I’ll always have her here. She’s part of me.”

“She got three more years than she might have,” Sweetheart said. “A lot of people would have put her down after what she did.” 

I took a sip of Death’s Door and looked over at Sweetheart. 

“Lucky for her I was reading Temple Grandin.”

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