Loving a pet is an odd thing – it’s a bit like loving someone who speaks a completely different, mostly unlearnable language, where body language and behaviour are often your only clues to how they feel. And who has a completely different set of priorities to you. However, it is near-miraculous how much communication and emotion does go on between good owner and beloved pet.
All my cats are precious to me, but Arthur, as I have mentioned before, is special. So ill himself as a kitten and intermittently across the last 12 and a half years, he is very quick to pick up illness or timidity in others and seeks to comfort, always. As a result, he has been my most efficient and comradely helper with sick kittens, traumatised and ill cats and people too. He is an excellent judge of character and I have learned to judge people (with the exception noted below) by his reaction to them. He has never been wrong.
He has taught me so much about love and forgiveness, far more than people have in the 28 years I lived before he and Merlin came into my life. He still lets Jaggie have a go at him (which admittedly doesn’t happen very often any more and when it does, is very half-hearted) and runs away, only to come back later to see if Jaggie is feeling better (Jaggie gets startled easily and tends to attack when startled). He seems to be filled with a boundless love for everyone and everything.
Merlin is an enthusiastic, if inefficient hunter. Apart from one small bird as a kitten, Arthur has only killed spiders, which he used to put into my shoes as little offerings, but not for years now. That doesn’t stop me checking my shoes still – nothing worse than crushing a large spider (which I happen to really like) with morningsleepytoes.
He was (and is) so tiny, that we used to call him Half-Arf but I stopped when I realised that although there was very little of him, he was 100% himself. If there is one thing Arthur loves more than all of us, it is food. He is tiny but eats normally more than three of the others put together. This really came home to me when he stopped eating recently and I was amazed by just how much fish I was not getting through (a full third less).
Each of his illnesses and allergies has been severe and over the years he has had some excellent treatment. From trying every food on the market before finding a diet that kept him alive, to a flea allergy that just would not quit, to several rounds of severe gastro, to a perforated stomach ulcer last year that should have finished him off, he has kept going, with immense determination; still purring, still loving, 100% FullArf.
He has only one hate, a legacy of all the treatment he has had – an overwhelming, all-encompassing, loathing of the vets. The only time he has ever been placid at the vet was when he was too sick to move. Every single other time, he has become a spitting, hissing, clawing virago the moment he emerges with deep reluctance (it requires one of us to hold the carrier open end down whilst another catches him as he falls out to achieve this) from the carrier.
Even towelling him only has a limited effect on his prowess at inflicting damage on anyone wearing a white (vet) or blue (nurse) uniform and my poor vets must think that this loving, kind, purring puffball exists only in my mind as every time they see him, he is a wildcat.
12 and half is a good age for a cat, spectacular for a cat with his health problems. So when he stopped eating and wasted away despite everyone’s best efforts, I really did think it was the end. It broke my heart as I cannot imagine a life without him or his brother and sister, although I know at some stage I must face it.
In the middle of his latest illness, when it seemed I was going to lose him, no matter what, I had to truly look at what I was doing. Going to the vet seemed to cause him as much distress as being ill and it got to the point where I could only feed him in certain places in the house because he would not come near me for fear of being swept off to the vet. I had of course made the grave mistake of putting him in a carrier in a place where he had eaten happily.
There is a point when ongoing, persistent treatment denies quality of life and we were rapidly approaching it. With my deep-seated grief at losing him, I was concerned that I would not recognise it when we were there.
It is probably a fear shared by many responsible pet owners. I know it is a mistake I made with Norton, one of my cats in South Africa, when I was too far away to be objective and not one I ever want to make again.
So alongside feeding him every two hours that I was home, checking on him throughout the night, waking in the night with him purr-snoring next to me, hoping I was doing the right thing, I had many doubts that I was acting in his best interests. As well as sleep deprivation, I had the gut feel we were on a hiding to nothing, as he rallied and fell, rallied and fell and the weight sheared off him.
With a shaved neck after sedation for blood tests and then a shaved side after the scan, his coat dull and his crying for food he could not eat, followed by a mini-fit-like experience one night when I tried to put food in his mouth just so he could get a taste for it; I wondered if we should stop and if I should put him out of his misery. And yet, despite all that, apart from the times he went to the vet, or thought he was going, he was still FullArf.
He didn’t go out much but played and ran about, cuddled, wanted attention, enjoyed being combed. He was sleepier than usual, but not grumpy and not obviously in pain, until that night he writhed about in my arms, his tongue out and his jaw clicking continuously.
My poor facebook friends were treated to a rollercoaster of my updates, one day good, next day bad, one morning good, one afternoon bad. They must have got so sick of hearing about him but in truth, their support was invaluable to me. No-one said, stop – what the fook are you doing?!! Instead, they cheered when he was up and send prayers and love and healing when he was down.
And during one particular bad night, towards the end of two weeks of near hell, I remembered something. I remembered as a kitten, at one point, he was so ill, just skin and bone, he could hardly lift his head. But whenever I came near him, he would lift his nose wearily, asking for a cuddle and then purr his head off and I knew that he still wanted to carry on. And I realised that we were back in that place, with me questioning my judgement and Arthur being simply himself, full of love and intermittent periods of joy.
A very wise lady messaged me and said something in keeping with her wise nature. She said that pets were a heartbreak waiting to happen. That we start loving them, in full knowledge that we are going to lose them, that their unbounded love is temporary only and that we love them and care for them despite this. So we love them with grief already in our hearts.
And this is so true. It is true too, of love in general. At some point we lose the ones we love, or they lose us. It makes me wonder how we do it, over and over again, sometimes still counting and mourning our losses and yet willing to give it one more go.
Arthur is not yet fully recovered but he is well on the way. He is eating, albeit only chicken and now roast beef, his coat is shiny again and he is out of pain. One of the vets confessed on Friday that he thought Arthur had come to the end of the road. Secretly, I did too. But once again, we have seemed to have subverted fate. So I don’t have to face this particular loss; not yet, not just yet.
Update to this post which I wrote last night – Arthur is being funny about eating again so is back on painkillers. I half expected this as what I think is wrong may need long term treatment so I am going to see how the next few days go before taking him back to the vet.