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Sunday, December 01, 2013

Goodbye, dear Gustav

Gustav is gone.

After 13 years of living with us, he has taken his earsplitting yowls and his chrysanthemum bud of a tail to the other side of the Rainbow Bridge, there to await us with a cynical expression and a complaint, no doubt.

He was not the easiest of cats, but the poor little guy had a very hard life before we got him. Abuse, neglect, abandonment, kicks, and beatings were his lot from birth, pretty much. He was rescued, with his mother and siblings, from a drain in which he was born. Some cruel person had dumped the pregnant mama cat in there and poured liquid on her. Ants were biting her and the babies. You could say his hard life began at birth.

He survived a few years of being passed around -- nobody wanted him, because he was not a 'pretty' animal. He was lean and rangy and the suspicious look got worse, I imagine, after a few different people rejected him with kicks and blows. When he came to us, we had a houseful of cats. We took him in because his alternative was death. We will never regret saving his life. He was not an affectionate cat, and it took him years to learn how to play with toys, or interact with us. The first time he ever played with a toy, after he'd lived with us for two years, he sneaked downstairs in the wee hours of the morning. We were awakened by odd, scrabbling noises in the living room. When we turned on the light, there was Gustav, lying on his back, batting at a ball -- looking embarrassed as hell.

He never liked people. He was not the kind of cat to approach people looking for petting. He shrank away from them and yowled loudly, convinced they meant him no good. He came to us with his mother, Greta, to whom he was greatly attached. He would attack any cat who came near her. He never attacked people, to his credit. But he did not like sharing Greta with anyone. Greta was a sweet, affectionate kitty, and it was difficult to interact with her, with Gustav getting anxious and yowly when she would approach us for pets or treats. Unfortunately for us all, she died shortly after her arrival. She threw a blood clot. A terrible death. Gustav was never the same after, although Bandicoot, the best of all kitties in the world, took him under a mighty fraternal paw. The Coot was easily three times Gustav's size, weighing in at an impressive 20 lbs in his fattitude, whereas Gustav never got much beyond 7, maybe 8 at the most. And the Coot was very fluffy, and he would let Gustav curl up in his enormous furry coat to sleep. So Gustav was somewhat consoled by the Coot, although he got on everyone's nerves with his unending complaints, and occasionally, the Coot would bite him about the ears. Which just made him complain louder.

After the Coot passed on, Gustav started deteriorating pretty quickly, poor guy. His legs got weaker and weaker, and eventually he couldn't get up on our giant bed any more. We couldn't train him to use the kitty stairs we bought, so we made him a comfortable bed on the floor. Little by little, his world shrank to the scope of the bedroom, although he did still go outside when it was warm and sunny. Then he got a nasty infection in his eye, right around the time we learned that our beloved friend, Cris, had been diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. Life became very hard, then, with Gus on the verge of losing his eye while Cris died by inches.

It cost us a lot of money and he needed a veterinary opthalmologist's services, but we managed to save his eye. Shortly thereafter, Cris died. I lost a dear and very much-loved friend, someone I had loved for nearly two decades. And I thought we had saved Gustav.

Lately he seemed to have more and more difficulty walking. His feet were acting strange, and his gait was very unsteady. Sometimes he would trip over his own feet because one foot had turned inward or outward unexpectedly. And the crying was getting worse. It was hard to tell whether he was just screaming because he screamed a lot of the time anyway, or if he was screaming because he was in pain. We had him on pain medication for his arthritis, but his kidneys were going and his digestive system was pretty messed up and he had lost most of the sight in one eye, and he never could smell very well because he'd always had herpes.

So when we heard him yowling on Friday, we thought, it's probably time for his pain medication, poor guy. But then the yowling got very strange, and we ran into the bathroom and found him lying on the floor having a seizure, or something. His body was rigid and trembling, he was lying on his side, he had peed himself and was drooling and frothing at the mouth, with one foot drawn up to his chest. We dried him and wrapped him warmly in a towel and held him and tried to calm him, but it was obvious something was very wrong with the old guy, and not so clear that anything would help. But we called the vet anyway, and finally found someone.

She didn't know much about his history, so she suggested we try to save him. Apparently, Gustav's retinas had blown out, so he had suddenly gone blind. The treatment she recommended would have meant medicating him daily. He might not regain his vision. And it was just a matter of time before his kidneys gave out anyway. He would have to stay in the hospital for 36 hours.

We did the right thing by the boy. It was a hard choice, not because there was any possibility that we were wrong, but because it feels so arrogant to take a life, when we cannot give one. But for Gustav, there was no quality of life left. Blind, surrounded by two rambunctious younger cats who seem to remember how he attacked them when he was younger, not really enjoying his food, unable to see, smell, walk, or hear very well, in a house full of stairs? If I were in his place, I'd want the bliss of the needle. Can't eat, can't shit, can't walk, can't hear, can't smell, can't taste, can't see? What's left of life to enjoy?

And for a cat so averse to human contact to be picked up and medicated three times a day? He only let us medicate him when he was very, very sick, because he was too weak to run away. As soon as he got his strength back he started fighting me over the medication. He's never bitten me, but he has, on occasion, got a claw stuck -- deep -- in me and caused some not insignificant bleeding. I know he doesn't mean to, but that doesn't make it hurt any the less. And he's very good at refusing to do things. Plus, he never really learned to interact with people. He's always preferred the company of his own species. And these last two remaining cats of the family never liked him and never will. His life would have been hell.

We said goodbye to him at the doctor's after assuring ourselves that he suffered no more. I hope by the time we go, we have the same option. Goodbye dear little Gustav. You tried so hard to be a good kitty. Life was not very fair or very kind to you. We tried our best to give you everything that made you happy, dear. We miss you very much, and always will.

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