The Humanity of Non-Humans

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I’ve been working with animals all my life, for the most part. Even when it wasn’t my job, people would call me for advice about their animals or simply ask for my opinion. When I was twelve or so, I found a litter of baby Cottontails in the yard of a neighbor who had long since moved away, leaving the yard overgrown with weeds. The six bunnies were screaming for hours before I found them, and I took them home and bottle-fed them, raising four of the six to adulthood before setting them free, despite the adults around me telling me that baby bunnies could not survive losing their mother.


My mother used to tell people I was going to be a veterinarian when I grew up. It wasn’t what I wanted, though. It was just what I did. I think I related better to animals than I did to other humans, and animals were forgiving, accepting. When the situation was right, they were even loving.


At eighteen, I found myself gifted with a three day-old African Lion and being told I needed to raise him. It was a challenge that I was a bit daunted by, but I accepted it, and as he grew; “Tiger” developed a loyalty to me that few friends had shown.


A few years later, I had mastered the art of bottle-feeding animals, and when Wiley (what else would one name a Coyote pup?) came into my life, I was working more than full time and feeding him on a two-hour schedule. My husband was supposed to feed him while I worked, but each day, when I arrived home, Wiley was screaming for me. Frustrated, I would tell B exactly how to hold the bottle, and the pup, and he would swear to me that he would do it just that way.


Finally, after two weeks of being met at the end of my work day by a howling baby coyote, I insisted that B show me how he was trying to feed Wiley, so I could show him what he was doing wrong.


He did it perfectly, and Wiley would have none of it. Terrified that something was wrong with my baby, I took him from B and took the bottle, offering it to him as I always did.


He took it eagerly, from me. And so I became his mother, as well.


Somewhere along the way, my brothers blessed me with a feral cat. I don’t know what they thought I should do with a feral cat, but they said they found him and thought of me. “Bill,” as I called him, was mean as a snake, and got trapped in my front porch. He couldn’t get out unless he showed himself, and therefore, he spent weeks … perhaps months … in my porch, where he would attack me as I entered the house, shredding my jeans or my kneecaps with his claws. I patiently fed him daily and changed his litter.


And one day, I guess he decided I was all right, after all. He accepted me. He wanted to come inside the house and from there, he took over the household and my heart.


That was the start of something wonderful, that being my lifelong love for felines. After Bill, came Scapegoat, Wendy, Mark, Bambi, Effie, Scamper-Cat … and later, S.T., Fido, Chopper, Chimer, Frank, and Levi.


I began working with animals full-time in 1987 and always loved it. I loved cats most of all, and time after time, I would have cat “owners” tell me that their cat was better with me than with anyone else. We always seemed to understand each other, I guess.


I adopted Eve in 1989, and Byron in 1991. Peggy Sue found her way to me in 1993.


Eve and Byron both died in 2001, and after that, it was just Peggy, until Josh wiggled and snorted her way into my heart in 2002.


They have never been buddies, but they mostly tolerate each other. Peggy is stoic and independent, but has become a lap cat in her later years. Josh is jealous, and often refuses to allow my lap to be shared until she tires of it. So I sit with Josh between Peggy and I. In the morning, I sip my coffee and the two occupy their spaces as if they were assigned.


Two Sundays ago, I went to feed them in the morning, and noticed that little of their canned food from the previous night had been touched. I wondered why, but both seemed all right, if just a bit standoffish, and I didn’t think about it much. I assumed there was something wrong with the can of food, because I could not imagine Josh walking away from it under any circumstances. She is robust. Peggy has always been tall and lean, and very long. Even her tail is long. But she has never weighed more than nine pounds.


Josh, on the other hand, is probably supposed to be about the same size, but I’d wager that she weighs in at about twelve pounds. She has a hefty appetite, and even snacks on the dog’s food between meals.


But last Sunday, not only did they not touch the Saturday night meal, but they never touched the Sunday dry food, either. I happily gave them a new can of food on Sunday night, but it, too, went untouched.


Monday, it was the same story. Tuesday, a bit of the dry food disappeared, but I had begun noticing that Peggy was not herself. At age fifteen and a half, that should not have caught me off guard, but it did. She’d never been sick, a day in her life.


Wednesday, I took her to work with me, and we drew blood. She also got a steroid injection and began a round of antibiotics, just in case. I’m not quick to medicate myself or my pets, but Peggy had lost a substantial amount of weight, as she was down to 7.7 pounds. I felt I had to take drastic action.


I took her home that night and isolated her in the bathroom without a litter pan, so that we might be able to get a urine specimen in the morning. Meanwhile, she still did not eat.


The blood work was that of a cat which was not sick. The last time I’d had it done was four years prior, and she showed signs of mild kidney problems. Not this time, though. It looked textbook perfect.


So we drew a urine specimen on Thursday, as well. I expected it to be normal. Some time that day, she also began eating. Tiny amounts, just a couple of teaspoons or so, of Hills A/D, a high-nutrition and highly palatable canned food usually fed to pets which refuse to eat. Many times, it works. It worked for Peggy. For three days, she nibbled at it; she ate no more than two tablespoons per day. She loved the stuff, though. She would stand on her feeding table and cry for it.


When the U/A results came back, Friday morning, it was a rude awakening for me. There was no sign of infection, but large amounts of blood in the urine. I’ve been “in the business” long enough to know that though that did not answer anything, it was suggestive of some things which were not promising. Given the fact that Peggy’s abdomen felt somewhat abnormal to both me and the doctor, it is most suggestive of cancer, perhaps in the bladder.


Saturday, she ate a few bites of dry food, and my hopes soared. It was short-lived, though. Sunday, she ate a teaspoon or two of the A/D and then she abruptly stopped again. She ate nothing more. Yesterday morning, she began vomiting. I wept. I went to work and I struggled with my day. At lunch time, I came home and looked for more signs of vomiting. I couldn’t feed her, because I didn’t want to aggravate the situation. I fed her a tiny amount of A/D mixed with some chicken broth last night. She didn’t touch it.


There has been no more vomiting, though, and today, my Peggy appeared to have some interest in eating. I fed her a can this morning; totally off-schedule as they have never had canned food in the morning.


She devoured half the can, with no subsequent vomiting.


My hopes are soaring again. I am praying that this decision will become less difficult; that when she is ready to leave, she will let me know. So far, she has not acted like a cat with no will to live, but I pray that I have the instincts to know when the time is right, without letting nagging doubts dictate my choices.


Still, the interesting thing I’ve noticed over the past ten days, is this:


When I fed A/D to Peggy, Josh never touched it, even though she could easily have done so.


Josh, long-presumed to be a ravenous eater, is eating half-portions. I fed a whole can of their Friskies, up until three nights ago, and she left half of it for Peggy, even though Peggy didn’t touch it. I decided to cut down, feeding half a can, and she only eats half of the half.


They sleep side by side, in my chair.


Josh has given up being selfish. Today, she sat patiently beside my chair, staring up at me until Peggy jumped down from my lap. Then she jumped up and nestled in, and when Peggy came back to tell me she wanted more of my time, Josh jumped down and resumed her spot beside my chair.


I am moved by this, and not sure what to think. But I surely understand. I wish I could tell Josh that her sister will be all right. I could not, even if I spoke the language she does.


I suspect that in actuality, it will be Josh who, after Peggy is gone, will be telling me in no uncertain terms that her sister is indeed all right, and waiting patiently for us.


By Julie (Always Did Love Rainbows!) G. of Gather

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