Today I mourn the loss of my old girl Phaedra.
She came into our lives on August 4, 2001 when Doran and I visited the Humane Society in the hope of adopting a pet. I had never had a gray cat before and was enchanted by the thought of getting one; I had my eye on one in a cage in the cat room at the OHS but Doran saw Phaedra (then called “Muffin” by the Humane Society) rubbing herself against the bars of the cage on a higher shelf, wanting out, but almost purring and looking content. She was a beautiful tortoiseshell colour, all blacks and browns with cream mixed in. The Humane Society worker let us hold her, and right from the start she seemed to be a happy, affectionate cat. She won our hearts immediately, and we took her home in a cardboard pet box in our old ’89 Ford Taurus that day. I remember how she chaffed at being in there so I opened the top; she jumped out and hid under the seat. I had to pull her out in order to bring her to our apartment on Iris Street. When we put her down on the floor she immediately ran to hide beneath a computer desk. Doran had to run to Walmart to get food and a litter box and pet supplies while I tried to coax her out.
The Humane Society thought she was about a year and four months old. She wasn’t spayed, so shortly after we brought her home we made an appointment with the vet. When we took her in the vet thought she was closer to six months old – and she was pregnant. They aborted the kittens, though we would have kept them if she had carried them to term. What a different road that would have been – we wouldn’t have gotten Jango.
It didn’t take long for Phaedra to feel comfortable in the apartment, or for us to bond together. Then, in June 2002 I brought Jango home – an adorable orange and white long-haired kitten only six weeks old. We separated them, at first; Jango stayed in the bedroom for a few days while I let them smell each other’s toys and blankets. When they finally met face-to-face Phaedra wasn’t thrilled, but came to tolerate him.
In August 2003 we moved from our two-bedroom apartment near Corel to Kanata south. We had a three-bedroom townhouse with a small yard. Phaedra got into trouble immediately by getting stuck in the basement staircase in the tight space between the wall and the stairs – good thing we noticed she was missing, and that Doran found her when he did. We had one other scare when she fell from the second floor landing onto the first floor landing – there is a square hole in the middle of the house where the stairs wrap around three sides of the square with a railing blocking off the top floor and main level. We figure she must have tried to jump up onto the railing and missed, and somehow fell onto the main level landing – we only caught sight of her landing out of the corner of our eye while watching television. She could have easily fallen all the way into the basement and hurt herself, but she got really lucky!
In her younger days Phaedra liked playing with toy fur mice, strings with feathers on the ends, bouncy balls, and paper bags. If we ordered in delivery we would throw the bag on the floor for her to get into. I later bought her a fabric “cat cave” that she frequently slept in. She also liked sleeping on my pillow, and nudging me aside until she had enough room. We slept like that for years, though it’s been many, many years since she stopped doing that. She also liked the smell of my hair and would rub her face against my scalp, even chewing on my hair. If I left my baseball caps around she would often rub her face against the inside of them – or try to sleep on them.
Phaedra liked sprawling out in the sunbeam by the back door, sleeping in the basement window (which got the afternoon sun) and going outside to eat grass. She was adept at running out between my legs when I went out to fill the bird feeder – I always had to grab her so she wouldn’t catch any of the backyard critters. When I was out reading or gardening however, I would often let her outside to walk around the yard and eat grass to her heart’s content – though she often threw it up before that happened. She would look under the fence a few times as if she wanted out, but as she aged she would only go to the bottom of the stairs to eat the grass growing there. I called her my “grass-aholic” because it was the sole reason she wanted out – she even stopped trying to stalk the chipmunks and squirrels!
She also had a thing for doors, standing on her back legs and falling forward with her front paws on the door until it closed. Normally she did this in the bedroom while I was with her, but one day after work we came home to find her locked in the bathroom. There was no litter box in the room, and she’d used the tub instead. Phaedra also liked going into the garage, wandering around and sniffing things and eating dead leaves. The door into the house closed on its own, so if I let her in there I left a shoe in the door so she could get out. One day Doran let her in there and didn’t put a shoe in the door, then forgot all about her. It wasn’t until later when I went looking for her that he remembered she was still in the garage. When I let her out, she was no more perturbed than if she’d spent the past few hours in a kitty spa!
She never lost her affectionate ways. It was so easy to get her to purr – just start petting her, and she was happy. She would blink at us with those golden eyes, and we knew she was content. She liked watching TV on the couch with us, and would often greet us when we came home. We called her “Miss Phaedra-Cat” and “Baby Girl” and “Little Purr-Girl” and “Missy” and “Brownie” (Jango was “Butterscotch”). None of it mattered to her, as long as she got to hang out with her humans.
She and Jango didn’t get along. I’m certain it was due to the neighbour’s cat invading our yard, coming up to the window or back door, and freaking them out. Jango would turn and attack her when he couldn’t get to the cat outside; more than once he drew blood or scared the piss right out of her – this is why it angers me so much when people let their cats roam without caring where they go. Once we found items knocked out of the basement window and glass smashed on the desk below, as if something had scared her out of there in a hurry.
The neighbour’s cat eventually disappeared, but the friction remained. Jango still bullied her, even when he didn’t outright attack her, to the point where she would proactively swat him or growl him whenever he got too close. In her later years she retreated to the basement more and more, while he stayed on the upper two floors. She soon took to sleeping on Doran’s computer chair so that he had to go buy another one. She would also jump on his lap while he was gaming, and if he was wearing shorts he would yell when she dug her claws in. His legs were often covered in scratches though I often told him to wear pants.
In her younger years Phaedra liked to “help” me make the bed. I would try to put the sheets on and she would chase the air bubbles out of them. Sometimes when she came to snuggle with me in bed she would nudge me to open the blankets so she could go under them. She would then curl up by my knees and try to sleep there, though I worried about her suffocating. Usually she stayed long enough to get comfortable then decide to leave. Even if I was lying down on the couch with a blanket I could always entice her to come up and join me by lifting the blanket enough to show a gap; without fail she would jump up and snuggle beneath it!
I also had to close the bathroom door when I was finished cleaning it – she loved the smell of the bleach, and would come up from downstairs to have a sniff. It was like catnip to her; she would roll around on the bathroom rug just to wallow in the smell (no, the bleach wasn’t used on the rug)! She loved catnip too, and would roll around in it when I put some on the floor (Jango just eats it).
For a long while we went through a period where she wouldn’t eat without someone petting her. I would put the food out for them both, she would take two steps toward her dish, then sit down and look back at me. If I didn’t come pet her, she would get up and walk toward me, tail up in the air, then sit down in front of her dish again. Then, when I went to pet her, she would purr and chow down like it was last food left on earth. We did this for years – sometimes it got really irritating when I was trying to leave for work in the morning and she wanted me to pet her. It’s sad that I don’t really remember when this changed.
At some point about two years ago we realized Phaedra was deaf. She had also developed some arthritis in her back legs, and had trouble getting up and down the stairs. This was about when she started spending her time in the basement, sleeping on Doran’s chair except to come up for meals or hang out on the couch if we were watching TV together. When I spent several months doing cardio in the basement in the morning, she would jump down off the chair and walk toward me while I was exercising. I would move away from her, but she would follow. I would pick her up, then we would dance together for a bit. This seemed to make her happy.
Last June I took her to the vet for her annual check-up. The vet was concerned because she heard a “galloping” heartbeat. This was new. The vet said it could lead to blood clots. I was concerned, but just filed it away in case something happened. Then, something did. On August 19th, she suffered something like a stroke. She lost complete control over her right side (front and back legs) and couldn’t stand or walk. It was 11:00 at night, so we took her to the emergency vet. After a long wait, the vet said it was likely some cerebrovascular event had occurred, affecting her right side. The best thing he could do is give her anti-nausea medication in case it was a balance issue, and an anti-inflammatory (Prednisolone) in case of swelling. He said to wait for two days to see what happened. We initially brought her down to the basement but our determined kitty braced herself against the right side of the stairs and zoomed up to the kitchen on two good left legs! We brought her up to the bedroom after that, put her in her fabric cave, and waited till she fell into an exhausted sleep.
The next day was one of the hardest days of my life. She had urinated in the cat cave by the time we got up, so we had to wash the pillows and pillow covers. She was very unreactive and just spent the day in her cave in a sleepy state. I brought some food and water up to her and managed to get her to eat little, but she showed no signs of wanting to come out or do anything but sleep. We both missed work that day, and spent the day close to her. I gave her the Prednisolone, but it didn’t seem to do anything. I thought we were in for a quick decline before the end. I thought we would be down to a one-cat household within the next two weeks.
I went to bed and read for a while, then tried to sleep. Not long after I turned the light off I heard a thump on the floor and got up. Phaedra had crawled out of the cave and was rolling on the floor, unable to walk. I put her back in, went to bed. Then, five minutes later, another thump. I didn’t know what she wanted, offered food and water, then went back to bed. The third time she dragged herself out I called Doran and said she seemed determine to try to get around. We had talked about getting a baby playpen to keep her in, and he asked if I thought he should go to Walmart. I said sure. So he got the playpen, and we put her in it with her food, water, and bedding. The walls of the playpen helped stabilize her if she tried to walk. The following day she seemed more alert so Doran worked from home and brought the playpen downstairs – I almost had a heart attack when I saw it missing from the bedroom. He said he had brought her out of it and she was walking (unsteadily) up the stairs! We kept her in it for another day or so, but when it became clear she wanted her freedom we let her out. She kept stumbling – her front right leg kept sliding beneath her toward the left – but she kept trying. Eventually we moved her food and water downstairs, though she still came up from time to time. I called her “miss stumble cat” because her right side never did fully recover. But she could get where she needed to go. And she still purred when we started petting her.
In November we went for a brief four-day trip to Nova Scotia. When I returned something didn’t seem quite right with our girl. Then I realized – she hadn’t met my eyes once since I came down to feed and spend time with her. I waved my hands in front of her face, but she didn’t react. My poor old girl was now blind as well as deaf. I took her to the vet once again, and because her pupils reacted normally to bright lights, she said it was an issue with the brain not receiving or processing the signals; the eyes still worked. We tried putting her on the anti-inflammatories again, and not long after we realized she had regained some vision – she was looking at us again!
She was on 0.7 mL every other night, and by December we realized that she was most active and alert the day after a dose. I called the vet and asked if we could change the dose to daily as it was having a good effect on her. The vet agreed that since this was mostly palliative, we could give her 0.5 mL every day. This seemed to help – although we think she had a few more strokes or blood clot events (there was a period where she kept walking in circles when she tried walking from her dish to her bed, or her bed to her litter box) but she was doing better on the Prednisolone than off.
Then, sometime in January, we realized she hadn’t been able to see in some time. I missed that bright, calm, level golden-eyed stare and the way she would blink at me in contentment. Her eyes were open, pupils huge, but they were blank. It was getting harder for her to get around, so we put her litter box next to her bed. I bought her a new catnip pillow to help stimulate her sense of smell, but it didn’t hold much interest for her anymore.
It was sometime after our trip to Vegas in the first week of February that we noticed the decline was continuing – the bright, active, affectionate girl was gone. Phaedra just stayed on her bed and didn’t really move around much. She still purred when we petted her, but didn’t really seek us out. Last weekend she wouldn’t eat the food I gave her, even though it contained the Prednisolone. I gave her some cooked chicken on Sunday, which she seemed to enjoy, and cooked more for her on Tuesday, but after that she refused to eat anything solid. I mixed warm water with her food and she would lap some up, but she was lethargic and weak. She was telling us she had fought for as long as she could, but it was time to go. She could no longer to make it to her litter box, though Doran said she still tried to walk around. We made the heartbreaking call to the vet on Thursday and scheduled her euthanasia for Saturday, February 29th. It was the right call – on Saturday morning I went downstairs to discover she had wet herself in her bed that night, and was lying in her own urine. I cleaned her up, put her in her cat cave, and spent most of the morning with her. It was devastating to me that after all she had been through, and was still going through, she could still purr when I pet her. At 10:00 we packed her in her carrier and brought her to the vet for the last time. At first she seemed to barely notice what was going on, but the bumpy roads put some life in her – she raised her head and tried to look around to figure out what was going on. I opened the carrier door and pet her the whole way there.
The vet was really good, and kind, and compassionate. Phaedra hated going to the vet her whole life – she hated being poked at, hated her face being touched, hated her nails being clipped. This time, perhaps sensing that her suffering was almost over, she just lay in the carrier. We talked to the vet about the procedure and filled out the paperwork, said our goodbyes, then waited while the vet took Phaedra to the back to receive the IV with the sedative and morphine. She brought her back after about 10 minutes, and Phaedra was just like a stuffed toy lying on the blanket. But I swear she was entirely comfortable, and there was even a little bit of contentment in her face. I honestly felt that my girl was feeling no pain. The vet explained the morphine made her feel high, and it was enough for me to see that she was feeling better than she had in probably the last four months, and she didn’t need us anymore. She didn’t know we were there anyway as we kissed her and hugged her for the last time. We didn’t need to see the rest; I couldn’t bear to see the rest; so we left and let the vet take her to the back to give the final injection.
It hurt coming home with an empty carrier. I know we made the right choice, and I know that we lost our girl a long time ago. How did I not notice the decline? When did it start? Back in January, when her vision went out once again? In the weeks since then we grew used to caring for an aging, blind and deaf invalid kitty, not realizing she was becoming less active. I can’t remember the last time she came upstairs on her own volition, though Doran said he found her on the second step yesterday. Most people would have given up long ago, but we knew from experience that Phaedra was one tough girl, a real fighter, and we didn’t want to give up on her until we knew she was ready to go.
I am happy that she is no longer suffering, but I miss the way she looked at me, her vocalizations and chirps, the way her tail shook when I was getting her dinner, the way she head-butted me as if to say she loved me. The weight of her absence today seemed heavier and louder than the presence of Doran and Jango somewhere downstairs. It’s so hard to go the basement and see her fabric cave empty and her “sick room” being cleaned up. It’s hard to think of spring coming without her being around to watch the squirrels on the fence and eating the grass until she throws up.
She was one damn awesome, amazing, loving cat and she’s left a huge Phaedra-shaped hole in my heart that only time can fill.
Thanks for sharing your story of your friend. I still miss all my cat friends and I imagine I always will.
Thanks Chris. Yesterday was about saying goodbye; today it’s about getting used to her absence. I’ll always miss her, but I’m looking forward to when it gets easier.
Gilly my love, I went through that with Miss”T”y. I know exactly how you feel and I remember my last days with my girl.
That is why I wrote the poem – 19 verses – to capture many moments that became indelible memories! To Phaedra and Misty – you will always be our favourites!
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