Saturday, 15 November 2014

#NaNoWriMo - Chapter 4

*I'm going to start calling this Chapter 4, because even though it's still in Chapter 3 I think I'll be breaking up the chapter in 2 later on. It's getting ridiculously long, you see, and I still have a way to go.*



The only time she ever stood up for herself was when the cats brought mice in. Pimms, as I said, used to get bored and drop whatever creature she had hunted on the floor and leave. These creatures would almost always be alive. One time she brought a bird inside. That was a lot of fun, trying to chase a bird out of the living room. Sasha, if she didn’t kill her prey, would bring it inside and torment it. She’d bring it to the front door, let it sniff freedom, let it go and watch it. The poor mice would stand there, terrified, as the two cats stared it down.

I love cats. I really do, and I want some someday, but I hate their hunting. I hate the fact they play with their prey, and the fact that they have to hunt, even though they are fed and don’t need to. I’ve decided that any future cats will either have a collar with a bell (although they tend to disappear quickly) or they will have to be indoor cats. Because seeing what those two cats did to their prey was horrible.

The cats would be there, staring at the poor mouse in the corner. Tia would creep up behind, slowly, ever mindful of cats and their smacking paws. The second it looked like the cats would pounce she would pounce, snatch the mouse in her mouth with the gentlest of grips and run for the dog flap. Upon getting outside she would release the mouse and let it run free. That is if she’d get outside. More often than not the mouse would move, she’d then drop it and the mouse would run around inside.

I once woke up to find her standing over something, growling at Sasha who was in turn meowling at her. Not meowing, meowling – a cross between a meow and a howl. I may have made the word up, but it perfectly described the noise that came out of the cat. Shasha was in a full on cat rage, back arched, tail up, hair raised. Tia, however, was not backing down. She was standing over something Sasha wanted. It turns out it was a dead mouse that she was protecting. I was allowed to go to the poor thing and dispose of it. All was well again with the animals of the house.

My mother tidies the dog’s bed on a regular basis. The dog has her bed with her own duvet and duvet cover. One of these times she shook out the bed only for a very squashed mouse to fall out of it. It seems Tia had rescued another creature from the fate of the cats, brought it to her bed and sat on it. I can only hope that the poor thing was already dead, because that would not have been a nice way to go. I swear if Tia knew the food we gave her was made from other animals she’d become a vegetarian.

Around the time that we got Tia Pimms had started to hack as if she were trying to cough up a fur ball. We didn’t have pet insurance at the time. As she was eating perfectly fine, and acting normally, we waited a month or so before taking her to the vet. Initially we thought perhaps she did have a fur ball, then we wondered if perhaps she had allergies, as it was summer time. The cough didn’t go away and so we took her to the vet. As she’d been coughing like that for a while the vet decided to do x-rays. It turned out that she had lymphoma in her lungs. It was so bad that her lungs were covered in it. My mother took the phone call and told me later that the vet sounded tearful that this was her news. She also asked Mom what she would like to do. We had two choices: put her down or continue, but give her steroid pills to keep her going a while longer. Mom didn’t feel comfortable making that choice without me being involved. I was at a conference that day and couldn’t answer my phone. I called her later as I travelled home on the bus and we had a quick chat about it. Beyond her coughing Pimms was acting perfectly fine. She was eating, drinking, still as active as normal and showing no signs of distress or pain. According to the vet she was, beyond the terminal cancer, the picture of health. We decided to let her carry on with the promise that at the first sign of distress we would take her to the vet. I can understand people wanting to keep their pets as long as they possibly can, but at the same time I’m a firm believer that it’s cruel for an animal to live out its last days in pain and suffering.

We’d never been in a situation like this. Our animals had a habit of living longer than their life expectancy, and all of the animals I grew up with in South Africa did pretty well in their other homes. It wasn’t an easy decision to make. I didn’t want my cat to die, but equally I was worried that my decision was selfish. The vet agreeing with us helped a lot. She came home and carried on as normal, except we had to start forcing a pill down her throat once a day.

Anyone who has given medication to babies and pets knows it’s really not easy. All the tips say to hide the pill in food. The food will always get eaten around the pill and the pill will either be spat out or left. Even with Tia, who we can give a treat to, will know when that treat contains medication. I learnt very quickly how to force a cat to swallow a pill. It became a daily ritual that either my mother or I would perform. It went like this:
  1. 1    Grab reluctant cat
  2. 2.      Gently force reluctant cat into position on lap that means her paws are trapped and she can’t smack you or scratch you (although Pimms would go for a smack as opposed to scratching)
    3.      Gently force open the mouth of reluctant cat, minding you don’t get bitten by very sharp canines.
    4.      Throw pill to the back of the throat. You can’t gently place it, it has to be thrown and it has to be at the back of the throat.
    5.      The cat will either swallow if you managed to place the pill perfectly or you will have to tickle under its chin until it swallows. Sometimes you’ll discover after letting the cat go that it was just storing the pill in its cheeks. In which case the cat will spit out the pill in front of you. If that happens:
    6.      Repeat all steps until pill is swallowed.

This continued for a year. We’d get a three months’ supply of steroid tablets and have to go and get her checked up at the end of that. I asked the vet once if it would have been different had we brought her in sooner. He told us that with her symptoms they would have treated her for feline asthma, which has the same course of treatment. They would only have discovered the cancer later. Besides, there was nothing we could do about the cancer, anyway. It was a relief to know that, but as soon as we discovered Pimms were ill the other two pets were put on pet insurance. We’d never had it before and never really needed it, but we learnt the hard way you don’t need it until you do. By which time it’s too late and you sometimes have to make a difficult decision. Luckily we didn’t for Pimms. The steroid tablets and vet visits weren’t too costly. They also didn’t really distress her. We’d take her to the vet, she’d be placed on the scales, at which point she’d start purring and fall asleep. She neither gained nor lost weight, surprising and pleasing the vets. Eventually, after a year, as the record of her cancer disappeared under vet visits and prescriptions for steroids. A new vet joined the surgery and she was perplexed at the fact we still had a healthy looking, happy and alive cat. She had no external symptoms beyond the cough, and even that had reduced in regularity. We were initially told that she had months at best, as the cancer was so advanced, yet here she was, a year later, with no sign of illness. The vet wanted to X-ray her again. We asked what would be the outcome of the X-ray. We suspected we’d either be told the initial diagnoses was wrong, in which case she would have feline asthma and need the same treatment we were giving her, or the diagnoses was right, in which case she was still dying, just at a much slower rate than they thought. The vet confirmed our suspicions. It seemed like an expensive procedure to go through. It was also apparent the vet wanted to do it to satisfy her own curiosity. We said no thank you, and carried on as per usual. The only difference was we were offered steroid injections instead of tablets. They would last 3 months and mean that we didn’t have to force a pill down her throat every day. We jumped at the chance.

She carried on as usual, showing little evidence that she was ill. We watched her carefully for signs that she wasn’t doing that well, yet she showed none. All throughout my gap year she was perfectly happy and healthy, with a good appetite, still just as active. The cough came back a bit more just before I went to university. It was a sign that the initial diagnoses wasn’t wrong, and we braced ourselves for more symptoms. None came. I came home at Christmas to find her pretty much the same, although perhaps a little bit slower than before. I travelled back up to university. A week later I got a phone call from my mother to tell me she had died that day. They heard the dog howling downstairs, so Jamie went to investigate and saw Pimms lying in front of the dog flap. Thinking that she was teasing the dog he picked her up, only to find that she had, in fact, died. Mom told me that when I left she had seemed a lot slower, sleeping a lot more and she was expecting her to lose her appetite and for us to have to take her to the vet one final time. She took that decision out of our hands. I think we were relieved that she’d lived out the last two and a half years of her life without any pain or suffering, and that we didn’t have to put her down.

A few years passed without any further need for the vet, beyond routine check-ups and vaccinations. I went off to South Africa during my gap year and my parents got a kitten. Not to replace Pimms, you can never replace an animal, but just because a one cat household felt a bit strange. I was visiting my aunt in Durban for a long weekend. She had taken me to a few safari parks over the weekend and we were just returning from that. I got a call from home on my mobile. This wasn’t that strange. My family would call whenever they felt like it. I took the call and Alistair was on the phone. That was strange. Alistair and I don’t tend to talk via phone. We talk when we are both in Cambridge, but beyond that we don’t really talk that much. After quick hello’s he told me that the dog had died.

The phone cut out as the reception was terrible in the area we were driving through.

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