Sunday, May 9, 2010

Good-bye to a Writer's Best Friend

Yesterday, I lost Pablo, one of the best friends I have ever had. Most cats are good companions for writers, but Pablo was the best. He loved life, loved us, and even taught us several distinct types of his vocalizations. How many cats have different sounds for "feed me" and "cuddle time, please?"
The study of our relationships with animals (and nature in general) has dominated my life work, dovetailing with my studies in neuroscience, ecology, and even poetry. The animals we bring into our homes are welcomed (or merely tolerated) for many reasons: as servants (mouser cat, guard dog), companions, child substitutes, but most of all (in my opinion) as surrogates for the wild animals out there, which are largely beyond any attempts at communion.
When I connected with Pablo – through sight, sound, touch, and smell – I engaged with the Other, to be sure, but our 13 years of cohabitation made him part of my Self as well. The reason I am in mourning now for the loss of the little mammal with the big character is that something has been ripped out of the fabric of my world. I often chided myself for loving him “too much.” Now my memories of doting on him and being adored in return are truly a consolation. He was no “merely tolerated” cat. He was not “just a cat” either.
When he developed mysterious symptoms late last year, I flew into a panic (not exactly making me popular at the animal clinic). When the danger seemed to pass, I relaxed - if not 100%.
Something – perhaps something epigenetic from his mother (allegedly abused while she carried him and his six siblings) – disturbed his internal organs at some point in his life. Most recently, in early February, he stopped eating for a week, freaking us out after we discovered that cats cannot live off their fat. (In fact, it’s a ticket to liver failure if they start off obese.) I force-fed him a nutritional supplement and yogurt, and after we brought him back from a second visit to the vet’s in one week, he went right to his dish and chowed down. The all-clear was sounded. A few expensive tests and much head-scratching later, I found myself holding back from loving him as much as before, and swearing I would cherish every minute with him. I was no longer in denial about his mortality. (Losing another cat, 16-yr-old Sara, more than a year ago, brought this into sharper relief.)
I tried to prepare (and it did help), never suspecting the end would come quite so soon.
When his appetite slowed about 10 days ago, he lost weight noticeably. Then a few days ago, he began breathing more heavily. We brought him in on Saturday morning, and the x-ray showed an enlarged liver, and cloudiness around the lungs obscuring the heart. The vets had us recorded as requesting “no heroic measures” in Feb., so I am not sure if there would have been any therapies on offer had we asked. But the vet who examined Pablo told us she would not want to extend his suffering, either. So with a clear conscience we decided to euthanize him.
My husband said his good-byes, and then I stayed with Pablo for about half an hour. He connected with me one more time, on his terms, as if to remind me what we had had for more than 13 years. It was both heartbreakingly touching and deeply consoling. I want connection, and that was Pablo's final gift to me.
I can't believe he's gone. Nothing much else seems to matter right now.
However, that feeling too will pass. Life always continues, even if a little tattered at the edges.

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