17 December, 2011

helen keller, the cat

Pooka is almost 16. He was born sometime in mid-June in 1996. I acquired him at the end of July, more or less. He was weaned and separated from his mama too early, he was the runt, and he tried very hard to die the first weekend he was away from home. Wouldn't eat. Just. Would. Not. In older cats, that leads to the liver ketosis thingie. In little tiny 2lb kittens, that leads to shock and death. The vet put him on IV fluids, and the Rat, who had custody of him that weekend (it was a clusterfuck. We got him on a Thursday b/c they would not hold him for us over the weekend, over which we knew we'd be gone, so the Rat came in to kitten-sit while we went out of town) carried him around in her shirt and kept his body temp up. By the time we came home on Sunday, he was mrowing and stomping around and trying to steal everyone's pizza. He's never refused food since, not even when he's been sick or had a tooth pulled or whatever else. Dog, divorce, new cats, remarriage, 1200 mile move to an alien climate: Pooka is unflappable.

You may be bracing for the sad part of this story. There isn't one, yet. Pooka is, as I said, almost 16. Sometime a couple years ago, he went blind. It was sudden, about 36 hours after he'd gone in for a dental cleaning. He looked in my general direction, eyes huge and black, and then turned round and walked into the wall.

I did not handle this well.

The vet could find no reason for it. Possibly a tumor, he said, but the eyes were dilating evenly on both sides. Possibly retinal something, where the blood vessels just pack up and move on...but there were sufficient blood vessels in the retina that he should be able to see. Nothing wrong with his bloodwork to indicate a cause. Over the next few months, his vision came and went. Sometimes the dilation would be normal, sometimes saucer-wide pupils. He still had working ears, so he had no particular trouble navigating. He knows where all the furniture is. He can manage jumps onto beds and couches and chairs. The window sills are beyond him, but they were getting chancy even before his eyes went. He's a big cat, and the sills are narrow. He tends to face-plant if he jumps. But if he really, really wants up, he complains to me and I put him on one.

Anyway, sometime this year he went deaf, too. It's not total, but it's pretty thorough. He doesn't hear it when people come into the house (this, the cat who made maintenance nervous because he'd rush the door when someone strange came in and growl at the interloper). He doesn't hear his name. He doesn't--and this is how we knew he was deaf, and not simply ignoring people--hear the sounds of dinner-prep. Cat food rattling. Can openers. He knows when dinner is supposed to happen, and appears in the kitchen about 30 minutes ahead of time; but if the schedule's off, he's clueless. (Breakfast, alas for me, is clockwork. Every damn day, 6:30, we have the yelling of starving Pooka, who is only bone and misery, having been terribly neglected by the people who don't ever feed him, not ever, can't we see his pain?)

He's still cheerful. He sees just enough shadow to know when there is something dark (a cat, a trashcan, a human) on the light linoleum, so he'll skirt around it. But the rest of the house is generally too dark. Doesn't phase him. He marches, tail straight up, wherever he wants to go. When he's waiting for his bathroom tapwater (because no dish is good enough), I will tap him as I walk past--brush him with my leg, touch him with a finger--to let him know I'm there, at which point he pivots and trots into the bathroom ahead of me, just in case I don't know where I'm supposed to go.

I'm the one who's aware now of how vulnerable he is. Like, if the cabinet door is open in the kitchen, he will walk into it (unless he's going slow enough his whiskers warn him). If he doesn't see Pix and jumps onto the couch beside her, he'll get smacked and bloodied while she pretends she hasn't lived with him for the last 12 years. He will walk into and over tea-cups on the carpet (which is where I put mine when I'm playing Halo, dammit), or into open oven doors in the kitchen, which sit at kitty eye level. If he doesn't know you're there, and you touch him--be you human, cat, Yule tree, whatever--he will flinch and recoil until he's established your identity. But he hasn't been burned or hurt or anything (other than Pixie's well-aimed claws). And he certainly hasn't slowed down. The other cats are more cautious about their environment than he is, but that's always been true. Pooka is fearless.

It's hard to feel sorry for him when he's so obviously still the stubborn, willful, cheerful, demanding little fur pig he's always been. Really, I'm feeling sorry for me, because I know he's not going to live forever, and we've definitely spent the majority of our time together already. He doesn't know that. He doesn't care, as long as there is food in his dish and no one is on his corner of the blanket and Unidentified Biped turns on the bathtub at his request. 


  1. Cats as we all know are a superior life force. The rules that govern normal existance do not apply to cats. I have a cat, Lance, whose spine was fractured in 2001. We were given the choice of immediate surgery or having him put to sleep. There were no promises with the surgery. If we were lucky, they said, he would walk again but never run or jump or climb steps. Lance of course, did not hear this diagnosis or care. To everyones' mystification, he recovered completely, running, jumping and climbing again. He is eleven now and the metal in his spine is finally starting to slow him down but in his universe,this just means more naps. Congratulations on being owned by Pooka.