One of our cats died in our arms last night.
Oolong came to us as a kitten in a box almost 12 years ago, and Meghan took her in promising to find her a home. We were new parents ourselves, and not in a great position to feed yet another mouth, but after I got home and met her we decided to keep her.
She got her name because she was the color of pewter – like a colonial teapot. Besides her color she was remarkable for another reason: she didn’t much like human contact. As time passed only a few humans besides ourselves ever saw her. We had other cats, but Oolong was like a ghost.
Her kittenish hair grew out into long, fine, pewter-gray fur — bunny fur, as one person described it. She had lion’s mane around her neck, and a duster for a tail. Gray fur poked out from between the bottoms of her toes and a good brushing would leave enough fur to make a new cat.
She did acclimate to our house in Willimantic, and quietly became an indoor/outdoor cat. During the summer months we would sit on the front steps and, if the street was quiet and we were quiet and Oolong was feeling particularly social, we would be granted the pleasure of her nervous presence. During the winter she would live primarily in the basement during the day and come up to sleep on our bed at night — stealing away in the gloom of early morning.
After we moved north, our cats became strictly indoor cats: Mel because he has FIV now, and Oolong because we were worried that she would get lost. She was very afraid of the the dog, so her world shrank to just the upstairs of our house — three bedrooms and a bathroom.
This new living arrangement gave us a new cat. The formerly shy, quiet, anxious kitty that we had known for a decade quickly became a loving, chatty, snuggly cat that demanded attention and talked to me in the morning. Rather than chafing at her restricted living quarters she thrived. I really think she could relax for the first time in her life.
We noticed one day in 2013 that she was getting very thin — much too thin for the time of year. She didn’t show signs of stress, but she was getting downright boney to the touch. We took Oolie to the vet’s office, where they ran scans, scratched their heads, and suggested various medications. Her weight loss continued so we found a new vet, who ran more scans and pinpointed the problem immediately: her liver was failing. Her skin was orange, her eyes yellowing, classic jaundice. Her liver was swollen. He predicted six months to live, but prescribed daily vitamins that would support her liver in the meantime.
Pilling the cat became a daily ritual called “Mommy’s psycho time” where Meghan would (apparently) lose her mind and shove pills down Oolong’s throat. After waiting a prescribed hour to make sure the vitamins were absorbed, we would feed her and psycho time would be over for the day.
The first evening after the first morning, Oolong demanded love from me as usual — but wouldn’t come near Meghan. We quickly decided that only one of us would betray her tiny trust, so that she would always have someone to feel safe with. Eventually she would trust Meghan as soon as the pill was swallowed.
When one knows that time is limited, you quickly learn to make the most of it. We endeavoured to make her final months as pleasant and filled with love as possible. Our cat’s new-found personality found this quite agreeable.
Our nightly ritual began shortly before I climbed into bed: Oolong followed me through my bedtime routine, chatting at me to get into bed so she could demand love. No matter what else was in store for the night, life would stop so that she could be nuzzled, petted, scratched, and snuggled until she was done. In winter she would play cave cat under the covers.
We would maintain this nightly ritual for nearly two years — a year and a half longer than predicted.
Her end took a surprising turn. We expected a short period of listlessness, absent appetite, vomiting, and confusion from liver toxicity. Instead, she died from something different: a blood clot.
We are no stranger to blood clots in cats. Years ago we had Baker, so-named because he was a powerful kneader, and who’s heart mummer led to a blood clot that temporarily paralysed his hind quarters. We gave him aspirin for six months, hoping to avoid recurrence and educating ourselves on what to do. The best that medical science can offer is very little and the prognosis is universally poor. When Baker suffered another, more severe blood clot, we had to make a hard decision.
We have been saying goodbye to Oolong for nearly two years now, knowing that any night could be her last, but we didn’t expect her end to come this way. Oolong’s blood clot similarly affected her hind quarters, but with her weakened condition there was little the veterinarian could do to help except to make her more comfortable.
We sat in the exam room and said our final good-byes as she passed. The kids were away on a trip and didn’t know until afterwards; there was no time to tell them, it all happened so fast.
She will be missed.