I didn’t know if I’d ever see him again.
But I did.
After Che streaked out of the house and disappeared for the second time in as many days because of his nervousness over house guests, I began to think about what was going on with him.
He wasn’t well. His eyes were almost completely covered by the third eyelids – you know, those weird inner lids that emerge from the inside corners of cats’ eyes. And his muscles were rigid. He moved as though his whole body hurt. I was worried. The only other time Che had disappeared was when he had a broken leg. That time I had found him after a week and a half, in terrible pain in the underbrush of Orval’s forest and had heard his sweet little meow in response to my calling, but I couldn’t see him until he moved. He walked toward me in a strange and horrible way. Painfully. I thought he had become entangled in fishing line, but that was not to be the case.
I picked him up, saw that there was no fish line but there was something awful about his hind leg, so I hurried him to the vet’s who told me his leg was broken and that a severe infection had set in and that he’d probably end up as a three legged cat and that no, cats can’t climb trees when they are three legged, but that yes, he himself had had a cat with three legs who managed to live happily for two years before a hawk got him.
That, as I’ve said, was the only time he stayed away from home for any length of time. So I was worried now. Dead? Hurt?
Guests left the next morning. I went out into the yard, puttering around, worried about him. When you live alone, out in the country, with not much interaction with other human beings, your animals become your family.
I think I’ll give a little history of Che Guevarra, my wonderful cat, at this point.
Che succeeded Fidel, and I mention this because of why I had such a strong attachment to Che.
Several years ago I found Fidel in the parking lot at my school in the inner city of Los Angeles. He was an orange tabby about three months old, ill, covered with oil and fleas, starving. He keeled over when I bent to pet his sad little head. I took him to the pound and asked them to call me if no one took him. No one took him, of course.
When I picked him up from the pound, I found out that they had given him vitamins and fed him and bathed him and the woman who had looked after him told me that he loved his cage and food and vitamins and was a happy, happy little kitten.
And he was. He loved me intensely. (I think baby animals bond with their rescuers with all their heart.)
Fidel and I had several really happy years together.
But Fidel died somewhere, somehow, soon after I moved to Chigger Lake. I suspect the neighbor’s dogs. There was a lot of barking outside one night and Fidel never came home.
I was heartbroken. After a few months I decided to adopt another kitten and found an ad in the paper and went to see.
There he was. A miserable little thing.
He was covered with fleas. His eyes were infected. He definitely wasn’t weaned. And he was an orange tabby, just like Fidel.
Yes, I took him home and no, I don’t blame the woman for his miserable condition. (She was the out-of-state daughter who had come back to Oklahoma to straighten up her dotty old mother’s affairs, among which was trying to de-cat mom’s house. Daughter had covered the kitten with Avon Skin So Soft before I got there. She said it got rid of fleas and ticks. Hah.)
I took him home and through trial and error got him healthy again and, of course, he loved me with all his heart and I loved him back.
He grew into a great big friendly sweet tom cat. I had him neutered because he would NOT leave Rosie the Cat alone. Wrestled her, pestered her, drove her nuts. But neutering didn’t help. Even though he never actually tried to perpetrate sexy moves on her, he would jump on her, throw her on the ground, grab her around the neck. Wrestle, wrestle, wrestle.
His life was happy. He climbed trees, especially my cottonwood which had flocks of hummingbirds in it one year, much to his delight. He ate bugs. Followed Rosie into the forest for adventures. Ate like a king. Slept on my bed. He got scolded now and then for messing with Rosie and when I hollered, “STOP!” at him, he would scurry under the bed, like a bad boy.
He had no remorse whatsoever.
(Back to the morning I was puttering around outside after my house guests had left.)
I expected Che to return shortly after the coast was clear. And sure enough, I turned around and there was Che. Sitting on the ground looking at me, just as he had in the woods two days before.
He looked awful. I picked him up and brought him in and put out food, delicious food, leftover salmon! But he would have none of it. Just drank a little water.
I knew he was sick, but I didn’t know how bad it was and I had a brand new baby nephew to see in Oklahoma City and had promised to drive in, so I left him there in the air conditioned house to sleep and off I went.
When I got back three hours later, I found him asleep on the couch. And really, really hot. His eyes were almost completely covered by that third eyelid. His muscles were rigid.
I ran to the shed and pulled out the cat carrier, put him in it, and drove straight to the vet’s.
I didn’t have an appointment so I waited while others went before me, shots for puppies, boarders being picked up, old dogs panting. I was sick with dread.
Our turn at last.
I carried the pet carrier into the room and took Che out. The vet gently picked him up to look at him and immediately said, “He’s burning up.” He took his temperature, 105 degrees, pulled Che’s eye lids up to look at his eyes and said, “I think he has bobcat fever. In fact, I’m one hundred percent sure he has bobcat fever.”
I had never heard of such a thing. So I asked about it and this is what I found out from him and later, from the Internet.
Some bobcats carry a disease in their blood that doesn’t affect them at all. But when a tick bites them that disease is transferred to the tick and then to the next tick host. The disease is completely harmless to all animals, save one — the domestic cat. For cats, it is one hundred percent fatal. There is no cure.
The domestic cat is known as the “end host,” meaning once the tick bites the cat, the infection ends there, never to be passed on by cat or tick.
It’s a horrible disease. Within a week after having been bitten, a cat is dead. The disease invades white blood cells and attacks all the organs of the body. The cat will have no appetite and will have a high fever, the third eyelid phenomenon occurs, the cat’s muscles become rigid. It is an agonizing death.
And my Che, my sweet boy, the animal who loved me the most of all my animals, had it.
I asked the doctor how common it was, as I had never heard of it before, and he said that at least two or three infected cats a MONTH came into the clinic. I asked him how long it would be before he died and the doctor replied, “Two or three days.”
TWO OR THREE DAYS!! I was stunned.
Right then I told the doctor that I wanted to put Che to sleep. I have seen the process of death many times, the breathing, the struggle to die, the final exhale, and I wanted to shorten the whole process which is hard and painful and serves no purpose.
The vet said, “Well, I guess I’m not one hundred percent because I would like to give him a really powerful antibiotic which will clear up anything EXCEPT bobcat fever and if he’s okay in the morning, he’ll recover.
I said yes.
I had doubts about that being the best thing to do. But I had to choose and that is hard for me. My list of pros and cons keeps cycling and recycling in my head and I swing back and forth, back and forth.
I had only a tiny bit of time to decide, so I let the doctor ‘s decision be my own. I knew that part of my decision-making process was about not wanting to seem impolite, which seems to guide a lot of my decisions, coward that I am.
He gave Che a massive dose of antibiotic and a shot to make him comfortable and I put him into the cat carrier and went home.
I laid him on my bed. His favorite place. I laid down beside him. He was still burning up so I got up to get his little kitten syringe that I had kept all this time in a drawer with other pet stuff. I had used it to feed him when he was sick with diarrhea as a kitten.
I filled the syringe with water, wedged it gently between his back teeth, and slowly pushed the plunger down. He let the water flow into his mouth.
We lay on the bed. I turned on the television. His tail was the only thing that moved. The tip of it moved over the blanket, an occasional thump. It was the only part of him that could still move with fluidity. He had always been very expressive with his tail. It was his language and his sense of the world around him.
Have you ever really watched a cat’s tail? It’s like a finger. It touches everything around the cat when it goes from place to place. I think it gives a cat a real sense of EXACTLY where everything is so they can make a quick getaway in case of danger.
Just a theory.
But I digress.
He vomited the water. There was undigested food in his vomit, too. He hadn’t eaten in at least three days.
After he vomited, we laid there, his body stretched out, lying alongside me. He liked resting his head on my hand.
I had to get up a couple of times, and blind and fevered as he was, he jumped/fell of the bed to follow me. The first time he did, I hadn’t noticed until I heard a loud howl from the bathroom and found him wedged into a narrow bottom shelf under a table. The second time he fell, he just fell to the floor and laid there. Both times I put him back on the bed and laid there with him.
His temperature fell but he was still rigid and his eyes were a mess. He lay, stretched out against me, all night, barely breathing. I watched him closely, loving him deeply. I wondered if the injection was still helping him with the pain and fear.
I turned off the television and the light and went to sleep, cradling him. I was very, very glad I had taken him home for his final night with me.
I awoke with a start in the middle of the night. His body was rigid against mine and I realized I hadn’t felt him move at all for a while. I thought he was dead. I felt him. He was warm and there was light breathing.
Relief flooded me.
I went back to sleep.
In the morning he was better. The antibiotic had relieved his fever. But everything else was the same.
It was bobcat fever.
I got up and looked down at him and saw a large, very dark urine stain on the bed.
My first thought was to never wash the blanket that he had peed on. I wanted to preserve that stain to keep him with me, like a lock of hair. But then I said out loud, “Do not be crazy, Donna. You may not sleep in cat pee no matter how much you want to hold onto him.”
I put a fresh blanket in his basket and put it in the car – something to carry him home in after he died. Then I put him gently in the cat carrier and brought him back to the vet’s.
I told the doctor his fever was down, but everything else was the same. He said that the antibiotics had arrested the fever. He looked at Che’s eyes, pulled the lids up to see what was going on with his eyes and showed me the yellow of jaundice. He called a young man, a trainee (?) to see it too. On site training, I guess.
The doctor said he would give him a general anesthetic and then a “heart stick”, a direct injection into the heart, to put him to sleep. He would do it that way because it is very difficult to find veins in cats.
I said yes. I watched Che go to sleep and then told the vet I wanted to go outside and not watch the heart stick and his last breath. I could tell the doctor preferred it that way.
So I sat for a few minutes in that waiting room with the puppies and old dogs and people. The doctor came out and nodded and we went in the room together.
And there was Che, in his basket, his dear body in his sleep position, his tail curled around his body. He looked alive as alive can be.
But he wasn’t.
An avalanche of tears and love and loss came over me. The doctor asked me if I wanted to go out the back way and I said yes and as I walked down the hallway to the back door I saw him MOVE! And I thought he was alive, but it was only the loosening of his rigid muscles, rocking gently as I walked.
I took Che home and got the shovel and all the geodes that my house guests had found a few days before and lots of heavy big rocks so the damn dogs wouldn’t dig him up and I dug a hole in the rain-softened clay right outside my bedroom sliding glass door so he could be near me and wrapped him in his soft blanket and put him, curled in his sleeping position, into that hole and covered it with clay clods and heavy rocks and plumeria flowers and succulents and wrote his name on a granite rock and put it on top of everything and cried and cried.