Ode To Mutley

Ode to Mutley

Ode to Mutley

Cats slink through our lives with a seeming casual indifference, offering intermittent attention while training us to cater to their whims.  Like our children, we have hopes for these special critters (maybe instant fame on YouTube, or first prize in a cat show, or providing us with cuddles and comfort through thick and thin), yet are not surprised when they turn out to be what they are: self-centered, extraordinarily ordinary, acting as if they could take or leave us. Very quickly we accept that cats rule the household on their own terms, whether wanting in and out all night, or deciding that they will only drink from glasses of water left on countertops.  Having been owned by cats before, we brought Mutley into our world with eyes wide open.  We felt particularly proud that he was a rescue kitten, one who along with his siblings, had been abandoned in the wild.  When we met his little tribe, housed in a brown paper box,  Mutley seemed like the most interesting and adventuresome of the lot, constantly crawling out of his box, running away. As it turned out, this was a clue about the particularly unique and challenging personality we had taken on: fierce, unloving, people-loathing, scratching and clawing his way through kitten-hood. I had never had a cat like this before, and thought that with loving care, he would outgrow his troubling behavior.

Although Mutley did grow very large, he did not grow out of his penchant for inflicting harm. However, his saving grace was his great beauty; the fact that Mutley was so handsome made me forgive  the multiple wounds he regularly inflicted on us. How could I be angry at a cat who looked so lovely lying on the couch? I was deluded in thinking I could manage his ornery behavior through simple love and “kitty compassion.  Prone to anthropomorphizing pets,  I  failed miserably to “set him straight,” and Mutley’s reign of terror lasted for most of his life.

My Cat Whisperer failings aside, we  accepted Mutley on his own terms, knowing to scratch him only under the chin; to NOT pick him up, and NEVER touch his back. Although guests were forewarned, more than a few visitors left our home with Mutley bite marks or scratches.  What a disappointment this behavior was for Maeve who had wanted a cuddly kitten–one  who would be her fun-loving buddy.  Although she learned to love him, it was hard for her to accept that this creature was for looking only and rarely for  touching.  And yet he amused her–and all of us–with his antics. For instance, his  habit of snatching Maeve’s hair ties from her room and depositing them in his water dish was very entertaining. One morning, he even grabbed a pair of her leggings and dragged them into the water.

On another occasion, Mutley surprised us with a rare poignant and touching display of compassion. Clark was sitting in his chair, experiencing  a moment of  anguish and emotional distress, when Mutley jumped in his lap. This otherwise fierce, untouchable cat just sat there, gentle, purring,  still,  and did not bite, seeming to offer Clark,  his fellow male in the house, a degree of comfort and solidarity.

More typically, Mutley provoked anger and frustration. No  fabric surface in our house was left un-shredded by his claws. Couches, chairs, rattan beds, cane chairs–he destroyed them all until finally we made the hard decision of having him de-clawed.  This was no small decision on many levels.  First, Mutley hated going to the vet. So much so that he ran away after each visit, at one point forcing Clark to brave the underbelly of our house to find him. Secondly, it seemed to be cruel and unusual punishment (arguably it was) to subject this proud and unruly creature to such a demoralizing, painful, life-alternating procedure.  Thirdly, it meant that he was subjected to  kitty hell for a weekend as his wounds necessitated that he recover at the vet’s office.  No amount of fancy feast ever made up for that trauma we inflicted on him, but in the end, Mutley came around, and for better or worse, actually became a bit more friendly and docile.

Mutley spent many of his days as a fat, lazy house cat, an enviable position at times, for his was a life of no responsibility, of coming and going as he pleased, of warm, inside days and nights, and plenty of food. Sleeping and eating summed up the greater part of his activities, and  for many years, Mutley justt blended into the landscape of our lives as we went about our busy days of growing up (kids) and growing older (Clark and me).

It was hard not to notice the change which began about a year ago. Our former fat cat was getting thinner. He began to act needy, insisting on sitting on my lap whenever we sat down on the couch to watch television, slept all the time and stopped wanting to go outside. His thirst seemed unquenchable, and his lethargy became alarming.   A trip to the vet confirmed a weight loss, but blood tests did not reveal anything that seemed more serious than a nutritional deficiency. So in addition to his beloved Fancy Feast, Mutley was introduced to the haute cuisine of expensive veterinary “specially formulated” dry cat food.  Surprisingly, he ate it, and soon he was up and about, even wanting to spend lots of time out of doors.  And so we carried on, thinking that Mutley had rallied, and that life in our household  would resume in its usual way.

We knew that his decline was imminent if not severe when several months later Mutley showed signs of incontinence. Rugs became the litter box, and evidence of Mutley elimination appeared all over the house.  He wanted even more attention, was always underfoot, and purred very loudly during the times we allowed him to sit on our laps while we scratched his head.  His attack habits had not changed, and I suffered several painful bites during these lap times–bites which would come out of the blue, without any seeming provocation on my part. And though he continued to eat ravenously, he had become skeletal, his fur dull and matted.   As much as I dreaded taking him to the vet (because he was so traumatized by the experience ) I couldn’t ignore his watery half-closed eyes, his emaciation, and his wobbly back legs.

Where does one draw the line between aggressive treatment and palliative care?  I had grappled with these questions   in graduate school as I studied about and then worked for a hospice.  Although these are difficult questions  for people with terminal illness,  it seems like it should be simpler with pets. Yet as with humans,  there are extraordinary measures one can take to keep pets alive. Who knew that there are kitty cardiologists, oncologists, specialists of every kind? In Mutley’s case,  because he suffered a multitude of issues (probably related to either cancer, respiratory failure or heart disease), his  survival would require a host of these specialists along with prolonged and intense treatment.   Having been initially diagnosed with severe anemia, he declined suddenly and rapidly during his exam, experiencing what seemed to be  cardiac or respiratory failure, requiring oxygen to breathe. Our options were laid out for us:  days of hospitalization, oxygenation and blood transfusions–simply to get him stabilized.  The next step would be a myriad of tests to determine the source of all the presenting symptoms, determine if treatment was possible or not,  all requiring more vet visits, multiple medications, tests and other intrusive actions with no guarantee of improvement of quality of life.

Not to mention that dirty word: COST.  We were already hundreds of dollars in, just for this one visit.  The Vet’s opinion was that his situation was dire, and that the  extraordinary measures listed above were indeed necessary to keep him alive. It was at this point that I elected to go away for an hour to grapple with a decision– to determine Mutley’s  fate–leaving  him curled up forlornly and pathetically on his special blanket in the oxygen tank that was necessary for his immediate survival.

Who am I to take a life?  This or any life. Having experienced this dilemma with pets  before, I knew that the questions, the doubts, the guilt and the grief were an inevitable part of the decision-making process, regardless of the outcome. It came down to thinking of Mutley and what he could and could not tolerate, comfort-wise.  Taking him home or subjecting him to an extensive round of tests and medical procedures seemed inhumane for this creature who was so easily distressed, who disliked handling and loathed the vet’s office, and had declined so suddenly, the result of the stressful vet visit. Moreover it seemed any further heroic treatments were de-moralizing, and certainly compromised his quality of life.

And so  together, with tears falling on his emaciated body struggling for air from the oxygen tube, Clark and I made the call. It was time to let him go.  The dear vet, a young and clearly caring Dr, was the model of compassion and professionalism as she carried out her grim task, reassuring me that our decision was wise and humane.

It was harder than I thought  to follow through with our decision. When the vet brought Mutley into the examining room, catheter inserted in his paw, he opened his eyes and mustered the strength to crawl towards me. His eyes were now wide open and he began to purr.  I scratched his chin, held his face, and talked to him, and scratched some more, questioned out loud whether this was right or not, adding rather absurdly that “I am opposed to the death penalty”. As he continue to purr in my hands, I  finally nodded that it was time.  Did he hear “fancy feast” which I whispered to him as the vet administered the lethal dose? Did he realize I had decided  his doomed fate, that the hand that fed him was indeed biting him  (albeit gently and painlessly) in this profound and final way? Could he forgive me; could I forgive me? Do cats have souls and if so, what happens next? Drug administered,  he  purred, and relaxed and then stopped breathing. Quickly, gently, done.  Fancy Feast.  Mutley child. Dear sweet incorrigible cat.  Beloved Mutley dissipated into unknowable mystery; he is no longer.

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