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Trying Times

My pets tend to live a long time. That’s the good news and the bad news. The good news is that a long life usually is a sign of a well-lived life. The bad news is that humans become very attached to their pets. The longer they are attached, the harder it is to let go. I had that fact illustrated to me clearly this past week.

For years, nearly 18 in fact, I have written about my male Siamese cat, Rudy. Rudy was a character to be reckoned with from the get-go. He made his first appearance at my house peeking from a shirt pocket on Christmas Eve. I adored him at first glance. Two days after I received him, he was near death at Mendocino Animal Hospital. It seems the cattery where Rudy was purchased had inoculated him against distemper with outdated vaccine. It was touch and go for a few days, but Dr. Sara Rice pulled my kitten through. I was thrilled and relieved.

Two months after his recovery from feline distemper, the still-young Siamese came to the door with a front leg dangling. He was crying and in terrible pain. It was 5pm, but a quick call to Dr. Rice kept her waiting while I rushed Rudy to Ukiah. I won’t ever forget how little the kitten’s cast and heavy red sock kept him down. He could run, jump and play just fine, thanks, the stiff red leg thrust in front of his body and totally ignored. Several weeks later, the cast came off and Rudy never gave any indication his leg had been broken. His troubles didn’t stop there, however.

In rapid succession Rudy got a foxtail in his nose and had to have it surgically removed — on Memorial Day! He developed a nasty fungus on his paw, which required extensive treatment. Then, he became very sick and feverish; he had to be hospitalized and have lots of tests. It looked as though he had some kind of liver malfunction. Suddenly, he recovered completely. About that time, I wrote an article accusing Rudy of falling in love with Sara Rice and inventing illnesses so she could drive a Ferrari. Dr. Rice assured me that with kittens, especially purebred Siamese, it is not uncommon for them to be in the vet’s office often. She said that after the first year or so, she doesn’t see them again, except for routine checkups and shots. In Rudy’s case this proved to be true.

A year ago, I noticed my beloved blue-eyed cat was beginning to age. Oh, he was still enjoying his life immensely, and could chase away stray cats with astonishing speed. He had begun to look a little like an older guy, though. He was getting a bit forgetful, too. He’d want to come in the house, presumably to eat, but once in he’d look puzzled and want to go out again. I felt sure I’d be saying goodbye to Rudy in the not-too-distant future. In an attempt to ease the anticipated pain, I decided to acquire a kitten. Enter Mandy.

Those people who read my articles are already acquainted with Mandy, the cat with multiple personalities and a mind to murder hummingbirds. (Kept in check with a water pistol.) A year ago, Rudy was not at all pleased with the invasion of this gray striped dynamo. The corgis, Lobo and Sophie, hated her. For nearly six months, Lobo had to be brought in the house on his leash — even during heavy storms. Sophie was hostile, but more laid-back. It is worth mentioning that Lobo is a real piece of work when it comes to assessing any situation. He sizes it up in about ten seconds, makes up his mind how to react — and he never changes it.

Of course, one of Mandy’s favorite games became sneaking up on Lobo from behind. (This is how, one evening, my daughter Kris found herself with a 40 pound male corgi on top of her head. ) Her very favorite, though, was to wait until Rudy fell asleep, then jump on his back and bite his neck. Oddly, after a month or so, Rudy and Mandy became fast friends. Where one was, there would be the other. On the rare occasion when I couldn’t find Rudy, all I’d have to do was ask Mandy, and she’d go right to him.

Sometime last month I noticed that Rudy’s appetite had diminished. He didn’t stop eating, he just didn’t go about it with any gusto. He still played with Mandy with obvious relish. He would come in the house quite early in the evening and settle down beside me. His coat became a bit rough, and I started combing him every night. He really loved that. Just the sight of the comb would make him start to purr. Then, last week, came the day when my dear old cat’s eyes told me he wasn’t having fun anymore.

It seemed only fitting that Dr. Rice would help me give my feline friend a permanent rest from his pain. She did that with a great deal of kindness. For the past week, there has been a Siamese cat shaped hole deep inside my chest. I find myself prone to tears at the sight of sunlight on Rudy’s favorite nap spots. Strangely, Lobo and Sophie, who have lived with Rudy their whole lives, don’t seem to miss him. Mandy looks for him everywhere. So do I.

There are people who really don’t like any other creatures. I find they are often disdainful of humans as well. There are also people who respect other creatures, but would just as soon not live with them. As for me, I know my life would be lackluster without the presence of fur, feathers and scales.

My first Siamese cat was named Gideon. He lived to be 22 years old. Rudy and I had nearly 18 together. I think 40 years of good memories is probably enough. Don’t get me wrong, Siamese cats are wonderful, but so are the ones in the box at the grocery store. And the ones at the animal shelter and the Humane Society. Somewhere out there a kitten who probably hasn’t been born yet will be the one Mandy will torment. A kitten Lobo will love to hate. A kitten that will slink its way into all our hearts and lives. There are no replacements for dear friends we lose. There are always, thank God, new friends to make.
* * *

When something in our lives takes a permanent shift, we are naturally distracted and disoriented. I am, anyway. The day after I lost Rudy, I realized I hadn’t pumped water into my holding tank for several days. I have myself trained to set a loud timer before I switch on the pump, which is in the barn. This time, however, I turned on the pump and promptly forgot it — until later that night. Result? An unknown amount of water in the holding tank, no water in the collection tank and a pump that may or may not work.

The only person who really understands my weird water system is my son-in-law, Steve. He was out of town for two days. I consoled my self with cleaning my kitchen walls and cupboards, using as little water as possible.

A day later, still uncertain about water, I had an appointment to have my rugs cleaned. While the young man was working on the rugs, I realized that, in addition to not sleeping very well, I hadn’t eaten much. For some reason, a plain baked potato sounded good. I washed and poked one and put it in the oven. When the rug cleaner left, I thought I smelled something burning. I did. The potato had exploded. Have you ever had this happen? I hadn’t. What a mess!

After an hour spent, not eating a nice potato, but scraping it off every inside surface of my stove, I realized the jays would be hungry. Oh, did I forget to mention I was raising three baby scrub jays in my downstairs room? The jays had started feeding themselves, and a favorite was hard-cooked egg cut in half. They also liked fruit. With a handful of jay goodies, I trod carefully across my damp rugs. I felt something funny under my foot. Yes, I had dropped a half an egg. I had stomped on it and mashed it well into the living room rug.

After feeding the birds and rescrubbing the rug, I was frazzled. I still hadn’t eaten, and I wasn’t hungry. I was thirsty. My afternoon tipple is tea; hot in the winter and iced in the summer. Somehow, that didn’t seem what I needed. I wanted a good shot of sugar. So I went to the fridge for an icy can of soda. It exploded. Remember the kitchen walls and cupboards?

By dinnertime, I was capable of little beyond mouth-breathing. But life wasn’t through with me. Sophie came home from her daytime romp in the orchard coughing and wheezing, which continued all night. I couldn’t sleep, of course. Mandy appeared way later than usual, limping and growling. By about 2 in the morning, I was sure that Sophie was dying from pneumonia and that Mandy’s leg would need amputation. I was also going to have to shell out about eleventy million dollars (a tad more than I have) for an entire water system. Oh, and the sun probably wouldn’t rise.

* * *

As dear ol’ Dan Quayle used to say, “ A mind is a terrible thing to lose.” I lose mine with some regularity. Give me a little adversity and I’ll create a scenario from Hell in a nonce.

My water system works. It was probably a good thing I forgot to set the timer, as I now know I need to be extra miserly this summer. The table is far lower than in previous years. (No, I won’t go there now. Another article. )

My rugs look very nice and clean, except for one kinda fuzzy spot in the living room. The oven needed cleaning, anyway. My kitchen sparkles. The jays have been successfully released. Sophie stopped coughing as suddenly as she started. Soph has her nose glued to the ground all day; it’s anyone’s guess how much dust and weeds she inhales. Mandy had a foxtail stuck in the fur on her hip. She has no need of amputation at this time. I’m back to iced tea and food at regular intervals. My mind? That’s another matter altogether.

* * *

Though July is not my favorite month, it has something to be said for it. We start to harvest the first real tomatoes. The zucchini is young and tender and not boring or big enough to crush Philo yet. The summer fruit is wonderful. What luxury to have strawberries for breakfast whenever I want. I have a lush pot of sweet basil on the deck, and when in doubt about dinner, pesto is always an option.

The first batch of birds has fledged and more are on the way, though many species produce only one clutch. Flying lessons are going on every day, and are a delight to watch. My ravens, Bernie and Bernadette, produced three offspring again this year. What a noisy group! Each morning when I go out to the barn with my raven offerings, I’m bombarded with earsplitting croaks. I’m sure everyone on this hill is happy I get up so early.

This is the time of year we see birds in abundance. Up here, I’ve had nuthatches and tanagers and warblers, among others. Snakes, too, show themselves. Betty Lewis called to report a very large and glossy black and white Coastal kingsnake at her place in Philo. I’ve seen several on the road up here. Lynn Roman tells me she and Al have lots of the pretty little Ringneck snakes in their garden.

Driving up my road at night is always an adventure, but sometimes it’s especially exciting. Last week, there was a Mama skunk with her brood of “little black and white kitties.” When they spotted my car, they all turned and raised their tails in a salute. A little further on, I startled a beautiful fox. As I approached my driveway, a screech owl landed right in front of me (my car was at a crawl) and snagged what looked like a small rodent. Quite a night!

Yes, there are times which try our sanity to the max. Today , though, I’m looking at the flip side of the coin. I’m remembering the good times and realizing that, in my life, the sun has always risen.

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