To those who have read “The Christmas Cat” (published here in December of 2013), you will remember our rescued cat, Pepper. Long story short, the Crankee Yankee (my husband) was in Pepperell, MA for a meeting with his model railroad group, which was in an industrial park. The cat who became our Pepper came running to him, climbed up his pantleg and settled himself on the Crankee Yankee’s shoulder–and did not move. It turns out that Pepper had been living on his own in that park for at least two years.
To be honest, Pepper isn’t the prettiest cat you ever saw–he is very long-legged and on the thin side, and he has small patches of fur missing here and there. He has the look of an absent-minded professor who has forgotten to take his clothes to the cleaners. But he has beautiful golden eyes and white whiskers that contrast beautifully against his black face. When pleased, his purr is loud and generous. He is graceful and loves to hop up on shoulders like a tuxedoed parrot.
Of course we adopted him. We had him only for a month or two when we found him lying on his side on the floor, gasping for breath. Our vet took him in immediately and put him on a saline drip and took some X-rays. After some tests, we found that Pepper has hereditary restrictive cardiomyopathy, so he was put on meds right away. A few weeks later, he developed some skin sores that he wouldn’t leave alone; so another trip to the vet. It turns out he also had thyroid issues, so after putting him on food geared to his needs and another med, he was fine.
Just in the past 72 hours, we noticed he was struggling to breathe; his sides were literally heaving. So again, we took him to our vet, who has become Pepper’s champion. The poor thing had so much fluid around his heart that the vet couldn’t even see the heart on an x-ray. He immediately drained off as much as he could; about 12 oz. worth. He recommended we take him to the nearest animal ER for overnight observation.
After a night there, the feline cardiologist checked him out the next day. She put him on blood thinners and added another med, so that now he takes 4 meds in the morning and 3 at night. Pepper is surprisingly graceful about this latest assault on his dignity; as long as the Crankee Yankee mixes the meds into his favorite food, he’s fine.
Pepper’s health issues can’t be fixed, only managed. Worst case scenario, he could potentially get a clot which could incapacitate or kill him. He could also have another buildup of fluid that would necessitate another expensive night again. Funny thing, when faced with the cost of all he went through (nearly $2,000), we both agreed we would do it again if it helped him. We understand all too well that we can lose him at any time, and we also don’t wish to put him through this over again. If keeping him alive means a monthly course of invasive procedures away from his home, then what kind of quality of life is that? What we want for him (and of course our other two cats, Nala and Pookie) is as healthy and happy life as possible, no matter how long or short.
My wonderful step-daughter (the Crankee Yankee’s daughter) said something profound about all this (she faced a similar problem with one of her dogs a few years ago); that Pepper had been on his own and couldn’t live any longer that way. He chose us (well, he actually chose the Crankee Yankee–I just came with the package!). When the Crankee Yankee had some recent health issues involving weeks of radiation, Pepper was his “therapy cat” and stayed close to him and was a great comfort. Now we are repaying the favor.
The meds our Pepper is on now should manage his disease well. He is still recovering and seems to be enjoying the attention. We none of us know how long we will live. All we know is that love is love in whatever form it takes, and that life is life. As a dear (and sadly, late) friend used to say, “Any day on this side of the grass is a good one.”
Ain’t that the truth?