I miss him a lot. Several weeks ago I said a final good bye to my friend O'Keefe. He is the second to die of the three cats that I brought to Canada with me. He was the talkative playful one. His unflagging enthusiasm for the cat toy and the laser pointer kept me well entertained in this pandemic lock-down.
Thinking about O'Keefe's larger-than-life personality, I needed a way to say farewell. He was after all my lock-down companion. Hence a eulogy for a cat.
When O'Keefe came from the shelter that wasn't his name. But what cat should go through life called "Lotsa-Toes." Like his brother Limerick he was "polydactyl." He had extra toes. Some toes curled up out of sight which made nail trimming a regular and challenging job. The faint hint of tufting on their ears and the size made it seem that there was some Maine Coon Cat in them. The two gingers ended up with new Irish names O'Keefe and Limerick
The only one of the three brothers that kept his name was my gray tabby, Deuce. Deuce always seemed to be second with the other two vying for first place.
O'Keefe was a big boy. He weighed in at a massive 28 lbs. That earned him the nickname, O'Beef. He wasn't fat though. His big rangy frame carried the weight well. For his size he was very graceful. Still furniture and fences shook when O'Keefe landed on them. His landings on the bed in the middle of the night knocked the wind out of me more than once. And the PSI of those big paws was way beyond the normal cat footprint. He was a good mouser. Though he was fascinated by squirrels as far as I know he never managed to catch one. Much to my embarrassment and shame O'Keefe brought home the occasional bird.
The three brothers played well together. Often I would hear strange noises at night and come out to see the three of them playing with a ball together. One would send it flying and the other two would chase it. The catcher would bat it and then the remaining two would hunt it down.
Living for the last two years with the three cats, they have grown on me. Sure we had battles about keeping litter in the litter box . The hunger strike over a pandemic food change in hindsight is pretty funny.
When I came out to find O'Keefe's brother, Limerick, dead about a year ago, it was a sad moment. I knew that the cats were getting old. I needed to find a regular vet to look after the remaining two. Simple things like getting good flea treatment instead of the weak stuff that pet stores sell, or regular deworming because they had been outdoor cats were neglected. But I kept putting it off, reluctant to find a vet because I have always had awkward relationships with vets that weren't my dad.
Then we moved into pandemic mode , no hugs, very limited people contact. As I fondly referred to them, the two remaining cats became my "oxytocin releasers." We know oxytocin as the maternal hormone. But it plays an important role in our human physiology, through touch, bonding us with others. My attachment to the cats became deeper.
During the hunger strike, the pair discovered that zoom meetings were a good time for affection. They would take turns to jump up into my lap. O'Keefe interrupted a national presentation I was making on a Covid-19 anxiety study.
O'Keefe had always been a talker. It seemed like he could carry on a conversation with you. He had some very unique meows. He seemed to ask questions. When you took time to answer he would look at you, turn his head a bit, appearing to listen, and then respond. He often began the night sleeping by my feet but most nights he would flee. I moved around too much or he got too hot. And then when I would come through in the morning to make coffee, he would greet me with a distinctive meow. Early in the fall I found a phone app called "Meow Talk." The app recorded him and then translated what he was saying. That morning welcome meow translated as "Good morning."
The curiosity about what O'Keefe was saying came from an increase in yowling when I was talking on the phone. It was exactly the right pitch to make talking on the phone almost impossible. More than once I had to hang up, calm him down and then call back to finish the call. I would calm him by playing with him using a fluffy on a string or by picking him up and scratching him under the chin. He seemed to be trying to tell me something but I couldn't figure it out.
Deuce was showing more and more signs of what I took to be old age. Often I lifted him to my lap or on to the bed. He didn't have the strength to make the jump anymore. He lost a lot of hair on his haunches, a previous allergy that had showed up when under stress. This seemed worse than usual though. Finally a close friend urged me to get in touch with a vet clinic. She told me about a veterinary assistance program called "Paws for Hope."
After filling in the online paperwork, I requested an appointment. A week later I loaded them up and took them in. A pandemic visit to the vet is a strange experience with curbside service and masks. The vet called me after the initial exam and explained what she had found. She suspected that Deuce was diabetic and that he had a kidney infection. O'Keefe, she thought, might have hyperthyroidism. She asked for permission to complete a blood panel on Deuce and check thyroid levels in O'Keefe.
I came home with medications for them. At the time, I discussed whether Deuce was "savable." I knew maintaining a diabetic cat would get very expensive very quickly. Insulin, syringes, and monitoring glucose add up. I made the decision to try it for three months and see what happened. I asked for flea and deworming treatment and the vet was happy to oblige.
I couldn't believe the turnaround in Deuce. Part of it was a move to moist canned food. But when I took him in for his first "glucose curve" his improvement was easy to see. His haunch hair was growing back and the leap to the bed had returned. Catnip, chasing toys, and his weight gain was amazing. "Paws for Hope" stepped up and paid for the veterinary testing required to adjust his insulin.
Not only was O'Keefe a pandemic life saver for me, he saved Deuce's life. Beyond a doubt, O'Keefe's yowling precipitated my vet visit that saved Deuce's life.
O'Keefe had indeed tested as having hyperthyroidism. His medication was much simpler and much less expensive. When I took Deuce in for his glucose curve, I reported that O'Keefe had stopped yowling but was lethargic. The vet suggested lowering his dosage. After the holidays, I was to bring him in to recheck his thyroid levels.
Around Christmas I noticed O'Keefe had what appeared to be an ingrown toenail. I trimmed it but the toe wound seemed to be irritating him and he kept licking it until it ulcerated. I tried bandaging it but without a collar it lasted about two minutes each time I tried it. Again the pet store proved useless. None of the collars that they had were going to stop him from reaching the paw.
I called the clinic for a collar and antibiotics. The soonest they could see O'Keefe was two days later. They wouldn't prescribe antibiotics before evaluation. I picked up a cone collar from the clinic that day though and was finally able to keep the bandage on. I took him in, expecting a request for a full blood panel and a prescription for antibiotics.
When the vet called, it wasn't the one that I had dealt with earlier. He surprised me, wanting to do a full body Xray, suspecting cancer. He had found a lump on O'Keefe's rear leg that he suspected may have metastasized into his lungs and other organs. That was causing the lethargy and dramatic weight loss. The vet found nothing with the X-ray though and agreed it was sepsis. I went home expecting a turnaround with the prescribed antibiotics.
By Sunday, it was clear that though the paw was healing slightly, the antibiotics weren't making a difference. The lump on his left rear knee that the vet had identified had grown larger in even that short a time. It wasn't painful to palpate. But it was making it difficult for O'Keefe to walk. He staggered from bed to food to litter box and then to a favourite rug, travelling about six feet at a time. There was no longer any strength to jump to the bed. I had to lift him up and down.
So I made a conscious effort to find some snuggle time with him, letting him purr in my lap, and tuck up by my feet at night. I was hopeful when I took him in that the vet would find something simple to correct and I would have him back. In the back of my mind I suspected the initial suspicion of cancer was correct.
When the vet called to say the news wasn't good, the conversation moved to euthanasia. Together we made the decision to proceed. It was over quickly. I was able to hold him in my arms as she administered the anaesthesia and final shot.
Writing this eulogy has been to honour his larger-than-life presence in my life. As I say farewell to O'Keefe, I find it comforting to know that he was a hero.
As always thank you for your prayers and support.