Today Newton went to join his brothers Jefferson and Blackjack in that big cat window in the sky. Newton lived to be 19 years old, quite elderly for a housecat, but I think he was mostly happy up until the end.
I got Newton and Jefferson not long after I left grad school in 1994. The Humane Society in Madison thought they were six months old in October, but after seeing how big our current kittens were at six months, my guess is they were more like three or four months old when I got them.
“Hi, I’m Newton.”
Newton was “the explorer” of the pair. I remember when we (my then-girlfriend Colleen and I) let them out of the carrier when we brought them home, they both immediately did a 180° turn and walked right up to a half-height mirror that was leaning against the wall. They both jumped back from the “other cats”, but quickly learned that there were no actual other cats. They spent half an hour exploring the living room, and then walked over towards the kitchen. Jefferson headed into the kitchen, but Newton noticed the hallway leading to the bedroom and bathroom and immediately turned and headed into the bedroom, with Jefferson following. I also remember going into the bedroom when they got bigger and finding Newton on top off the door. I guess he jumped onto the desk, onto the bookcase next to it, and then across the doorway to the top of the door, where he happily sat for who knows how long before I recused him.
Newton was also a very enthusiastic, high-energy kitty. I remember we would play with them and he would keep going long after Jefferson called it quits. Heck, he would keep going until we stopped, and would sit looking at the toy and panting. And if we started again, he’d keep going. We finally stopped for good because I was afraid he was going to hurt himself!
“I got it!”
“If I put paws in both holes maybe I can get the mouse…”
Jefferson grew to be much bigger than Newton, and also became top cat, as I’d learn later. Newton topped out at a little under 10 pounds; I always wondered if he’d been the runt of his litter. Despite their size difference, Newton and Jefferson were pretty evenly matched. Newton was also the social one: I remember hosting a book discussion group at my apartment, and Jefferson stayed in the bedroom, but Newton eventually came out, jumped up on an empty chair, and loafed up as if he were listening to the conversation.
The three of us moved to California when I went to work at Apple. I started dating Debbi, and bought my townhouse in Mountain View. Jefferson may have resented Debbi’s taking my attention away from him, but Newton adjusted pretty well; he enjoyed getting attention from anyone, and got more and more snuggly as he got older.
“I loves my brother!”
Debbi’s kittens came along in 2003 and changed the dynamic: Jefferson became top cat (though Newton could always pester him like no one else could), and Newton and Blackjack started their struggle for the second position, which I don’t think ever really got resolved. The two of them would sometimes wrestle with each other, and we’d call them “the silent wrestlers” because they would often fight without making a sound, just pouncing back and forth and circling each other. Newton would often roll onto his back to fight, which was funny since Blackjack was much bigger than he was.
“Okay, okay, that’s enough!”
Newton had some weird habits. One was jumping up on my desk when I was at it and putting his head directly under the incandescent bulb of my desk lamp, “baking his brain” I called it. He never showed signed of getting particularly cold, so I don’t know what was going through his head. He was also the cat who would spaz out at a second’s notice and go running through the house. At the townhouse he’s tear down the stairs to the landing halfway, and then wriggle under the railing to jump down to the floor directly, and then keep going. He’s also the reason I didn’t have house plants for many years, not because he’d eat them but because he’d dig in the dirt in the pot. Again, don’t know what was going through his head. For a few years he liked to lie in the sink; when he got older, he just liked to drink out of it. And he liked to bury his head in my armpit, sometimes making snorting sounds when doing so. It grossed Debbi out.
When Jefferson passed away, the cat dynamics changed again; I think Roulette sort of inherited the top cat position from Jefferson, because neither Newton nor Blackjack was willing to yield it to the other. We moved to our current house, and Newton again was the first cat out of the carrier to check things out.
Blackjack was diagnosed with lymphoma in early 2011, but by this time Newton was almost 17 years old and was taking medication for hyperthyroidism, so I think their struggle ended without really being resolved. Then early last year Newton spent a few days in the hospital, and was diagnosed as having slowly-failing kidneys (kidney failure seems to be a common way older cats die). When he came home he was not quite the same cat he was before, having slowed down a lot and lost a lot of weight. He spent more time downstairs, taking the center spot in the family room couch as his own, and didn’t sleep with us anymore. He went on a regimen of subcutaneous fluids and various drugs, which took a while to figure out how best to give them to him (especially the aluminum hydroxide; going with an oral syringe of it in gel form worked much better than adding a powder to wet cat food).
Last November we got our new kittens, Jackson and Sadie, and Blackjack passed away a couple of weeks later. Newton quickly laid down the law with the kittens, showing that he wouldn’t take any guff from them, but they could sleep with him if they wanted. I think they actually made him perk up a bit because there were now things going on in the house.
We realized earlier this year that Newton couldn’t really run and could barely jump anymore, which meant it was now safe to let him out into the back yard with minimal supervision. This quickly became his favorite thing in the world, and he would sit at the back door meowing to go out, and also try to slip out with a human when the door opened. As long as he didn’t go under the deck, we let him have the run of the yard. He’d lie in the grass, sit on an edging stone, walk behind the Japanese maple, and then come over the rub his head against me, in thanks, I guess.
He didn’t make his last months easy, though. He stopped peeing inside his litter box, so we put puppy pads down in strategic spots for him to use. Sometimes he’d miss and we’d have to clean up the floor. These last couple of weeks he started peeing in other places (even on the blankets on the couch a few times, though we managed to save the couch from getting wet), and he was meowing more and more. Sometimes he’d put his head down, and then three minutes later lift it up and meow for thirty seconds. I don’t know whether he was sleeping very well, or eating or drinking. And his breath got really foul, which our vet says can be a symptom of severe kidney degradation.
So I made a vet appointment for today. I took him outside for one last walk around (the picture below is from this morning), and then in we went. After talking with our vet and thinking it over for a while, I decided that it was probably time. His meows probably meant he wasn’t very comfortable anymore, and I didn’t want him to deteriorate over the next week or two to the point where he was miserable and pathetic. The vet thought it was a good decision, that even if we treated his current symptoms it was likely he’d only have a few more weeks. I didn’t know going in whether that would be the decision, but I thought it was likely. Despite feeling like I’d said my goodbyes to him last year before his hospital stay, and the fact that he hasn’t really been the same cat since, it was still very hard to say goodbye. We snuggled with him until he was sedated and he seemed just happy to be in our arms.
Several of my friends had young cats around the time I got my guys, and Newton I believe outlived all of them: Scout & Smokey (Newton & Jefferson’s doppelgangers), Sarabi & Mufasa (Sarabi passed away earlier this year), Oscar & Spud. And all the “K” kitties two of my friends had, of which I only remember Kang, because he always wanted to snuggle with me when I visited.
Goodbye, little orange fellow. You had a long, full life, and I’ll miss you.
Onwards to new adventures!