Sympathy Card

My vet sent me a lovely card in sympathy with Jefferson’s passing. It was really touching; she wrote that “he was an amazing boy who obviously was dearly loved”, and that she thinks I did the right thing even though it was difficult to do. The whole experience has made me really glad she’s my vet. If you’re in the area and looking for a vet, I go to the Mid Peninsula Animal Hospital.

It’s getting easier, but I still miss him of course. It’s becoming clear that he was the glue who held all the cats together. The other three don’t eat together very much anymore, for example. I’m still holding out hope that Roulette will manage to win over Newton as a sleeping buddy, though.


When we put Jefferson to sleep, Debbi started crying, and she said, “I was trying to be strong for you.”

In fact, I’ve rarely seen Debbi cry during our relationship, and for the most part this week when she’s gotten weepy it’s been because I started first. But two times I have seen her cry have been back in 2005 when Roulette escaped from the car when she drove up for their weekend visit (and we spent two twilight hours hunting for her), and today when she deleted Jefferson from our Wii Fit, since seeing his avatar sitting there every time we seemed just cruel to us.

I really hate to see Debbi cry. I rarely think about the day Roulette escaped because she was so terribly upset, and I never want to see her that way again.

I think we’re going to be putting away remnants of Jeff’s life here for weeks to come, and each piece will be hard.

It’s especially hard to think that I’m going to live for decades more with only memories and photos of him.


It’s been hard, as you might guess. I realized that this is really the first time I’ve had someone this close to me die. I’ve never had a friend or a immediate family member die, and the pets I grew up with passed away after I’d moved out (and while I appreciated and remember my grandparents, I’m not sure I’d say I was close to them). But now I understand why friends who have had pets die in recent years have been so broken up by it. I guess you can’t really understand until it happens to you.

Yesterday morning I was sitting on the bed crying a little, and Blackjack came in and looked up at me, jumped up on the bed and nuzzled me, and then sat down next to me. I wouldn’t have guessed it, but he seems to be reacting to our emotions more than Newton or Roulette. Although I think Roulette has been looking around for her sleeping buddy from time to time. Today she got into the cat window and sniffed every corner of it before lying down in the cat bed; it must still smell like Jefferson.

The things that make me smile are seeing our cats doing their normal things. I think it reassures me that they’re okay, especially Newton who, after all, is Jefferson’s brother. Debbi bought some new food dishes (they used to eat out of two 2-sided dishes, and we decided it would be uncomfortable to use those and not fill one of the bowls each day) and they’ve all been eating. Newton’s still taking his pill every morning. He jumps up on my bathroom counter and licks the water after I finish shaving, and all three cats have come in to check out my shower after I get out of it. We’re getting full-on sun today, and they’ve all been lying in the sunbeam in the front room. I was able to get both Newton and Roulette to play last night. I cleaned the porch today and let them out on it; Blackjack rolled around on his back in happiness, and both he and Newton (the dummies) chewed on the surviving snapdragon.

There’s still a big hole in the house, though. In some ways Jefferson was the glue that held the other three cats together, and I think they’re figuring out their new dynamics. Jefferson was top cat, and I expect Blackjack will become top cat now, but he’s a lot more rambunctious than Jeff, so that will be different. Roulette I think wants to start cuddling up to Newton, so we’ll see whether that happens.

We’re going to try not to spend too much time at home this weekend, as it could be a bit morbid. I don’t want to leave the cats alone all the time, either, but then, midday is their prime nap time, and there are all these great sunbeams around.

It’s a bit of emotional thrashing around. We’ll get through it, but it’s going to take some time.

Meanwhile, here’s a picture of me and my cats from 2003 (before we got the kittens, I believe), which I think sums up our relationships fairly well:

The Morning After

I slept well last night, so that’s something. Newton and Roulette both came in to join us for bed last night. I’m not sure if they were confused by Jefferson’s absence, or if they were reacting to our emotions. Or both. I gave Newton a lot of extra attention last night, which he loved, of course, purring up a storm and rolling onto his back and kneading me. (I need to clip his claws.) Debbi is worried that Roulette will get depressed, since she loved Jefferson so much. Blackjack has gone around meowing a little, but he does that anyway, and I’m not sure if it means anything. He often seems to live in his own little world.

Blackjack and Newton were both snoozing with me when I woke up this morning. I played with Blackjack a little (let him rabbit-kick my foot), and then he jumped down. Newton got his usual attention, and then stood up and looked toward the door. I told him (not knowing what he was thinking, of course) that Jefferson wasn’t going to come in to join us this morning. Jeff would often jump up with Newton, and give him some licking while they were both standing on me.

Usually Jefferson comes in to the dining room while I’m reading the paper and meows to get up on my lap, and I put him off until I get to the funnies (which I read last). Blackjack has been joining me for the paper recently – he’s become a lie-on-the-paper kitty – so he came over for a little while and then went to his cat bed in the window. But, no more morning snuggles and purrs with Jeff at breakfast.

Roulette burrowed under the blanked on the futon in the front bedroom as she always does, coming down once to have some breakfast. Newton lay for a while in his usual spot on the bed, and just before I left he’d moved to the front room to lie in the sunlight.

I’ve been wondering if Jefferson’s last few weeks were what he’d have wanted. I know he got some playing in with the laser pointer and cat catcher in the last few months. He’s had some treats. He got some petting. He loved potato chips – he’d come running across the house when I opened a bag of them – but he hadn’t had any in a while. I gave him plenty of chin skritches in his last minutes yesterday. Unfortunately his last week was spent dealing with out crowded house as Debbi’s family and some other friends were visiting, and none of the cats enjoy large crowds. Monday night I went to Magic and Tuesday night I had frisbee, so I feel like I didn’t really get to see him in his last few days. That makes me really sad.

But I know that he had a really good life, even if the last few days weren’t the best they could have been if I’d known what was coming.

I cried a little after I got in to work this morning. I may be working with my office door closed off and on today and tomorrow.

I sent mail to my ex-girlfriend Colleen, who was Jefferson’s first “mom”, since I haven’t seen her on Facebook recently.

If you’re curious, I have some pictures of Jefferson (and the other cats) from the last 4 years visible via this tag.

Remembering Jefferson: 1994-2010

This morning I noticed Jefferson was not eating – not even a treat – and was being very lethargic. He’d lost a lot of weight over the last 8 months, and he looked even more gaunt than he has recently. I took him into the vet, and by noon she called with the bad news: Jeff had had what she called an “acute renal incident” and whatever measurements they used on his kidneys were “crazy high”.

I spent most of the day agonizing over what to do: To have him hospitalized for 2-3 days getting hydrated and perhaps getting close to normal, and then facing daily subcutaneous fluid injections and other treatments for perhaps a few months to two years of life, or deciding that, as the vet put it, he’d had a good 16 years. By late afternoon, I decided to do the latter. The vet said she thought it was a reasonable decision, that his measurements were not good and it was no guarantee that he’d get back to normal.

Debbi and I met at the vet and said goodbye. Jefferson was snuggly and cuddly, and just before the doctor came in he wanted to get put down on the towel on the exam room table, where he lay down. The doctor gave him a sedative (he didn’t close his eyes, she said they never do), and then she put him to sleep for good. It was very quiet. he even had one lip curled up like he did sometimes.

I didn’t take a final picture of him lying there, and I decided not to keep his ashes. That’s not the sort of person I am. He’ll go to kitty heaven along with several other kitties, and I’ll have my memories and my photos of him.

I got Jefferson and his brother Newton (well, I was told they were brothers) from the humane society in October of 1994, when they were 6 months old. I’d left graduate school in May, started working at Epic in June, and moved to my first solo apartment in August. I’d been going to the Humane Society twice a week for several weeks looking for just the right kittens. It was awfully hard, not adopting the other kittens or cats. I remember in particular two 11-month old orange tabby brothers who were there for week after week; I hope they got adopted. Jefferson and Newton showed up one day and I immediately put in to interview them. I was told that someone else had put in to interview Newton, but when my appointment came later that week it turned out they’d decided not to take him. The two of them were full of energy, jumping all over me and my then-girlfriend Colleen, and I quickly decided they were the guys for me.

The Humane Society screwed up and didn’t neuter them on the day they were supported to be neutered, so I had them home just for a weekend before I had to take them in again, and leave them overnight. That was hard, too. But then they were home for good, little bundles of energy running around my apartment.

It took me a month to name them. They totally stressed me out getting into things, and just being the “little brown guy” and the “little orange guy”. Newton named himself by always falling off my lap while rolling around getting petted. Jefferson’s name just came to me as one that matched Newton, when I decided I had to give him a name, to make him feel more like a member of my home. But it fit.

Newton was the bold one, but Jefferson was the smart one. I’m sure he figured out how to open my front door – if only he could reach the handle. I let them both into the building’s hallway, where they’d go down the hall and intimidate my friend Jim’s cats, walking right into his apartment if we let them.

Those early years, the brothers were inseparable. They’d snooze together and play together, habits they grew out of in their later years. Early on Jefferson would climb into bed with me and curl up alongside my torso; over time he’d move to the foot of the bed (probably because of the extra-comfy blanket I draped down there at the time) and lounge over my foot.

When I moved to California, the cats flew in the cargo hold. When they came out the other end, Newton was hiding at the back of this cage, while Jefferson was loafed up front and center, with a look that said, “I am never going to forgive you for this, you realize that, right?” Both cats (predictably) never liked moving to a new home; they’d slink around the place on their bellies, and then hide somewhere until nightfall, at which point they’d come out and check everything out. They got it all figured out pretty quickly, though.

One day I came home from work and pulled up to my car port, thinking, “Hey, that orange cat sitting at the foot of the stairs to my floor looks just like Newton!” In fact, it was Newton – at some point during the day they’d pushed the screen out of a window over the kitchen sink and gotten outside. Who knows how long they were out there, and it’s lucky they weren’t killed. Jefferson ran back inside as soon as I went upstairs, but I had go down down to entice Newton back.

When Debbi got her kittens, she brought them down every weekend. Blackjack had delusions of being top cat, but Jefferson was having none of it, and quickly taught the kittens their places. Despite this, Roulette loved Jefferson, and the two of them became fast friends, mostly curling up in the papasan together every evening. Jefferson always seemed just a little put out, but sometimes he’d give in and lick Roulette’s head.

I think the coming of the kittens spelled the end of Jefferson and Newton’s close relationship, though. They rarely slept together anymore, and Newton would sometimes play dominance games by holding Jefferson by biting the scruff of his neck.

Most of all, though, Jefferson was my cat – no one else would do. I’d come home and he’d jump down from the bookcase upstairs and come running down to greet me, and then follow me around meowing at me until I picked him up. Other people were not sufficient, and he’d only grudgingly give them attention. He was always quick to purr his deep purr (it took Newton quite a while to find both his purr and his meow). When I was on the phone, Jefferson would jump into my lap, or meow at me if I wasn’t sitting down, no matter where we’d each been when the phone rang. Debbi often said that Jefferson wanted everyone else to just go away, so it would be just him and me.

This morning Newton was meowing his head off around 3:15 in the morning. In retrospect I wonder if he knew something wasn’t right.

On his last day Jefferson came in to greet me when my alarm went off. He came down for breakfast, but didn’t eat. He went up to lie in the sunbeam for several hours, and later I found him sitting in the green cat couch in the hallway – a couch he’d claimed as his some time ago – and finally in the cubbyhole of the cat tree. He meowed all the way to the vet. He’d gotten down to 8 pounds – literally half the cat he once was.

After we said goodbye, I went to buy comic books (I listened to podcasts of Wait! Wait! Don’t Tell Me! on the way, which helped take my mind off it by making me laugh), and Debbi put away our two-sided feeding dish and found a round ceramic one for Newton. The other three cats seem a little bewildered, but I don’t think they know why. Oddly, Blackjack is the one who’s been walking around yowling.

Jefferson would have been 16 years old next month. That’s a pretty good run for a cat. I’ve known for a while that cats at that age can go very quickly. Maybe we could have gotten a few more good months with him, but maybe they wouldn’t have been good months. It will take me a little while not to think about that.

Goodbye, Jeff, my little brown guy. I honestly could not have asked for a better cat. I love you and I’ll always miss you.


Yesterday I was thankful for having a fun, low-key Thanksgiving at the house of our friends Chad & Camille, with Susan and Subrata also attending. Plus we had one toddler (S&S’s), two infants (C&C’s), and two dogs (also C&C’s), and the obligatory plenty of food, supplied by all of us. (Well, Debbi took care of our contributions.)

In the evening Debbi and I watched Up on DVD. I liked it quite a bit when I saw it in the theatre, and I liked it just as much this time. The more I think about it, the more I think it is Pixar’s best film. Its ridiculous premises are inventive and audacious, but more importantly they’re surprising; the film heads in unexpected directions and yet holds together. It works because it sticks to its emotional center, that of Carl finding meaning in his life after leaving everything he’s known behind him. It’s certainly the most emotionally resonant film in Pixar’s catalog.

Today I’m thankful for my cat Jefferson, who went to the vet for dental surgery, and who fortunately had ‘only’ an infected tooth that needed to be pulled, and nothing worse (like a tumor). He’s home now, a little groggy, has been wolfing down soft cat food and drinking lots of water, blinking at the bright lights, and slowly getting back to normal. The other cats were perplexed by his absence, and have been mostly leaving him alone since he returned.

But for a 15-year-old cat, he’s doing pretty good. He’ll be on soft food and taking antibiotics for a while, but hopefully a good night’s sleep will get his personality back to normal.

And then I’ll really be thankful.

Christmas Photos

A few photos from our Christmas. First, Jefferson and Newton each sacked out in the scratch lounge my Mom bought for them:

Jefferson in the scratch lounge Newton in the scratch lounge

None of the cats have really figured out the “scratch” part of the lounge – well, Newton scratched at it briefly, but only once. They’ll probably work it out. We’ve never had cardboard scratchers for them that I can recall, just rope and carpet posts. (Newton and Roulette prefer carpet, while Jefferson and Blackjack prefer rope.)

Lastly, here’s our artificial tree:

Our artificial Christmas tree

Not bad, eh?

Fun With Mirrors

This morning I was shaving and Jefferson had jumped up on the counter next to the sink. Blackjack was prowling around in the bedroom behind me, doing what I don’t know.

Jefferson, though, was going nuts when he saw Blackjack in the mirror! He looked intently and bobbed his head back and forth while swishing his tail! I think he was checking out what Blackjack was up to, and was trying to get a better look, but every time he moved his head to look the cat in the mirror moved too and got in his way.

It was hilarious. It’s been years since either of the big cats have shown any interest in all in mirrors.

Kitty Update

Most of my weekend was taken up with reading, specifically reading Joan Vinge’s Catspaw for our book discussion group, as well as its predecessor Psion. More about then later.

Besides that we got together with Subrata and Susan on Friday night for dinner and games – we’ve apparently hooked Susan on playing dominoes. We had an excellent time, reducing ourselves to complete hysterical laughter by the end of the evening, which is always a good way to start a weekend.

The other component of the weekend was less fun, though. As I mentioned not long ago, Jefferson has been having some digestive issues, for which he got to take antibiotics and then some stuff to help his digestive tract. The former stuff was liquid which he absolutely hated (and got to take twice a day – lucky us), while the latter is a powder I mix into some wet food which he absolutely loves. (And so do the other three cats, which means I get to spend ten minutes herding them away from him so he can eat in peace.)

Well, Saturday afternoon Jeff started behaving strangely: First he started yelping at the other cats when they got too close to him, and then he decided to spend Saturday evening and most of Sunday upstairs under the futon in the study. He didn’t even come down for dinner.

Sunday afternoon I tried bringing him up a bowl of water, and he immediately pulled himself over to the bowl and drank from it. So we tried bringing up some food at mealtime, and he was perfectly happy to eat that, too. By the evening he started coming out from under the futon, and he spent an hour on the futon with Debbi. This morning he came down for dinner, and also came to check me out of his own accord while I was lying in bed trying to get up. He went back to lie on the futon after breakfast, but didn’t seem as skittish as he was before.

So we’re not sure what happened. I talked to the vet this morning and it sounds like his medications are likely not the culprit, since he’s been on them for over a week and they’re not the sort of thing likely to build up to a “critical mass” change in his behavior. So he might have just gotten an upset tummy for some reason, or maybe he ate something he wasn’t supposed to and it laid him low for a day. I dunno.

Hopefully he’ll be back to normal by tomorrow, and then all I have to worry about is his original digestive problems, which haven’t gotten any better that I can tell, but don’t seem to be bothering him very much, either.

If you’d asked me a few years ago which cat would have caused me the most trouble as he moved into old age, I’d have said Newton. But other than losing some weight (probably due to a borderline-high thyroid, but not one so high that the vet thinks he needs medication yet), he seems healthy as a horse. Even his teeth – in lousy shape for most of his life – seem to be holding up well! So he’ll probably be wrestling with Blackjack for years to come. But it looks like Jefferson is going to be getting better acquainted with the vet over the next few years.