Newton’s Last Days

It was about a week ago that we decided to take Newton in to the vet because of his increasing meowing, apparent trouble sleeping, and starting to pee in more and more places. While I thought we might do some blood tests and see what was up, I also realized there was a good chance that we would just decide that that was it for him (as it turned out to be). I made the appointment for Sunday because our vet was booked on Saturday and I had another appointment on Friday.

We actually had quite a busy week, and I admit that some of it was wanting to be distracted so I didn’t sit around moping about the impending vet appointment. I felt a little guilty that I didn’t want to spend as much time as possible with him, but honestly he was becoming an increasingly grouchy kitty and he really did not interact a lot anymore.

Last Sunday – before I made the appointment – we had gone to the birthday party of our friends’ four-year-old twins, and while there Debbi scheduled a couple of other dates with their parents and some other friends. So Wednesday we met four of them at Flea Street Cafe, in a part of Menlo Park we’d never been to, for dinner and drinks. It’s a pretty good place, rather on the pricy side, and a little ritzy for our usual dinner haunts, but we might go back with other folks sometime.

Friday I had an appointment to take my car in. I drive a 2000 Honda Civic, which I actually bought in fall of 1999, and it is starting to show its age. The battery needs to be replaced (it’s been replaced at least once before), I have an oil leak (which might be at the head gasket), and apparently a power steering rack leak as well. They told me to take the car to have its engine block steam cleaned (I’ve never heard of such a thing!) and I’ll bring it back this coming Friday to see if they can pinpoint the oil leak. But likely it will run well over a thousand dollars to get it all fixed. I will likely fix it, since I’m not yet ready to get a new car, but it looks like I’ll need to move on cleaning out the garage before too long so I can consider getting a new car (which I won’t want to park in the driveway).

Friday night we got together with Susan and Subrata for dinner and games, which is always fun.

Unfortunately, Debbi started feeling sick on Friday, with a sore throat when she woke up, and we had many plans on Saturday. She felt a little better on Saturday, so we went ahead with the plans. In the afternoon we had six of our adult friends, and four kids, over for a BBQ in the back yard. This was a lot of fun, but also a lot of work to keep this kids entertained. The twins live in a house without stairs and so they always want to go up and down the stairs when they come visit. But mostly it was an outdoor party, so they got to run around in the yard, but we adults went out to keep them entertained regularly; they wanted me to swing them around by their wrists or ankles, and to chase me back and forth in the yard. (The five-year-old realized I would cut back to avoid the twins, so I had to zig again to avoid her; fortunately I can still out-think a five-year-old.)

In addition to the BBQ I made mai tais using the recipe the twins’ Mom uses (more or less), which is pretty different from the “traditional” mai tai (it uses pineapple juice) I made a batch, gave it a try, added some stuff to it, and it turned out pretty good. There’s still something missing, but I’m not sure what. It was also stronger than I’d expected, but I think the dark rum I happen to have on hand is pretty strong in both flavor and alcohol content.

When the first people showed up, I let Newton outside with us, and basically just let him roam around the yard – as long as he didn’t go under the deck we let him be. He lay in the sun, lay in the shade, went behind bushes and our Japanese maple tree, sat on the edging stones, and generally had a great time (meowing a lot of the time, too). Eventually more people showed up, so I took him indoors, but he spent at least an hour and a half (including some time before the party) in the back yard, so it was a good last full day for him. He managed to sneak outside a couple of times later, too.

The party went rather longer than we had originally planned, but everyone was having fun and the kids were still full of energy so we didn’t worry about it. Things wound down around 8.

This was good because we actually had plans with the neighbors around 8 to go hang out for the evening. So we were a bit late to that as we cleaned up (and gave Newton his subcutaneous fluids). It was a nice change from the busy-ness of the afternoon, though: Our neighbor enjoys making vodka drinks, so he prepared four different ones for us, and we all sat and talked and noshed on munchies and enjoyed the drinks, which were delicious. Now I’m feeling inspired to make martinis and such. We stayed until nearly midnight, and then staggered home, being very glad we didn’t have to drive.

Debbi unfortunately felt sicker on Sunday (and is home from work today), which was also a drag because she was trying to take care of herself while we took Newton to the vet and then came home after having him put to sleep.

It’s been easier getting over Newton’s passing than it was for me with Jefferson. Partly I think because I said goodbyes to him last year before his hospital stay, and partly because we’ve basically known since that stay that his day was not far off. Really he lived longer than we expected, I think. The kittens have been sniffing around his spot on the couch and sometimes lying there, and I sat there last night to watch the Red Sox game. Roulette I think knew something was wrong with him before he passed; we’re worried about how she’ll handle the fact that the last of the three cats she grew up with is gone, and now she just has these kittens that she doesn’t fully accept. With time, maybe she will.

We’ve been picking up some of the things we had to deal with Newton peeing around the house, and we took up the towel from his spot and put a regular blanket there (our couch is covered in blankets to try to control some of the cat hair). It’s not quite the same and taking away the food dishes when Jefferson passed, but there’s a mark of finality to it. Disposing of his remaining medications is next, I guess. And I can try to return that unopened pack of puppy pads to Petco.

And, life goes on.

Remembering Newton, 1994-2013

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
“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!
“I got it!”

Pump and run
“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
“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.

Kitty friends
“Fighting? Us?”

Okay, okay, that's enough
“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.

New brothers

I guess she's okay

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!
Onwards to new adventures!

Caring for Newton

When I got Newton and Jefferson in October 1994, my vet’s best guess was that they were about 6 months old, so they have an unofficial birthday of April 1, 1994. Seeing Jackson and Sadie grow up (they’re about 8 months old now), I’m pretty sure my guys were actually younger than that, but I’ll never know for sure. In any event, Newton is now approximately 19 years old, which is something like 94 in human years. He’s an elderly kitty.

Since his hospital stay last year, he’s been doing pretty well, but he’s been getting harder to care for.

First of all, he gets quite a bit of medication:

  • Subcutaneous fluids daily
  • A half-pill of tapazole twice a day for hyperthyroidism
  • A tumil-K tablet daily (a potassium supplement)
  • A quarter-tablet of Pepcid daily
  • Two ml of aluminum hydroxide gel twice a day (to reduce his phosphorus levels)
  • A shot of Epogen once a week, to improve his red blood cell count

This is less expensive than it might seem – only the Epogen is really expensive – but it’s a lot of stuff we have to do every day. This (combined with Blackjack’s condition prior to his death last year) is the main reason we haven’t taken a vacation trip since our two weeks in Hawaii in 2011. It’s been a drag in that regard.

On top of that, Newton has basically stopped using his litter to pee in, so we’ve had to surround the downstairs litter with puppy pads for him to go on, and change them once or twice a day. Some days he doesn’t even make it to the litter and just goes on the floor. It’s pretty annoying. I’d be more okay with giving him all his meds if he just used his litter properly again.

The one bright spot is that he’s still doing pretty well. We upped some of his meds to the levels above when he went to the vet in February. But the vet said that he seems basically healthy, and still happy (since he was rubbing his chin on things in the vet’s office). He has his days when he does little besides sleep, but other days he walks around a bit, sits in the sun, and meows at nothing. And he loves for me to take him outside into the back yard; since he can’t jump well anymore, I let him walk around in the grass on occasion since I know he’s not going to run away (over our 7-foot-tall fence).

Newton’s not really the same kitty he used to be, and he keeps to himself a lot. While I’m glad he’s still around, part of me kind of wishes that his decline wouldn’t drag out quite so long. And that he wouldn’t pee on the floor.

Anyway, we’re going to have to take a vacation sooner or later, and the care he needs means we can’t really ask our friends to come watch him, so we’ll probably have to find and pay for a professional sitter.

Exiting Submarine Mode

I haven’t written here in over a month – just haven’t been in the mood, I guess. Also, not a huge amount going on in the month of February.

March has been a bit different: Debbi’s been back east for the last week and a half visiting her parents (with a side-trip to Disney World yesterday and today), so I’ve been on my own at home for the first time since her sabbatical in 2011. It was pretty lonely for the first couple of days, trying to figure out what to do with myself (not that I didn’t have plenty to do).

After the first weekend it got a bit easier. I hosted Magic last Monday, went to Dana Street for comic book night on Wednesday, and hosted a poker night on Friday.

The poker night had a notable hand: In the big blind I got dealt… well, it came around to me with a single raise and I said, “I don’t have any cards.” I’d been distracted and hadn’t grabbed them from the middle, and they were sitting mixed up in the muck. Without my saying anything, people agreed I could just take the top two cards off the deck (no, I wasn’t the dealer) and play them. So I got two cards, and they were… the Ace-King of diamonds. I called the raise and saw a flop of… three diamonds, for the nut flush. The small blind bet into me, and I called, and everyone else folded. The turn and river bricked, and I got it all in on the river. My opponent thought a while and called, then mucked to my flush. He said he had a set, which was the only hand that made sense to me, other than a lower flush. He said my call on the flop confused him into thinking I didn’t have the flush, which was more-or-less what I’d intended. It was a little funny since he slowplayed several big hands that evening.

I wonder what the two cards I didn’t get to play were?

I signed up to watch some friends’ cats this past weekend, and kept plenty busy besides, reading for our book discussion on Sunday, cooking meals, and running errands. As usual I didn’t get half as much done as I’d intended. I also took Newton and Roulette in for their annual check-ups on Saturday. Newton’s down to just 4-1/2 pounds or so, but the vet says he seems happy and fairly healthy otherwise. We’re giving him more subcutaneous fluids but otherwise keeping things about the same unless things change. I’m glad he’s happy. He’ll turn 19 next month, which is just mind-blowing.

The kittens are doing well. They sleep with me every night and usually snuggle with me in the morning. I think Roulette is very gradually coming to accept them, but it’ll probably be months yet before they snooze together. All the cats were happy that it was so warm this weekend that I opened up the windows until sundown.

Today, alas, I’ve come down with something, so I had to bail on hosting Magic tonight and I’m sitting quietly on the couch (having eaten too much hamburger and tater tots for dinner). Debbi’s back tomorrow, and then things will be back to normal for a while. It’ll be nice.

Feline Integration

The kittens have had the run of the house for about a month and a half now, and things seem to be going well. There are some expected bumps, though.

Sadie & Jackson

Jackson is turning out to be the troublemaker. He’s gone behind the A/V cabinet and chewed on some of the thinner cables, breaking both the AM and FM antennae for my receiver. (It turns out those are hard to replace – no one really carries replacements!) We’ve piled empty boxes back there, but he keeps trying to get back there anyway. Then we grab him and put him in time out (holding him against his will) and he mews pitifully. He tries to force his way into our food at meal time, and yesterday stood on a spoon covered in pesto sauce while licking a plate. He likes to “help” me scoop the litter, standing in the box and batting at the scoop.

Sadie is not quite as rambunctious, and has gotten snugglier as she’s grown up. She likes getting attention in the middle of the night, which is not ideal, but she also likes to check out what people are doing. Sometimes I’ll be in the study and she’ll walk in meowing, and I think she just wanted to know where I am and make sure I’m okay. One morning she climbed through the shade in the front window to watch me leave for work.

Sadie is turning out to be a medium-long haired cat, which I would not have guessed from when she was a kitten. I’ll need to get her used to getting brushed. Jackson is definitely short-haired, and his fur is starting to soften a little. Jackson is going to be long and lanky, as I think I’ve said before, while Sadie will have a more compact body.

Jackson in the Sun Sunbeam Newton & Sadie
(click for larger images)

The kittens get along very well with Newton, and often sleep with him. I think Newton enjoys the attention, and I wonder if he was a little bored, lonely, or even feeling a little abandoned before the kittens, since he now spends time with them in group grooming sessions and seems a little perkier and happier (now that Sadie isn’t pouncing on him). I know he doesn’t like all the medicines and subcutaneous fluids he has to take, so the more innocent attention the kittens give him might make him happy. He’s also taught them about drinking out of the sink in the downstairs bathroom.

Kitten Pile

Getting along with Roulette is taking longer. There’s still some hissing, and Sadie sometimes chases her, which we can’t really tell whether she enjoys or not. Maybe sometimes she does and sometimes she doesn’t. Sadie really wants to be like Rou, and we often see her imitating the big cat. They don’t quite sleep together in the sun on the guest bed, but close. Jackson has tried to win her over by being snuggly like he was with Newton, but so far it hasn’t worked. But at least Roulette isn’t hiding under the bed all the time, and Debbi even saw her and Jackson playing next to each other in some brown packing paper we’d put on the floor.

Cats Together Sadie & Roulette

They’ve also been doing very well with guests: We had Chad & Camille and their kids over last weekend and the kittens were quite sociable. Today we had Subrata & Susan and their son over for part of the Super Bowl and they again were quite happy to check out everything everyone was doing. It’s nice not to have either cat running and hiding when people come over.

Yesterday we took the kittens to the vet for their last round of shots. When we were there a little over a month ago, Sadie was around 4 lbs and Jackson was a bit over 3 lbs. Jackson has passed Sadie and is now at 7 lbs, while Sadie is a little over 6 lbs. The vet thinks Jackson will be a 14-15 lb kitty, while Sadie will be 10-11. That’s gonna be a lot of Jackson to deal with!

Jackson is proofreading this post as I type, so I’ll sign off with a picture of the two of us. Carefully taken to crop out (most of) the horrible bed-head I had that morning before my shower:

Jackson & Me

Here’s to a Better 2013

Frankly my feeling about 2012 is that it shouldn’t let the door hit it on the way out.

The year started quietly enough, but in March Newton spent several days in the hospital. I honestly didn’t think he was going to make it when we brought him in, but he pulled through and is still with us today. It made for a really rough month, though.

Sadly, Blackjack wasn’t so lucky, as he passed away last month 20 months after being diagnosed with lymphoma. We don’t have any regrets about making the decision, but it made for an un-merry holiday season.

The second half of the year was dominated by my Mom’s affairs, which has been very stressful for me – and rather expensive, with three trips back east. In July I flew back to help take care of her while she was rehabbing from knee replacement surgery. This trip seemed like a big disruption at the time, but in hindsight – in contrast to what followed – I remember it as practically a vacation (albeit one where I was working remotely every workday): I had dinners with friends and with my Dad, and went down to visit Debbi’s family at their beach house three times. And Mom’s cat Maggie and I bonded in the evenings.

But this was just the beginning, as soon after I returned we decided that Mom would be moving into an assisted living home. This led to a second trip in August to take over managing her financial affairs. And another trip in October where my sister and I worked on going through her physical stuff. My uncle (who’s done this for family members himself) did give me some good advice, though, that many of the things I had to do are straightforward so long as you attend to them and don’t let them languish, and frankly he’s been right. As much as I’ve disliked having to do many of these things, I haven’t really run into any real problems in getting them done.

Anyway.

The whole year wasn’t bad. Debbi’s parents visited us in February, and my Dad came to visit in April. I got to see a lot of Dad this year with my trips back east; as I said at the end of the August trip, it was good to see him and Mom (and Debbi’s family), but the rest of the trip sucked.

And in November we expanded our furry family with the addition of Jackson and Sadie, who have been a handful but have also been a nice distraction from some of the other things going on.

So I dearly hope that 2013 will be a better year, with less stress and less sadness. I still have some worries about things I have to take care of, and I think I’m just going to be worried about Newton’s health from here on out (he will, after all turn 19 in April).

My hope for this year is that the tasks I have to accomplish for my family go smoothly, and that Debbi and I can take a few vacations. That and healthy kitties is all I really ask from this new year.

Kitten Distraction

The kittens have been a nice distraction from Blackjack’s passing. They’re getting big so quickly! A about two weeks ago we started letting them out of their room to start exploring. First we let them have half the upstairs hallway and a bathroom, then the whole upstairs (guarded by a baby gate and a human sitting at it at the top of the stairs). They loved chasing each other back and forth through the hall and bedrooms, and they explored the bathrooms, and the beds, and various other things.

A melancholy moment was when Sadie went to the laundry basket where she’d encountered Blackjack before, and we’re pretty sure she remembered him and was looking for him, as he was the first kitty she’d really met. I like to think Sadie and Blackjack would have become friends, had things gone differently.

Anyway.

Last weekend we opened up the whole house to them (except for the study and the laundry room). They careened down the stairs and suffered a major traction loss when they got to the hardwood floors downstairs, but since then they’ve loved it! Jackson likes hanging out under the Christmas tree (and we have to stop him from chewing on it), and they both like to scale the cat tree.

I think it took the better part of the two days last weekend for them to finally calm down enough to sit and snooze with us. At times we’d see Sadie walking around looking absolutely exhausted, but she was still so excited that she didn’t want to sleep because she might miss something! But eventually they napped: Sadie sleeps loafed up on a couch cushion, while Jackson sleeps on his side with his legs sticking out. And then they wake up and do it all over again.

Lick Time
(click for larger image)

We still put them in their room overnight or when we’re leaving the house (and sometimes just to give the big cats a break from them), but they’re totally looking forward to being out all the time. And we’re being really careful when we go outside when they’re out to make sure they don’t try to dart outside.

The big cats are doing okay with them. There’s been some hissing. Jackson seems to back off when hissed at, he doesn’t want to get smacked down. Sadie, though, runs after Roulette and paws at her even when hissed at; I think those two are going to have to throw down at some point. If Roulette would just smack her a couple of times that might resolve things, but so far she hasn’t. Sadie has even tackled Newton on the couch a couple of times!

Roulette ran upstairs the first few times we let them out, but now she stays downstairs and is usually either under the futon, or on the back of the couch, watching them. Newton followed them around a little, but now isn’t very interested unless they disturb his sleep. Jackson likes to go sleep with him sometimes, and he gives Newton a bath when he does (Newton has mostly stopped grooming himself in his old age). One time I heard Newton meow, and I went over to find him ready to jump off the couch, while Sadie was upside-down, on her head, back to the couch cushion looking at him. “Extreme kitten flirting” I called it.

Snoozing with Newton Snoozing with Michael and Newton

Debbi’s started giving all four cats wet cat food together as a treat, and they’re all pretty accommodating. Jackson is a bit of a bully trying to get the others cats’ food, and Roulette is torn between wet food (her favoritest thing) and staying away from the kittens – the food wins. To her credit, she’s also played with Debbi and the kittens when Debbi brings out a toy, so she’s starting to get used to them.

Who's That? Sitting with Debbi

The kittens’ personalities are slowly emerging. Jackson is full of energy, is easily distracted, but is also the snuggler when he finally winds down. He’s also got the extra-loud purr. Sadie paces herself a little better, isn’t quite as aggressive, but also interacts with the humans less. I think she’s still trying to figure out how to get people to love her. I hope she becomes more snuggly because she has extra-soft fur which is great to pet.

The kittens have been a lot of work, but they’re also a lot of fun. They keep themselves entertained a lot, and then crash and hang out with us for a while. The big cats are still not too happy about it all, but I think they’re slowly coming around.

Hi there!

Remembering Blackjack 2003-2012

Debbi says that when she went to get Blackjack and Roulette she knew Blackjack was the cat for her. I think she got Roulette partly because Roulette seemed to like me, but Blackjack was the cat for her. She wanted a black cat, and he played hard and seemed to like people. He came with his name, while Debbi came up with “Roulette” to match him.

Blackjack was a little sick as a kitten, but got over it. Then he became all kinds of trouble! He was bold and liked to check everything out. And after he played hard, he crashed hard and slept hard. He just kept going until he was done, and then he climbed somewhere he felt safe and zonked out.


(click the thumbnails for larger images)

Blackjack also chose Debbi as his human. He would often nuzzle at her neck while kneading her and purring, something we called “giving her wuv”. He only did this for me once, when he was a kitten and she was visiting her family back east and had left them with me. But otherwise this was something he saved for her.

I think he had designs on becoming top cat when he came to my place, but Jefferson knocked him off of that idea promptly. Then he and Newton started fighting to see who would be second cat. We called them the “silent wrestlers”, as they would struggle on the floor without meowing or yelping. I’m not sure who won that struggle, since when Jefferson passed away we think Roulette moved from being bottom cat to being top cat, without anyone putting up a fight.



Blackjack was a very demonstrative kitty: He would often fall asleep on the floor, and then eventually end up lying on his back, exposing his tummy for everyone to see. We think he meant he was happy and comfortable with us. He was also very strong, being 14 pounds of pretty solid muscle, with powerful hind legs that could let him leap sideways quite some distance from a starting position. He had the most pathetic meow, sounding like someone was torturing him, when he was perfectly fine. Since he was all black, he could meow without us seeing his mouth open, which was pretty weird at times.

Like I said, he was a trouble-maker: He was a shoelace chewer. He liked to eat vegetables: Corn, frozen peas, and he’s gnaw on banana peels. Once he went deaf he got even pushier at the dinner table, trying to grab our food, and of course saying “no!” to him would have no effect! He would sometimes pull out one of his nails grooming himself, with just the quick sticking out from his paw. The nail always grew back, but that was kind of strange.

He and his sister wrestled and chased each other a lot. When they started chasing each other upstairs at the townhouse Debbi would say, “The elephants have been released!” Blackjack would often play harder than Roulette really wanted, and she’d meow in protest until we separated them. But he didn’t bite or otherwise cross the line.


Blackjack was – along with Newton – our social cat. He’d hang out when we had visitors, and as recently as last month he was up on the dining room table checking out what we were up to when I had friends over to play Magic. When our friends Lisa and Michel brought their daughter Isabella over, he was the one who eventually went over to check her out. She sat down and he sniffed her from toe to head, with her looking a bit startled by it all. Then he decided that was good enough for him and he left.


He would find strange places to sleep: Under the shelves in the closet at the townhouse. Under the desk. In the laundry basket. Places where it was hard to spot him because he was all black! He liked sleeping under the Christmas tree, too. He also discovered the heating vents under the cabinets in the new house, and enjoyed sitting in front of them last winter; he’d usually be in front of one every morning when I came down. He liked looking out the window, and was more curious than agitated when we got outdoor feline visitors (whereas Roulette would go nuts over the intruder).

And of course he would play: Jump after toys, run up and down the stairs. My Mom gave us a two-foot-long tube with fleece on the inside, and I could get him to run back and forth through it for quite a while. And then he’d get tired and he’d sack out inside it. Like the other cats, he enjoyed being carried outside, but he was especially aggressive about trying to eat grass if we put him down, so we usually didn’t.

I wanted to end with what I think is the quintessential Blackjack picture. He was still young when Debbi took this picture with her phone, but it captures his innocence and curiosity. He still had his whole life ahead of him and he was ready to enjoy every minute:

Goodbye, fella.

Goodbye, Blackjack

We had Blackjack put to sleep today.

He never recovered from his downturn shortly after Thanksgiving, and he just spent most of his time sleeping, usually in the laundry basket. He seemed confused and disoriented, and blood tests from Monday came back showing he had elevated white blood cell counts (probably fighting something off, as he’s been congested), but also plummeting red blood cell counts. The vet said we could run tests, but it could well be his cancer has gotten into his bone marrow or even his brain, and we knew if that was it then we weren’t going to treat him.

Wednesday Debbi called to make an appointment for this afternoon to bring it to an end. He continued to go downhill, and at times we wondered whether he would even make it to today. I think he last ate on Thursday night (some wet food). We ran out of the antiviral meds we were giving him for his eye lesions and his eyes were regressing (his right eye was all gunked up this morning). Thursday night I came to bed after Debbi has fallen asleep, and he wasn’t in the laundry basket. I looked around and he was lying outside the litter box in the study. I brought him back to the laundry basket, but he got up and went back and lay down in the litter. I tried putting him in a soft cat couch in the room, but he ended up lying under the desk instead.

He stayed there until yesterday when Debbi brought him downstairs when she got home from work and put him on the couch with Newton. He snoozed there until it was time to go today.

We went to my office’s holiday party last night. Usually for these things we get home late (we got back around 1 am), and we’re tired but we know we can sleep in and have a quiet, restful weekend. But this time I knew we’d be having a terrible day today and going to bed wasn’t the relief it usually is.

This morning he was wheezing every time he breathed. Just before it was time to go Debbi was holding him, and I suggested she take him outside, since he always enjoyed the outside. When I looked out on them next she was picking him up from the lawn. She said he’d merped at her and wanted to get down, and then he ate a few blades of grass, something he always tried to do when we put him down outside.

Debbi gave Roulette and Newton a chance to say goodbye – Newton licked his head – and then we went to the vet where our wonderful doctor put sedated him (probably the best sleep he’s had in a couple of days due to his breathing problems) and then did the deed. She told him he was a tough guy and that he beat his lymphoma. And maybe he did, but he just couldn’t catch a break: He went deaf, lost his sense of balance, lost his powerful hind legs, stopped purring, stopped giving Debbi kneads-and-nuzzles (what we called “wuv”), developed eye problems, lost a bunch of weight, and finally just spent all his time sleeping. He was a cat who was full of life and energy and mischief, and seeing him diminish like this has been terribly hard.

This is extraordinarily hard on Debbi, because Blackjack was her special kitty, the one she immediately knew was the cat for her, and the one of our adult cats who bonded entirely to her. It wasn’t fair to her, and it wasn’t fair to him. She’s been a great mom, and has done everything he could have asked her to do. The doctor said he had a good quality of life these last two years because of what she’s done. Two years is the life expectancy of a cat diagnosed with lymphoma if given treatment, and he didn’t quite make it, but almost.

Debbi’s been stronger today than I’d expected, while I’ve been weepy and sentimental. We sat on the couch for a while, and Newton climbed in my lap while Roulette curled up next to me. Even the kittens seemed to sense that something was wrong, though I don’t think they have any idea what.

I think Blackjack would have liked the kittens, and certainly after how he harassed Newton and Jefferson when he came into the household he deserved to get harassed by some kittens. He was more curious about them than Newton and Roulette have been, for the few days between when we got them and when he started his final slide.

Blackjack was a little shy of nine and a half years old.

I’ll write a less sad remembrance of him tomorrow, but I had to get the sad stuff out of my system first. For now I’ll leave you with the last Blackjack picture:

The Big Cats

I wrote about the kittens, so I also wanted to update how the big cats are doing.

I’ll start with the bad news, which is that Blackjack has not been doing well. He’s been gradually going downhill for a while now, but right after Thanksgiving he had a big slide: He doesn’t jump anymore, he seems disoriented and unbalanced, and he spends most of his time sleeping. Debbi took him to the vet this morning and they’re running some tests, and gave him a vitamin shot, so we’ll see. He might have something treatable, or his cancer might finally be catching him. Or, we might never know, since we’ve already decided we’re not going to run invasive tests on him, since anything we find is probably more than we’d be willing to treat at this point.

Fortunately, he doesn’t seem to be in pain, and he’s still eating, drinking, and using his litter, and he sometimes comes out to say hi. But it’s been a hard week.

Newton, by contrast, has been getting better recently. Well, sort of. He went in for some blood work and had lost a little weight, which surprised me since he feels heavier and more solid to me. His hyperthyroidism has been improving, but his kidney values are off a bit. So we’ve cut back on his thyroid meds, but are giving him subcutaneous fluids an extra day per week. The doctor said we want to treat the symptoms, but we also want to treat him, and he seems to be feeling fine.

Really: He’s up and about more often, he’s curious about things (he wants to go into the garage lately), he walks around meowing and demanding that we put water in the sink for him to drink out of, and his appetite is fine. He even chased Roulette off the couch recently, although he doesn’t move so fast anymore so she got away easily. He’s no spring chicken, but at this point I could almost believe he’ll outlive us all.

His better condition unfortunately has come with him meowing at 3 am again sometimes, which isn’t so welcome. But oh well.

As for Roulette, she’s about the same. She’s been a bit more spastic recently, running around downstairs and playing more often. She’s still very wary of the kittens, but not as much as she was.

I don’t know if it’s the kittens, or knowing that something is wrong with Blackjack, or sensing Debbi’s sadness about him, but she has been sleeping with us at night more than she has in a long time. That’s been pretty nice. We were sitting on the couch yesterday and every so often she would get up, walk over my lap once, and then go back to where she was sleeping. I guess she’s just checking on us.

I’m just hoping she’ll adjust to the kittens and be a good big sister to them, because I think they’ll have a lot to offer her, though I bet she wouldn’t believe that if we told her!