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!

And Then There Were Five

Our big excitement this weekend is that we added two new members to our feline household!

We’d been thinking about getting some kittens for a while. While we did already have three cats, Newton is elderly and Blackjack is slowing down due to his lymphoma. Roulette is 9 years old and still active, but she seems to be getting a little bored without another cat to play with. We know that integrating new cats into the household will take work, but certainly we would look at getting new cats if we ever got down to just Roulette, and it seemed to make sense to get Roulette used to them while she was still young enough to make the adjustment.

So Saturday we went to the Silicon Valley Humane Society. They have an amazing facility over in Milpitas (the outdoor dog exercise areas alone are impressive!). We weren’t set on getting kittens immediately, but we were open to it. We met a couple of 4-month-old brown tabby cats who were very nice, but the ones that won my heart were a pair of 2-1/2 month olds, who we ended up taking home that day.

We spent an hour in a whirlwind of activity preparing the library for them while they sat in their carrier in the bathroom, and finally we were ready to let them out into the room that will be their home for a few weeks. They’re both bundles of energy, and they spent an hour chasing each other all over the room when they emerged.

The boy with the gray tabby pattern we’re tentatively naming Jackson, although we’re still mulling over that one. He’s a very high-energy kitty, and is very snuggly when we first go in the room after some time away. He’s also quite meowy and has a loud purr motor which engages whenever you pick him up.

The white girl with the orange tabby markings I think we’re going to call Sadie. She’s a little more subdued than her brother, but only because I think she paces herself better and isn’t as aggressive. But she can still keep up with him and rarely gets overwhelmed. She enjoys burrowing under the blanket on the chair in their room.

They’re going to stay in their room for at least a couple of weeks. We put up a baby gate at the door to make it easier for us to get in and out without risking them dashing out (Jackson already tried to escape once before we got the gate). Blackjack and Newton have both seen and sniffed at them through the gate, but seem mostly uninterested. Roulette is quite agitated as she knows there’s something there, but I don’t think she knows what. We introduced her to them through the gate tonight, and she didn’t hiss, but she didn’t approach them, either. I think it’s going to take her a while.

It’s a big step for all of us, but it’s a step we knew we’d be taking eventually. And the timing works out because I’m off work for a week, and Debbi for half a week, and then we have Christmas break in a little over a month. So we can spend lots of time with them.

Wish us luck that this integration goes as smoothly as getting Jefferson and Newton used to Blackjack and Roulette did!

From Santa Cruz to Crate & Barrel

I’ve had four of the last six days off. Well, two of those were the weekend, of course, but I took Wednesday and Thursday off to both catch up on some things and to have a fun day off since I haven’t taken much vacation time this year.

Debbi took Wednesday off and we decided to drive down to Santa Cruz and then up the coast. We had breakfast at Stacks in Campbell, and then drove down to Santa Cruz. We passed to small traffic jams on the way, but otherwise it wasn’t too bad.

In Santa Cruz we went to the Museum of Natural History, which is small, but hard to beat for the $4 admission. Plus it’s near a nice beach which you can walk to while your parking pass is still good. Then we went into downtown for lunch, dropped in a couple of stores to shop, and visited The Penny Ice Creamery, which a cow-orker recommended and which was very tasty!

Our drive up the coast was uneventful, other than looking around to stop at the few beaches I wanted to drop in on. I remembered doing this same drive 13 years ago when I got my car, and stopping at several beaches which were clearly visible from Highway 1, and this time we stopped at some other ones. We particularly enjoyed seeing kitesurfers at one beach:

We also stopped at the Pigeon Point Lighthouse and saw a couple of sea lions from a distance, and visited Pebble Beach (no, not the one with the famous golf course).

We should’ve brought some water bottles with us, but otherwise it was a nice drive along the coast seeing some sights we hadn’t seen before.

Debbi went back to work Thursday and I worked on stuff at home, such as mowing the lawn. I also took care of some of my Mom’s affairs – such as cancelling her cell phone contract, since she doesn’t even know where her cell phone is at this point; if she ever needs one again, a prepaid phone will probably be the way to go. I’m constantly surprised at how many details there are to take care of, yet how most of them are not too hard individually – they just add up over time. Managing my own affairs is hard enough!

I ran a couple of errands for my own, and left lunch a little too late, settling on buying stuff for PB&J sandwiches at home.

Friday I had a 1-day work week, and Debbi and I went to Cascal for dinner. Yum!

Over the weekend we worked on some home projects. It started with a trip to the vet with Blackjack, who has been breathing more audibly lately and one of his eyes has been getting gunked up. We got some drops for his eye, and some blood work done (which came back the same as his last tests). We’re always worrying that his next symptoms might be the other shoe dropping, but so far it’s all be pretty little stuff (though the vet visits get expensive). He and Newton have both been doing pretty well this summer.

We went by Crate & Barrel to buy some new drinking glasses, and ended up also buying some wine cabinets, which we’ve needed for a while. (The old Ikea bookcase currently holding our wine is not in great shape.) We also tried to go to Ikea, but couldn’t find a parking space! Or, rather, we could, but only a lo-o-ong way from the front door, so we gave up. We went back Sunday morning and bought some shelving for our dining room, to store knick-knacks and other things that don’t currently have a home. I put it together and then we unpacked two of the last boxes remaining from our move. Almost done! I think we have 3 or 4 boxes in the study yet to unpack, but at least 2 of those are old gaming materials that I can’t quite decide to get rid of.

So a pretty productive weekend all-in-all. We finished it by grilling steak & baked potatoes, and playing a round of lawn bowling.

It was back to work today. Hard to believe fall has arrived already!

One Cat, Two Cat

Saturday we took Blackjack and Newton in to the vet.

For Newton it was a 3-month blood test, to see how he’s been doing on his range of medications. The outcome was that all his numbers are basically the same as last time, no better no worse, which is good news, I guess. Except that his white blood cell count was elevated, which probably indicates some kind of infection. So he’s on a round of antibiotics (yay, another twice-daily medication to give him) for a week and a half, and then we’ll have him retested. On the bright side, he’s up to 7-1/2 pounds, from a low of 5-1/2 when he was hospitalized.

For Blackjack, Debbi wanted him to get a physical since he hasn’t been getting the full work-up at his clinic for his cancer treatments. Our regular vet looked him and said he looks really good. He’s at around 13-1/2 pounds, which is a pretty good weight for him. His Horner’s syndrome receded as quickly as it arrived, and he’s jumping around more than six months ago. So maybe he’ll be with us a while yet.

The unfortunate punctuation to this trip is that Newton peed in the carrier on the way home, getting himself all wet. Plus he’s been having problems staying in the litter box when he pees. It’s a vexing problem. I have a couple other ideas of things to try, if our latest trick (puppy training pads) doesn’t work.

Unfortunately I wonder whether Newton is reaching the point where he’s living too long. It’s nice having him around, but he’s gradually becoming no-longer-the-same-cat-I’ve-known, and I wonder if he’s really still happy. But he’s still eating, he still prowls around the house at night, and he’s been enjoying the brushing I’ve been giving him recently. So it’s not time yet.

No news about Roulette this time around. I think she just slept on the couch the whole time the four of us were gone. I imagine she briefly cackled “The whole house is mi-i-ine!” after we left – and then fell asleep.

Newton & Blackjack Update

Since I know people are interested, here’s the latest news on Newton and Blackjack:

Newton went in for a blood test yesterday, a month after his last one. I got the call from the vet this afternoon and she says all his blood work is basically the same as last month, which is good! His indicators are all in the normal range or very close to it. She wants him to continue on his current regimen of drugs and subcutaneous fluids (which is a bit of a bummer since I’d hoped we could cut back on a few of them) and we’ll re-check him in 3 months if he remains stable.

He’s also gained 0.4 lbs since last time, which means he’s up at least a pound since he had his hospital stay (to about 6.5 lbs). He’s also generally happy and has some more energy lately. On the downside, he threw up this morning and didn’t want to eat his wet cat food (which he gets to give him one of his drugs in powder form), but I’m hoping it’s just a bit of an upset tummy and nothing serious. (He wolfed down the food last night.)

Blackjack has been diagnosed by his vet as having Horner’s Syndrome, and has shown the first three symptoms on that page (Small pupil size, protrusion of the third eyelid, drooping of the upper eyelid) in his right eye. I’m pretty sure he can still see out of that eye, but I’m not an expert. Right now, the third eyelid is rarely protruding, which makes us feel a little better because it looks really weird. But the eye is half-closed most of the time, and he doesn’t seem able to fully close it, so it waters a lot sometimes (he shakes his head and tears fly around).

I think he’s a little frustrated by it, but he seems to be in pretty good spirits otherwise. He’s back to taking his steroid (prednisolone) every day now, I think to try to suppress whatever’s affecting the nerves to his eye. His body doesn’t seem to have gotten any worse, and he’s been more inquisitive and even more talkative over the last week. So we don’t really know how things will progress, but at least he’s stable and happy for now.

I guess it’s not fair to talk about Newton and Blackjack without mentioning Roulette. She’s been high-energy lately, running around the house and meowing as if she has spring fever or something. She’s delighted to have the windows open and the sun streaming in in the mornings. But I think she misses having someone to play with, since neither Newton nor Blackjack is really capable anymore (though Blackjack is occasionally interested and follows her around at a slower pace).

So we’re starting to think about getting some kittens. Going to five cats in our household seems like a lot – well, we used to have four, so it is a lot – but not knowing how much longer Blackjack and Newton will be around, we wonder whether we should get some playmates (and snooze-mates) for Roulette while she’s still young enough to adjust to them (and, as Debbi says, she kind of deserves it, given the hard sell she put Jefferson and Newton through to get them to accept her). We don’t have any immediate plans, but we’re thinking about it.

Blackjack’s Eye

Blackjack can’t catch a break with his illness, despite having responded to treatment quite well. This past week we noticed that one of his pupils was more dilated than the other, something Debbi says she’s noticed before. The next day we realized that it wasn’t that one eye was more dilated, but that the other eye was less dilated, and that his inner eyelid – the one that closes sideways from the side of his eye near his nose – was partly closed.

While he didn’t seem disturbed by it all – I did some informal tests and he can see out of both eyes – we contacted his vet who’s been treating him for his lymphoma, and she said this is an indication that something may be impinging on his optic nerve, that it may be related to his lymphoma, and that there may not be much we can do. But to keep an eye on him in case he develops symptoms that indicates it might be something else.

Other than some watering from his eye, he’s been behaving pretty normally, so we’re just keeping an eye on him for now.

It’s pretty frustrating, since he’s otherwise been showing signs of getting stronger and more stable lately, and an indication that things might be getting worse is pretty upsetting. But at least he’s still happy and comfortable. He’s been cleverly finding new places to sleep in the unusual heat we’ve had this weekend (he’s the only one of our cats who bothers to find cool places to sleep – Newton and Roulette seek out the heat).

Right now he’s lying on the couch next to me while we watch an old episode of Doctor Who. I think his watering eye bothers him from time to time and he shakes his head to clear it out. But otherwise he still seems pretty happy. Hopefully this will just be a cosmetic incident for some time to come.

He’s a sweet cat, and he really doesn’t deserve all this at such a young age.

More Good News about Newton

Yesterday I dropped Newton off at the vet for an ultrasound and a check-up on how he’s been doing in the week since he came back from his hospital stay.

The ultrasound mainly reminded me that ultrasounds are expensive. We learned that he has signs of heart disease, with the walls of his heart starting to thicken. Given his age, that’s not a surprise. It doesn’t really shine any light on the heart murmur he’s had for most of his life, though. He also has some mottling on his liver, which could mean any of a number of things. But as the vet pointed out, even if it turns out he has a tumor, am I really going to put an 18-year-old cat through radiation and/or chemo therapy? Probably not (especially since he’s had trouble with just plain sedation for a number of years now).

I kind of wonder whether I should have done the ultrasound at all, since what was it going to tell me that would have made me behave differently? I guess if we learned he had something really seriously wrong and we’d have to put him down (depressing as that is), but that’s about it. Really I just want him to be happy and comfortable for the rest of his life, so I don’t plan to put him through a big production if something heads south.


The good news is that his blood test came back and almost all of what they tested for is back within normal levels! One item – I think one of the kidney indicators – is still a little high, but it’s down a lot from where it started. And the vet says we can cut back on giving him subcutaneous fluids to every other day, and cut back his potassium supplements to only once per day. So that will make everyone happy. She’s very pleased with how well he’s responded.

On the home front, he’s clearly not able to do all the things he used to be able to do – he has to pull himself up when he jumps on the bed, for instance. Although he can jump up on the kitchen counter fine, so maybe he just has trouble judging how far to jump. I also watched him jump down from things today, and his rear legs are much more stable – he was still a little wobbly when we brought him home last week (of course, he’d just spent 4 days mostly in a cage).

So it looks like Newton’s going to be with us for a while yet. Which is good news!

Recharge Weekend

After all the excitement last week, we had a fairly low-key weekend. Starting Friday night with dinner at Don Giovanni, always tasty. We walked there in the rain, as we were getting showers off an on all weekend, which I appreciated. (I wish we’d gotten more rain than we did, though.)

Friday was also new iPad day, and I received mine as did everyone else who pre-ordered them. I set it up that evening, and converted my iPad 2 to Debbi’s use. Trying to move it over to someone else without wiping it seems to be a little risky, as she ended up with a melange of her data and mine that I couldn’t figure out how to fix, so on Saturday I just wiped it and started anew, which worked much better. The high-res display sure is gorgeous. Otherwise it’s not a huge step up from the iPad 2 in my (brief) experience, but friends who moved from an original iPad say it is a big step forward from that.

Saturday evening we had plans to have another pot luck dinner with our neighbors, and since one of them usually cooks enough entrees for everyone, we decided to make dessert. Debbi baked an apple pie, and I made cream cheese brownies. We had a great time with our neighbors; got to see someone else’s house, and the food was great. Afterwards there are show tunes (one of the neighbors plays piano, another one sings), and home-made limoncello. I ate a little too much, and started drifting off due to the alcohol (have I ever mentioned what a lightweight I am when it comes to drinking?), but we had a lot of fun.

Sunday we mostly just hung out at home. We took care of some chores around the house, and I started preparing for fantasy baseball draft day. We got a few rain squalls – one of which came with tiny hail stones – and snuggled with the cats. A nice quiet day.

Newton is doing quite well. We’re getting good at giving him his subcutaneous fluids, and Debbi thinks he feels perkier and healthier shortly after we give them to him, which could be given that we’re doing it to help his weak kidneys. Overall I’m happy with how he’s doing, and we’ll see what the vet thinks when I take him in later this week.

We needed some time off this weekend. It went by too fast.

Newton’s Home!

I left a little early yesterday to pick up Newton from the vet. He’s so much better! He’s gained about a point of weight, is standing fully on his hind legs, and is much more alert and cheerful. He came home and got a good sniffing from Blackjack and Roulette, and hung out with us for part of comic book night until deciding to go snooze on the bed.

He’s still a little subdued and his legs seem a bit wobbly, but as Debbi pointed out, he did spend most of 4 days in a cage hooked up to an IV drip. He’s been meowing a bit for attention, and last night I woke up to see him holding Blackjack by the scruff of the neck (something he used to do to Jefferson a lot) and making little meowing sounds. I guess he needed to reestablish his position with Blackjack when he returned.

The downside to all of this (other than a shockingly high vet bill) is that he’s going to be on a variety of medications, some of them for the rest of his life. He’ll be getting subcutaneous fluids daily, and pills to reduce his phosphorus and increase his potassium levels. (The vet thinks it’s likely that his funny walking was due to low potassium.) In the short term he’s also taking an antibiotic for the cold he had, and will be getting shots which are supposed to promote red blood cell creation. Fun fun.

My hope is that eventually he can cut back on the fluids to every other day, and reduce or eliminate some of the other pills. Giving them all to him is no fun, although he’s largely well-behaved in taking them.

This will make planning vacations trickier while he’s around, though. We may have to give in and actually hire a professional pet sitter.

I’m just glad he’s back. When we took him in on Saturday I didn’t really think he’d come home, and I even took him to Roulette and Blackjack so they could say goodbye, whatever that meant for them. (Jefferson just went to the vet that last time and never came back.) Roulette’s been following him around, which is adorable.

In other cat news, this morning I took Blackjack in for his scheduled check-up, and he seems to be doing fine (pending the results of the blood work). He’s put on weight, so we’re going to cut back on the steroid he’s been taking to stimulate his appetite, and the vet doesn’t feel his tumor returning. The technician I met with says she also has a deaf cat, and her cat also goes into small rooms and meow its head off, just like Blackjack does, so maybe that’s just a deaf-cat thing. (If we get kittens while he’s still around, I wonder if they’ll go look for him during his meow-fests, and what he’ll think of that.)

Anyway, I don’t have any illusions about how serious Newton’s condition is, but the vet says it’s possible that with continued care he could be around for a while yet.

Which, since he turns 18 next month, means we still need to figure out where he’s going to go to college. Sheesh!