RIP Nala, 1999 – 2017

So Nala has been dead for a while now, and I have always found something else to do, other than write this post. But it seems like an event that needs to be recorded here, since Nala is woven so much into the fabric of this blog. Sara and I got Nala before we were married, and Nala lived with me a while, just the two of us. Nala lived in 4 apartments / houses with us. She was there when we brought each of our kids home from the hospital.

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In fact, my 2nd post ever, way back in February of 2004, was about how annoying my cat was. If I would have had any idea at all that cats could live to be 17 years old, there is absolutely no way I would have agreed to this in the first place.

Nala was old, and sick. I was rubbing thyroid medicine into her ears, twice a day. She wasn’t super mobile, basically sticking to one spot unless she had to go to the bathroom, was rail thin, and to top it off we moved, which was a lot of stress for a 17 year old cat. So for some time we had been saying to the kids, “You know, guys, Nala isn’t going to live forever…”

Even still, it was a bit of a shock. We were coming home from our trip to Arizona, arriving home late from the airport. Often Sara and I will run in to do a quick check to make sure Nala’s okay before letting the kids in, but this time we didn’t because someone had checked in on her while we were gone and she had been fine. So Evelyn is the one who found her, and it was a rather unfortunate end to our trip.

The next day the big kids and I drove her up and buried her at the Haven. It was raining a little bit, and the three of us sang, “Goodnight, goodnight, sweet baby” to her. Ollie seemed pretty unphased, but Evelyn was a bit broken up about it, and I was sad to see Evelyn be sad (and certainly ONLY crying for that reason!)

We tried to explain a little bit to Alex, telling him, “All done, Nala” and “Bye bye, Nala”. He just shook his head and said, “No! More Nala!” However, he still calls all cats “Nala” and still looks around for her from time to time. I know he won’t remember her (though he will probably wonder why he called cats “Nala” for years).

As for me, I will mostly remember the years of spraying her with water and yelling for her to shut up, her peeing pretty much wherever she wanted, and getting matted up hair on everything. It’s easy to want to remember a glorified version of her, but any search through this blog will quickly show the TRUE nature of that nuisance cat. If you want to hit the highlights (or lowlights), here are a few “greatest hits” to get you started:

  1. I Wish the Cat Would Stop Talking With Her Butt
  2. Grumpiest Cat
  3. One Nuisance Cat For Sale
  4. Email From the Past

Although I’m glad that ankle-biting, loud-mouthed, worthless hunk of fur is gone, I cannot deny that this is the end of an era. Say what you want about her, she sure was good at Acquire, though…

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Grumpiest Cat

You know how some people reach an age where they comically lose any desire to hold back from telling people how they really feel? They’ve just gotten too old to bother with social niceties, and they don’t really care what you think anymore? With people, it’s hilarious. With cats? Not so much.

For the past couple months it has become pretty clear that Nala has reached that stage of life where she is just too old to care anymore. This mainly means four things:

  1. Anybody is fair game for biting, at any time, for any reason. Sneak-attacking your achilles is no longer just my special gift to Sara; I’m ready to share that gift with the world.
  2. You’ll get up and pet me when I damn well tell you to get up and pet me, starting with 3 a.m.
  3. If I decide the kitchen table is my throne, than I shall recline on said throne. Your shouting is the buzzing of flies to one such as me.
  4. *I* decide where my litter box is.

This has all been a sort of slow evolution, but this is how it went down.

First off, she’s pretty much always woken us up in the morning, but I can kind of understand that. She knows we get up at about the same time, and she’s just early by 30 minutes (EVERY. SINGLE. DAY.) I mean, she’s a cat; I don’t expect her to tell time.

But then she started being off by like an hour and a half. And then she started also being off by about 7 hours. And then also maybe off by 4 hours. And then I started to think to myself, “Wait a minute, I don’t think she DOES think we get up 45 minutes after we fell asleep!”

We started tossing her in the bathroom one of the times she would wake us up so that we could actually get some sleep. She promptly responded by pooping on the bathmat.

Now look, let he among us who has not pooped on a bathmat cast the first stone. I figured that poor cat probably didn’t expect to get tossed into a dark bathroom for a couple of hours with no litter box, and didn’t plan ahead, bathroom-wise. When you gotta go, you gotta go. She did, after all, politely pee directly into the drain in the bathtub, which is about as polite as you can be in your time of need.

Except she did it EVERY DAY FOR TWO WEEKS.

I don’t mean to make it sound like she actually stopped after two weeks. Au contraire, mon frere. It’s just that it took me two weeks to go, “Wait a minute, I don’t think she WAS coincidentally trapped right when she has to go to the bathroom. I think she might even be doing this on PURPOSE!” (Give me a break, I was extremely tired; I was getting up like 4 times a night.)

Sure enough, these days she just saunters in and goes when she feels like it, even when we don’t lock her in there.

Just to recap: she wakes me up multiple times per night, just to show me she can. She uses my bathmat as her bathroom, ignores me when I tell her to get off the table, and bites me whenever I turn my back to her, yet she still expects me to buy her ridiculously expensive, medicated cat food.

All of this is a long way of saying that when Nala goes, and it may be sooner, rather than later, I will never, ever get another cat.

The Case of the Convulsing Cat

Our quiet breakfast was interrupted by Nala’s “distress cry” (the one that sounds like Ed McMahon’s “AYoooooo”), despite the fact that she was laying on the rug right next to us, safe and sound. This was followed immediately by Nala vomiting all over the rug.

Nala vomiting is certainly nothing out of the ordinary, especially lately. Ever since we switched her food, she’s had a bit of a setback on the hard-won, anti-vomit front. I jumped up to clean up the vomit, cursing Nala under my breath for doing it on the rug rather than 6 inches away on the hardwood floor. Nala, wisely, decided to get out of my way.

She took one tentative step and then collapsed, arms going rigid and locked, convulsing on the floor.

This only lasted a few seconds, but they were tense seconds. I didn’t know what to do. I was right there with her, petting her the whole time and stupidly repeating, “Nala, are you okay?” Anna shepherded the kids from the room, but they obviously picked up from my tone and body language (and the fact that they were being shepherded from the room) that something was up. I was surprised that the kids weren’t more upset by all of this. I assumed they didn’t understand what was going on, but Evie later quite matter-of-factly stated she thought Nala was dying, because she was “very old”.

After a short time, Nala was able to get up, after which she hid under the table for awhile, until she regained her bearings. After that I was able to coax her out, pet her, and then she returned to normal. In less than 5 minutes, you would never have known anything was wrong.

Naturally, I was a little concerned. My cat doesn’t seize every day. I couldn’t help but think this was related to the recent diagnosis of hyperthyroidism. I thought perhaps the food was not controlling it properly, and maybe things had gotten worse.

I took her to the vet, and the vet couldn’t find anything wrong with her. Everything checked out normally. Furthermore, there is no correlation between hyperthyroidism and seizures, nor were seizures a side effect of the prescription food. It is also apparently very rare for an older cat to develop seizures, other than from eating something toxic.

“Has she gotten into anything lately? Eaten anything she shouldn’t have?” the vet asked me repeatedly. “No, not as far as I know,” I answered repeatedly. I mean, there’s always the chance; she does a lot of things I don’t know about (most of them involving peeing on something). The final result was “keep an eye on her” which made me feel distinctly foolish while paying the vet bill.

This was all quite the mystery. Nala was acting totally normal, but it seemed awfully foreboding. One doesn’t just have seizures. It felt like when your car starts making a weird noise and you just ignore it and hope it goes away, even though you know it *always* means something is terribly wrong.

The next day, Nala threw up on the bathmat, consisting entirely of flower blossoms. I have to say, there are worse things than a cat who magically vomits flower blossoms, but it got me thinking: could I start a band named Magical Flower Blossom Vomit? And also, although we’ve had this flower for months, I’d caught the cat eating it only over the past week. Could that be significant?

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It could! The flower is a kalanchoe, and it does not agree with cats:

This plant contains components that can produce gastrointestinal irritation, as well as those that are toxic to the heart, and can seriously affect cardiac rhythm and rate.

and

Animals may develop severe weakness and cold extremities, collapse, and eventually die because of cardiac arrest.

Of course, only my cat is dumb enough to keep eating a flower that makes her sick, day after day after day. I really cannot conceive of how this cat ever could have survived in the wild. I don’t know. But I do know that the cat has neither seized, nor vomited since I moved the plant. That plant has sat in the same place since September, why did Nala suddenly decide it needed to be eaten?

Has she been chased around by screaming children one too many times? Is she trying to end it??

Nala Update

As some of you were quite concerned about Nala after my last post, despite my assurances that she’s an awful nuisance, I just wanted to give you an update.

We did take Nala to see the vet, which is the most *amazing fun thing in the world* if you’re a child, but not so much if you’re a cat. She had basically a clean bill of health, other than some fairly significant weight loss, but they took some blood for some testing.

Survey says? Hyperthyroidism!

This is apparently quite common in cats of a certain age, and Nala happens to be of a certain age, so there you go. Hyperthyroidism is associated with a number of things, including behavioral changes. However, the vet was skeptical that it could explain the refusal to drink from her bowl (if anything, hyperthyroidism should cause more drinking, not turning your nose up at the stuff) or constantly biting Sara. But, she allowed, every cat is different, so maybe it was related after all.

We were presented with 4 choices:

  1. Be referred to a specialist and treat Nala with radioactive iodine therapy
  2. Give Nala a pill every day
  3. Rub a cream into Nala’s ears twice a day
  4. Buy special food

My reactions were:

  1. Do what now? We’re still talking about the cat, right?
  2. Okay, I’ve had to give Nala pills before, and it is a nightmare. Practically impossible. She can isolate the pill and eat whatever’s around it, saving only the pill in her mouth for an hour before discretely spitting it behind a house plant. And now I have to do this every day??
  3. I guess that’s better than giving her a pill, but sheesh.
  4. Wait, one of the options was to do everything the same except give her different food? And you saved that option until last?

So, yeah, we’re getting her special food now.

Hopefully it will make a difference. Sara pointed out that in the long run it’s probably actually cheaper to give her radioactive iodine therapy, even though it seems expensive. But it just seems….wrong somehow. On the other hand, giving her special food has practically *no chance* of turning her into a giant, super-cat with magical powers. Then again, let me take a look at that ingredient list…

Grumpy Cat

Nala has acquired a taste for human flesh. Specifically Sara’s flesh. Every opportunity she gets, she sinks some fang into the back of Sara’s feet. Sara can be just walking around, minding her own business and then out of nowhere, fang in the achilles. She sometimes attacks me, but very rarely. She’s too frightened of the kids to try it with them.

Nala is about 13 now, and I think she is getting grumpy in her old age.

It’s not just the attacking either, she has suddenly become very particular. She will no longer drink water from a bowl. For a long time she has been gradually turning her nose up at her water bowl. At first I thought it was something to do with the bowl, so I tried several different bowls and different schedules for replacing the water. She continued to drink out of it less and less until now she refuses altogether. Instead, she either drinks out of the toilet, sometimes trying to jump in as soon as you lift the lid, or out of the bathtub, sometimes while you are taking a shower. I have to admit, at first I was worried about her hydration, since she seemed so desperate to get a drink. But then I remembered that she had a big bowl of fresh water sitting there that she was refusing on principle to drink. Makes it hard to feel bad for her.

However, I think we have finally crossed the line. Nala has suddenly decided that she no longer wants to go to the bathroom in her litter box. If I clean the litter box, she will deign to give it one use, but after that she’s done, usually preferring the bathmat.

Well I’m sorry, but I’m not cleaning the litter after each use, Mrs. Queen of Sheeba.

I’m not sure what to do about this exactly. You can’t really reason with a cat. Combine all of these things with a return to meowing outside our door before 6 every morning, and I’m kind of at wit’s end. I understand that the older generation may be entitled to a little bit of persnicketiness, but this is going too far.

Why is my life just a series of showdowns with my cat?

Is this the line for the piggy-back rides?

Because sometimes it’s not as much about finding a comfortable place to sit, as it is about displaying dominance.

Grumpy Cat

In the past month or so, our cat Nala suddenly got old.

She’s eating a lot less. She’s a lot less active, sleeping more during the day and being grumpier about moving (for example, when you want her to get out of the chair you want to sit in or when you want her out of a room so you can shut the door). She’s just grumpier in general: more likely to try to attack your ankles (well, Sara’s ankles…she knows better than to go after *my* ankles), more grumble-y about getting kicked out of a room, more likely to yowl at you, more likely to have a grumpy-looking, scowly face, etc.

Now traditionally, my relationship with Nala can be described as rocky at best. But it’s funny, but all this grumpy old lady behavior actually makes me like Nala more, not less. This may seem a bit counter-intuitive (why would I like bitey-cat more than non-bitey-cat?), but there’s really two reasons:

  1. I kind of feel bad for her, getting old and all. It seems like the least I can do is give her a scratch under the chin now and again. She deserves the same respect any old person gets, just for making it this long if nothing else.
  2. Seeing her like this reminds me of the fact that she’s going to die some day, and that’s going to be hard on the kids. For both of them, their first words all centered around Nala (I think Oliver’s was “Nala” and I think Evie’s was “Meow”, but she said “Nala” pretty quick too). I think, like many kids with pets, Nala’s demise will probably be their first real experience with death.
I think it is easy to forget that pets, like people, keep getting older. But pets, unlike people, have a limited shelf life. They just don’t last as long as you and your kids wish they would.
I think it’s going to be interesting to see if I miss Nala at all, after she’s gone. Lord knows I have contemplated getting rid of her (or actively wished her death) many times. But when it happens for real, I don’t know what my reaction will be. I’m certainly not going to miss being awakened at night, cleaning up vomit, or finding out she made a unilateral decision to move her bathroom.
One thing is for sure: if I don’t miss her, I will be the only one.