Kate the Cat

November 14, 2006 at 12:30 pm (Uncategorized)

It never ceases to amaze me how quickly things change.

Over the weekend, our four-year old orange tabby cat, Kate, went from being perfectly healthy to probably having cancer and possibly not living to see the end of the week. In the grand scheme of existence, a cat’s life is insignificant, but I still feel as though we’ve been bludgeoned.

Kate came into our lives when she was only a few weeks old. We were living in Palau, an island nation in the middle of the Western Pacific. A friend found Kate and a few of her siblings in the jungle behind her apartment. I have always been a sucker for homeless pets, so it didn’t take much convincing to send me home with this tiny bundle of stripes, oversized ears, and a crooked tail. Apparently all Palauan cats have a genetic mutation that causes them to have crooked tails. Before I learned this, I was outraged at the number of kitties on the island with broken tails. I assumed this was because cats were near the bottom of the hierarchy in Palau. People tolerated dogs, but weren’t too fond of cats, so the felines were chased (and often killed) by packs of dogs. I was relieved to find out that Kate’s imperfect tail was the result of inbreeding, not cruelty.

Kate is the spunkiest cat I’ve ever encountered. She fears nothing. We’ve caught her stalking deer in our yard; when a strange dog shows up, she attacks it. With other cats, she is ferocious and defends her territory with a savagery that is disconcerting. The funny thing is that for someone so tough, Kate is awfully small. She usually weighs about five pounds, although she puts on a couple of ounces in the winter to withstand the cold. And while she hearkened from a tropical climate, and never has liked the snow, she has always insisted on being let outside, no matter how crummy or icy it is. She has made it abundantly clear that if we try to keep her inside, she will make our lives miserable. She climbed up our chimney and returned a couple of days later covered in soot, when we attempted to make her an indoor kitty because we lived near a busy road. Once we blocked off chimney access, she learned to crawl into our ceiling. When our friend Molly kept her for us for a couple of days when we were out of town, Kate somehow wormed her way into Molly’s walls.

When I became pregnant with Andrew, we assumed that Kate would try to kill him once he was born. If she finds another cat threatening, we reasoned, she would probably attempt to smother a human rival. She surprised us, though. She did snuggle with Andrew in his crib, but lovingly.  She became the our son’s first friend. She follows him around the house, plays hide-and-seek with him in our weedy yard, tries to distract him when he is crying, sleeps at his feet (or next to his head) almost every night, and endures an inordinate amount of roughness from him and his toddler buddies. At Andrew’s second birthday party, we looked over to see two kids wrestling over her. One held her head, while the other tugged on her rear haunches. She never scratched them. Andrew has pulled her tail, vigorously patted her head, and “accidentally” stepped on her paws. She has scratched him exactly one time — and that was only in the past week when she must have begun to feel crappy.

Right now, Kate is at the veterinary hospital getting intravenous fluids because she can’t hold down food or water. The vet (Dr. Keith) isn’t sure if she has a kitty version of lymphoma or irritable bowel disease. We opted not to have Dr. Keith biopsy her intestines to determine if it is indeed cancer because he felt the operation might kill her. And if we were to learn for sure that she has cancer, all we could do is begin chemotherapy.  But we’ve elected not to do this because the drugs would cost us thousands of dollars, only keep her alive for about six more months, and require us to confine out free-spirited kitty. So instead, and oh this is ironic, Kate — like me — is on a prednisone regimen to decrease the inflammation in her bowels. Our usually cheerful vet is being decidedly quiet on her long-term prognosis.

Kate is a small jungle cat. When thousands of people die everyday because of war or unclean water or from simply not having a proper mosquito net, it is hard to make too much of her illness. But we love her. She has added a richness to our life, as well as made Andrew appreciate the value of animals. She reminds us every day of Palau, a place we hated leaving and still mourn losing. Her feistiness has taught Jay and Andrew and me something about approaching obstacles: act like you’re a saber-toothed tiger when you’re only a five pound cat (with ears accounting for a fifth of that weight); always assume the humans want to let you in and out every three minutes; and never overlook the value of a warm bed.

I don’t know what will happen with Kate, but I miss her already, even though she is just at the vet’s. I keep seeing her out of the corner of my eye, and last night, I could have sworn I heard her yowling at the door for us to let her in. I miss seeing her crooked tail bobbing above the weeds as she lures Andrew into a game of hide and seek in the back yard. I hope the prednisone works. Get well, Kate. Come home soon.

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