One Year Gone – Farewell, Zigacious Amadeus

One Year Gone – Farewell, Zigacious Amadeus

Dec 15

[This post was originally written and posted one year ago – the day after we lost our precious little Ziggy boy. In honor of his death anniversary, known as a yahrzeit in the Jewish culture, I am reposting it here on BtRB.

Hey, Zig. Wherever you are now… we still miss you.]

I wrote recently about the mental acuity of one of our cats – the cat that Lona and I had been calling our “fuzzy little son,” since he’d very clearly decided that we were his mommy and daddy. Ziggy is twelve years old – and now, he’ll never be any older.

Very rapidly, over less than the last month, he began losing weight incredibly fast. He was still eating, and we had recently seen another of our cats (though this one upon reaching fourteen, not twelve) go through the weight loss that’s common in old age in cats. Ziggy was acting fine, otherwise, and there didn’t seem to be anything wrong with him.Ziggy

He started having a little trouble leaping up to his favorite spot in our bedroom – the top of one of our bookcases that he accessed by leaping from a table, up to the top of our old TV, and from there to the bookcase. But again, cats lose their agility with age – we had no reason to believe anything was wrong with him other than that.

He started refusing to eat the pate food that the rest of the cats were eating – but he would eat the Meow Mix that Lona and I had taken to buying specifically for him, with the intent to wean him onto food we wanted him to be on when we moved out and took him with us. We basically decided he was trying to sucker Lona’s mother into buying the food he liked too.

But he was still losing weight.

Come this last week, and it had become very obvious. He was snuggled next to me and I suddenly realized I could count his vertebrae and feel the muscle “knobs” on his pelvis. I talked to Lona’s mother about taking him to the vet, worried that he had a worm or something. But both Lona and her brother have birthdays this week – Lona’s is today, her brother’s in two days – and we came to the agreement that we’d take him in this Friday and find out what was up.

Turns out Ziggy didn’t have until Friday.

He lept up, with difficulty, to his spot atop the bookcase for a few hours night before last. On the way down he missed the jump to the TV and fell. Thankfully a mass of blankets caught him and cushioned his fall. He walked out, weaving a little on his feet, but walking. I checked him over and he didn’t seem to have any pain reactions, so I figured he was just dazed from the fall.

Come yesterday morning, we got up to find that he was having a LOT of trouble walking – his back end kept giving out and he’d just fall to the floor. It was Sunday – our Vet isn’t open on Sundays, and we couldn’t imagine putting him through the trauma of taking him to an emergency vet when we were all very certain that he likely wouldn’t be coming HOME.

His cry, which used to be the loudest you can imagine, was weak and pitiful. We decided that if he were still around by the next day, Monday, we’d have to take him in to be put down. His body was very obviously and suddenly just DONE.

Now, as you know from my previous post, Ziggy was a very astute cat. Let me elaborate on that.

When Lona and I began making plans for moving out, Zig, who had previously been just a “house” cat, not specifically bonded to any one person (though he was FOND of me, probably because I was the only one who didn’t kick him off my desk if he wanted to sit with me), suddenly decided that Lona and I were the best people in the whole world and we were who he wanted to spend ALL his time with.

If we were in the bedroom, he wanted to be in the bedroom with us. He had never been a lap cat, never liked being held or picked up. In the bedroom, he began crawling into our laps and sleeping with us. When Lona sat in our comfy chair, he would either curl up on her lap or by her legs. If she needed him to be off her, he’d get on the table next to her and stretch out, usually with his head facing us so that every time he opened his eyes, he’d see us.

If we ate dinner in the bedroom, I’d take to bringing him something as well. Some cut up chicken, a little tuna, and eventually, the Meow Mix that became his favorite. He’d eat his food, then sit beside us and ask for tastes of what we had. At first, he was pushy – but Lona would tell him to back off or he wouldn’t GET anything. And slowly he’d sit down and just wait. He learned that waiting got him more treats than meowing and pushing at us.

The next thing he learned was that if he sat on the table beside the chair, he would block Lona’s view of the TV. She didn’t like that, and told him, “Zig, get down. I can’t see.” And the first couple of times, she had to push him down to get him to lay down – but then he did. In less than three weeks, “Zig, get down. I can’t see,” became something he would respond to. But the amusing thing was that he responded to it in stages.

The moment Lona said she couldn’t see, he would lower his head below his shoulders, giving him the pose of a vulture sitting on a branch. She’d laugh and say “I STILL can’t see.” And Zig would slowly, slowly lower his front end down until he was actually laying down. At which point, Lona would thank him, pet him, and we’d get on with what we were doing. And Zig would either decide this new spot worked for him and go to sleep – OR he would stand up, in a crouched position, keeping his head low and belly touching the table, and slink over onto the second table we put there specifically FOR him to sleep on so that he’d stop knocking things off of Lona’s table. He did this consistently – and ONLY walked like that after one of the “I can’t see” statements.

This statement would also extend to OTHER screens, though. If he got on Lona’s desk, and was blocking her from seeing her monitor, she’d say “Zig, get down. I can’t see.” And he would glance at the monitor, then slowly lay down until he wasn’t blocking it anymore.

What makes this even more interesting was that he was obviously not just responding to it as a command. Because if the “command phrase” were used when he was NOT actually blocking Lona from seeing the TV or her screen, he would actually look around, as if trying to find what he was blocking her from seeing, and if he did NOT find the TV or her monitor, he would just look at her and blink his eyes. It was like he was saying “You can’t see? There’s nothing HERE to see. I’m not moving.”

In his time practically living in the bedroom with us, Ziggy also developed a common sibling rivalry for cats. He saw our phones, Lona’s iPad, and our 3DS’s as competition for our attention. I witnessed him stop on his way to get food in favor of climbing up onto the chair and getting very carefully BETWEEN Lona and whatever electronic device had her attention at the moment. He did NOT like when the glowy things kept mommy from paying attention to him, thank you very much.

If he and I were alone in the room, he would be have similarly for both my DS and my phone. I have a tendency to use my phone as an e-reader, and Zig would watch me for a few minutes and, even if I was petting him with my other hand, would insist I PUT the glowy thing DOWN and pay attention to him with BOTH hands. And I would. We both would.

My point in all of this is that Zig was a very intelligent and surprisingly intuitive cat.

The morning that we talked about having to take him in to the vet to put him down on Monday, Lona said that she really didn’t want him to die on her birthday. But it didn’t look like there was anything we could do to prevent it. Zig was in the room with us, lying on the floor. And when Lona said that, he lifted his head (for the first time in awhile) and looked at her. Then, not ten minutes later, he got up and very carefully made his way out the back door onto our screened in back porch. He fell down several times along the way, but ultimately he made it.

A little while later, Lona’s mom went out back to see where he’d gone. He had hidden himself behind an old recliner, and was all stretched out, but not in a way that made him look comfortable. He basically looked like he’d collapsed there. Lona’s mother returned to the house and informed us all that Zig was actively dying and was probably going to pass on without help.

The family came outside to sit vigil with him. He came out of his hiding place, crying pitifully with every step, and collapsed again. We all sat with him, talking to and about him while he laid there, breathing shallowly and rapidly. He was very deliberately putting himself into transition, preparing for his body to shut down.

There were a lot of tears, and more pity when Lona’s brother petted him and it apparently drew him back to his body enough that he began to cry again, then got up and moved to a new spot – closer to the house and more surrounded by all of us – and collapsed again. We agreed not to touch him – no matter how hard it would be. He was in the process of dying, and pulling him back like that was cruel.

Less than two hours later, he breathed his last.

We all cried. Honestly…I can’t even begin to express this level of grief. I know it sounds cliche, but considering that as little as a week earlier we were discussing how best to move in such a way that he’d be traumatized as little as possible by the move – even though he quite obviously wanted to be with us and therefore we couldn’t leave him – I swear…I feel like I’ve lost a son.

Over the last year, I can’t think of a single daily activity that didn’t involve Zig in some way. If we were at our desks, he was on one of them or walking around meowing trying to get us to go into the bedroom. If we were in the bedroom, he was in there with us. He woke me up at night to open the door and let him out so he could go to the litter box, and scratched to be let back in when he was done. When we woke in the morning, he was so happy we were awake that he’d just start talking to us. Enter a room where he was, and he’d always meow in greeting. Touch him, and he’d purr powerfully. Go out, and does the cat need food or anything before I come home? Picking up fast food? Well I’ll grab him a plain burger or a chicken patty and tear it up for him when I get home.

Zig has been ever present in Lona and my lives for awhile now. And…until today…we thought he’d continue to be so for at the very least another four or five years.  He was twelve.

Now he’s gone. And there is a huge gaping hole…Not just in our hearts, but in our plans for the future. At one point Lona and I both broke down saying we felt like our son had just died. And there’s no other way to describe it. He’d made himself more than just a pet – he was a staple, a part of life that…I don’t know how we’re going to handle being gone.

The pet crematorium was closed on Sunday. And while Zig was absolutely amazing right to the end and honored Lona’s wish that he not die on her birthday, we WILL have to take him in to be cremated today. His body has been wrapped up in a soft towel and placed in a cardboard box, seeming so much smaller in death than in life. The box is out on the back porch, only a couple of feet from the spot where he chose to die.

Zig had a way of dragging the eyes to him. If you didn’t see him at first, his meow would draw your eyes like a magnet so you knew he was there. Every time I walk into any room in the house, I find my eyes darting to wherever he usually is. The counter in the kitchen. The sink. Lona’s desk – because he’s not on mine. The middle of the office floor. The top of the bookcase in the bedroom. The table beside the bedroom chair.  The floor where his bowls were.

But he isn’t there. And he’ll never be there again.

I find myself trapped in the mental cycle of the “nevers.” I’ll never hear his meow again. I’ll never pet him again. I’ll never sleep with him curled up in my lap. Never feed him. Never watch him demonstrate how smart he was. Never watch him stretch out on his back on the floor, looking like he abruptly dropped from the ceiling and is lying there dazed, showing the pure white spot on his belly that was the only spot of pure white on an otherwise orange tabby. Never. Never. Never.

I’ll never see him, in the physical, again.

We lost a cat. We lost our son.

And that will never, ever, be okay.

Goodbye, baby boy. We miss you.

Feline Reasoning Abilities

Feline Reasoning Abilities

Sep 06

I’ve had quite a few experiences with pets over the years that have lead me to believe that animals have much higher level reasoning abilities than most people give them credit for. One instance in particular that comes to mind, involves my dearly departed “fuzzy little son,” Ziggy.

Zig preferred to be in the bedroom with me and my wife if we were in there together. He would sometimes cry at the door, only to realize we were both elsewhere in the house and proceed to come find us. However, he would then try to get us to go into the bedroom by meowing and walking back and forth between us and the closed bedroom door.

I can’t blame him for his love of the bedroom. Unlike the rest of the house, we kept our bedroom air conditioned. And when he was in there with us, he usually became the center of attention, whereas if we were at our desks we are usually working and therefore had to ignore him most of the time. Still, that’s where he preferred to be if he had a choice.

One afternoon, I ignored him asking to be let in even though I was in the bedroom. I was playing my 3DS, and knew if I got up to open the door I would likely just leave the room and go back to work, and I wasn’t ready to do that yet. So I ignored his crying.

My wife opened the door to leave the room after he’d quieted down, but he was waiting outside still and he came hurtling in as fast as his little orange legs could carry him. He ran between the chair I was sitting in and the box I had my legs up on, beneath the blanket I had over my legs at the time. I told my wife to just leave him – I’d get him out of the bedroom after I was finished with my race, since I was about ready to leave at this point.

By the time I had finished my race, Zig had exited his blanket cave and instead climbed up into one of the built-in wall cubbies by the door. He was snuggled down on some of my rarely worn clothes that I stored there. I turned off my game, stood up, and called him so we could leave the room together.

However, instead of coming, he stood up and got down from the cubby, leapt up onto our California King Sized bed, and walked to the exact center before sitting down. Due to the size of the bed, he was exactly too far for me to reach him to pick him up. I made a face at him, told him he could have it his way, and left the room.

I figured he’d follow me when he was finished being obstinate, but I underestimated him. He didn’t come out. So I went back in after him – only he was nowhere to be found. However, I’d been within sight of the door the whole time, and I knew he hadn’t come out of the bedroom. He was hiding.

He wasn’t in the built-ins, behind the TV, or in the chair. He wasn’t atop his favorite bookshelf, or burrowed into the blankets on the bed. Finally, I spotted him. He was on the floor, on the far side of the bed, lying down as flat as he could go. His orange fur was blending perfectly with the color of the wood floor in our room – and he was silent.

Zig was almost never silent, you see. If you met his eyes, he talked. If you spoke to him, he talked. If you made a noise in his presence, he would look at you and meow. I’d been calling him while I was looking and he didn’t make a single sound.

I fixed my eyes on him and said his name – not as if I was calling him this time. I said his name as a definitive statement. “Ziggy.” Finally, his eyes moved and focussed on me. He realized I was looking right at him and must have understood that he’d been found. The “mow…” that he let out was oddly under his breath – almost as if he were saying, “Dangit…he found me.”

Still, found or not, he was on the far side of the bed – the side that only has a few inches clearance between it and the wall. I couldn’t get over there to pick him up, and he knew it. He sat up, but didn’t come out.

I sat down on the chair, facing Zig, and patted the footrest/chest we kept at the end of the bed. I asked him to come and hop up so I could pick him up and we could go. My usually very obedient cat didn’t move a muscle, except to sit up and stare at me.

“Come on, Zig,” I said. “It’s time to leave the room now.”

His eyes got VERY big…and I mean, Puss In Boots big and sad, and he just stared at me. I asked him again, he still didn’t move. So I tried to get him to play with my retractable backscratcher. He usually will at least swat at this – all he wanted to do was nuzzle it.

I reached out a hand to him and wiggled my fingers. “Come on over here, sweetie, I’ll pet you.” He barely inched toward me, and stopped when he was at the very farthest distance he could be and still let me touch him. I scratched his head, petted his chin, and tried again to coax him out from the other side of the bed. He would have nothing of it. He KNEW that if he stayed right there, where I couldn’t reach him, he wouldn’t have to leave the bedroom.

Finally, I looked right at him and said, “OK. I’ll make you a deal. You come over here and jump up on this,” I patted the footrest, “so I can pick you up and we can leave the room, and I promise – when I make my and mommy’s sandwiches, you can have a WHOLE PIECE OF HAM, all to yourself.”

Keep in mind – I only said this ONCE.

He looked at me, eyes on mine, as if trying to gauge my honesty. Whatever he saw there must have clicked – he took three more steps forward and hopped up onto the footrest.

I praised him, petted him, cuddled him, picked him up and carried him out of the room, turning off the light and closing the door behind me. He snuggled in my arms, didn’t cry, didn’t struggle, and when I put him down, he calmly followed me until I gave him his piece of ham.

The concept of bargaining is solely a human idea, most scientists will say. Trading, no. But to perform a very abstract action unrelated to the desired outcome in order to receive something you want? That is abstract. “Sit = get treat” does not equal “Come over here, jump up on this, let me pick you up, and some time later when I am working with food I will give you some” is fairly abstract.

And either Zig understood exactly what I was asking him to do…or his random timing was just that good.

This is just one of many examples Zig gave me of just how complex his cognitive skills were, but it’s one of my favorites just because it shows how much of a character he was. He’s been gone less than a year, and sometimes I still expect to see or hear him around the house. He was a fixture of my and my wife’s lives like no other.

Losing him was a shock – but I’m glad we have all the memories of him and the things he used to do to remember him by.

[This entry is a rewrite of Feline Reasoning Abilities – as it was originally written while Ziggy was alive, and needed to be rewritten and edited as part of this memorial. Read the original at The Tyger’s Den]
The Garland Incident

The Garland Incident

Jun 08

Pets are wonderful – absolutely wonderful. And yet even the most wonderful pets will occasionally do something that will make you incredibly angry at the time.

Smokey lived for ten years – in that time she only did something that made me incredibly angry once. This became known as the Garland Incident.

Every year around Christmas, I would  string up garland around the inside walls of my bedroom, as well as putting some lights in my bedroom window. Stringing the garland wasn’t the easiest thing to do. I had a nail in one or two corners of my bedroom near the ceiling, but the other two corners would be held by tape.

Prior to this year, Smokey had never shown any real interest in the garland before. Prior to this year, however, she had also never seen me put it up.

She laid on my bed, fascinated, while I strung the garland. It took me the better part of an afternoon to do it because the tape kept falling down and, occasionally, Smokey would attack the trailing end of the garland.

I remember talking to her and telling her that she should leave it alone – she was the reason I had to hang it so high. I didn’t want her getting ahold of it and eating any part of the plastic – it could hurt her. She, being a cat, just watched me with wide, interested eyes as I worked.

Finally, the garland was hung, and I left my room to go watch a movie in the living room with my parents. Smokey had free range of the house – I thought nothing of leaving her in my room.

On the far side of my bed was a tall bookcase. A bookcase that Smokey had proven on multiple occasions that she could get on top of when she wanted to. It didn’t occur to me at the time that her bookshelf scaling ability put her in the perfect position to attack the strange, sparkly gold snake that I’d spend hours sticking to the wall.

The corner nearest the bookshelf was one of the corners where the garland was taped. I usually used scotch tape, but I think I’d used a single strip of duct or masking tape that year after several failures with the scotch tape. As a result, I figured it wasn’t going ANYWHERE, as sticky as it was.

A few hours later, I heard frantic jingling. Smokey wore a collar for her entire life – a little blue collar with a bell and a heart-shaped tag with her name and my contact information on it in case she ever ran outside. The few times she did dart outside, she was immediately overwhelmed by the largeness OF outside as a whole, and ran right back into the house. However, as a result of the collar, we always knew when she was coming.

And she sounded like she was racing all around the back bedrooms. I figured she was chasing a bug – she was a fantastic mouser with no mice to chase, so she tended to chase bugs – and I looked to my right from where I was sitting on the couch. This let me glance down the length of the hall past the dining room toward the bedrooms.

Then I saw her. She came streaking out of my room, trailing something long and sparkly behind her.

Oh no.

She went tearing into the dining room and by winding around under the dining table, finally managed to get the industrial strength tape to let go of her fur.

I was SO angry. I had, for some reason, trusted that she wouldn’t take down the garland after I told her not to. Admittedly, I was a hormonally irrational teenager at the time, but that doesn’t change that I was mad. From what I remember, my parents thought it was hilarious, and poor Smokey was freaked out.

It took me awhile to unwind the garland from where she’d frantically twisted it around EVERYTHING in the house while trying to escape, and even longer to put it back up again. Yes, I DID put it back up, even repairing a couple of sections that broke.

I continued to put up garland most of the rest of the time I lived with my parents, around the holidays.

Smokey though? Never bothered the garland again. In fact, when I pulled it out and started putting it up? She would go be elsewhere in the house any time I was dealing with the sparkly snake that bit on all sticky and didn’t let go.

I have no doubt that she had vivid memories of the Garland Incident for the rest of her little life. I know I’ll likely remember it for the rest of mine!