Wednesday, February 08, 2006

A Piece of my Heart ...

... is missing. It's about the size and shape of a small, furry object with four legs. And it isn't coming back.
Back before Christmas, our little cat, Banzai, got sick. The vet said a liver problem, and gave us drugs and special food, and lots of advice. Over the weeks, we made frequent trips back to the vet's office, and each time we came home with a few new tricks to try.
He was a young cat; he just appeared on our doorstep about three years ago, a tiny kitten in a nasty storm, and informed us that he lived here now.
Banzai was "the belly that walks like a cat." Except when he got sick. Then he simply stopped eating. Anything. About a year ago, we went through this, and somehow managed to coax him back into eating, but only after he lost more than 50% of his body weight. I don't know many animals, or people, who can recover from that, but he did, and he regained all the weight.
This time, we couldn't coax. Even shrimp, the only food for which he would forget the rules and climb on the kitchen counter, didn't tempt him. We tried every kind of food you could imagine, in myriad combinations. Nothing worked.
Cooperation is not a cat trait. When he refused to eat, we tried hand-feeding him. Not a chance. We finally got kitten nursing bottles, thinned down high-calorie supplements with soy milk, and fed him like a baby. Every day, for the last six weeks or so.
But in the end, it wasn't enough. In the early morning hours on Sunday, he suddenly started crying, the way a kitten cries for its mother. My husband and I ran in, and found him in his bed, still crying. We petted him, tried to comfort him, and he laid down. He never got up again.
My husband, all 6-foot-6 of him, laid on the floor, petting Banzai and talking softly to him, until he was gone. It was the bravest thing I could imagine, laying there with the little guy, knowing what will happen, and not turning away, no matter how heart-breaking it was.
Banzai dropped into a coma, then slowly slipped away. It was quiet, and peaceful, and I hope we made it as easy as we could.
But he took part of us with him.
That little piece of my heart.

You can measure friends a lot of ways. One sure way is by how they react when you are in need. When we needed advice that night, we called our friends Dean and Kris, who have a lot more experience with cats than we do. Even though it was 2:30 in the morning, they talked with us, and asked us to call back and check in.
About thirty minutes later, when Banzai slipped away, we called back. The first words out of Dean's mouth were "I'll be right there." And they were.
They helped us wrap him up, and find a spot for him in the yard, providing help and sympathy when we sorely needed both. There are damned few people who you can count on like that, and as tough as this was, it would have been infinitely worse without their help and friendship to get us through.

I am more grateful than I can hope to express, and I realize how lucky we are to have friends like that.

He was a good cat, and I miss him.