Thursday, May 14, 2015

Chapter 4: A Preemptive Eulogy – or – How Pets Impact our Lives

"I have decided to stick with love. Hate is too great a burden to bear."
Martin Luther King.

The Autobiography of Ben and Bob
Chapter 4: A Preemptive Eulogy – or – How Pets Impact our Lives


Soon after we became empty nesters, about fourteen years ago, my wife decided to get a pet. I'd always been against this idea - for no good reason other than I didn't want the emotional attachment and the hassles that come along with pet ownership. We travel extensively and, every time we do so, we feel guilty about the pets we now have: a nine year old Japanese Chin called Simba and two Persian cats, Mishka and Pookie, both about fourteen years old.


[ Mishka ]

Mishka arrived first as a kitten, only a few weeks old, a fluffy ball of cuteness.

[Mishka as a kitten]

Over the years, though, Mishka has turned sour - preferring his own solace to the distraction of people. He has had many emotional problems and still sometimes pees around the house once in a while when he's not happy about something. He even saw a psychiatrist for a while and was on Prozac for a year or two. It didn't seem to make any difference in his behavior, so we decided to stop torturing him and let him live his life the way he wants to - mostly alone in a corner of the yard or the living room - intentionally with his back to everyone. A typical Anti-social cat.

A year later the same breeder brought us Pookie and asked us to care for him. He was the same age as Mishka (one year old at that time), but had been a grand champion as a show cat.

[Pookie as a champion show cat]

He was also a sickly runt of the litter and the breeder felt we could care for him better given our financial situation.

We'll come back to him in a minute, but let's first meet the third member of our cast: Simba, the mischievous dog that my wife brought home nine years ago as a puppy when I was on a business trip to Japan.

[Simba as a puppy]

Wikipedia describes this breed as "the most cat like" of all dog breeds - and it's true. I have heard him bark no more than a handful of times in the past nine years. He seems to almost have trouble with his vocal cords when he tries - I suspect this is a trait that he was bred for. He has been the happy go luckiest sweetest dog I've ever met.

To be clear, I was not happy at the beginning. A dog was a big responsibility - walking him every day and playing with him and the travel problem again. But it took him only about five minutes to creep under my skin - with his mischievous behavior and pure love of life. Dogs truly do just want to have fun.

So, of course, my reaction was to shield myself from getting too close to him. Of course, secretly, I love him but I figure if I don't externalize those emotions, the pain will be less later. It's odd that I'm so obsessed with the death of these pets, but the inevitability of it seems too cruel to me. I have started several times seriously researching pet cloning - a practice that is shunned ethically for all the right reasons. But I know I will be devastated when we inevitably lose these pets. So I decided to write this blog entry to show my love for them. Consider this an early obituary for Pookie - the first one sure to go as he is so old and frail.

I instantly fell head over heels in love with Pookie when he arrived in our house. There is no way anyone could not fall in love with this cat. He is the sweetest smartest animal I've ever seen. He constantly wants to cuddle with anyone and everyone - literally jumping into people's laps five minutes after they arrive for the first time in our house.

Of course, he is always on the bed with us at night and purring away two inches from our heads - like a far-away locomotive that wakes us up every couple of hours. Sometimes, usually during the winter months, he even comes under the covers and sleeps with us like a toddler would.


But he is also very sickly. He is always underweight (no more than six or seven pounds at any point in his life), suffers from severe arthritis, and is always sick with a cold - sniffling or sneezing in our faces.

He is also a scaredy cat, terrified of his own shadow. It took me a few years to realize how damaged he was psychologically. I suspect this has much to do with the first year of his life and the tortures they put a show cat through. His nervousness only contributes to his problems.

Just a month ago, after living in this house for five years, I commented to my wife that Pookie was finally comfortable enough to come out in the backyard and sit for a few minutes enjoying the sun - unusual for him given all his neuroses.

A few years ago, I started calling him “The Ambassador of Love” - given his penchant for jumping into every stranger’s lap. My brother-in-law has a less generous term. He calls Pookie a “Love Whore”. Either way, the amount of love and attention that Pookie gives everyone is off the charts. He truly does love everyone.


Here he is massaging Simba: who says cats and dogs don't get along?

video

This is not an unusual event. He goes around massaging the other two on at least a weekly basis.

Another interesting factoid about Pookie: he is smart as a whip. No matter where my wife and I are in the house, he is exactly half way between the two of us. At any given point in time, I can draw a picture showing our respective positions in the house - and Pookie is guaranteed to be dead center in the middle of the line that would connect us. In cases where we are not both in line of sight, Pookie manages to form a perfect triangle between the three of us - so he can keep an eye on both of us simultaneously. His ability to do math and trigonometry is amazing. His biological clock is also in perfect tune with the universe. He can be trusted to wake us up at exactly 6:01 am day after day - and to start begging to go to bed at exactly the same time every night - down to the minute.


No, Pookie is not dead yet. But as he approaches fifteen, as he continues to lose weight, as his arthritis gets worse, as he spends more and more days with a cold, I feel I'm watching my child die in front of me - and I'm helpless to do anything about it. So I decided I wanted to write something about him. 

Why should I have to wait for him to die so I can write his obituary? Why not celebrate his life and tell him, at the same time, to rest in peace – not just after his death, but also for all the days he has left in his natural life.

Pookie, you have given me more joy and unconditional love than I could have ever imagined possible. For that, I thank you. 

Rest in peace, Pookie. Now and forever.

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