Twenty years ago, Keyser was living with the ex-Mrs. Söze in Somerville MA while he was finishing his doctorate in daemonology at Harvard. One morning in late June we woke up to hear some plaintive mewing from the driveway alongside our apartment building. It was raining fairly hard, and there was this little kitten sitting in the downpour screaming. So we bring him in. Then the quondam Mrs. S. put up some notices saying, “You lost a kitten?” Later that day, she found out from a neighbor that the cat probably belonged to some Haitian kids who lived down the street and didn’t look after him, so she took down the notices.
Too late! As it turned out, the kitten had been given to the twelve-year-old daughter of the family (they had a lot of kids), and she found out. So she came over to our place demanding the cat back. Seems the parents didn’t really want him, and left him in the outer entryway, where he’d get out when people opened the door without paying attention (which apparently happened often). Got into a prolonged argument with her. I pointed out that she wasn’t actually taking very good care of the kitten. She said it wasn’t her fault, to which I replied that this didn’t affect the issue. After about ten minutes of increasingly heated argumentation, I got a an inspiration. I said I wasn’t about to give the kitten back to her since she obviously wasn’t in a position to look after it, but if her parents came and said they wanted the kitten back, we’d be happy to turn it over. With that I closed the door on her and her small siblings viewing the argument. Last we heard of them.
We called the kitten Maximilian, but this soon was reduced to Maxwell. He was mostly called just Max. The first week he “bonded” to your old friend Keyser. The first day, he clung to my lap, and I didn’t feel like dislodging him to take a leak. Boy, did I have a full bladder by the time he finally curled up along side of me!
So, we’ve had him for the past two decades, through all those tumultuous events. He got diabetes about six years ago. Turns out it’s easy to give cats a shot in the back of the neck, because they have a lot of excess skin there. The present Mrs. S. has been doing that twice a day for years now (sometimes Keyser does it if she’s not around). You buy cheap human insulin and use short human needles. Doesn’t cost much money at all.
After a year or two, his dosage got out of alignment. (You don’t “test” them the way you do with people. Instead, you take the cat in to the vet to measure the sugar level, or whatever it is, about six hours after shooting.) Max’s pancreas (or whatever gland makes insulin) had apparently kicked in a bit, so we reduced the dosage, but then it stopped working again, so he wasn’t getting enough. Not realizing this was going on, we just thought his bad appearance was the result of the illness rather than misdosage. Basically, he was starving, and having a ketoacidosis episode. He looked bad at the end of the weekend, so we thought we’d wait a few days and if things didn’t get better, take him in. So things didn’t improve and we had the testing done midweek. Wasn’t until Friday when we got the news that some big intervention was necessary. Since the regular vet wouldn’t be open over the weekend, we’d have to take him to the expensive emergency vet. The vet seemed to think that this would be a big burden, and suggested that we might have to take unpleasant measures if this was too much money. So I said to her, “What sort of money are we talking about?” She said something like $2000 to $2500. I said, “Oh, shit, that’s not a lot. Spread over all the years we’ve had him and it’s not much at all!” What else is the point of having money?
So we took him off to the emergency place Friday evening and hoped for the best. We came to visit the next day, and he was already looking much better. Turned out it was about $2200. Even less if you factor in the next five years or so (I don’t really recall the exact year of this).
Max has been going downhill for a while. A photo from February suggests that he was till doing okay then. He went down hill pretty quickly the past few weeks. Very thin and feeble. Got very needy, but he didn’t seem to know what he wanted. Couldn’t jump up on anything, and when he climbed into a basket on the ground, we sometimes yowed as if in pain. So Saturday I made an appointment with the vet to have him tested again. I suspected the end might be at hand, but it was an easy way into the matter. Mrs. S. was trying to avoid going to the vet’s in order not to hear bad news. Today was the first available appointment.
By the time we got to today, it was pretty clear we were at the end. And so it was. The vet said he felt like just skin, with no muscle. That presumably explains why he couldn’t walk right any more. You know, it’s hard to determine when somebody else’s life should end. You don’t want them to be in pain or to have a “life” that’s nothing more than mere existence. On the other hand, you don’t want to pull the plug too soon if it’s possible for things to improve. To tell the truth, you wish that his body would just fail of its own accord, so you’d get up in the morning and find that he’d died in his sleep.
No such “luck”. I think we did the right thing. Maybe in retrospect, it could have been done a few days earlier, but there’s no way to know that there’s no going back until you’ve gone on a bit.
It was distressing at the time, but it was the right decision. And now it’s a relief not to have the weight hanging over you of figuring out when the time is at hand.
For long-time readers of the Lair, you might remember Max’s intervention during a daemonological interview Keyser was giving. Or his joyful tearing apart of a robin. The picture above was taken the same summer, when he was still in his prime.
Requiescat in pace, Max the cat!