It was ironic that Suzy of all people, the ditz, brought Gryffindor and his two brothers into our lives. It was the one decent thing she did for us.  Out in Benson, where my wife and her horse trainer/best friend once kept their horses, Suzy showed up one day, 14 years ago, with three kittens that she brought from the feed store, thinking they would be a nice addition to the barn, but doing little to care for them.  The kittens, two orange and one black, had their litter, food and water in the same place with a netting to keep them in. My wife was upset at their care.

The morning one of the orange ones got stuck in the netting was the final straw.  “I’m taking those kittens,” she said, taking them first to the vet to be checked and then to our house.  Suzy never noticed. I was out of town at the time and thought we would adopt out the kittens.

I was naive.

When I came home, the kittens were in the back room, playing with each other, and Gryffindor, the first one named, because of Harry Potter’s popularity and the fact that he looked like a little lion, was top guy.  When we served kitten milk, a nice concoction, Gryf would push the black one away, or just put his paw on the black one’s head.  Gryf was a beautiful dark orange with a uniform striped tail and a solid frame.  Needless to say, we kept all three.

Over the years, Gryf didn’t become the top cat but bonded with one of the adults and enjoyed his days in the sun on a bed or on the carpet, catching the last rays of the daylight.  When HC arrived, a silver gray stray tabby, Gryf attacked him from the first moment, and HC ended up with three rooms he could live in, darting from one to the other.  We asked Gryf not to do it, but we got used to the loud spit, a crash, “Gryf get out of there,” stomping our feet, and watching Gryf, tail huge, trot proudly out of the room.

Gryf loved being rubbed on the dining room table, and combing was a treat, although we overdid it one year, leaving him almost bare on his back. The woman who cleaned our house, took care of our cats when we were gone, and was a great friend besides had a special bond with him.  Whenever she got ready to leave, Gryf would jump on the dining room table, meow at her, demanding to be rubbed.

Gryf tolerated the move to Oregon poorly, traveling in a horse trailer with seven other cats and becoming dehydrated on the 60 hour trip.  He arrived at the house with a loud screech that could be heard throughout the neighborhood, and a few days later the smell of acetone on his breath told me we had a problem.  He was in Class 4 renal failure and we had a few minutes to decide whether we should euthanize him.  I looked at the lion face and said that he looked better than his lab numbers and we would try to cure him.  Incredibly, Gryf normalized his kidney function, although he needed chronic potassium supplementation, which he hated, and eventually hypertension treatment.  Taking him to the vet was done with a lot of screeching, and we both hated the trip, but he needed the care.  He got through dental visits and did well for three years. I think Gryf might have treated me differently after this, but of course he was a cat, so I had no idea.

In the spring of his fifteenth year, he decided it was safe, if I were in bed, to come, announcing his presence by a loud meow, demanding to be petted and to lie by me, purring.  The middle of the night visits were a bit hard on my rest, but I rationalized it as his thanking me for what I did three years earlier.

I should have thought maybe he was telling me he was leaving soon.

Gryf weighed 13-14 pounds, slightly more than normal, but far less than the other ones, for whom meal time was most of the time.  He held his weight, and because we were concerned a little about his eating, we stopped his blood pressure medicine and potassium.  He remained stable and ate with gusto, although still a little finicky.

One Friday, a day before my wife flew to Arizona, Gryf was fussy.  I didn’t think much about it, but Saturday, he was definitely off.  He didn’t look comfortable, and when he didn’t have much dinner, I weighed him at 12.8 pounds.  I called my wife, and we thought it was dehydration, so I gave him subcutaneous fluids.  I thought that he would be better Sunday morning, but there was no change.  I decided then to take him to the 24 hour emergency vet service.  Gryf screeched as usual on the drive over.  He was checked in, and I had a list of concerns—dental issue, renal failure, hairball, and at the bottom, “Cancer ???”

The vet came back with the lab, showing his renal function was fine, but his liver tests were elevated.  They wanted to keep him to do an abdominal ultrasound.  I hated to leave Gryf, because he literally quivered with fear when he was at the vet.  But he needed a diagnosis.  Unfortunately, my wife was in Arizona and I was leaving Monday for a two day trip 300 miles away.  The ultrasound was called to us that night as showing a mass in the liver, and he needed a biopsy, which could be done nearby, but we needed an appointment and had to take him ourselves.  I thought I could return by early afternoon Tuesday to take him.  We were hoping for an abscess or easily treatable tumor.

Monday I left, Gryf still at the vet, still scared.  The appointment was scheduled for Tuesday morning; my wife would fly home Monday.  I felt that I had abandoned him.

My wife arrived late Monday, and Tuesday morning I left Baker City for Eugene, 320 miles. When I reached John Day, she had got Gryf, who at last was smelling a familiar scent after 46 hours.  He was taken to the other facility for the biopsy.  Just before I crossed the Cascades, my wife texted that Gryf was about to have the biopsy.

Gryf tolerated the biopsy poorly and was in bad shape.  I made the drive to Springfield in just under 6 hours, arrived at the clinic, went back to a room with my wife and waited.  The biopsy showed a solid mass, not the hoped for abscess.

Gryf had been prodded, shaved, handled by strangers, abandoned, and was scared.   He was taken into a room where he finally smelled something—someone—familiar.  He was placed in his favorite bed and felt a pair of hands, hands that had rubbed him, combed him, fed him, and yes, even put the hated potassium pills down his throat.  What lovely hands. He started to purr.

He didn’t understand the words “5 cm mass in his liver,” “lymphosarcoma,” “everywhere,” “8 weeks at best,” “horrible disease.”  He didn’t understand my words that I wanted him at home one more time, but that would be treating me and not him.  All he knew was those hands were picking him up and placing him on a shirt and lap that smelled oh so familiar and nice.  He heard two people—his people—crying. He felt the stroking on his back he loved so much.

He purred and purred, sticking his head into my armpit where he could hide and I couldn’t see his face.  It was enough that he felt the hands he loved so much, the love from the crying person he loved so much.  He purred, now feeling a finger on his throat.  The person would care for him, love him, take him away from this lonely, painful place.

He felt the strange woman move his leg, but his person hadn’t moved, still stroking him, saying his name, finger on his trachea feeling the vibration.  He heard the crying, but he didn’t understand “propofol”.  It didn’t matter.  The hands kept stroking him.  He was with his person at last.  The person would care for him….

It was important to the person that the last sensation he felt from Gryf was a purr.


3 Responses to “THE NINTH LIFE”

  1. Marjan Says:

    Dear Mike, I enjoy reading your posts even when the last sensation from Gryf was a purr. As I went through the end I felt like I have lived with him.
    There are always other worlds to live in.

  2. Mike Says:

    Thank you, Marjan. He was such a character. When I practiced German aloud, he meowed. More than one person on LiveMocha somewhere in the world heard his voice! 🙂

  3. denisehelmkay Says:

    Nicely stated. He was a happy kitty when he needed it the most.

    Denise Helmkay

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