|Nadia's grumpy glamour shot|
I met Nadia when I was working with a local cat rescue group and had signed up to foster cats. I was asked to go to a house in the North End of Boise, where a woman had found a thin stray cat that had just given birth to four kittens. She had the cat and the kittens in a box at her house but could not keep them. I went and got them and brought them home; I named the tortoiseshell mother Nadia, as she seemed faintly Russian, faintly surly, and yet somehow strong.
She was a good mother. I watched her flip her tail in different patterns at the kittens. Of the four kittens, all of whom I got spayed or neutered and shots and adopted out, two I recall clearly. One was a tabby I called Randy, or Rubber Randy, because he was super laid back even if he was upside down, and nothing fazed him. I thought he would be a great cat for a home with kids and he did go to a great home with kids. I think he was Nadia's favorite, and he was mine from that litter too. One of the girls was all grey and I named her Greta. Later, I was saddened to hear she was returned to the rescue. Some people don't take adoption as forever. I am just not one of those people, and Nadia really tested that.
Nadia didn't care much for people in the beginning, or dogs. But I saw an amazing act of trust on her part I'll never forget. Nadia was tired of the kittens and wanted a break. Callie, my Australian Shepherd at the time, loved to be in charge of animals and she was very gentle with kittens. She would lie and watch Nadia while I played with the kittens. Nadia never saw fit to leave me alone with her kittens, but apparently, she decided Callie was a worthy babysitter. One evening she got up, stretched, and walked deliberately and slowly over to Callie. They touched noses briefly and Nadia stared Callie in the eye. Something passed between them - I have no idea what kind of inter species communication was possible. Nadia calmly turned her back and walked off, and Callie got up and went over to the kittens. They played on her and pulled her hair for an hour or so. Nadia strolled back in, assessed the situation, walked over, and Callie got up and left. It happened fairly regularly for the next couple of weeks. I don't think I would believe the story if someone told it to me, but I saw it myself,. That cat hired a babysitter for breaks. Only one other foster cat ever that did that, though there were many, many more.
Nadia was supposed to be adopted after her kittens were. We had to go through the horrible heat cycle and the spay and the milk drying up - the worst parts of fostering mother cats. There was yowling and griping and complaining on a grand scale. I would not have thought a slender cat could have such a set of lungs but she screamed bloody murder in heat. After all of that, when she was ready to be adopted, she would have none of it. Week after week I took her to Petsmart and sat with her in a cage, talking her up to potential adopters. She turned her back to them and glowered and hunched up. No one wanted her. She didn't look friendly. She wasn't.
|A Nadia and Pepper bunking arrangement|
But I did not want another cat. I had two or three already. I think two, maybe three, I've forgotten, obviously. We had Oscar, the first and oldest, and Ophelia, who came not long after. But I can't remember for sure if we had Lizzie yet. Probably. But I know I didn't need another one. She was not supposed to stay.
I had people over to meet her at the house on the theory that she would be nicer in a familiar environment. I was experimenting with cat marketing. Clearly the pet store adoption fairs were a disaster. But at home, when we had dinner guests, Nadia would come out and say hello, and beg at the table. As a stray, she had learned to beg on the streets. She would sit and look up and put her paws (and claws, inevitably) on your leg and meow and remind you that she was hungry. So I had some potential adopters over, since the dinner guests were not in the market for a cat.
Lo and behold, Nadia was never to be found when a potential adopter was in the house. She was in the basement. Or elsewhere. Never making an appearance, no matter how long they stayed. Within 10 minutes of their departure, she was out and about, seeking my ankles to curl and rub against with a distinct chitter. I knew she was asking "Can't I just stay?" I knew it and I kept saying no, you can't. No. We wondered how the hell she knew that one person was here to deliver pizza or have dinner and another was here to potentially adopt a cat. What vibe did we give off?? She never got it wrong. We stopped inviting adopters.
My next marketing plan was fliers. I posted them at vets and grocery stores. Maybe someone would want to adopt her if they didn't actually meet her. I took photos of her and put them all over the place - the rescue's website, and stores all over town. And I did get her adopted that way. Three times. Each time she was returned. "She just hid under the bed." "She isn't friendly." "She pees outside the box." And each time, I took her back. And she rubbed my ankles harder, and chittered. And I knew damn well what she was saying.
|Refusing to come in for dinner on a fall evening|
All cats are required in for dinner and the night, and she was like a slutty teenager, always trying to stay out late and get in trouble and come home after dark, skulky and wanting food despite knowing she'd broken the rules. Ah, how many hot summer nights was I out searching the backyard, pacing the back deck, calling "Na-d-i-a??!" So, so many times I was so worried. A few nights she did stay out all night and I'd get up every few hours looking for her,sometimes bringing her in at 3 or 4 am, both pissed and relieved. She was difficult and liked to test the rules.
Nadia had many personalities. The original version, Nadia 1.0, didn't care for us. No touching. No picking up. No sleeping in the same room. She would show up for food, eat, and then retire out of sight. You broke the rules and Nadia 1.0 scratched the shit out of you, and maybe bit you for good measure. She went outside as soon as possible and came in as late as possible.
Eventually Nadia 2.0 appeared. I was allowed to carry her, but only in a certain position, and briefly, and to the food table. She still did not care to be in the same room with us other than passing through. One dared not pet her. She chose to spend as much of her time outside as she could. Nadia 2.0 peed in the basement. Everywhere in the basement. We had to get a dumpster and clean out everything in the basement. I stocked it with litter boxes after that, and she agreed to stop peeing outside the box in the basement. I am not sure how we negotiated that, but we did.
Nadia 2.0 liked to hunt - well, all the versions of Nadia did. But in her youth she brought in a lot of mice, and she left some of them partially consumed. The other cats would bring a whole mouse, alive or dead, as a gift. After all, they were well fed and it was really just a gift to me - intact. Nadia had been on the streets. She had it rough and wasn't giving up food...but she would share. So she would leave half a mouse, now and then. Not too often.
Once I found Nadia and a paralyzed gopher in my front room. The gopher was very much alive, but unable to walk. Nadia was coming up to it and whacking it in the head and it could not run away. This seemed quite cruel. I ended up taking the gopher to Westvet to be humanely put down. I felt like crap about that. But the thing about cats is they are hunters. They kill. You can try and protect the birds and put bells on them and train them and some say confine them indoors and all that - I know. But they hunt. And they love to hunt. And when you love predators you have some gore in your life. That's part of the deal. Cats are not vegan. They are obligate carnivores. They require meat. They hunt for fun, too.
Nadia 3.0 decided that petting was okay, but only for brief periods, which ended with a sudden strike that sunk claws and teeth into a hand. Nadia 3.0 was scary and unpredictable. She would sit on the bed next to you and act like she was friendly but then it turned out she was not. She would stay in the same room as us, but across from us, looking down on us as much as possible. Literally. She made clear her preference for high spots. She liked to be up high, look down, and judge. She was small, and got picked on by the other, bigger cats sometimes, so she ate in a room by herself with the door shut so they could not steal her food. Morning and evening she was fed in the room for an hour and then released. Nadia 3.0 seemed ok with that arrangement, but eventually decided that the litter box in that room was not as attractive as the carpet around the litter box. So the carpet had to be replaced. And she had to switch rooms to break the habit. And it sucked, because no type of litter or box was reliable. She would use a box until she wouldn't - and it was unpredictable.
She would crawl onto the top of my pillow at night and sleep on my hair. Sometimes she would actually chew and gnaw at my hair and that annoyed me and woke me up; it was gross. She would get up and walk away if I woke up, but most nights, she slept just above my head on my pillow in those years.
|Checking out a new table, likely Nadia 4.0|
Nadia 3.5 lasted a long time, and had medical issues. A torn ACL. Expensive, and she hated being in a dog crate to recuperate, and she gave me the stink eye over it for months. A nose scope because there was a growth that might be a tumor that was removed. Expensive. Skin tumors that were removed, several times. Expensive. And that is the basic problem, that you realize too late, about the whole "What's one more?" philosophy. One more can mean a lot more money - a LOT. And as animals age, like people, costs go up. So "just one more" is fine to a point but you should not adopt more animals than you can provide a quality of life for, and quality costs dearly sometimes.
Eventually, Nadia developed what seemed to be a bowel cancer. She stopped eating. She was in pain. I thought it was her time to go. The vet and I decided not to do invasive biopsies as the outcome would not change. We didn't need to confirm what kind of cancer. We would provide pain relief and meds and food and quality of life and likely, she would have a few months left.
She would probably hide in the backyard and die there, and I would not be able to find her one night, and I would go crazy with worry. I would respect her decision to die alone if that was what she really wanted. But I needed certainty. I needed to know she was gone, not suffering in pain for a week or two before dying. So I did a lot of research and found a cat location collar. It was expensive. But when she wore it, I could find her with a beeper that got hotter or colder depending on where she was. And thus began months of not only calling N-a-d-i-a but roaming the pastures with a cat locating device, getting hotter and colder, until I found her - and each time she was alive, and came in for dinner, looking put out about it. She started eating again. The pain seemed to reside. We started B-12 injections. They seemed to help. I had to learn to give shots. I hate shots. I hate giving shots. But the thing is, you man up and you do what you need to do when someone in your care, of any species, needs it done. That's just the way it is. It sucked. But, her quality of life seemed ok if I did it - and months became years. And each annual exam I thought would be her last for several years - at least five - and she kept going to the point that I thought "well, it's not imminent - it's inevitable but not imminent."
She had bizarre eating preferences. She loved arugula. It was her favorite. She would steal salad leaves at dinner. She loved asparagus. It was her second favorite. Her third favorite was Indian food. I know. Go figure. I imagined her eating out of dumpsters and I wondered if an Indian family fed her or she salvaged behind an Indian restaurant somewhere. She liked the classics as well - tuna, chicken, turkey, salmon. Of course. And Klondike bars. I always gave her the last bite of a vanilla Klondike. She would wait, touching my arm to remind me it was hers, and then I would hold the wrapper and she would lick the ice cream happily. Don't worry, she had healthy (and expensive) cat food too, but there were treats. There are treats in all of my animal's lives. Even Nadia. I admit, today I wish I had given her more arugula. Made her more asparagus. Bought the Klondike's last weekend that I was going to eat this weekend so she could have had one last one - she hasn't had a Klondike since last summer. What would she do for a Klondike bar? Knife me with a claw. And she had fine, delicate, needle like claws that REALLY punctured. I have been punctured by them over and over and over - hands, arms, feet, fingers, legs, thighs, ankles, face. Yeah, she was fun.
|Savoring a Klondike|
I hired a cat behaviorist. I bought a camera activated by motion. I tested litter. I tested boxes. I video taped my cats using the box (or not, in Nadia's case) and each night I downloaded the videos and sent them to the vet, the behaviorist, who studied them for evidence of a pattern, a medical issue, anything. We tried various drugs. After eight months of this, the behaviorist officially gave up. We do not know why Nadia peed outside the box but pooped inside the box. We will never know. But, during this process I had pee pads down around the boxes and I discovered that Nadia would agree to pee on the pads and nowhere else. If pads were down she would use them. If not, she would use laundry, or whatever the hell she felt like, including beds, pillows, dog beds, whatever. It was easier to have a subscription on Amazon to pee pads and put them out than to clean up random events.
|Catification - shelf that leads to cabinet|
|Catification shelves to high windows|
During this period of trying to truly understand her behavior and make her happy, I decided to "catify" the house, and particularly the upstairs room where Nadia spent time. I had watched Jackson Galaxy and been made to feel like a shitty cat mom because I did not completely figure out why my cat was peeing outside the box, and revamp her whole environment in case she was bored or insecure or unhappy. I did not design clever shelves so she could go around the room or house without touching the floor which cats who like high surfaces like she did enjoy. I was too lazy for all that. I was working full time and taking care of 20 or so other animals and three acres of land. I beat myself up about this until I finally broke down and hired a contractor. I catified. We took out the carpet and put down tile. I installed clever little shelves. I got cat trees. I made climbing ramps so she could get allllll the way up to the house's tallest windows. She liked it. She used the shelves and ramps. She looked down on me with disdain. And she kept peeing on pee pads and not in the box.
So I designed a "restroom" that was a very large open closet. In this closet, in which I had tile installed, I would lay down visquine from Home Depot and tape it to the walls with painter's tape. Then I would line the closet with commercial baking pans (ginormous cookie sheets) and pee pads. In the center of all the pans and pads (which went all the way around the edges of three sides of the closet) I put two litter boxes. With two types of litter in them. She had a choice. Cleaning this closet was a righteous pain in the ass, and I used to lament that I had gotten an advanced degree to become a cat restroom attendant. I could be practicing law and I was changing pee pads. But what choice was there? After all, she had agreed to use them. We had reached an agreement we could both live with on the peeing. I did not enjoy it and I resented it, I admit. But I could not face giving a cat with cancer, who needed injections and peed outside the box, to anyone else. I knew it would mean her death.
And here is the thing. No living creature deserves to die because they pee and don't follow the rules about where to pee. Or because they are not as attractive as other creatures and no one wants to adopt them. I'm not going to live in a world where that is acceptable. And if that means years of testing alternatives and changing pee pads and being annoyed well, ok - that's better than being the kind of asshole that ships an elderly cat off to her grave because it is inconvenient to fulfill a responsibility of care. And I did, begrudgingly, reluctantly, and eventually, love her. It was more of an obligation than falling in love, but it was still true - I had affection for her. I tried to make her life better. I talked to her. I worried about her. I cared for her.
The thing is, you are either committed when you adopt, or you aren't. Whether it's cats, dogs, horses, or children, adoption is supposed to be forever, not "unless it gets really hard." I know there are exceptions, I've seen them and had to make those hard choices too. But I think when you take on the life of an animal, you ought to see it through unless it becomes clear that it is better for the animal to live elsewhere. (Dylan is a great example of this: his owner did not provide a good life for him, finally realized that and gave him up, and now he has an amazing life. Sometimes giving up an animal can be the right choice - but I truly believe the best interests of the animal - or kid - not the person, should be the determining factor after the human makes the choice to adopt - because the animal - or kid - doesn't get that choice).
When I had the opportunity to take a job that meant being away from home several days per week on a regular basis, I turned it down. One reason was Nadia. I knew there was no way my husband was going to be the cat restroom attendant. I knew with dead cold certainty he hated cat boxes and would resent it to the point we might break up. I valued Nadia. I valued my marriage. I loved my husband. I loved my cat. I said no to the job.
But the job did not say no to me. We kept talking. And eventually, my husband convinced me he would take over animal care. "But what about the cat boxes?" I knew he didn't want to do that! And quite frankly, I didn't think he even knew of the massive daily chore of changing the pee pads. Not just in the closet, but Nadia had a secondary spot in the laundry room outside the box there. Two pee pad locations and seven cat boxes.
So I talked to my neighbor. And we made a deal. She would come and clean cat boxes and change pee pads so my husband didn't have to. And then, I could say yes to the job. Because I could not take the job without a solution to that problem. There were other issues, but I am not exaggerating when I say that one of my greatest anxieties was Nadia. I even tried to explore bringing her with me. My husband was discouraging. "You're going to rent an apartment and bring the one cat that will pee all over it?" "Yeah. I know. But really, I'm taking her so she's not peeing here and making you resent cleaning it up." I didn't say that. But it was true. I would give up a security deposit if it meant we could eliminate a strain on the marriage. It would be strained enough by a new job and all the OTHER animal care my husband would have to pick up. I knew Nadia was a sore spot, so I would just take her with me. But then, the neighbor. Thank God for the neighbor.
Nadia 5.0 appeared quite recently. She actually sought us out. Laid against us. Slept in the bed all night with us, between us. Didn't attack us. It wasn't a trick. We didn't really trust it but we marveled at it. She went out sometimes, briefly, but not often. Mostly she stayed inside. She never got so old that didn't enjoy chasing toys, or jumping up onto shelves and looking down with disdain.
Last Saturday, just five days ago, I took her in for her annual exam. After so many years of her hanging on, I didn't expect a report any different from the usual - she would be hanging in there. We would marvel at her, the vet and I. And we did. She was down to six pounds. She got her vaccines. She got her exam. She was okay, other than some old age and the known cancer. No new issues. It was a busy day. Other cats were at the vet. I did not focus on Nadia, I had three cats to take care of that day. But I did pay attention. And she seemed fine. And Pepper didn't. I found out Pepper might have cancer. And I was really distressed about that, because, as the vet and I discussed, it seemed far more rapid than Nadia's - Pepper is losing weight fast, not slowly. Nadia was Nadia - doing okay.
Last weekend Nadia slept touching me. Her whole body lay along my arm. All night I was aware of her. I wondered if she was actually missing me, with the new job and more travel. I stroked her and tried to make sure she was feeling loved. My pillow was her favorite spot. The photo at the top, with her looking surly, was taken by a photographer. She is against a burgundy pillow on my side of the bed, and she was there for over a decade, off and on, Nadia 2.5 and later.
I don't have a ton of photos with me but a few, off my phone, for flavor of her personality, since my words can't capture it, I am sure. A few times I did the terrible mom thing of making them all get photos for the holidays - it was a program for charity at the vet's office. I wanted something to remember the cats by because I knew they would not always be around - all five will pass on eventually. And in the meantime it was fun to see their various personalities captured on film. The cute, tiny scarf. The reluctant model. I know, I am against dressing up animals and making them pose. I promise it was brief. I rationalized it. I couldn't resist. I only did it a couple times. I do relish the photos. Nadia, as you can see, did not.
I am way, way, way behind on this blog and I have many trips to write about. Nadia did not come on any of them, she was waiting at home. and now she is not. But blogging travel is fun, and tonight I write to cope with the grief of her passing. I don't know any other way to get through it.
When I woke up this morning I saw a text from my husband "Nadia may be in some trouble. You should call when you get this." He described how she was too weak to stand and he'd carried her to the bed. On my pillow.
He tried to let me FaceTime with her but had trouble aiming the phone. I could see though that her time had come. I looked into flights. I could be there in just under 4 hours. I looked at her eyes. I knew it would be 4 hours of suffering. I told him to go to the vet and that likely he would have to put her down immediately. I called the vet's office to warn them, they were not yet open.
I cried in the shower, just like the day my dad died. Knowing that someone you love is dying and you can do nothing about it just hurts in a way that nothing can wash away or soothe. Whether human or feline, canine, equine, avian, love hurts...loss is inevitable. As I walked to work my husband texted they were at the vet.
When I got to my office the vet called - it was dire. She had to be put down. I already knew that. Nadia told me. Over the phone, over video, without words. I knew. So I sat at my desk, nearly 500 miles away from her, not able to touch her one last time. I tried to focus on work. I almost made it. But it was a tough day at work. And something happened in a case and I was stressed and solving he problem and a wise lawyer, who I consider a friend, told me to breathe. And he was right. I knew I should. But I didn't want to. Because I knew if I let myself breathe I would feel Nadia's loss and probably cry. In front of him. At a new job. But I trust him. And myself. So I did, just for a minute. Just a minute, and I pulled myself together. And I told him that my husband had to put one of the cats down this morning and I couldn't be there. He understood. He has four cats. Now, so do I.
As for my husband...I asked him to be with Nadia, at the end, because I could not be. And he was. He knew that she was ill. He caught it - it happened fast. Last night she was there for dinner and this morning she was in a bad way. Something in her body finally gave out. My husband never felt the deep commitment to her that I did. Or the obligation. I know he suffered through my choices. My choice to foster. My choice to adopt her. My choice to try 500 solutions to the peeing, while he ended up in more than one work meeting realizing too late he was wearing a cat peed item. How many times did he step in bare feet on her vomited up hairball, or walk in her pee on the bathmat coming out of the shower? I know that any number is too many when you don't want to do those things. I get it. I truly do. I have suffered through the choices of others and I know.
But the thing about me and animals is I can't make another choice sometimes. Sometimes I can but really - I am all kinds of messed up that way, for really solid reasons. And my husband is basically willing to tolerate this about me. Because he loves me. And I loved that cat. And he knew they go together, and it is sometimes messy. All love is.