The Zombies Ate My Brains

Rescuing what might remain of the grey matter.

Joey

My Joe 1993 - 2012

My Joe 1993 – 2012

Joey lived with me longer than any other man. He looked amazing in a tuxedo. He knew it, too. I miss ol’ Joe.

He came into my life in 1995. I was a student then, enrolled in the Development Services Worker program at Fanshawe College. This was part of a retraining package offered by Bell Canada when the company needed to cut 10,000 jobs. One of my roles as a DSW was to support adults in their homes and advocate on their behalf. I met with a young mother one afternoon. Just as I was preparing to leave, I heard a cat meow.

“You have a cat? I love kitties! Can I see him?”

She demurred. Both she and her daughter were allergic, as it turned out. “Sheriff” was kept in the basement until they could find a new home for him.

Super hero that I am, I said. “I’ll take him!”

And that was that. He came home with me that very day. I renamed him Joey, though I cannot recall why. He was two and he lived with me and The Performer and two other cats, Heidi and Aggie, eight-year-old sisters. For the most part, they got along fine. From time to time Joey would stalk and ambush the girls. Once poor Heidi ended up in the fish pond. One moment she’s minding her own business patrolling the perimeter of the pool and the next thing she knows, I’m hauling her out, duckweed and all.

Joey was quite the “lap-cat”, especially later in his life. The first time I held him on my lap, though, I thought would be the last. It was summer and I was in shorts. We sat together at the computer. I congratulated him on being such a good kitty, a good boy. He didn’t buy it and launched himself from his perch, taking a good quarter-pound of flesh from my legs. Ouch. Possibly I said something a degree or two more profane. Just possibly.

Joey moved with me from household to household. When I married The One, Joey was one of five cats. That combination was not successful. We decided to keep the original three cats at home and two cats at my husband’s store.

We just about lost our boy when we moved to the country. He loved being outside poking around the yard, investigating all of the nooks and crannies. One day he acted strangely, staggering, his eyes were askew. We took him to the vet and she could find nothing to explain his condition. She thought that maybe he found some poison. He recovered from that, but a week or two later, I noticed a red sore at the base of his tail. Back to the vet and this time, she found the culprit.

While Joey was out sniffing at the threshold of chipmunk holes, he picked up an opportunistic worm. It travelled through his nasal passages and up through his brain, which caused the staggering and intoxicated behaviour. It passed along his spinal column as it matured and broke through the flesh at the base of his tail. Warble or botfly are the quaint terms, Cuterebra the scientific. Look it up if you wish. I don’t want to post photos, they are too gross. Ick.

We adopted a couple more cats, Bubba and Singer. After the initial hissy-fits and pecking order firmly established, all three got along fine. I can remember watching Joey patrolling the perimeter of the one-acre property with the other boys in tow, a respectful distance behind their leader.

As the years and moves added up, Joe was my constant companion. The photo above shows him resting happily in my lap. He was always a thin cat, and later he turned into a heat-seeking missile. He slept under the covers with me at night and during the day, he asked up on my lap, sometimes under a robe.  If the woodstove was lit, he slept in front of it, and on several occasions he tried to get UNDER it. Drove me nuts. If the stove was not lit, he sat on the heat registers soaking up the warm. Toward the end, Reiner mounted a heat lamp over Joey’s bed.

The day came. Joey had lost his ability to pee and poo and he was not eating. It was time. I called the vet, the one who makes house calls.

When the day came, the vet asked, “Are you sure?” She was doing her job, making certain that I had enough opportunity to change my mind.

Joey resisted being held. The vet said, “He still has the will to live.” She offered a new brand of pet food, something to try, perhaps?

“No!”

I regret that, a little bit. I regret overpowering my cat. I regret having that power in the first place, and the burden of responsibility that comes with it.

I miss ol’ Joe. He was my buddy.

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26 replies

  1. Thank you for sharing your memories of your special friend. I also had a cat that liked to sleep under the covers with me. He was my special boy.

    I think you made the right call, as hard as it was. Once they lose the ability to control their bodily functions you either have to diaper them or constantly clean their mess off of them (speaking from experience!) and then you end up resenting them a bit. I don’t think the vet should have said he still had the will to live. I suspect she may have been hoping (understandably) that he would just go naturally soon enough. But letting them wait it out when they’re in that condition I think is cruel. No one who loves animals ever wants to have to end their lives, but really, sometimes it is a kindness and a mercy.

    Thanks for the post!

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    • Oh my, thank you so much for your comforting words. It never occurred to me that the vet was hoping for a natural end. I think you might be right.
      I really appreciate that you take the time to write such thoughtful comments. This one in particular has brought me ease.

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      • I’m so glad that I could maybe make things a little less painful. You letting me know that really lifted me on a day when things just felt overwhelming. So thank you.

        Speaking from personal experience, letting them linger when they’ve really gone downhill is cruel. My husband’s dog, Oscar, went through this. I didn’t push my husband as much as I might to put him to sleep because he had been his mother’s dog, and she had passed from cancer right before the dog began to get really, really sick. It was quite a difficult year for him (his girlfriend also dumped him around the same time. This is before I was in the picture, obviously).

        They found a suspicious growth in Oscar’s, let’s say, intestines (but lower) which required surgery. Considering this dog had already had two back surgeries I think that was when he should have been put to sleep. He was never the same after the surgery and by the time I arrived on the scene it was clear he was in a lot of pain.

        Eventually, he got so bad that no one but us could take care of him. We were essentially trapped by Oscar’s needs, and couldn’t leave him more for than a few hours (he would start ripping and eating at his diapers otherwise). This went on for a year and a half until one day he could no longer get out of bed. This is when I sat my husband down and said, “Look, now you’re keeping him alive for purely selfish reasons. If you love him, then let him go, because he’s suffering.” And I got it, I really did. Oscar was a living connection to his mother, something they both loved together, and losing Oscar was like losing the last piece of her, but at a certain point you have to love the animal more than your desire to hold onto them.

        When we put Oscar to sleep it was so sad, but also such a relief, I think for my husband, too. He hadn’t been aware of how stressed he was by Oscar until he was gone.

        So, now that I’ve left a novel on your post, I hope you can feel at peace with your decision because it really was an act of love. The vet wasn’t being completely upfront about things because once they get to a certain point there’s almost never any chance for real improvement. It’s so much better to end things at a relatively good point before the slow spiral down really begins in earnest.

        Again, thanks for sharing your story about Joey!

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        • Thank you, Jessica. I like your “novel”. 🙂 We, as a species, have reached a point where technology allows so many wonderful things, like the fact that you and I can correspond, or freedom from pain for our loved ones, for example. Combine that technology, though, with love, fear, and the ability to prolong life… that’s where things get confusing. It’s like being blindfolded on a tightrope strung above a flaming pit.

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  2. Awww – sounds like a sweetheart of a cat. Great post and it also gave me an idea about one if you don’t mind. I was thinking of my old cat Jim who was not so nice – would you mind me snitching your cat post idea?

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  3. So dear are the ones who enter our lives through our hearts. He sounds like he was lovely lad.

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  4. Oh he was a character, as they all are. Thanks for stopping by!

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  5. You are much stronger than I, Maggie. More practical. I have always been a wuss. Love Joey.

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  6. Thanks for this, M.R. At the time, I didn’t feel all that strong, truth be told. And when I retold it today, all of the wobbles came back. But I don’t think I would have changed a thing.

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  7. Yep, here I am catching up… sorry to be so far behind.

    Glad Jessica already comforted you, because I was just about ready to travel up your way and give that vet a piece of my mind. Try a new cat food indeed. Sure that will make him all better, fix him right up, you gotta be f-ing kidding me. You absolutely made the right decision.

    Loved the post; brought a few tears to my eyes at the end. Funny, though, I am pondering a cat post myself — get outta my head woman!

    :>

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    • Thanks, Melissa. It was really very frustrating for me. She had been to the house about twice a week several weeks prior to the last visit, trying this, trying that, and not once did I detect anything other than genuine concern for Joey’s wellbeing. BUT! Was she so blinkered by the mantra “must do no harm” that she could not see that prolonging the animal’s life is harmful? AND expensive! Joey was 19, he was miserable and had been for a long time, now that I can see clearly via hindsight. Now, allow me to step aside from your noggin so you can write a cat post, too!

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  8. Wow, he was gorgeous! And yes –there’s always something else to try, but meanwhile, what is the animal going through; that’s the question. I will never be present when another pet is put down, as I will never have another. I’d had cats for decades, and I miss two boys in particular (buddies, both), and then came (and went) the dog…ugh. I’ll just hope when daughter and son-in-law move down south, they’ll truly have the farm of which they keep speaking. I’ve offered to act as calf-sitter, but any animal to borrow for a bit would do!

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    • Hi Relax, thanks for reading and such a great comment! You do know what it’s like. It has crossed my mind to say “no more”. Especially when the neighbour has several cats that pay visits. Time will tell.

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  9. Joey was one handsome dude. My Teemu is a tuxedo. I know what you mean about the putting down process. Did that with my two dogs but my vet wouldn’t advise but kept talking about quality of life. I know I did the right thing but it still pains me to even think about it. God bless, Joey.

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