An Elegie for Chopin

Naming my brown, male tabby “Chopin” seemed like a good idea 15 years ago.  He was born right outside my front door.  I took his sister first and then took Chopin when the family that chose him changed their minds.  Thank goodness, because they moved away and abandoned their cat to the wild, whom I wound up feeding until the Neighbor from Hell moved in.

I wanted to give him a musical name.  I named his sister, a Calico or tri-color, “Daisy” because our band had been rehearsing “Bicycle Built for Two.”  I should have come up with something better for her brother.  I thought of “Dandy Lion” but the family quickly nixed that name.  They thought the name “Chopin” was cool.  I thought it was a fussy name.  So my own name for him was the less complicated name, “Tiger.”  Sort of like the show dogs have these long estate name’s like Wellington’s Beef of Briscuit Charles, aka as  “Chucky.”

Because I live near a very busy road (and didn’t trust my neighbors), I kept both cats indoors permanently.  The one time I tried taking Chopin out, he was terrified.  You’d think I’d brought him into the Twilight Zone.  The one thing he liked was striding through the snow on his long legs.

He had long, saber-tooth tiger fangs, of which he was immensely proud.  Had I let him out freely, he would have quickly dispatched with every squirrel and chipmunk in the neighborhood.  He had several mishaps; one, when he entangled his bag legs in a plastic bag.  His sister, thinking he was some sort of weird, deformed thing that needed to be put out of its misery, chased him around the house, knocking a heavy lamp onto his leg, breaking it.  Try explaining that to your vet.

His next episode was with the poisoned Chinese cat food.   You remember that scandal?  Around the turn of the century?  Daisy wouldn’t eat the stuff, whereas Chopin would eat anything.  At three years old, he wound up suffering kidney failure.  Fortunately, I have a good vet who was able to save him.  Needless to say, I dumped the food.

Chopin was a huge cat.  He wasn’t fat; just really big.  So is his sister.  I had to buy the extra-large hooded kitty litter box for them and for Chopin, I had to get an extra-large carrier.  He barely fit into the carrier I had from when they were young once he was fully-grown.  The inside of the smaller carrier was all fur with a pair of eyes squashed up against the gate.

He was a handsome cat.  They said he was a “gray” tabby, but actually he was brown with black stripes.  The stripes were well-stroked, broad but not fat.  The stripes around his face made a hypnotic swirl sure to send any mouse or bird into cardiac arrest.  When he would sit in the window, people in my complex would come up to admire him, and he would turn his head to the side, his head tilted up in pride.  He was good looking and he knew it.

Chopin loved to talk.  Every morning, I would scoop him up in my arms and we’d have our morning cat-chat.  Growing up with cats, I have become very fluent in the feline tongue.  I’d ask him a question (a short meow), and he give me a very long meow.  Sometimes the notes would fluctuate like a song.  Finally, I’d ask him if he was ready for  breakfast and he’d give me a short meow (“Yes!).

He was a gentle tomcat but he knew how to make mischief and push my buttons.  If he was mad, just to get even, he would eat any object that happen to be on the floor.  Bits of paper, dirt, dust, carpet fibers.  Chopin was especially fond of tape and the plastic safety wrapping you find around medicine and vitamin bottles.  He would go out of his way to fish them out of the garbage.

He was also an expert toilet paper unraveller.  I would come home and find a trail of toilet paper all the way from the bathroom to the front door.  One time I watched the rascal at work.  Once he had enough, he picked the lead up and walked out the door with it.  For years, I had to explain to guests why the toilet paper was on the counter, not on the toilet paper roll.

But I guess I can put the toilet paper on the roller now.  About two weeks ago, he started to lose his appetite and was gradually not using his litter box (nor did he go anywhere else in the house).  He was having greater trouble walking and seemed to have a particular problem settling himself down to a lying position.

At first, I thought it might be hairball or some carpet fiber.  I also suspected he might have arthritis.  I walked across to the local pet store and spent  $75 on kitty cat glucosamine and pain killer.  The vitamins helped.  But the problem still persisted.  I immediately took him to the vet.  He weighed in at 17 pounds.  That was impossible.  This was a cat that hadn’t eaten, for all intents and purposes, for a week and half.  How would he have gained weight?

The vet said he was slightly anemic and gave me a prescription of kitty cat tonic.  He also instructed me to buy fresh liver for him.  Chopin gladly ate the liver for awhile, but then he even refused that.  I brought him back a second time.  The regular vet had returned.  He gave him some sort of treatment for anemia and sent me home with him.

Still, it was clear to me that something was seriously wrong.  Chopin could hardly walk, didn’t eat at all, and had stopped cleaning himself.  Those are the three deadly signs, I had learned after a lifetime of owning cats.  I looked at his swollen belly.  This wasn’t even a hairball.  This was something really bad.  I brought him back and insisted that the vet re-examine him.  The doctor said that they had x-rayed him and didn’t find anything, but that they’d do another x-ray.

As I waited for the vet to return (he was very busy with a reception-room full of dogs), I sensed the worst for my cat.  As I wept, Chopin looked up at me and pressed himself against my heart.  I told him everything would be okay and said the Lord’s Prayer.  I also asked God to give the strength to do what I knew would have to be done.

Being busy, the vet took a long time in getting back to me.  His office was being remodeled and the air conditioning had been cut off.  I begged him to let me come back for Chopin.  Seeing that I was distressed, he agreed.  As I got into my car, I cried.  But then I stopped because I didn’t want my rotten neighbor seeing me in such a state of discomposure.

The vet’s assistant called me to say that I could take Chopin home.  Only he said he would get back to me as to the exact time.  I knew that wasn’t a good sign.  That night, I had to perform a concert.  I was in the midst of the concert and had no cell phone.  The assistant called to say that I should come to pick Chopin up at 7 p.m.  My heart sank.  I’d known my vet for  years; that was the hour when he brought in customers whose pets he was about to euthanize.

All these years, I worried whether I’d have the courage to sign the order.  I always feared it.  It felt like murder to me.  We got to the vet and he showed us Chopin’s new x-ray.  He had an enormous tumor in his spleen that was growing and he had practically no red blood cells left.  At most, he only had a few weeks to live.  If I took him home, he would die the way my mother’s cocker spaniel, Casey had died.  Mom’s had advised her not to take the dog home, but she insisted.  Casey died in agony, blood everywhere.  Mom was too old to handle the dog and it took some time before my brother could get home to deal with her.

The vet said he could do surgery but at 15, Chopin was not likely to survive it and I’d have wasted money I hardly have to spare.  He said he wanted to be a hero, but…  I stopped him.  I told him I’d been prepared for this days ago (I didn’t add that if they’d pay more attention, we would have put a stop to Chopin’s pain several days and about $1,500 ago.  But even vets make mistakes and I could see that he was genuinely sorry).  The cat was going to die and die horribly.  I felt no sense of guilt at all in signing the order, only a sorrow that I wouldn’t see my beloved Tiger again.  I wouldn’t be able to lay with him on my couch while I admired his stripeys or listen to his motorboat purr.  No more would he bowl his sister down the bedroom hallway like a bowling bowl, crashing into the hall closet to let me know it was time to get up and feed them.

But that is the way of life.  God only gives us these precious presents for a short span (15 years is old for a cat).  I miss Chopin’s predecessors, Ebony (an all black cat with eyes of gold – she was a beauty), and the cats of my childhood, Skinny, Fatty and Moocher.  Meanwhile, I still have Daisy.  She seems to be doing all right for the time being.  Her time will come, too.

I’m just grateful to God for giving me the courage to do the right thing and not be afraid.  In fact, I didn’t even blink at the thought.  I knew instantly and instinctively what had to be done.  I know when Daisy’s time comes, I will be sad and not afraid, unless God should happen to take her in his own fashion.  In Chopin’s case, I passed the test.

I’m not the resentful type to say I’ll never have another pet because it is too painful to let them go.  The problem is expense.  Being out of work and having trouble securing another position despite my best efforts, right now I couldn’t afford to take in another animal.  Daisy, at her age, wouldn’t be very accommodating to a newcomer at any rate.  I hope by the time I can take in new pets, that I’ll be able to afford it.  I highly recommend to all my readers that if they have pets, get pet health insurance.  The neighbor of a friend of mine has spent $15,000 on medical care for his Golden Retriever, and she’s only seven.

Finally, because the vet had to euthanize Chopin, it meant an automatic cremation.  I would rather not have done so but it has been the law for awhile, which it hadn’t been years ago.  It is another sign of our over-bureaucratic government.  We cannot bury our pets on our own property, which we own (I don’t own property but my mother and older brother do).  There’s such a fear of wild animals (which have been here all along) that people aren’t even allowed to put up bird feeders now.

Right now, we must cremate our pets.  The time is not far off when people will have no choice, whether the deceased wished it or not, but to cremate their loved ones.

The veterinarian thanked me for my pragmatism is agreeing to the euthanasia.  He said many customers press him to go to all lengths to preserve the lives of animals whose prognosis is already hopeless.  They think of euthanasia, as I did until this weekend, as murder.  Sometimes it is.  This vet has had people come in with a pet they just don’t want to be bothered with and have him put the animal down.

Two other customers in the office that morning were there for the same reason.  We grieve for our beloved pets.  But they live on in our memories and we can be grateful for the span of time in which we served as their pet parents.  Meanwhile, there are thousands more animals in need of homes and who will be murdered through euthanasia for the lack of someone with a loving heart.

Don’t let grief seize your heart; open it up to another dog or cat who needs your love.  Unlatch the cage and set your heart free.

Published in: on July 1, 2013 at 10:12 am  Comments (2)  

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2 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. I knew that you had lost your cat but I only got a chance to read your blog tonight. One of the drawbacks of having two jobs and lots of work to be done. I am sorry for your loss. I have been there a few times my self. Every thing from gold fish to horses.

    Veterinary care is far more costly than it should be. I can say that because I see animal clinics popping up all over the place. Every body who use to just work at a clinic now wants to own one and cash in. 800 dollars to leave your pet over night? That’s crazy. Between vet costs and the cost of complying with local regulations it amounts to cruelty to the animals. Think of all of the potential homes that are no longer available and the animals that are put down rather than saved because the cost of veterinary care. I know this did not apply to you because you did all you could for your cat but many other pets don’t get that chance because of the cost.

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