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The Whittington Journal Begins

Posted Jul 22 2008 8:22pm

This post inaugurates a new blog category, the Whittington Journal. Ironically, in March of this year, I wroteIn Praise of Whittington, a commentary that described my feline companion of almost 14 years. At the time, I did this because he was doing very well for his age and I didn’t want to wait until he was gone to write about him. I say “ironically” because two weeks after that commentary was posted, I had to euthanize my old dog, Watson, a loss I’ve yet to put into words.

Wats and Whit were so much like an old married couple I couldn’t help wondering if the year following Watson’s death would be as difficult for Whit as the year following the loss of a long-term spouse. Perhaps those who have found themselves or loved ones involved in such a loss with another human would view even considering that such a corollary might exist as the epitome of disrespect and bad taste. But when I think about all we know about the physiological as well as the behavioral effects of the human-animal bond, I’m convinced that the loss of close companions of any species possesses this same potential.

Normally I’m the kind of person who deals with loss and grief in private and then shares the results after the fact. That’s why I haven’t written anything about Watson yet. There are still some pretty raw spots there. But it stuck me that this was both a fear-based and egocentric response on my part because a lot of people have gone and will go through through what I’m currently going through with Whit and maybe they might learn from my experiences, think about things they chose not to think about in the past, or find some small comfort in these reports.

Has Whit declined since Watson’s death in March? Yes. Like a lot of cats his age, he has arthritis and his increased water consumption and the size and texture of the one kidney he’ll allow me to palpate suggests he has those common feline renal problems, too.

However, up until the last week, he’s coped so well that sometimes it was easy to think that all was well. In another blog, “When Animals Mess With Our Minds,” I wrote about discovering that Fric and Ollie had learned to jump on the chair I’d put next to the counter for Whit to use to get to his food. For a while after that, it seemed like everything was going back to normal again.

But the thing about old animals of any age is that it doesn’t ever really go back to normal. In the case of old cats, they remind me of a most sophisticated factory complex breaking down one miniscule piece at a time. It happens so slowly, so subtly that you don’t even notice anything is awry. Kind of like an LED light where one tiny cube after another may blink out without being noticed, until one day someone says, “Doesn’t it seem awfully dark in here?”

I have the same problem that many cat-owners have. Whit hates to ride in the car and he hates to be handled. He’s never bitten to my knowledge, but he does everything in his power to get away and becomes very stressed when he can’t. Consequently, there is no such thing as doing a “routine” work-up on him.  If I choose to go that route, I’m not going to do it unless I’m prepared for him and me to go the whole way. If there are other issues–such as hyperthyroidism or heart problems–that means additional diagnostic tests, perhaps surgery, and a high probability of multiple daily meds.

And am I prepared? At that point, I run smack into that wall known as Quality of Life. It’s a wall I’ve defined for myself and did for other animals in the past. I always considered that part of my responsibility to them, although I’m not sure everyone would agree. If Whit knows what he wants, he’s not talking.

That’s where I am right now. Wailing at the wall of Quality Life. I try different foods to keep Whit eating. He always has plenty of fresh water. The difficult part is keeping the dogs away from him because baiting them to chase him has always been one of his favorite games. He purrs a lot more now, which further alerts the dogs to his presence. As I was writing this he came up the stairs to the office, and immediately Ollie was ready to play with BeeBee right behind. Should I interfere? I did, but I don’t know if that was the right thing to do. I don’t know. Some days it seems like everything I think about Whit ends with that refrain. I don’t know.

So right now I’m where many of you have been or will be with your animals, trying to decide how much to do, how much is enough, and how much is too much. For them, for ourselves, and for all of the other inhabitants of our human-animal households.

But for now, I’ll post this and then go downstairs. When I do today, at least, I expect Whit will be at the door and politely ask to go out and tour his territory like he always does. Later when I go out to mow and weed, he’ll probably be in the flower bed next to the walk watching the chipmunks he used to hunt and the birds he rarely did.

And so another day will pass.

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