Canonical hermits make a vow of poverty. Items owned are kept to a minimum. If you own your hermitage, its administration is given to someone else. One of the things a hermit can own is a cat. Why? Cats are a lesson in non-ownership. You never own a cat. You become their servant.
Murphy Patrick O’Brien, a cat I served for 12 fun-filled years, went to Heaven on Saturday. He fought an 8 month battle with kidney failure. In the end, a common cold got the better of him.
13 years ago, my stupid boyfriend decided it was cruel to keep a cat in the house. He let my kitten Casey out the front door. Casey got hit by a car before I even knew he’d been let out.
On St. Patrick’s Day of 1993, I headed off to the pound to donate all of Casey’s food and toys. I was determined not to go look in the cat room. I needed a break from cat servitude. I dumped the goods and ran for the door. A howl stopped me dead in my tracks. It was the barrel chested howl of a sasquatch. There could be no other explanation. The howl came again and curiosity got the better of me and I headed towards the sound.
In the very front cage of the cat room there sat this big orange cat. Well. His head was big. The rest of him was emaciated. He had brilliant yellow-green eyes. His fangs reached far below his upper lip. He one paw shot through the cage bars and grabbed a hold of my sweatshirt with claws that would have made Freddie Kruger proud. He howled again. Not a howl of fear, a determined howl. A howl of “Get me out of here.” He was NOT going to let go of my sweatshirt. His tag was marked “stray.” Their best guess based on his teeth was 4 years old.
I disobeyed SPCA policy and took the cat out of his cage. He let go as soon as the door was open. I picked him up and once again he put a death grip on my sweatshirt and immediately began bumping his forehead against my chin and rubbing all the way up to my ear. I’d been claimed. Cats have scent glands in their foreheads. When they rub their head on you, they’ve claimed you.
I went straight to the counter and said – I’ll take this one. I got scolded for taking him out. But they had to remove him from me sweatshirt and all, so I think they understood. He was still intact and would have to have his plumbing modified before leaving. I never did get that sweatshirt back.
His first moments in his new home were spent in the bathtub. He stunk badly. Years on the street I guess. I found two cigarette burns on him. I later determined, due to his abject fear of couches, that a cigarette had been used to teach him not to get on the couch.
His first meal was gulped down with such speed it promptly came back up. I would spend the next few years teaching him to eat slowly. If ever given access to free amounts of food, he would eat til he barfed. Every time. He did bulk back up nicely. The average cat weighs 9 pounds. At one point he reached 18. I managed to keep him at a steady 16 until his final year.
Murphy had a difficult time adjusting to life indoors I don't believe in letting cats outdoors. Too many things can go wrong. They're far safer inside. And far more healthy. That being the case, he was terror on legs. He never walked anywhere. He ran. He jumped. He cavorted. He regularly pounced on the dog. He knocked down plants. He attacked my shoelaces. He’d regularly sit at the door and make his infamous sasquatch howl – begging to be let outside. He did escape now and then. Hunger always brought him home. Landing in the bathtub afterwards did little to stop his escape attempts.
He began talking to his reflection in the mirror. I thought he might be lonely. I’d always wanted a Maine Coon. There was one in the paper, a mackerel tabby kitten. I brought home a $350 kitten to keep my $24 pound kitty company. Murphy tormented the little guy. Threw him around like he was a basketball.
Yoshi loved to be groomed. The Big Moo detested it. Grooming and nail clipping sent him into howls of abuse. He carried on like I was gutting him with a spoon. It took me several years to convince him the brush did not equal a death sentence and the nail clippers did not equal amputation of a limb.
Here’s a hint, never use those guillotine style pet clippers. They pull the cat’s claw as they clip. A nice new pair of people style toe-nail clippers works much better. Cut the claw sideways.
With Murphy’s propensity to eat too-much too-fast then barf and the hairballs harfed up as a result of his aversion to grooming, I adopted the habit of wearing flip-flops around the house to avoid something wet and icky covering the bottom of my bare feet. Yoshi, being Maine Coon was soon as big as his big brother. The two wrestled all night. This prompted me to begin sleeping in ear plugs. Their favorite game was chasing each other up and down the hall way – earning special nicknames from my brother. Thunder-Butt and Lead-Foot.
Murphy was a scrapper and very street smart. I've always known if someone broke in the house, Murphy would attack and try to protect me. His capacity for destruction earned him the nick name Murpinator. But he never figured out doors. Cabinet doors especially. Yoshi was always smarter that Murphy. Many days I’d get home from work to the howling. Yoshi would open a cabinet door, wait for Murphy to go in, then close it. I’d have to let him out. He never figured out the pushing part.
He woke me up if I had bad dreams. The only time he ever wanted to sit in my lap was if I was crying about something. Usually some silly movie.
At some point the Begging Stool was implemented. I have a small step I use to get things out of high cabinets. Murphy developed the habit of sitting on the Begging Stool while I cooked. Hoping for tidbits or pats on the head. He’d also sit on the toilet lid every morning and watch me get ready for work.
The very fact that Murphy was an assertive cat – who might even be considered aggressive to some – had me worried when my favorite cousin announced she was having a baby. What would Murphy do with a baby? He certainly surprised me when I discovered that baby could pull his hair and drag him around by his tail and he LOVED it! Murphy had obviously been previously owned by a man. He loved the rough stuff and HATED all that girlie affection stuff.
Once while babysitting her, I gave her a bath. She screamed in delight the ways kids sometimes do. Well, the Big Moo flew like a rocket down the hall and into the tub. I had a momentary flash of terror as I had time to envision him shredding her as he hit the water. But that didn’t happen. He sat down in the tub and began licking her face.
My uncle Art, on the other side of the family, wouldn’t allow me to baby-sit. He’d claim I was just looking for fresh meat for my mountain lion.
Life was fun. Constant entertainment. Who needed TV? Years passed. Seasons changed. People came into my life and went out again. But there was always Yoshi and Murphy. Being a typical Maine Coon, Yoshi grew for a great many years. Far longer than the average cat grows. He eventually outweighed his “big” brother by 12 pounds. Yet, as Murphy aged and grew weaker and thinner, Yoshi still always let him win fights.
Then in April of this year Yoshi passed away. Murphy didn't handle it well. Being that Murphy tended to break things, and that he fought with Yoshi so much, I think he felt he broke Yoshi. He wouldn't let me near him for days after Yoshi passed. His appetite declined. He got lethargic. At first the vets told me Murphy was just grieving. This normally 16 pounder was now just under 9. It was natural they said. But a cat who fears hunger does not walk away from his food. I took Murphy to a new vet who diagnosed him with kidney failure. In the same breath this vet told me Murphy clearly had a tremendous will to live – with the way he’d fought 4 vet techs to get catheterized – and recommended I put Murphy to sleep.
That simply wasn’t going to happen. As long as he was fighting, I’d fight with him. So they loaded me up with Ringers Solution which Murphy took via a needle twice a day for the rest of his life. Which wasn’t to be much longer.
Chronic Renal Failure is actually pretty easy to handle, if you get Terumo Ultra Thin 20 gauge needles and always warm the fluids. Never microwave them. Just dump the bag in a bucket of hot water for a few minutes. Be sure to get puppy or kitty on a full spectrum B vitamin right away. They're a lot more likely to pass away from a heart attack or stroke due to potassium shortage. The potassium is flushed out of their bodies by the constant flow of water. Makes one think twice about that 8 glasses of water a day deal, huh? Murp-oh didn't like the gel potassium at all. I got him a liquid version from Whole Foods.
I have to thank the wonderful folks at Persian and Himalayan Rescue for their kindness and patience with me. I fought with myself for weeks over the idea of getting a friend for Murphy. He was back to talking to himself in the mirror. I had begun looking at Persians because of their reputation for gentleness. Yoshi had spoiled Murphy. Always letting him win fights, Murphy really had no clue that he was smaller and much weaker than he’d been before. I was afraid that if I got another adult cat, Murphy would play too hard and hurt himself.
I eventually adopted a 7 year old lilac and cream point Himmie. Her name is Sophie. While she looks like a little lady, she really is a wanna-be bad-kitty. What ever naughty things Murphy did, Sophie would do too. Unlike Yoshi, who always held back then ratted Murphy out. If Murphy broke a potted plant just to sleep in the dirt, Sophie slept in it with him. His health began to improve. The two of them enjoyed Feline Futures, a kitty raw food program. It’s a difficult thing for a vegetarian to prepare raw meat meals. But I knew Murphy was fighting for his life and couldn’t deny him. I also began giving him Azmira’s Kidney Biotic. I think that helped a lot.
He never complained about the needles. As long as I wasn’t hugging him or trying to brush him, he’d put up with anything. Then about two weeks ago, his weight began slipping again. Murphy never was one for luxury. No $40 plush pet bed for him. He preferred a box. Any old box. There was a plant box by the front door that I kept finding him in. I think he just caught a cold. He began to produce copious amounts of snot. Back we went to the vet. While they found his lungs clear and no sign of infection, they put him on antibiotics anyway. The antibiotics totally killed his appetite. I took to force-feeding him chicken liver just to get something in his tummy.
By Saturday the 15th, he wasn't aware of much any more. He was drowning, more or less. He wouldn't let Sophie or I near him any more. I bundled him up in a towel and we sat in the sun for some time on Saturday. He always loved the sun.
He was pretty out of it. My upstairs neighbors have a toddler. His jumping, crying and bumping makes me nuts. But he was out walking with his Grandma and they stopped to say hello. With Murphy’s love of kids, he actually had a positive reaction to the little guy. It's the most conscious he'd been in two days. After the boy left, he tucked his head inside the blanket and began to cry. Murphy has never cried. I knew it was time.
The vet had an open appointment. We took it. I knew it was the right thing to do. I couldn't sit back and watch him suffocate. The strange part is, putting Murphy to sleep goes against my beliefs. Only God has the power to give life and take life away. God took Yoshi. But I sent Murphy to God. And yet, I feel it's Yoshi that I murdered. It's so confusing.
It was really difficult leaving him at the pet hospital. Even thought the vet said he was gone, I knew he was still in there. I had a tough time with that. I wondered if, because it wasn’t his time, what if he was trapped in there? Then I sort of sensed him leave. As if a door in the room opened then closed again. I stayed with his body for about 45 minutes or so. Then I went home to cry.
I was ok for about 5 hours. Then I totally freaked out. I wanted so badly to take it back. I totally lost it. Sophie was terrified and went to hide under the bed. She didn’t come out until after I’d gone to sleep.
I began feeling better after mass yesterday. I had a vision of Jesus. Not the way I normally see Jesus, but Jesus the King, in a crown and purple robe. He walked up to me, and took out my heart. He replaced it with a bigger heart - the odd part being that this heart is blue. I felt peaceful.
The house got so quiet after Yoshi passed. Now it's a tomb. Murphy never walked anywhere. He ran. He trotted. He made a lot of noise. He got up on tables when he knew he shouldn't and knocked things down just to make sure I knew he'd been bad.
Yoshi was utterly dependent on me. Murphy was the opposite. If I walked out the front door and never came back, Murphy would have been ok. Even if he had to chew the lids off canned food, he'd survive.
It's a whole different kind of love, you know? He didn't need me. But he liked having me around.
I sure liked having him around. God bless you Big Moo.