Wednesday, February 25, 2015

The Best Damn Cat in All the World By C.P. Stringham

Saying goodbye to my handsome and silly boy, Skimbleshanks.
It is with a heavy heart that I compose this week’s post for our Broads of a Feather blog. On Monday, we had to have one of our fur-family members euthanized. Skimbleshanks (AKA: Skimby, Skimble, Boo, Skimby Boobers, and Booby Boy) was just ten weeks old when we adopted him from the Bradford County Humane Society. This post will be a tribute to our longtime family member of the fur variety.
At 3 1/2, Syd was already belting out 
Broadway tunes with her favorite musical. Cats
Almost fifteen years ago, we entered our local shelter looking to adopt a female kitten because, at the time, our three year-old daughter had already picked out the name Grizabella. Sydney was obsessed with Sir Andrew Lloyd Webber’s Broadway musical Cats and had it memorized. She’d even get dressed up and act out the role of her favorite cat, Grizabella, whose complete backstory was deemed “too sad for children” by T.S. Elliot to even include in his book Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats.  Sydney knew the words to EVERY song and had the aforementioned cat’s leg-dragging choreography down to a "T" as she belted out Memory. Alas, the shelter didn’t have a female kitten at the time. They did, however, have a few males. One stood out to us from the moment we entered the kitty room. This friendly little white and orange kitten stretched against the metal cage door meowing non-stop to us and reaching his paw out between the bars, almost waving to us, to get our attention. And that did it. Our search was over because Sydney excitedly announced she had found “Skimbleshanks: The Railway Cat!”

Skimble in his new home as a kitten.
Skimble joined our family and became a great friend to our daughters, growing up right alongside of them. I have so many fond memories of him being right in the thick of playtime. I can’t even recall how many naps he must have taken with them in blanket tents I’d built for the girls inside our living room. He’d choose to come in under one of the blanket walls versus using the “door” and the girls would squeal with laughter because his entrance usually involved him sticking a playful paw in under the blanket first as he swatted at them. As I told my friends on Facebook the other day, I'm convinced Skimble was supposed to be a dog, but something happened during species assignment. He played fetch and it was the damnedest thing to watch. We’d have guests over who got the biggest kick out of his stunts. His favorite napping spot was on a shelf inside our bathroom linen closet. He’d open the cabinet door and curl up inside. Company would be over and he’d scare the hell out of them when he popped out of the closet to say hello. And then he’d balance on the sink vanity begging them to turn on the cold tap so he could have a fresh drink of water. Sydney says that the bathroom was Skimble’s room. And it was. Unsuspecting overnight guest learned how much he liked to sit on the bathroom vanity and use his paw to open the rear part of the shower curtain so he could watch. Nothing like sudsing up only to find you had a peeping tom spying on you! Good ol’ Skimby.  
Skimble coming out of the bathroom linen closet.
     I can recall the first time Skimble got upset with us and that was when we brought a shelter dog into our house. He wasn’t too keen on the bounding, energetic Australian Blue Heeler/Lab mix puppy. He protested by turning antisocial for a while. His grudge didn’t last long. Then we did it to him again when Tink joined our family. However, Tink, being another cat, wasn’t considered nearly as controversial to him and, soon, the two of them were inseparable. Even though Tink can be quite temperamental—who am I kidding—Tink is bipolar, Skimble always retained the title of “cat boss” in our house. What he said was the final word.

Skimble reminding me it was dinnertime as he scowls over the laptop
screen and on the bathroom vanity waiting for a drink. 
As I explained in a previous post, I was Skimble’s human. No matter what he was doing or where he was in the house, if I called him, he came strolling out to see me. He was always underfoot while I was preparing meals and became insanely happy when he heard a cheese wrapper being opened. Skimble had a serious sharp cheddar cheese addiction—and I was his supplier. Never too much. Just a taste. When I was sick, he’d snuggle with me in bed and stayed throughout the duration of the illness. My feline nursemaid. His favorite activity was to head bump with me. He was also the only cat I’ve ever encountered who, when he really got into it, his purring sounded more like a horse whinnying than anything else. It was freaking hilarious. You could hear him from across the room.
Over the past year, we’d noticed he was losing muscle tone and his appetite wasn’t what it used to be. He was even napping more than usual and not coming out to greet us as much. Some of his antisocial behavior could be attributed to the introduction of Hannibal, our rambunctious Jack Russell Terrier/Chihuahua mix puppy, eighteen months ago. Hanni likes to chase the cats. While we were going through our older dog’s cancer scare three weeks ago, Skimble’s health declined quickly. 
Deciding to put an animal down is never an easy one to make. We went back and forth. His kidneys were shutting down and he wasn’t getting around well. He even looked at us like, “It’s okay. I’m ready to say goodbye now.” And that killed me. This past weekend was the worst. Even though he kept following me to every room I was in and meowing to me when I talked to him, he was really struggling. It was heartbreaking. Part of me wanted him to just fall asleep and not wake up. That didn’t happen. Too many times, we’ve seen friends and family put their pets through numerous life-prolonging treatments that they later confided to us they wished they hadn’t done. Quality of life needs to be a huge consideration. Are we prolonging the inevitable for purely selfish reasons only meant to help us hold onto them longer or is it something truly for the animal? Skimble was two months shy of his fifteenth birthday which is equivalent to seventy-six years old in “people years.” He’d had a long and happy life with our family. Ultimately, my husband made the call. He knew I was distraught and conflicted. Skimble hated going to his vet appointments. Hated. It. So much so, he would go into hiding the moment the cat carrier came into our house. When I say hiding, I mean hiding. He’d pick places almost impossible for us to get him out of. Offers of cat treats and even sharp cheddar cheese didn’t work to bring him out. Once you caught him, he’d throw up, pee, and get instant diarrhea from inside the carrier. He’d even bite given the opportunity. I feared the emotional trauma of being taken to the vet clinic was going to be enough to do him in. My husband said he laid inside the large box with a blanket inside it all the way there, not once trying to get out. He was even alert. Watching everything calmly. He was ready. Even if his human wasn’t. I didn’t accompany him to the clinic. I couldn’t. I said goodbye to him while my husband put his coat on. I was a total mess. Our dogs were all over me when I fell apart as the car left our driveway with Boober Boy going for his last ride to the vet’s. My youngest was home from school. Neither of us slept much the night before. We had stayed up with Skimble, sitting with him on the floor, petting him and talking to him as he purred away. Kenzie kept hugging me. Our pets are her best friends. Due to the quirks of her autism spectrum disorder, she doesn’t have many peer friends. Animals are nonjudgmental. They love unconditionally. Kenzie was losing one of her best friends and that bothered me even more to see her so upset.
My husband returned home and told me it was done. We’re having Skimble cremated so that we can bury him in our backyard when the ground thaws. All of our late pet family members are back there—even the girls’ chickens who have passed. A trip to the Troy Fair is in order to have a grave marker made for him that will simply read: Skimbleshanks 2000-2015 because I can't fit "The best damn cat in all the world" in the space provided.

Now, I can’t end this post on such a sad note. I had readers report that they were in tears from my last blog post, Confessions of Storm's Human. Stormy’s histology report came back and she doesn't have the more dangerous mammary cancer!! Instead it is peripheral nerve sheath cancer which is slower growing, less likely to spread to other areas, and the cancer cell itself was of the less aggressive variety. Our vet is confident he got it all so she has a clean bill of health! We couldn’t be more relieved. She’s had visitors and get well gifts and is loving life. My husband took her this morning to have her sutures removed since she passed the fourteen day post-surgery mark which means no more Cone of Shame!! 
Skimbleshanks from Cats by Sir Andrew Lloyd Webber

The T.S. Elliot poem copied from : 

    Skimbleshanks: The Railway Cat

    There's a whisper down the line at 11:39
    When the Night Mail's ready to depart,
    Saying 'Skimble where is Skimble has he gone to hunt the thimble?
    We must find him or the train can't start.'
    All the guards and all the porters and the stationmaster's daughters
    They are searching high and low,
    Saying 'Skimble where is Skimble for unless he's very nimble
    Then the Night Mail just can't go.'
    At 11:42 then the signal's nearly due
    And the passengers are frantic to a man -
    Then Skimble will appear and he'll saunter to the rear:
    He's been busy in the luggage van!
    He gives one flash of his glass-green eyes
    And the signal goes 'All Clear!'
    And we're off at last for the northern part
    Of the Northern Hemisphere!

    You may say that by and large it is Skimble who's in charge
    Of the Sleeping Car Express.
    From the driver and the guards to the bagmen playing cards
    He will supervise them all, more or less.
    Down the corridor he paces and examines all the faces
    Of the travellers in the First and in the Third;
    He establishes control by a regular patrol
    And he'd know at once if anything occurred.
    He will watch you without winking and he sees what you are thinking
    And it's certain that he doesn't approve
    Of hilarity and riot, so the folk are very quiet
    When Skimble is about and on them ove.
    You can play no pranks with Skimbleshanks!
    He's a Cat that cannot be ignored;
    So nothing goes wrong on the Northern Mail
    When Skimbleshanks is aboard.

    Oh it's very pleasant when you have found your little den
    With your name written up on the door.
    And the berth is very neat with a newly folded sheet
    And there's not a speck of dust on the floor.
    There is every sort of light - you can make it dark or bright;
    There's a button that you turn to make a breeze.
    There's a funny little basin you're supposed to wash your face in
    And a crank to shut the window if you sneeze.
    Then the guard looks in politely and will ask you very brightly
    'Do you like your morning tea weak or strong?'
    But Skimble's just behind him and was ready to remind him,
    For Skimble won't let anything go wrong.
    And when you creep into your cosy berth
    And pull up the counterpane,
    You are bound to admit that it's very nice
    To know that you won't be bothered by mice -
    You can leave all that to the Railway Cat,
    The Cat of the Railway Train!

    In the middle of the night he is always fresh and bright;
    Every now and then he has a cup of tea
    With perhaps a drop of Scotch while he's keeping on the watch,
    Only stopping here and there to catch a flea.
    You were fast asleep at Crewe and so you never knew
    That he was walking up and down the station;
    You were sleeping all the while he was busy at Carlisle,
    Where he greets the stationmaster with elation.
    But you saw him at Dumfries, where he summons the police
    If there's anything they ought to know about:
    When you get to Gallowgate there you do not have to wait -
    For Skimbleshanks will help you to get out!
    He gives you a wave of his long brown tail
    Which says: 'I'll see you again!'
    You'll meet without fail on the Midnight Mail
    The Cat of the Railway Train.'

    T S Elliot

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