Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Remembering Carlton

Funny how a black cat could be considered a diabolic form. As an incubus, that feline monster was believed to perch on its victim’s chest and suck the breath away. For me, a black cat was more angelic. If I saved his life, Carlton may have saved mine. At least his presence got me over some rough spots. So companionable, though he might have looked like a black panther, he acted more like a black Labrador. And when he perched on my chest, I certainly never felt depleted. No matter where I’d be during the day, he knew he could always find his buddy at shower time for the evening ritual (knowing the love for rituals) which was for me to lie down so he could mount my chest and get rubbed under his chin. It never felt like my soul was being depleted. On the contrary, it gave me a little boost, or at least forced me to relax.
The bond with critters cuts across a lot of lines. Imagine the hunter lamenting a favorite hound, his blues for ol’ Blue. Imagine the prospector’s blues for his mule. Shorty Harris, who dug up the Bullfrog Mine, memorialized life with a lone burro when he wrote his epitaph: “Here lies a single blanket jackass prospector.” Writers too are renowned for feline friends. Hemingway’s cats have even inherited his Cuban estate and are now protected as park animals. Ray Bradbury’s Ditsie is a female version of the little short-haired guy who hung out beside my desk, Carlton Lord Spoilworthy.
When he turned sick, threatened by renal failure, we began to value him more each day. That was easy since he was such a good little guy. No, he wasn’t perfect. He had his moments, such as some unauthorized pissing. But that was only protest for attention. How can you condemn that? And after a while he learned that just looking as if he might do it was enough. He really didn’t want to piss on my slippers, but how else can the master get the acolyte’s attention.
Now when I realize that it’s safe to put books on the lowest shelf without fear of a urine attack, the advantage doesn’t seem worth it. I’ve even removed the plastic panel from the bottom shelf which shielded the big books, but that’s no big deal since Lord Spoilworthy isn’t around.
At a pet hospital in Sherman Oaks where Jane and I even tried an acupuncturist (that’s right, a feline acupuncturist) I check out the folks porting their ailing pets into the facility and consider the care and loot (30 billion bucks this year) spent in that regard. Seems as though folks outside of western culture have difficulty understanding why. Maybe the understanding they lack, besides an inability to sympathize with other people or animals not from their tribe, is the thing Americans really maintain in keeping pets. Loyalty. It seems pet owners pay a lot for loyalty. Perhaps it’s something lacking inside, and so it’s subordinated to the creatures who are most sure of delivering that same commodity—loyalty.
I would add a special kind of wisdom.
It was surely a momentary freak-out for Dak, a Tech Assistant at Veterinary Specialty Group in San Diego, when we brought Carlton in for an endoscopy. Dak was praising Carlton’s laid back demeanor, and I had him sputtering for a response when I confessed (tongue visibly inserted in cheek) that I believed Carlton to be an incarnation of the Buddha. Considering the odd raft of weird believers in Lululand, what did Dak know? I could have been part of a cult of cat worshipers from Malibu. Yet Dak smiled. Didn’t he— as well as most personnel who handled Carlton— didn’t they believe that he was the mellowest cat they’d met? And Carlton did indeed show a Buddha-like acceptance to all the scraping and probing those doctors performed on him.
At a cancer clinic in Culver City one young woman who worked there brought in a colleague to show her how Carlton was lounging on the scale where she’d left him after weighing. It was clear they hadn’t seen much of that. More likely they were used to dealing with fractious (their preferred word) screaming felines that required peeling off the walls. I couldn’t make out what they were saying while they giggled and whispered, but I knew it to be some form of admiration. That’s where the title of Lord Spoilworthy stuck. And there he was, Carlton Lord Spoilworthy lounging regally on the curved bed of the scale and looking like an Egyptian pharaoh sailing on his barque down the Nile.
Dr. Iburg, his regular vet, was surprised at one visit when Carlton gave out a little cry. It was so unlike him to complain at all. We were all puzzled until it turned out that she was unwittingly pressing his tail which hung over the edge of the table, and we all chuckled. Here we thought he was acting like a cat, but in actuality he had something to complain about. And even then, it was a soft complaint.
And then the time when he put his paw on the assistant’s arm— “little bubbala,” she called him as she cradled him on the exam table at the West LA Vet Clinic... It was a last ditch effort to determine what was wrong. (A test for a rare disease, which of course was to no avail.) As she was cradling and petting little bubbala lying serenely on the exam table, he looked up at her and put his paw softly on the arm stroking him. It visibly took her breath away.
At the first indication of weakened kidneys, his lordship’s diet had to be altered, and he hated such bland plebeian fare. Couldn’t understand why we were cutting him off from his favorite protein-rich food and treats. So he began to prowl the perimeter of the house, scanning all possible exits. He knew he couldn’t trust anybody, not even the food folks who used to give him anything he wanted. But soon his transcendent acceptance kicked in and he made the most of it.
A good example was his acceptance of a formerly hated guest. At best, he ruled that guests are only mildly tolerable. Sometimes it’s acceptable to allow one to touch you, being somewhat partial to strokes. But when the guests leave, there is such a racing through rooms, bounding up stairs, toys dragged out, the only conclusion to this swelter of activity is that of ecstatic relief. Sadly, that’s why the outside world, except for a few care givers, never got to see his charm.
Yet, he could temper his principles too. He tolerated a person whom previously he’d most distrusted. Despite the anti-guest feeling, he learned to accept Robert Green-Price— but it took two visits. On the first, when Carlton was new in the house, and more defensive, he hissed and pissed at Robert. On the second visit, he bypassed his own amigo to jump up on Robert’s lap. Granted, Green-Price was sitting on my chair where Carlton was used to receiving his strokes. But nevertheless, though a former arch-enemy, Lord Spoilworthy was quite content to sit there for the longest time, much to Sir Robert’s surprise, if not consternation.
That acceptance really showed up in technicolor when Christy once started coming to the house. Christy was the hydration lady, who three times a week administered fluid under the skin (subcutaneous injections for renal disease). The first few times, Carlton would make a half-hearted run for it the minute she entered, often diving under the bed. After a few visits, Christy arrived in the afternoon for the usual. She just stepped inside. She had a story to tell. She always had a story to tell. Listening, I looked past her into the living room and noticed that Carlton was hopping up on his rocking chair where the fluid was to be administered. He sat there, watching, waiting to get it over.
Games became a way of life, as with most cats. Our games were certainly of his devising: Whirly Cat, which evolved into Rolly Cat, then to Trolly Cat. No person short of a circus trainer can get a cat to act out a game— if he doesn’t think of it. In fact, that was a general Carlton rule: “If I didn’t think of it, I don’t do it.” If it hasn’t already been drawn, a good cartoon could be made of a cat singing “My Way.”
Whirly Cat started before we invited him into the house. In Whirly Cat he would rush up to me in the driveway and flop on his back so that I could rub his belly and whirl him around. That bit evolved into Rolly Cat, which was to roll him from side to side as he pretended to bite my hand. In the bedroom Rolly Cat morphed into Trolly cat, which utilized his bird toy strung on the end of a stick like a fishing pole; I would troll with the bird over the side of the bed until he suddenly leaped out from underneath like a catfish going for bait.
Pretty standard cat stuff, yes, but there were others.
Carlton was the cat’s meow, and he exercised a chorus of voices when he used that versatile meow. Part Siamese, his vocal range went from a soft sound, almost a lip smack, up to a banshee wail. Yet, though he could sound that multitude of voices— a regular carillon when he got going— Carlton rarely used them. Outside, when I first knew him, he only greeted with the faintest mew. I first noted his mime ability when I’d heard what sounded like a baby crying. I’d actually heard it a few times before, wondering who were the parents to leave a baby squall like that, until I witnessed the actual source: Carlton standing off a feline interloper.
That’s the banshee wail he turned on me when we first brought him into the house. And he would do it, standing at the patio door, only when Jane was gone. He knew I was the softie. So he gave it to me full bore. Though I never gave in and let him out, it was a gut-wrenching aria. Downright operatic, a cat flexing his vocal cords for a desired result.
While involved in some of those games I’d be reminded of Pascal who confessed that sometimes when he was playing with his cat he wasn’t sure the cat wasn’t playing with him. Carlton’s Clawing-The-Chair game was a good one for playing with my head.
Carlton had been de-clawed by his former owner next door, and then let out at night. We took him in because his face had been ripped open and then he had been locked out of the house to keep him from bleeding on the carpet. It’s a wonder the coyote, or whatever it was that tore up Carlton’s face, didn’t finish him. And the reason he had his front claws chopped was because he allegedly ripped up their furniture. So the game Carlton invented in our house was pretending to claw a fabric chair in the living room, a little psychodrama wherein he goes through the motions. It even sounded like he was clawing the chair, paws grating against the material, a sound like ripping. (It sounded so realistic when I first heard it I did a double-take.) He clawed the chair with out-stretched paws while holding his most defiant expression. Then all of a sudden he would get the guilty look of a bad kitty and break out running. Everyone knows a bad kitty must be chased.
Mistreated? What can a philosopher do but make a game of it?
Everyone’s pet is exceptional, yeah. Maybe Carlton was no different from others, but when he showed signs of understanding verbal remarks, I had to pay attention. Name recognition, of course. But besides recognizing his own name, there were certain other words. When we first brought him in, tacit agreements had to be made to keep the little guy happy. One was that apertures in the house would always be available so that he could sniff the great outdoors.
So the words “door” and “window” were muy importante. But what about “other door?”
I happened to change my mind one day just as I was opening the balcony door for him in the guest bedroom. Carlton was at the door, waiting, ready to put his head to the screen door. Then I decided to open instead the door in the master bedroom since I’d be there soon. I remarked aloud, (talking to myself, really) “No, let’s go to the other door,” as I re-closed the one being opened.
Carlton immediately turned and headed for the landing. Unconsciously, I followed. It wasn’t till I followed him through the hall, across the master bedroom, and then to the balcony door. Just beginning to open it, I looked down and realized he had come to the “other door” without any other cue but those two words. So if he understood other door, what else did he understand?
Just another instance of what made it special, living and communicating across those mysterious lines with such a good and soulful bro, a little thirteen-pounder who could fill a house.

Joe Cozzo

Carlton, Lord Spoilworthy - letter from beyond

Please allow me to introduce myself. I am Carlton, Lord Spoilworthy and I am speaking to you from beyond that mortal coil. I departed your veil of tears---and joy---at home on January 14, 2009, at the age of 17, with my staff Mr. and Mrs. Cozzo (or Joe and Jane, as they insisted I so casually address them) at my side. Also present were my attending physician and her nurse, who facilitated my physical demise because I was so weak from systemic illnesses (renal disease and small-cell lymphoma, amongst others). Until the end, I remained a handsome fellow indeed. I must confess that everyone I encountered during my entire life made this observation. (I enclose a portraiture of myself, to ensure that I not be accused of undue vanity.)

My staff continue to pray for the immortality of my soul, and I wish to convey to them that their prayers most certainly should be answered. I shall be eternally grateful to them for saving me from a most probable premature death. You see, I had been in the “care” of a man (a next-door neighbour of the Cozzos) whose concern and regard for me were negligible at best. Because of my benign temperament, I fatalistically accepted his treatment of me, including his locking me out of the house because the blood from the wounds of an attack were getting on his carpet.

It was at this juncture (December of 2001) that the Cozzos intervened and took me to hospital. My erstwhile “caregiver” retrieved me, but in January of 2002, I finally made the decision to leave this insensitive man and give myself over to the care of my staff, as I knew they loved me and would most certainly provide better care and support.

The initial adjustment of living with them was, I fear to relate, somewhat stressful, but through no fault of theirs. Their predecessor’s wife had had my front claws removed years prior because I was sharpening them on her chintz sofa. To add insult to injury (pun intended), this procedure was performed before I could completely do in that monstrosity. That couple continued to let me roam free, defenceless, in a neighborhood populated by coyotes. Of course, I did not realise the imminent danger when I was on my roamabouts, and quite naively enjoyed them.

Thus the difficulty adjusting to “house arrest.” During the approximately six weeks accustomising myself to this limitation, I used every verbal tactic available to me to convince my staff that I was frustrated by the change in life style.

I attempted to convey this sentiment on countless occasions, primarily through my extremely wide voice range, which spanned octaves. I used a deep baritone for a repeated “raaaaa---unh,” several times a day. On other occasions, when Jane was not present, I used my most desperate-sounding baby cry to work on Joe, but that proved to be of no avail.

Over the years, when I observed feline male trespassers on my property, I would let out the most blood-curdling, gutterally extended cry that it caused great alarm to anyone within earshot.

After I realised that my indoor life had its own rewards, which more than compensated for the absence of outdoor walkabouts, I used a very high soprano to convey contentment, almost a silent “meah.”

I soon realised my staff were unconditionally devoted to me, and did their very best to satisfy all my desires, first and foremost, constant attention. Fancy Feast food, in all the flavours I favoured, in addition to crunchies, were provided at all hours of the day and night. I even was provided with a water fountain, and later two: upstairs and downstairs. In my final years, upon awakening every morning, I only had to gaze expectantly at one of my staff and I immediately was brought breakfast in bed.

Play sessions, including rather bizarre ones, were always granted if I indicated an interest. My most favourite, as I grew older and tired of mousy-mousy and kill the ball, was what my staff called tom-toming: having my bum “spanked.” For quite a while, they remained clueless regarding the sexual satisfaction this provided. Finally, it dawned on them, thank God. I hasten to add that I nevertheless had been castrated in my childhood. Perhaps that accounted for my ability to sing counter-tenor in addition to baritone, but I digress.

My staff also allowed me to occupy, my places on the bed, in addition to providing me a down cushion on which I could make a little “nest,” and even a heated cushion on a rocking chair, which helped my arthritis.

I also greatly enjoyed the cushions in front of the fireplace where they made a fire every evening in the cooler months. I became quite adept at conveying to them when I wanted a fire---even during the daytime, especially on cold days. And all year round, even in the winter months, windows and doors were opened for me, day and night, so I could enjoy through the screens the fresh air and all the exotic scents known only to my kind.

My staff even provided me with my own home entertainment center: a bird feeder right in front of my favourite window, where I could see those tantalising creatures just inches away. They knew I was there, and yet continued to eat. I believe they actually knew that in spite of the danger I posed, I could not harm them, even though I occasionally would instinctively bat at them. Cheeky bastards!

My staff also knew when I wanted to go to the toilet. I used my voice range and distinct language to convey this need. I wanted one of them, (and preferably both of them) to accompany me to what they called “the urination ceremony.” You see, I was extremely fastidious and having them there to dispose of the waste kept my toilet clean, especially as I had a tendency to defecate and urinate in succession. Of course, when they happened to not be at home, I had to make do without their service, which was a mild source of vexation.

During the course of the years my staff served me they never left me alone for more than hours. They even took separate vacations because they could not bear the idea of my being incarcerated in a cage at a boarding facility. Even during these times, I missed the one who was not present, but at least one of them was with me. The one who was away always rang up every day to be sure I was in fine form. Needless to say, this was a source of great comfort and assurance.

Most unfortunately, in 2005 I was diagnosed with chronic renal failure, a progressive disease very common to my kind. My staff were devastated by this diagnosis and spared no expense to obtain the best medical care possible, including specialists, an acupuncturist, the requisite pharmaceuticals, and regular treatments (sub-cutaneous fluids), subsequently administered at home by a technician.

So committed were they to extending my life, that they consulted a nephrologist at one of the world’s top renal transplant facilities. In the course of tests to determine my suitability for this procedure, they discovered that I had incipient small-cell lymphoma, for which I was initially treated at that facility.

However, this diagnosis ultimately led to on-going treatment at a renowned oncology clinic. Even though the trips to the clinic were stressful, I stoically accepted them, as I knew that my staff were trying to do the best they could for me and would never knowingly do me harm.

As often occurs, the chemotherapy diminished my appetite and I started to lose weight. My staff, ever concerned for my well-being, then sought a third opinion, which led to a greatly reduced oral regimen, albeit with stressful, although---thankfully--- infrequent, trips from Los Angeles to San Diego, where the attending oncologist and gastro-enterologist practiced. My philosophical stoicism served me well during these times. Positive developments were that my renal disease seemed to be more or less stabilised by on-going treatments, and the small-cell lymphoma stayed in remission.

Until shortly before my demise, the quality of my life was as good as possible by human standards. I had the unmitigated devotion of my staff who always did what they thought best for me. Even when I gradually stopped eating, and had to endure my staff’s syringe feeding me (in my primary physician’s hope that it would effect weight gain and stimulate my appetite) I still found pleasure in certain habits and rituals, resulting in my purring until just a few days before the end.

I am greatly moved by, and appreciative of, my staff’s unmitigated gratitude for having had the privilege of living with me and so intimately knowing me. I also am aware of how much they are devastated by my physical demise, of how much they love me, of how much they miss my presence, and of how much an integral part of their lives I always will be.

I thank you for taking the time to read this missive, and I remain

Yours faithfully,

Lord Spoilworthy

Monday, April 6, 2009

Even Cats are Twittering?

Seems like everyone and everything is all a-Twitter! In case you don't know, Twitter is a booming social networking and micro-blogging service. It helps people stay connected in real-time just by answering one simple question: What are you doing? In 140 characters or less.

Even cats don't want to be left behind. They're tweeting too! An engineer who has two cats created a cat door for them to keep the food-stealing neighbor cats out. His own cats are fitted with an RFID chip on their collar. When they come near the door, the door senses the cat is authorized and unlocks the flap. Well, that's nothing new. But here's the twist--

Each time a cat comes in or goes out, a camera above the door takes a snapshot of the cat and tweets a message via the cat's own Twitter account.

Okay Mittens, you have 140 meows! Go!

Monday, March 30, 2009

Smitten by Mittens

Itty Bitty Mitty!

One big change in my life is that instead of taking care of one cat—Mittens, the half-Siamese—I now have three!

Adopting a Senior Kitty

First, let me tell you that I finally officially adopted Mittens. Yes, she's no longer a temp cat! She's got a permanent role—a starring one, mind you!—in my life. I'm thrilled. I can tell she is, too. She's fast asleep.

My friend Pixie, who used to be Mittens' guardian, told me that she no longer wanted to keep Mittens. And that if I returned Mittens to her, she'd just look for another home for her.

Of the three cats Pixie had, Mittens was always her least favorite.

Part of the reason, I suppose, is that Mittens used to belong to Pixie's ex-boyfriend's young daughter. The daughter went to live with her mom (the parents are divorced), who didn't want a cat. So she left Mittens with her dad, who was living with Pixie at the time. When Pixie broke up with him, he abandoned Mittens. (He himself simply disappeared, who knows where.)

Mittens’ Hard Luck Tale

I can certainly understand if Pixie doesn't have the best memories associated with Mittens. Under the circumstances, Pixie can be commended for spending hundreds of dollars on Mitten’s veterinary bills to cure her nasal fungal infection. Particularly since Pixie’s been very much strapped for cash. With all the turmoil in her life, she was having a hard time taking care of herself, let alone a sick cat. I helped out by boarding Mittens for free and providing all the care that she needed, including medicating her twice a day.

Another reason Pixie never cared much for Mittens is that she appeared to be a very needy cat. I suppose it’s because she’s been neglected most of her life. It’s surprising that she’s so affectionate even after being abused as a kitten.

According to Pixie, her ex-boyfriend’s daughter—who was a troubled little girl at the time—used to stuff Mittens in a pillowcase and swing her around.

No wonder Mittens is so skittish. She’s a scaredy little cat who spooks at her own shadow. And needy? Yes. I still remember meeting Mittens on Pixie’s bed. My buddy and I had just gone into Pixie’s bedroom to get something when Mittens sidled over to us, back arched, tail held high. Meowing non-stop, she proceeded to rub and head butt us for the next 20 minutes. As we stroked her per demand, her fur flew (boy, does she ever shed!) scattering all over the maroon red bedspread. We tried to make a break for it a number of times, but she managed to corral us back each time.

She’s a Brand New Cat

Well, I’m proud to say that today she’s a far different kitty. She’s recovered from her infection, gained weight (a tad too much!), she’s healthy, and no longer needy. Most of the time she sits on my bed with a look of smug contentment. She never accosts anyone with persistent head butting. In fact, if anyone tries to pat her too much, she’ll deliver a kung fu kick with her hind leg—just a little warning, still pulling the punches, so to speak—or give a little mock bite.

I also took her to the humane society to get microchipped. She has her own Home Again tag dangling from her Parisian chic black collar. Recently, I purchased a rhinestone letter “M” for her. She’s a styling kitty! At age 14, she’s young at heart.

The other two cats in my life now are Sammy—my new temp cat— and Lydia, a blind, albino cat, who’s here to stay for good. All the cats here are senior cats. Each with his or her unique tail and a tale to tell.

Have you ever adopted a senior cat? If so, how did that work out for you? Please feel free to comment if you care to share.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

In Memoriam, January 14, 2009

Goodbye, Carlton

Beloved Carlton who shared his life with my friends Jane and Joe, passed away yesterday. He was 17. He was a handsome, funny, quirky, playful, affectionate and adorable cat.

Carlton had been ill for many years. In fact, when he was first diagnosed with a kidney illness in 2005, the vet only gave him 6 more months to live. But he was given the very best veterinary care possible. He went to every specialist who could conceivably help him. My friends simply doted on him. During his illness, there was at least one person at home with him. He wasn't left alone for even an hour.

I know many cat lovers, but few loved their cat as much as Jane and Joe.

Carlton couldn't have wished for a better life.