Now we are Five

Warning: sad post alert!  Get some tissues now!

As a follow-up to my post of 7th October, my little old Gatekeeper left us on 6th December.  We still cannot believe that he managed to hang on for two more months.  I have never known a creature so unfazed by illness: Barney’s main concern was to carry on ‘ruling the roost’, as our vet put it.

Barney, Top Cat to the end

Barney, Top Cat to the end

He was still mad keen for his food, and although he ate slowly he was usually first in the queue. He would eat whatever I gave him, whether ground raw mixes of chicken, turkey, rabbit or beef, and the odd tin of sardines.  He would even gamely having a go at chunks of raw chicken. He had no sense of smell at this point, so I guess his survival instinct kicked in and he just ate.

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Eric the Jack Russell terrier came to stay the weekend, and it was business as usual for Barney.  Straight on Eric’s bed as soon as it hit the floor.  But he allowed to Eric creep on and have the other side…

Sharing Eric's bed

Sharing Eric’s bed

…for a while!  Then Eric had to make do with the cat bed.  Fortunately he’s only a little dog so he just about fit in it.

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I love how these pictures show Barney’s legacy of ‘Dogs? Huh!’  I hope Larry, Monty and Herbie will always remember to be cool with dogs.

During Barney’s last weeks, we were in a state of high Barney alert.  Has he eaten? Does he seem tired or depressed? Is there any change in his habits today?  We were acutely aware of his symptoms and his ability to shrug them off.  Every day could have been his last.  Every morning we thought, where is he – is he still alive?  And he was – alive and demanding breakfast.  Tough as old boots. Tough old moggy.

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His nosebleeds were less frequent and stopped.  His breathing became less noisy.  But we knew this was not actually a good sign. Looking carefully, we could see he was breathing through his mouth, just as the vet had foreseen.  The tumour had progressed to the point of completely blocking his nose. Somehow or other, Barney carried on eating, walking around the table and greeting visitors. We were in an agony of indecision. Clearly his body was struggling, but we also felt that Barney’s indomitable spirit had to be respected.

On 6th December Barney really did not want his breakfast.  He was drinking a lot. He had a new unpleasant smell about him, and he seemed low.  I knew it was time. I called work and said I wouldn’t be coming in.  It wasn’t so much the refusal to eat: he had skipped the odd meal before only to tuck in 12 hours later.  It was the smell which I remembered from Bob’s time, the stench of kidney failure. We could not leave it a moment longer.  I gathered myself together and called the vet.  Fortunately our veterinary surgery is at the end of our road, and our vet is a very kind Dutch lady who loves cats.  I asked if she would come to the house when she had finished her appointments for the day.  The receptionist put me on hold and then said the vet and the head nurse would be with us in half an hour.

Last picture of Barney

Last picture of Barney

Barney was in his bed in front of the fire.  The vet had trouble finding a vein as he was dehydrated. Barney swore at her – ‘get on with it woman!’ and he was gone in a few seconds. Tough, feisty old moggy to the very end.

We did not want to keep his body or have his ashes returned to us.  I have never derived any comfort from having tokens of death around the house, or bodies buried in the garden. We have a wooden casket of Fred’s ashes from 2003, and it makes me feel so uncomfortable that I have hidden it away in the attic.  In 2010 we chose to bury Bob’s body in the garden, but I found the burial a hundred times more traumatic than the euthanasia and I was almost hysterical.  So we asked the vet to remove Barney’s body for us.  I was expecting her to produce a practical, heavy-duty plastic bag of some sort.  But to my surprise she took out a rather nice pet blanket with a paw-print pattern all over it, to wrap him in. I was touched by her sensitivity.

Every bereavement is different.  After a long illness it comes as no surprise.  There is not the raw shock of a sudden death of a young creature. I had already done a lot of grieving for the old lad. But the house felt very different and very empty. I realised how much I had worried about him over the last few weeks: the daily face-wiping, cleaning up, moving his tray around after him, trying to work out how much he had eaten, constant vigilance for signs of pain, and snatches of lap time whenever I could.  I went through drawers and cupboards, throwing away his medication and his pills and potions.  There is a big hole where all the love, care, and laughs used to be for Barney.

A week later I got a card in the post from our vet.

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Enclosed was a packet of Forget-Me-Not seeds, to plant in the garden.

Till next time,

L x

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The Gatekeeper

Barney will be leaving us soon. He has a tumour in his nose which is blocking his airway. Eventually he will struggle to breathe, and suffocate. So we have to decide when the time is right to put him to sleep.

It’s the agonising decision which pet owners have to face sooner or later. What makes this particularly hard for us, is that in spite of cancer, and hyperthyroidism, and old age, Barney’s indomitable spirit remains intact. He sleeps a lot and doesn’t go into the garden any more, but he is still very much himself. He wants his food and his cuddles. He wants to keep the other three cats in order. He still swears at me when I brush him. When visitors come, he wants to sit on the table, wave his tail in their faces, and accept their compliments. He has no other symptoms like diarrhoea or vomiting.  Occasionally he wets his bed, and curls up to sleep in his litter box, but these signs of confusion come with old age.

Barney arrived from the RSPCA just over 13 years ago. It was few days after we lost our beautiful Sylvester to cancer.  They said Barney was ‘about 5 years old’, which is what they always say when it’s not a kitten, and they have good teeth. He was such a pretty longhaired cat, so people-friendly, but languishing in the shelter for 6 months because his medical record stated ‘benign ear tumours’. The word ‘tumour’ made potential adopters run for cover. Yet this condition didn’t trouble him, or make him deaf or uncomfortable. He was just more prone to ear infections than the average cat. An ear infection was easily managed with drops. It wasn’t a big deal to us so we snapped him up. He was called Barney and we tried to change his name to Arnie, but it never stuck.

We have always fondly remembered the day we took Barney home. We were staying with friends for the weekend 100 miles away, but rushed back in time to collect Barney before the shelter closed. When we got him home, he showed no fear or trepidation. In fact he was so thrilled to be out of the shelter that he ran from me to the OH and back again, giving us lots of head-butts and purring wildly. He was practically beside himself with joy. Our other two cats at the time, Fred and Percy, were totally accepting and barely lifted an eyebrow at the new addition.

Barney soon established himself as a lap cat and chief meeter and greeter. He had bags of confidence and almost nothing disturbed him. He was a little insecure though, perhaps from his time in the shelter, and it was important to him that he was top cat. Fortunately Fred and Percy weren’t interested in a contest and let him get on with it. Percy was out hunting most of the time and visiting the neighbours, and Fred was the most laid back cat in the world.

Barney was and still is, the ultimate people cat. With the OH working from home running a studio, we often had people in and out of the house, and frequent partying into the small hours.  We even had 2 lodgers for a couple of years. Barney loved all the comings and goings. He was always the first to investigate visitors and their bags. His favourite thing was to make a circuit of the kitchen table, talking to each person sitting there, and shedding hair into their tea. If anyone stayed overnight, he would seek out their pillow and keep them company.

A few months after Barney’s arrival, Percy died suddenly, cause unknown. It was devastating. So we went to the shelter and got Claude, a magnificent black Norwegian Forest cat. Barney hated him and set about making his life a misery. Claude spent more and more time with our elderly neighbours across the road. Things didn’t improve and after a couple of months we admitted defeat and offered Claude to Agnes and Alan. They were over the moon. A happy ending for Claude at last, and he spent the rest of his years with them.

Barney and Fred

In the meantime, we still had Fred, and we had also acquired Bob. Bob was a black Persian fallen on hard times, straying around a pub we used to frequent.  He made himself known to us with his persistent howl. Eventally we managed to grab him and bundle him into the car, and we had a full rehabilitation job on our hands, but that’s a story for another day.  To our surprise, after the Claude episode, Barney accepted Bob with no comment. So once again, we had a harmonious 3-man crew.

We moved house. The new place needed gutting from top to bottom. We lived in chaos and filth for a year.  Barney, Fred and Bob took it all in their stride. Fred was our very first cat from student days, and quite an old man by this time.  A year after the renovations were complete, he fell down the stairs (how? why?) hurt himself badly and was put to sleep by the emergency vet. We cried every day for two weeks. Bob and Barney were a wonderful solace.  For the first time, following a death in the gang, we did not want to get another cat. No-one could fill Fred’s perfect white paws. And with one less cat in the territory, Bob and Barney blossomed.

Barney supervising the kitchen renovations

So for the next seven years, Bob and Barney rubbed along together. They were never friends, but they had an understanding. Barney was never much interested in hunting or racing around the garden. So he was the upstairs and indoors cat, constantly on the lookout for a lap, preferably mine. Bob had daily business to attend to in the garden and in the neighbouring gardens. But Barney remained Top Cat, nosey cat, and people’s cat. As such he was a great favourite with visitors, whereas Bob could be quite timid and liked to go unnoticed.

The other thing about Barney which made him the coolest cat in town, was his total lack of fear of dogs. When he was in the RSPCA shelter, he was the dog-testing cat. They would put him in a cat carrier and walk a dog past him, to test the dog’s reaction, and thereby decide whether or not the dog could be homed with cats. Barney was not in the least bothered by this. Some of our friends and family would visit with their dogs, and sometimes we would dog-sit.  Not a problem at all to Barney. He would immediately make his contempt obvious. Any dog, however large, was simply beneath his notice. If they got in his way, he would box their ears. He would not so much as alter his trajectory across the kitchen to accommodate them. I have seen him walk in a straight line to his food bowl, underneath a yellow labrador. I have seen him sitting on the kitchen table, and swipe at a curious collie’s nose. As soon as our visiting Jack Russell terrier arrives, Barney makes himself comfortable in the dog’s bed. He will also make a beeline for the dog’s food as soon as it is served. Talk about assertive! And the other cats learn from his example, that dogs are nothing much to worry about, as long as you stand your ground.

Bob left us two years ago, and we have since acquired three Maine Coon kittens. Barney has been the ideal big brother and kindly uncle to them. He has calmly put up with their boisterousness and joined in with their games. He has also dished out a few clips around their ears. Now the youngsters are twice the size of him.

I have often felt bad that I’ve never had enough time to sit down for long enough to provide a good lap for Barney. He would love to sit on my lap all day and I’m always moving him off. Would he have preferred an elderly couple and 12 hours a day of lap time? I’ve also felt that he has lived somewhat in the shadow of Bob, and then the kittens. But he has always been there, through so many changes, and he has shown me nothing but love and adoration, bordering on the possessive. He is the cornerstone of our feline crew. He goes all the way back to our very first cat Fred, and the snow-white brothers Sylvester and Percy, and Claude, and Bob, all now departed. He is the Gatekeeper and he links them all.

Barney has been in ill health for a year and living on borrowed time for the last few weeks. Several times we have thought, oh no, this must be the end of the road for him, only to see him bounce back. Still he keeps going. But soon he will tell me he’s had enough, and I will be there for him, when the time comes.

Till next time,

L x