Monday, July 27, 2009

Babette's story part 4

My senior year of college I went to Scotland, UK to study abroad. Some time after my return I was talking to one of my neighbors, a young girl I used to baby sit for, and she tells me, "I wasn't supposed to say, but your cat got out!" Only once did Babette ever make a break for the door and hide in some bushes in our front yard. It took about 10 minutes but I eventually coaxed her back in the house. And I'm thinking that my mom must have had to ask a neighbor to help. When I mention it, laughingly, to my mom later that day, I got the whole story. Babette hadn't been gone for a few minutes. She got out in November and was gone for month!

My mother and her husband made frequent trips to the local shelters, put ads in the paper, and flyered the neighborhood. One day a man called not with news about Babette, but with a suggestion for retrieving her. Apparently, cats, not having the same sense of direction that dogs have, don't wander too far from home (usually). So he suggested getting humane traps, placing her favorite food in it and place them around the property near places she might use to hide.

Right after thanksgiving a neighbor mentioned to my mom that she thought our cat was living near, her home, if not directly under her deck. At Thanskgiving they found a hungry gray cat crying by their back door and gave it some turkey. My mother new instantly that she had found Babette and took the humane traps over to the neighbors house and with a few days, Viola! Babette was back home. Turkey has always been her favorite meal. The minute it started to cook she sat directly in front of the oven until it was done and cried until she was given her fair share. Leave it to Babette to smell from outside this family's Thanksgiving dinner! Needless to say she never tried to get out of the house again.

Babette snuggly and warm at home on her favorite blanket.

Babette is the reason I became a vegetarian. It didn't happen right away, in fact it wasn't until I was done with college and studying abroad, and was on my way to starting my Masters in Library Science.

I was living with my father at the time and since he and Babette didn't get along, she stayed with my mother. The hour drive wasn't terrible and I was home nearly every weekend, particularly after I was accepted to "Library School" and was going to move back to my mom's anyway. During a routine check-up the vet found an abscess in one of Babette's teeth. To prevent infection and the loss of all her teeth she had oral surgery performed the week before my LIS orientation and a few days before my mother left on vacation.

Babette needed seven days of antibiotics and pain medication. I was still working at the community college near my dad and couldn't move home yet. So, it was decided that she would come live with me for the week. After her surgery Babette went from living in a huge home, to being confined to an attic bedroom. She was miserable. She spent every day hiding under the bed and every night curled up on it with me. Giving her her medicine was a huge ordeal. She would hiss and spit, bat at me with her paws, and hide so far under the bed that coming after her was a dangerous prospect for both of us. It was an agonizing week for both of us.

Around the same time I saw a documentary about chickens and factory farming. As an animal lover, I never really liked the idea of meat (my mother used to lie to me about where meat came from when I was young enough to believe her) and in that week of watching my cat scared out of her mind from pain and incarceration I put two and two together. Those animals feel pain and fear too. At that point I stopped eating meat.

Babette lived with us for 13 years before she finally succumbed to old age and illness. On July 11, 2009 I realized she wasn't well and took her to veterinary emergency where they took her and made her feel comfortable. Two weeks ago today, on the 13th, exploratory surgery discovered a tumor obstructing her bowel, growing into her intestines and effecting her lymph nodes. At the veterinarian's recommendation I made the rough decision of letting her go.

Pet loss is a rocky road. Not everyone understands the deep feelings of grief that come after losing a family pet. I'm lucky to have very supportive friends, family and colleagues. It's been a rough couple of weeks beginning with her trip to the hospital, but it's getting better.

The librarian in me will leave you with these helpful resources: - The Association for Pet Loss and Bereavement -Pet Loss Grief Support Website -Ten Tips on Coping with Pet Loss

Coping with Sorrow on the Loss of Your Pet by Moira Anderson, M.Ed.

For anyone else dealing with grief after pet loss, check with your local human shelters, or animal hospitals for support networks, groups, or hotlines.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Babette's Story pt 3

Due to the pervading theory put forth by my mother, that Babette had been abused (most likely by a man) it was forever impossible to discipline or chastise her for fear of traumatizing her further. Consequently, Babette had the run of the house. By this, I mean she was allowed on all of the furniture, the desks, counter tops, tables (including the kitchen) and once in a while managed to make it to the window ledges too.

Babette was a great "helper" around the house, but mostly with paper work. Homework, bills, any thing that involved sitting at the table and writing she wanted in on. Usually this "help" began with laying across the table. Eventually she wanted to be more involved and would pounce on what ever paper work I was working on or just start to shred it with her teeth. This also including laying out sewing patterns - something about the crinkle of tissue paper that was like catnip to her ears. If extensive writing were involved Babette would "help" by taking hold of your pen or pencil. Typically all of this extraordinary usefulness would wear her out and in the end she'd make a fantastic 10 pound paper weight by stretching full length across the work thereby ensuring that a) the work was all finished and b) it wouldn't go anywhere while I succumbed to ear and chin scratching.

Helping mom clean up is hard work for any cat!

Eventually I did have to go off to college. I didn't go more than a 45 minute drive away so I saw Babette some weekends and on every holiday. Though she would curl up with my mom while I was gone, she always new that I was her human and came back to my bed while I was home. At some point when I was away she began becoming more and more of a baby.

Babette was always a little vocal. She spent her first evening in our home meowing into every corner of every room in the house. But when I came home from college she began begging for food too. Not just at the dinner table, where she would reach up to my chair and attempt, by patting my leg, to get you to give her a taste I happened to be eating. It wasn't enough that she had a food tower that kept her bowl perpetually full and a pet drinking fountain that circulated and filtered water, she began wanting to be pet before every meal. I would walk over to her food dish, she would follow and sit right in front of it. For many years this would be enough, but eventually she would sit, look up at me look at the food dish, look at me, and meow a little if I didn't reach down to pet her.

The same went for breakfast as well. Babette was a master at waking me or my mother up in the morning. My mother was a light sleeper and a light touch when it came to taking Babette to the kitchen in the morning, but if I was home I got the added benefit of being woken up at 5am to sound of the my cat tossing things off of my desk or dresser. If that didn't work she would find something noisy (like a bag or piece of paper) and beginning to play with or chew on it. Her last resort was to come right up to the pillow and bop me on the nose with her paw.

I admit there were mornings where I kicked her out of my room (not literally) I just let her outside and then shut the door. I also admit there are only a few times I can remember doing this, because as I say, Babette was a vocal kitty. She could stand outside of a door and cry for hours, especially when she new for a fact that I was on the other side of it. She also knew how to knock.

After a few months of living with us we discovered that Babette had not been spayed. I discovered Babette was in heat when I woke up to a pitiful crying kitty kneading her paws on my chest, as I by virtue of being her human mom could help her. We took her to the vet to be fixed and at the same time my mother had her declawed (I know... not the most humane of options, however, it was be declawed so she didn't ruin my mother's furniture or find her a nice cage at the Humane Society). She ended up staying the vets for a full weekend. We dropped her off on the way out of town to visit my newborn nephew and picked her up on the way home. When we got her back her little front paws were kind of sore. She had dissolving stitches so we didn't have to take her back to the vet - but in the mean time she developed the habit of sitting in Statue pose with one paw held up. She would periodically switch which paw, but it was a habit she held with varying frequency the rest of her life. But in this way she also learned how to knock on a door, or even push one open if she needed to get to me.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Babette's Story pt 2

When she was first found this kitten didn't seem like an abandoned animal. She was clean and well fed (no bones sticking out) and her claws were clipped. My mother was convinced that someone was missing this cat. For the next week we placed ads in local papers and walked around neighborhoods near the school asking if people were missing or knew of someone missing a small gray cat. After awhile we stopped knocking on doors, and the ads were never answered. My mother had to concede that she was not stealing anyone's beloved pet and she was welcome to become our beloved pet.

We needed to settle on a name for her. I was leaning toward something romantic and knightly like Galahad before getting to know her and realizing that she was an exceptionally prissy cat. Maybe it was her finicky eating habits, or the dainty way she held her tail as she ran, but there was something that was girlish she needed an appropriate name. I toyed with Genevieve and Guenevere, even Precious crossed my mind. But shortly after adopting her a friend and I went to see the stage production of Beauty and the Beast based on the Disney cartoon. In watching the charming romance between Lumiere, the candelabra, and the sexy feather duster, I came up with my new cat's name. Babette. In one word it summed up her sweet yet exacting nature (and it shortens to "Baby" perfectly).

My mother decided that Babette had been foully abused as a kitten before being abandoned on high school property. The favorite imagined scenario was that some husband or boyfriend took a disliking to the cat and got rid of her before coming home and comforting his sad significant other. Our only evidence of this was Babette's extreme misandry. The moment she sniffed out a human male in the vicinity she turned into a hissing spitting growling force of nature.

If she hated any man in particular it would have been my father. To this day I can't tell you why because he did nothing to harm her, and had always been a cat person himself. His only comfort was that while she hated him, he was not alone in her contempt. My brothers were no exception. Even visiting men like dates were not immune. As she got older she became slightly more tolerant and by tolerant I mean she would approach a person, let them pet her, sniff them and if that whiff of human pheromone was male she hissed, growled, swatted and if pressed, bit. Sometimes I wondered if she didn't enjoy lulling them into a false sense of security with her big green eyes and soft fur.

"You have to come closer so I can smell you!"
the baby Babette

The only exception I ever witnessed to her hatred of men was my mother's second husband. She seemed to accept him into our family almost immediately. Perhaps because my parents divorced the summer before I went to study abroad, for 2 years my mother lived in our large suburban home alone with Babette. I can only imagine that Babette not only liked having a second warm body to snuggle between when I was not at home, but she knew that my mom needed more than feline companionship and wasn't going to stand in the way.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Babette's Story pt 1

Just over fourteen years ago a young cat was abandoned at my high school during a soccer game. She was found in the equipment shed the next morning. She was fed, clean, and claws clipped. An announcement was made during second hour (Junior year English - American Lit) asking for the owner to claim the kitten and take her home. No one came forward. The next announcement came asking for interested students who would like to adopt the cat to obtain parents permission first and to collect her at the end of the day.

My mother has always been allergic to cats, although we did have them when I was very young. Once the last one died before I was six we didn't have anymore. I have always been a cat lover. At lunch time with the instance of my friends that I "needed" a cat and with out ever laying eyes on this one, from a pay phone I called my mother at work telling the front office that it was emergency. I told her that this abandoned "kitten" would be sent to the humane society and put to sleep if someone didn't take her home.She gave me permission to put my name at the very bottom of the list of volunteers and if no one else could possibly take this cat, then and only then could it come home with me.

All day I waited to find out what would happen. Then at the end of the day while I was waiting for my ride in the "homework room" (the after hours waiting area for those of us unlucky enough not to drive our own cars, but not unfortunate enough to take the bus) I was called to the library (of all places) to get the cat.

It turned out that after the last bell my friends stood at strategic points outside of the school office and told all of the inquiring kids that I was already taking the cat home with me. In that way I ended up moving quickly to the top of the list.

The "kitten" that I had described on the phone ended up being a 6 month old cat. A common american short hair cat, grey striped, and very vocal. She wandered all over the library meowing at just about everything.

Prime real estate for chasing balls down the hallway or grabbing ankles.

We put her food and litter in the laundry room. (Later her food was moved to the kitchen so she could eat with us). That night my parents had plans to go out, I was supposed to go to a church meeting, but was told that I had to stay home with the cat. She spent a good portion of the afternoon wandering around the house calling (for who I don't know - another cat, her old owners, who knows). That night I lay on the couch reading and she stretched herself across my tummy - a position she never again adopted.

After the first few days she figured out where the litter box was, stopped having accidents on the way there, and stopped sleeping on top of the dryer in the laundry room. She quickly took to sleeping on my bed at the foot or in the crook of my knees a habit she kept for the next fourteen years.