Tuesday, December 20, 2005

Cat Tails

He looked fairly pitiful, crawling around on the construction site next door. And something was wrong with his tail...

We'd been in our first house only about 4 months, and had first cat - a white blob of fur named Tas - was scoping out his new surroundings. Being that it was still a new subdivision, the house next door was still under construction. We noticed that every once in a while a black and white furball would prance around and about the beams and drywall, looking for handouts. It was getting cooler, and Halloween was around the corner so when I sat out on the porch carving the pumpkin, up he walked.

*Squeak, squeak*

(squeak, squeak?)

There was something apparently wrong with his little vocal cords, because that's all the meow he could muster. A glottal *garf*. And his tail stuck straight up in the air, all two inches or so of it. We set out some food and water for him, and he obliged us by eating and letting us examine him. Some accident or carniverous encounter had deprived this little kitten of most of his tail, so it stuck straight up like Alfalfa's personality.

As I said, it was nearing Halloween and, concerned about what sometimes happens to black cats around Halloween, we took him in. Tas was wary at first and kept his distance. A trip to the vet got him checked out, fixed, and a tentative determination made of his age, perhaps 6 months. Perhaps more, it was tough to tell because he appeared to be a runt.

We really had no desire for a second cat, the first being enough until we started talking children (a couple years down the road...) We asked around at church to see if anyone was interested in a new kitten, but nobody seemed interested. We had almost decided to give him to the shelter, when, well, he moved on in.

We tried to decide on names, some to fit Tas's moniker (The Dragonlance world, origin of "Inn of the Last Home") and others, but we kept coming back to "Little Bit" because he only had a little bit of a tail. And it stuck - eventually shortening to "LB".

Tas and LB became fast friends, brothers really as their estimated birthdates fell only a month apart or so. Through the years they would fight as only brothers could - LB raised up on his hindquarters, boxing at Tas while his blobbiness looked on disdainfully. Once Tas struck back and LB fell backwards...that was a sight.

They both took to babies and moves very well, adapting as only cats can. While Tas was usually the friendlier of the two, LB preferred to hide in the small corners of the house - under beds, behind dryers, in closets, and lately under Christmas Trees.

He took the occasional adventuresome jaunt outside the house, making a quick escape through the back door to the garage when someone left it open (usually me). Once a couple years ago, in our new house, he got into the garage and moved under the back steps. We had no idea where he'd gone until he finally had had enough of his new digs and pawed on the back door to let him back in.

One slight annoyance was his perpensity to lay on our bed at night. Now, when we're both sleeping that's fine. When we weren't...well, sometimes cats can get in the way. And in the way, and back in the way, and back again until he's tossed out indignantly into the hall and the door closed in his black-smudged face.

Perhaps the fact that he enjoyed coughing up hairballs and last night's dinner on the living room rug was payback for such episodes..

The only illness he or Tas ever had was a urinary tract infection about 5 years ago. Other than that they've both been the picture of perfect indoor cat health.

This last week, I'd noticed he hadn't come running when I fixed their right-before-bedtime meal. Tas would come, but LB would be noticably absent. I'd see him later in the bedroom, but thought little of it. Cats change eating habits at times.

Saturday morning as we were getting up, we noticed he was having trouble breathing. We also recalled he'd not been walking very well lately. In addition, his normal squeaking had little sound to it - mostly just a whisper. Never having cats before myself, I'm not familiar with feline maladies and it had been a while for my wife - we resolved to keep an eye on him and if he contined to have problems the next day, we'd visit the vet.

I picked him up and held him for a few moments, listening to his side to see if I could hear a labored breathing sound - I didn't. He scrambled out of my arms, never having been one to be held for long, and sprawled momentarily on the bathroom floor. Indignant, he mustered some strained meows and retreated to a corner of a closet.

After a day and evening of Saturday activities, the kids were taking baths and I realized I hadn't seen LB at his customary vantage point under the Christmas tree. I went in search of him to check, and looked underneath the back of our bed.

And that's where I found him.

He was laying on his side, his head on the floor. I knew instantly something was very wrong, as that was never a resting position he'd used before. I reached out to scratch him behind the ears, and felt the stiffness in his neck and front legs...


I sat there a moment, looking at the floor. I stood up slowly and went downstairs to tell Laura. We both came back up and she, having found her parent's cat in a similar state some years before, confirmed it.

I wrapped him in a towel, brought his body downstairs and put it in a box. We set the box out in the garage temporarily, and prepared to tell the kids.

Brainboy took the news with tears for a few minutes but was fine later, if pensive. I asked him if he wanted to see LB one last time and he agreed, warily. We went out to the garage, I opened the box and unwrapped part of the towel near the cat's head so we could see his fur and the side of his face. BrainyBoy looked grimly and nodded. He'd seen enough. I asked if he wanted to pet him one last time (through the towel) but he declined. He asked if we might get a new kitten sometime soon, and I said maybe - but we should probably not treat the cats as disposable...one dies, you get another... but honor his memory for a while by remember he was special and unique and not replaceable. I think he understood.

Tink was unbelieving at first, thinking I was joking. When I told her I wasn't joking, her face fell and she looked thoughtful. I went back downstairs to be with BrainyBoy and soon heard her with Laura, sobbing. I returned upstairs and found her bawling, unable to understand or cope with the brand new emotion of loss she was feeling. She eventually subsided and curled up in our bed to watch TV and go to sleep.

Sometime later, BrainyBoy went up and they hugged, brother and sister comforting each other in their first encounter with sorrow.

Yesterday afternoon I came home at lunchtime and dug a hole in the yard near the side of the house - outside the fence where Ramona the dog romps. I wrapped the box tightly with a trash bag and when they returned home we had a little memorial service and burial. Both kids were all right, though it was cold and dark. BrainyBoy helped me shovel dirt on the grave, and arrange stones around it. We still have to make a marker for him, perhaps this evening.

I told the kids that were were thankful to God that he brought LB in our lives for a while, and that he was happy, warm, well-fed and loved for the time he was here. And that we should love on Tas all the more.

I've never lost a pet before, so the emotions were new to me as well. I still find myself thinking about him, expecting to see a little black and white blur under my feet. Soon the newness will wear off and we'll get used to one cat and one dog.

But I'm glad the little squeaker came into our lives, because it was a fit to this growing family. We'll remember you, Bit. Hope you find the rest of your tail....:)

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