Tuesday, March 20, 2018

She was more than just a cat. She was my friend.

RIP Megs
It is with great sadness I enter spring this year with the loss of Megs the Merciless, my feline companion for over twenty years. Yeah, I know, that’s old for a cat. And some people will say, “It’s just a cat,” but spend that much time with something/someone sharing your bed, hogging the pillow, stealing the covers, being there each night when you go to bed and greeting you first thing in the morning…you get a little attached.

Megs came to me as a tiny kitten while I was working in the IT department at Elixir Technologies. She was so tiny with her barely perceptible squeak I said she was only a megabyte and the name stuck.

At the time I was living in a funky 1950’s era mobile home smack dab in a citrus and avocado orchard. Critters were everywhere, especially rats, mice and opossums. My two-legged house mate had issued a NO CATS edict, but the vermin were outmaneuvering the traps and poisons, coming into the bathroom through the spaces between the floor and the pipes, raiding my Tampax box for bedding they shredded in the walls at night while we were trying to sleep. It was a losing battle with us on the wrong side.

Shopping at a neighbor’s yard sale one day we spied a rat-sized live trap. “Why are you selling this?” asked my anti-feline companion.

“We got a cat,” was there reply so the cat ban was lifted.

The next day at work came an office wide email—Free Kittens. It was meant to be. The next day I arrived at my desk to find a mewing tabby in a cat carrier next to my CPU. She went home with me and has remained my faithful companion until today.

From the very beginning, Megs was a hunter. Even though the orchard rats were bigger than she, lizards under the carport were her first quarry. She didn’t even kill them, just grab them by the tail which popped off as a natural escape mechanism. When she finally grew into her glory, she would bring several offerings a day to the front door—rats, mice, bunnies, snakes and once a raccoon kit. She avoided hawks, owls and coyotes. 

For two years her best friend was Rosa, a black Lab puppy we were raising for the National Disaster Foundation. Rosa would run with a blanket upon which Megs would cling for dear life as her pal would leap off and on to the porch, the blanket flying with kitten in tow. Rosa would carry Megs around by the leg and be scolded for doing so, but them Megs would rub against the puppy’s mouth teasing her to take up their game again. During long walks through the orchard in the morning and evenings with the dogs, Megs would follow along racing up trees and ambushing the dogs. When Rosa left for her professional training, Megs was visibly depressed for several days over the loss of her friend.

When the time came to move across the country from California to Pennsylvania Megs won the award for the worst traveler. The horse had a trailer, the dogs had a futon in the back of the truck and Megs had a large dog crate with a cardboard box for a litter pan. She was none too happy and “sang” the song of her people for three thousand miles. 

Half way through the trip we stopped for a few days in Texas at my companion’s mother’s home. She was a dyed-in-the-wool cat hater capturing wayward neighborhood kitties in a live trap, tormenting them with hose and them calling animal control to dispose of them. Once, she clipped the whiskers off her next-door neighbor’s pet cat with a pair of garden shears out of spite while it was being held by the owner. I had made arrangements to board her with my horse at the local veterinarian’s clinic, but when I arrived she was turned away due to an outbreak of contagious cat disease. She had to go with us. Imagine my surprise when I woke the next day to find our host with Megs on her lap, a cup of coffee in one hand and a cigarette in the other. “I thought you didn’t like cats?” I asked hesitantly.

“I don’t,” she replied in her clipped German accent adding, “but this cat is not going to shit in my garden.” Megs sat there purring. Was it because she was out of her crate or because she had won over the cat-hater?

After ten days we arrived at the farm which was right on the road. I had visions of finding her splattered on the asphalt, but in all the years there she managed to avoid tragedy while numerous barn cats did not. She opted for the opposite direction, hunting down in the pines where there were plenty of bunny nests. Bush-hogging days were her favorites when she would pounce on moles, voles, mice and of course, baby bunnies exposed in the mowed grasses. She nabbed chipmunks, squirrels, baby groundhogs and once, a fledgling owl. Much to the horror of our bird-watching neighbors, she raided the bird nests in their ornamental trees grabbing one at a time, bringing it home to eat and then going back for another until the nest was empty.

Her modus operandi also got her into trouble with the farming activities when she chewed the heads off a few dozen turkey poults one year. While the initial loss was around a hundred bucks, had those turkeys grown up for Thanksgiving dinners they would have brought in well over a thousand dollars. It wouldn’t be the first time someone who slept in my bed caused thousands in damages. From then on during poult brooding Megs was unhappily confined to the house. Angered by this, she tore through a second-story window and escaped for another pre-Thanksgiving feast. We learned to Megs-proof the brooders.

Like our walks in the orchard, Megs
would tag along with walks around the farm with the dogs, the bottle baby goats, the calves and the horses.

A year into the farm in Pennsylvania I brought home a friend for her, Bugs. Megs was having none of it. They were mortal enemies for many years until a visiting dog grabbed Bugs by the neck violently shaking her. She lay on my bed for two days unable to get her bearings. I was afraid she was going to die. It was at the height of market season when I had three market days in a row over the weekend and not the funds, let alone time, for a trip to the emergency vet clinic. I came home to find Megs in bed next to Bugs with her tail draped over her once hated housemate in a gesture of comfort. Bugs recovered and the outright fighting between the two ceased.

Although a new feline friend was not to her liking, the first Great Pyrenees puppy—Sherman was love at first sight. They play racetrack around the house for hours at a time, bounding on to the furniture before falling together in a fit of exhaustion. Despite his enormous size, she was the one to play rough always going for his lips causing him to freeze while she retracted her needle-like claws. He would hold her down in his massive paws and lick her while she yowled, but she never physically protested. 

When Sherman was hit on the road in front of the barn one morning, Megs entered another depression like that of when Rosa left. She never became attached to any of the puppies to enter her life again and was equally indifferent to a tuxedo kitten rife with lice, ear mites and eye infection that was dumped in the driveway at four am one July morning. She tolerated Lucky, but neither played or fought with him.

One summer I thought I had lost Megs for good when she disappeared for nearly two months. An owl, a hawk, the road, a leg trap…who knows, she was gone. As suddenly as she had disappeared, she reappeared seeming none worse for wear, fat and clean, however, she seemed to stick close to the house. It wasn’t until the Amish family a few doors over were walking by one days when they noticed her sunning herself on the bench in front of my house. 

“Oh, there’s our kitty,” the woman said as her little girl rushed to grab Megs who eluded the child’s attempt. I explained that Megs was mine and had traveled from California with me several years earlier. She would not be going home with them. The woman was incensed I would do something so mean as to take away a child’s pet. I didn’t give a shit what she said, Megs was my cat. 

When a tame orphaned deer was left at my farm, Megs befriended Buttercup who would lick Megs' ears. Whenever the doe would see Megs, she would rush over to lick the kitty slick. I was fortunate to catch one of their sessions on video. 
Megs had a wicked sense of humor. She knew when someone wasn’t a cat or animal person, making it a point to win over their hearts or harass the daylights out of them until they left the property. Once, she shed a huge gravid tick the size of a lima bean on a friend with a tick phobia. She didn’t run when he tossed her off his lap shrieking at the top of his lungs. Each time he would visit, she would make a bee line for him, but for pet people, she could care less.

When I gathered up all the critters to move to a different farm four years ago, Megs only had twenty minutes to sing. She, along with Bugs and Lucky, were forced to share my bedroom and the master bath for a week until I opened to door to their new home.

The road was a quarter mile away. The house sat in the middle of a hay field. There were three porches on which to laze in the sun—one for each cat which suited them all just fine.

About a year into her third farm it became apparent Megs was aging. She could still catch and wolf down baby bunnies. She knew there was a mouse trap on the counter and would jump up when it snapped, stealing the entire trap to go and eat the mouse out of the bale wire. I found a stash of traps under my bed recently. But she wasn’t grooming herself. Tufts of excess fur were matting on her haunches. She was staring to shrink from her sleek, yet muscular self. I bought a pet brush and we learned to deal with it.

Another year went by and while her body continued to shrink Megs continued to hunt, to eat, to jump up and down on the bed. Her one eye grew cloudy with what else… a cataract! She was old. When the weight really began dropping off her I splurged on wet cat food, the nice stuff which she gobbled two cans each day. She could still hear because she would dance in excitement each time the mouse trap snapped, waiting for me to drop it in front of her to promptly gobble down. Even when she quit eating the fancy wet cat food, only licking the gravy off the chunks, she could still devour an entire mouse and not barf it up. I tried to entice her with raw chicken livers, another favorite, and she turned up her nose. 

This past summer Megs developed an ulcerated tumor on her side. The vet said she could sew it closed but it would require anesthetizing Megs and wouldn’t guarantee it would not open right back up. I didn’t want to take the chance and instead kept the open sore clean and medicated. It didn’t start to expand until about a month ago. Then it began to smell. I considered having her euthanized, but each time she would jump up on my lap showing no pain with a relatively clean sore. Then it began to ooze. The fur fell out around it. She quit eating altogether, but anytime I sat down she climbed up on my lap and purred. I knew the end was near. I would not terrify her by loading her into a strange carrier and taking her somewhere to be put down out of convenience for me. She was not in pain. She was not suffering. She was going to die on her own terms.

For the last few weeks she mostly slept, ate little and spent her time awake when I was around. Each morning when I would wake up, she’d be waiting outside of my door as I had to quit letting her sleep in bed with me when she refused to get out of the way when I rolled over. She tried to get as close as possible and I was afraid of squishing her. To be honest, the oozing sore was also something I did not want in my bed.

Last week, Megs had her celebrity fan moment when my neighbor’s brother gave me a ride to the mechanic to pick up my van after I had some maintenance done. He is none other than Dale Midkiff who played Doctor Louis Creed in the Stephen King thriller, Pet Cemetery. We had been joking about Megs smelling like Church, the cat-returned-from-the-dead. 

“Would you do me a favor, Dale? Hold Megs and let me take your picture,” I asked. He obliged, adding to hurry up because she smelled like death and he was going to puke.  I swore she smiled having played the part to a T. I placated Dale by letting him cuddle the house lamb which smelled like a wool sweater for a few minutes.

This morning when I woke up, Megs did not greet me at the bedroom door as usual. She was laying on the floor in the living room with Bugs at her side. They hadn’t laid like that since Bugs’ encounter with the nasty dog. Megs couldn't stand up. Her eyes weren’t focusing and the pads on her paws were ice cold. I wrapped her in a towel and a blanket and laid her on my bed. As I went about my work today, checking in on her regularly, I could see she was gradually shutting down, fading just as I had seen with my grandmother as her breathing grew irregular in her final hours of life, an occasional large inhale, a small squeak when I squeezed her paw or stroked her fur.  As a farmer, I know death isn’t pretty. 

In the early afternoon as her breathing grew shallow and irregular, I got a telephone call from an acquaintance who suggested I bang her on the head with a shovel or shoot her and get it over with.  I hung up, blocked their number on my iPhone and went back to ensure that Megs faded quietlyacross the rainbow bridge. 

Megs passed peacefully wrapped in her favorite blanket on my bed on the first day of Spring despite a snow storm. 

She likes to leave kitty tongue marks on butter left out and in the pan when grease congealed. Salmon skin was her favorite thing next to whole mice and she would be underfoot singing each time I opened a package of salmon. The vacuum cleaner didn't frighten her, but helium balloons were on par with evil clowns for her.  

On an impulse last Sunday, I purchased several dinner plate dahlia bulbs, something I’ve never grown. Megs will be buried in my flower garden next to the porch on which she loved to sun herself, the dahlias marking the spot. I’m certain they will be gorgeous and make me smile just as Megs did.