Friday, March 11, 2011

Misha, 1994-2011

So I haven't been posting in a long time. Yeah, yeah... I know.

It's not that there hasn't been anything to write about. Why, the headlines are just full of meaty, maddening, tragic, important stories! Not to mention, there's been plenty going in in my own family too... as the kids are growing up bit by bit, and I've been sneaking on tiptoe back into the Opera world (scroll down to the bottom and click the pic with the guy wearing the kabuki makeup and the Darth Vader helmet. That's me as The Mikado, in Gilbert & Sullivan's show of the same name. And yes, that cute little girl in the kimono--carrying the huge sword--is the Pillowfight Fairy.)

(And if anyone in the Sacramento area wants to see me singing live on stage, here's your chance: this year I'm Private Willis in G&S's show Iolanthe. Details are at the above site; shows are the first two weekends in April.)

But today I merely have some sad personal news that I know my extended family will want to know about. One of our cats, Misha, has gone to kitty heaven.

We've been knowing this was coming, and sooner rather than later; her health has been in steep decline over the last month. The vet had a full ultrasound done on Misha about a week ago and pronounced it Lymphoma, in a fairly advanced stage. She went downhill very quickly; a month ago she was happily jumping up on the furniture, and bugging me to pet her every time I sat down at the computer to goof off. And then, she wasn't...


Back in '94 I was living in a townhouse with two college buddies. Sometime during April of that year we discovered that we had an annoying feral cat that kept jumping our fence and trying to sneak through an air vent into our garage. No wonder--April is in the rainy season around these parts, and this cat wanted a nice, dry, secure place... to have her litter. Yup. One day we went to get our cars, and we discovered we had a whole litter of kittens.

And aside from two twins, they all looked completely different.

Well, we decided we'd do the responsible thing. We didn't have permission from the landlord for pets in the townhouse, so we decided to get them spayed/neutered, and get them vaccinated, and socialize them so they'd be able to function around humans, and find homes for them.

And then we made the mistake of naming them. And feeding them. And petting them.

One of the kittens ran off to join the circus before we could get to know him/her, but the other three stuck around. We couldn't find homes for them, but they were completely happy just to stay in the garage most of the time, and sneak in the back door to our townhouse when we opened it up. Yup, we had to catch them and carry them out of the house on numerous, numerous occasions, and they'd be happily purring the whole way.

Misha was the dark one of the lot. Her sister Pasha (who, as a kitten, we used to call Paranoid Gold Kitty for a while) is a tabby, and her other sister Niña is an absolutely gorgeous calico. All three of them were very, very plush longhairs; look at that feather-duster of a tail on the picture above. Tonya and I joked that we should brush them a whole lot, and then spin the fur thus collected into yarn, and use it to knit sweaters. (We could probably still do that just from the fur caught in the carpet in their room...) But Misha looked an awful lot like her mommy, except she had a prettier face.

And the three sisters each had their own personality. Niña was always very suspicious of people. She warmed up to me and my roommates; she eventually warmed up to my aunt, and later my wife; she still hasn't gotten used to all these short, loud people we have running around here. Pasha turned into an absolute lover, who demands to lick any person she takes a fancy to. She's almost dog-like. She's also dumb as a post, and has always had a clumsy side to her. I swear I've seen that cat trip. I also once watched her take a tumble off a balcony. Over the years, she has put on quite a bit of weight, earning the affectionate nickname "Lardbutt." During the time my aunt was taking care of Pasha, she had to laugh at the irony when she remembered Carl Sandburg's poem:
The fog comes
on little cat feet...


But Misha was the sneaky one of the bunch. I remember one incident back when she was a kitten, and we were having to keep them out of the townhouse. She had this way of sneaking in the back door, then bolting down the hall, around the corner, and into my bedroom--whereupon I had to go find her and extract her from among the heaps of bachelor junk I had piled up around the room. Well, one day she did this trick, and I trooped down the hallway and into my room--and then spent ten minutes tearing it apart trying to find her. Failing and scratching my head, I wandered back to the living room, and saw her happily curled up on the sofa watching TV.

How did she get past me? I wondered to myself.

So the next time she got through the back door, down the hallway and around the corner (it happened a lot don't you know), I listened. Her footsteps halted the moment she went around the corner; she didn't go all the way into my room! I walked to the corner in the hallway, leaned carefully around and looked down... and sure enough, there was Misha, hiding with her dark fur in a dark little shadow. That earlier incident, she had outsmarted me. She got me thinking she'd gone into my room, and I walked right past her without bothering to look down.

If I'd been a pigeon, I would have gotten et.

That was her personality. She loved people-attention, and purred so noisily that veterinarians could never tell how fast her heart was going; but she'd pull one over on you if you weren't careful.

Of course, she'd also occasionally try to jump from lofts onto the tops of ceiling fans, so she clearly got some of the same genetic material as Pasha did....


Misha hadn't been in good health this last year. After all, her seventeenth birthday would have been in April; that's getting up there for a cat, even when they are fully spayed indoor female cats. Given that we have three from the same litter, odds are that at least one of them was going to have something bad happen. She'd had to have surgery to remove that gorgeous feather-duster of a tail early last summer, as she'd developed some kind of abscess on it that couldn't be removed any other way. And there were signs at that time that she had other internal conditions starting; we had to put her on a special diet and give her steroids just to get her in shape for that surgery. Still, she recovered from the surgery well, put a good amount of weight back on, and grew enough fur on her little stump of a tail that it looked cute, like the back end of a bunny. Unfortunately, the Lymphoma must have already been in its early stages then. About a month ago she started showing signs of being unable to walk and jump properly, and then her weight started to plummet, and it became obvious the end was near.

I checked on Misha before going to work this morning, and she was weak, nothing but fur and bones, but alert. I checked on her when I got home, and she had passed away sometime during the day, in the same spot where I'd left her in the morning.

So I went out in our little "orchard" (a corner of our garden where we've planted half a dozen fruit trees) before dinner tonight and dug a hole to bury her in. The Adrenaline Junkie and the Happy Boy came out too. I suspect the Happy Boy (age four) just wanted an excuse to help dig a really big hole, but the Junkie (age six) wanted to talk about Misha with her daddy. Kids process these things differently than we do. I was thinking deep thoughts about mortality; she was thinking about how to keep the bugs from getting all over Misha, and what the word "decomposition" means, and does that mean we would eventually get to see all the bones? (not if I can help it) and why the earth never runs out of people or cats or dogs, if everyone eventually dies (not a bad question for a six-year-old, if I do say so myself).


So, we're thinking of going to the local plant nursery or home improvement store and getting a life-sized sculpture of a cat--preferably something really longhair looking, if we can find it--and painting it in a charcoal-gray/brown tortoise-shell pattern, and using that to mark the spot we laid her to rest. Yeah, we're hopelessly maudlin that way. (At least the grown-ups are. The kids like to talk about decomposition, even if they can't pronounce it properly.) On the practical side, it might scare off a few of the birds, and might briefly freak out some of the neighborhood cats around here.

None of us here is distraught; we've definitely had worse. Still, even though I was able to pet her and hear her purr not 14 hours ago, I'm already missing my cat.