Sunday, October 26, 2008

Things about Clara

I have this one last post to make about Clara, then I'll be back to the regularly-scheduled programming (i.e., recounting my recent trip to South Africa).

When I thought Clara had FIP, and thus perhaps only weeks to live (with medication), I started making a list of things I like about Clara. My memory is poor, and I was quite worried I would forget things about her. Then, two days later, I found out that she had only days to live (turned out to be less than a day) and realized I didn't even have time to post the list in the present tense. So here, in past tense, is the list I made during Clara's final days.

1. Clara liked warm butt spots. Warm butt spots are comfortable places left on the couch when someone gets up. I eat dinner on the couch and Clara would sit on my lap as I ate. When I got up to take the dishes to the kitchen, Clara would curl up in the spot where my butt had just been. Sometimes, she would even leave my lap to take Jesse's warm butt spot when he got up. When we returned to the couch, we'd have to pick her up to get our butt spot back.

2. Clara liked to get under the covers of my bed occasionally. She wouldn't stay very long--I think the limited air got to be a bit too much. Often, she'd want to get under the covers just when I was trying to go to sleep and would paw at the sheet around my neck. I often didn't want to make the effort to lift up the sheets to let her in, but I almost always did, thinking that I wanted to have as much happiness as possible in her short life (it was going to be short whether she lived 10 or 15 years).

3. Clara would sit on the (closed) toilet while I brushed my teeth. My nighttime routine with Clara is probably the thing I'll miss most about her, and I'm pleased to say she did the whole routine the last night she was alive. When I would stand in my bathroom brushing my teeth, Clara would come into the bathroom (pushing open the door to get in if necessary--and if I had shut the door too firmly, she'd just wait patiently outside for me) and sit on the toilet, with her tail hanging over the side. When I needed to use the toilet, I'd pick her up and put her on the side of the sink, and then she'd follow me to bed when I left the bathroom. She also loved to watch the toilet flush when she was younger--she'd run over and stand on her hind legs with her front paws on the rim of the toilet, and intently watch the water swirl away. I'm an internet addict and sometimes (always?), I stay up past my bedtime because I'm on my computer. Jesse sometimes would come and tell me that I should go to bed because Clara was waiting for me. I burst into a fresh round of tears on Clara's last night when she jumped onto the toilet, then I gave her a good rubdown on my bath mat.   

4. Clara would sit on my chest when I turned the lights out at night and when I opened my eyes in the morning. I often read for at least a few minutes before I turn out my light and get settled in bed. Clara would sit at the foot of my bed until I turned the light out and lay down flat, then would walk up and lie down on my chest, facing me. I would pet her for a few minutes, until I wanted to go to sleep, and as soon as I stopped petting her (or when the petting slowed down because I was falling asleep), she would get up and walk to her sleeping spot--between my legs. I still haven't quite got used to being able to sleep with my legs together. In the morning, my alarm wakes me up by turning on NPR, but I don't always start stirring immediately. When I did, Clara would come sit on my chest again. She was a devoted cutie.

5. Clara had amazing speed and agility in chasing toys, especially laser pointers. She was amazing to watch. My friend Dean reminded me that he instituted a "rule" that when we played with the laser pointer with the cats, that we had to always end the game by making the dot disappear into the same spot--the red light on the carbon monoxide detector I had in the hallway. Dean thought that way the cats wouldn't be as confused about where the red dot had gone. About a year and a half ago, I got the cats a toy that consists of a bunch of feathers at the end of a string attached to a stick. When I made the feathers fly around the room, Clara would leap up really high to try to catch it, twisting her body as she went. I had to stop to let her catch her breath sometimes--she would be visibly huffing and puffing after a good session of playing with the feathers. 

6. Clara was the bravest scaredy cat. She would often see "monsters" in every day objects, like a shirt on the floor. She would approach the object very slowly, then finally stick out her leg and poke the object to try and figure out what it was. We appreciated that even though she was scared of "silly" things, that she was brave enough to face them. She never did get used to the vacuum cleaner though--we'd put her into a room and close the door so that we could vacuum the rest of the house/apartment

7. Clara didn't like bare human skin. If I were wearing shorts, she'd do everything possible to avoid touching my legs while she was sleeping on my lap. Some nights when it's really hot, I'll sleep with my shirt pulled up to expose my belly. Clara would also deliberately avoid touching my belly then. Funny cat.

8. Clara would sniff anything you put in front of her face. If you brought something near her, she'd stretch her neck to smell it. She loved sniffing fingers in particular and you often had to let her sniff your fingers before you petted her on the head. On Clara's last Thursday night, she was lying in my lap and her breathing got slower and shallower. Jesse was sitting on the couch next to me and we both thought she might be very close to dying. Jesse reached out his hand to Clara, and Clara didn't move to sniff it and that just convinced Jesse and me even more that she was actively dying (and we both burst into even more tears). But, a few minutes later, Clara lept up and went over to her food bowl. In retrospect, we noticed that for over a day after coming back from the specialty vet, where she'd received a tranquilizer for her ultrasound, that Clara didn't close her eyes at all and we think that at times like that night on my lap, she was really "sleeping" as best she could and that's why she wasn't responsive.

9. Clara only used her claws on us once--when Jesse had to carry her through airline security, as I described in a previous post.

10. Clara was very good at not being caught when she'd escape from the house when she was younger. I let the cats go outside in the day for a couple of years when they were very young. After seeing Clara almost get hit by a car and having one too many critter (most still alive and unhurt) brought to me as presents, I decided to make them indoor cats. They clearly missed going outside at first* and they did escape on occasion (or even when they were allowed outdoors during the day but got out when I didn't want them outside, like in the evening). Alice would climb the nearest tree to about 6 feet off the ground, so I could just go pluck her off the tree and that would be that. Clara on the other hand was very sneaky--she would stand nearby and sniff everything in that spot. But as soon as I got within striking distance, she would run a bit further away, then stop and sniff everything in the new spot. And we'd repeat our little "game." I very rarely won and often had to just rely on her wanting to come back inside on her own accord. [*But I still recommend that people keep their cats indoors... Alice and Clara only missed going outside for a very short time and then turned into seemingly very contented indoor cats. They didn't have to get as many vaccinations by being indoor cats, which reduced their risk of getting injection-site tumors, and they weren't at as high a risk of getting run over, sick, or injured. Also, critters such as mice, chipmunks, baby squirrels, baby rabbits and baby robins weren't as terrorized as they had been once Alice and Clara stopped going outside.]

11. Clara would rest her head directly on my (clothed) leg when she slept on my lap. She didn't always do this--she used to rest her head on her leg or something, but lately had been just putting her head straight onto my leg. I don't know why I liked that so much--maybe because it seemed very trusting of her? She particularly did it a lot her last few days, including her last minutes at the vet, while I was sitting in the room waiting for the vet--I took her out of her carrier and she lay down on my lap with her head on my jeans. When Clara wasn't sleeping with her head on my leg, she'd stare at me from my lap. It was quite unnerving at times, actually, and I often asked her to stop staring at me (no, she didn't understand). At other times, she would look back over her shoulder at me--also very cute. No one could claim that she wasn't devoted to me.

12. Clara loved to chew paper and cardboard. No paper was safe in the house! Clara shredded bills, receipts, scientific articles, you name it. And she loved to sit in a box and chew the lip of it. She didn't eat the paper/cardboard... she'd leave all the debris all around. The night after we put Clara to sleep, Jesse was about to hide a piece of paper before going to bed, then realized he wouldn't have to do that anymore. We're still getting used to not having to put books/laptops on top of loose paper when we go to bed.

Clara chewing on the lip of a box while lying inside it. Alice is looking on.

13. Clara was Alice's "mom" in some ways. Alice is a pound bigger than Clara was, but Clara would often lick Alice and clean her ears for her. This is probably why Clara always had dirtier ears than Alice and also more hairballs. I'm going to have to start cleaning Alice's ears now (but not with my tongue!). Actually, the noise of Clara licking the inside of Alice's ears was quite unpleasant--very slurpy and loud. It was hard to fall asleep if Clara was licking Alice's ears.

14. Clara loved catnip. She would eat it and push Alice out of the way to get Alice's too. She would sometimes start chewing the carpet to get loose catnip flakes. When I put Clara into her carrier to take her to the vet one last time, I gave her a little pile of catnip to enjoy.

15. Clara had the softest belly and chest--I loved stroking them. When she was younger, she didn't really like being touched there, preferring to have her head played with. But, at some point she learned that if she rolled over, I would pet her because I couldn't resist her chest/belly. And forever after that, I was a sucker for her when she rolled over. She would start by putting her head on the ground, then flop her whole body over and stretch (even her toes--another thing I loved about her) into a crescent shape, opening up her chest/belly as much as she could. Unfortunately she would try to do this when I was working out in the apartment, too, so I often had to move her out of the way then so she wouldn't get hurt. On a related note, I regularly do exercises (on an exercise ball) that were prescribed by a physical therapist for the problems I have with my pelvis. One of the exercises involves me lying face down on the ball, lifting alternating opposite hand and leg pairs from the ground. Clara would sometimes meow when I got the ball out, jump down from her cat perch (where she would sit and watch me from in the mornings) and come running over, then flop down next to my hands on the ground. As I lifted a hand, she'd scoot over to that hand to get petted, then scoot to the other one when I lifted the other hand. That cat knew how to get attention, for sure! The other softest spots on her body were behind her ears and on the front of her neck (where she had a large orange spot I loved to touch).

16. Sometimes when Clara slept, she'd put all four paws together in a row (not always in the same order). I found that very cute. Alice does it too.

17. Clara used to love bean water. Bean water being that thick fluid that you pour off of canned beans. She used to come running whenever I got the can opener out, hoping that I'd drain the beans in the sink... then she'd lap up all the liquid. She didn't care for it if I poured it into a dish for her, and at some point, she stopped caring about it altogether, though she still did come give it a sniff every now and then. On the same note, Clara seemed to prefer almost any liquid to the water in her bowl... I used to frequently find her licking the remaining water out of the bathtub after I'd had a shower, but she did seem to outgrow that too at some point. She also, to the end, loved to stick her head down into my drinking glasses to get at my water. It was a funny sight, seeing her whole head through the side of the glass.

18. I loved the way that Alice and Clara would sometimes run with their sides touching each other down the hallway in front of me when I got up in the mornings, or when I put down canned food for them (an occasional treat--they had kibbles available the rest of the time). I felt like they were my matched pair of carriage horses or something. They did it on one of Clara's last days and it made me happy (and sad). When they ate side by side, I could use one hand to pet them both, and I'd run my hand up their tails, with each tail between a different set of fingers.

19. One of the cutest things about Clara was the way she used her ears--when she was paying attention to something, you could see them move as they pointed forwards and down. It was very cute. Another cute thing (there were many, as you can tell) was that the back of her back right leg was solid orange, and I loved watching her walk away from me with her orange leg, and her tail hanging down but curled up at the end so that it wouldn't touch the floor (she seemed to have a long tail for her size).

20. Clara would frequently bring me "presents." Her favorite thing to bring me was a pelt of (real) fur that an ex-roommate of mine, Jeff, had given me for the cats. Jeff's dad had bought the pelt for Jeff when he was a kid--I think he got it from somewhere called "Davy Crockett world" and one day in Madison, the cats found it and started licking it and carrying it around. Jeff kindly left it with me when he moved out. When I would sit on the couch at night, Clara would drag the pelt from my bedroom to the living room, making funny meowing sounds as she went. In the morning while I was still in bed (sometimes still sleeping), she would drag it from the living room back into the bedroom. Her other most favorite toy of all time was a catnip-filled "body pillow" that I got for her about a year and a half ago (at the same time as the feather toy). Clara had a love-hate relationship with it--she would lie on her side licking it and holding it with all four paws, then suddenly start biting it and kicking at it with her hind legs. We imagined she was saying "I love you I love you I love you... I hate you I hate you I hate you" to it. We actually had to take that toy away from her a couple of nights, because it got so intense we were worried she wouldn't sleep. When the catnip wore off a bit, she started dragging it around as a present for me.

21. Clara and Alice used to "wrestle"--they would take turns being the cat on their back on the ground or the cat standing next to the one on the ground, pouncing occasionally. Then, one cat would grab the other one around the neck with her front paws, and kick with both her back legs (the same thing Clara did with her catnip pillow).

22. One night, Jesse saw Clara do something that I never saw: Clara was lying on a cat bed, and Alice jumped up next to her and started doing "pushies" (as Jesse's mom calls them... when a cat "kneads" a bed before lying down) next to Clara. Apparently Clara got a bit fed up at some point and took her leg and laid it across Alice's front paws. Alice took the hint and stopped doing pushies and lay down. I wish I could have seen it.

23. When I would watch documentaries about birds, Clara would often go sit next to or on top of the TV, trying to get to the wing-flapping sound. 

And that's the end of my long list. I'm sure it's not even complete, but I will stop here for now. Thank you for bearing with me as I recount my many stories about Clara. 

Saturday, October 25, 2008

Clara's carcinomatosis

My sweet cat, Clara, was diagnosed with carcinomatosis in her chest on October 17, 2008 and I had her euthanized the next day. It was all very sudden and I didn't have much time to think about things. Though I knew that there was nothing I could do for Clara except make the decision to have her put to sleep so that she wouldn't suffer more than she had, I still wanted to find information on her condition--I wanted to understand what was happening to her and why (if there was a why). But I could find almost nothing about it on the Internet. This website, about a cat named Minu who also had carcinomatosis, was "comforting" to me--it helped to read other people's stories about their cats (several people whose cats had the same problem have left comments on the blog too). This website has the story of a cat named Harpsie with quite a few links (but I didn't find the links helpful for Clara's specific disease--they're mostly links for various other types of cancer in cats etc.). I want to share what little information I have on Clara's diagnosis in case it helps anyone else searching the internet for information on their own cat's condition.

The first symptom I noticed in Clara was that she was breathing more rapidly than usual. This evolved then into her breathing being very labored--it looked like she was hyperventilating. The first time I noticed her breathing faster than usual, she was sitting on my lap, but I assumed she had been running around or something. A week later, I noticed a flea on Clara's sister, Alice, and gave both cats a flea bath. While I was bathing Clara, with her hair matted down, I could clearly see her breathing wasn't usual. Again, I hoped it was because I was stressing her by giving her a bath. But the next day, a Sunday, I saw she still wasn't breathing normally and took her to the vet on the Monday. The vet suggested she may have asthma or a heart condition (common in older cats) and recommended chest X-rays. When he called me later that day with the results, he said that he couldn't even see Clara's heart because there was fluid in her chest (not in her lungs--around her lungs) and that was never a good thing. The "best" possibility was that she had a diaphragmatic hernia--a hole between her abdomen and chest that was letting abdominal fluid leak into her chest. But that condition is normally seen in animals who have suffered physical trauma, such as being hit by a car. Other possibilities included a heart problem, a tumor, or feline infectious peritonitis (FIP), a lethal virus infection. He had also drawn blood from Clara for some tests, and asked if I would consent to the blood also being tested for viruses. I said that would be fine. Because the best way to look at Clara's heart was by doing an ultrasound (echocardiogram), he referred me to a specialty clinic. 

The clinic could only see Clara on Wednesday morning, and I needed to bring Clara's X-rays and blood test results in person, so I picked those up at my regular veterinarian first. No one ever discussed the blood test results with me, but I managed to figure out a lot of it and so could tell that Clara did have elevated white blood cell (especially neutrophil) counts (consistent with FIP) and was positive for the FIP test, though that doesn't actually mean much because the test detects exposure to other related viruses too, and cannot specifically indicate the presence of FIP (so why it's called a FIP test, I don't know... if it had been negative, I suppose it would have ruled out FIP, so I can see that it is still useful to get the test results).

The internal medicine specialist I met with at the specialty clinic agreed with my veterinarian that the best thing to do first was an ultrasound--it would have told us if Clara had a heart problem (which seemed to be what the internal medicine veterinarian suspected it was) and would also have shown evidence of a hernia (e.g. intestines/liver in the chest) or tumor. She also extracted the fluid from Clara's chest to have it tested for FIP and other things (protein content, cellular content etc.), and if she'd seen a tumor, she would have biopsied that too.

When the vet finally gave me her assessment that evening, she told me she had found that Clara's heart was perfectly fine, but that the fluid had tested positive for FIP by their "bench-top test*" and that the ratio of immune cell types she'd seen under the microscope was consistent with inflammation caused by a FIP infection. In other words, she was worried that Clara did indeed have FIP. If the pleural fluid she'd sent out for testing came back negative for FIP though,  she said she might then need to do a CT scan on Clara's chest to look for evidence of cancer. She said she had seen some stuff waving around in the fluid in Clara's chest during the ultrasound and that it was possibly fibrin, another indicator of FIP-induced inflammation, but possibly cancerous masses. [*I don't know what her "bench-top test" was, but I know that pleural fluid from cats with FIP has a certain appearance (straw/yellow color) and that it foams when shaken because of the high protein content. Perhaps that is what the vet had seen?]

The test results were due back the next day, Thursday, but the lab was backed up so the results didn't come in until late Friday afternoon (it was agonizing). We assumed that Clara did have FIP--everything was consistent with it. FIP is incurable and somewhat contagious, so we were going to have to worry that Alice might get it too, if indeed Clara had it (there's ~5% chance that other cats in a household will get it, and a higher chance in siblings). If Clara had FIP, there was the option of giving her prednisone/prednisolone (corticosteroids--they reduce inflammation and would thus have potentially helped keep the fluid levels in Clara's chest down, at the expense of making her immunocompromised). With treatment, Clara's life could have been prolonged, though I'm not sure how long as I saw lots of conflicting information about FIP on the Internet. Possibly only weeks, but possibly months. When the vet called and told me that Clara didn't have FIP, I was amazed. But then she told me Clara had an incurable, untreatable cancer and thus only days to live before breathing would get too hard for her. The diagnosis had been made because a technician in the lab who examined the fluid from Clara's chest had seen the cancerous cells. I later found out that in about 75% of the cases, the cells are not seen and the cat has to undergo more tests for a vet to figure it out. So in some ways, we were "lucky" to find out so promptly, sparing Clara from more poking, prodding and visits to the vet.

Carcinomatosis is a cancer of the epithelial cells in either the abdominal or chest cavity. In Clara's case, it was her primary and only cancer. A cell in her chest had mutated and become cancerous, and now there were masses of growth throughout her chest. The physical presence of these cell masses was irritating to her body and so her body had initiated inflammation to deal with it. But it was the inflammation that caused Clara's chest to fill with fluid, pushing on her lungs and restricting her breathing. When I took Clara in the next day to the first vet to be euthanized, the vet told me that they do sometimes treat cats with carcinomatosis with corticosteroids too, and that makes sense, because it would reduce the inflammation, which is the same problem with FIP. I realized though that prolonging Clara's life would be for my sake and not for hers--she was still going to have cancer and likely still be uncomfortable and would have to get medication every day. So, we proceeded with the euthanization.

The other symptom Clara did have was weight loss... when I took her to the vet on that first day, I realized she had lost 0.3 lbs (had been 6.5 lbs for years, then was 6.2 lbs at the vet on the Monday). At the specialty clinic, she'd had over two ounces of fluid removed from her chest, so she was probably really only 6 lbs. I could feel that her backbone was sticking out more than it usually did and that she didn't have as much muscle on her back near her tail as she used to. That muscle wasting is apparently common in these diseases. I'd been feeding Clara lots of canned food her last week, to try to keep her energy levels up and to keep her eating. It worked--she was still eating and drinking on her last day--but it wasn't enough to keep her from getting thinner. And I knew that at some point, she probably wouldn't want to eat and drink, and she'd be extra skinny and would perhaps even lose the strength to jump onto my bed or onto the couch (her two favorite places). I'm glad that Clara didn't suffer more than she had to (I assume her last two weeks, when she was having breathing difficulties, were somewhat uncomfortable for her), though I felt like I had been hit by a freight train having her euthanized so suddenly. I never thought that I would lose her when she was only 10, and in very good general health.

Well, that's Clara's story. I hope this information is useful to someone else some day.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Clara stories

Clara had many friends. After having her euthanized, I had a number of people I had to contact to tell them the news before I announced it to the world. One such friend is Dean, who is the person who connected me with Clara and Alice the humans (Clara was his aunt). He also lived in my house for a while when Clara and Alice were kittens, so he got to spend quite a bit of time with them.

Here are some things that Dean remembered about his time with the kittens:

"Didn't they used to sit and study birds at that feeder that hung outside the window at the foot of your bed? [they did]... 
Clara and Alice hoping some birds will come to the feeder attached to the window. As a side note, the foil is on the soil of my plant there because I was trying to deter the cats from digging in it!

...And I remember making the cat sill on the new window so they could look out the window.
 [I had an extra window put into the house by some guys from a construction/roofing company... but I didn't find out until they showed up that that's all they were going to do... they weren't going to re-do the drywall around it etc. So Dean came and helped me with that and, because the cats liked looking out windows so much, we put a windowsill in for them. They seemed to appreciate it.]
The "new" window that Dean refers to, with windowsill. My mom bought the cats that big scratching post/adventure center and they loved it from the minute I started unpacking it.

Didn't you have some kind of running water toy thing there for them? [That was a water bowl actually... and the noise of the pump drove me crazy and then it broke, so I returned it. The cats didn't seem to care one way or another about it] ...And the cat door that what's-her-name's cat came in to enjoy some of their food. [My neighbor Anne's cat (Nicholas) used to sneak into the house through the cat door in the days when my kitties used to go outside. He was a BAD cat that Nicholas. That cat door caused other problems: one night I had to go fend off (with a flashlight) a raccoon trying to come through that door... the raccoon had busted through the screen door beyond the cat door but was having a bit of difficultly getting through the small cat door... the noise woke me up] Do you have a picture of them on top of the upper cabinets to the left of the stove? That was a favorite place especially in winter time." [I *wish* I had a photo, but alas there is not one.]

In the kitchen in Madison, there was an air vent above the cupboards. The cats would jump up to the kitchen sink, then from there to the top of the fridge, then from there to the top of the cupboards, and then walk all the way to the other end of the cupboards in order to sleep in front of the (hot) air vent. Alice in particular loved the heat--we'd often find her there hot to the touch, so we started referring to her as "roasted kitty" at those moments. One of my roommates from Madison, Jodi, also remembered a top-of-the-cupboard moment:

"Clara was always such a sweetie. I loved snuggling up with her to read or watch TV. One of my favorite memories of her is when she unwisely continued to sit on top of the kitchen cupboards while I was making onion puree in the blender (for kebabs) directly below her. Poor girl -- her eyes were watering like mad (huge crocodile tears), and she just couldn't figure out what was causing it. Such a funny and wonderful little kitty."

Poor Clara had many such onion incidents--she seemed to be particularly sensitive to onions and would often have to keep her watering eyes closed while we were cooking. We felt so bad for her.

Clara and Alice on Dean's bed. It was sometimes hard to know where one cat ended and the next cat began.

The vet I took Clara to for her breathing problems told me (when I went back to have him euthanize her) that she was a very sweet cat (and that he wasn't just saying that) and that the technician who drew blood from her told him that she could have done it all by herself (since Clara was so gentle). The technician at the specialty clinic was very excited that I was going to leave Clara there for an afternoon to have the ultrasound and fluid removal done--she said she couldn't wait to hold her and squeeze her (I was a bit worried about the squeezing part, given Clara's breathing problems, but I assume she didn't mean it literally). The internal medicine vet, after examining Clara, remarked how nice (and rare) it was to have a sweet patient--Clara didn't complain at being poked and prodded... there were no claws, no hisses, etc.

Speaking of claws... Clara did use her claws once. Jesse has the scars to prove it. When it came time to move Alice and Clara to San Diego, I decided (after 6-9 months of deliberations, I kid you not) that the best way to do it would be to have them in the passenger compartment of the plane. What I hadn't thought about was that cats can't go through the X-ray machines, and cat carriers can't go through the metal detector. That meant that Jesse and I had to each carry a cat through the metal detector while their carry bags went through the X-ray. I got Alice (she's bigger and not nearly as sweet as Clara... she has no problem using her claws on people) and Jesse got Clara. Since I was used to holding the cats while I cleaned their ears and cut their claws, I got Alice through and back into her bag without too much trouble. Clara, to say the least, was freaked out at this whole being-in-the-airport thing and in an effort to get away from Jesse, stuck out her back claws and tried to push off of Jesse's chest. She didn't escape (the security people told me it does happen), but Jesse was a little bit the worse for wear. A funny story from that day: Jesse and I didn't have seats together on the plane, and we each had one cat under the seat in front of us. The cats meowed during take-offs and landings (it took two flights to get to San Diego), but were quiet during cruising. During a take off, the guy next to me said "do you hear a CAT?!" He hadn't realized that Alice was in the bag at my feet.

I've realized now that Clara is gone that I have very few photos of her with people in them too. There are some of me holding her and Alice, but none of Jesse and none of Dean or Jodi with the cats either. It's too bad. 
I assume that Dean took this photo of me and the kittens. I have spent many of my evenings over the last 10 years with at least one cat on my lap, if not two.

Thank you to Clara's friends for sharing their memories of her.

PS. I've put up more cat photos on my photo website.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Clara and Alice enter my life

Where were we? Oh yes... I had just, out of the blue and without fully considering the commitment I was making, offered to take in two ~3 month old kittens. And without first asking my roommates/tenants if they were allergic (thankfully they weren't, and they actually quite enjoyed having cute kittens running around the house). So I bought all the things I'd need for the kittens (litter box, food, bowls, toys etc.) and drove down to the farm near Milton. When I got there, I met Alice and Clara the humans and went with Alice to feed the colony of cats in the barn. She fed them out of large communal bowls. I also met all the house cats and was introduced to the two cute grey kittens that were soon to be mine--they were sleeping together on a chair.

I haven't explained that I named the kittens Alice and Clara--their human namesakes did not name them after themselves, in case you were wondering. They'd actually named them something else, but I don't remember what (something along the lines of "Spots" and "Sparkles"). Before I went to meet and pick up the kittens, I had already decided that I'd name one Clara*. And after meeting Alice the human that night, and finding out just how sweet she was, I named the other kitten (the one who'd bitten her, of course) after her as I drove home. It was about an hour drive, and I spoke to the kittens as I drove to reassure them, saying their names to them over and over. I've spoken to them ever since, too. I think that is one of the reasons it seems so quiet around here without Clara. 

When I got back to Madison from picking up the kittens in Milton, it was just about my bedtime, so I showed the kittens their litterbox and hopped into bed. They managed to jump onto the bed too, and thus began another tradition--sharing my bed with two cats. I was very nervous the first few nights--worried that I would roll over on them--but I don't move much when I sleep so it worked out just fine. The next day, I had some studying to do, and found that the kittens were very good at distracting me--Alice lay down on my notes, and they both ran around and played together, biting each other's necks. In fact, they used to spend so much time biting each other's necks that their necks were often wet and I nicknamed them "vampire kitties." They did outgrow that phase at some point, but they continued to play together until Clara got too sick (about a week before she died).

Over the next three months, I spent half of my pre-tax income (I was a graduate student, so it didn't amount to much) each month on vet bills--the cats had various infections when they arrived and needed tests for feline leukemia virus (because I was going to let them go outdoors), tests for worms, tests for eye problems, vaccinations, medicine for ear mites and of course, to be spayed when they got to 6 months. I was a little worried about what I had got myself into... so much so that I turned left against a red light while in shock on my way home from paying for them to be spayed (there was no one around to notice, thankfully). Clara had the most problems--she had polyps in the tubes that connected her nose to her ears and, as a result, was a very noisy breather for a while. Alice also had a habit of sitting on Clara, and one time I saw that Clara wasn't breathing with Alice covering her head and had to push Alice off. Clara started to breath again without paying much attention to what had happened. After trying various types of antibiotics in Clara's ears, the vet finally gave me some antibiotic pills to give Clara--they cleared up her breathing problems in no time, but had the lingering affect of making Clara not like it when I'd hold her on her back (as I did to give her pills, though I never had to give her another pill her whole life). 

At some point early on, I added "surnames" for the cats. Or maybe middle names. Clara became Clara May, and Alice became Alice McGregor. More recently, Clara became Clara Mara. I can't even imagine how many nicknames I've had for them over the years! Alice's current nickname is "Alice Walice" or "Wals" (rhymes with pals) for short. Clara was normally "Sweet Potato" or "Sweet Petite." Petite because Clara at her heaviest was 6.5 lbs. Alice is about 7.5 lbs.

And that's it for today. I'm not sure what I will write about next. Maybe Clara's sickness.


*I should mention that Clara the human pronounced her name "Clar(as in clarity)-uh," but I pronounced Clara the cat's name "Klaar-uh" (South Africans will have no problem saying that... that first syllable somewhat rhymes with "car" in Americanese even).

Clara playing in my window while I was trying to study. I've realized, after spending this past Sunday gathering all my photos of the cats so that I could get them scanned in, that 
1. my photographic skill has improved over the years 
2. I used to buy cheap film and have my photos processed cheaply, and that's too bad 
3. I didn't used to be very good about focusing. But just seeing Clara's shape is enough to see how cute she was--she had an expressive tail.

Here's goopy-eyed Alice on my notes. I think I was TA-ing Bacteriology 612 (Prokaryotic Molecular Biology?) at the time, and those are the notes from that class. 

Clara and Alice: the beginning

I thought I'd start by recording what I know of Alice and Clara's beginnings, and of their years with me. I really don't have a great memory, so some of these memories may be a bit different from reality, having changed with each re-telling over the years.

Alice and Clara were likely born in or near a barn on a farm near Milton, Wisconsin in May or June of 1998. When they were about 1 month old, they were perhaps orphaned, because they approached the farmhouse together. Inside the house was Clara the human, the owner of the farm and who had terminal cancer, and Alice the human, Clara's long-time friend who was looking after Clara in her last months. The human friends had a couple of older house cats as well as some other cats/kittens they'd taken in--there were something like 40 cats that they fed from big bowls in the barn, too. Alice the human decided to give the two kittens who'd approached the house a bit of food, but Alice the cat bit Alice the human when she tried to feed her off her finger... thus resulting in Alice and Clara the cats becoming house cats while they were monitored for signs of rabies. Alice the human put them in a cage of some sort with food, water and cat litter in an empty Spam (or was it just ham?) can--the cats started using the litter box immediately and warmed their way into the humans' hearts. Because Clara the human was dying of cancer, they decided (a couple months later) to try to find permanent homes for all the cats in the house. I knew Clara's nephew, Dean, and somewhat by accident, ended up saying I would take the two kittens into my home--I'd really been enquiring about the kittens because my friend, Tinsley, had said she was thinking of getting cats, but then she decided not too, and I felt bad that it had fallen through, so I said I'd take them. And I'm very happy that I did.

This photo is likely by Alice the human and the miniature house in the center of the photo is from Indonesia, where Alice and Clara the humans spent something like 40 years of their lives as missionaries (with regular trips back to the States for fund raising). This is the only photo I have of Alice (in back) and Clara (jumping down) from before I took them in.

Monday, October 20, 2008

Clara Mara

I cannot at this time continue writing about my South African trip. My beloved cat Clara was diagnosed with cancer (carcinomatosis) late on Friday afternoon after a week of vet visits and tests, and I had her euthanized on Saturday afternoon. As I loaded her up into her carrier to take her to the vet on Saturday, I couldn't believe what I was about to do with my "little girl." And yet I knew I had to, so that she wouldn't suffer any more.

When I found out on Wednesday evening that she was likely terminally ill (we didn't think it was cancer at that point, as I will elaborate on at some point), I started making a list of all the things I love about Clara, with input from Jesse and my mom. I had hoped to post the list before she died--I thought at that point that she had a few weeks to live--but her end came even sooner than I thought possible and now I am going to have to post the list in the past tense.

I also want to write about what little I know of her condition--it was very frustrating to find almost nothing about it on the Internet, and the most "useful" information Jesse found for us was actually on someone's blog (their cat had the same cancer). So I want to add my observations to the blog world in case it helps someone else.

I will eventually get back to writing about our trip, which seems like it was an awfully long time ago now.

Sunday, October 12, 2008

30 August 2008

30 August 2008

Well, apparently the Cape is having one of the worst storms in 7 years. Guess when Jesse and I were last here together? [Yes, winter 7 years ago.] 

This morning, we picked up Ouma at 10 am in her car and drove her to Voëlklip [a part of Hermanus where she used to live] and back. We stopped at various places--just past the old harbor, Voëlklip beach, Kammebaai, Kwaaiwater and 1 or 2 others. At the first stop, we saw a whale or two spy hopping and tail flapping--pretty good view of it! But, no whales after that--one guy trying to surf though!

Voëlklip beach. That's the lifeguard house on the left.

You can see how windy it was here--look at that spray!

Then, lunch at the cottage and, while Ouma napped in her old room, I took photos of birds in the rain. Quite a few visitors--guinea fowl, francolins, weavers, shrike...

Guineafowl in the neighborhood

A weaver bird in the rain

Diana then gave Ouma a lesson on computers and we then took Ouma back to frail care [we were staying at my grandmother's cottage and she now lives in an onsite assisted living building].

For dinner, the Kotzes [Anne and Diana] and us went over to Joe and Neil's house for dinner, though Joe and Neil weren't there [it's a long story how I'm related to Joe, but I am]. Leanne, her boyfriend and Laura were, and Sally (50) came over with her boyfriend (29) [Laura and Leanne are Joe's kids, and Sally is my dad's cousin.] Mom and dad called me on my [rental] cell phone while were there there--there's a hurricane [Gustav] heading to New Orleans again and Roger and Betty [my grandfather and his wife] are evacuating. And Roger no longer has hurricane insurance.

[Roger and Betty survived Hurricane Katrina... their house had ~4 feet of water in it at one point, but they ripped everything out and rebuilt with money from their insurance company. However, then their insurance rates went up so much that Roger decided to cancel his policy. Thankfully, hurricane Gustav didn't prove to be as much of a menace as was being predicted at one point, so apart from losing their entire crop of pecans, Roger and Betty did just fine]

29 August 2008

29 August 2008
UCT and Hermanus

Jesse at the University of Cape Town

Though it was pouring with rain earlier this morning, we drove out to UCT [University of Cape Town] to meet up with Dave Horwitz [a high school friend of mine]. He and Jesse had a latte, after we met David at Jameson Hall (a focal point of campus) and Dave showed us his office, where we met his new-ish officemate, Lovemore. Dave then walked us through campus and we saw a discarded, beat up umbrella in a garbage bin--just as Dave was telling us how the new students ruin many umbrellas each year walking through a 'wind tunnel' of a walkway in a Cape storm.

Me and David in front of Jameson Hall. Jesse took the photo

J and I then ventured over to the V&A waterfront for fish and chips (only the latter for me; Jesse had snoek [a type of strongly-flavored fish] and really liked it, though it was very bony). Oh, I also got a buttered roll for R3.50 [something like $0.45--quite the deal!].

Jesse in front of the fish-and-chips place at the V&A

Then, Diana [my cousin] drove us through to Hermanus, where we visited with Ouma [my grandmother] and had a lovely "vegetable gratin bake" made by Anne [my aunt, and mother of Diana] and a salad made by Diana. There was ginger cake with custard for dessert and Anne told me the *first* part of making ginger preserves: 

Peel and chop ginger
Cover in boiling water
Let cool
Repeat (from boiling water step) 3x/day for 3 weeks...

Needless to say, neither I nor Anne will not be making that any time soon. Then, we all tried our hand at a Sudoku puzzle, but weren't very successful (Anne finally got it after getting a few hours' head start on it).

Jesse and I are quite cold almost always, which is really too bad. It sounds like we were a bit unlucky with the weather, as it had been summer-like earlier in the week.

Saturday, October 11, 2008

Is there anything more pathetic than a wet cat?

I break from the regularly-scheduled programming to bring you: wet cats!

I was just about to head to Costco this morning (as I do most Saturdays) and was petting the cats 'goodbye,' when I noticed a flea on Alice's stomach! It took me a good minute of squeezing, squishing, squashing and finally popping to get that flea to die--they're tough buggers. The cats have only had fleas once before--I returned from being away for three weeks in 2006 to find little black dots all over my bed, where the cats sleep. It took me a week or so to realize the cats were infested with fleas and those black dots were flea poop! At that time, they got their first ever bath. 

Well, I didn't want another full-blown infestation, so I decided Costco could wait and immediately set about giving the cats their second ever bath (they're both about 10.25 years old, so this is an uncommon event for them) with an anti-flea-egg shampoo.

The cats weren't about to walk around nicely while I had my camera out for you to see their wet patheticness, but I did corner them and take a few shots of them sitting down. The photos don't really capture how silly the cats looked, so you'll just have to trust me or look at someone else's wet cat on the internet.

Clara after her bath, looking a bit unhappy.

Alice trying to warm up a bit in the sun (of course the flea made its appearance AFTER the heatwave we had this past week... both cats were shivering quite a bit after their baths today).

28 August 2008

28 August 2008, in Pinelands, Cape Town

Mike and Moira [my uncle and aunt] picked us up last night at the Cape Town airport, which is undergoing lots of renovations in preparation for the World Cup in 2010. The same is true for the Joburg airport. [Because of the construction, the Joburg airport was very unpleasant--the passport control room was stripped down to bare concrete pillars and floors etc., and then we had to wheel our bags from the international terminal to the domestic terminal, which involved going outside and walking on a busy, narrow, bumpy, sloping sidewalk around a construction zone, all while in a near-tunnel with smelly cars. I had to help some poor American with her cart, since she almost lost control of it on one of the slopes.]

This morning, we awoke to rain squalls and overcast skies. It continued that way for much of the day. In the late afternoon, Moira drove us out to Table View, on the way to Bloubergstrand [those are suburbs with a view across a bay of Table Mountain and downtown Cape Town, but only on clear days]. We saw kiteboarders having a lot of fun jumping waves etc.--it was quite windy.

Me in Table View, where we stopped to watch the kiteboarders.

The kiteboarders.

During our pre-dinner drinks [a tradition of my grandparents that Mike and Moira have continued], Mike discovered that Jesse likes Scotch and brought out a box of 3 sample scotches with the disclaimer that he (Mike) didn't like them. Turns out, a couple of them are among Jesse's favorites! Nice surprise for Jesse, particularly with Mike being quite keen for Jesse to drink as much as he wanted.

Tomorrow we should be visiting Dave at UCT [a high school friend, at University of Cape Town] before heading to Hermanus in the late afternoon.

27 August 2008

[A short and fairly boring entry... hopefully they'll improve!]

27 August 2008, almost in Joburg [Johannesburg]

The first three hours of this flight were the longest--we ate dinner and watched a movie, which seemed like they should take up more than 20% of the flight! Alas, there were another >12 hours to go. I managed a bit of sleep--the secret was putting my seat back, but not that of the empty seat next to me (Jesse had moved to an open exit aisle), then leaning my head against two cushions against the other seat back. A delicious breakfast we just had... at 2 pm South African time! Landing in Joburg soon, then customs and a connection to Cape Town following that. PS. Movie was "Definitely Maybe."

[I wore my running watch to and in South Africa (I don't normally wear a watch). I'd heard that to reduce jetlag, one should switch their watch to the time zone of their destination, to get you to get used to the new time. I did that this trip, as soon as I boarded the airplane, and I really think it helped me!]

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

26 August 2008

That's Jesse and me, waiting in the San Diego airport for our flight to Washington, DC.

I kept a diary of sorts while I was recently on holiday in South Africa. I don't normally keep a diary (I did as a teenager, but not as an adult) but I know the limitations of my memory and I was certain that I would want to remember some of the events and my thoughts from the trip for longer than my memory would otherwise allow me to! I am going to try to reproduce my diary entries here... this blog entry is just an experiment because I might decide that it isn't interesting enough to share with the world. I'll put editors notes in [brackets] like that.

So, let's begin with the title page:

The Great Adventurers: Samantha & Jesse go to South Africa
26 August-20 September 2008
by Samantha O* [sorry... trying not to be found by some people]

26 August 2008 [I was trying to get into a South African frame of mind--that's why I put the day first, then the month ;-)]

Last night, I got into bed at ~11 pm, but didn't fall asleep until ~2:30 am. Too bad I had to wake up just after 4 am to get ready for our 5:30 am shuttle pickup! I thought of many things as I lay there--had I packed everything I needed? Should I add another set of "nicer" clothes and shoes? After not thinking of anything I should have packed but hadn't, except a warmer pajama top [which I got out of bed to pack, and good thing I did--I wore it every night in South Africa], my mind switched to other things. 

I thought a lot about Lindsay Templeton, the 3 1/2 year old daughter of my friends, Matt and Ginger, who was diagnosed with acute myeloid leukemia just over a week ago. Every time I thought of how little sleep I was going to get [that's what I do when I can't sleep], I thought of something that Matt wrote [on the CaringBridge website they set up to keep family and friends updated on Lindsay's treatments]: on the nights he spends with Lindsay in her hospital room, he is peaceful but can't sleep, and on the nights he spends at the Ronald McDonald house, he is anxious but can sleep. Lindsay is undergoing aggressive chemotherapy and may be in the hospital for more than 6 months. I was very peaceful as I lay there, but my mind and body just weren't in sleep mode. 

I also thought about a book I read over the weekend, Twilight [a young adult novel about a high school girl and a vampire who fall in love], and how it's being made into a movie. I found it interesting that I got no idea from reading the book of what the female main character (and narrator) "looks" like, so I was wondering what she'd look like in the movie. I didn't think it was a particularly good book, but it did keep me interested and I've been thinking about it a lot since. 

Sleep eventually came, then I was up at 4:10 am. Since then, everything has gone well and we're currently flying to Washington Dulles airport, where we'll connect to our SAA flight to Johannesburg.