Sunday, May 17, 2009

That Darn (Amazing) Cat

Growing up as a child, I was raised alongside two Doberman pinschers. Even as an infant, I showed no fear of these massive dogs that at the time I could have ridden around the house like horses. In fact, sometimes my sister and I did just that. As the years passed, my family became almost a safe house for sick or abandoned animals. Give us your tired, your poor... We turned no animal away. Soon, the roster under our roof began to resemble Dr. Doolittle’s patient records. Two dogs multiplied into multiple cats, none of which my dad was fond of.. But he tolerated them simply because they made my mom happy.

Then one November during my sophomore year of high school, this black stray cat came wandering up to our front door step. He had a purple collar and a name tag that only read: Clayton.

Turns out he belonged to a neighbor of ours. But since the break up with her boyfriend (the one that got him for her), she had dumped him out of the house and made him an outdoor cat. Clayton began to wander the streets and do whatever it is outdoor cats do all day long. But his favorite place to hang was on the roof with my dad as he hung Christmas lights and listened to the Beatles’ greatest hits. Anyone who has seen my house at Christmas time knows the ordeal that goes into the Sterger family Christmas display. It’s a labor of love (for my mother anyway) that usually takes my dad anywhere from 3 days to a week not including the weekend prior of yard work. Spending all this time outside, my dad had plenty of time to bond with this cat, who did nothing more than keep my dad company and chase an occasional bug or two.

It wasn't long before all of us had a chance to bond with Clayton, who seemed more human than any of us could have imagined. That's because there was something different about this cat. He had this amazing personality that for an independent character was still somehow personable. He was playful and even dare I say funny. He loved to be bounced on his stomach, yet was the first to snuggle up to you when you needed comfort. My sister would sit outside and play with him. My mom would put out food for him in the morning.

The cat had everything but the roof over its head. And that was about to change.
One day when my dad was out of town on business, my sister snuck Clayton into her room. She figured, we had enough cats, what was one more?

Much to our surprise my dad didn't seem to mind the new refugee. He actually welcomed him. His only concern was whether or not Clayton's owner would give him up. So my mom and my sister walked down to the neighbor’s house, to ask her for the cat. The lady nearly laughed at her request and said if she wanted the mangy thing, it was all hers. And like that, Clayton became a Sterger.

Several years, and some stray additions later, Clayton began to act funny. I don't remember why we first took him to the doctor, but I think it was these sores he would get in his fur. We figured he probably just had some kind of dermatitis or something from his frolicking sessions in the backyard as he watched my father build a new shed. Turns out it was something far worse.

Clayton had AIDS.

Most people think AIDS is something reserved for humans and monkeys, but actually cats have developed their own type of immuno-deficiency disorder, FIV. We don't know how long he had had it, but we figured he got it in the few months the previous owner had dumped him on the street.

We were faced with the tough decision of whether or not to put Clayton down. The thing is, aside from the blisters, Clayton really had an amazing quality of life. He was already neutered so.. We didn't have to worry about that. While he was playful he was far from aggressive so he wouldn't be fighting anyone either. And if he was going to expose any of the other cats to it, well.. The cat was beyond out of the bag at this point.

My mom called my dad who was once again on the road and asked him what to do in this situation. Like any patient with AIDS, Clayton would need constant medical attention and treatment, including Depo Medrol shots and two years of Baytril pulse therapy…So after some discussion with our vet, my parents vowed to do everything they could to ensure quality of life for this animal that had become the glue that held this family together. They also promised that if that quality of life ever dimmed to nothingness, they would do the right thing and end his suffering.

Two years later, we had tackled 30 or so depo shots and had seen our share of ups and downs like anyone that has a serious illness like Clayton's. The smallest cuts or infections needed to be tended to like medical emergencies simply because his health was beyond compromised. But he was still Clayton, even on his down days. He’d do funny things to make us laugh, sit outside with us on the swing when the weather was nice, and cuddle with us when life got tough.

Then the other day, my mom noticed Clayton wasn't touching his food. Not the canned stuff, the carved turkey. He even snubbed his nose at the bite of filet was offered. So my mom loaded him up and took him to our vet.

This time however was different. He didn't necessarily look sick, just tired. His heart rate was a little off, but he still looked like Clayton. The vets ran a bunch of blood work to test all of his levels and make sure the depo shots hadn't thrown off any of his systems’ functions. They monitored him for a few hours, and when all seemed fine they sent him home.

That night however, things turned for the worse. Clayton had made a bed for himself in a pile of jackets he found in my dad’s office and seemed reasonably content. Until sometime in the middle of the night when he let out a loud shriek, and bolted from the room. His cries woke my mother who found him shaking uncontrollably and seemingly scared beneath the dining room table. She picked him up and wrapped him in a towel, and held him close. She knew this was not good.

She went and got my father, and told him to come quick.

Clayton was dying.

The two of them sat there, in the dark of night holding their adopted son until he took his last breath.

He was gone.

Since I've been working long hours on my movie, and sleeps been fairly elusive, my mother sent me a text telling me what had happened. I didn't find it til an hour or so later, when I checked my phone.

Tears began to roll down my cheeks, and I excused myself from the set. Seeing how upset I was, the director called our shoot for the remainder of the night and said we would pick up the next day. I went home, sat in my bed, and cried.

My sister and my grandmother both found out in the morning when they woke up to my dad digging a hole out in the backyard. Clayton had loved to be outside, and to hide in the shed while my dad did yard work, so next to the shed seemed only appropriate.

That day we laid to rest one of the most influential members of our family. We had played Russian roulette of treatments 33 times, and the 33rd was our last. We fought every step with him against an illness he got through no fault of his own, only that he had been originally placed with a crappy owner. But at least his misfortunes with her, led him to meeting us. Otherwise we may have never have been fortunate enough to have a chance to love him.

My family has seen its ups and downs through the past few years, but Clayton was one of those hems that kept things from falling apart at the seams. Because as much as Clayton needed us for treatment, we needed him to be a part of our lives more. He touched even the most stoic of hearts in my father, and somehow got him to see beyond his cat loathing ways. He was the goodwill ambassador of cats. The guy that kept the peace between the rest of the feline brood and my dad, that really wasn't all that big of a fan. He had this weird way of sensing our moods and knowing how to cheer all of us up. I think that's why he held on as long as he did. He loved life, outdoors, and sliced turkey. But more importantly he loved all of us. If Clayton taught me anything in my adult life, it's to cherish every moment you have with someone, man, woman or pet. Because pets aren't just animals, they become family. Maybe that's why this one hurt so badly. Clayton wasn't just some cat. He was a brother, a son, and a companion even despite all his hardships.

Some things in life you just can't replace. Clayton will always be one of them.


anthony0358 said...

I am very sorry for your loss
Pets are a part of our family
Clayton looks just like my cat

Its so hard to say goodbye to a part of the family

Veritas said...

It's always terrible when we lose someone close to us, and in many ways I understand your feelings.
My house was never filled with pets like yours but I also had my share, all where unique in their own way, and all made a mark on my life.
At least you and your family did everything possible to make his final days the best ones possible, and believe me that is rare, most people would imediatly had had killed their pet because to most people only humans have souls and personalities, they think that we are some god like master-piece.
And if we humans are something we aren't master-pieces.
But still I admire your and your family commitment to that living being.
Share all the good memories you have of Clayton because in many ways it is living beings like that that leave the most profound mark on our lives.
But I'll tell you something, the ones that simply outcast Clayton, those ones are lowest than the earth they step.
If one has problems they should not take it out on their pets, that is inhumane and cruel.
But if one good thing came out of that terrible experience of Clayton was that he found himself a real home.
I'm really surprised that you even wrote about Clayton, most people wouldn't or at least I wouldn't, it would be too personal it would had brought me too much conflicting emotions for me to want to handle them.
But life goes on and we now that better than anyone, don't we Jenn?
Losing is another part of life and we will both lose more in the future, our only confort is to know that a part of the ones that were important in our lives will stay with us always, and for me that makes life worth living.
So dry the tears from your eyes Jenn and remember the good times you had with Clayton and anyone else you might have lost, because has long as you remember them they aren't really dead a part of them goes on with you.
All the best to you Jenn.

Ajax said...

That was a beautiful story Jenn. You and your family provided a great life for Clayton.

Wheezer said...

I'm a dog person myself, but I like what you've written here about Clayton. It's very touching. : )

Anonymous said...

My wife an I have two cats with FIV. It was interesting to read how Clayton was on some medications. Our cats do not take any medications at the moment. I guess the Vet we take them do doesn't think it's necessary. I know how special our two are to us so I'm very sorry to hear about your loss.

Anonymous said...

Hello Jenn,

My sister had a black cat like that in our childhood. We kept a lot of cats on the Indian Reservation in Arizona. Our home was in a rural region of the desert. The cats kept out snakes and poisonous lizards. My sister loved kittens. She named the black cat "Boo Boo Kitty" after that cat doll from "Laverne and Shirley." I had a white cat I called "Sylvester." He hunted desert quail. The photos bring back memories.

Thanks for accepting my post Jenn the other day about the timing thread. I saw you once in the Leach Center when I was riding the bike on the 2nd floor. I was at the stadium at the FSU-Miami game in 2005. Too bad Bowden has to retire soon. I am going to Gold's Gym on Pensacola (past Po Boys) right now. I am training for the Pikes Peak Half Marathon in Colorado. It snows in August at the top. Mountain running is a tradition for Native Americans out west. I was on the Seminole Reservation last January near Lake Okeechobee. They were nice to me.

By the way, you look beautiful with the dark hair. There is a guy at Gold's Gym, an African American bodybuilder who prefers blondes. He hits on other blondes while his blonde girlfriend is in the tanning booth. Blondes are obviously his obsession. But I usually have a preference for brunettes (long dark hair). It must be because I am Native American. Take care.

FSU Grad (2008 - 2nd Master's Degree)