Thursday, June 23, 2011
Rupert My Love
On May 16, 2008, at about 2:30 pm, I had Rupert put to sleep. I don't know if it was the right thing to do or not. I wonder; he wanted back in his carrier. Would a few more days have been worth it? He didn't have good days any more; he would have a good hour or two, then less good.
He had a squamous cell tumor that had closed one eye and was working on the other. It had invaded his nasal passages to the point where where was breathing mainly through his mouth. I had been assist feeding with some success, but the last day he choked and gagged the food back up. I think it was because he was trying to breathe and swallow at the same time. He was alert. I had given him the last of the pain meds I'd been given after they biopsied his face. He was increasingly unwilling to have me touch his face, whether from all the feeding and dosing or from the pain of the tumor, I don't know. I groomed him and took him outside to sit in the sun. He slipped under the fence and went to his house on the porch where he lived as a stray for months until he decided to come inside. I left him there awhile before taking him to the vet's.
The vet said he could tell a difference in the five days since he'd seen him last. He was a little dehydrated. The remaining eye was gooier. My vet told me that he would just decline a little more each day. It was my decision. I have to live with that. I wonder: I won his trust, but did I betray him in the end?
Listening to him breathe was hard. My mother had emphysema the two years of her life and her breathing was like that. I'd listen to it at night and it would tear my heart out. It was the same lying by Rupert at night, waking up every couple of hours when he'd wheeze or choke. I can't help but feel that influenced me, though with hindsight I think he might have gone on a few more days had I given him sub-qs and maybe tried more times to assist feed. . . he'd choked the last time I'd tried and gagged up all I'd tried to give him. Maybe I just went too fast; but since he was primarily breathing through his mouth then, it was trickier to try to get food down him. Still, I look at the last photos of him and think, "He was enjoying the sun. I should have let him have a few more days." I don't know how much he could see by then: the one eye was sightless, and the other was only a slit with discharge but he found his way around the yard and even found his hole to slip out and go to the box on the porch that served as his home the first winter when he was afraid and wouldn't come in the house. It remained his place of refuge all his life.
When Rupert first showed up on our porch, starving, dirty, and obviously ill, I never thought that scrawny orange cat would be anything but a passerby. I fed him grudgingly, not wanting him around our other cats, but his calm intelligence gradually won me over. He would go from door to door, watching us carefully, but never allowing us to touch him. As the nutrition began to bring back his health, he started to groom himself again and one day to my surprise I saw he had a white bib or dickie and little white spats. He looked for all the world like once well-to-do person who was down on his luck but who still polished his worn shoes and patched his jacket to make himself formally presentable. That's how he became my "shabby little gentleman."
We had to trap him to get him to the vet's for an exam, shots and neutering. It took several nights of trapping opossums before Rupert entered the trap. I worried all day about him and when the vet called, her first question was, "What happened to his teeth?" He had only one tooth and it was rotten so she had pulled it. No wonder he was starving. I was guilt striken, as I'd been giving him dry food after he'd eat the bowls of wet. (That didn't last too long, however, as one day I heard someone over at the food bowl and found Rupert happily crunching some dry food by preference. He'd toss a piece up into his mouth and crunch away.)
We brought him back home, not knowing if he'd let us ever touch him again. He ran from us but immediately resumed watching us, living in the covered litter box we'd stuffed with rugs and towels and covered with plastic to keep dry. We heated snuggle disks in winter to keep him cozy.
We tried various names on him but the only one he seemed to respond to was "Rumplestilskin," so we worked on R names. We kept adding and experimenting, and he gradually became "Prince Rupert Rufus Hubert Herbert Hobert Rumplestilskin Rasputin Crookshanks Cockleburr of Bavaria and the Rhine." Rupert was for Rupert Giles of Buffy the Vampire Slayer-- because he was a Watcher. We've named several cats after royalty as a joke-- Tzar Nicholas, Prince Michael, Emperor Maxmillan-- so when I found Rupert of Barvaria, I added it. Then a British friend pointed out Prince Rupert of the Rhine and that was added, even though that Rupert was a noted dog lover. Cockleburr because after he accepted us he clung right by our legs. I was reading Harry Potter at the time and threw in Crookshanks for good measure. My mother had trouble with Rupert, often calling him Rasputin (and then being horrified as he was not that sort of personality!) or reverting to more familar similar names, Hobart, etc.
He was also known as "Pigeon" because of his preferred vocalizing, a cooing sound that we mistook for the doves and vice versa.
At first he'd only allow us to touch him if we stuck a hand through the door to scratch his head. Any further movement and he'd flee. He was fascinated by our Himmie, Mocha. In fact, I believe it was because of Mocha that he hung around. He'd get very excited every time he caught a glimpse of Mocha, purring and rubbing against the door. One day he finally couldn't stand it any more and rushed inside and began washing Mocha as if he were an old friend. Mocha was horrified and ran. Mikey,our Ragdoll cat at the time and a vague soul as a rule, rushed to Mocha's aid and slapped Rupert. (Mikey was in the early stages of CRF then, and died a few months later.) Rupert hid in the house awhile, then gradually allowed us to touch him. He apparently knew what a litter box; he was afraid to leave the kitchen but found a cardboard box we kept a few tools in under a counter and relieved himself there.
He was wary of us for the first couple of years, then became more trusting of us-- inside at least. Outside, we might be enemies. He'd follow me as I worked in the yard, though, and again finally accepted us. He extended his trust to anyone we invited inside. He was extremely affectionate and loving. In fact, he seemed to feel he couldn't get enough affection. Mocha continued to rebuff him, which seemed to hurt his feelings. He finally stopped trying, though every now and then he'd give Mocha a little cuff born out of frustration.
He gently took over the household, looking after Fred and Bonnie as kittens, playing with them, grooming them, and disciplining Fred when he'd play too roughly with Bonnie. He acted as intermediary when other felines joined the household. We adopted Fred from the vet's about two weeks before we got Bonnie and kept Fred in a guest bedroom. Rupert would go in and play with the rambunctious kitten until he was worn out, then would ask to be let out of the room. He'd rest a few minutes and then come back for more.
Bonnie Kate came from a breeder because after Mikey we wanted another Ragdoll. She was frightened and cried all night the first night. Fred was too rough with her, Rupert tried to give comfort but she hissed at him. The only one she'd go to was Mocha. She'd run to him and bury her face in his coat apparently believing he was a relative since he looked like a form of Ragdoll... then she'd smell him and realize she didn't know him and would hiss. Mocha wasn't thrilled with this turn of events either but he gradually came to put up with her. And Rupert gradually won her over and would groom and cuddle with her.
Rupert loved to be combed and petted and liked to sleep with his head in my hand. He loved to help me plant flowers and would follow from bed to bed. He enjoyed television, his favorite movie being "March of the Penguins." He watched the entire film, and was still watching the credits when we left the room. He walked out on a second showing, but when we ran the companion "Making of March of the Penguins" he returned and watched that film. I guess he didn't like reruns.
I never knew how old he was, but he played up until the last few weeks of his life. He played like an adult, intelligently, knowing how the toys worked and where the strings were. He did it simply because he enjoyed it.
Scotty and Lou gave him a battery operated mouse that was motion and sound activated. The other cats didn't know what to make of it, but Rupert figured it out quickly. He'd pat it and then sit back and watch it go through its paces. As soon as it stopped, he'd activate it again and watch. This went on a good part of the day until we finally shut the toy off. I got it out some months later and Rupert remembered it: he immediately activated it again, but its allure had worn off and he stopped after a mere three or four repetitions.
I have other cats whom I love, but I find I don't take as much joy in them as I did when Rupert was alive. Rupert took joy with him.
(This was edited from a piece I wrote not long after Rupert died. I've had him on my mind a lot lately. I still miss him. He was my equal; it was like having another human adult in the house when he was here. Rest in peace, my sweet one.)
Posted by teaberry at 12:55 PM