Saturday, November 29, 2008


... And Smaller Still

The normal routine at the Spanko household was that, when Frank gets up the animals get fed. First, I put a bowl of food out on the porch for Cat, the immortal cat who guards the house and property. Then I distribute a bit of crunchy cat food to Princess and Furball, Colette’s cat. Finally, I give about one-half of a can of some foul-smelling slop that passes for dog food to Wacky. Then I take a shower. Usually the indoor cats and dog trail me about until they get their portions.

With Princess gone, things already seemed odd. I missed the sharp yap that Princess aimed at me, like she was going to chew my arm off if she wasn’t fed immediately. Three days after she was put down, I was going through the modified feeding routine, except Wacky was not at my heels. Wacky had only missed breakfast twice in his life that I could remember. Once was when he had clawed out a window screen and climbed out in the middle of the night. He hadn’t gone far, and I found him digging a hole near the guest house. The other time was when he had killed and eaten a woodchuck. His stomach was upset for three days, and he never got close to a woodchuck again.

I fed Furball, then searched out Wacky. I found him in my office, laying on his side, whining and coughing. He had pooped all over himself, and he seemed unable to walk. I cleaned him off and offered him some food. He seemed to be able to smell the food, but not to see it. His bark was not crisp and sharp, like it normally was, but came out more like a hoot.

Wacky and I made an immediate trip to the vet where we received the diagnosis: Wacky had had a stroke. The vet thought it was possible that, with treatment, he might be able to recover. So I left him there and went home to worry. But not even the worrying worked. When I called the vet later in the afternoon, Wacky was not any better. In fact, he was worse. He was on a ventilator because he could not breathe on his own.

I talked to Angela about what we should do. We agreed that, if Wacky did not show any improvement in the morning, that we would end it. This was at 4 pm. By 5 pm, I was pacing the floor, wringing my hands, and generally being a nervous wreck. When Angela asked what was wrong, I told her that I was worried about Wacky.

“What are you worried about?” she asked.

“What if Wacky doesn’t get better?” I responded.

Angela was quiet for perhaps half a minute. Then she came up and hugged me for a long time. When she released her embrace, she said, “He’s not going to get better.”

Angela was right, which she usually is. The reason I was so upset was because Wacky was at the vet’s, alone, sick, scared, and dying. He was suffering, and I was going to let him suffer for a whole night. So I gathered Angela and Colette together and told them that we had to go see Wacky right then.

So we had Wacky put to sleep.

There were tears in my eyes when we returned home with Wacky’s body. In fact, I bawled my eyes out. Losing two members of the family in one week was more than I could bear. Angela came in and held me for a while, which felt nice even though it did little to slow the flow of tears. A few minutes later, the phone rang. I answered, and it was Maribel. Colette had texted her that Wacky had died. Maribel was so upset that she left her team practice and flew immediately from Israel to the U.S. She told me not to bury Wacky until she arrived home.

Grief is a strange thing. It hurts more than anything imaginable. This is especially noteworthy for a spanko, one who regularly allows pain to be inflicted in them. Although suicide was not contemplated, when I saw the light of life fade from Wacky’s eyes, I did not think that I wanted to live without him and Princess. I am usually the sensible one in the family, making the rest of the family stop and take a breath when chaos seemed to be breaking out. This time, however, I could not manage. Colette was wonderful, making sure that the vet was paid, carrying Wacky’s boxed-up body to the car, and telling me over and over that it was okay to cry.

But I didn’t want to cry. Not because of some manly, macho, boys-don’t-cry kind of thing. I didn’t want to cry because I wanted my pets, my friends, back. I wanted Princess back to pee on my shoes. I wanted Wacky back to bark and run in circles when he heard a noise that might have come from the yard, no matter what time of the day or night. But they weren’t coming back. They were gone, and I’d have to settle for what I had left, which were pictures and memories. It didn’t seem like enough.

We buried Wacky next to Princess. It was a family project. Maribel and I did most of the digging while Colette and Angela determined what to include with Wacky to make him comfortable in his eternal afterlife. I haven’t decided if there is indeed an afterlife, but if there is, then our beloved pets will have to be there. Anything that we love that much would have to there to spend eternity with us. We laid a single rose on top of Wacky’s cardboard casket and covered him up. The finality of it was too much for me to bear, and the tears flowed freely again.

The house suddenly seemed too quiet, too big. Maribel returned to Israel to play basketball, which left just Angela, Colette, and I, along with Colette’s cat, Furball. Even Furball seemed sad. But, even though Furball usually follows Colette where ever she goes, later that day when I was sitting at my desk, staring at my monitor and feeling terribly sad, the hairy little sweetheart (Furball, not Colette) climbed into my lap, purring loudly, and cuddled up. She was a little warm bundle of comfort.

Life goes on, and bad feelings fade, although sometimes it takes a long time. I have never had an animal as long as Princess and Wacky, and I will always think fondly of them. But I still miss them terribly. I’ve contemplated going to the local shelter and getting a new pet or two, but then I think about the pets that I’ve just lost, and I don’t want to just replace them. Like my darling wife and my wonderful children, Wacky and Princess are irreplaceable. So I will endeavor to move forward, because I must.

Within days of Wacky’s passing, I lost a job and gained a son, sort of. But those are stories for another day. Today, I just day goodbye.

Good-bye, Wacky. Good-bye, Princess. I will miss you. You helped make my life fantastic.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008


The Saga Continues: The Spanko Household Population Gets Smaller

I knew something was seriously wrong when Angela called to me. “Frank, something is wrong with Princess!”

First, a couple of words of explanation are in order. Number one, Princess is Angela’s cat. She is about 18 years old. Princess hates me, and has never been afraid to express that sentiment in typical cat ways.

Number two, whenever Princess has appeared to be in something less than perfect health, Angela always tells me that “Princess needs to go to the vet.”

So when Angela called to me with such urgency, I knew that Princess was dying.

This entry has proven to be more difficult to write than I originally thought, even though the episode occurred almost three months ago, as you can tell by the amount of time that has passed between this and my last offering. Of all the pets that have come through the Spanko domocile, Princess was not my favorite animal. Princess bonded to Angela as soon as we brought her home from the shelter, and treated me like I was pond scum. She peed on my shoes. She barfed on my pillow. She used her paws to bat the cords on my computer until they came loose. When I wanted to read the newspaper, Princess would stand on it, and when I tried to pull it out from under her, she would growl and swipe her claws at me.

And yet, I had become quite fond of the animal. I was used to seeing her waiting for her breakfast in the morning, sitting on Angela’s lap, even looking at me like I was something that she would rather put out with the trash. So when I came to the realization that Princess would no longer be a part of our family, emotion overcame me.

I found Princess in our bedroom, underneath the bed. Her breathing was ragged, her coat was greasy and unkempt, she was shivering, and it did not appear that she could see. Angela was gently calling to her, but Princess did not seem to be able to move. The poor thing had been on kidney medication for the last couple of years, and her appetite had been gradually decreasing, but, for an old cat, her behavior was otherwise normal until this morning.

We took Princess to the veteranarian, who weighed her, took her temperature, and looked into her eyes. We discovered that she had lost two pounds in the last two month, which is a lot for a nine-pound cat. Her temperature was under 99 degrees (normal for a cat is about 100.5 or so), and there was blood in the back of her eyes. The diagnosis: catastrophic kidney failure. We could give her fluids and more drugs to keep her comfortable, but that there was nothing we could do to get her kidneys to function again, and that the blindness would be permanent. Since her temperature had begun to fall, she probably did not have very much longer to live.

So we had the vet put Princess to sleep.

I’ve always thought that “put to sleep” was a stupid euphemism. Princess wouldn’t be sleeping. She would be dead. The vet took her life, killed her, put her to death.

And yet, that is a far too cruel way to phrasing it. Indeed, the vet, a very nice lady who has taken care of our animals, with great success, for the last 15 years, would have much preferred to make Princess well again. However, that was not possible. Princess had worn out. So we said good-bye to her as the vet injected the drug overdose into her veins, and brought her home to bury her.

Surprisingly, Angela seemed to handle Princess’ death somewhat better than I, which was especially curious since the cat and Angela adored each other. I guess that I’m just an old softie. But the house just didn’t seem the same without Princess. It seemed too quiet.

Soon it would get quieter.

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