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Hairball

By Phyllis Dennett

I was afraid of them, had no trust in them, didn’t want to stroke them or have them touch me. Most of my life I didn’t like cats. That is, until I met Katze and Neko seventeen years ago. Katze means cat in German and Neko means cat in Japanese. They were American Shorthair felines.  Katze was an all white timid male. Neko was an all black frisky female. Brother and sister had great dispositions: friendly, playful, and lovable. Initially, the cats belonged to someone my daughter Lisa dated. When their relationship ended, Lisa kept the cats.

 

My relationship with each began very slowly. I had no understanding of cat behavior. In the beginning, the only time I saw the cats was when I visited my daughter in Jackson Heights, Queens. I was an amused observer. Katze would run away from any visitors and he’d be found hiding either on a closet shelf, where the door was left ajar, or at the far side of the bedroom corner. Neko, on the other hand, loved attention. She would casually walk near my leg and gently brush against me, as if to say, “Hello, I see you” and I would feel myself grow tense. I think she knew that the time for me to pet, hold, sleep with her or play, had not yet arrived.

 

When a new elevator was being installed in the apartment building where I live, I moved in with my daughter for a few months. During that time, when I would go to bed the cats were barred from the room where I slept. The door was closed and they stayed with Lisa for the night. But at 3:00 a.m. when I cautiously opened the door to use the bathroom, one of the cats was usually nearby and, as irrational as it seemed to me, I was fearful they would somehow enter my room even though I had closed the door behind me. Living there, I became accustomed to being around them and my tenseness lessened. One day, with apprehension, I reached to pet Katze. He ran away.  In contrast, Neko stood still and when I touched her she purred, “Finally!”That was the beginning of a relationship with my grand-cat (or so I called them)Because she had a Japanese name, I called Neko “Neko-sun.”Since we were both females of advanced age, I affectionately called her “Little Girlie.” Katze was always called “Katze.”

 

In the evening, arriving at Lisa’s after work, Neko, Katze and I began having playtime.They would jump on the bed and wait while I changed from work clothes. Then, I sat on the bed while they stretched out on their backs and showed their bellies. I later learned that this meant trust. I petted, stroked, and scratched each of them. One such evening when I opened the apartment door, Katze ran the length of the sofa, jumped onto a chair and stood on hind legs against the chair back, meowing loud enough for the neighbors to hear.

 

I went to him and, as I stroked, I said “Hello to you too. I’ll be right with you."

 

Soon after, my neighbor informed me that the elevator installation was completed and I went home. Although it was nice to be in my own household, I realized that I missed the cats.When visiting Lisa I continued to have no problem with their nearness or petting. Another new experience for me was going into pet stores.Buying toys and treats for the cats became an enjoyable occurrence.

 

One day when I answered my doorbell there was a pale, visibly shaken Lisa.As she stepped inside the doorframe she said, “I wanted to tell you in person Mom since you had your own relationship with him. Katze died.” 

 

As I exclaimed “What? What?” unbelieving, we embraced,cried and stood still holding each other.“What happened?” I asked.

 

Lisa replied, “It may have been a heart attack or stroke.”

 

The first time I cat-sat was at my apartment. Lisa gave me a list of instructions, one of which was: “she’ll walk around you while you’re in bed until she finds a comfortable place for herself.”

 

I was glad to have been informed, so I wasn’t afraid when it happened.She warned, “Be certain not to leave socks or toys on the floor at night.” 

 

Of course, I had phone numbers for the veterinarian and Lisa, as well as the number of a veterinarian in my area. I had been a Brownie Leader and Den Mother with the Girl and Boy Scouts, so I knew to be prepared just in case. Even so, I lost sleep.

 

Neko seemed sad. Il ooked at her and said, “I’m so so sorry about your brother."

 

She gazed up at me and I think she understood. After that, we snuggled.  I never thought I’d see the day when I would pet or play with cats. I certainly never envisioned I’d sleep with a cat.

 

At our next get together, we were much more comfortable. Neko knew where her food,water bowls and litter box were.She found private hiding places in the bedrooms and living room. At night, she liked to climb up and stand on a windowsill, behind a secure screen in my bedroom, and enjoy the sounds and fresh air. When she meowed into the darkness, a nearby “meow” could be heard. As I dozed, she occasionally was felt on my chest or very gently touching my ear, nose or face. I knew she wanted stroking. Then she would snuggle up to my right thigh, with my hand resting on her, and we would sleep.

 

The next evening I became frightened, concerned, and was glad I had the vet’s number. I was watching TV in the living room with Neko on my lap, when she jumped off, went to the other side of the room and seemed to be shaking and coughing. I thought she was having a seizure and to myself said, “Oh my God!” As I approached, I remembered Lisa mentioning hairballs.

 

Not knowing exactly what a hairball was, I remember thinking, “it’s her hairball, but it’s my carpet.” I cleaned it. Neko slowly walked away, looking back at me apologetically.

 

As she aged, I noticed that she was less active, sleptmore, had no interest in playing, grew thinner and quieter. Neko’s meow was also different sounding or non-existent. She had become ill with a multitude of difficulties. The veterinarian took blood tests and said that if she were human, she would be on dialysis. At different times, she had arthritis, conjunctivitis, a urinary tract infection, constipation, and difficulty with her hind legs causing a mobility problem. At that time, she had used cat-steps to navigate the couch and bed. My “little girlie” was a sick old lady. During the following cat-sitting, while she was comfortable on my bed, I held her face in my hands and looked into her eyes. They weren’t cloudy and looked better. She seemed to be rallying.

 

I said, “Neko, I’m glad you’re feeling better, your eyes are clear.” She moved closer and touched my nose with hers. I understood that to be a kiss. Golly!!

 

Shortly thereafter, due to her health issues, lack of appetite and failure to drink much, it became necessary for fluids to be administered. She needed hydration every two days. A few months later Lisa asked me to cat-sit. She didn’t want to leave Neko alone. I took Neko to the veterinarian for hydration. Once home, pursuant to Lisa’s previous guidance, I gave her treats, she used the litter box, then ate and drank. I watched her with care, love and lots of strokes, as though she was a human baby who was sick. She’d curl up and relax on my lap.

 

In the evening, I sat and held her firmly against my side while I placed my hand under her jaw lifting her head gently so I could get to her cheek. As I consoled her, I inserted a dropper filled with liquid antibiotics into the side of her mouth dispensing the medicine. Never in my life could I have imagined such an experience. Me? Treating a cat as if she were a human baby! Cleaning up a hairball and the carpet was enough. When a mouth infection affected her eating habits, mixing the contents of a capsule of medicine into her baby food was a cinch, in comparison … but giving her liquid antibiotics, never in my wildest imagination!

 

It was a Tuesday when Lisa called to say that she thought Neko was constipated and that she was taking her to the vet on Thursday. I was supposed to watch Neko that weekend. Lisa asked if I would consider going to Brooklyn to watch her, because she didn’t want to take her outdoors again so soon, due to her age and health. After we hung up, it didn’t take me long to decide “yes I would watch her in Brooklyn.”I agreed that Neko would be more comfortable in her daily surroundings.

 

Lisa telephoned on Friday. When I said “hello”, she said, “No need to decide between Brooklyn or Queens, Neko is gone.” SHOCK!!

 

“What? I’m preparing to come to Brooklyn and watch her. Oh, my God!Oh, my God!” ...silence...

 

“Lisa, if it’s any consolation, you know you did everything you could for her. You gave her the best of care.”

 

“I know, Mom.”

 

In shock and denial, I sat for hours staring at the floor. Later that day I cried. As weeks and months passed, I realized that sadness stayed with me for a long time.

 

Katze suffered a stroke and died three years ago, at age seventeen. Neko was sick most of last year and died five months ago, shortly before her twenty-first birthday.If there is a pet heaven, I’m certain they are happy together, playing and having fun.

 

Veterinarian Justine Lee wrote a book called, “It’s a cat’s world … you just live in it.”  (Justine A. Lee, DVM, 2008). I’m grateful to Katze and Neko. They gently helped me overcome my fears and they let me live in their world for a short while.

 

The downside of loving is losing, but Shakespeare had it right:“better to have loved and lost than not to have loved at all.”

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