All right, I think enough time has passed that I may be able to finally get through this. This is the story of Mouse.
Before I met my wife, she ran a hospice of sorts for cats with feline leukemia. No one else would adopt them, so she would take them in. This started when she adopted a stray who turned out to have it, and didn’t realize he had it, but he needed badly company when she was at work. Once she found out he had feline leukemia, all her new cats she adopted had it. Feline leukemia is not very contagious to vaccinated adults (and sometimes unvaccinated) but is highly so for kittens. 80% of cats who have it don’t live past three years from the diagnosis. The odds-beaters were Sammy, the original stray; Archie, a feral cat on death’s door whom she adopted just after we started dating and eventually (because he healed and flourished) came to live with us when we were married; and Mouse who was ultimately not the outlier we thought she was.
She adopted Mouse back when she was married to her first husband, before we met. This was back in early 2001. Mouse was found in a box of young cats outside the Spaghetti Warehouse, ironically not very far from where I lived at the time, and was about eight months old. But for whatever reason, Mouse was brought up to the Watertown ASPCA instead of Syracuse—Watertown is like 90 minutes north—and there she was diagnosed with feline leukemia. They knew my wife (then someone else’s wife) was taking in leukemia cats, so they said she needed to come up that day to get her or they were going to put the cat down.
Mouse was gray and white, with a face that never lost kitten cuteness. She had some of the softest fur of any cat I’ve ever known. She was spayed and declawed, although we didn’t know who spayed her (until recently) and I’m not sure who did the declawing, whether my wife had it done or someone else. (And to all the judgy pricks out there, declawing wasn’t seen as so horrifying then, and frankly the shock over it is still way overrated. So don’t give me any crap.) She had an almost goat-like meow, maybe halfway between cat and goat, a way of bleating when she was excited—for food, play, or petting—that was incredibly endearing. When she was happiest from receiving lots of loving attention her purrs turned high-pitched; we called them “chirpy purrs”.
Early in our marriage and often before, Mouse liked to snuggle with my wife at night “cheek-to-cheek” with her head resting beside her and a paw on either side of her neck; I got that treatment only twice, very briefly. Later Mouse preferred to lick, which was a lot less restful. She didn’t mind being picked up—which is no longer true for any of our remaining cats, sadly—and loved to get kissed on the head; in fact if you said “head kisses” she’d tilt her head back to be kissed. Laps? Yes laps, and often. She was always an aggressive snuggler, often jumping into one of our laps even during meal times if there wasn’t food to be had.
And when there was food to be had, she was an absolute fiend for chicken of any kind and turkey cold cuts, but she also liked steak, hamburger, hot dog, ham, and bacon. Her favorite words were “treat”—which meant wet food—and “crunchies” for the crunchy kind. If you said either of those, even quietly, her head would whip around.
When I first met Mouse she was probably just shy of four years old. She was the cat who greeted me most warmly when I went up to my wife’s house for the first time while we were dating. Mouse loved to chase fur mice, especially if you could bounce them on the floor in front of her so they’d sail over her head.
After we got married, Mouse and Archie came to live with us in the house, while my own three cats stayed behind for the time being with my parents so they could continue vaccinations against leukemia—with the goal of eventually bringing them with us. We also had a cat living in our garage: Puff, a feral scion of a stray mother who had a litter at my wife’s old house. (Puff has a story of her own that’s worth telling, but that’s another post. Suffice it to say for now she was feral but tamed down, had to come live with us because she wasn’t independent, and she had to be in the garage for a while to build up leukemia immunity. She got lots of attention though, and now she’s inside with us.)
Mouse was a medical mystery cat. For as long as I knew her she was on prednisone, which kept a lot of itching at bay. She also had a huge problem with sneezing, both before the move and for the first few years afterward, which was very difficult to keep in check; I swear that cat’s head could hold a gallon of snot. Sure it was disgusting, but we loved her anyway. She lost a few teeth every couple of years. While my wife was still in Pulaski, Mouse had some cloudiness in her eyes that was diagnosed as a disease that basically only dogs get. And the whole time we had Mouse, we were constantly changing up medications. Mouse got pills twice a day, but she usually took them like a trooper, enjoying pill pockets and getting a treat or crunchies afterward.
She had a habit of claiming a couple of “spots” that were hers, one of which would vary with considerable frequency (every few days) and the other less often. For several years, her long-term spot was the bathroom sink. This was not fun, but we put up with it because it was hard to say no to Mouse. Near the end of her life, her long-term spot was my side of the living room couch. If I needed to use that spot, she was usually just as happy to lie on my lap; although she’d complain when I picked her up she would typically settle right back down.
Now and then Mouse came to see me upstairs while I worked, although it was a rare and special thing. She’d come upstairs to sleep plenty of times of course, and especially she loved the spring when we had windows open and she could look out. But she was of course “Mommy’s” cat, as is Puff, and often sought out my wife for snuggles. One time just after we got married, when both of us were on our computers (my wife’s computer is on the other side of the house upstairs, where we have an open floor plan), Mouse came up the stairs and looked at me quizzically. I said in jest “Mouse, Mommy wants to snuggle” and she gave me a startled look that said “Really?!” and ran right over. My wife actually didn’t want to snuggle at the time, being busy with a game, and was not amused; but that story still cracks me up.
Over the years we got Mouse’s sneezing under control, although we have no idea how. Cats shuffled. My mom got fed up with Hobbes and sent him to live with us, so at that same time we brought in Puff. Archie had to have all his teeth pulled due to major dental pain (it made him a much happier cat), but a year later passed away from cancer in his intestines, a complication of the feline leukemia—but boy did he beat the odds. Jack came to live with us next, and eventually Dust Bunny who I’ve mentioned before; she passed away in late 2015. Mouse was always queen of the house, though; the other cats often gave her a wide berth, and if she got it in her head that one of them needed a smack, they’d back down more often than not.
In late 2013 Mouse developed a hematoma in her left ear, which puffed up like a balloon. It had to have surgery to repair the ear, which was never the same after that, and she had to have a collar on for weeks; so that Christmas was difficult. Then the following year—again in December—she got a bad eye infection in her left eye. That ultimately had to be removed, and she spent even more time in a cone. At that same time her left nostril had somehow gotten blocked up and had to be reopened—but it closed back up again—and she lost the last of her teeth. In spite of losing an eye, our “zombie kitty” acted almost kittenish again after it was out, and had renewed vigor.
Last year, my wife decided to have Mouse retested for feline leukemia, suspecting maybe the initial diagnosis was a false positive. To our amazement that turned out to be correct; Mouse had not beaten the odds after all, but instead had simply never contracted leukemia. This was wonderful news, because it meant there was no longer this cloud hanging over our head that she could go at any time. But still, she was 16.
Unfortunately that news came less than a year before the end. A few months ago the vet noticed Mouse had started losing weight, and she was diagnosed with diabetes. We switched to diabetic food at first, until we realized the carby dry stuff was just no good even in diabetic formulations, and went all-wet. (Jack was not happy. We had to supplement by giving him dry food. Weirdo.) Also we tried to feed her extra food whenever possible. After one vet visit Mouse adopted the carrier as her new spot, so we just left that in the living room. I gave her extra feedings from leftover wet cat food three times a day: before lunch, after lunch, and late at night before I went to bed. It was an exhausting routine, but we wanted to try to get her back up to a good weight.
March 28 came. The night before, Mouse hadn’t eaten a late treat; that had happened before and wasn’t so unexpected, but in the morning she wouldn’t eat either. My wife was very worried and scheduled an emergency vet visit for the afternoon. Mouse obviously did not feel well. Just before the appointment she did lick a little treat from a bowl, but her heart wasn’t in it. We suspected when we brought her to the vet it would be the last time, and sadly we were right. My wife held her the whole way, not even bringing the carrier. When they weighed Mouse, she had lost even more weight and we knew that the dietary change wasn’t working; whatever was going on had started even before the diabetes diagnosis; it was probably cancer. And there was no point denying the truth any longer.
I’ve managed to get through mot of this post without crying, but that’s not so much true now. I’m typing mostly blind now. That’s a hard day to remember, those awful hours before, during, and after our goodbyes. Mouse was a special cat, more so than many, and we will not see her like again. I miss her bleating meow, and her lap snuggles, the head kisses, the chirpy purrs, and the way her tongue would dart in and out when petting the fur under her neck above her belly. The grief has slowly abated, but it still stings at times like this, remembering every detail about her.
Goodbye, Mouse. We will always love you.