[This will be my last post for a bit while I take time to mourn my loss.]
Kai wobbled his way into my life on January 29, 2016 and neither I nor my family expected he would be in our home for very long. Earlier that week, his previous owner–the mother of one of my older brother’s friends–passed away from cancer, leaving behind Kai and his permakitten sister Nala. We absolutely planned to keep Nala and make her part of my family, but we immediately started asking around to see if any Facebook or real-life friends in the area wanted a 25-lb orange tabby with a tuxedo pattern in his fur.
While we tried to find him a new home, Kai lived on our screened-in back porch in large part because he had one hell of a flea problem when he arrived. Because everyone in our house is a sucker for a pretty cat and Kai was one of the most handsome we’d ever seen, we regularly wandered out there and braved the fleas to get a look at him and pet his pretty head. As was the case with Nala, he hid from us and growled at first, but he was done with that by Monday. Then he would wobble out from his hiding place, drop down in front of us, and let out the loudest purr we’d ever heard as we pet him. He revealed to us that he was both literally and figuratively a big baby.
I had to go back to college that Monday (I’d visited for a week to go to a Carrie Underwood concert and celebrate my mom’s birthday), but my family kept me updated on the search for Kai’s forever home for the next month until I came home again. Sadly, everyone we knew either didn’t want him or couldn’t take him.
The same day I drove home for that second extended visit–February 22–Kai went off to the vet for a good, long flea bath and a general exam. Mom says he screamed the whole way there and the whole way home. The vet pointed out that he needed to lose some weight because he was a HUGE kitty, but he was otherwise healthy. Upon his arrival home, we came to two conclusions:
- he could live inside with the rest of us now instead of living on the porch;
- he was staying with us.
Though he had the entire house as his playground now, Kai was quickly overwhelmed and holed himself up in the kitchen.
The next morning, I found him relaxing in some sunbeams and in the middle of a massive pile of his own pee. As I cleaned him and his pee puddle up, I knew he was my kitty. My brainless baby boy.
To make sure he didn’t end up in a pee puddle again, we put a litter box in the kitchen for him. Of course, he decided shortly after that he was okay with all the new space after all and he migrated to the living room. Then our other fat cat Bridgette took up residence in the kitchen instead because she haaaaaaated Kai and wasn’t going to share the living room with him. Considering the quickest I ever saw him move was to attack her and tear out a chunk of her fur, I kinda understood.
Didn’t stop him from sneaking into the kitchen and using her litter box, though. Goddamn troll.
His personality really emerged once he was allowed in the house. If anyone came into the living room and sat down, he’d waddle up to them and sit at their feet in expectation of getting love. If your feet were on the floor rather than in your chair, he would actually sit on your feet. (Though he would do this to anyone, I was his favorite target because I lavished him with so much love.) You could pet him absolutely anywhere and he would accept it. He had his vicious moments, like when he bit my mom’s wrist so hard he drew serious blood and a knot developed at the bite site, but he was generally very sweet and chilled out. He was a lap cat far too big for your lap.
He’d often occupy a spot for weeks on end–a cat bed, the couch, the rug in front of the fireplace, the dining room table, oversized boxes that would fit him, and more–and practically make a life there before he abandoned it and refused to ever use the spot again. Habits like these were especially frustrating in cases like the cat bed and the dining room table, but it became part of his quirky charm.
All you had to do was look at him and he’d start purring. If you decided to lean down and pet him, his purr would break sound records and you might even get his version of a meow! That version being an interrupted squeak or the sound of his gums flapping as he tried to meow. Oddly enough, he could only meow properly when you put him in the car to take him to the vet.
Oh, and he saw plenty of our vet thanks to his flea problem. See, being a massive 25-lb cat, Kai couldn’t bathe himself entirely and had some surprisingly thick fur. He was a breeding ground and playground for fleas. Hell, it felt like we were taking him every month for a bath! The vets said he was clearly unhappy every time but never fought them very hard. Just another display of how sweet he was.
Lemme tell you, finally getting the flea problem fixed and putting Activyl on him monthly to keep them away felt like heaven. He was the only cat who never fought me or ran away from me when it was time to put the stuff on his neck.
The morning I left with my best friend to go to ALA Annual in Orlando in late June, I figured out something was wrong with Kai’s front left paw.
It’s not easy to communicate in words what was wrong with it, so here’s my best shot: more of his left paw touched the ground than his right, which made him limp. Imagine putting your palms and fingers completely flat on the floor. Now imagine that your left forearm has a bend in it where it shouldn’t that results in about half of your forearm touching the ground too when you know it shouldn’t.
I quickly came to the conclusion that he’d broken his leg somehow and flipped the fuck oooooooout. But since I was going out of town for a few days, I couldn’t do anything but leave him to my family and tell them to watch him like a fucking hawk.
Which they did. He didn’t seem to be in any pain when he walked, but they agreed he’d need a trip to the vet when I got back. (Don’t ask why they couldn’t do it. That will just make this lengthy post even longer.) I worried about him the entire time I was at ALA but knew I’d be home to him soon.
Once I did get home and get him to the vet, it turned out to be nothing big. A congenital birth defect in his front left paw that created a joint where there normally wasn’t one. He reacted if you tried to feel up the area, which is part of why I assumed a broken leg, but that was arthritis, not a break. The extra pressure his weight put on the joint was what caused that.
They had just one recommendation: put him on a diet. No more free feeding for him or any of the other cats. They even prescribed him special diet food that would hopefully help him lose weight faster.
So I put him on his diet and another facet of his personality emerged:
Kai was a manipulative motherfucker.
I could detail all the ways Kai showed off how little was going on in his wee head, but the point is that Kai wasn’t smart. Not unless it came to food! After months of eating as much as he pleased, he wasn’t happy with getting 1/3 cup of food twice a day for a total of 2/3 cup per day. When meal time came around at 9 AM and 7 PM every day, he’d follow me aaaaaaaaaaaall the way to the kitchen where we kept his food and then aaaaaaaaaaaall the way back to the living room, where I’d set down the food and he’d dig right in.
It wasn’t unusual for him to eat everything in his bowl within an hour and spend every minute leading up to his next meal begging the nearest human for more food. He remembered how much his left front paw bothered me and how it led to a vet visit, so the cheeky bastard would give me his best ASPCA Commercial look and hold up that very paw at me in hopes of guilting me into giving him more food.
I didn’t give him more food. I got a Gobble Stopper to put in his bowl instead, which made him eat more slowly and thus made his meal last until the next meal. My mom absolutely lost it at the product’s name and needed a few minutes to compose herself from laughing so hard.
He quickly started using that technique to ask for anything from us, including more pets and general love. Now that I could give him. (His ASPCA Commercial look never went away, though. Even the vets agreed he had that look about him despite being the happiest cat in the world.)
If he got frustrated by the Gobble Stopper or our immunity to The Paw, he’d steal from his sister Nala’s food bowl instead–which he wasn’t supposed to do because special diet food, dammit! Nala’s bowl was well-traveled thanks to him. It would go on tables, on couches, in chairs, and anywhere else he couldn’t reach because he didn’t like jumping to get places (probably because it hurt his paw) and Nala was always smart enough to find it no matter where it went.
Naturally, tiny permakitten Nala started stealing his food. There’s no such thing as winning with cats like these.
All the while, we noticed Kai coughed or dry-heaved far more often than any of our other cats. We assumed it had to do with his impressive weight or maybe dust he kicked up in his litter box. He had them more often right after he used the litter box, after all. It didn’t seem important.
I took Kai to our vet for his 2017 annual visit on February 14th, where they found he’d gotten down to 22 lb. Whoo! After the vet and vet techs cooed over him and showered him with love as so many people do when they see him, they found a lump in his abdomen during his physical exam.
Because our vets are amazing, he was in surgery two days later and they got that lump right out. While they sent it off for testing and identification, they kept him overnight and for a good chunk of the next day to make sure he was recovering well. (He came home acting completely like himself, so I think they just wanted to enjoy quality time with him between appointments. Remember, the vets and vet techs absolutely loved him.)
Six days later, they called me back in for the results: the tumor was cancerous. Worse, the location was so odd that they had a feeling it was a metastatic tumor from cancer centered elsewhere in his body. Thankfully, they worked with a specialist veterinarian office that would be able to diagnose him properly and take care for him in a way their primary care clinic couldn’t.
Well, it turned out Kai had lung cancer. Three tumors sat in his lungs and we suddenly understood why he coughed and dry-heaved. Operating on him to remove the tumors wasn’t an option, but chemotherapy was.
Thus began three months of carting Kai off to the specialist vet every two to four weeks for appointments, making him take his chemo pills (usually with help from my parents because he fought like hell), and keeping an eye on him for any adverse side effects. By all appearances, he took it like a champ; I didn’t notice any significant decrease in his appetite, activity level, or attitude.
Kai had long since demonstrated that he only had three little dust mites as brain cells, but he could use those three dust mites when he wanted to. For instance, one of my friends recommended I get pill pocket treats to put his meds in instead of just forcing them down his furry gullet. They worked for a while, but then Kai figured out what I was doing and absolutely refused to eat them. Even when I made it clear there were no pills in them anymore, he refused to give them a try!
But I kept working my ass off to make sure he got his meds. I wanted him to be around for a long time.
I’d known he really was going downhill, though. Two weeks ago, I took him to his cancer vet for an emergency appointment because for at least a week at that point, he’d spent all day sitting in his litter box and barely came out to eat or drink. According to all their tests, the vet said, he was doing well. His white blood cell count was alright and the X-ray of his lungs actually looked a little better than before, but–and I quote this verbatim–Kai was more than just test results on a piece of paper.
Another thing I’d known for some time: he wasn’t going to beat his cancer. The chemo meds were to prolong his life for as long as he had a good quality of life. The fact only really hit me when the doctor asked about whether I thought Kai’s quality of life was decreasing and it was. Oh, it was.
In case Kai’s meds were fucking him up, the vet said to let him have a two-week break. Until Kai’s next appointment there on May 25th, I needed to keep an eye on him and consider his quality of life to decide whether it was worth continuing treatment.
But Kai, no matter how expensive he and his cancer treatments were, was priceless to me.
May 19th. My parents and older brother went to a music festival at the campground I’d practically grown up in because we went there so often, but I decided to stay home. I enjoy having the house to myself on occasion and I also wanted to watch over my cats instead of asking my best friend to help me out again. She’d already doing it a month earlier.
Coincidentally, the night of May 19th was when Kai’s condition deteriorated. He cried out in pain at random times and he could only walk a step or two on his own before he either fell over or sat down to take a break. Naturally, I texted my parents in an absolute panic about what to do. Mom called me, heard he crying, and offered to make my dad drive her home so I wouldn’t have to deal with it alone.
I told her to stay and have fun. Kai was in good hands with me and we’d see to his condition when they got back. “I don’t think he’s going to make it to his vet appointment Thursday,” I said.
I built him a bed of damp towels in the living room–he loved crawling into the kitchen just to curl up on them–and kept his food and water near him. He only ate treats and drank a little bit of water. He still struggled to stand up and walk.
I slept downstairs in my dad’s armchair to stay close to him. If he needed me during the night, I wanted to be close enough to hear. My little black cat Shadow, who lived upstairs in fear of Kai and Nala and was practically attached to me, would be okay sleeping on her own for a bit.
May 20. I woke up to find Kai had spent the entire night crawling back to the bar/litter box room–and I don’t doubt it took him the entire night. Shadowregularly cried out begging me to come up and spend time with her, but I was determined not to let Kai out of my sight. Dodo was just being needy. Kai needed me.
I brought him back to his towel throne in the evening and got him to eat a few more cat treats. I slept in my dad’s armchair again.
If you asked me to put a count on how many times I cried that day, I couldn’t give you a number. It was a lot.
May 21. He spent the night crawling back toward the bar, but by the time I woke up, he’d only gotten as far as the side table next to my dad’s armchair. For the third day in a row, I spent all day downstairs watching over him, reaching down to pet him, and crying inside every time he let out a pained meow.
From 9 AM to 4 PM, he didn’t move from where he was. He turned around a few times or adjusted his position, but he didn’t really move. So I brought his food and water to him and was happy to see him drink a little. Still, I knew it was the end for him. My mom and I were still texting and we made plans to take him to his regular vet first thing in the morning. We knew it would end with putting him down.
By about 4:30, Shadow’s whining was at its peak and I decided to go upstairs and spend some much-needed time with her. Kai seemed to be stable and I assumed he’d be alright for a bit. Sure, I heard him cry out once while I was upstairs, but he’d been making the same noises all weekend. I thought he was just expressing himself again.
Kai passed away May 21, 2017 around 5 or 5:30 PM. I wasn’t there. The first fucking time I left him for more than five minutes and he left me for good. My parents were the ones who found him when they got home at 6 PM.
I want to think he waited until I was gone to let go. That he didn’t want me to be there and see him breathe his last. I know that’s highly unlikely, but damn it, the idea makes me feel better about losing him and no one can take it from me.
We buried him in the front yard next to Tiger, another of our cats who passed away in March 2016. Based on estimates from his former owner’s son and the vets, Kai was about seven or eight years old. The year and a half we had with him was a joy and I only wish we’d gotten to enjoy more time with him.