What I want you to know. Which is everything.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

The Amazing Adventures of Bonkers

This is Amanda with our cat Bonkers. About 2 weeks ago at around 6:30 p.m. we were about to eat dinner and he was wanting out on the porch. We live on the first floor, but there are bars around our patio that we had previously thought Bonkers was too fat to get through. Well, he evidently figured out how to wiggle through them and got out. We were not too concerned because Bonkers has gotten out numerous times and always came back. He never went far. So, when Amanda sent me out a few hours later to find him I expected to have to chase him from bush to bush around the apartment complex until he decided to go back home, like he normally does. But, after searching the whole apartment complex for at least an hour, he was no where to be found. I kept expecting him to show up at the door pawing to get back in, so I stayed up and would occasionally check the front door or the porch to see if he had returned. No luck. I finally went to sleep with an unsettled feeling. We had never left Bonkers out all night, despite his valiant attempts in the past to not get caught and return home.

The next two days were pretty stressful. Still, there was no sign of Bonkers by the end of the day Tuesday, so we printed out fliers with a picture on it around our complex in hopes that someone would find him and return him to us.

Everyday we came home from work expecting to see Bonkers circling the Welcome mat with a look on his face as if to say, "Where have I been? Where have you been?" But, as the days dragged on and there was no sign of the fat grey kitty we resigned ourselves to the conclusion that someone who noticed his sweet and friendly demeanor and no collar or tags must have grabbed him, thinking he was a stray and in need of some reciprocated affection.

I had another theory that he had simply reached an impasse in his life. Bonkers had always been an adventurous sort: wanting to roam outside, exploring the legs of any and every visitor that came to our home. He was even surprisingly curious and enthralled, however on alert, when faced with the dreadful barking dog. I imagined Bonkers setting off to see the world. Or, at least the immediate vicinity. No matter how hard we looked he was always one step ahead saying to us, "I shall return, but there is something I must do." Several of our friends had told us tales of brave cats returning to their owners after weeks or even months of roaming. Perhaps it was just one of those rights of passage for cats. Live on the land and see the world!

This past Saturday night Amanda's parents were in town to visit. It was their first time to see our new digs since we moved to Sugar Land and we were enjoying our visit. We were on our way back to the apartment to watch the UT/Tech football game when Amanda, from the back seat of her dad's pickup began to cry excitedly. "Someone's found Bonkers!" She exclaimed as she listened to her voice messages on her cell phone. It was the thing we had been waiting for but had decided would probably not happen. We were excited and relieved and our hearts started beating with anticipation as we called the person back who had our cat. Sure enough, it wasn't a mistake; Bonkers had been found.

"But," said the cautious voice over the phone, "he's in pretty bad shape."

"It's okay." I told the man on the other end. "We'll be there in about 5 minutes."

It is certainly difficult to wait 5 minutes when you are anticipating something. The ride to the apartment was unbearable. All the way we were going over in our minds the time Bonkers had spent out in the elements. He was gone for two weeks. In that time we had experienced several days of rain as well as a cold front. Bonkers, without claws due to a surgery he had before we rescued him from a shelter in Pasadena 5 years ago, had no way to defend himself against other cats or dogs. Hopefully, he just needed to be given some fluids and food and he would be back to his normal self in no time.

We searched for the apartment in our complex of the man who was holding Bonkers. We were amazed and frustrated over the lack of sequence in which our buildings had been arranged. "Is this building 10?" "This has to be building 10." "No. Building 8, well then it must be this way." "Building 7! Okay, the other way." "Alright, there's building 9 and...ELEVEN? What the crap?!" Finally as we approached the last building at the back of complex and noticed that we had found building 10 Amanda began to run.

A young man who would at best be described as punk rock was waiting in the breezeway with a cat carrier by his side. I'm not big on first impressions as I want to give everyone the benefit of proving their character, but if I went by my gut, I would have actually attributed the term "skin-head" to the guy. He really resembled everything you would think of in association with loud, tuneless, angry banging of drums and screaming. Black combat boots with mismatching laces, piercings, face tattoos and a buzzed haircut. As Amanda kneeled down next to the cat carrier and saw Bonkers' tired, dirty face inside she melted with joy, confusion, sorrow and hope. The Punk put his arm around my wife, which I didn't like, so I pulled her closer to me. (Don't ask me why this is relevant, because it would send me into a tirade that would take this story into an entirely different direction that is baseless and speculative. Long story, short: I didn't trust the guy.)

Sure enough, Bonkers wasn't looking good. Despite his apparent lack of interest in food, it was clear he hadn't eaten in a while. He was bleeding from his hind quarters and he was unresponsive, however obviously awake. He would let out a weak "meow" every now and then to show that he was, in fact, aware, but there was little life in his eyes. I scooped him up in an old beach towel we had brought along and immediately I realized the damage was severe. Not only was this previously girthy cat now bony and about half of his original weight, I could feel something wet soaking through the towel and onto my t-shirt. There was an odd and frightening smell as well. We knew from our experience evacuating our cats to Abilene when the Houston area was threatened with Hurricane Rita 3 years ago that when Bonkers is scared and under stress he drools and loses his bowel control. It was no surprise then that Bonkers was pooping all over the place. The reasons for that, though were much more serious than we initially thought.

As soon as we got Bonkers home we started to clean him off in the bathtub. Weeks of gravel and dirt ran brown down into the drain, as well as a dark red mix of blood and fecal matter from his backside. Bonkers was only slightly resistant as he was startled by the sound of the water rushing from the spout. Once we turned off the noise he lay there as we scrubbed and washed him, content and calm as the warm water ran through his once thick beautiful grey and white hair. Through his slightly open eyes we could see the gorgeous blue eyes that had enthralled us from the first day Amanda brought him home. They were no longer frightened but satisfied. It was the same look he would give us on Saturday mornings as he would crawl up into the bed with Amanda and I and position himself in the nook created in the comforter by our bodies. Bonkers was a cat that enjoyed and relished comfort and lounging. He had made it into an art form, if it's possible for a cat to create art. This was certainly the same cat that had lazily sprawled in the sun as it beamed in from the window on Summer mornings. His eyes showed us a glimpse into the character of Bonkers and his enjoyment of the moment. Even if his pain was still there, as long as we were petting him and literally showering him with love, he felt that and was happy.

Amanda's mother was able to find an 24 hour emergency vet clinic in our new town, in which we still hadn't ventured out enough to know where things were. Luckily it was very close, so we dried off Bonkers as best we could and scooped him up once again to take him to the vet. As Amanda held him in the backseat of our car speaking to him through tears in a sweet, friendly voice we knew that we were closer to this all being over. We were confident that all Bonkers needed was perhaps an IV and some bandages and he would be okay in no time.

The people at the Vet were extremely kind, sensitive and direct. We were dealing with a "very sick kitty," as they put it. We were approached several times over the next couple of hours with varying degrees of good and bad news. The vets were concerned about his dehydration, his blood pressure and his temperature, which was dropping fast. Also, his wounds were more severe than I had initially thought and could possibly, even with the best medical care, leave Bonkers permanently incontinent. The costs were mounting up.

Anytime money versus the heart is in question I am traditionally the first to spurn the idea of making the call in favor of the financially beneficial thing. However, I had been through this before, as many people have. As much as we love our animals and pour our hearts into them as we would another person, the fact of the matter is that we live longer. This is, in fact, how it should be. With the understanding that there is only so much that any person can be expected to do for a pet, when I saw Amanda's face as we looked at the prospect of what returning Bonkers to health would cost, there was nothing I wanted more than to incur debt upon debt to save our kitty. The other side of the coin, however, was that there were no guarantees. Regardless of the amount of money we spent on Bonkers it was possible that he would not survive. He had weathered two weeks without food or clean water and had been attacked with no means of defense. According to the doctors his injuries had been withstood early in his absence, and was perhaps the reason he didn't return that night in the first place. There was infection and organ failure and the fact that he was still alive was remarkable. The decision was made to have Bonkers put to sleep.

Visions of our family dog from my adolescence flashed through my head. She was hit by a car Christmas Eve of 1997, during my break from college my freshman year. Her spine was crushed and she was never going to be able to use her hind legs again. Seeing her as we said goodbye and then walked away as she scrambled with her front legs to follow us was the most genuinely heart wrenching thing I had ever witnessed at that point of my life. I knew it wouldn't be the last time I would have see a much loved pet for the last time, but I had hoped we still had some time with Bonkers. He made it a lot easier for us than our dog, Dutchess had. He sat content with an IV in his left paw, as peaceful (and drugged) as could be. Amanda was the only thing in my focus, besides Bonkers. She leaned over our cat as he made a couple of conciliatory meows and sobbed. I had seen her cry before, but not like this. I felt a deep and cliched responsibility to be strong for her. Our resilience during a tragedy was being tested as it would again in the years to come. Pets, as well as family members die as they would continue to do for the rest of our own lives. It's not a fun or easy subject, but it is the way things are. At this moment, however we were faced with our first great loss as a singular family unit. It was a significant moment in our lives, worthy of my utmost thought and all the love I had for my wife pouring over her. The staff of the veterinary clinic blurred around us as we pet Bonkers head and spoke softly to him. Aware, as I always am, of the surrealness and weight of a situation, I concluded that they see this all the time. Probably, more for dogs than for cats, but nonetheless, they knew how to act, and they did a masterful job.

Finally we walked away and left for home. Amanda's tears as she and I walked with her mother, who was the blessing of all blessing during this night, toward the car. I've come to believe that silence and stillness are more powerful than words than I can give my wife when she is sad or frustrated. Her mother knew what to say to her, anyway, so I tried to let her comfort her with words as I held her hand.

It's now been three days since we last saw Bonkers, and 2 weeks and 2 days since he went missing. Things happen and sometimes they happen to good cats who simply wanted a little adventure. We are still sad and we will always miss him. We are glad, however, at the time that we did have with Bonkers, who's original name was Sam when we adopted him at the age of 2. We are spending more time playing with Pumpkin, our other cat, whose energy and need for attention since the absence of Bonkers is at new highs. We are taking joy in Pumpkin's company as well as each other's. As for Bonkers, we feel a little strange mourning the loss of a cat, an animal most people tend to see as a nice addition to a home's ambiance, and less than a full-fledged member of the family, like they do with the more personable, playful and loyal dog. Bonkers, as well as our other cat, Pumpkin, are different, as anyone who has visited us will tell you. Bonkers greeted everyone at the door with a rub of the leg and lay out so that you would scratch his belly. He never hissed or swatted at you and if you picked you up would generally oblige you the inconvenience of keeping him from whatever pointless escapades he was to endeavor in next. He was certainly a smart cat, as we found out over time, although he was not nimble, like most cats. He was known to knock stuff over as he clunked his way passed various assortments arranged on a counter or table. This may have been because of his lack of a tail. This deficiency, or greatest attribute, depending on your point of view, had another apparent drawback, which I describe in this blog entry from August of 2006. But, for all of Bonkers eccentricities and odd-ballness he was certainly an integral part of our family. In fact, it was because of these thing that we loved him so much.


Darek said...

I'm sitting here at work trying so hard not to sit here and sob.

We have two cats who feel very much a part of our family, and I couldn't imagine losing either one yet I know we'll have to go through it some day.

Thank you for sharing this.

Rozie said...

I'm glad you guys got to be there for Bonkers' final moments, at least.

Matt, Kara, and Hank (plus Teej) said...

SO sorry for your loss guys. I don't really think of myself as a 'cat person.' I resisted and grumbled years ago when a kitten we found ended up living with me at my aprtment. Years later after we were married, I shed numerous tears when Gus died. It takes a real man to post about the loss of his cat.



Deana Nall said...

I'm sorry this happened. My sympathy goes out to both of you.

Spanky, our cat of 14 years, just up and vanished this past July. We think he went away to die alone somewhere, but it's hard not knowing for sure after having him all that time. Yuck. It really sucks when pets die.

Mary Lou said...

Sorry I had not read this earlier. When you called me that night from the vet clinic, I was sure that Bonkers would make it. I am so sad that he didn't. We get close to our pets like they are family. They die and we mourn. It's life and we will experience things that make us incredibly sad over the course of it. So hug on Pumpkin for me and get another kitten so he can have a sibling and playmate. Love. M

balunov25 said...

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