Saturday, March 31, 2012

Bye bye Pusskana

I miss my beautiful Pusskana. It's been three weeks since he died and thinking about him still brings a cloud of sadness across my mood. I don't think it does a disservice to my human friends and family to say that I felt a bond to him as strong as to any of the humans that I have relationships with. In fact, the people with whom I have as close a bond with as I had with Pusskana, are only those that are the closest and dearest to me.

In 1999 Tori and I were living in Camden Town. We were  pre-children and were looking for a cat. And in London's Loot magazine, the equivalent to the Trading Post, we located kittens for sale in Streatham, South London. I spoke to the woman on the phone and she said she had only one kitten left, a little black girl kitten. That sounded perfect so we drove on down to meet our new family member. I'd always thought that you could tell the gender of a cat by looking at its face and I always had a slightly disconcerting feeling that this little girl kitten appeared to have the face of a male. But the woman assured us that it was a little girl and she obviously would know, so I didn't give it too much thought. And so the little girl cat was as such in our eyes until one night a month or so later when Tori was playing with the kitten on the couch and, on becoming excited, a little pink jellybean poked out against her arm. Tori was shocked and threw him outside, unsure what exactly to think or do. "Pusskana's a boy", she ran screaming through the house. Tim who we lived with thought that he should now become Pusskano, but that sounded a bit too Italian for me. So Pusskana  it remained. It seems amazing that it took a month to find out, but kittens are so fluffy and their genitals get hidden away by all that fur. And they all squat to wee. It just hadn't been apparent until then.

Pusskana had bonded strongly to us from the very start and would follow us wherever we were going. Walking from the quiet dead-end street near Kentish town where we lived to the hustle and bustle of Camden Market on a weekend was always fraught with danger. Tori and I would be a couple of hundred yards down the street and on turning around, we would see a little black cat following us about 20m behind. We'd have to take him home and try and sneak back out so that he didn't see us. When we moved down to the countryside in Sussex some months later, going for walks was a lot less stressful. We would head over the green pastures and through the farmers' fields in a circuit that went for several kilometres and Pusskana would accompany us the whole way. I'd never heard before of cats going for a walk with their people, but he loved it. If we were going, he would always come along. At nights he would often come into our bed and sleep with us. He used to curl himself into a little ball nestling into my body with my arms draped across and around him, tangled up together like two kittens. Either that or he would sleep on top of Tori's head. When we went away on holiday, like most people with their pets, we would put him into a cattery. He was always so happy to see me when I'd pick him up on our return, that he'd start meowing for me when he'd hear me, long before I would actually come into sight. He'd then climb up around my shoulders purring loudly and pressing himself close to me. Once we were back home, without fail every single time, within 24 hours he would give me a light scratch and run off. A reproach for having left him. So we then started to leave him at home on his own if we went away and would organise for a neighbour to come in and feed him. Until the one time when all of the neighbours were away themselves and we had no option but to leave him at a cattery for the two weeks we were going to be on holiday. I had paid for the extra special gold service the place offered, which meant that supposedly they would play with your cat for an hour each day as well as feed him their extra top of the range food and so on. When we arrived back from holiday and I went to pick him up, the girl at the desk apologised sheepishly. She said that he had been so wild when anybody went in to his enclosure, that in the end they put a "Dangerous cat, Do not enter" sign on the door and just slipped food in quickly and left. They apologised and said they would refund me the extra money I'd paid. Pusskana just seemed relieved to see me. This time he didn't scratch me. But that night, in one of the most amazing animal encounters I have ever had, he jumped on to my lap and then quickly reached up with both paws. Before I had a chance to move he sunk his claws into either side of my face and stared into my eyes. His claws didn't break the skin. He clearly just meant to pin me by holding my cheeks so that he could look me in the eye with an imploring "please don't ever do that to me again". He held me there for five or ten seconds and then just let go and jumped off. We never did put him in a cattery after that. But we did leave him to go off on our journey around Australia. I always felt bad about that, but I was mostly able to park it somewhere else in my mind. We'll be back soon enough I rationalised to myself. And "surely we can't put off this incredible trip because of a cat".

I dropped in to see him when I was back in Melbourne in May and he was happy to see me. I sat out on the balcony with him purring on my lap, until all of a sudden a changed expression came across his face and he jumped off me. When I went over to him he began to hiss. I tried to approach him but he continued to hiss before just wandering off into the garden. I sadly left. It was a couple of months after that that I received the call from Sam who was looking after him (and the house), telling me that he had cat lymphoma. Cancer. And that he was likely to die before we made it back home in January some five or so months later. For all of us this was devastating news. Finn in particular had constantly said that the thing he missed most in Warrandyte was Pusskana. And seeing him was the thing he was looking forward to most on return. I had to agree. I wasn't sure what else Melbourne would have to offer, but I knew that my cat would be there. At least I thought that was the case when we left, now it was not necessarily going to be the case. I dropped back in to see him again when I was passing through Melbourne on a work trip in October. This time his displeasure with me was clear. He sat on the grass out the front with a look of hostility on his face and his tail lashing from side to side. I put my hand out to him knowing that he would scratch me but not quite anticipating the ferocity with which he would attack me. He grabbed me with his claws and sunk his teeth hard into my hand drawing blood. He then just sat back and looked at me. I put my hand back over toward him and he again bit me savagely and sat down and looked at me. We repeated this action maybe half a dozen times. I just let him bite me. I thought I deserved it and I was prepared to let him vent his anger at me. I'd abandoned him and then he got very sick. He wanted to express his displeasure. I've recounted this tale to a number of people who questioned whether he had perhaps not remembered me. To which I would say that this was not the way he had ever reacted to a complete stranger. He had never bitten a stranger once. No. He was extremely pissed off and was looking to pass on the extent of this to me, which he did without a lot of ambiguity. Lisa had looked on partially horrified because he had been totally fine with everybody in the new household. I went into the house to wash and disinfect my bloodied hand but it was inside that I was hurting the most. It was only when I was leaving some short time later that, in some kind of conciliatory approach, he came over and let me gently pat him. It was not a very intimate pat, but it was a pat nevertheless. It gave me some small hope that things may be ok when we all got home in a couple of months. If he managed to survive that long. To the whole family's relief, he did survive. And we had a couple of months with him at the end. But it was sad to watch his decline. He would sit in front of his food bowl rocking ever so slightly back and forward. We weren't sure if that was from the chemo drug he was on or due to his ailment. But he was eating ok and did not visibly seem to be in pain. We discussed the idea of having him "put down" but we really didn't want the last moments of his life to be spent in the sterile environs of the vet; a place that he hated even more than catteries. And I'm not sure anyway that deciding to terminate the life of another being doesn't somehow rob them of something. We humans don't deal very well with either pain or death and we let that sensibility affect many of the decisions we make. If he had lost bodily function control or was crying out in pain, I would have viewed things differently. But he was strong. At least externally. He was not whimpering. He had incredible dignity. The night before he died, I knew it was going to be his last. He had climbed into the bath and was just lying there. His condition had deteriorated significantly during that Sunday and I thought that if he did survive the night, maybe it was time to call the vet for a lethal injection. He seemed now to be struggling badly. When Tori got up at 5am to go and comfort a crying Kimi, I went to see how Pusskana was doing. He was still lying in the bath in exactly the same position that I had last seen him. He was alive but was clearly dying before my eyes. I leant over to stroke him, gently resting my head on his side and softly talking to him as I always did. The smell of death was clear. I sat and comforted him for an hour and a half in which time he cried out for me on one occasion. Whether it was in pain or to try and say something I just could't tell. When he was in the final stages of life, perhaps the last ten minutes or so, he would periodically take a quick gasp for air. I continued to  gently stroke him and comfort him until he gasped once more and then that was it. Gone. The last gasp. I sobbed uncontrollably. And went and dug a hole through the thick Warrandyte clay under a gum tree down the back. I felt so emotionally wrenched. So sad. So sorry that I had left him and he had got so sick. So saddened by the thought that I'd never see him again. Never be able to get him all fired up and wild in the house. Never have him snuggle up with us in the bed. Never be able to rub my face in his soft fur. He was so fluffy.

RIP my beautiful pussy cat Pusskana