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The frozen cat I buried on Good Friday

STEVE REID
Editor & Publisher
sreid@lbknews.com

He lay crouched, shivering in fear, panting in the black night. His hair was wet and matted and I knew immediately Popsicle, our 15-year old cat, had barely survived a fight.

Two minutes earlier, I was in a deep sleep when panic filled the house as my 16-year-old, Ariana, woke me at 3 a.m.

“Dad, some huge animal is fighting outside my window; I think it’s killing our cat.”

I grabbed my cell phone and in boxer shorts ran around the pool cage and saw the outline of Popsicle shuddering in fear as he lay in a small fragrant flower garden where the pool cage joins the house. I flicked the phone’s flashlight on.

Thoughts raced through my head: Is there a rabid raccoon nearby? What’s wrong with Popsicle? Should we take him to the ER?

I fell into the usual male mode of instinct mixed with arrogance mixed with decisive action.

“I need a flat board and an old towel,” I yelled into the night. I thought I was a combination of Hawkeye Pierce and House MD.

“I am not afraid of blood or wounds or bites and I can handle this,” raced through my head. “Between the internet and some antibiotics and attention to any wounds we will get through this,” I said to myself.

Popsicle continued panting and moaning. I slowly pet the animal and he seemed to calm. I gently moved the cat onto the towel and like a hammock dragged the towel onto the board. He groaned. I left the small garden and carried him the long way back through the wet grass around the pool cage and placed him on the floor of the bedroom.

He had been in a nasty squabble it was clear. I felt along his spine and legs to see if any tenderness or any pain hampered his movement. He put his head down. He stopped shivering and shuddering and that made me confident that his high alert fear level had diminished.

After about 15 minutes, I carried Popsicle to the bathtub on the board and towel and gently washed him. I saw blood streaming from his tail. I washed and lathered him and the blood seemed to stop streaming. I noticed two puncture wounds like fang marks at the base of his torso above his tail. I dabbed triple antibiotic cream on him and offered food and water and left him panting as I went outside for clues.

The earth was scratched and scarred.  The flower garden was uprooted and the plants were scattered in disarray. Claw marks had dug and scraped furrows and the ground and turf was flung. The cat had been cornered.

 

The rabid enemy

I am such an idiot I thought. I remembered 15 years ago when I argued we should declaw the cat. “He is destroying all the furniture, killing the orioles and cardinals in the backyard and scratching the baby,” I once argued.

My logic then seemed so sound and impenetrable. Others said I was inhumane, stripping the cat of its only defense system. I remember arguing back saying, “I don’t think Popsicle will be saved when he claws at the inevitable car tire that will run him over.”

Now Popsicle, 15 years later, in the faint moonlight was attacked most likely by a raccoon and all he could do was sway a paw that was as formidable as an oversized Q-tip at the rabid enemy.

 

Relativity and the tragic

Of all days it was Good Friday. The significance of Good Friday for me is more sentimental and vestigial since my Polish-born Catholic mother long ago abandoned the traditions that once infused the day with an inherited significance.

As the cat moaned, I turned on the news. NBC Newshour talked about 147 killed at a Kenyan university by armed terrorists and then the news shifted to talk of a German pilot who committed suicide by slamming passengers, the plane and himself into the Alps. The commentator sounded as if it was news that investigators found evidence that the pilot was depressed. Somehow these tragedies made the condition of the cat and medical crisis at hand seem manageable.

I called a veterinarian at 9 a.m. and told the receptionist I needed to bring Popsicle in as soon as possible. She said the doctor would call me back. The minutes passed. Popsicle lay and panted. He moved off of the towel and board and I washed his wounds again.

Time ticked slowly as I tried to work. We kept the kids out of the bedroom. After all, Popsicle was a friend to each of our six children. He was there through every pregnancy and would follow my wife around the house. He had smooth black and white markings and was one of those cats that always was happy to be pet and came at the slightest provocation. A simple tap on the lap, a slight meow and there was Popsicle. Now, he lay nearly motionless as I awaited the doctor’s call.

Finally I jump up as the phone rings and it is the doctor. He said if it were a raccoon, Popsicle would likely have had his tail bit right off. Her said to bring the cat in and he could start Popsicle on antibiotics and clean the puncture wounds. Unknowingly, my family saw Popsicle for the last time.

 

A painful visit

I placed Popsicle in a brown box and raced to the veterinarian. I felt good that the vet sounded calm and collected. The thought that it was not a raccoon and most likely another cat that fought with Popsicle calmed me. But Popsie, as we affectionately called him, was not looking chipper. He panted. He also started to have an infectious smell.

I cracked the window and alternated between Chopin to soothe the cat and Guns N Roses to help me twist and maneuver through traffic.

I pulled into the vet’s and placed the cat on the big entrance table in front of the front desk helpers. I was summoned to a small room. After all, doctors and vets are all the same. First you wait in a waiting room and then when patience is about to give out, they move you to a smaller room that has a few sundry instruments and equipment, an examination room, and you wait and wait and stare at the walls and the artwork.

I pet Popsicle, whose breathing now resembled the last gasps of an emphysema patient.

The minutes felt endless as I waited for the vet and pet the moaning cat. The walls featured posters depicting the heartworm cycle and what ringworm patches look like as well as advertisements for flea and tick drops. I was reading the facts and myths of Lyme disease when the doctor walked in. The doctor immediately said, “Wow!”

Wow is a word you never want to hear from a physician of any type.

The vet explained, “He is in shock and really toxic; sepsis from infection.”

He firmly grasped Popsicle’s tail and carefully examined the wounds that he said were “extremely deep and invasive.”

“These punctures are from a raccoon for sure. I thought it was a cat fight but this cat is in complete shock and considering his age he might not make it through the night,” the vet said matter-of-factly.

My mind slowed down as I tried to take in what he said.

“Can’t you clean the wounds?” I asked.

“Those punctures could have ruptured his large intestine or bladder. Necrosis is already setting in around the wound site.”

I asked him about the options.

“What can we do?”

His answer was overly pragmatic.

“We can cremate him and the company will return his ashes and you can have whatever ceremony you like. Or, we can dispose of him of him and you can just go about your business,” the vet said.

His assistant added, “Sometimes families like closure.”

I looked at the cat panting. As strange as it seemed I could not talk about the cat’s burial while it was still breathing in front of me. Some need for cat dignity outweighed the scientific pragmatism of the moment. I asked if we could talk about what to do with the cat’s remains in another room. They led me to a kitchen.

The doctor said, “We inject the cat with a muscle relaxant and then another shot that will painlessly euthanize him.”

The Catholic in me recoiled.

“So even if we throw thousands of dollars at treatment and put him on some kitty dialysis there is no saving his cat?” I asked almost rhetorically at this point.

The vet replied, “He is 15 and had a good life and I really don’t think he will even make it through the night. He is in shock and infected systemically.”

Then he raised another issue that catapulted the drama into another realm.

“Bare in mind the fact that he was bit by a raccoon means he could be rabid and you would never know that without being able to test the brain of the raccoon that bit him,” he said.

I consented. Between the necrosis, the infection and now the possibility of rabies, I was able to make the emotional shift to believe I was doing the right thing.

“OK, it is the only responsible thing to do,” I said decisively as if my inner Dr. Kevorkian had counseled me.

 

Frozen memories

The vet than offered another option to deal with the post-life Popsicle.

“After we euthanize, we can put him in a box and freeze him and you can take him home to bury him if you want.”

Now my inner Catholic came back to life. I saw myself leading the family in a solemn ceremony with the cat slowly lowered into a gravesite in the corner of our waterfront property to forever overlook Sarasota Bay.

I saw the family gathered at the ceremony recounting how Popsicle never bit or complained when our little children hugged and squeezed and carried him all the wrong way countless times over the years. And we would talk about all of the times the cat sat with the teenage daughters suffering through episodes of the Kardashians and Kate plus Eight. Not to mention the late nights Popsicle lay on my lap watching peaceful treats such as Training Day, Scarface and House of Cards. And Popsicle would be missed by our three other cats and our Chihuahua and six children. After all, Popsicle moved several times from house to house and always was our loyal family friend.

“Yes. Freeze the cat,” I told the vet.

I though how I had to work and wanted to prepare the ground and shroud the burial from the children if they were too upset over the passed cat.

“Can I pick him up at 5?” I asked.

“Yes, we will put him in the freezer in a box with your name on it, but just get here by 5:30. Do you want him in a box or a bag?” the vet asked.

“A bag?” I asked.

“Yes, some people prefer a bag,” he replied. “It is easier to fit them in the hole.”

A box seemed far more dignified. A bag felt like a disposal service.

A box I told him. Then the doctor approached the cat with a syringe and said, “He might not even survive this relaxant.”

I gave Popsicle a final pet on his head as the doctor pushed the injection into the haunches of the cat.

“It only makes sense this way,” the doctor said as he soaped and washed his hands.

I walked out of the cold confines of the veterinarian office into the harsh sun and sadly and silently drove home.

 

Betrayals

I felt a failure. I wished I had taken the cat immediately to the vet in the night and not waited to morning. I wished I had not tried to play family medical technician. The doctor said the fact Popsicle was in shock so severely and bitten by a raccoon and was 15 meant he would have been put down anyway.

As I pulled the car into the long driveway I looked at the expanse of water to the west. I looked at the sloping grass and made a mental note of the future pet cemetery. With six children over the years I have buried rabbits, cats, birds, gerbils, goldfish and sea turtles.

The family was sad. We ate pizza and talked about Popsicle and what had happened and what a great cat and all of the things one talks about after someone or a pet dies. I worked the rest of the afternoon trying to sell ads and talk to customers but the long and strange events made it difficult.

 

The end of his days…

At five in the afternoon I arrived at the vet’s and the assistant apologized for the sad news and went to retrieve the cat.

She came out with a box that seemed small and diminutive. It was frozen. Popsicle was frozen inside. I felt the weight in my hands and placed the frozen cat in the trunk of my car. The whole idea of having our cat that was alive in the morning now frozen in a box in the seat beside me was too strange. After I placed the cold box in the trunk, I drove the miles home.

I was struck with guilt. I had let Popsicle down three times. I declawed him 15 years ago. That left him defenseless.

The second error was I allowed him to roam at night leaving him vulnerable to raccoons.

The final act of idiocy and negligence was I thought I could clean his wounds and heal him as I played House MD with my dying pet and all the while he lay suffering on the bedroom floor.

“Yes,” I thought, “I had betrayed poor Popsicle. Declawing cats is horrible.”

I tried to take the turn into the driveway slowly so Popsicle, who was now melting in a brown box, would not bounce around in the trunk.

I left the family inside and instead walked slowly and quietly shrouded in the breeze and waning daylight toward the hole I had dug about 30 feet from the bayfront.

I placed the box in the hole and took the moist clay soil in my hands clump by clump and sealed the hole so some other animal would not dig him up in the night.

I thanked Popsicle for being such a great pet and for all of the love and all of the years he gave our family. He was the best cat in the world and a gift to our lives. He suffered for all of us and never complained.

 

New life…

I heard the laughter of my children coming from the house. I saw a fish jump in the water a few yards away. I looked at the cold brown clay of the closed hole.

There was nothing more to be done. Nothing more I could do. The curve of Popsicle’s life had ended and the arc was complete. Popsicle was slowly melting into the brow box and soon the box would melt and merge with the clayish soil that circles the bay.

“It is finished,” I said to myself as I walked toward the house to join the family.

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