Successive Approximations


"We're 4 hours from home, and you want to adopt a cat?"

The second half of 2019 was a bit of a blur. In July we'd gone to Washington, D.C. for the 50th anniversary of the Apollo 11 landing. When we got back, Kassie had taken a turn for the worse, and we lost her on August 7th. In October, we helped host the NC state USPSA championship at the range near our house. In early November, we drove to Nationals in Florida, with stops in Huntsville and Chattanooga on the scenic route back. And then we had to get ready to close on our new house. We'd put the money down on it in the spring, with a projected August completion date, but here we were at the end of November, with a closing date the Friday before Thanksgiving. Selling the house was easy (we used Opendoor) but we either had to pack, sell, or trash everything. We rented one POD and filled it quickly. We ended up staying in the house through the weekend after our close date, and needed two more 10 footer UHauls when all was said and done. It was a stressful experience to say the least.

But for most of December we were in the new house, painting rooms, building furniture, and getting settled in. It still felt new and slightly overwhelming, but in a good way.

So then we go to Charleston for New Years, and while we're there, Steph says we should visit a cat cafe. When we sit down, all the cats are busy except one, sunning himself on a bench across the aisle. The shelter named him Ted, which reminds her of a cat named Teddy that neighbors had. He tolerates me holding him upside down "like a baby". He's generally friendly while also being low-key. We play with a few other cats, but Steph thinks he's the one. We should adopt him.

I was not sold. It still felt like things were too in flux. The house was still a construction zone mixed with a storage locker. It still felt comparatively soon after losing Kassie, and I wasn't sure we wanted to have a cat to worry about again when we were traveling. Our dog Mack didn't really get along with Kassie and she had to have a room baby-gated off that he couldn't enter just so she had space away from him. How would a new cat do with Mack? And, most importantly, I was just generally curmudgeonly about further change.

As we do any time we are somewhere out of state, we stopped at a liquor store in Charleston to pick up some whiskeys we couldn't get in NC. Next to the one we stopped at was a place called Ted's Butcher Shop. Also, Ted was a black cat, and next we went to go buy fireworks. There, she pointed excitedly to the ten foot tall black cat on the side of the fireworks building. It was a sign, don't you see? He's the cat for us.

I had at least enough self-awareness to know I didn't have a good reason to say no, and in a little more than three years of marriage, I'd learned to trust Steph's instincts. I said okay. But how are we supposed to get him home? No problem, came the answer. We can buy a carrier for the four hour drive home.

As it turned out, Mack and Ted got along great. The first day, they studiously ignored each other while sitting a few feet separate on the couch, but by the second day Ted was home, they could tolerate sharing opposite sides of a blanket.

A few weeks after he was home, he suddenly became lethargic, not eating, with a high fever. We took him in, they gave him IV fluids and medicine, and tested him. That's when our vet told us. He was positive for Feline Leukemia Virus. They had tested him at the shelter, and he'd come back negative, but it takes a week or two for an infection to show up on the test. There was no cure or treatment.

It was very infectious so he couldn't be around other cats and boarding him would require extra care. He would have generally frail health, be susceptible to infections, and live to be 2-3 years old. (He was already 8 months when we adopted him. He lived to be almost 4.)

Under their care, he made a good recovery, and after a week was back to normal, and lived every week of his life up until the last two as though nothing were wrong.

One of the reasons Steph thought we needed a cat was so I had a buddy for my nightly reading hour, which Kassie had always been. Luckily, Ted was always friendly and would join me at the earliest opportunity.

Often this also resulted in joining Steph on the couch, since the computer chair where I work, write, and podcast doesn't have anywhere for a cat. (This picture was taken the day we brought him home. He figured things out pretty quick.)

Of course, not having a place for a cat when I was at my desk didn't mean he couldn't make one.

As cats go, he didn't have a lot of quirks. He loved laying in the sun from an open window. He loved nesting in boxes. We had to keep our bedroom door closed or he would hide under the bed until after we'd gone to sleep and then come nest near our faces. If I got Steph flowers, we'd have to make sure to not leave them alone where he could get to them or he would chew on them.

He did love ice cubes, and he was not particularly graceful; the ka-thump-ka-thump of him thundering down the stairs when he heard the ice dispenser running or a food can opening always amazed me. How could such a small creature make that much noise?

When Evelyn came along, he was curious but mostly non-plussed. As she was able to grab and later walk, he became cautious and tried to avoid having handfuls of skin grabbed as an attempt to "pet".

He lived with us for two years before we got a second dog, Jude. Jude was full of puppy energy, wrestling with Mack all the time. In the beginning he would wrestle with Ted too, although once Jude got full-grown he could pin Ted without any trouble and had no remorse when doing so, at which point we'd have to break up the contest.

Perhaps it's recency bias, or just favoring the most picturesque memory, but the image of all three of them, sharing the bench in the south-facing window of Steph's office will always stick with me. Wherever he is now, I'd like to think it's something like this.

Like I said earlier, he was healthy and active, sometimes a bit hyper, up until the last few months. In retrospect, he was spending more time upstairs, away from the dogs more than usual. But he would still come running for food and snuggle on the couch.

His decline over the past few weeks was--mercifully--sharp. He stopped eating his dry food in his bowl upstairs, only the wet food we'd feed him when the dogs got their dinner. He was losing weight. Eventually he wasn't all that interested in the wet food. 8 days before the end, we took him to get checked out. They did a few tests. He was dehydrated, anemic, losing weight, and low on white blood cells and platelets. They couldn't give a concrete diagnosis, but said he was very sick, even if he wasn't showing it.

Given his leukemia, we knew extraordinary measures would probably be futile. We took the offered course of prescription steroids (prednisolone) and tried giving him straight tuna to get him to eat and hopefully regain some weight and hydration. The food helped for a few days. After his trip to the vet, we had left the cat carrier, the same one he'd come home with us from Charleston in, on the stairs. He slept there or at the top of the stairs around the clock.

He rejected the prednisolone pills, so we got some in liquid form. After the first dose we forced on him, he peed everywhere in protest. He did the same thing after the second dose. He stopped eating anything at all. That night, he peed in a corner downstairs; we inferred because he couldn't make it up the 15 smooth, wooden steps to his litterbox in the laundry room.

So on Wednesday, 7 December 2022, with the sky dumping buckets of rain, we knew the time had come. We spent two hours with him on the couch. His tail would flick back and forth when you pet him, and if you put your hand on his neck, you could feel him purr, although it wasn't audible anymore.

Driving to the vet's office, he stuck his head out of his carrier to look around. His gaze was glassy, and he had blood pooling in the bottom of his right eye. We agreed that we had probably let Kassie go on too long, given what a shell of herself she was at the end. All of Ted's good days were behind him, and every day now would be worse than the one before it.

He beat the odds and had a year more than they predicted, healthy and full of life until the end. When we got him, we were a childless couple with one dog. When he left us, we had gained Jude, and Evelyn turns 2 next month, with the next kid on the way. He was the perfect contrast to Kassie, who I felt at the time had been with me for what felt like my whole adult life. Ted was with us just a short time. But not having any other cats for him to infect with his leukemia, a regular stream of cardboard boxes, and plenty of sunny windows, we were the perfect home to give him all of the good days that were in the cards for him, and limit the bad ones.

Steph was right. He was the perfect cat for us for that time.

You never know how to say goodbye in a situation like that, but when it was time to leave the room and see him for the last time, I could only think to say, "Thanks for everything, buddy. You did a good job."

Ben Berry

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