Eulogy for Peluso
by Marc Auerbach


He meowed the entire drive down the peninsula from the home of his former guardian to his new home with me. The person giving him up was an otherwise nice woman who was smitten by some dog-loving jerk of a guy. She had acquired the cat from her sister seven years earlier when her sister had gone off to Italy on vacation and stayed. Her love of that country was carried by her estranged cat whose name means furry in Italian, Peluso. Who was now 11, thirteen pounds of pure white, dense, medium length pelt, with further hints of Persian lineage in his slightly flattened face. Only his pink paw pads, and yellow eyes differed in color.

Peluso found me when my mother, who works for the Vancouver Humane Society, came across this woman who wanted to put her cat up for adoption for various lame reasons, one of which was a planned move to northern California. It is easier to adopt a child than to get my mother to approve you as a suitable home for a pet. Made cautious by years of finding post-Christmas kittens abandoned on the street, I had often heard many admonitions about taking on the care of a cat whenever I'd mentioned my interest. "It's a 15 to 20 year responsibility," and "what will you do when you travel?" But here was an older cat for whom the word "adoption" really meant euthanize, who could be transported near the home of her son. Well, how much worse than death could her son's home be? Of course, I immediately accepted.

Having spent over a decade in Canada, the first thing he did at my house was shed. Like any cat in new surroundings, it took him awhile to get settled. But the peace and tranquillity of no longer having dogs and that cat-hating cretin around must have been a relief. After a month or so he settled in, but he was no lap cat, and he preferred to sleep on the couch. He also had the weakest and most reserved purr of any cat I'd met. After two months I let him take his first steps outside. I think he had been an indoor, or upper apartment cat his entire life, and his first venture outside into the hot sun was timorous, and methodical. Being declawed, the backyard formed a small outdoor world beyond which he could not explore, though he would try at every opportunity to find out where all those other cats were coming from. At times he must have felt Lebanese. Only able to be invaded, and not even able to strike deep into the heart of enemy territory in a clandestine night-time raid. In any case, his Arctic camouflage was no use in California, where he might have well have been wearing a fluorescent orange vest.

Over the summer, and certainly by fall as the weather cooled, Peluso's true personality was revealed. Perfectly happy now to curl up on the down comforter, and snuggle in next to me to keep as warm as possible. In the morning he would sit on my chest and poke me in the eye to remind me what a lazy and inconsiderate bastard I was for not feeding him. On Sundays I would awake early, more excited than he , and announce, "Sunday brunch" with a festive lilt to my voice. This was his cue that this morning he would get canned food instead of the dry. He would get up on my chest purring noisily, and try to rub his salivating jowl against my chin. Then we would trot off to the kitchen where he would eat so quickly his breathing was reduced to hog-like snorts. When I came home in the evenings, which was often late, he would greet me at the door, but didn't want to eat right away. Instead I would lie down on the floor and we would go through a ritual hello. Often, on those late evenings I would make a cup of tea, go outside, and before my feet were up, Peluso would be in my lap where he would settle in and we'd both contemplate the stars in the clear, cool San Jose air. I would run the warm cup along his side and he would look back at me languidly.

Peluso really earned his living on his back. Often he'd flop over on his side, his two paws curled up on his chest like a sea otter, and give you a while-you're-up-why-don't-you-come- rub-my-stomach-look. If you didn't come over after a bit, he would give you a friendly hrrmph, which could be seen developing as his almost down-like belly inflated full and he forced the air out of his nostrils. When I did oblige, which was every time, his eyes would narrow, and his hind legs extend, extending his toes, and the purring would come soft and melifluously. Last year I discovered that although he didn't like to be picked up and flung over one shoulder, he loved being cradled in my arms, surprise, on his back like a baby, while having his tummy rubbed.

Just beyond three years here, Peluso wasn't eating as much, and tests revealed one completely atrophied kidney, and the other now not functioning well. This being California, the vet immediately noted that UC Davis did kidney transplants... for $1500 to $2000. While I think it is good to have all the options known, options of this cost really caused me to question my love for Peluso. After all, if I really loved him would I not do anything, anything at all to save him? I opted not to pursue this and a conversation with my mother was helpful sorting this out. The procedure is the same as for a human, with all the risks of infection and rejection with no guarantees.

Not choosing surgery meant subcutaneous injections of fluid. Fluid management in the trade. These were prescribed at 100ml twice a day. For the first week I did them, but I could not continue. I found that I would dread getting up each morning, or coming home each night to stick a needle between his shoulder blades in the insensitive part you see mother cats carrying their kittens by. This portion was not painful for him, but the flow of cool liquid over his second skin was upsetting. Later I would find out that the vitamin-B content of the fluid is known to cause stinging. Holding him down while the fluid dripped slowly from the ringer bag into his back was agonizing for both of us. Occasionally the needle, upon extrication, would leave a wisp of blood on his white fur making him look like some wounded seal pup.

Eventually he came to connect being set atop the dining room table with being pierced, and he became more unsettled. I lost my nerve, and could no longer plunge the needle home. This was especially traumatic as I dealt with the feelings of not being able, even to save Peluso's life, to overcome my own anxiety. I ended up taking him in to the vet each morning for 200ml. One of the technicians there told me, "Oh I can't do any of this to my own pets." This made me feel somewhat better, and a little resentful that the veterinary staff had been so confident that it would become easier. On top of this, Peluso was on an antibiotic regime that consisted of two pills per day for ten days. Unlike the "sub-q" which he endured, he hated the pills. He would growl and hiss at me as he jockeyed for position. We would blame each other, when he would give me a perfectly good opportunity to jam a pill down his throat, and I would miss, and I would swear at him, when he failed to swallow a finely placed shot. He never held a grudge against me though. After it was over he would accept my apologies and my caress. It was during this time that he stopped purring. I wondered, how could he ever make the connection between these actions his health? He couldn't. I am convinced he must have thought the mercurial change in my attitude utterly bewildering.

With the help of my neighbor, Jean, I went back to doing the injections myself. I tried to reduce his fluids to twice a week. The problem was, that during this entire time, even when he was getting full fluids, his eating was continuing to decrease. The vet had prescribed some special food for cats with kidney problems, but he looked at it, only available in dry form, as if it were a plate full of ball bearings. I learned from an article on-line that older cats lose their sense of smell, and so here, when he needed food with reduced protein, he wanted most to have beef or fish or chicken. I selected a low-protein over-the-counter product, of which he ate a little at first, but then not even that.

Last week, I was on vacation, and around the house, so Peluso was able to go out and sit in the sun all day. He was becoming a little weaker, but he was drinking lots of water and had no urinary blockages. I think he was starving. I would give him tidbits of my fish or chicken, which he still devoured with relish. It was as I sat in the yard, Peluso eagerly chomping away on some grilled trout, that I finally came to terms with quality of life versus dramatic intervention to prolong it. Of course, a cat will always want to live. I have to make that assumption. But live as a cat. Able to savor good food, and clean his coat afterwards. To stalk, and hunt, protect his territory, and perhaps most of all, to enjoy a really long afternoon nap. Not to have to have water brought to you, unable to clean your own fur, not be able hold down even your favorite foods, and unable to roll over on your side and sleep. This is the Peluso of the past few days. Immobile, hungry, thirsty, and smelling of decay. I make inquiries about putting him to sleep. The Humane Society of Santa Clara accepts animals for this 24 hours a day. If you want to be with your pet, please come between 11 and 4.

I returned home last night uncertain whether I would find him expired or not. He wasn't, but he had days before stopped greeting me at the door. I found him on the bed, where he slightly raised his head to me. I brought him water, which he lapped at. I carried him over and set him on his favorite blanket on the table where I was doing some work so he could be near me. I tried to feed him some tuna fish and he ate it. I waited about fifteen minutes, and it stayed down. Buoyed by hope that maybe I could micro feed him a little bit at a time. I gave him a bit more, but was not so lucky. Nonetheless, that night, I set the alarm for 3 am. When I awoke, Peluso was not on the bed. I took a flashlight and found him sitting in a corner, not sleeping. When I offered him some tuna fish, he didn't even sniff it.

This morning, I found he had moved to a different corner, but was really immobile. I resolved that if he made it through the day that I would take him to the Humane Society in the afternoon. I had two exams today, and it was strange to rush home after the second exam, so that I could wisk Peluso to the Humane Society by four. He was alive, but sitting on the floor near the water dish. He didn't get up. He had obviously spit up, but no food had been eaten. When he did get up, it was unsteadily, and halting. I put him in the cage and headed off.

This time, he did not meow during the drive. I was surprised at my own stoic demeanor. In fact I was a little frightened by it. The man behind the counter was very helpful. He asked a minimum number of questions, had me show ID, sign a form, and handed over some paperwork. I was getting quite choked up and could hardly read my own signature. We sat in a waiting area

where I read the following words from one of the papers I'd been handed, but hadn't really noticed till now. With one hand I massaged Peluso through the open cage door I read,

In their short lives our pets give us all they can -- their friendship unselfish love and total loyalty

There comes a time when we must give back to them -- their freedom their peace and their dignity

May you find comfort in know that your pet is now at peace

I cried from that point till the time two women dressed in blue ushered us into a small room, as I stroked Peluso's head until his heart stopped beating, and a long time after that.

I'll miss you.

April 3, 1997 MRA

Copyright 1997, Marc Auerbach. All rights reserved.