Never say never

I NEVER THOUGHT I’d be the kind of person who moved to the suburbs, but after a few years in the city, that’s where we ended up.

I never thought I’d be the kind of person who drove – gasp! – a station wagon, but when the second kid came along, we needed a vehicle that was larger and more practical than our Honda hatchback. And of *course* I was not the kind of mom who lusted after a minivan. We went with the wagon.

I never thought I’d be the kind of pet owner who buys prescription cat food for $44 per 6-pound bag. And yet, that’s exactly what I’ve done, twice so far this summer.

I can explain.

Growing up on the farm, we had “barn cats.” There were always a few, sometimes more. They lived exclusively outdoors, though in the winter they often would gather on the back deck, sitting close to each other atop the picnic table that was next to the kitchen window. The clothes dryer exhaust was nearby, and it occasionally spewed out warm air, enough to keep them from freezing on the coldest winter days.

Of the many cats that lived on the farm over the years, some were more memorable than others. I’m thinking of Boots, Fluffy, and Pepper in particular. (No one ever accused us of coming up with the most clever names for our cats.)

I don’t remember taking them to the veterinarian for routine care, such as vaccinations, though I imagine we must have done at least rabies shots. My parents were Responsible People. I do recall a couple of trips to the vet with sick cats. One such visit occurred when Pepper’s gums and nose turned an alarming and abnormal shade of yellow. We wrangled the old tomcat into a sturdy box and covered the top with a screen, placed it on the bed of the pickup truck, put bricks on the screen to weigh it down, and drove 4 miles in to Brofee’s, just outside of Millerstown. As soon as we stopped and removed the bricks from the screen, Pepper executed the escape plan he’d obviously hatched during the drive: he lunged and scampered off towards the ridge, and we were unable to catch him. We assumed we would never see him again, because the Cocolamus Creek crossed the route we guessed he would have to take if he were to make his way back to Pfoutz Valley. But a couple of months later, Pepper came strolling through the back field and into the yard, like a feline gangsta. He was all, MISS ME? WHERE’S THE FOOD?, his gums and nose having returned to their normal pink hue.

To feed the cats, we had to go “down back”, which was the area beneath the back deck. We filled one big bowl with Friskies dry food, and to another we added water from the hose. I don’t recall doing this daily, just whenever the bowls were empty. I also remember taking table scraps down to the bowl, but maybe that was for the dog(s). (Perhaps my sister can refresh my memory here.)

All of this is to illustrate that, like many farm families, we were low-impact cat owners. We enjoyed having them around, but we didn’t invest in them. They weren’t housepets, after all. It was live-or-die in the country, and we provided enough of an environment for them to live around us if they wished to do so.

Fast forward 40 years. A few months ago, Loulou, one of our two, seven-year-old housecats, made it clear that she had a urinary issue. We noticed she wasn’t making it to the litterbox to pee, and even saw her lift her leg and go on the side of the white bathtub as if to say, please look, this is not normal, there’s blood and it hurts so do something. So I took her to the vet.

I love our vet. I joke that he has a $200 cover charge, but it’s because he’s thorough. I authorized the minimal treatment first. The cat improved for a week or so, then she relapsed. I took her again and they did tests to rule out really bad things and gave her IV fluids and antibiotics and prescribed several medications. They also gave us some samples of moist and dry special-formula cat foods to try.

Naturally, all of this happened right before we were scheduled to be out of town. So I called Ross into service. He’s a pet whisperer, especially with our cats. I figured that if anyone could administer the oral medications to a cat, it would be Ross. But Loulou proved stubborn, and Ross finally gave up. She wouldn’t take the medicine, and she didn’t like any of the canned food samples, either – but she did nibble on the special dry food. And she got better.

We figured that was that. Until a few weeks later, right before another trip we’d scheduled, she started having the same issues. Ross tried again with the meds, to no avail. But this time, the vet prescribed this special-formula food:

Cat food with a special additive for “calm.” Can I get some of that to sprinkle on my salad?

…and I’ll be damned, the cat has been fine since the end of July on a diet of just this stuff. She doesn’t seem to love it, exactly, but she eats it, and she’s peeing normally, and if you came here for a discussion of something other than my cat’s urinary health, I’m really sorry about the last two paragraphs.

Anyway. There was another cat before these two. We had Chuckie for 18.5 years. We used to say that Chuckie would not die despite our best efforts to kill him. Relax, it was a joke. Even the vet referred to him as a “semi-beloved pet.” It just meant that we didn’t do much in the way of special care, and he lived for close to 20 years. Food-wise, we gave him moist food, twice a day, whatever was on sale that week at the grocery store. He liked it just fine. He was indoor-outdoor, he was neutered, he had all his shots, and we didn’t kill him when he peed on the Christmas tree each year.

But now, apparently I have become the person who spends as much on a bag of special cat food as I do on a large bottle of really good gin, or – I’m being honest here – 4 bottles of Malbec. One bag costs as much as a spa mani-pedi with the extras. You cannot buy this food at your average retailer – it can only be obtained from the veterinarian. By prescription. Ruca still eats the grocery-store formula, which is about one-tenth the cost of the special stuff, and let’s hope she doesn’t also develop urinary issues, because I don’t want to have to make difficult choices such as buying generic “Froot Loops” at Aldi and trying to pass them off to Eli as brand-name (which worked, many years ago; however, none of the boys would eat the Aldi-brand “Doritos”).

Never say never.

4 thoughts on “Never say never

  1. Life is funny that way. As I find myself advancing well into middle age more than I ever thought possible (51), I started feeding birds. My wife likes them and I thought, “How odd…” and then I started watching them. Last winter I joked that we need to limit our birdseed budget. Something I never thought I’d have to say.

    And, “If you came here for a discussion of something other than my cat’s urinary health, I’m really sorry about the last two paragraphs.” is hilariously true life!

  2. We’ve had so many parallels in our respective childhoods, you and I. I completely understand everything except this line: “I don’t recall doing this daily, just whenever the bowls were empty.” This does not compute. Our outside cats/barn cats would eat the bowl if they could get away with it.

    1. We sure have, sister! I might be glossing over this memory so as not to prompt an investigation by the humane society! I think our cats were happy and well cared for. And hardy, too, apparently. Good life skills.

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