Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Sir Jeffrey Underfoot, Lord of the Wind

Near the corner of 31st Street and Ditmars Boulevard, there used to be a small family-owned pet shop. They carried the usual supplies, as well as tropical fish, small reptiles, birds and hamsters. Occasionally, they also had kittens or puppies that someone needed to give away. The deal was that the animal was free, as long as you purchased thirty dollars worth of supplies for it. Christopher loved to visit that store. For him it was a mini trip to the zoo.

One Saturday in the middle of October 2003, Christopher and I were out running errands. The sun was playing peekaboo with the clouds, and there was a chilly wind blowing. I don't remember what we had set out to accomplish, but Chris asked whether we could stop in the pet store. We we were there a few days earlier, and there was a litter of kittens cavorting in an over sized cage. When we went back that Saturday, all but one of the kittens had been adopted. The last remaining kitten was fairly large for his age, vocal and very playful. We heard him long before we saw him.

The kitten that was left was gray and white, with a half pink, half black nose, bright green eyes and a half mustache. He practically climbed through the cage to make sure our hands could reach him to pet him, and be nibbled on. Christopher immediately thought this poor guy was lonely for his buddies, as did I. He looked up at me with bright wide eyes and asked, "Mom, can we keep him?" Now, I knew that my husband would have a conniption if I brought home an animal without asking him. He had said under no uncertain terms that he did NOT want another animal in the house. We had 3 cats at that time already. So naturally, I gathered up thirty dollars worth of supplies for our new kitten and walked him home.

Brian was faced with a new adorable kitten, and a son who desperately wanted to keep him. It was an unfair situation I put him in, to be sure. Actually, it was unfair to both my son and my husband. But I am a sucker for a small, lonesome animal and large round 8 year old eyes. My son promised to not only take care of the new cat, but all 3 others as well, taking over feeding, watering and scooping the cat boxes. For the most part, Christopher has honored the deal for all 4 years that we have had this kitty.

We named the new kitten Sir Jeffrey Underfoot, Lord of the Wind. He is Jeffrey, because that is what Christopher chose. Underfoot because he has a foot fetish, and will trip you while he does figure eights between your legs as you walk down the hall. Lord of the Wind because he was a farter. We call him Jeffrey for short. Or UnderFOOT when we are nearly felled. He is a big, dumb affectionate beast. At nearly 20 pounds, he dwarfs our two remaining cats (the third one died two years ago, of old age). He wants to be a lap cat, happily kneading the flesh of anyone who pets him. He is persistent, too. It doesn't matter how many times you push him off, he will jump back up to your lap for some loving.

The one problem we encountered with Jeffrey is that he sometimes peed on the furniture. It wasn't the first time we encountered this behavior. Tilly, a cat we adopted just before Christopher was conceived, would pee on his stuff. She was really not happy to share mommy with a baby. But, eventually, she stopped. I think Jeffrey smelled Tilly's marking and wanted to make sure everyone knew HE was alpha in our household. Cats, unlike dogs, do not recognize humans as alpha. We wound up disposing of two pieces of furniture because of Jeffrey. We thought that if we removed his, and Tilly's old marking places, we would solve the problem once and for all. Apparently, we were wrong: two weeks ago, Jeffrey peed on the couch. He also peed on my bed. And Christopher's bed.

Brian has always believed that if you rub a cat's nose in his own urine while smacking his butt, you will train the animal that the behavior is unacceptable. That I disagree has always been immaterial. When Jeffrey peed on our bed, with me in it, I stopped him, and tossed him unceremoniously out of our room. I was incensed, to say the least. When Jeffrey peed on the couch, Brian was outraged, in full fury. Did you know that anger can be contagious? That you can take on and amplify your partner's anger? Or maybe it is that you become angry at the source of your partner's anger. In that instance I helped my husband capture and punish Jeffrey. Thank God this was far from my son's sight.

We, at that point, resolved to surrender the cat to a no kill shelter. We told Christopher what was happening and why, packed up the cat, and wound up driving him all over town for the entire morning. No room at any shelter for an adult male cat. We took the cat back home, purchased some keep away stuff, and decided to cover the couch with a plastic drop cloth every time we leave the house.

Last Sunday, a week later after we tried and failed to surrender him, we noticed Jeffrey wasn't moving. At all. He was breathing, but he could not move. I saw him literally drag himself out of the bathroom to the hallway just outside the bathroom door. It was heart wrenching. We were terrified that we caused Jeffrey some injury that just then became manifest. We picked Chris up from his buddy's house where he had had an overnight, and trundled off to the vet. The vet painted a very grim picture for us, without providing a definitive diagnosis. Basically told us we could spend all the money, and still wind up having to put Jeffrey to sleep. He recommended that we bring him to the Humane Society of New York for more affordable treatment. Christopher was inconsolable. He begged us not to put his cat to sleep. We promised to do whatever we could, but if Jeffrey was suffering, and that suffering could not be abated, we would have to put him down.

The vet at the Humane Society whisked Jeffrey away, saying, "He's blocked!" Urinary blockage is fairly common in male cats. I have never had a cat that suffered it, but knew several people who had cats that did, and they all had to be put to sleep. I was not overly hopeful, as the vet took blood, and told us that his blockage had damaged his kidneys, and he had built up a near fatal level of several toxins. But we did admit him, a catheter was inserted to drain his bladder, and IV inserted to rehydrate him, and flush the toxins out. We took a much relieved child out of school to visit his cat on Monday afternoon. Jeffrey purred when we pet him, curled his hands in a kneading motion. Even sat up a little for a drink of water. Today, he had his urinary catheter removed, and if he pees on his own, we can take him home to complete his convalescence. If he cannot, we face some difficult and expensive choices.

I can't begin to express my heartbreak at Jeffrey's predicament and my own appalling lack of compassion. Most likely, that last week of urinating in inappropriate places was just the symptoms of Jeffrey's impending condition. I am ashamed of myself for treating him so harshly. I truly don't like what I became in dealing with this situation. I lost my empathy. I allowed anger to feed anger. I was mean, more probably cruel. I generally don't allow such unbridled anger to overtake me to the point that I commit acts for which I am forever scarred with shame. I have lost control on a few occasions, both with my son and with my pets, and remembering any one of those occasions makes me cringe.

I truly hope that Jeffrey fully recovers, and that we have a second chance with him. He is a wonderful, loving animal. I know that he will forgive me, as his memory of the event is probably limited. It will take much more time for me to forgive myself, as well as to find and heal the place from which such poisonous anger originates.



Kate said...

Don't be too hard on yourself. Cat pee is a God-awful mess that stinks for a long time. No wonder you were frustrated.

Uncle Phatato said...


Jeffery will forgive you, especially when he's back to himself again. My three dogs send their blessings!

Bridget said...

you're much harder on yourself then you need be. Pets, like children, I think are quick to forgive and forget.

simonsays said...

I will pray for poor Jeffrey. He will forgive you..

I know how hard it is to forgive yourself. At times in my life, I have acted in a very poor manner, too. I still deal with myself, so I understand. For me, the most important thing was to learn from it, and to never, ever act that way again.

Better days ahead. Please keep us posted on Jeffrey's progress.


PeterAtLarge said...

Rebecca, I'm delighted to have found your blog--and thanks for visiting me at The Buddha Diaries. Did you notice, in the sidebar, a link to "Accidental Dharma?" Sir Jeff's story is precisely what that collaborative site is all about. Would you mind very much if I borrowed it? With attribution, of course. It's a great story! Please let me know via my email contact. Thanks, PaL

SOUL: said...

i'm sure he forgives you-- and i LOVE the name and how it came about.

aren't you thrilled it worked out the way it did, and he'll be back to peeing on your couch at any time? :))

Maria said...

God..been there. Done that. Except with Socks when he was being trained. Bing is a huge believer in smacking them hard on the ass with a newspaper. I was appalled and adamantly told her NEVER to hit the dog. And then it seemed like he would NEVER stop peeing and shitting on my kitchen floor. One fall day, I stepped in his pee, barefoot. And that was it. I whacked him so hard with a newspaper that he squealed. I felt so awful.

Eventually, he learned.

I am so glad that he is home and doing better. I used to make fun of people who got very attached to their pets. Now, I hush my mouth because I am the one talking to the dog in this weird baby talk during the day.

eastcoastdweller said...

As others have said, don't be so hard on Yourself. Every pet owner -- and no doubt, every parent, too -- has had his or Her moments of explosive anger. We must learn from it and do our best not to repeat it.

I remember once pulling my poor dog Julius as hard as I could back towards our yard during a walk in his final days with us, because he was having a sudden, very runny, nasty emission that I didn't want to have to try to clean up on someone else's property.

His legs were weak and he couldn't move as quickly as I wanted him to.

I felt bad about that in hindsight. He was in such pain.

Those were difficult days.

The Real Mother Hen said...

If you knew you had allowed anger to feed anger, then you're probably enlightened.

I like the name. Never had a farting cat before :)