Cecil’s Story… as told by his friend

The Beginning-

I first met Cecil while he was being held for adoption at Animal clinic of Chardon. He was a little over 71/2 years old. Dr. Jessica had taken him over from his 1st owner, who had wanted to euthanize him (Profuse thanks to you, Jessica!). He had been living there for some months, as nobody wanted to take him on. We had literally just lost our cat Scruffy. Cecil was a BIG handsome, quiet orange tabby. It might have been love at first sight. A Thanksgiving guest referred to him as a “cool” cat.  When I signed the adoption papers I discovered that, he suffered from digestive disorders (vomiting and diarrhea). For the record, his litter habits were great, though the vomiting was a bit of a challenge. He would skip eating for a day sometimes. He immediately turned out to be a very gentle, polite, quiet, and kind fella. He exuded an aura of innocence. No reason to euthanize such a great guy!

He generally seemed to do well health wise, his 1st 3 years with us. In his 1st nine months he witnessed the loss of 3 of our cats, who were long timers- Tabby (Mr. Tabs), Amber (Bambam) and Honey (Beenie). We had also lost Floyd a few months prior to Scruffy. Cecil got to meet a new adoptee, Nemo. They would become sometimes friends, sometimes rivals. He also got to see us take in 3 kittens who showed up on our deck his 1st summer with us. He always got along with them!

Cecil seemed to be a “finicky” eater, though that turned out to be caused by his disorder(s). In those days Cecil liked to chase his tail sometimes. He enjoyed ice cube hockey. He would make the nicest mrrfing noise whenever he wanted something or he would jump up or down. Boy could he jump! Cecil moved with a smooth, powerful grace that caused me to nickname him “Puma”. He was also built and colored like a miniature puma, after all! Cecil was smart and determined. He regularly broke into food and would lead “jailbreaks out of the house. I built a backup screen door retainer and he eventually got past that too, until I put an additional fix.

Storm clouds-

Cecil came to need dental work at the end of his 3rd year with us. Dr. Tom at the Chardon clinic called to tell us that his blood work came back indicating that he was diabetic! There had been heavy amounts of urine in the litterboxes and he was also eating heavily. We didn’t add up the numbers before then. In fact we were happy he was eating well and not having vomiting or diarrhea.

The next 4 months was a nerve racking adjustment to the demands of treating Cecil’s diabetes. It took a while to get the injection routine down and I finally bought a pet meter and started measuring and logging Cecil’s blood glucose levels. It turned out that Cecil was insulin resistant and required higher than normal dosages. The Chardon people were great, so we boarded him during our two summer vacations that year. Unfortunately, he would come home sick despite their best efforts. It turned out that he would have a stress related viral outbreak.  He was also eventually diagnosed with chronic pancreatitis. That’s when Famciclovir and Cerenia started to come into the mix. His following fall and winter were relatively good, though we were using the Cerenia here and there for a day or two. We had learned of the importance of keeping Cecil eating from both a diabetic and liver damage perspective.

Our big scare was with one of the Kittens (now young adult), Scooter. He became deathly ill. This is where the VCA Great Lakes folks enter the picture. Scooter was put on steroids after a bunch of generally inconclusive tests. It did the trick and he turned around from what appears to be an autoimmune disorder. (He’s still with us and on the meds.) Thanks Dr. Irom!

A Scary  Fall, and Getting Back Up-

Come spring 2018, Cecil’s eating came to a grinding halt. The Cerenia wasn’t enough. The 2 commonly used appetite stimulants worked poorly and had bad side effects. Dr. Tom then mentioned a new drug called Entyce, which he had no cat experience with. He mentioned VCA, so I packed up Cecil and took him there the next morning. One of the emergency docs immediately put him on the Entyce. Dr. Irom was notified and immediately took Cecil on, since she knew us from Scooter. She did the necessary advanced tests ( a sonogram followed by endoscopy). It turned out that Cecil had IBD along with the diabetes and chronic pancreatitis. She immediately started him on Famotidine, Reglan, and Chlorambucil, along with continuous Cerenia doses.  Injectable Dexamethasone, as well. He wound up getting  everything but the Chlorambucil as injectable, because of his intestinal absorption problems. It turned out that Cecil tolerated shots very well, better than pills usually. He was very sick the first 10 weeks due to a Convenia shot he received from the intake doc. The lesson being that sometimes trying to help winds up harming instead! Dr. Irom was very steadfast and supportive. She helped me avoid precipitant action that would have turned out badly for Cecil. Cecil turned the corner in mid-July and was doing well and off the Entyce by August. I had given up going on vacations in order to stay home and care for Cecil. I even started giving him supervised out door time since he had spent his entire life as an outdoor cat. He had never experienced grass, so he stayed on the porch and pavement. He enjoyed himself very much just the same.

Reversal and Rewards-

Just before Labor Day weekend 2018, Cecil’s appetite collapsed again. In my alarm, I resorted to full blown dosages of all his meds. I started doing an additional 2 AM dosing to keep his max meds spread out. This would be his regimen for the next 14 months. I spent every night sleeping on the living room sofa to be available for Cecil’s needs. I seldom got more than 90 minutes of sleep at a stretch doing this. Cecil had become a nocturnal eater. 60-70% of his daily food was between 10 PM and 6 AM. I was never really bothered, even when I was tired. It was a true joy to help Cecil live a longer, fuller, happy  life. He would “Puma” leap on to the sofa and nose my face to get up and feed him 4 to 6 times a night.

I want to emphasize at this point, that as of August 2018 until the end of October 2019, Cecil actually felt quite good and functioned at 90% plus all of the time. My struggles were about keeping him that way. He always ate enough to maintain his weight. Cecil never suffered much. I took on the suffering and worry so that he could live well and feel well. I felt like I died a couple of hundred times through all this, so that he only had to suffer dying once in the end.

Come October, Cecil developed a lesion on his left shoulder that wouldn’t heal well, even with antibiotics. We thought the diabetes and steroids were the cause. He then developed another lesion on the right. A sample was taken with Nocardia coming back. Dr. Irom got Cecil  on the right antibiotic. The lesion came back a few weeks after Cecil’s treatment stopped. Another antibiotic helped, but Cecil ultimately had to see a Dermatologist and I wound up rushing him in to Medvet to have the infection surgically removed in late May. Cecil stayed on antibiotics and his skin stayed clear after that right to the end.

How was Cecil through this? He got to enjoy Thanksgiving turkey. He relaxed sleeping under the new Christmas tree. (I got it set up late because of my worry and tiredness. I’m glad I did.) He didn’t care for holiday ham, but he loved St. Pat’s corned beef. We indulged him in grilled chicken and bits of hamburger when it was made and he showed interest. I came up with a couple of custom dry food mixes to supplement the canned Fancy Feast Flavors I had to rotate between. He also got canned tuna when his appetite was more challenged. He always managed to hang in and maintain without any discomfort. I rigged up a window fitting so that he had a small cubby hole to poke his head out and get fresh air when it was too cold for a cracked open window. Fresh air always helped his appetite.

Did I mention Cecil was stubborn? He insisted on going out on the porch virtually every afternoon after his meds. He wanted out almost all evenings as well. He only missed on the January cold snap and the couple of snow days we had. It was lucky for him that it was almost all rain that year with warm spells. We both spent a couple of hours on the porch New Year’s Eve. It was a warm windy night and we enjoyed the Christmas lights and the swaying trees from the shelter of the porch. Cecil would go out on the tough days too. He got to experience snowflakes on his fur (and some frosty paw too). I froze my rear off watching him, but he was a really determined trooper. He loved outdoor life! -By watching, I mean usually keeping out an eye at a little distance. He wasn’t one to go dashing off. A very well behaved guy! The few times he did he didn’t go far at all and was easy to get back in line. I would hunker down on the porch and try to read a book without freezing. I think I read about 20 books in this time period. One of the neighbors drove by once laughing at me. I didn’t care. Cecil was having a good night!

The Summer of Life-

If the winter of 18-19 was mild in many ways, spring was a long time coming. When it arrived, Cecil determined to expand his horizons. He had overcome his fear of grass and started walking on it to get around the front and side yards.  He became especially fond of the side yards when he realized he could stay out of the sun and wind. Pretty soon he was eating the grass, as well. He also started peeing on it too! Cecil smelled other cats around, so he started marking “his” territory. How’s that for a house bound cat?. The prior summer  I started feeding Cecil “al fresco” on the porch. He would frequently want a bowl of dry food available for nibbling on his outdoor excursions. He would eat his wet food there too, when his appetite was optimal. He would spend his evening time outside listening to the insects (chasing them too, sometimes). You could see him turning his ears and whipping his head around. He was truly one with his surroundings at those times. He was experiencing and living life! Even the surgery didn’t slow him down. He demanded out time the very next day! He spent most of the summer wearing a “suitical” to protect his sutures and his exposed skin.(The chlorambucil and  Dex inhibited his fur from growing back much.) Every day was a miracle, a new experience, and a gift for him (me too!).

Cecil started to try his paws at hunting. It started in the spring with the birds. He could never get nearly  close enough to catch one on an open lawn of course!  One bird did a diving turn when Cecil was next to the spruce up front and practically landed in his mouth. Both of them were startled! Birdy barely got away. He also took some shots at some squirrels and a couple of rabbits. He finally scored his first kill in early October. He came proudly walking around to the front of the house with his catch (it was a mole). Cecil finally became a bonified hunter!

Cecil was also a wildlife watcher. He would frequently monitor the neighborhood deer walking around (Channeling his inner puma). One deer in our front yard didn’t like that and started acting up. Cecil quietly held his ground (Not to worry, I was there and ran it off). He managed to run into a couple of skunks (they beat feet when I shouted). A woodchuck rounded the corner of the house once and nearly blundered into Cecil. That was a close call! I got lucky on that one! Cecil listened! Such a good guy!

Every good day was a victory and they were all at least pretty good. Unfortunately every day well spent was one less left in the bucket. Summer came to an end and early fall rolled around. Cecil was having some problems but I thought I had gotten them under control. His eating and glucose readings were looking good. I worked hard to give Cecil all the outside time I could when I saw the big weather change coming. He always liked the attention too. I had just placed and received 2 1/2 month supplies of syringes and one of his meds. He was due to see Dr. Irom and I was going to share my plans for getting Cecil through the holidays in good shape and enjoying his company.

A Cold Day In-

Well, Halloween 2019 rolled around with the big weather change. The night before was warm enough that I left the window cracked. Cecil enjoyed the window between his overnight feedings. I went to work that day noting that he had eaten a bit on the light side. He got his normal insulin dose. I came home to find him hypoglycemic from not eating and brought him back up with Caro syrup. He got all his meds but was completely unresponsive appetite wise. I took him to VCA and the tests didn’t show anything remarkable. Except- he had dropped 2 lbs. in 6 weeks!  10% of his total weight! He was eating fairly normally, so I knew he was in trouble. He was just as bad he next day! He finally ate a couple of cans Saturday, but reverted downward Sunday. He was eating maybe 25% of break even at best.

The meds weren’t working anymore. What happened? Did his IBD go cancerous? Did his pancreatitis finally become unmanageable?  Did the Nocardia reemerge in one of his organs? Did the expensive Meropenum antibiotic I discontinued earlier play into this? Did something else undetected take Cecil out? I’ll never know.

Cecil was no fan of overnight stays in vet hospitals, since they stressed him out and would make him sick. He had known love and freedom in his life. I didn’t want to coop him up. I wasn’t going to risk flogging him, either. I always tried to think of him first and not confuse my wants and needs with his best interests.

I had been carrying the number for A Gentle Farewell for over a year, so I had called Friday and scheduled them for a home hospice visit Monday. They made a point of telling me I could pull out any time if Cecil turned around.  Amy had just been in the Chardon clinic with other cats, so they were aware and willing to help too. Dr. Jessica, Cecil’s original benefactor would be there that day. The VCA folks would do well too, but I didn’t want this on them, unless absolutely necessary.

With the writing on the wall, I contacted Sherry at De John Pet funerals so that I could bring him there afterwards and stay with him to the last possible second before he went to the flames. She had been so caring and helpful with all our other losses.  Cecil is coming home with me. I plan to have him alongside of me after my turn in the flames. Him and all the other great critters I’ve had the privilege of travelling through life with. Call it my one silly sentiment.

I’m really not a “nice guy”. Being with Cecil and all his goodness made me a better man. Cecil was my friend. He was my brother. He was my personal Puma. I had the good fortune to share all the innumerable little moments with him that make living such a joy. I loved and respected him for who and what he really was, not what I wanted him to be. He was my cat friend, not my baby. He wasn’t a lap cat or a cuddler and I didn’t try to make him do or be that. That’s what real love is about. I was so lucky to share in the struggles of life with him for a while. I will have to find a way to move on without him. Why? That’s what Cecil would really try to do if I went away first. Just the same, I will miss his gentleness, his kindness, and his innocence.  He was a big cat with an even bigger heart! God will I miss him!

Cecil’s Legacy-

What can a big orange cat leave behind or teach ? I’ll tell you what- Cecil says-

Learn to enjoy the simple things in life- A gentle breeze, a warm sun on a cold day, the chirping of birds and crickets, a starry sky. Live each day well and openly.

Don’t hold grudges. They spoil everything else you have. Learn forgiveness. Not to free them, but to free yourself to live on.

Take time to stop and pay attention. Otherwise you’ll never know what’s really around you.  Or what you’re missing. Follow your nose and know what really stinks.

Be kind and gentle when you can. Nobody can really help you if you fight them. -Cecil’s kind, cooperative demeanor was a big factor in my long fight for him.

Have the courage to fight and hold on. Have the courage to surrender and let go. Have the quiet wisdom to know which to do when.

Let your loved ones know you care. Remember that actions speak much louder than words.

Tell others when you need help. Let them if they can do so well.

You can’t do it all. Caring for one thing always means neglecting something else.

A miracle is just an opportunity. Action, risk, and work will determine its true value.

Sometimes trying to help can actually wind up hurting instead. It’s a risk we take.

For every hello there is always  a goodbye. For every beginning there is an end. The trick is in moving to find the next beginning after the end- if you have the time.

The most precious thing you possess is time. You ultimately never really have more, only less. Don’t be too stingy with it. It goes away no matter what. Spend it wisely.

Nobody can be “saved”- You can extend somebody’s time or make their time better. Sometimes both. But it always runs out in the end.

You can cry about what you don’t have or work with what you do have. The word “fair” is not in the Book of Life.

There’s a big difference between “staying alive” and “being alive”.

Be careful about “possessions”. Anything you even try to own will wind up owning you.

Cecil had so much to show me. I’m glad I paid attention. In finding Cecil I found some of my best self.

Thanks to my wife Amy for holding down the fort for the other cats during my struggles for Cecil.

Thanks to my buddies for putting up with my absences and neglect, too.

Thanks to all of you who participated in Cecil’s life and helped me to help him live such a wonderful, if sometimes difficult life.

My best wishes to all of you engaged in the struggle of Life. Cecil’s best wishes too.