Wednesday, August 31, 2005

In Memorium

Siren McNeil Pratt
17 May 1994 - 31 August 2005

Siren came to us as a teeny, tiny kitten. Our friend Denis was walking to work one day and found a baby kitten all by itself. There was no mama around, and a bit further on, Denis saw the body of another similar looking kitten. He asked at work if anyone wanted a kitten. Cim and I had just gotten Pouncer from a girl at work, and we figured a 3-month old kitten would be the perfect companion for a brand new baby kitten.

That baby kitten really was brand new. His eyes were just barely open, making him a little older than two weeks. They were a brilliant blue and beautiful. He was no bigger than the little bottle we were using to feed him. That first night was a challenge. He was miserable, could hardly keep any food down, and had diarrhea all night long.

Within a few hours, it was obvious what his name had to be. His meow rose and fell, sounding just like a miniature toy fire engine siren. And so he was christened. Siren.

After two sleepless nights, it was obvious we couldn't take care of him ourselves. We had a friend who worked at a vet's office. She took him there where he stayed for a few days and got all of his health issues taken care of. He was filthy, flea-ridden, and the insides of his ears were black, not because they were dirty or that was their natural color, but because they were filled with mites.

He came back home to us a few days later in great health and ready to be part of the family. Here's a rather blurry picture of him at a few weeks old.

Pouncer wasn't quite as ready to accept him as we were. They weren't as brotherly as we thought they should be. Well, they were brotherly in a sibling rivalary kind of way. I spent a lot of time on the patio with a hose squirting the two of them to get them off of each other.

Pouncer soon went on to greener, mice-filled pastures, leaving Siren as an only child. That only lasted for a short time before Roo came into the picture to be Siren's new brother, then a year later, Bagheera came along completing the family feline picture.

All three cats had their own distinct personalities and quirks. All three filled our house with a great amount of love, joy, laughter and peace.

Siren was definitely the king of the household. They were all lovable and snuggly, but Siren was most of all those things. He developed into a beautiful Himalayan looking cat, with dark brown fur on his back, face and paws, and a lighter tan fur on his belly, chest and upper legs. He looked like different coffee drinks -- some parts had just a little cream and sugar, and other parts were more milk than coffee. His fur was beautiful, long and silky. His meow was distinct, and retained the siren-like quality as he grew older. He was very vocal, especially when getting patted or rubbed on his tummy.

He grew to be about 20 pounds. More human than cat, he didn't realize he wasn't supposed to like french fries, or pumpkin innards at Halloween time, or pancake syrup or butter or cereal. If I was eating it, it was good enough for him. Well, except for the pumpkin innards. He came up with that one on his own.

One of his favorite positions to be in was on me when I was sitting on the couch watching TV. He would sit on my lap, then place his forelegs on either side of my body with his head in the middle of my chest. He appeared completely comfortable that way, and frankly, I loved it when he was feeling that snuggly. He loved having his chin scratched and belly patted. His meows would indicate otherwise, but as a long-haired Siamese, he was very vocally expressive.

He didn't limit himself to just me. He was an all-person cat. If someone came to the house, it must be because they were there to see Siren. He loved all people, especially the ones who were allergic to him or didn't want cat fur on them.

Several weeks ago, he got out of the house for about an hour. We don't know exactly what he got into or did, but when I went to go water the garden, I found that he was outside waiting to be let in. He immediately ran underneath the piano and stayed there for some time.

It wasn't until the following day when I was getting ready to leave for a week that I realized I hadn't really seen a lot of Siren lately. That was unusual for him, as he always makes his presence known. I looked for him and found him underneath the piano. His eyes were very red and almost swollen shut. Cinnamon agreed to take him to the vet the next morning.

The initial diagnosis was that he had gotten into something chemical and rubbed it across his eyes. The vet cleaned up his eyes, which caused the fur around his eyes to fall out, making him look like he was wearing a tan mask. They discovered that he had gotten both a staph and strep infection and was suffering from chemical burns around his eyes and a little bit on the inside of his mouth. He was put on antibiotics, given eye ointment, and sent home. We were reassured that though he had been in some pain, everything would be fine.

We tried to cling to that hope, even after it appeared that everything would not be fine. He started losing his fur, not just in small increments as happens in the summer after a particularly damp winter as we've had, but in large clumps. Running fingers through his fur would result in huge amounts coming off in your hand. He started eating less, becoming disinterested in food. Eventually, he lost all of the hair on his belly, chest and inside of his legs. It was apparent that the chemical burns were now impacting his skin, causing it be ineffective at doing what skin is supposed to do -- keep good stuff in and bad stuff out. His white blood cell counts continued to rise, even after higher and different dosages of antibiotics. His skin became red and inflamed. He stopped eating altogether after several more days. I force fed him for a couple of days, but he was growing weaker and weaker. He couldn't stand or walk very well, losing his balance frequently, and preferred to just stay in a corner of the house with his towels and stuffed dog, Buddy, for company.

I took him to the vet after three days of force-feeding him and after his white blood cell count had risen dramatically in just 5 days. They decided to keep him there with them, run an IV so he could get nourishment, and see how the filtered, clean-air environment there would help him. He stayed for four days and showed dramatic improvement. His skin was showing signs of healing, he was eating on his own and the infection appeared to be completely gone.

I took him home with me on Monday night. He wasn't inititially interested in food, but I figured that was just because he was getting used to being home again. But by Tuesday morning, I knew he had to go back to the vet's. He was still very wobbly on his feet, had a hard time even standing without help, and wasn't eating at all, although he was drinking plenty of water.

Linda and I spent some time with him in the morning, sharing the milk from our cereal with him -- the only food he did show an interest in.

When we got to the vet's, they immediately whisked him away so that he could get started on an IV again. The doctor was sure that in a clean-air environment Siren's skin would heal completely and he would eventually return to normal. We expressed concerns about not being able to afford another however many days of intensive care like that, and he said, "God's been good to us. We try to be good to the animals. This one's on us. Just make sure you do someone else a kindess when you can. Just don't let the money aspect worry you right now. We're going to take care of him and we're going to get him better."

I went yesterday afternoon, Tuesday, to visit Siren. He was yowling and crying when the vet tech was carrying him out to me, hooked up to his IV, but as soon as he was put on the table and saw that I was waiting for him, he calmed down and came straight to me.

I spent a fair amount of time with him last night, petting, holding, stroking him, and talking to him, letting him know that he was in the best place possible for him, and that even though he hated being there, it was just so they could get him well so he could return home. Every once in awhile he would put his head up and meow, a little more hoarse than usual, then put his head back into the crook of my arm, or against my body. He was purring and happy, or as happy as I think he could be under those conditions.

When I left, I really was hopeful that he would make a full recovery. I had had my doubts up until this point, and having already prepared myself three times for the eventuality of having to put him to sleep, the fact that the doctor was so confident that the skin could heal given the right environment, and that he wasn't willing to give up yet, gave me hope that I would have several more years with my little Siren.

This morning, the three of us went to go visit Siren before going into work. Per the doctor's request, I had brought a little treat of some chicken to give to him. We were laughing and joking in the waiting room. It came as a surprise, a shock, really, when the receptionist came back out and said that Siren hadn't made it through the night. I don't know if it was the shock of hearing it so bluntly, or if I really had known all along that he wouldn't make it that made it so easy for me to accept. Linda and Cim weren't convinced, though. They were sure she was talking about the wrong cat.

She wasn't. They brought us into a room so we could have some time to say some final goodbyes.

His little body wasn't his own, and thank goodness for that. The fur he had been so proud of was mostly all gone, burned off by whatever chemicals he had found that one night. He was skinny, having lost one third of his body weight in a little over a month. There was no more meow, no more happy purr.

He had fought a very good fight, a fight that nine out of ten cats would have given up on long before he did. I think he hung on so long just because we loved him so fiercely. Even at the end, even with the pain and discomfort he was enduring, he didn't want to disappoint us. I think it helped that all three of us, all three of his mamas, had told him at some point that it was okay to let go. We were all hopeful he would come home, but knew we couldn't be selfish any longer. At the end, it just wasn't a quality of life any longer for my baby Siren. He deserved better. He deserved the kind of happiness he's been bringing to so many of us for so many years. He deserves whatever great kitty reward it is that's waiting for him. I don't know if it's a field full of mice, or trees of birds to chase and watch, or an endless supply of french fries, milk and pumpkin innards, but whatever there is that's waiting for him, he deserves the very best.

Linda likes to think of him being with Heavenly Father today, sitting in that lap, looking up at him adoringly with blue eyes and purring happily. Cim envisions him running and playing with Pouncer, perhaps getting squirted with a hose just for old time's sake. If she were there, she'd wrassle him to the ground and play the "Aaaargh" game with him as only Cim could do with Siren.

Me? I don't know what kitty heaven is like, but I know that when I pass to the other side of the veil, Siren will be one of those beloved spirits waiting to greet me. I hope to be able to communicate heart to heart with him and thank him for many years of joy and happiness he's brought to me. I'm happy he's free of pain, has all his fur back, and has found a better place than these last five weeks of hell had been for him.

Thank you, Siren, for not only coming to my life, but entering my heart. A little piece of it died today with you, but I'm happy that you're happy and at peace.

Godspeed, Siren.