Today has been a day of mourning here at Chez Mack-Bain. We had to say good-bye to our beloved feline friend Mister Puck. We got to spend just over twelve years of our lives with him, and in that time we came to love him more than we can express.
He was born in early November of 2004, and we adopted him on March 6, 2005. It had been a case of love at first sight. Kara spotted him, a shivering orange-and-white fluff, across a crowded room at the Union Square Petco. She knew the moment she saw him that he was the kitten for her, and for us. I wasn’t so sure, but her passion for him persuaded me.
He had come to us slightly feral and terrified. When we first got him home, all he wanted to do was hide. To get him to eat, Kara had to feed him bits of wet cat food from her fingertips.
In time he learned to be less scared, but he was always a clumsy thing, and small for his age, probably due to a period of malnutrition during a crucial early growth phase. His rear feet were absurdly pigeon-toed, and as a result he wobbled when he walked, and when he ran he sometimes hopped like a bunny. He was perpetually skittish, terrified of his own shadow, and a neurotic creature of habit.
Though he never really warmed up to strangers (with only a few rare exceptions), he soon came to be very affectionate with me and Kara. He would lounge behind our heads when we sat on the sofa; hip-check our heads as he strolled along from one end of the sofa to the other; flump against me in the mornings (or afternoons, when he felt I had slept in too long); cuddle up against Kara as she went to sleep at night. He loved his spot under the sofa, atop his kitty tower by the window, under the bed in my office, and on top of our radiator in the winters.
Aside from some plaque on his teeth, his last physical had turned up nothing out of the ordinary. So we were concerned when his behavior changed abruptly after the holidays this year. He became asocial, choosing to hide from even us, and his appetite deteriorated. As a lifelong companion of cats, I knew these were bad signs.
We brought him to the vet in early January of 2017; the first visit turned up nothing amiss. His blood work was perfect, all tests of his organ function were optimal. His weight was down a little, but there were no warning signs for diabetes or hyperthyroidism, or anything else. We were baffled, but thought maybe he had just gone through a blue funk of some sort.
A couple of weeks later, while petting Puck’s face, Kara felt a hard mass under the skin on the left side of his throat. We immediately took him back to the vet, and this time we insisted on x-rays, which revealed a tumor-like mass. The doctor took a sample for biopsy. The plan was, if the tumor was benign, just an annoying fatty tumor, we would surgically excise it. That threatened to be an expensive process, but I was prepared to pay the cost. “Let’s go to work,” I told the doctors.
A few days later they had the biopsy results. It was a malignant squamous cell carcinoma, and it was not just in his throat but attached to his jugular vein, which meant it was both inoperable and imminently terminal. There was nothing we could do but try to make him comfortable for as long as we were able.
We soldiered on, in denial, for the last two and half months. I was especially heartbroken at this news because Puck was only 12 and in good health otherwise; we should have had years more time with him. Adding insult to the injury, this type of cancer was the same thing that had taken my beloved Ripley six and half years earlier.
A few days ago I noticed that Puck’s tumor had broken through the surface of his skin, bringing with it the putrid reek of infection. Puck had reached a point where he could no longer open his mouth to eat or drink. That meant I could no longer give him medicine. There was nothing more that we could do for him. From that point forward, his quality of life could only decline, his discomfort could only increase — and through it all he would be starving but unable to eat. The point at which I finally knew for certain it was time to contact the doctors was when Puck emerged from under the sofa late one night, looked up at me, and tried to cry — but couldn’t open his mouth to let out his cry.
His longtime veterinarian kindly agreed to make a house call today, on his day off, a day when his office is normally closed, to ease Puck off this mortal coil. I visited their office yesterday to fill out all the papers and pay all the fees. When that was done, I bought some supplies and brought them home to prepare for our final good-byes with our beloved golden prince.
I remembered that when we had to put Ripley to sleep, I hadn’t realized the doctors would need something in which to put my cat after it was done, so that they could take her away for cremation. We ended up wrapping her in an old pet fleece, because it was all we could find on short notice. I wasn’t going to let that happen to Mister Puck.
To allow him to make his final exit with dignity and beauty, I emptied the box that had brought the copies of my latest book. I used some shiny metallic-silver gift wrapping paper to decorated the outside of the box, and all its top flaps. Two and half jumbo bags of cotton balls formed the cushion in the bottom of the box and a pillow; a pair of somber-colored but tasteful pashmina shawls from a discount store provided the box’s lining and Mister Puck’s shroud. Last but not least, I bought some fresh flowers and pre-cut their stems to fit inside the box.
When I had finished all these preparations, I broke down and cried for a while.
Today, the doctors came to the house at roughly 2pm. They gave Puck a mild sedative so that we could spend some time with him without him being terrified. They gave me and Kara a generous period of time alone with Puck, and when we said we were ready, they delivered his final injection while we held and soothed him. After the doctor pronounced that Puck had passed, Kara and I wrapped our furry little man in his shroud, and then we lowered him into the box. I arranged the flowers on top of him, to tell whoever might open the box, “This beast was loved.” And then I taped it closed, to preserve Puck’s privacy, which I know he would’ve wanted.
The rest of today has been a surreal blur. This is a pain Kara and I will feel acutely for some time.
Mister Puck, you were the best of all cats, and we gave you the best possible life that we could. All we ever wanted was for you to be happy, comfortable, and healthy. I wish you hadn’t left us so soon, but these things are rarely if ever up to us.
Requiescat in pace, beloved cat.
November 4, 2004 – March 26, 2017