Thursday, June 21, 2007

Cat story

Hey, the world has discovered a great website: Cats That Look Like Hitler! I only rediscovered it myself a little while ago, and meant to tie it in to a piece about my own dear Hitler cat. This means it's time to get off my duff -- or actually back on it -- and write about Alpo.

ALPO 1986(?) - 2001

By July 1995, I was ready for a cat and headed to the Wilmington, NC, shelter. Oh, they were adorable. I wanted them all. I nearly succumbed to the kittens crawling all over me, but since this was not a no-kill shelter, and adult cats were supposedly more likely to time-out their stay, I asked to see the adults. A sweet, pure white cat came right to me. We liked each other. I went to the desk to fill out the papers. And an shelter volunteer smiled: "Oh you're taking her? I was about to, if no one else did."

I rethought my plans. This dear pretty cat would not go homeless. I had met another cat who was sitting grumpily in a cage ignoring everybody, and likely would.

"What's his story?" I asked.

"That's Alpo. His owner committed suicide and neighbors found homes for 3 other cats but couldn't place him so they brought him here." They opened the cage and extracted Alpo, who did not want to leave it, and climbed out of the attendant's hands and across my shoulders to try and get back in.

He went home with me.

And stayed under the guest room bed for 7 weeks. Each morning there would be deposits in the litter box and withdrawals from the food bowl, but no Alpo. I tried to lure him out with catnip -- he was immune to the stuff -- and even a MacDonald's fish sandwich. No interest. I received a passing glance indicating that I did not exist.

Then I went to visit my friend-becoming-a-boyfriend in NJ for a week. When I got back I was reading in bed the first evening and was stunned to have Alpo jump up and settle...not exactly next to me. Down on the corner. Until I shifted my knee, sending him off like a shot. This became our new pattern. He would settle a couple feet away on the bed and I would try not to move till I had to. Slightest motion from me and the spell would break.

When Larry came to visit me, Alpo came out and sniffed him for a few seconds. On their first meeting! Alpo was pretty good at assessing hooman character.

Larry became Cat-Treat Man and Alpo decided I had Acquired Larry for the express purpose of improving Alpo's lifestyle. As Alpo thawed out toward people, he became a real companion, of the sit-with-you sort, rump mashed against my shoulder as he stretched out on the couch arm while I read or watched TV. He wouldn't play. No manufactured toy could engage his interest. Dangled strings evoked a "Yeah? What am I supposed to do about it?" look. "You're boring," I'd say. He'd yawn.

Alpo spent nearly 6 years with me/us. His age was unknown but his last vet said he was most likely about 10 when he came to live with me. The life he led with his suicidal owner may have been very weird. Alpo bonded with me and with Larry, and had moments of normality, but never ceased to be skittish and off in a world of his own -- not a terribly pleasant world, it seemed, judging by occasional panics and howls out of nowhere. I've wondered if his former owner gave him alcohol or drugs and skewed his brain chemistry.

But he loved us, and our wonderful Victorian house with its multiple levels and nooks and crannies. We came south again in 2000, and his new vet immediately convinced me that he needed teeth-cleaning under anesthesia. Like a fool -- no, like a cat-servant who thinks the expert knows best, I agreed.

Coincidence? Maybe, but his blood pressure shot up afterward, detached his retinas and he went blind. Blood pressure meds helped, and the retinas partially reattached but by now he had failing kidneys. He lived as nice a life as we could make for him for some months more, but we took him in (to our new and better vet) for that awful last visit in July 2001.

He had 5 great years of life with us (and one last not-so-great one). When I moan my "if onlys," which i still occasionally do, Larry reminds me that he had 5 years of happiness that he would never have had without us. But NO vet will EVER put a cat of mine under anesthesia for a damn tooth-cleaning, ever again.


Sherwood Harrington said...

What a beautiful post, Ruth. Thank you.

There was an old guy who lived in what might kindly be called a shack in the woods near us who had a cat named "Alpo," so I was a little startled to see that name. He was always carrying on about how much trouble the cat was, how unfriendly it was, how much he disliked the cat, etc. etc. etc. When Alpo disappeared into the woods one day, never to come back, the old guy was in a deep, deep gloom for weeks.

Even difficult cats can steal our hearts, can't they?

Mike said...

Larry's consolation is pretty good. There are animals (as there are people) who don't fit in the world without some accomodation and your patience in letting Alpo find his niche was a gift to him. For five years or 15 hardly matters in a cat's mind, and you gave him some comfort in a life that previously may not have had a lot of that.

Nostalgic for the Pleistocene said...

Sherwood - there's a story just like that about my grandmother. They had a cat for whom she seemed to have complete contempt. Named him "Cat" just to depersonalize him. When he died (at about age 21) she cried for days. Yep, even difficult cats will getcha!

Mike - It was a good 5 years, for both/all of us, and the dental thing is a lesson i'm sure i was supposed to learn! [grumble] Hate lessons. 8~)

Sherwood Harrington said...

Ruth, I meant to mention that the old guy (heh, like I'm spry) named the cat "Alpo" as an insult, implying that dog food would be all the cat would be good for. That's a step beyond depersonalizing, isn't it -- and maybe that's why your Alpo was so named.

ronnie said...

Ruth, if I can echo what I said on the newsgroup, I hope the kindness you showed Alpo comes back to you and Larry tenfold.

I think if there is an afterlife, there is a very special place reserved for those who take care of the abandoned, fragile, damaged, and supposedly 'unlovable' creatures of this world.

Nostalgic for the Pleistocene said...

Thanks Ronnie ... it already came back tenfold!

Lest yall think i'm so nice, really, my reaction to him in the shelter was more like: "I relate to this little guy! I want to be left alone, he wants to be left alone - let's throw in together!" 8~) He really was a funny grumpy little sweetie.