Tuesday, March 6, 2018

Eleni 10.10.1999-6.3.2018

We found Eleni as a feral-born kitten in November 1999. She was an only kitten, or only surviving kitten, a tuxedo black and white short hair, with an unfriendly tabby mother. Eleni and her mother were among a group of feral cats we were feeding in our garden. It soon became clear that Eleni’s mother was unwell, as her fur was covered in fungal infections. She was starting to reject Eleni, who was afraid of the other cats and often had trouble getting any of the food we were putting out for them. She must have been about six weeks old in December 1999 when we decided to adopt her.

It had been a few months since we had lost our previous cat, Percy, an indoor-outdoor tabby male who turned out to be older than we had realized. He died of kidney problems, and the vet said he must have been about 15 years old. He had been living with us for 5 years, since his previous owners moved away and took their dog but abandoned him. At the time I felt ready for the commitment of having an indoor-only cat, and wanted to have a kitten that we would know from the beginning.
The moment of deciding to adopt was very special. I had brought down food for the feral cats and I took Eleni aside to feed her away from the adults. She let me touch her, pick her up into my lap, and she ate and let me stroke her. She looked into my eyes with such a look of trust that I knew the time was right. I promised her she would be my cat forever, and took her home. 

The first night we kept her in the kitchen, with her food and water, and access to the balcony with the litter box. We wanted to be sure that she would use the litter box, and she knew immediately what to do with it. The next day she went to the vet. She had the expected fleas and worms, and also a bit of the fungal parasite that her mother had. She also had some sniffles. The vet gave her an injection of antibiotics, treatment for the fleas and worms, and her first vaccination. We were given a cream to put on her fungal infected areas, mainly her ears and her paws. She recovered quickly and gradually became a happy indoor kitten, playing with toys, climbing on everything, and sleeping in our bed.
Eleni was an anxious kitten who imprinted on us and became very attached to us. She moved home with us and quickly adapted to her new surroundings. She grew into a contented adult, was spayed, of course, and enjoyed playing and climbing on her cat tree. She preferred dry food and a closed litter box. She liked watching birds outside the window, but never really tried to hunt.

When Eleni was two years old, we thought she was getting bored and kept asking her if she wanted a kitten. We thought if we had two cats we would get one sitting on each lap. Around that time, Pandora came along and we adopted her because she was obviously looking for a home and we couldn’t say no. We knew we should take the introduction slowly. At first, we kept Pandora in a separate room, with her own food and litter box. Eleni was very anxious about having another cat in the house. She often vomited when she saw or smelled Pandora. When they finally met, Eleni was fearful, while Pandora just wanted to play with her. It was quite upsetting to see how Eleni could be troubled by such a small, fluffy kitten. After a while, they learned to tolerate each other, but never really became friends. They had the bed as a safe zone, but Pandora liked to ambush Eleni and sometimes chased her around the house. They had no problem sharing a food bowl and the litter box, and sometimes sat quite close to each other, or on two different levels of the cat tree. When there were birds outside the window, they both watched them and chattered at them. Eleni usually slept between our pillows or cuddled under the covers in my arms, while Pandora slept at the foot of the bed. Having Pandora around was good for Eleni, as she became playful again and seemed less bored, though perhaps more anxious.
We moved home another couple of times, and the well being of our two cats was always important, so we always chose homes close to a vet. We soon had to accept that Eleni was a lap cat while Pandora wasn’t, and at most would sit next to one of us. While Pandora was a challenge, Eleni was always very loving and intimate. I could spend hours holding her and stroking her and enjoying her purring. When she was anxious, I could calm her down and make her feel safe again.

As Eleni grew older, she began experiencing some bladder infections. They happened every year or two, and we had to give her antibiotics to clear them up. She did not enjoy taking pills, and we had to adopt the purrito method of wrapping her in a towel to do this. Eventually the vet realized that the problem was associated with a degeneration in her lower spine, just above the tail. This caused pain in her lower back and made it uncomfortable and sometimes painful for her to squat in the litter box. She often cried before, during, and after using the litter box, or had to go to the box several times until she was able to overcome the pain and do what she needed to. The vet prescribed a pain medication that we gave her twice a day. Fortunately it was a liquid, which was easier to give than a pill. The spinal problem sometimes caused her rear legs to straighten without her volition, and so she would suddenly slip while walking. Her rear legs also sometimes twitched or kicked out, and she was as surprised by this as we were. 

Since we started having to give Eleni medication twice a day, we decided not to travel or even spend a night away from home. We didn’t feel that she would let someone else give her the medicine, and we were willing to make this sacrifice for her sake. Some people might not understand how we could do this for a cat, but she was a family member and greatly loved. When we travelled in the past, I always missed my cats so much and sometimes felt worried about them. This is one disadvantage of having cats. It is difficult to take them travelling with you, even just overnight, and you have to leave them with a cat sitter or in a cat pension. When you are particularly attached to a cat, this is one of the costs.

During Pandora’s illness, Eleni was rather confused. Pandora started smelling of vet, and eventually spent a few days with a feeding tube and a cone of shame, and we had to keep giving her medication and feeding her through the tube. Then Pandora left and didn’t return. We were not clear how Eleni reacted to Pandora’s disappearance, but at the time I was happy to have Eleni, both as a source of comfort for me and as another cat who needed my devoted care. Because Eleni never really got on well with Pandora, we decided not to adopt another kitten and to let her enjoy her final years as an only cat. She was fifteen when Pandora died.

We had promised Eleni we wouldn’t have to move again, but unfortunately we had an unexpected adventure in November 2016. There was a major forest fire near our home and we had to evacuate. This involved taking Eleni in her carrier, walking for about 4 kilometers to a safe evacuation centre, and then staying overnight with friends. The friends had dogs, but were very considerate and took their dogs to stay with relatives so Eleni could be comfortable. We returned home the next day and found our house undamaged, and Eleni very quickly returned to normal. This was just another example of how she was attached to us and could adapt to new surroundings because we were there to keep her calm.

Eleni is by far the cat I have had the longest, and the closest, most intimate friend. While Pandora accepted affection on her own terms, Eleni delighted in physical contact and craved cuddles. She was a lap cat, though in the summer it tended to be too hot for her to sit on a lap for very long. Cat people will understand the special bond that forms between human and cat and know what it can mean.
I learned from the foster kitten cams the importance of tracking a cat’s weight, and after weight loss was one of the first clues to Pandora’s conditions, I bought a baby scale and we weighed Eleni every day and kept a record so we would know if something started changing. Her weight gradually declined and she ate less and less, despite our efforts to find food she would be willing to eat.
Three weeks ago, Eleni had another bladder infection and spent another night in hospital. They did an ultrasound and found a growth in her liver, which could have been a tumour or a cyst. Obviously, at the age of 18 the risks of surgery outweighed any possible benefits. She was given antibiotics and appetite pills, which we gave her for a week. She seemed a bit better after that, but still ate very little and kept losing weight. Last night, she was in constant pain and cried for hours. We knew it was time to let her go and release her from the pain we could no longer alleviate.
I always knew that losing Eleni would be one of the hardest things I would have to experience. She was my constant companion and my close friend for a long time, and while I loved Pandora and had a special type of closeness with her, it was not the same as with Eleni. Having Eleni in my life made me a better person, and saving her life was one of the best things I've ever done. Letting her go was the right decision, caring more about removing her pain than about the pain of loss I am experiencing now.

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