[Content Note: pet death, depression]
So I think it’s about time I talked about Kočka.
Early November, 2015. The gas company in my college town was replacing the old gas pipes all over town, so they came to check my apartment to make sure everything was okay. There was a small leak they couldn’t identify, so they had to leave the gas off and told me to call my landlord to get it fixed. After a cold night without any heat, my landlord came and brought some gas and plumbing guys to figure things out. I shut Sen and Delilah in the bedroom so the workers could come in and out without me worrying about the cats. As I was sitting in my living room, one of the workers stuck his head in and said “hey, did one of your cats get out?” I said “I hope not! What do you mean?!” he responded, “there’s a kitten out here, she just walked right up to us.” I was incredulous, but I went to the door and sure enough, there was a little brown tabby kitten standing there. When she saw me, she walked right over and rubbed against my legs. I picked her up and she cuddled right into my arms, purring up a storm. I brought her inside, bewildered, and put her in front of the dry food bowl, where she proceeded to chow down. I kept telling the workers “I can’t keep her, I have to find out if she belongs to anybody”. I took a picture with my phone and sent it to my mom, who responded “no, you can’t keep her”. I texted friends, I posted on a cat forum in a panic. “WHAT DO I DO?! I can’t keep this kitten!” The general response was to call a shelter, but when I did they said “we won’t take her, try animal control” and when I called them, they told me the animal control officer was out that day, and try again tomorrow if I still had the animal. Meanwhile, she’d finished eating and wanted to explore my house, but I didn’t know what the state of her health was (she had crusty eyes and a runny nose, which could’ve been serious or not), so I scooped her up and cuddled her some more. When she seemed restless, I made a little litter box out of a small plastic basin, but she didn’t seem to understand, so I took her back outside, where she did her business neatly. Before she could take another step, I scooped her back up and brought her back inside, then I put her in the bathroom to stay isolated from Sen and Delilah.
I wasn’t in the best financial straits, so I worried how I would be able to afford a vet visit to see if she was okay. All she wanted to do was cuddle and purr, whenever I left the bathroom and closed the door she protested with her squeaky little meow, but I had to do other things. I checked on her often, but she was always mad when I left her again. If I went to use the bathroom, she’s hook her sharp little claws into my bare leg and climb up to cuddle. My legs quickly became a patchwork of bleeding scratches, although I also tried to just pick her up first so she couldn’t climb or jump.
I managed to get her to the vet either the following day or the day after that, and he tested her for the really bad things (FIV and feline leukemia), she was negative. She had worms, so he gave me de-wormer and told me to keep her separate from my adult cats for at least a week, just to be safe. She also had feline herpes virus, which caused a severe upper respiratory infection (it’s a bit different from human herpes, and both Sen and Delilah already had it). She wasn’t too happy about being cooped up, and let me know. I doubt she much cared about being separate from the rest of the house or the other cats, but she didn’t like being confined, and she especially didn’t like being without me. As soon as I entered the bathroom, she wanted to not only be near me, but on me. She would climb up onto my legs and flop over, purring. I would pick her up and lay her in my arms and she would just lie there on her back, purring as she gazed up at me. She mostly just wanted to be with me. She wouldn’t eat much when I wasn’t there, but when I was she was so busy loving on me that she’d only eat a few bites if I stayed and talked to her, and she’d still look up between every mouthful to make sure I was still there.
I put out pleas on Facebook, asking anyone if they wanted a kitten. I posted pictures of her, talked about how sweet she was. I refused to name her, because I knew once I named her, she would be mine. After a week or so I started calling her Squeaker, because of the adorable little squeaky mew she would make when she wanted my attention, or was complaining about her incarceration. There was one person who said they had a friend who might want her, and they’d let me know. My friends on Facebook teased me when I posted pictures of us cuddling, saying she obviously had a home already, but I was stubborn and insisted she wasn’t staying. My older brother and his pregnant wife offered to take her, as I would see them soon at the baby shower, but I decided that wasn’t the best idea, as they already had two cats and the baby was due in a few months. Shortly after I made that decision, I named her. I was taking a 5-week Czech workshop at the time, just for fun, and found out that the word for a female cat was Kočka (pronounced coach-kah). I’d gone over a couple names, including Artemis, Luna, and keeping Squeaker, but Kočka felt the most right. I introduced her to Sen and Delilah, and both of them were less than thrilled. Delilah mostly ignored her, with only a few whaps on the head if she got too playful, but Sen would run away hissing anytime she came near him.
Not long after the baby shower, near the end of November, I went to the doctor about a strange rash I’d developed all over my body. He said it was either a bacterial infection or ringworm, and after I put the antibacterial cream on for a week and nothing happened, I then switched to the antifungal cream and it started to improve. When I took Kočka to the vet, he confirmed that she had a really bad case of it. And it had not only spread to me, but to Sen and Delilah as well. Even a friend who’d taken care of her for the weekend of the baby shower had gotten it. Ringworm is a really annoying but mostly harmless disease, however it’s incredibly hard to get rid of, and very contagious. The end result was that I decided that it was better if I stayed home over the holidays, rather than risk infecting my family. It was a really lonely and depressing holiday season for me, and since I didn’t have classes or anything I more or less because a lump of do-nothing, not cooking, ignoring the piles of take-out boxes that were growing in my living room, not taking out the trash or doing anything more than the bare minimum of feeding myself and the cats. Kočka was my constant companion. Once she’d recovered from her respiratory problems, she’d become incredibly playful, while still staying cuddly and loving. She started going into heat, which was the first time I’d experienced that, and she was super curious about the outdoors. I was extra careful not to let her outside, especially after a few male suitors showed up and yowled at her from outside.
In early January, I got her spayed and microchipped. She was so listless after the surgery that I was really afraid, but the next morning she was back to her normal self. She had to stay in confinement for several days, no running or jumping, to keep her stitches from pulling out. She was even less pleased about it than before, as she’d gotten used to having the run of the house. She tried constantly to escape whenever I opened the door to enter or leave. After about five days I gave up and let her loose, and she mostly refrained from running and jumping, so it turned out fine. At the two-week post-surgery mark, she had her stitches out, and she was back to her old tricks, more or less.
Around that time I was getting really busy, as I was taking part in my campus production of The Vagina Monologues. In addition to my regular schoolwork, I was on campus until late several times a week, and when I was home I was too exhausted to do much. Delilah had eventually warmed enough to Kočka that they would play chase or wrestle, and Sen was okay as long as she left him alone. Kočka loved to bat the q-tips off the vanity and chase them around the house. She had a sparkly ball that she would carry around, drop at my feet, and fetch when I threw it. She also had other balls that she batted around. She had a wand toy that she always wanted to play with, and if I stopped playing and put it down, she’d pick up the soft part in her mouth and carry it to me and look at me as if to say “do it again, now, no breaks”. When I spoke to her and answered for her, I did a little baby voice for her, and she called me “Mommy” in that voice.
The weekend the Vagina Monologue ended, I noticed she was acting lethargic. She was wheezing and didn’t want to do anything, including eat much. I took her to the vet the following day, and he told me she probably just had a bad cold or infection, and gave me a few antibiotics to give her. After a week, she hadn’t improved, so I took her back. He did an x-ray and said it was pneumonia, but she’d probably improve eventually, I just had to be patient. He took her off one of the antibiotics and put her on a new one, and told me to let him know if anything changed. A few more days of watching her struggle to breathe and I decided to get a second opinion. On Monday, March 21st, I took her to a different vet, who I’d never seen before, and he said he was really worried about her, she didn’t look good, so he admitted her. I had to leave her behind to be treated, but I petted her and assured her that she’d be home soon, and that she just had to focus on getting better fast.
The next day, when I returned to see her, they let me go in and see her, and said she’d been very feisty and angry at them, so they couldn’t remove her from her cage. I heard her hissing when I walked in, but as soon as she saw me she turned into the purring love-machine I knew so well. She wanted nothing but to cuddle me and leave that place. When I left the room so the vet could show me her x-ray, she cried at the top of her lungs for me. Her x-ray showed some fluid build-up, but the vet said it could just be the pneumonia, and she had a good chance of recovery. I’d brought some of my clothes and some of her wet food from home, so she’d have something that smelled like me and something to eat that was familiar, and I went in to say goodbye for the night, and I heard her crying for me all the way to the car.
Wednesday morning, when I called, they said she had been refusing to eat, and they weren’t feeling optimistic. Even though Wednesdays were my busiest days normally, I managed to squeeze in 3 visits that day. The last time they said she’d happily started eating again, some dry food (the wet she normally ate was what she’d refused), and as I loved on her before I left, I told her that she had to hurry and get better, because she had to come home soon.
Thursday, March 24th, the vet called me early and said she wasn’t going to make it. The fluid had increased, her breathing was more labored, and it was clear to him that she was suffering from FIP, a fatal virus that had caused the pneumonia. I took my time getting ready. I cried, hoping he was wrong. I showered, and emailed my professor to let him know I wasn’t going to be in class that morning, and canceled class for my students that afternoon. By the time I got to the vet and they took me back, he brought her in and she was glassy-eyed, she’d stopped breathing and they were trying to do CPR to bring her back for me. I cried quietly as he manually pumped her lungs, trying to get her to breathe, and I told her how much I loved her, and that it was okay for her to go, and that I would be okay, and that she was the most wonderful kitten and I was so glad that she’d been my baby. The vet stopped moving his hands, and I looked up and asked “is she…?” and he said “yes, I’m sorry.” and a huge sobbed ripped out of me, and I almost collapsed at the table. He left quietly, saying he’d leave me alone for a bit. I tried to pet her, but it hurt too much. Her eyes were open and her tongue was sticking out and she was so terribly, terrible still. I opened the door and waved in a vet tech, sobbing, and she asked what she could do. I said “please, please take her, I can’t…” The vet tech bundled her up in the shirt I’d brought two days before, and took her away. I left and managed to drive myself home, and then collapsed in my bed and sobbed for the rest of the day. My heart was broken. Sen and Delilah wouldn’t come near me, maybe because I smelled like the vet, like death, or maybe because it frightened them, to hear me crying. My baby girl was dead. My sweet baby girl was gone.
Later that day, the vet called me. He’d been in a surgery when I left, so he hadn’t been able to talk to me, but he asked what I wanted to do. He said there was a pet crematorium and cemetery that they worked with, who could either return her ashes to me or scatter them in their memorial garden. I told him that the only thing I wanted was her paw print, and he said they could do that on a card for me.
The next day some friends kindly drove me back to the vet’s office. I picked up the empty crate, with my clothes and her little dish and the unopened cans of cat food. I paid for her care, putting it on my credit card. I started to cry when they handed me the itemized receipt, showing all the things they’d done, all the effort they’d put into saving her, but it wasn’t enough. My friends gently guided me back to their car, put her crate in the trunk and drove me home as I cried. They sat with me in my apartment, they hugged me and helped me tidy up the mess that I’d let develop because of all the energy I’d spent worrying about her. They stayed several hours, because they didn’t want me to be alone, and it meant a lot to me.
I started this blog the day after Kočka died. I knew I wanted to write about her, to write about all the wonderful little things she did, how she would groom my face with her rough little tongue when she was cuddled up on my chest, how she wanted to always be near me, even if she wasn’t touching me, she’d be in the same room, cuddled in a cat bed or playing with her ball or climbing the bookshelf. I’d been thinking about getting back into blogging before her death, but as I laid in bed all day on Friday I knew I needed something to distract me, even if it was only briefly, from the pain of losing her.
It still hurts to look at pictures of her, but here’s one anyway, my favorite of all the many pictures I took of her. It wasn’t long before she got sick, and one of the only pictures I got of her awake and alert, because if she was awake she was usually moving. The way she wrapped her little tail around her legs so primly was so precious, and her expression, equal parts inquisitive and annoyed, was so like her.
I love you, my precious baby girl. Thank you for being part of my life. Thank you for choosing me, even though it hurt, because loving you was such a gift, and I will always treasure it.