They say that the best things in life are free.
Mine had a small adoption fee.

In 1995, I bought a house, and was finally able to get cats.  I inherited a hand-me-down kitty from A.'s (my then-girlfriend's) mother.  Snowball was of indeterminate age—my vet guessed maybe 7 or so—and pure white with blue eyes, but not deaf, as many white blue-eyed kitties are.  He had been front-paw-declawed by someone before A.'s-mother, and probably should have been an indoor kitty, but he liked going out, so I let him do it.

While he was a good kitty, he never sat on my lap at all.  So in January of 1996, I answered a call for help from someone who was moving and had a kitty that her roommate had promised to take, but then said he could not take after all.  This got me Ash, at about 1 year old, a big solid-black kitten who was kind of playful, but he and Ash had some trouble getting along, and he too was not a lap-kitty.  I let him out (supervised like Snowball at first, until he learned how to deal with the outdoors) and this relieved the territorial pressure between the two males.  But I still wanted a lap-cat.

So, in November 1996, the weekend of Thanksgiving, I went to shelters to look at kittens.  The local shelter in Berkeley was closed, and the shelter in Pinole was closed, so I went to the one that served the Martinez-and-Concord area (which was open).  In one cage, there were three 8 (or so) week old kittens, one orange, one solid black, and one black-and-white.  Every time I went to that cage, the black kitten would run over to me and purr at me.  Whenever I was not at that cage, she'd go back to the black-and-white kitten and they would make a little kitten-ball.

I decided that I would have to take both of them, as it would be unfair to split them up.  The shelter had given them temporary names (Bonnie and Betty, I don't know which was which) but they did not seem to care about those names, so I thought long and hard, and watched and listened to them, trying to find the right names.  The all-black kitten would purr and purr and purr, looking at me as though to say: “I'm not going to tell you my name.  It's a secret.”  She was like a little pixie, and I thought maybe she could be Pixie, but her purr went: rhooooo-seeee, rhoooo-seee ... and the other kitten had this fuzzy white spot on her forehead, a little diamond-shaped pixel.  So the all-black kitten became Rosie, and the black-and-white became Pixel.

Both of them were little angel scamps, i.e., perfectly typical kittens.  I got them good foods and they promptly filled out—A. actually took a photo of them a few days after I got them, and looking back at that photo (which I have long since lost), they were both really scraggly looking, with Rosie in particular looking like maybe she had mange—and I got them treated for ear mites (shelter kitties virtually always have ear mites), and when they were old enough, I got them spayed.  I had a bit of a panic with Rosie when she did not recover the way Pixel did, but soon enough they were both back to normal.

Neither seemed all that shy as kittens, and I had a cat sitter that took care of them when I was away who played with them.  But somehow they both turned terribly shy.  Maybe I didn't bring enough other people into the house, or maybe their mom was feral and they just were predestined to be shy.  Either way, by the time they were a few years old, even the cat sitter could barely entice them out.  But with me, they were not so scared ... and Rosie was a total lap-cat.  Pixel would sit in my lap, but only on her own terms. Pixel would, however, play catch.  She liked these little foam-rubber ball toys: I would toss one and she would go catch it in her mouth and carry it around.  I have a photo (a scanned print) of her doing this:

She also liked to eat rubber bands, so I had to be careful with those.  (I made a giant rubber-band-ball with the bands that were on the daily newspapers.  Not much to do with Pixel, just how I kept her from eating them.)

A few years later, I had a tenant/housemate/semi-girlfriend M. who had a kitty of her own.  It took a while to get everyone coordinated.  Over the years (1999-ish to mid-2002 I guess, I forget exactly), Pixel and Rosie both got used to M. and would come out when she was around.  Occasionally Pixel would even let M. skritch her.  But Pixel was still very shy.  (Rosie could usually be enticed out with treats.)  In 1999 I also lost Snowball, rather literally: he went out one day and never came back.  I don't know what happened to him.  I missed him (and still do), but he was my buddy, not my baby.  He was always able to take care of himself, even without his front claws: he used to regularly intimidate Ash, even though Ash was by then bigger and very clawed (Ash still has major daggers for claws).

Still, all three kitties would go out.  Pixel tended to stay quite close, and in fact, one of her favorite spots was the bottlebrush tree in the back yard:

I don't know if she liked it because of the view, or because the hummingbirds liked that tree a lot.

(Rosie also tended to stay close.  Rosie disappeared for days once though, and I was somewhat paniced, until I finally heard her meowing and found her up on the roof.  I ran to the garage to get the ladder, got it set up, headed up to the roof, called her, looked for her, could not see her ... and then she appeared at the base of the ladder, meowing up at me: “What are you doing up there?”  Ash, by contrast, wandered quite far.)

In mid-2002, I sold my El Cerrito house and moved to Salt Lake.  All three kitties had a bit of trouble with this, but not surprisingly, Ash had the least trouble.  I kept them with me in the master bedroom for a few days, then let them explore the rest of the house.  The furniture arrived a few days after I got there too, so I waited until the furniture was in (and put them in their carriers while the movers were moving stuff in), so at least they had familiar furniture-smells.  Everyone adapted fine, and after a while I let them go outside here, too.

Quite early on, I had a scare when Pixel went out and (I thought, at least) did not come right back in.  I looked all over the neighborhood for her, even asked the neighbors to keep an eye out.  But she was back by the next day, either having come in or perhaps having found a hiding place I had not yet noticed.  I almost kept everyone in forever after that, but they just liked the outdoors too much to deny it to them.

For about the next five years, all was just fine.  Everyone settled in well; I got some extra kitty furniture and they all had various favorite places.  Best of all, though, Pixel started coming to bed with me, and sleeping on my arm.  All my cats would sleep on the bed with me, off and on, but this became a regular deal.  If Pixel was not right there, I'd call her, singing or whistling, and she would come jump up on the bed, get comfy against or on my arm, and we'd have a purrknead-session and I would fall asleep.  Most of the time, she would still (or again) be on my arm when I woke up, and if not, she would often come when she heard the clock radio alarm.  I'd give her some kitty treats, and then we'd get up and I would feed the cats, then get my own breakfast.

(With Pixel sleeping on my arm, I never—or hardly ever—had bad dreams.  I used to say that she would chase and eat the nightmares.  I always had trouble sleeping when I had to be away, as I had no comforting Pixie-weight on my arm, and I would often have bizarre dreams or nightmares.)

She would also come to my lap, usually at the computer but sometimes when I was watching TV, and do her purrkneadies on my chest.  After a good purrkneading session I'd usually give her some kitty treats.  Sometimes she'd just fall asleep in my lap, sometimes she'd have treats and go sit somewhere else.

Some favorite spots in 2006 and 2007:

On my bed

Playing with the catnip bags

Sunny spots indoors

Sunny spots outdoors

My chair at the computer: occasionally Rosie would share

I would make a lunch or dinner that had chicken (chicken teriyaki rice bowl, or chicken and broccoli, or some other chicken-based thing from the store) and Pixel would come and I'd share my chicken with her.  I don't know if maybe this was bad for her, but she sure loved it.  (Rosie likes the chicken as well, but she's not as crazy for chicken as Pixel was.)

All throughout this time, though, Pixel's kidney and bladder health was a little bit poor: she had calcium oxalate stones, and even had a cystotomy to remove the bladder stones when I still lived in El Cerrito.  Then she had a second cystotomy a few years after I moved to Salt Lake.  X-rays showed a few stones lodged in a kidney, never coming out; the vets said this was OK, it's the bladder stones that pose the biggest threat, if they plug up the output.

(after the 2007 cystotomy)

In 2004 or 2005 (I forget which) my folks finally moved to Salt Lake, as had been the plan all along (this was one of the reasons I moved there).  They stayed in my house for a month or so until they could get their rental place not far away.  My dad's wife would often have a slice of ham with breakfast, and it turned out that Pixel loved ham: despite her shyness, Pixel would come out and beg for a bit of ham.  For these weeks, I often woke up without a Pixel, because she was getting her ham (the noise of The Folks getting breakfast would wake me up).  I didn't really mind though: it was good to see my ever-so-shy Pixel come out for someone else.

Her first real sign that things were going wrong was chronic constipation.  Blood tests revealed not-so-good kidney function, and over time it became apparent that the constipation was due to removing too much fluid in the colon (to make up for the way kitties in general do not take in much fluid, and their kidneys normally concentrate the urine like crazy, but hers were not anymore).  We started giving her fluids and occasional laxatives.

Pixel also had trouble with her teeth.  I got her a dental procedure, which involved removing a tooth or two, years ago.  Then last year, when I went to New Zealand in Feb 2008, I got her another dental procedure along with medical boarding at a different vet (my regular vet was doing a remodeling/expansion thing and had no space to put her up).  They had to give her fluids every day, and the cost was much higher than expected, but she seemed to be fine.  Unfortunately, they also had to remove all but a last one or two teeth.

Even in mid-2008 she was still doing well

Enjoying sunny days outside now and then

At home, though, she seemed to be doing OK on fluids once a week.  Unfortunately, Science Diet discontinued the X/D food that had been keeping her bladder stone problem in check.  The vet had me switch to C/D, but both she and Rosie developed more oxalate "sand" in their urine, so they had me switch to W/D.  Pixel went on hunger strike, refusing to eat the W/D.  She also got a really severe case of constipation, and her back legs went all wonky.  I brought her in and we got that fixed up, and her back legs eventually recovered, to the point where I did not have to carry her to bed every night: she could get up on the bed on her own again.  We switched her back to C/D food, and even more laxatives to keep the poop going.

Very recently, though, she stopped eating even the C/D food.  I guess her kidney values were getting worse and she was suffering with upset stomach.  I got her to eat by buying the Kitty Crack (Fancy Feast).  She was still having trouble pooping, and obviously not feeling well, and last Friday I brought her in, and, well, that was really the end.  It all went so bad so fast.

And now my baby is gone forever.  All I have left of her is her collar-and-tag.  I am wearing it on my wrist; I keep clutching it to my heart.  I wonder if maybe I should have gone for the “get ashes back from the cremation” option, but I know Pixel was not a fancy kitty, and would not want her ashes to be in a fancy box sitting in some cold spot.  She liked to move around, from her safe spot in the closet, to warm sunny spots when the sun came out, to my chair by the computer, to the blanket I kept for her in the kitchen where the floor got so warm when the heat was on, to the bed, to my lap.  She liked warm places, especially towards the end when she was having trouble with her body temperature.  She liked to cuddle with me.  And I lived, in a very big way, to cuddle with and care for her.  I kept her safe from the things that scared her, and she kept me safe too.  But I could not keep her safe from her own body.

Pixel, I love you forever.  I wish I could be with you now.  I hope like crazy that the Rainbow Bridge story is true, but I know it isn't.  But then I read the story of Smokey, and although I know it was just the kid's memory, I hope again.  Pixel baby, I love you forever.  If there is a Rainbow Bridge, I will meet you there.  Right now I have to stay in this world, for my Rosie and my Ash.  They deserve love and protection too.  But someday I will come and join you....

8 Apr 2009