Ira in the garden.
For anyone who has known Ira for long, you probably know how we got him and who he was, but for everyone else, here's the story.
After we rescued the litter of kittens from which Bandit came to us, our efforts at trapping neighborhood ferals began to slow and we finally stopped with one left who we hadn't trapped. Naturally the next spring, she came around with a fat belly. We knew she would be giving birth soon and didn't want to let them become feral too. We kept feeding her just inside the kitchen door each day, which worked as long as we put the food out when we noticed her outside, and then left the room. We payed close attention to her condition. Frank spent time thinking about how to manage rounding up both her and the kittens. One day after not showing up for a couple of days, she showed up with nipples dangling and no more belly. The next day we were prepared with a string around the door handle so we could pull it shut behind her. Once we had her inside the house, we herded her into the bathroom where we had made a bed inside a box. Of course she was frantic to get away and it took a while before she calmed down. Then Frank, having rigged up a long pole (about 7 feet or so) with a microphone on the end and earphones he could listen through, wandered around the neighborhood poking the pole into bushes here and there hoping to hear kittens mewing.
Of course everyone in the neighborhood turned out to see what he was up to. Finally he heard something in the bushes in the cul-de-sac. He crawled inside some fierce Junipers. He pulled out kittens, one at a time, until we had four little babies, who were probably only about 2-3 weeks old. I was sitting on Doris' lawn and as he pulled them out one at a time, I placed them into the front of my oversized sweater, sort of like a nest. There was Grace who was gray with white (she had a very fat belly even then), solid gray George and Ira who we couldn't tell apart, and black Klaus who was very thin and small.
We brought them back to the bathroom to be with mom, where they immediately latched on to her. They all lived in there for about two weeks, which was pretty uncomfortable for us, since it was the only bathroom and mom was pretty scared. After a little while, I started noticing the babies following mom into the litter box. Of course, they would fall over when they tried to cover up, but they were trying. Klaus stood out from the rest. Every time anyone went into the bathroom, he would tumble out of the nest and start crying at us. He was also vomiting a little. We took them to see Dr. Rachel Parker who said he was dehydrated. I said I wondered if mom's milk was bad in some way, but it took a while before we finally decided that was the problem. We decided to cut short the nursing and get mom spayed right away. I started bottle feeding which helped, but they still had developed the runs so we quickly moved them to wet cat food.
We still had trouble telling Ira from George. They looked so identical. The only real difference was that George was a little bit huskier. As they got older, we noticed Ira had a few white hairs on his neck. He also had paler nose and pads which were a little bit on the red side. It took a long time to find names for Ira and George, so we started out calling them Black nose and Purple nose. Eventually, because they were not only look-alikes, but they also slept curled into a ball together (sort of yin-yang style) and played together, we came up with something. We had seen a TV program on the Gershwin brothers, George and Ira and decided that we'd name Black nose and Purple nose after them. Ira was a little more long and lithe, while George was more husky and tough.
When they were still only a couple of months old, I took them all to stay at my parents place in Sacramento. Klaus had been very ill, and we all needed a break. At night, I would set up a barrier to keep them inside the kitchen. Ira found his way out each night, found me in bed and climbed underneath the covers to sleep with me. As they got older, Ira became a little aloof from Frank and me. You see, he never understood he was a cat and resented being treated like one. He always believed he was a person just like us. When he was a couple years old, or so, he was hit by a car. I found him outside the front door hiding behind the Camellia. I could tell something was wrong when I picked him up and brought him inside. We took him to emergency and discovered he had a herniated stomach. He had emergency surgery, and we moved him to Northtown the next morning. He had to stay there for about a week and they let me visit him each day. When he was released, he had to stay inside a kennel at nights so he wouldn't wander around. For whatever reason, this changed his behavior. He became the most loving cat I've ever met. I think other people feel the same way about him.
When they were about four, George disappeared. I looked at shelters for months and we never discovered what happened to him. He and Ira had continued to be buddies and I think Ira felt his loss. But thank goodness for Bandit. Ira, as well as everyone else, really loved Bandit. He used to knead on Bandit and would sleep on him. Ira purrs were some of the loudest I've ever heard and when he was curled up with Bandit I don't think he ever stopped purring.
When they were very young, we developed the daily routine of walking around the back garden each morning, unless the weather was too poor. They all liked to come with me and each had their own rituals. One of the things I loved about Ira is how he would follow right on my heels and when I would reach out to touch a flower, he would smell it. If I lifted him up to flowers he would smell them. I guess he saw me do this and thought that was the idea. Since he couldn't speak my language I will never know what he thought of them, but he never stopped doing this.
Every day, in the evening they got to have a treat of some canned cat food. Each would get about a tablespoon or so, depending on how they ate. Ira would sit with the rest of them in the kitchen and as I was preparing the dishes, he'd walk around and smack everybody. Of course, I would yell at him and tell him no, but it never did any good. He loved any type of fish or seafood. If I was preparing shrimp or crab, he would sit at my feet and wiggle his butt in anxiousness, chattering the whole time. If it took too long, he'd reach up a paw and grab my pants - if I was wearing a skirt I was in trouble. If that didn't get any results, he'd stand on his hind legs and hold on with one paw, while reaching with the other for my arm. Needless to say, he usually got a little treat.
Ira was the heaviest and after Bandit, he was the 'top cat'. Ira would often go up to a sleeping cat somewhere in the house, put his front paws up on their chair or on the bed and stare at them until they woke, got scared and left. Then he'd curl up in their spot. Ira loved to play in 'caves'. If we draped a towel or blanket over a bench or chair, he would crawl underneath and peek out and grab our hands or strings from underneath.
In 1998 we saw the movie City of Angels and couldn't help but compare the cats to the Angels in the movie. In the movie, the angels sit in high places, watching the people, and making sure everyone who needs help get it. They would follow people around and whisper helpful and comforting thoughts to them as they went about their days. We started to refer to our family as 'cat angels'. They loved to sit on the balcony upstairs and watch over the neighborhood. They certainly follow us around and are extraordinarily tuned into our emotional state. Whenever I was sad, Ira would be right there with me and cuddle and purr until I focused on him instead of whatever was bothering me.
Ira loved to play, but when we would play as a group, he would grab the toy and not be willing to let go. This made the playing a little tough. We had to have two different toys so we could get one back while he grabbed another. He also loved catnip. He would go out into the garden where we have many catnip plants, and make his choice then plop down on top of it. If you held out a leaf to him, he'd rub his cheeks and ears fiercely on your hand, and then nibble the leaf. He used to go over to Frank's office in the evening and when he was ready for attention, he'd hop up on the desk, walk in front of the computer monitor and then ultimately plop down on top of the keyboard. He did this with me on occasion, but it was really his way of getting Frank to call it a night and come back over to the house.
Ira had the sweetest expressions. Love just emanated from him. When you look at him, he's always got those sweet, loving eyes and is almost always purring too.
During the period when Frank and I worked in Sunnyvale for a time, my mom came each day to feed and give them some company. She would always bring some leftover food treat for them. For ever after that time, when my mom came over, Ira would go right up to her and greet her. He made connections with people very quickly and as most cats are, he was an excellent judge of character.
When Ira felt he had your attention, he was nothing but loving. He enjoyed being held and would often hug me while I was holding him by rubbing his face on mine. He had a very forceful hug and with his 17 pound weight behind it, if he got on our desk and came over to hug (rub) our face, he could easily hurt your nose, which was often his target. But he wasn't picky - he'd hug your legs if you were standing or whatever part of you he could reach. He was big on kneading so if we held him, he'd be kneading on our shoulder and purring the whole time. He was very communicative and always expressed his gratitude for every human connection.
Sometime after we got home from our trip last summer, I started to think Ira was losing weight. We had to change vets at this time because the one who had been caring for them was moving out of private practice and on to work in a consulting capacity. Finally in November it became apparent that the weight loss was real and he also had started to develop some unusual behavior. Ira was never a good patient, so I put off taking him in to have the situation checked out. I decided on a new vet to care for them and made the appointment. We discovered after some blood tests, that Ira had a liver disease issue. He had stopped grooming much and had recently started vomiting each day. When weighed, he had dropped from his normal 17 pounds to 12 pounds, although he never stopped eating well. We attempted to treat the liver problem with a variety of supplements, which of course Ira wasn't interested in taking. We also tried some antibiotic, which was the only thing I could get into him without making him miserable. He also had a couple of ultra sound procedures to try to determine if there was anything obvious that could be treated directly instead of treating only symptoms.
Over the following months, his liver situation seemed to improve and he felt better after taking the antibiotic, however, his spleen had become very enlarged and he was continuing to lose weight. When taken off the antibiotic, his liver problem returned, his spleen continued to deteriorate, he was developing anemia and he continued to lose weight. He had taken to sleeping underneath the covers next to me with his head on my pillow. I could tell something was bothering him because he would frequently awaken suddenly and become restless. He'd climb outside the covers, turn around and then immediately crawl back inside and cuddle. He had also lost much of the muscle tone on his hind-quarters and was fairly unsteady on his feet. If he would shake his head, he'd have to struggle to keep his balance. One morning about two weeks ago, he and Klaus and I were out on the deck. He was feeling very good in that period and was grooming a little bit again. He climbed up onto the deck railing (our house is built 5 feet off the ground and the deck railing is another 3 feet or so higher. He sat on the corner and started to wash his face. He was so wobbly without any strength in his haunches that I finally picked him up and put him on a chair instead. He just purred. In the last month he was remarkably happy, I think he enjoyed all the special attention and special meals he was getting.
On Wednesday night we had a really sweet time together. We had a fire in the fireplace and Ira stretched out on the sofa next to me. He had a habit of reaching out to touch us when he was laying next to us and he and I had a great cuddly time. I brought him upstairs and he climbed into bed with me. He was very happy. Next morning, he was waiting downstairs for breakfast and then wanted to go into the guest bedroom where he'd been spending time. He would get a special meal in there of tuna (an attempt to put weight back on) each day around 11:00 am. I had to take him for another ultra sound procedure that day and as I was driving him over I had a sense of dread about leaving him there. I guess I knew. Maybe I should have made a different decision, but I'll never know what pain or discomfort he was feeling. He had stopped grooming again and seemed subdued for the previous few days, although he certainly was happy for companionship and cuddles. When I got there and turned off the car, I could hear him purring and he was kneading in his carrier. I've never seen a cat do this sort of thing before. Even while he was sitting in the carrier on the counter as we discussed the procedure, he continued to purr and knead. I decided to overlook what I thought was separation anxiety and would wait for them to call me at home later.
I was called just before the procedure to discuss doing a fine needle aspirate biopsy of his spleen and liver. They had been concerned about doing this in the case of the spleen because there was a possibility that it could cause a reaction. After being encouraged to go ahead by two consulting doctors, it was decided that this might give us a better idea of how to treat Ira's condition. He was given two precautionary drugs to prevent any reaction and they were prepared to treat any reaction that showed itself. He seemed to tolerate the procedure fine but within an hour afterword began to show signs of having problems. When I arrived everyone was working on trying to keep him going, but he just couldn't.
I'm sure I'll always feel guilty for disregarding my feelings of dread that day. Clearly I somehow knew something was wrong. I can only be grateful that he was happy and enjoying himself the days before and the day he died. I hope we've given him back a little bit of what he gave us.
To see Ira's photo album, click here.
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