© 1995 Barbara Grace Lake
This isn’t a poem, but is a true episode in my life. I hope you enjoy it, and then hug whichever 4-legged furry family member you have at your side.
“Seymour is not dying,” I wailed. “You don’t know him. He’s a fighter. Tomorrow he’ll wake up and tear into one of his toys.” I was arguing with veterinarian Sherri Wilson, a resident at UCD Veterinary School of Medicine’s Small Animal Clinic. She tried, very gently, to explain that this “wonderful cat” had advanced ketoacidosis. He was not going to wake up tonight or even tomorrow. I knew she was wrong. Seymour had been up against it before and always survived, sometimes through sheer determination. He’d pull through this crisis, too.
I’m remembering now when we first met several years ago. It was a chance accident fated to alter both our lives. A sudden downpour, the drenching kind that often occurs in early spring, drove Seymour to seek shelter. He entered the garage through a partially open garden door, and there hid beneath some cardboard boxes. Since the rain temporarily kept me from trimming winter’s dead branches from my prize dogwood, I came in to flatten boxes for the next day’s trash pickup.
Seymour had all four legs then, but not much else was in his favor. A cursory examination showed one torn ear. Blood oozing from an ugly gash on his side mixed with mud to plaster his fur in ragged mats. Every rib showed through taut skin. Large, round eyes pleaded in a gaunt face.
Already shivering from the damp, he flinched as I came near but stood his ground. He wasn’t begging. Despite his awful appearance he seemed too proud for that. On the other hand, he was too desperate to leave. Somehow we both knew he was staying.
First, he needed doctoring, then food and a bath. Being clean and patched, however, did not turn Seymour into a handsome cat prince. He remained homely – but majestically so, like a lion. He had a wonderful, large, jowly head, a velvety, cream-on-cream tabby coat, and a long tail that he carried ramrod straight, high above his body. His voice (not a meow) was a gravelly “hrrump,” expressing every mood from playful to, “Leave me alone, I’m trying to sleep.” When Seymour purred, the sound was huge, like a battery of tanks chewing up the landscape.
In early October, when the weather turned nasty, Seymour began coming in for meals. The visits were brief: Greet, eat and out. You see, as an unrepentant tom, Seymour knew nothing of household etiquette. An occasional lapse in manners got him quickly ushered out the door.
Still, by late October, we’d settled into a routine: Seymour appeared for breakfast around 6:30. He napped on a patio chair, pounced on a fascinating bug, slept, ate dinner, and relaxed. In the dark hours, he prowled the neighborhood.
One morning Seymour didn’t show up for breakfast. I reminded myself that he was, after all, a tom. He was probably off doing tomcat stuff. I began worrying when he didn’t reappear later that evening or for breakfast the next morning. Seymour was not in the habit of missing meals. After a few more days of no Seymour, I was certain we’d never see him again.
On the eighth day, a familiar “hrrump” told me our wandering tom was home. I couldn’t open the door fast enough. Then I stepped back in horror. A happy shouted, “Seymour’s back” stuck in my throat as I watched him struggle in the door, one hideously mangled leg dragging behind him.
It took a starving Seymour only five minutes to clean his dish. In five minutes more, he was on his way to the first of many, long, pain-filled days and weeks he’d spend in veterinary care.
Only when we saw the x-rays of Seymour’s leg, did we understand the severity of his injury. Where solid bone should have been, the x-rays showed a mass of shattered splinters. Seymour’s doctors could not set or pin the bone. They had to remove the leg. Before surgery, Paula Parker, DVM, sympathetically suggested we consider euthanasia. “He has the look of a sick cat,” she said. “You could be wasting your money with this kind of operation.”
Dr. Parker was being practical. I was thinking of Seymour’s amazing eight-day survival. That alone told me how much he wanted to live. We considered no other option. Seymour had the operation.
After surgery, an impressed surgeon, James Shirey, DVM, recognizing both courage and pride, cautioned “Whatever you do, don’t treat this cat like an invalid. He doesn’t know there’s anything wrong. Seymour wants very much to live. It’s important to him.”
He did live. However, the first few weeks of recovery were not easy. During this time, Seymour lost his balance every time he tensed or tried to use the amputated leg. Then he’d scream and throw his body around convulsively as he tried to right himself. His most defeating experience came the day he slipped out and tried to jump the fence, something he’d always done so easily. Now, he jumped and fell, repeatedly, each time yowling in pain and rage as he landed on his injured side. When finally coaxed into the house, Seymour lay for hours looking out at a world no longer his. He’d chase no more bugs nor scatter colorful fall leaves.
Remarkably, the next day all signs of depression were gone. Seymour daily grew stronger, balancing so well that he was soon running, playing, even jumping for a dangling “bat-a-mouse.” Our other cats only batted the mouse. Seymour started his run from 15 feet down the hallway, and pounced from three feet away. That mouse didn’t have a chance.
Seymour’s favorite game, though, was still with our smallest cat, Tanner. The play: He spotted Tanner and gave chase (you could almost hear bugles). Tanner ran around a chair. Seymour headed her off, and Tanner sprinted down the hall with Seymour a fraction of an inch behind. He never caught her. The fun was in the chase.
In quieter moments, while watching television or reading in the evenings, Seymour sat purring on the couch next to me, nuzzling my hand with that massive head. Although if attention lagged, he quickly jumped down and moved to the end of the couch. Watching closely for reaction, he deliberately scratched the couch just long enough for me to throw a paper at him. He then ran under the coffee table, knocked his head on the underside, and looked up ridiculously cross-eyed. I think he was laughing.
In January Seymour appeared sick. He was thin. His coat was dull and unkempt, and he was drinking too much water. While testing him, Dr. Shirey kept saying, “No. I don’t want this to be, not Seymour, not diabetes.”
Seymour did have diabetes. He also had feline leukemia. By this time, his condition was so critical that Dr. Parker referred us to UCD Veterinary Hospital for emergency and extended care, where Dr. Wilson believed him to be dying.
The following morning, an excited Sherri Wilson called, exclaiming, “Your cat is awake! He’s hungry! He’s great! Seymour’s going to make it!” Now alert, Seymour hrrumped at his attendants. They hrrumped back, and a three-legged cat conquered UCD’s Veterinary complex.
For several months after that, each Friday Seymour visited the UCDVM Small Animal Clinic. Every hour, for 24 hours, he held his leg straight out so Dr. Wilson’s technicians could take blood samples. One tech declared with some awe, “Cats don’t do this! People don’t do this! I only hope I’m half as good if I ever have to go to the hospital. Seymour’s a real champion.”
The champ’s courage held, but his life depended on a delicate balance of calories and twice-daily injections of insulin. At home, as in the hospital, he was stoic about the injections, but was less tolerant about being hungry. The day he jumped up on the table and demolished half a brick of butter, Dr. Wilson increased both food and insulin. Seymour gained weight and his fur became soft and shiny again. For a few months he was the picture of a healthy cat.
Around the second week in October Seymour had the first of several seizures. Dr. Parker found nothing wrong. Since he was no longer seizing, we took him home. An hour later he was chasing Tanner down the hall.
Four weeks later, seizures begun on Thanksgiving Day continued without pause through a sad weekend. In the end, they destroyed the brain that had always willed Seymour to survive. During that time, no doctors in a trauma center anywhere ever worked harder trying to save their patient. It was not to be. By this time blind and unconscious, Seymour’s extraordinary luck finally ran out.
Should we have euthanized him when we first knew of his diabetes? No. Diabetes is treatable. If Seymour hadn’t also had feline leukemia, he might this minute be demolishing his toy mouse or tormenting Tanner (now an old lady of 15). In fact, his successor, Maurice, my companion for the past ten years, is a fat, happy, zany, diabetic cat.
Did Seymour get a bad break? Did we. He didn’t seem to think so, and I don’t. Despite his ills, he lived his time with zest and panache.
Seymour. He loved everyone and he loved life. God, how he loved life!