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The Baby Cat

When we first adopted our cat Kiwi, she was very small. Not surprising, because she was still at the tail end of the kitten phase. As she got older, though, she didn’t grow a whole lot larger. We realized that she would be, size-wise at least, perpetually kitten-sized. Even after her third birthday, we still called her Baby Cat.

When we were looking for a cat, our goal was 1-to-2-year-old cat. We wanted a young cat, but not one as needy as a kitten would be. But when we went to go look at the cats, one that seemed to stand out was a small tortie named Delilah. She was a little weird — every time we went to pet her, she started turning in circles for some reason! But her purrs were so loud you could hear them across the room.

We were warned that she was a biter. To see how bad it was, I let her bite me. It honestly wasn’t much of a bite at all — I would describe it as maybe a “warning nibble.” We were told that with training she would grow out of it. I think she was really just stressed from being in a small cage, because we didn’t do a whole lot of training but she stopped biting almost right away after we adopted her.

We didn’t really care for the name Delilah, and my wife came up with the name Kiwi.

All our first photos of Kiwi are pretty bad, because all she wanted to do was hide under the couch. I was worried about whether she would even eat (turned out she would, if we put her food under the couch and went away). She retained this behavior into adulthood — if things got too loud or scary or stressful for her, we could always find her under one of our couches.

Before too long, though, she came out. She transformed from scaredy cat to curious cat — she wanted to inspect everything! She was always exploring, watching things, checking out what was going on.

She loved to look out the windows. If there was a bird or lizard or moth or frog outside, you can bet she would keep an eye on it. She only rarely played on the cat tree, but she did often climb up to get a better view!

She was also pretty fearless! I don’t think the laptop was her final goal (although maybe she was trying to go order some cat treats and extra toys). I think she wanted to go all the way up to the cabinets! You may recall the story I told about The Flying Kitten, where she made a bold (and ultimately unsuccessful) attempt at getting on the mantel. That was everyday life with her as a young cat.

You’ll notice in the previous picture that the bottom shelf of the blue shelves is empty. We used to keep cat food there, but…well…this happened. Yeah, we learned that nothing was safe from Baby Cat!

As she got older, she did become a little less of a handful. As a kitten, she would occasionally scratch or attack — her claws were incredibly sharp, and she never let us cut them. Fortunately, as she got older, she mellowed out quite a bit and became much more docile. But even as a feisty kitten she was still a totally sweet cat — the vet would do nothing but sing her praises and talk about what a good kitty she was!

She never really got over her food obsession though! She was especially interested in our food, and would eagerly try to steal anything she could. Even a moment of inattention could be the downfall of anything from broccoli to chicken! She knew she wasn’t supposed to eat human food, so if she grabbed a morsel she would run away with it to eat her prize undisturbed.

Our favorite change was that she became a total cuddle cat. She always loved a good cuddle (at least after she got out of her fearful stage), but as she got older it became a way of life for her! She was especially fond of my wife — any time she was sitting, laying down, or had any part of her body horizontal, Kiwi would jump up and try to cuddle in.

My wife is laying on the couch covered in a blanket in this photo, and Kiwi is occupying the crook of her legs, letting me know with her tongue that she got here first and I’d better find somewhere else to sit.

Kiwi was a bit of a hard-luck cat. She was part of a litter rescued from a parking lot, and we think her tail might have been broken at a young age because it often flopped around and hooked over her back. She also got a bad disease called FIP, which made her blind in one eye. FIP is a terrible disease for cats with a high mortality rate, but even though she was a hard-luck cat Kiwi was also a fighter. She survived FIP, and her vet even told us she had never seen a cat pull through like Kiwi did. But even when she wasn’t feeling well, she never let it affect her sweet demeanor or mute her loud purrs.

Oh, and that weird behavior of spinning in circles when being pet? She never got over that. In the mornings when I would leave the bedroom to go feed her (because she was screaming for food), I would pet her and she’d immediately start purring and turning in circles. My wife and I called it “doing a lap,” and she’d also do it sometimes when eating (eat a few bites, walk around in a circle, come back and eat a few more bites).

Unfortunately, this story becomes a bit sad. This is the place to stop reading if you’re not ready for a sad tale.

In early January of 2023 — earlier this week, as I write this — we noticed some odd behavior. Her breathing started to become faster and more labored. It got to the point where it was so shallow and raspy that she was breathing hard and almost gasping.

My wife — a schoolteacher — had a field trip that day, so couldn’t just take the day off work. I took her to the vet, hoping I could drop her off and go to work afterward. I figured she had probably eaten something she wasn’t supposed to and it was stuck in her throat — not an ideal situation for a cat, but recoverable. After getting to the vet, though, they declared her in critical condition. Her lungs were filling up with fluid, and she was struggling to breathe.

They put her on oxygen to make her breathing less labored. But our normal vet just didn’t have the facilities to help her. I had to transfer her to the emergency vet.

At this point, I realized how naive I had been, hoping this could be a drop off and quick fix. I called work and took the whole day off. I knew I needed to be there for her. I took her to the emergency vet so she could be in the oxygen cage — a sealed cage under positive pressure filled with oxygen to help cases like hers.

The doctor at the emergency vet — a very kind lady; everyone who helped with Kiwi’s treatment was amazingly kind and compassionate — explained what they were going to do. The hope was that they could use a diuretic to help her naturally drain the fluid from her lungs while they figured out what the problem was. But she was still in critical condition, so there was the possibility at any point that she could go.

While waiting, I called my wife. It was a very hard call to make. Especially to hear her say the words “I never got to say goodbye.” I knew this would make it very hard for her to do her job that day, but I knew she needed — and wanted — to know what was going on.

I got a chance to go back and see her in the oxygen cage. I even got to pet her. After she smelled me, she nuzzled her head against my hand. A sweet baby cat even in the most difficult circumstances.

Do you remember what I said earlier about Kiwi being a fighter? She fought so hard to breathe every breath. That afternoon, my wife arrived at the emergency vet, having returned from the field trip and gotten a chance to leave school. Kiwi was still fighting.

Ultimately, we got the diagnosis. Kiwi’s little heart was failing, which was why her lungs were filling with fluid. Given her age and weight, it was probably a congenital issue — a time bomb in her tiny body just waiting to go off at some point.

The drugs weren’t helping, and unfortunately even if we could have gotten her stable, the prognosis was very poor. But still, she was fighting.

Unfortunately, we had to make a decision. She would be unlikely to survive outside the oxygen cage — she would drown in the fluids filling her lungs; a horrible way to go. The vet recommended euthanasia as the most humane option, and we chose that.

We got a chance to see her and say goodbye. We stroked her fur and told her what a good kitty she was. Heartbreakingly, she was too weak to spin in circles now, and if she was purring (unlikely, given the circumstances) the noise of the oxygen machine was too loud for us to hear it. But most of all, she looked tired. Tired of fighting.

The doctor explained the drugs they were about to give her. It would be a gentle process, and she would be asleep for it. We watched until the end. If she was brave enough to fight this far, the least we could do is be brave enough to see it through.

We miss Baby Cat so much, but we are so happy we got to spend the time with her that we did.

This was a hard post to write, and I wish I could end it on a more positive note. Trying to give it a positive ending just rings hollow, though. Rather than forced positivity, I will just say that the sorrow we feel is proof of the joy she brought to our lives when she was here, and the heartbreak demonstrates the love we have for this little cat.

As you read my words, incapable as they are of conveying even a fraction of the playful, sweet, curious soul that she was, I hope they have put a small piece of Kiwi in your heart as well, that her memory can live on in those who knew her and loved her.

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