It has taken me two weeks to get around to writing this. I can’t say if it’s because I have grown to hate writing these eulogies for my pets or if it’s because I’m so damned tired and worn out these days. Maybe both.
Beetlejuice, the oldest of the three cats who lived with me during the last 17 years, passed away two weeks ago in the beginning of March. I knew his time was coming soon. He was old, older than any other cat I can recall hearing of, and he had begun to slow down so much the last few weeks. This time wasn’t like it was with Lydia or Fritti. There didn’t seem to be any suffering until the very end, and even that seemed more like fatigue than actual pain or misery.
I was actually there when BJ was born. He’s from the first litter of my mother’s cat, Bonnie. Bonnie is a registered Himalayan, still prowling around my folk’s place at the grand age of 18 or 19. Mom had her breed when she was around a year and a half old, and BJ was one of the results of that. He was born with five other kittens on a day I’ll never forget. I was attending Officer Basic Course at Fort Eustis that year, and staying with my parents rather than staying on post. I had been out all night working as staff duty officer. I was beat and ready to collapse in bed when I walked through the door and saw Bonnie walking around the den meowing and dragging something behind her. That something turned out to be a new born kitten still connected to her by the umbilical cord. I woke up my mom and she and I delivered the next couple of kitten. Then my dad came home to help out. He and mom pulled out the last two kittens because they were breech and Bonnie was too exhausted to push any more while I toweled off the others, thinking to myself, “God these things look ugly!”
They did look ugly, like little yellow rats, but that phase only lasted a few days and pretty soon they were fluffy blind moles squeaking and scuffling to get at their mother’s milk. It became my job to rotate the kittens, making sure each tiny ball of fluff got a chance at the back nipples where the milk was better. We had a couple of nipple hogs in that group who actively fought my attempts to move them away from the prime feeding spots, but somehow I managed to keep all the babies fed.
I stayed a few more months at my folk’s, rotating kittens and finishing up OBC. We made one trip over the Christmas holidays to my grandmother and took the kittens and my then-fiance Michael with us. The kittens adored Michael and turned him into a giant jungle gym, climbing all over him and pouncing on him. He seemed to adore them as well, which was good since I knew eventually one of the little fuzz butts was going to be mine. I didn’t know which one though until my mother gave him to me. He was a male blue point Himalayan with the biggest blue eyes I’d ever seen. I was addicted to the cartoon ‘Beetlejuice’ then, so I named him Beetlejuice, and even had him registered as ‘Beetlejuice, Prince of Neitherworld.’
BJ came to live with me in Blacksburg when he was old enough, first in the Terrace View apartment I shared with two roommates, and then in the apartment on Washington Street that I had to myself. I didn’t want him to be alone all day while I was at classes, so I adopted a scrawny orange tabby to keep him company. That crazy critter was Fritti, who grew up to be a big lug of orange not-quite-tom-cat (I had all my cats fixed as soon as they were old enough). And then of course a few weeks later, someone asked me if I would adopt a third cat that they couldn’t keep themselves and that’s how I got a cuddly black and brown tabby I named Lydia.
Life with three cats was always an adventure. BJ was probably the calmest of the three, although you couldn’t tell it from the picture above. He liked to play, but tended to let the other two cats take the lead. He would sometimes chase Lydia around the house, forcing her to vault to the top of the china cabinet in our dining room where she would then puke up a bunch of cat treats and leave them there for me to discover weeks later. But I think the strangest behavior BJ ever exhibited was his interest in human sexual relations. Michael and I could not have sex without him watching, unless we shut him out of the room. In fact, BJ liked to sit on our feet when we were making love, and would complain a bit if he got shoved about. When we were done with our activities, he liked to walk all over us, sniffing. Michael called him ‘the Sex Inspector,’ saying BJ obviously had to check and see if we had done things right, and of course we were never done with sex unless we had his seal of approval.
BJ acquired a lot of nicknames over the years. There was BJ, of course, and Beej. Also BeeGee, Boojoo, Booper, Mr. Booper, Mr. Buddy, Mr. Bloomers (because of the way his rear end looked with all that fluffy fur), and Fuzz Butt. He adored Michael and could not stand to be locked out of the office when Michael was working. In fact, if I opened the door to the office while Michael was working, BJ would take the opportunity to dart up the stairs and launch himself into Michael’s lap, where he would demand to be petted.
There were other cute/odd behaviors. He liked to walk around the house in the middle of the night yowling at the top of his lungs, always waking me up. This happened more and more after Fritti died. Fritti was our original opera cat, who loved to yodel at all hours. BJ also loved to lie in the tub during the summer, to cool off. I took him to the vet some summers to have him groomed, and the other cats always stared and snickered whenever BJ came back. I have to admit, he did look funny with all his fur clipped, though they never shaved his tail. That was always full, grey and gorgeous.
I always thought that BJ would be the first to pass away, because we’d had more health problems with him than the other two. He nearly died while I was pregnant with Sam. In fact, all three cats were hit with some sort of illness that year that involved me spending lots of time nursing them and giving them subcutaneous fluids until they got well enough to fight me off. But Fritti went first, and then Lydia a year later. I knew with BJ it was only a matter of time.
After Fritti died, BJ seemed to enter a sort of renaissance, suddenly strutting around the house, playing like he hadn’t in years, and acting like the cock of the walk. Though I know he and Fritti loved each other (they constantly groomed each other and acted like lovers), I always thought that BJ was a bit intimidated by Fritti. Without the alpha cat in the house, I guess BJ felt he was now large and in charge. It was nice to see him act so lively and healthy. His slow down at the end was so gradual, I really didn’t notice what was going on until the last month.
His eating tapered off first. He was always a picky eater, most likely to snub his meals in favor of treats, and likely to suddenly snub them too when the mood hit. But we reached a point where neither treats nor any sort of wet food would do. Then he stopped drinking water. I was able to coax him to take a few sips if I refilled the bowl in his site, but after a while even that stopped. Eventually we reached a point where all BJ would do was stare at his food and water bowls and then meander off somewhere to sleep.
During the last month, he came to see me while I was taking a bath. I don’t know what inspired him to do this, but he jumped up onto the side of the tub and then tried to leap across. He missed and landed in the water and on top of me. He didn’t fly into a full blown panic like I would have expected, but he did scratch up my foot pretty good. I still have a mark there. But that was the first indication to me that he was starting to go. If he couldn’t leap from one side of the tub to the other, his days were numbered. Eventually, I began to hear occasional thumps and thuds and crashes throughout the house – all attempted and failed leaps that BJ was making. On the last day, these sounds were the worst. He wanted into the bath tubs, so he could lie on a cool surface, but he couldn’t seem to get into the tubs without falling over the side and landing in a heap. He hurt his leg trying, and limped through the last day of his life, but he wouldn’t let me help him get into or out of any place. He limped from one spot to another – my tub, the kids’ tub, the floor in front of my bathroom sink, a spot behind the toilet. I did managed to get him onto my bed at one point, and I thought he would die there. He fell asleep, and his breathing grew so slow. But then every now and then he’d wake up and yowl. Eventually, he tried to leave the bed when I wasn’t looking, and there was another crash and a thump. I ran into the room to see him limp away to another spot.
All that day, it snowed. The kids played outside with Michael, making a snowman, while I folded laundry and tried to pack for my trip to Vegas. I called the vet around 2PM, determined to see BJ taken care of before I left. I was not going to let him linger and suffer while I flew off to a conference, and I was not going to shift that responsibility onto Michael. However, around 9PM, after the kids had gone to bed, taking care of BJ became a moot point. He tottered into the girls’ bathroom one last time and slumped on the floor. His breathing was so labored at that point, each intake was a gasp followed by a lengthy silence. I knew he was in his final hour, and yet once again, I found myself torn between trying to tend to him and prepare for the conference I was attending in two days. I decided to leave BJ alone. He had wandered away from all my other attempts to take care of him, and I think he just didn’t want to be bothered anymore. Sometime while I was putting the finishing touches on some notes and sending out e-mails in the bedroom down the hall, he passed away. Michael and I had to spend several minutes to make sure he was gone; it was so hard to tell toward the end. But he had finally passed away, and I’m not even sure if I heard his last gasp as I left to finish my packing or if he had lasted a few minutes longer.
We took BJ in to be cremated the next day. Cassie hadn’t quite understood the day before what was going on. She knew BJ was dying, but to her that meant we’d be getting a new cat soon, and that was all she could think of. It wasn’t until I tried to explain to her, and then blew up when she refused to stop talking about a new cat, that she finally realized BJ was not going to be around any more. I don’t make any excuses for losing my temper, nor do I offer any regrets. I tried my best to explain that a cat I loved was dying but it took a time out and some yelling to get the point to sink into the Princess’ brain. As for Pixie, she only knows that BJ died, but not what that means. I think it confused her that we took his body into the vet’s the next day, but when we came back the next week, we only walked out with a small white box. I tried to explain that BJ’s ashes were in the box, but it made no sense to her.
So my three cats are now all gone. They were good, loving, loyal companions for many years. Now they all share the same shelf in my bed room, three little white boxes lined up in front of my favorite books. At times it feels so horrifically unfair, but what other end did I expect? They were old. This is what happens. And life goes on.
We will not be getting another cat any time soon. Michael and I plan to try for a third baby this summer, and as Michael points out, a new cat presents certain health concerns for a pregnant mother. And even after the baby is born, we’ll still wait a few months. It wouldn’t be fair to any animal to come into a house with an infant. I’d be so sleep deprived and cranky, I know I wouldn’t be in any shape to care for two new additions to the family.
Until the times comes for a new cat, I will have my memories of these three – Fritti, Lydia and BJ. Good cats all, crazy as hell, and the best companions I could ever have asked for. You guys will be sorely missed.
Fritti – 1992-2007
Lydia – 1992-2008