Almost the entirety of my life has been in the company of two long-lived cats: Kitty, whom I creatively named as a first grader, loved with me throughout my school years and passed away while I was in college. My first adult pet was Java - a present Margot and I got for each other after we moved into our prior house back in 2006.
She was an adult surrender at the King County animal control, and at the time we got her (June 24 2006.) I went looking for photos of her the day we got her - I remember distinctly bringing her home, putting her in a bathroom and she was afraid to come out of the pet carrier. She was also full of fleas and fur that needed brushing. Sadly, 2006 is just beyond the event horizon for my quality digital archiving, and I haven’t been able to find those photos.
Her first vet appointment with us estimated she was 2-3 years old at the time. That puts her at about 20 years old as she crossed the rainbow bridge and joined Kitty - an impressive old age for a cat.
When Margot and I were discussing getting a cat, I’d mentioned that Kitty had been declawed as an adult and we regretted making that decision - she was forever changed personality-wise and not in a good way. Java was already front declawed, but in adopting her we weren’t the ones making the decision to inflict it on her, and we never knew her “before” personality. She spent most of her life being what I’d describe as a scaredy-cat, particularly any sort of floppy fabric could make her flee in terror. We always wondered a bit what exactly her prior home life was like to result in how she acted.
When we adopted her we thought she was a plain black cat - her first good brushing revealed a more nuanced tortoiseshell coloring of black and brown, which played a part in the name we picked for her (at the time of adoption, she was named “Patches.”) The other front runner for a name was “Bacon” but Margot thought it was mean to name a fat cat that.
Java spent a good portion of her life overweight. She probably experienced food insecurity with her prior owners, as no matter how much food we set out she’d scarf it all in one go, and likely throw up any excess. We got an auto-feeder, changed her food for something more protein-heavy, and eventually got her weight under control as she neared her geriatric years.
In her prime, she wasn’t very active but she did frequently spend time in her cat tree. Margot will always tell the story of how the tree was right next to our front speakers for the TV, and Java was more than content to lay there when we watched “24” despite the loud gunfire and other deep bass.
Cats aren’t normally one to have jobs around the house, but Margot was convinced that Java would take care of any spiders around the house that she and I weren’t up for handling ourselves. While she certainly showed a curiosity for the eight-legged friends, Margot claims she was terrible at her job. One memorable moment was when she’d finally managed to try eating a small spider, and while she was happily chomping away, the spider made a break for it and lowered itself down her chin by a strand of silk without her noticing.
As much as Java was officially our pet, Margot will readily admit that Java loved me the most. I was the one who could pet her anywhere, including that dangerous belly region, without getting nipped. When I pet her, I’d often do so by scooping her up and flipping her upside-down in the process, supporting her back with my forearms and leaving my hands free to rub her upturned belly. She wouldn’t let anyone else do that.
Her very favorite petting was having her ear rubbed. She basically tolerated being pet anywhere but her head, liked having her chin (sides and bottom) rubbed, but she’d do anything for you to stick your finger in her ear and give it a good scratch. She tended to do this herself too, at times her claws leaving a little blood because she scratched too hard.
When we moved to our new home in 2019, Java really seemed to love the extra space. She was far more active than we’d seen her over the past few years, and we assumed she liked the change of scenery including windows that reached down to the floor level. I remember moments when she’d run to go upstairs, and rounding the turn to the stairs on hardwood she’d sort of “drift” while trying to get a grip on the floor, nails clacking away. It turns out her newfound youth came at a cost: she had hyperthyroidism, which can manifest as appearing more active and youthful. The treatment was to irradiate her thyroid, effectively curing her but also bringing her back to her elderly self and putting additional strain on other body systems like her liver. Still, she got another ~year that she was unlikely to have had if we’d left her otherwise untreated.
At that point she was squarely in the “old cat” phase of life. She retired to the upstairs floor, deciding that with everything she needed available there, there was no reason to come downstairs anymore. (I don’t think the transition from carpeted stairs at the old house to hardwood here helped her much.) I’d carry her down a few times and she’d stay as long as we pet her, but the moment we stopped she’d head back upstairs. We still got her to play with string every once in a while, but she stopped chasing and just wanted to lay down and bat at it dangling above her.
She went through phases her whole life of sleeping with us vs. staying on her own. We both liked it best when she’d jump up and sleep at the foot of the bed on carefully-set-out “throne” of a folded blanket topped by her polyester Purr Pad, but it wasn’t uncommon for her to decide to sleep elsewhere for a long time and come back to our bedroom again months or years later. She last slept with us on her own willpower about a year ago, but she started struggling to make the jump from the floor to a bench to the bed, and the draw of an always-on heat pad on the floor in Margot’s office won out in the end.
Her penultimate medical scare was only a few months ago. She’d had a cyst most her adult life near her armpit; we’d had it lanced and biopsied years back and it wasn’t a huge concern at the time. In her old age the cyst had really started growing large again, enough we were concerned it was affecting her mobility. We had the vet lance and drain it again. This time there were more hard parts to the cyst so it didn’t go away completely but it did reduce the size a fair amount.
A week or two later I’d picked her up and noticed I was damp where her belly had been resting on me. It turns out she’d had a nasty cyst develop and burst, leaving an infected, oozing wound on her tummy she was good at hiding from us. We ended up doing another surgery to fully remove the cyst and skin around it; it was touch and go as to whether it was time to say goodbye then. At the time we were making those decisions, Margot was pregnant with Bennett and I was about to head out on a work trip to London… I didn’t want to leave Margot with the burden by herself. Luckily for us, she healed up nicely and we got at least a few more months of time with her, although she was clearly declining.
Bennett was born and I’d been trying to get each of them to acknowledge the existence of one another, which if you’ve ever worked with a cat and a newborn you’ll recognize is a lost cause. Java was pretty much deaf by then which was probably for the better given the amount of infant crying she’d otherwise be subjected to. Only in the last few days has Bennett even started looking in her direction when they’re nearby, but I know that Java will never be a memory for him. As Bennett hadn’t reached the “grab everything” phase yet, I think Java had no real reason to like or dislike him, but I will admit some twangs of guilt as all too often I passed her by to spend time with Bennett without giving her enough attention. It was only her last few days that we made a concerted effort to spend time with her.
Now, only a few months later, the signals that the end times are here were far more apparent and unavoidable. Java’s appetite slowed significantly since Bennett was born, and by the time we said goodbye she weighed only 8.2 pounds. Her muscle mass was gone, so you’d feel her spine when petting her and she struggled to walk. Curiously, only in those last few days did I feel like I ever heard a typical “meow” from Java - all her life the noise she’d make was more akin to a wailing noise.
It’s all too easy to ignore the situation and hope it resolves itself; Margot and I shared between ourselves that on some level, we’d hoped that we would wake up one day to find she’d peacefully passed away in her sleep. I made a trip to Menlo Park for work, wondering whether she’d be around when I returned.
The final days were particularly tricky.
Then we all came down with COVID, and about the same time Java’s prognosis went from “not eating much, but doing okay for an elderly cat” to “too weak to walk around much.” She moved herself from her heat pad in Margot’s office to our bathroom; for a cat that usually was happy to hang by herself this was a clear end-of-life desire for comfort. Her legs gave out such that she couldn’t really stand up on the tile floor by herself, instead using her arms to swivel her body around until she reached a floor mat with some grip to help her stand.
In her final evenings I picked her up and placed her on the bed for some snuggle/pet time which she happily accepted, but I was afraid she was too weak to get down by herself - it was really hard deciding whether she’d had enough and I should return her to her routine. Her last night alive we set up the heat pad on our bed, along with a bowl of water she wanted nearby but barely drank from, so she could hang out in comfort close to us one last time. Even then she eventually jumped down by herself, but fell and Margot had to help her back up and set her up in the bathroom for the remainder of the night.
Margot called around to find a place that was comfortable doing a house-call visit when we were 7-10 days into our respective bouts of COVID; we found a vet that was willing to come and perform the euthanasia on our outdoor patio.