Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Frankie (1993-2007) and the cats I have known

(Originally posted on MySpace on Sunday, July 15, 2007)

Hey folks,

I know I promised to give you the final 15 albums in my essential album list this week. But I'm going to have to postpone it until next week. And that means that I probably won't get to a Thin White Rope road story this month. Sorry about that. I'll make up for it by telling a really great story next month. Maybe I'll even do two of them…

The reason I'm postponing everything this week is that I really need to purge something out of my system. I thank you in advance for indulging me and understanding what I'm going through. I hope to see you next week with a much happier subject.

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I lost one of my best friends this week. I had to put Frankie down and it's going to take me a good long time to get over it. You see, Frankie was my cat. And he wasn't just any pet cat. He was my familiar; a soul mate; my best friend. But I'll get to that later.

First, I should give you a history of the cats in my life. I've had all sorts of pets in my life. Horses, dogs, guinea pigs, rats, hamsters, fish, snakes, lizards, turtles, crickets, rabbits, cockatiels and parakeets, and probably a few other types of animals that I've forgotten. But the cats were always the special ones to me.

I was born in 1954. At that time, my parents had a pet cat that was already a year old when I was born. His name was Pasha. He was a big cat. He had eight toes on each foot. A disease took one of his eyes. Since I grew up with him, we had a special bond. He would wait on the street corner for me to get home from school. The other kids were really afraid of him. I can't blame them. After all, he was this giant cat with one eye. He would fix the other kids with his other, good eye and growl at them. They would always run the other way. But he was really a big sweetie and wouldn't have ever hurt anyone or anything. He died when I was 16 of a heart attack. We were moving across country and he just took one look at the packed car and died before we could even get him loaded into it. I was broken hearted. He had always been a part of my life, but I understood that he was old and frail and it was his time to go.

I didn't have another cat until I moved out of my parent's house. I rented one side of a duplex and adopted two stray cats. One was grey and one was black and white. Both were males. I named them Rock and Roll, but I could never remember what one was Rock and what one was Roll, so they became known as Grey Kitty and Black-And-White Kitty. Later they became known as Mr. And Mr. Kitty, thanks to a roommate named Ed Driscoll. I had a dog at this time as well. She was a German shepherd/miniature collie mix and her name was Heidi. She adopted the cats and they would all cuddle up on the couch and the cats would "nurse" on the dog. She would lightly whine in pain, but she let them continue. This went on until the end of all their lives. When I would take Heidi on her daily walk, the cats would follow wherever we went, so I had to be careful about traffic and other, meaner dogs. But I found several routes I could take safely and all four of us would take our walks every evening. I met Skip at this time and he joined us on the walks as well. It was one big, happy family. I had to put Heidi to sleep for reasons better not talked about and the kitties followed us to our new home in Arcadia. They loved it there as it was near the horse race track and the peacocks would always wander over into our yard. The cats loved to chase the peacocks and I would always be alarmed by this horrible screeching as the birds would run around and finally fly away to avoid the cats. Both cats eventually caught feline leukemia and had to be put down. It was heartbreaking, but inevitable, an attitude that both cats seemed to share as well.

We next adopted two cats that a friend found in a bag along the side of the road. One was a female calico and the other was a pure black male. We named him Tak and her Tut. I don't remember where those names came from. When they were about six months old, we moved to Sherman Oaks. As soon as we arrived, Tut disappeared and we never saw her again. We suspect she was stolen, as she was a beautiful cat. So we had Tak. We also had Skip's cat, Spats, but he never liked me much and eventually started living with a neighbor who was more than happy to adopt him. Tak was a real sweet cat. He also disappeared one day and didn't show up for weeks. When he did, he had his rear leg bent around his back. We screamed and ran him down to the vet, where his leg was put into a cast. The vet thought a car had probably hit him. He lived with that cast for quite awhile, but he eventually healed and took up his outdoor life once again.

Months later, we moved to an enclosed apartment and Tak suddenly had to learn to live as an indoor cat. He took to it without complaint and until the end of his life; he never tried to scratch any furniture or even attempt to get outside. I think he was so comfortable with us, that he decided that he being indoors all the time was a plus. He was also really good with our birds and hamsters. When they first were brought into the apartment, he made his interest known. I picked him up, shook my finger at him and gave him a firm "NO" and that was the end of that. He never tried anything with them again. In fact, a few months after bringing the hamster (Gerald) home, I left the top off his Habitrail and he got out. I found him curled up, asleep with the cat. I had never seen anything like that.

Tak lived for about 15 years. He also had feline leukemia, picked up from his outdoor life, and he eventually just laid down and died one day. From that point on, I've kept all my cats indoors. The outdoor life is too risky with disease, cars and coyotes to worry about. During Tak's life, we brought several other cats into the house. One was Frankie. The others were a brother and sister cat. We found them when they were kittens under the hood of our car when Skip went out to go to work. He heard their mewing and I went out and rescued them. They were a weird pair, so we decided to name them Chuck and Squeak, after Charles Manson and Squeaky Fromme. They are cat cats. In other words, they are much more like the standard cat stereotype. They're loving and all, but they pretty much stick to themselves. They're still here and I love them, but they will never be as special as Tak or Frankie.

Frankie came into our home one afternoon while Skip and I were sitting on our balcony with our friend Karl, who was visiting from Washington DC at the time. There was a crazy old cat lady who lived behind us and she had just recently moved out. We noticed some kids screwing around at the side of her house and suddenly one of the boys broke her window and started to climb into the house. I yelled at them that we were going to call the police and they yelled back that there were cats locked in the house and they were trying to rescue them. As I was heading downstairs, several adult cats escaped through the broken window and just as I got there, the kid who had climbed into the house appeared with a box full of very young kittens. The crazy bitch left and just locked a bunch of cats in the house. The kittens were in bad shape. They were starving and thirsty and looked really sick. All the kids decided to take one home. I had always liked Siamese cats and saw one sitting in the box, so I grabbed that one and headed back up to my apartment.

(Several weeks later, the crazy lady knocked on my door and threatened to call the police unless I gave her back her cats. She claimed that a neighbor had seen ME break into her house. I told her to go ahead and call the police and we would see what they thought of all the cats wandering around, with the diseased ones still in her house. She left and I never saw her again. About six months later, a nice young couple bought and moved into her house and fixed it all up nicely. The dozens of homeless cats were around for years though. Chuck and Squeak came from that brood as well, so they could be related to Frankie in some way.)

Once I got the kitten home, I realized that I might have made a mistake in taking him in, especially since I had Tak and several other pets living there as well. The kitten was filthy and covered with fleas. He had black stuff pouring out of his ears. I would later find out that those were ear mites. His eyes were infected shut. I immediately ran him down to the vet, where I was also told he had worms and that he was way too young to have been taken away from his mother. There were many other things wrong with him as well, so the doctor suggested that I put him to sleep, but I just couldn't bear to do that to the little guy. So I told the doctor I wanted to try to cure him. What followed was a yearlong healing process. I had to feed him by hand. He was too young for a flea bath, so I had to locate the fleas, pick them off and kill them between finger nails. I had to give him worm medicine and put eardrops into his ears to get rid of the mites. That took over six months to clear up and he hated every moment of it, yowling every time I put a drop into an ear. That led to his name. He had bright blue eyes and a beautiful yowl, so we named him after Frank Sinatra. In later years he would also pick up nicknames like Francis Ford Pussycat and Frankiestein.

As the months went on he started picking up strength. He became a beautiful cat. The doctor told me he was actually a Tonkanese, which is sort of a stockier version of the Siamese. He thought he was such a fine example of one, that I could make him a show cat. That's not for me though and after his first year, he started developing a flaw in his right eye that would have prevented him from being a show cat anyways. The flaw slowly changed his eye to brown, but it wasn't anything serious, health-wise.

After a year, the cat was fully healed. But that year of hands on treatment created a bond unlike any I had ever had with any other animal in my life. Frankie was by my side almost constantly when I was home. When I was out, he pined. I was gone for three months during the first tour I went on after he was cured. When I would call home, Skip said the cat would drag himself around the house and cry out by the door. When I walked through the door after all those months away, the cat ran into the living room, saw me, screamed and jumped into my arms. He was like that until the end of his life and to tell the truth, I felt the same way. The two of us could communicate. Skip can vouch for that. The cat understood every word I said to him and I knew everything he said to me. He would walk into the living room, look at me and meow and I'd turn to Skip and say, "They're out of water", and they would be. He would lie down when I would ask him to. And he was friendly, almost always greeting visitors while the other cats ran and hid until the strangers left.

In later years, when I started working from home, he was the happiest cat in the universe. He would lie in my lap all day as I worked on my computer and sleep by my side all night. (He would lie on my right side away from Skip. He rarely slept between us.) He loved Skip and was friendly with him, but I think Skip was frustrated that he was never as obsessed about him as he was about me. He loved his "dinner", which was a can of wet food I'd give him once a week. All I had to say was "dinner dinner" and he would run around the house meowing and purring loudly. He had dry food at all other times for health reasons, but just like me, he was obsessed with the good stuff. He also got to have his "kitty goodies" three times a week and would get almost as excited about those little cat treats as he would about the canned food.

There's so much more I could say about him. But I can't go on. It's too much for me to think about and I have to cut to the chase.

About a month ago, we noticed that he was losing weight. At first I just figured it was from age. He was 14 and that's getting into old age for cats. But two weeks ago, he started losing strength and the weight loss was just too much to ignore. So we took him to the vet. After a series of tests it was discovered that he had a large growth in his spleen and his liver was having problems. The doctor felt he was too old to operate on. He thought that the growth was too much and operating would almost certainly kill the little guy. So he told us to take him home and make him as comfortable and happy as we could. He gave him six months to live. A week later, the guy was so frail and weak he could hardly walk. I sat up with him all night. He was lying next to me and purring, but he could hardly lift his head. It was heartbreaking. So he went back to the doctor. The vet took one look at him and said it was time to put him down. I held him as the doctor gave him the shot. I felt his life leave him.

I insist on holding every animal I've owned as they are put out of their misery. I can't face leaving them in the hands of a person they don't know. It's always hard for me, but it has to be done that way. I would have no peace otherwise. But this wasn't just hard for me. This was devastating. I don't think I've ever cried so hard for any other animal. And I've certainly never cried like that for a human being. It's been a week now and I'm still crying. I've lost a part of me. I have a hole in me that feels like it will never fill again.

Of course, I know it will fill. Time will go on and other matters will distract me. I'm lucky enough to have a loving boyfriend and great friends who care. The grief will eventually fade and I will no longer cry over Frankie. But I'll always miss him. I'll always have him in my heart. He was my friend and I'll never forget him.

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