Growing up in a semi-farm environment, I’ve always been surrounded by all sorts of animals – pigs, goats, dogs, cats, turtles, chickens, ducks, etc., until I left home in my early 20s to pursue my career. Even though I had pets of my own throughout my life, a rat in primary school, a couple of dogs in high school, a pair of parakeet in my mid 20s, pet fish in my early 30s, and then Chip’s mom, Pepper, in my late 30s, none of them I established the kind of bond I’ve had with Chip. The only pet that has ever come close to emotional attachment was my second dog when I was in senior high school, whom I lost to maggot infestation – while still healthy. I feel sad whenever they passed away, or I have to give them up to somebody else because I’m going to another country but it was something I was easily able to get over with.
All my life I’ve always treated pets just like any other animals, well, as animals. But I treat them as responsibly as I can. I was never really into humanizing animals, like sleeping with pets, giving them health insurance, brushing their teeth, overly pampering, or even fixing. Animals in the wild don’t brush their teeth nor do they wear clothing to protect them from the elements. These things seem odd to me. I didn’t believe in “fixing” pets, because it didn’t seem right to mutilate them if only for the sake of “population control.” When I was young, we neutered pigs but it was for practical reasons. Perhaps humanizing pets seem odd to me because animals where I grew up come and go too often? Anyway, when I adopted Pepper, as a kitten, and two of her siblings from Half Moon Bay in Northern California, she was sort of a rebel cat, and a slutty one. We had to give up two of her siblings for adoption since three cats in a studio apartment was a bit much. It was fun at first until the reality of keeping them sunk in. Pepper was the most tamed and the cutest, so I kept her. When Pepper reached maturity, she snuck out. And that all it took for Chip and two of his siblings to be born in summer of 2004. Had Pepper been neutered, Chip would’ve never come to my life.
Chip, a Maine Coon, was the heaviest of Pepper’s litter, and the most behaved and most intelligent of them all. Not to mention the cutest. The black patch on its snout made Chip look like its’ got a mustache. He’s like Charlie Chaplin, though some friends referred to him as “Chitler” (with reference to Hitler), funny but awkward. I love the shape of his head. It’s like a football, kind of like Stewie Griffin in “The Family Guy.” And his long hair exaggerates it. It was so fun to have them all, but then, again it was just not practical to keep them. Pepper was a wild one, she pretty much destroyed all of my furniture. When the kittens where old enough to get weened, I put up Pepper and the siblings for adoption. I only let older couples adopt them, because I thought they will need their company more. Giving up Pepper was a very tough decision, and I still feel guilty doing it until this day, but it was something I had to do.
Chip was a very smart cat. We’d play fetch, using paper crumpled into a ball. He’d learn things fast. It was easy to train him, like to only scratch on his scratch post and not on the furniture, not to go on top of counters, to not enter my bedroom and bathroom, not to climb on the patio fence and furniture, and how to get my attention if he wants to go out in the patio or to come inside when he’s done, to come when called, and to come to me when I hold his brush for grooming. He rarely “meows,” even when I give him a bath. He’d just brace himself on the tub with his forelegs, and let me do my work. And he knows a nice meal follows next. I think he only started meowing when he turned seven. Of course, he gets plenty of treats and toys as a reward. He gets treats when he do things right – food or lots of petting and praise.
Rules are made to be broken. Whenever he gets the chance, he’d sneak in my room and open my closet and drawers, and leave foot prints on my bathroom sink. He’d leave prints on top of the refrigerator or open the kitchen cabinets. At first I was confused who did it, but then, the tiny bits that got caught in his paw he’d leave behind were enough clues. He tries to pull a stunt on me whenever he can. Like occasionally try to trip me, by intentionally walking across my path when I’m carrying boxes or laundry. He’d lay down right under me when I’m doing pull-ups, or would rub against my leg when I’m doing squats and dumb bell curls.
He understood when he did something wrong, and the meaning of “Nuh uh” (a warning) or “Bad” (an offense). He would either back off and stop what he’s about to do, or hop on his basket perch and “duck” as if he’s “grounded.” He’d stay there for a while then he’d come to me and rub against my leg. Then I’d pat his head, “it’s all forgiven.”
We have lots of one-on-one time, he’d lay on the floor next to me when I’m watching TV. He loved getting massaged on the back of his neck, belly rubs, chin rubs, back rubs, and getting brushed. Sometimes when I’m too busy working on my computer, he’d get my attention by standing on his hind legs and paw my elbow until I give in. But when I’m really busy, for some reason he senses that I don’t want to be disturbed, he’d just hang out in the kitchen until I stand up.
He was easy to pleased. He didn’t like fancy cat toys. But he gets a kick out of drinking straw fashioned into a triangle, the thick plastic wrapper on a box of canned drinks, bottle cap, or a plain string. He loved oatmeal cookies, and cat treats with soft chewable cores. Chip was a very independent and silly cat.
Chip was an indoor cat. He never set foot outside ever in his life beyond the porch. When he was three, he had to be flown to Washington because I was moving to Vancouver, BC. He went through all the veterinary screening, took his first trip outdoors, and first flight. He stayed in Washington for a few months. As soon as I was all settled in Vancouver, friends drove him across the border and finally we got reunited. The long trek and drastic change of environment stressed him out. It made him go crazy, which made him scratch and bit me. I have the scars and bit marks as mementos. A vet advised me to put him down. My friends advised me to seek a second opinion and try holistic treatment to calm him down. He was sequestered in my bedroom, was growling, and would attacked at anyone who comes near. I was afraid of him. And my wounds was bad, I had to seek medical treatment. I was ready to give him up. If not for my friends, that would’ve been a swift exit. He got better, but it took a while for me to feel safe and close to him again. I’d say, over two years. I don’t blame him, since I had to move him twice in such a short time. It must have been very stressful and shocking for him.
Chip had a few health issues all his life, most of it was inherent to his breed. Mostly gastrointestinal-related stuff. With the advise of friends who has experience with his breed, and from his vet, he usually just rebounded and be all well again. I noticed early this year that he was a bit picky with his food. He’s done this before, but he usually eat well again after I change brand. He’s always excited when I give him canned food from time-to-time as a lavish meal. But for some reason, he’s been eating less and less and was resting too much. I thought, since he’s 11 year old (60 in human years), he’s practically senior. Last month I noticed he lost a lot of weight and he still shunned food. I tried over six types of cat food of different brands, to see what he likes. He nibbles a little bit, but stopped eating all together. I took him to his vet two weeks ago. He was dehydrated. His weight was down to 11lbs from his usual 22.5lbs. They took his blood for screening and gave him sub-dermal treatments to boost his appetite and to infuse him with nutrients. Blood work results came in the next day, and he was diagnosed with Pancreatitis, but his liver was still healthy. He was put on painkiller, anti-acid, and anti-nausea medications for a couple weeks, and we’re to reassess his condition after that. He still wouldn’t eat. I suggested feeding him through syringe. Three nights after he was diagnosed, with the vet’s recommendation to give him a few milligrams of food every two hours to jump start his digestion, I labored that night to feed him. I kept vigil the whole week, which made reporting to work at five in the morning very challenging. He attempted to drink water by himself twice. I was excited, I thought he’s getting better. But that was it, he stopped. His only source of fluids was me giving him some using a 10ml. syringe. He could no longer jump to his basket, so I had to push his basket next to the couch so he could climb on it with very minimal effort. He got so weak that even climbing a foot seems very laborious. His kennel, which is “safety zone,” was now on the floor instead of the bench – he preferred to sleep on elevated places, he disliked sleeping on the ground. Ten days after his diagnosis, he was so weak that I had to carry him to go anywhere – to his litter box, his basket, on the floor, … anywhere. Even when he needs to “go” it took him so long, he’d lay on the litter for a while. I had to brush and clean him up before taking him back to his basket. What made it so painful to watch was the fact that his eyes get all watery, as if he’s crying, and he’d try to scratch walls, as if he’s in pain.
The thought of giving him up for good was the hardest thing I had to decide ever in my life. I was still trying to cling onto hope, even when I made the call to the vet last Friday for his follow-up appointment. I felt a knot in my gut and my heart felt heavy while I discuss my appointment with the vet receptionist. It was so tough to get through that day as I try to hold back tears and gut-wrenching emotions.
The reality of losing Chip was dawning on me. Five days prior, I broke down for about two nights. I didn’t understand what I was going through emotionally. I did not expect to be this emotionally affected … by a cat. I realized he’s been with me through the toughest period in my life. He’s been with me since he was born.
On May 2nd, I gave him his last grooming and medication. Spent a few moments with him. Then drove him to the vet for his last appointment. His vet checked him out. And I asked her if there was anything that can be done to make him well again. I was advised that we can put him through more screening, but he was too weak. It’s likely that he’s suffering from another decease, like cancer, judging from the abnormal build-up of fluid in his gut. After much thought, and reassurance from the vet that we’ve done everything we could, I decided to not let him suffer any longer. The vet took him in and prepped a needle on his left front paw, with me stroking his head, she slowly injected a large dose of anesthesia in his paw. He drew his last breath, and in less than two minutes, at 2:41pm Chip was gone. It was so surreal to watch him lay still, eyes still open. I wanted to change my mind, but I know it had to be done. I had to leave the clinic quickly, as I was going to lose it. I’m going back in a few days to collect his ashes.
I consider myself a very strong person, emotionally. I’ve traveled all by myself and lived in four different countries since my early twenties. I never felt homesick, ever. I never cried about missing my immediate family or father. Perhaps because I lost my mom when I was eight, and my dad was too busy earning a living that he wasn’t really there for us as a parent, that fending for ourselves and making do with what we got was kind of our normal. Strong emotional attachment wasn’t really something big for us. In fact, as kids, we longed for the day to be independent because it was really tough living in a very strict household, on top of forced child labor. Perhaps Chip was the closest I’ve had to family bonding. Perhaps that’s why I have this sort of “foreign” reaction to his absence. Perhaps. Coming home to an empty apartment feels weird. This is very weird to me. I’ve never felt this emotionally affected since my mother passed away. I know it will get better, in time. Now I understand better what people goes through when they lose a pet. I realize now that it really doesn’t matter if it’s a human being or an animal, if people establish an emotional bond … it’s real, it’s family … even if it do comes across as a one-way street.
Thanks Chip for being such an awesome companion, you beat all my long-term relationships!