Something told me that day, October 4, 2001, to go to the Humane Society.
Our new cleaning lady was starting that day, and I didn’t want to walk in when she was working. So I thought I would go look at the animals. I didn’t need one. We had Tipper the Wonder Husky, and Alexander, the twenty-pound cat.
I walked around the cat area just to see what was there. I had no intention of getting a buddy for Kitty Al. He definitely was not an alpha cat, and although the largest cat we ever had, he was always the most mild mannered . I got him because when I returned home after a year of practice in a Falls Church VA, clinic, Fletcher, our long-haired orange boy, started pooping on the guest bed. After Fletch died, Al needed a buddy.
There, in a cage was a short-haired orange kitten, three months old. Already neutered. Ready for a forever home. Would he get one?
Short hair? I hadn’t had a short haired cat since high school. But he was also an orange tabby. Orange boys are special. I have found orange females not that nice, but to me, orange boys had it all, love and kindness, polite (well mostly), and bravery. I brought him home, and he became in love with Tipper, and nursed on Al’s toe.
How about a name? Oh yeah, he needs a name. Humane societies give them names so you will give them a closer look and take them home. My orange boy was called “Pumpkin” because it was October 4th, almost Halloween. Cowboy Joe and brother Franklin were Chip and Dale. Please.
I tend to give pets people names. I can only remember one beagle from childhood that I named Panhandle. Don’t ask me why; I was a kid.
Although I was not instantly in love with this orange tabby and white cutie, I took him home.
So what name would work? Dunno. As I’ve said to clients, they will tell you their names in a week or so. And so he did.
I had an unusual ninth grader in my biology class that year. Matthew was inquisitive, knew everything to know about the Titanic, liked antiques, and reading, but didn’t learn biology. A social kid, we talked often. I like to talk to students, just chatting about anything but school work. Matthew. Matthew. Although it was really coincidental, and not on purpose, the tiny kitten told me his name was to be Matthew.
And so it was for the next eighteen years.
I came home with my Goldendoodle, Ivy, last Sunday from a trip to my second home in Tucson for five weeks, and staying with new friends that had Ivy’s sister, Cali. What a fabulous 3 days we had after a nice, but short visit in New Mexico.
I left the three cats home with my next door neighbors, Sharon and Phyllis to care for them. When I left, Matt was fine, a specimen of good health and proper nutrition.
When you see something every day, you don’t notice subtle changes. At first, Matt looked fine. Later in the day, I noticed him crouching, looking toward me with totally dilated eyes, and he had huge lump on the right side of his upper jaw. It took me a nanosecond to know he had a cancer of the jaw, and he was blind. His heart was going at Kentucky Derby speed.
Matthew got around OK, but was slow, a little wobbly, and took a long time to lie down on his special throne, a brown cat pillow with a leopard-print border.
Since it was Sunday and not an emergency, I made several (only needed one, really,) calls to the clinic that Earl and I originally designed. He slept all night with us on the bed. I don’t think he urinated. He was dehydrated, but wouldn’t drink or eat.
I wanted at least one x-ray to say we had done an examination, which we did. The x-ray was a dead giveaway. A tumor right where we thought it was. Dr. Michelle Thomas and I knew it was also in the brain, probably in the area of the optic chiasm, where the optic nerves cross; and some of the fibers cross over to the other side of the brain to pass through two nuclei, one for each side, the Edinger-Westfall nuclei for us neuro geeks.
Blindness can come from an eye problem, an optic nerve problem, a crossover problem, a nuclear problem, or a tumor of the part of the brain called the occipital lobe.
All staff knew I would not leave Matthew for any part of the euthanasia. The techs gently gave him a shot of anesthesia, and I stayed with him, holding him until I laid him on the table, and smoothed his fur and kissed his face.
The techs came back in to insert a catheter into sleeping Matt’s cephalic (arm) vein, and gave us some more time together even though he was sleeping under anesthesia.
Dr. Thomas came in with the euthanasia solution, and handed me the syringe, and another syringe to flush the catheter in his forelimb after the euthanasia solution was all in. Matthew was peacefully released.
The staff did what I always did in practice, pay the bill first, not to be sure to get the bucks up front; but make it easy to just leave after whatever time you want to spend with your pet. They also asked me what I wanted done with his body. Note: I have written about euthanasia in my book, Drinking from the Trough: A Veterinarian’s Memoir. Cremation, save ashes was my choice. I picked the ashes up yesterday. The pretty box is in a safe but not noticeable place. I will take them to Arizona next fall and scatter them in my garden.
My cousin, Gail, and I reminisced about some of Matthew’s antics and how he would always talk on the phone if I was using a strong business-like voice, and how he was the head of my family. The details are in the book.
Matt, my golden boy, you were definitely top cat in the house no matter who were your buddies: Alexander, or brothers Cowboy Joe and Frank. You knew how to be a good cat right from the start of our relationship of nearly eighteen years. And you also won an award at your passing: You lived the longest life of any cat I ever had, even Pruney.
I’ll see you at the Rainbow Bridge, my love. Love from me, your cat-mother, and everyone who knew you. Peace.
Matthew Fletcher Carlson
May your memory be a blessing.