Sunday, March 3, 2013

RIP, Tessa Noel Matchette

If you were a casual visitor to our home during the past fifteen years, you might not realize that we actually had three cats.  Well, we did, until yesterday.

Our pretty little old soul
Shortly before Christmas, a little more than fifteen years ago and right after Joe and I were engaged, I was walking to my portable classroom and saw a tiny little face peeping out of the drainpipe in front of it.  The kitten that was watching my approach must have realized that I was an animal-lover.  After very little coaxing she came out, a bedraggled diluted calico (grey, apricot and white) baby. 

Her family was a familiar sight around school so her coloring didn’t surprise me.  She was cute in a kittenish sense, but I didn’t think that she was “pretty” in the conventional cat sense.  I had two gorgeous longhaired babies of my own at the time.  She reminded me a bit of an Ewok from Star Wars, but she seemed to also, upon closer inspection, be a kind, old soul.  It wasn’t until years later that I truly came to appreciate just how striking and, indeed, pretty Tessa truly was.

Tessa and Sneakers in the beginning
Being Dr. Doolittle, as Joe calls me, I took her into my classroom, fed her and then, after work, took her to see Joe’s dad to make sure she was healthy.  I, of course, was going to bring her home.  Joe needed his own kitty I had decided.  Joe’s dad opened the box that Tessa was in and pleasantly exclaimed, “Oh.  A calico.”  After a quick check, shots, and eardrops to take care of the horrible ear mites, we were on our way.  When I got home, I put a big red bow around her neck and then promptly presented her to Joe when he arrived home.  Already having two kitties, Joe was bit leery of yet another cat until Tessa somersaulted on the bed and looked up at him while laying on her back.  Tasha did the same thing and he loved it!  Joe was sold.

Tessa easily settled into our family.  Sneakers and Tasha tolerated her well, and Joe and I enjoyed having a kitten in the house.  She was our first pet as a couple.  Tessa was friendly and enjoyed cuddling with us, but was skittish with other people.  I discovered early on that our Tessa Boo loved to be brushed!  She would even “brush” herself if the brush was laying about. 

Our teeny tiny baby
Due to a really bad case of ear mites, Tessa needed daily eardrops, and it somehow became Joe’s job to do it.  Our baby tolerated it well, but she developed a life-long hatred of getting picked up and held.  She was fine on a lap, but try to pick her up and cuddle her – forget it!

Because she was so skittish with others, Tessa rarely came out when people other than immediate family were in the house.  If she did come out, you knew that you were part of her small inner circle.  My mom, both Beckys, Carolyn and Lynn were all part of that very select group.

Several years ago, Joe noticed a swelling on her left front leg and that she was limping.  Being a good kitty mom, off to the vet we went.  For some unknown reason, Tessa’s elbow joint was filling up with joint fluid.  The vet drained it and it continued to fill up.  All of the vets at the clinic each in turn tried a variety of things, but to no avail. 

Tessa's x-ray from her visit to Auburn
After several months, our vet clinic recommended taking Tessa to either Auburn or UGA to see if either veterinary clinic could figure out what kept making her elbow swell up.  So, my twelve-year-old kitty went to Auburn for some study and research.  Her dorm was tiny with metal bars on the door.  Exams were painful and the full of radiation and needles.  Auburn couldn’t figure her out either.  She came home shaved, bandaged, stitched and with some cool x-rays.  We came home with a lot lighter pockets and no answers.  So much for study and research. :0/

We thought it was cool that her skin matched her fur. 
For the next three years, we took her to the vet every six to eight weeks so they could drain her elbow.  Some pets go for grooming or a manicure.  Our girl went to get shaved and a needle jabbed multiple times into her elbow.  Each time we went, they drained a little more. 

The vet techs, and even the kids & I, loved to play with the joint fluid.  It was the consistency thick honey and we would draw and write with it in the sink.  Josie even took a syringe of it in for show and tell once.  Michelle tried to take a syringe of it to show her honor science class however it was promptly confiscated and I got a call from the assistant principal telling me that students couldn’t bring biohazards to school.  Ooops.  :0)

An early attempt to stop the elbow swelling.
The result - muffin paw.
Through all of the poking and prodding, Tessa was a gem.  She would grumble a bit, but never ever barred her teeth or showed any signs of aggression or agitation towards the vet or any of the techs that treated her.  No one would believe us that she was so docile on the exam table.  Anytime there was a new tech at the hospital, he/she would come in ready to manhandle Tessa, despite what we (the vets, other techs and I) said.  It was almost like Tessa knew that they were trying to help her feel better.  At times when they were draining her elbow, she would close her eyes, relief easing the tension in her little round face.  Afterwards, the new tech would express incredulity at what we all already knew -- Tessa was one in a million!

Carolyn once told me that a human elbow only contains about 11mL of joint fluid.  In the beginning, the vets were able to drain about 20mL each time.  In the end, they were draining over 70mL!  Almost immediately after they would drain her elbow, it would start filling up again.  Her elbow caused her to hold her leg at an unusual angle, thereby causing her to have a permanently deformed leg and a limp.  She didn’t let it slow her down too much.  In hindsight, we all wish we had opted for an amputation of her leg, but we had no idea how long or how much trouble her elbow was going to cost her. 

Sleeping in her favorite spot, on her favorite blankie
Last year, Tessa started to start showing signs of kitty dementia.  Her hearing started going and she would come out and yowl at us during dinner.  She even begged for food from the dinner table, something she’d never done in the past.  Unlike Sneakers or Tasha at the same age, her kidneys seemed to be holding out tolerably well.  She became more social, kind of like a dotty old lady – kindly and friendly.  She’d always been tolerant of our kids, but she soon let other kids approach and pet her.  She was still skittish, and would promptly hop off of my lap if I happened to cough or sneeze while she was sitting with me, but then she’d climb right back on and settle in.  She slept more and more and she slept deeply.  In the last six months, she started getting nippy with us if we intruded upon her personal space too much, only to promptly have a look of guilt and horror cross her face after she’d done so. 

Watching over some her beloved family
Joe and I knew that our Boo was on a downward spiral.  We knew our time with our sweet little girl was limited.  A couple of months ago she stopped eating dry cat food, so we switched her to canned, something that was a huge temptation to Murphy and Louie.  She got a horrible ear infection last month that caused her eardrum to perforate.  We boarded her at the vet clinic when we went to Florida because she was getting her antibiotic twice a day.  And then last weekend, she stopped eating.  She’d always been a dainty eater unless Doritos were involved, but this was drastic.  Each day, she ate less and less until Thursday when the only thing we could coax her to eat was a few kitty treats.  She didn’t seem in excessive amounts of distress, but Joe and I knew that our time with our sweet girl had come to an end.

We sat the kids down and had a family meeting, explaining that Tessa was at the end of her very good life and that we must do one final and loving act to help end her pain and suffering.  The kids, while incredibly sad, understood.  Josie took the news the hardest as she was the closest to Tessa, just as Jamie had been to Sneakers. 

The pain of Sneakers’ loss was still fresh in all of our minds.  When we euthanized Sneakers, it was just Joe and I with him.  I didn’t want to worry about dealing with the kids while dealing with the incredible pain of letting him go.  He was in so much pain in the end, going downhill as fast as he did.  I wanted to devote myself solely to him.  And, there really was no time to get the kids.  The kids saw it differently.  They wanted to be there with him and told us unceremoniously that they wanted to be there with Tessa when it was her turn.
Sneakers and Tessa, thirteen years later.

Tessa’s situation was different.  The timing had not gotten to the critical point yet and the kids were all more than a year older.  They unanimously agreed that they wanted to be with Tessa in the end.  We explained each step of the process and how Tessa would probably react.  We wanted no surprises for them.   It was good to grieve as a family, as crummy as it was.  We all loved her so much for her quiet, constant, sweet demeanor.

Making the call to the clinic in the morning was one of the hardest phone calls I think I’ve ever made.  It wasn’t like with Sneakers’ last vet visit.  With him, a small part of me “thought” there might be a chance he would come through it.  Tessa was down to skin and bones, not eating and barely drinking.  This was a conscious decision we were making. 

Dr. S had a special relationship w/Tessa.
Notice how tightly they're NOT holding her,
despite the large needle in her elbow.
I think that everyone that had worked with Tessa at the vet clinic had a bit of a soft spot for her.  She truly was such a good and easy patient, despite her puzzling elbow issues.  One of our vets also had had diluted calicos like Tessa and had a particularly large soft spot for her because of it.  The staff were all so incredibly kind to us when we arrived after school for our appointment, each going out of his/her way to offer words of comfort and sympathy. 

It happened very much like we told the kids it would.  I had Tessa on my lap and we all stroked her tiny body as the vet slipped the needle into her leg and pushed the plunger.  Tessa raised her head a little and then relaxed.  I, with my hand on her chest, felt her take her last breath and felt her heart beat for the last time. 

We stayed with her for quite a while, each taking a turn holding her.  We all cried and held each other.  Jamie and Joe tried to remain stoic, but failed.  The girls cried freely and, in a rare moment of solidarity, clung on to each other.  I, through my unceasing tears, tried to say all the right things, despite that nagging guilt in the back of my mind that maybe, just maybe, it wasn’t quite time. 

I didn’t want the kids to fear death and the body of a dead animal as I had always done for some unknown reason.  I tried to tell them that her body was just now a shell where her soul (Yes, I believe that animals have souls.) had used to reside, and that she was now done with it.   She’d gone on to be with Sneakers and Tasha and Buddy and all of the other animals she’d known in her long and happy life. 

My other nursecat - ever vigilant in her duties.
Our Tessa was a sweet, little, gentle and old soul.  She, like Sneakers, was a devoted nursecat when I was going through chemo, keeping silent vigil at the end of my bed when she wasn’t on my lap.  Despite her skittish nature, she was friendly and very loving with those she loved best.  She was playful if a piece of string was involved, right up until almost the very end.  I think she recognized and appreciated the goodness in people.  She was tolerant of little kids and of other animals.  Louie recognized that about her immediately and theirs was a very easy relationship, despite the difference in age.  While she wasn’t as charismatic as Sneakers was or Louie is, I knew she loved me so very very much. 

Like my boy Sneakers, she will be missed terribly.  I think she was a good embodiment of our marriage, this darling first pet of ours together.  I do know that Tessa’s in a better place and that she’s not in pain anymore, and I’m thankful for that, but I will truly miss her quiet dainty presence dreadfully.

This is how we spent the last day of Tessa's life -
Tessa in her favorite spot with a friend by her side.
As I’ve said before, I’m a firm believer that animals choose their people and that they come into our lives for when they do for a reason.  Tasha, Buddy, Sneakers, Tessa, Louie – they all came at pivotal times in my life.  We currently have another cat, Murphy, but Murphy has always been and always will be Michelle’s cat, and Michelle’s only.  She somewhat tolerates the rest of us because we feed her and clean her litter box.

Thank goodness for Louie!  I think that Louie truly came to us when he did and how he did to help us get through Tessa’s death.  His youth and exuberance and love of us are just what we need to help us mourn our sweet little girl.  He’s spent the better part of the day glued to my side, purring his big booming purr, periodically leaning back to look at me with that half-closed eye look that cats have when they are utterly content. 

Tessa never went near my treadmill, steering clear of the room it was in until yesterday.  I’d spent almost the entire day with her on my lap, enjoying those last precious hours with her.  A couple of hours before we took her in, she wandered into the sunroom and gingerly sat down on the treadmill.  I have no idea why she did so, but I like to think that she found comfort in that it smelled like me and that she was leaving a bit of her scent on something that gave me so much enjoyment.  Cats are funny creatures and I honestly think they sense things that we couldn’t even imagine.  

Well, that’s my story and I’m sticking to it. 

The passing of the torch from one beloved kitty to the other
Tessa Noel Matchette
September 1997 – March 1, 2013

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