Carol Jane Remsburg
I've discovered over the last few days that photographs never do actual justice to the living or the dead for that matter. Of all the photos we have only a few remain and most of those are fuzzy with the white too white and the eyes red and it's just a photo. They tell nothing about that furry feline who dominated our lives for so long. His name was "Spike."
It was back in the spring of '86 when that starving little runt crept into our lives. Hubby and my brother-in-law were working to put a new roof of shingles on the house just after we bought it the summer before and Hurricane Gloria blew through and took most of it with her. When the hammering stopped at mid-day they climbed down and noticed a kitten. He was white with dark orangey/brown splotches, tawny eyes, and a huge head in proportion to his body. In fact, he was about the ugliest feline any of us had ever seen. And kittens are supposed to be cute.
Ah, this had to be the little one that the blind cat next door had been beating up on over the last two nights. The screams had been horrible but each time we went to look, they fled. The kitten didn't meow, mew, or purr. He was totally silent and so rail-thin it was frightening. All it took was that marital exchange, that silent look. I picked the poor wee one up and brought him inside the house where I fed him and kept him far away from our female cats who were both grown. Why I dubbed him "Spike" I'm not sure. Suffice it to say he didn't act at all like a cat but rather a dog.
It was apparent that this 'kitten' had subsisted on a cricket diet because that was about the only things he could catch. That first day I managed to keep him from over-eating so he wouldn't puke. Then I bathed him and he certainly didn't like that but he endured it. Finally it came time to introduce him to the girls.
I had worried that neither of the girls would like him and that I was facing litter-box training again. I didn't have to worry about the second item, he LOVED the litter-box even if he couldn't figure out how to cover his leavings. Back in '86 our girls were five years old. There was the 'queen' of the house, Muffin, who hated everyone but loved me and accepted Don and barely tolerated her 'sister' Cotton. Cotton, on the other hand, fell in love. She found someone to mother in Spike and until the day she died would latch onto Spike's head and clean him up like any mother of a 5 year-old boy—heavy handed and intense. Spike was in heaven for about twenty minutes before Muffin waded in.
You have to understand the situation. Muffin was never a large cat but she had such a presence that would put Cleopatra to shame. Cotton was large, white, and very accepting of most things and knew just who ruled the roost—which was Muff.
Yep, Muff strolled up and didn't even hiss; she just tried to kill him. I rescued the poor little babe and chastised Muffin rather severely. She, in turn, decided that she was mad at me and made sure I knew it. The possibility that the little one might run into real trouble had us keep him safely in bed with us. We figured if he lasted through the night he might have a chance. And while Muffie slept across my legs, the only danger was hubby himself who rolled over on to the little one who emitted his first sounds—a squeak. I woke up to see tiny little eyes beneath hubby. We saved him then too. Ever there after Spikey slept in the crook of Don's arm for nearly 16 years—every single night up until the last few when he couldn't get up or down from the bed and suddenly was afraid to be there.
Once we knew that Muffin wasn't going to murder him outright, we relaxed a bit. The next week was a visit to the vet's office for shots and an examination. Even with that huge head and a body that looked about 3 months old, the vet said he was nearly a year-old and severely malnourished. We fed him and fed him and gave him vitamins, but still he didn't speak. How he DID speak was via his eyes, which were quite expressive, and Don, being a male, latched on to him and coddled our little boy.
Spike began to grow into his head. Six months later we had him fixed and de-clawed—he wasn't happy about that and hated any car ride after that which could only mean a vet's visit.
Time passed and little Spikey grew into BIG Spikey. Cotton was a big girl, about 20 pounds, Muffin, about 15 at her largest; but Spike topped the scales over the next few years as he hit his prime at about 23 pounds. He was a fat and sassy boy. He didn't care how you held him just as long as you did, so much like a ditzy dog. You could hold him like a baby and hug and kiss him and just smother him with attention in a way you could neither of the girls. They took their loving at their own pace like curling up in your lap just before you really had to make a potty run.
But for Spike, affection was the name of his game. He thrived on love and it was obvious from the beginning that he was certain the sun rose and set on Don. To consider anything else was like stating the earth was flat. "What are you NUTS Lady?"
And while Cotton nurtured him and coddled him and mothered him, Spike remained in absolute awe, wonder, and fear of "She Who Rules" who was Muffin—of course. Nearly a year later we learned that Spike could talk. He didn't sound like Cotton, he sounded just like Muffin who ought to have been Siamese but wasn't. And like any little kid, once he learned how to talk he never shut up—EVER.
Over the next ten years there wasn't a time that Spike didn't stroll past Muffin that she didn't growl and threaten him with death. He didn't care. He knew better by then yet he always did treat her with the deference she deserved.
But then there were those frigid winter afternoons we'd come home and find all three cats on our bed within touching distance before Muff hopped off and pretended it was a figment of our imagination. Only she allowed either of them on the bed. She only gave way at night because Spikey was kept safe in that special crook of Don's arm—Don learned to sleep that way.
Out of all the cats that have lived in our marriage, Spike was the only one that you could hold like a baby, on his back and cooing to him. He could simulate a limp rag with aplomb. If there ever was a 'dog' that was reincarnated as a feline, this was it. You could have held him up by his tail and he wouldn't have cared one bit—remember you were 'holding' him.
Some nearly five years later we had a daughter, our Erin Morgan. It was September of 1990. Both Muffin and Cotton weren't happy about the new addition—Muffin especially had cause for concern as she had endured a terrible experience with little ones. Spike had no fears, he was curious. He wondered and he liked to snuggle.
I had worried over Muffin's possible revenge over the next few years but Spike was always there and took her abuse and kept everyone else safe—especially the babe. Spike became Muffin's target of choice. Screams, growls and terrific keenings were the result, but by then he was big enough to handle it all and carried it off with ease all the while as Muffin snorted, glared, and spit. He was bigger than she and yet he always bowed down to her. Still he loved to play and would torment her and then go running to Cotton for care but not before tattling to "Daddy." That cat lived to tattle. I'll even bet you know people like that too.
Yes, that cat, our Spike-boy, he seemed nearly human. He was as needy for attention as a newborn from the beginning until the end. He adored his morning cream bowl and 'specially' selected foods of albacore tuna drained and mashed, the tuna juice was offered separately . . . Roast beef finely chopped and served. Anything, and I mean anything for him.
Saturday evenings were the normal times for family visits with dinner and cards or just talk. But as the huge crew would come and before they could leave we all stood in the kitchen. Spike made his rounds—around and around and around he went. He spoke, he cuddled, and he nuzzled one and all—even those of us who weren't leaving. He was vocal and everyone paid attention to him.
As I've mentioned Spike was a feline but didn't act like one. He was more profound 'puppy' caught in an erstwhile feline fur getup. And when the errant feline HATER passed through our doors, Spike gave them extra-special attention. There wasn't a one that didn't leave without a new outlook on the feline family.
Over the years Spike remained steadfast in his love and devotion for Don. And I do mean devotion for it wasn't anything else. Spike would wake us every morning at 5:45 AM. Spike had his cream while we had coffee. Then he was served a sumptuous breakfast. He had his snuggles and loves before we left for our workdays. And each late afternoon he was waiting just inside the door for our arrival and greeted us accordingly. Each evening he spent with Don. There wasn't even the privacy of a potty break or any other kind of 'break' for Spike was there. Marital interludes he was shut away from and he knew and continually howled and scratched at the door. If the kid weren't a such sound sleeper I don't know if they would have happened at all.
Time passes and often we look at our pets as offspring. Yeah, Spike was much like a child, a devoted, demanding, but adoring child.
Over the last two years he dropped nearly all his former weight. He became not much more than that bag of bones with some fur to hold it together—about 7 pounds worth and nearly all of that bones. Still he seemed as vital as he ever had been sans a bunch of teeth so we kept his food soft and tempted him with whatever goodies we could and kept on coddling him.
Many nights I would curl up in bed first before Don with a good book. Spike was always there hounding me before I could change into my nightgown and we'd talk and I'd exhort him to 'wait just a bloody minute.' Then I'd gently put him up on the bed with the little light on and settle down to read before sleep. He'd cuddle up, sniff my entire face, we'd kiss, and then he'd lay next to me until his favorite person came to bed and he would shift into the crook of Don's arm. That's how we went to sleep for years.
About a month ago this changed. Spike didn't want to get into the bed anymore for he was afraid he might have to get down to use the box and didn't trust himself. Don and I knew what was happening and didn't want to talk about it. No, that's a lie. I wanted to talk about it but Don didn't. It hurt him too much. Meanwhile Spike would clumsily make his way to the bottom of the stairs or sleep on the rug in the bathroom both just a few feet away from our bed.
Then it happened on a Monday. After weeks of spending most of his time in the chair in my office during the days, Spike didn't leave my office—his small safe place where our 'big tom' couldn't harass him. He didn't make his way to the bathroom or the bottom of the stairs—he suddenly couldn't walk anymore. That's also when I realized that Spikey had gone blind. Don had coddled him and kept him so much I hadn't a chance to get a good look at the old boy. How he'd managed the last couple of months I'll never know other than by his hearing which was still acute.
Over this short period of two weeks I had been diverted because our daughter suffered a very bad case of the flu and I focused on her and was sans sleep for almost 6 days. Then I got sick.
Then Spikey couldn't walk anymore on Tuesday morning. We worried. I got sicker. By Tuesday night it was bad. Not just with my bout of illness but we knew Spikey was dying. He couldn't walk, he couldn't use the box, and he shunned any food or water.
I finally opted to stay home the following day. I couldn't work, I felt as if I had a throat full of razors and a cough that would make you shudder. I called in sick at work and tried to get a doctor's appointment and got it for the following day. So I curled up on the floor and spent the day holding my old boy after making a vet's appointment for him later. Don would have to take him—this one last time.
For hours I held him and for hours he knew just how much I loved him. Spikey was such a gentleman and a precious part of our lives. He loved so much and so hard that other times I deemed him the pest.
Don came home that Wednesday, January 23rd, 2002, and bundled Spikey up in a big box with towels and blankets. Erin and I gently kissed him and said our goodbyes. Spike, totally sightless by then, kept purring and trilling his love.
Over the 10-minute drive to the Vet's office Don kept one hand on Spike and kept talking to him. Spike kept purring. The vet was shocked that even in this advanced state that the cat was purring. Spike purred until he died. Don cried—and he's not a man that cries. I cried when I couldn't before when it hurt so badly. Erin cried and just now understands why. And the rest, well, we've two 'young' other felines a big-boy 'tom' and a petite 'grand-dame' now wandering about calling for him.
Many folks think that pets are simply that—pets. This is not so in many cases. Yes there are pets who are cute and wonderful and funny, but then there are those who you have bonded with and know you better than your kids. There are those who can be there for you in ways your spouses can't. They love with such devotion and care that when you read those weird newspaper columns about 'dumb' animals you just shake your head.
Yeah, they do know. Muffin's loss hurt me so badly for she was the ONLY cat who adored just me and she understood me like no other and was there when we lost our first child and she never allowed me to push her away. Spikey loved everyone and demanded total attention but his focus always remained with Don.
Spikey was a true wonder for a cat. He wasn't stand-offish. He cared not just about himself but everyone he loved. This was a cat who not only cared but worried. No, he wasn't a just a cat, and he wasn't even a dog. This was a being as close to human as many real folks can't manage to become. Spikey loved with real love.
I miss him very much.