Blinky and Napoleon
He was a gentle giant. Napoleon Dynamite Kitty came into our family nearly 15 years ago, when our neighbor across the street alerted us to the existence of two kittens who had taken up residence in the engine block of his car that was about to be junked. He and his brother (later named Blinky) had apparently been abandoned and found a bit of shelter inside the car body. We took the two black cats in, and after receiving a clean bill of health from our vet, they joined our other two cats, Attack and Meezle. Unfortunately, the former alpha cat Attack was never able to adjust to the stress of having this usurpation of her domain, and she developed nervous system problems. So much that we ended up having to give her kitty valium for several months. But her problems persisted, and she eventually had a stroke and died just before the next Christmas.
We never knew if it was that he was looking for Attack, but Napoleon went missing right after we buried Attack in the back yard. He just flat out vanished. We put an ad in the paper (back in those ancient days when the classified ads still meant something). On New Year’s Day morning, we received a call from someone who said he thought he’d been feeding our cat. We checked the map, and though it was several miles away by road, it was only over the hillside and less than a mile away. So we hauled ourselves out of bed, and searched the area where Napoleon was spotted. We came away empty handed, and my wife and younger son eventually went on to church, where our then 11 year old son prayed for Napoleon’s return during the prayers of the people.
It was the following Tuesday, and my wife was in the den, when motion caught her eye. A black form was coming down the neighbor’s driveway, and making a beeline for our door. Carrie went into the living room, saw that Blinky was asleep on the sofa, and went to open the door. Napoleon came right on in, trying his best to tell her all about his horrendous adventure. He went directly downstairs from there and commandeered the cat feeders. We never knew for sure, but we suspect it was this period of deprivation that caused him to begin to bulk up. He was always a big cat, but he grew into quite a chonky cat after that, weighing over 25 pounds at the high point of his weight. We eventually went to an automated feeder to keep the amount available to them at a reasonable level, but since we had other cats, we couldn’t dial back the food by that much.
The one time you could really tell that Napoleon and Blinky were brothers was when they went downstairs to the basement together. They moved in synch, differences in body mass notwithstanding. You also could see their familial relationship when they fought. Every so often, one would begin to groom the other. The grooming grew more and more aggressive until we had a full-fledged KWF (Kitty Wrestling Federation) match going on. Napoleon, being larger, usually won these matches.
The brothers liked to tag-team hunt as well. Out in our yard an endless supply of voles, mice and chipmunks lived, and we often could see them pairing up against a hapless critter, until either they tired of the chase, or the animal became an extra meal. Carrie quilted a wall hanging of two cats in a room with a fish in a bowl, and I provided the title of the Brothers Katamotzov Pondering Their Next Crime. Blinky and Napoleon were the Brothers Katamotzov.
Napoleon had his way of demanding lap time. I would be in the den working on the computer, when I felt an insistent head butt on my leg. Looking down, Napoleon would be looking up at me, going “Aren’t you going to go someplace where I can join you?” Then I would get up and move to a recliner, and this fat blob of a cat would race across the room to jump up on my lap. But I am not pretending that Napoleon was my cat. No, he was definitely Carrie’s cat. While my lap time was in the morning, hers was in the afternoon, and he blessed innumerable quilts that Carrie made. He would sit patiently on her lap while she sewed down the binding, putting up with the periodic movement of the quilt as she turned yet another corner, and had to readjust the quilt. Napoleon would fall asleep, paws outstretched to provide a bit of purchase against the edge of the loveseat. It was even better when Carrie decided to join him in a bit of a snooze herself. I would come downstairs only to see the two of them providing each other warmth and fellowship.
Both boys developed thyroid issues at the same time. We had noticed that Napoleon was losing a bit of weight, what we didn’t realize was that the weight loss was due to an overactive thyroid. We faced the choice of active treatment, including the possibility of killing the thyroid glands with radioactive iodine, or active pharmaceutical treatment, or a passive approach of adjusting their menu to provide only food that did not contain iodine. Such pet food does exist, at a cost of over $50 for an 8 pound bag, and a similar amount for a case of 24 cans of wet food. We elected that option, since by this time we only had the two brothers with us, and we could easily control the food choices. What was difficult was weaning Blinky away from table scraps. He had grown used to sharing our meals, and could be quite insistent in requesting his share. What we compromised on was giving the boys a bit of a can of their special food at night. Soon the begging for table scraps was greatly reduced, but both cats grew to expect and love their extra meal at night.
As they grew older, they became less adventuresome. A few years ago, their supremacy in the neighborhood was challenged when our neighbor across the street got married, and as part of the package deal, an indoor/outdoor cat named Harold was part of the entourage. Well, Harold did not recognize the neighborhood pecking order. In fact, it took Napoleon getting little notches out of both ears before he ceded his local reign as top cat. Both brothers decided it was better to stay inside than to challenge the interloper.
Both boys were due for injections this September. Just before they went in, I noticed that Napoleon seemed to be breathing differently. Shallow, with more frequent breaths. So I brought that up when we were at the vets. A quick x-ray later, and we discovered that the lungs had filled up with fluid and he was only breathing with the bottom portion of his lungs. We had fluid drained the next day, and he improved, but the x-rays now revealed shadows on his lungs. The vet said that it was likely cancer, but that we could help deal with the symptoms with lasix and an herbal preparation that dealt with excess lymphatic fluid. Otherwise, we could try invasive treatment at a veterinary hospital 150 miles away, where he might be subjected to chemotherapy or surgery. For a 15 year old cat, that would not be fair to put him through that. We agreed to the fluid draining and to squirt pharmaceuticals into his mouth. The first round of fluid was relatively clear, and Napoleon’s breathing improved significantly.
But it was only a little more than a month later that we could see him laboring again to breathe. We took him in again, and could see still more fluid in the x-ray. This time, the fluid they took out looked turbid, with reddish color hinting at blood as well. We had to leave him for a couple of days while we visited our son in Richmond, and it was with trepidation that we returned that weekend, not knowing whether Napoleon made it through the time alone. He had survived, and was just as loving as ever. What was different was that he now needed assistance to get up onto the sofa. He was weakening before our eyes. Our next appointment was the Tuesday after Thanksgiving, and that weekend, he blessed two quilts, one for Andrew our younger son, and one for a great-nephew. But on that Tuesday, we took him in knowing that he likely would not be alive when we came back. The x-rays revealed that not only had fluid filled the outside of the lungs, but there was now fluid inside the lungs as well. Very shortly he would have drowned on dry land. We asked for a few minutes to call our sons so they could say goodbye. One never knows for sure what an animal is thinking, but he rubbed his head against the phones where familiar voices appeared. Then they took him back and gave him a sedative, before bringing him into the room with us for the final injections. His end was peaceful, and I could not help but think that we were easing him across the rainbow bridge, rather than trying to hold on for another few days of life that would have been increasingly stressful and painful. That’s the one thing I noticed, is that he never seemed to be in pain. For that, I will always be grateful.
Farewell, our gentle giant Napoleon. His brother Blinky still soldiers on, but we realize that we may be on borrowed time with him as well When a cat gets to be over 15 years of age, you never know when something will come up that marks the end of your time with your faithful companion. Enjoy them while they are around.