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The Duke Diaries – Life Without Duke

Ted The Alarm Clock

Today is three months since our Sweet Dukie left us. Ted has really stepped up his game as Alpha. Cecilia, while I believe she could absolutely fill the role, just won’t. Ted is the new Alarm Clock – man he makes so much NOISE – and he has no concept of the 9 minute snooze. He makes little chortling noises “mmm, mmm, grunt grunt mmm mmm, grunt grunt,” usually accompanied by some sort of physical abuse. If I don’t respond rapidly enough in his furry little mind, he stands on my pillow and whacks me in the head. On occasion he will lay on my head and knead my scalp. Honestly, it feels really good, so sometimes I pretend to be asleep just to see if I’m gonna get a kitty paw scalp massage. 

He’s a pretty good food reminder – but usually only when he’s hungry. Duke would start “reminding” me at least an hour before meal time, usually with a death stare. Ted is much more vocal. He trots out, happy as a clam (he’s ALWAYS happy as a clam) and says, “Meow.”  I say, “Are you ready for dinner?” and he says, “Meow.” We chat back and forth discussing menu selection and I ask him to go get his sister… we go through a whole vocal routine which he fully participates in.

Cecilia is another story. I got them new beds: round, with high sides, fluffy, fuzzy, soft, cheap Amazon delights. They LOVE those damn beds. Cecila only gets out of hers when she gets too hot. This morning I had to coax her out to get her breakfast. She loves to prop her head against one side and stretch a leg out so its hanging off another edge. She’s happy as a… cat in a fluffy bed!

My heart still aches for Duke. I keep his yellow flower shrine going. I talk to him a little. He still watches over things for me. It makes me reflect often on loss and grief. A distant friend lost her husband 7 months ago. I think of her so very, very, often yet do not reach out as frequently as I would like. At least three people I know have lost pets in the time since I lost Duke. I think of them too. A couple very close to me suffered a miscarriage earlier this year.  My grandmother and grandfather lost their daughter a month ago.  Through their grief they are packing up their home in Arizona to move to Florida and they are planning to stay with me for a spell while we locate a new home for them. Hmmm, my Spidey Senses are tingling. Perhaps a new Blog Category: Stories of a Sicilian Grandmother? Hahahaha. Stay tuned.

Today I send out love to all of those who have lost. Right after I lost Duke, my friend sent me this TedTalk by Nora McIlnery. I love her message and I’d like to share it with you here. It’s for those who have lost, for those being supportive of those who have lost, and for people who know someone who have lost (aka this is for EVERYONE). It’s totally worth 15 minutes of your day.

Sending out love and light to all,

Erin

The Duke Diaries – Goodbye

Our Sweet Dukie crossed the rainbow bridge on April 10, 2019. I’d venture to say he was with us for exactly 10 years. He walked into our lives and into our hearts in April of 2009. That scruffy beggar cat became my greeter, my guardian, my alarm clock, my companion, my confidant, and the audience for all of my private singing and dancing one-man-shows.

Duke was the best thing that came out of Texas. We went there under less than desirable circumstances. Duke chose to spend his life with us. He brought us immense joy every day of his life. I am eternally grateful for that.

Duke was cared for by an amazing team of people. Jerry and I were both with him in his final moments. As a token of his Texas beginnings we left him with a yellow rose. It gives me a sense of peace that I can find him in every yellow rose I see from this day forward. Our vet tech created his paw print and presented it with tears. He was loved by everyone who met him.

A dear friend shared with me the belief that souls are “promoted” when they pass on from this life. Duke was SO promoted. Always the Alpha, I know his spirit is starting on amazing new things. I know he’ll always be watching me; forever my guardian.

The pain in my heart is real. It ranges from a dull ache to the stab of dagger. Simultaneously I feel a radiation of peace and relief that he is no longer suffering. He is free. He absolutely left a mark on my heart – a mark the size of Texas.

I love you Duke.

Duke and Me
March 25, 2019

The Duke Diaries – Simon

When you’re facing a loss, especially of a loved one, there’s a part of your brain that returns to the past. I found Simon as a kitten in the Fashion District of downtown Los Angeles and he only liked me. He tolerated some women and I do have photographic evidence of him on my sister’s lap. He didn’t like men and he would go through comical pains to avoid my step-son at all costs. His favorite “Erin Nook” is pictured below and he nestled in there every time I flopped on my bed to study, or read, or watch TV.

Simon in his favorite Erin Nook c 1995

Simon had tetralogy of fallot which is an uncommon and devastating heart birth defect and I was told cats born with it typically don’t live more than 6 months. Simon was with me for ten years. When it was time for Simon to cross the rainbow bridge, he had lost several teeth, he wasn’t eating, and his foot pads and nose had taken on a blue hue because of the lack of oxygen circulating through his system. He was not going to get better.

My fingers stick to the keys as I try to find eloquent words to describe playing God. Ultimately I don’t feel worthy of making these kinds of decisions. I do however, feel it’s my duty as their Guardian to provide my fur babies with the highest quality of life, and with as little suffering as humanely possible. As the vet administered the sleeping portion of the euthanasia to Simon, she told me I could put him in my lap. There’s NOTHING Simon hated more than being put anywhere involuntarily. He’d get up and move, even if he came back to the exact same space you just put him. So I didn’t put him in my lap, but I caressed him and talked to him.

I had come directly from work; when the vet’s office called me I flew out of the office mid-day, afraid he would pass before I got to him. My boss said to me later, “You’re acting like a person died,” and I told him that “animal” had been by my side longer than any man ever had. I sat on the floor next to the oxygen chamber, in my long, black, floral dress, weeping as Simon left me. I left his carrier behind. I sat in my car and sobbed. Gasping, heaving sobs. For a long time. Eventually a woman tapped on my window and I rolled it down. She said she was sorry for my loss, and then she spoke words I have never forgotten,

“They will not leave you until you’re ready.”

I don’t think I will ever be ready to let Duke go. His recent labs are not good and the vet said we should love him and be thankful for every day he’s with us. Duke’s not ready to leave me either. He’s yelling at me right now for a little more breakfast. So I’m wiping away the tears and popping open a can of Fancy Feast – this week’s favorite.

The Duke Diaries – Food

Duke, asking about dinner

When I woke up this morning I realized it’s been a spell since y’all have received an update on Mr. Duke. There’s been a nice break from taking him to the vet so frequently; he has blood drawn every three months now and this post brings us somewhere in the middle of month two. I’ve settled into a routine of blissful ignorance, pretending all is well and good. I can tell he’s lost more weight; the food issue is such an ISSUE.

Dry Food

I’ve concocted a mix of dry food which includes the old food: Purina One, the prescription kidney food: Purina NF, and Crack Chow (aka Purina Cat Chow). I added the Crack Chow to entice him to eat more for more calories. The side effect was that when I ran out of Crack Chow, they (yes THEY) didn’t want to touch it. I woke up a few days ago and it was like all three of them were on a hunger strike; there was a ton of dry food in the bowls and practically all of the wet food.

Wet Food

Ugh, the wet food. So, I introduced the prescription wet food (Purina NF) and they all gobbled it up. I was STOKED. Apparently now they are bored with it and won’t eat it (at $2 a can, I find that unacceptable behavior). I served it up to Cecilia last night and she was like WTF is this shit (sorry but that’s the exact face she made – utter disdain). In the mornings I have to give Duke a little wet food with Miralax so I swap in some Friskies for that. Today he wanted no part of it. So Ted ate it. Good times.

Treats

Treats. As discussed in previous posts, Ted now associates my bathroom with treats, so every time I go in there he trots on in with rainbows coming out of his butt. Duke won’t come in the bathroom anymore. It makes me sad, because we had special bathroom moments; it sounds weird, but it was a thing we did. You’re making it weirder… stop it! But he still loves on me and sits next to me and purrs and is my Next to Cat in all other rooms except the treatment room. I accept that.

Anyway, treats… even the treats aren’t enticing to Duke anymore. At least in relation to his fluid treatments. He knows that game. He won’t eat them in the bathroom. He’ll chow down in the kitchen after, and begs for them constantly (which I succumb to every time).

So I need a new wet food to add to the rotation. Suggestions are helpful. The grosser the better – they won’t eat anything remotely healthy for them (they take after their father; the man who taught his human son never to eat anything green on his plate). Side note: Chewy now sells prescription food. They call your vet to verify the prescription and then it’s business as usual. A little less than the vet prices too (every penny helps)!

Thank you for all the love and light you keep sending to me and Duke. We love you and appreciate you!

Erin

The Duke Diaries – Month 1

My Sweet Dukie patiently receiving his fluids.

It’s just over a month and Duke has been such a trooper. He knows the drill for the fluids and we have a little routine down. This routine includes Ted waiting outside the bathroom door, somewhat patiently, waiting for his turn to get treats. It’s a regular Treat Fest here at Casa de Copelan these days!

Today we received the results from Duke’s labs after four weeks (two bags) of fluids. There is no improvement; there has been a slight decline. He has lost more weight. Not a lot, but for a boy who was at 15 pounds at his biggest, he looks tiny to me at 12 pounds. Last week he had really bounced back with energy; this week he’s very lethargic. They tell me it’s very much a roller coaster and this kind of vacillation is to be expected. I learned that there is no recovery from kidney disease; only management. Based on Duke’s current numbers (Stage IV) the vet is unable to give me a timeline for Duke’s longevity (my heart aches so badly, I can barely type the words). As long as he’s still interested in food we will keep plugging along, keeping him comfortable.

Our fluid regimen is changing from 125ccs every other day to 100ccs every day if he will allow it. Currently, he’s been amazing. He just looks at me and purrs. Today when I bent down with the fluid bag he turned his back to me so I could access the scapula. Then he just sat down and purred.

This post will publish a week or two after I received the update from the vet. By then perhaps I’ll have digested it a little better. Right now it’s honestly unbearable to me. I cannot go back and change anything, but Lord knows I wish I could. If only our fur babies could live forever. Thankfully, they live eternally in our hearts.

He was sitting just outside the door, but when I bent down, he came to me (marking along the way – ALWAYS the Alpha Cat)

The Duke Diaries – Toys

An unanticipated challenge with Duke was toys. As an avid hunter, Duke played with his prey. He knew birds, he knew mice, he didn’t know string. He did like to steal things. He stole Jerry’s socks. He stole pens (or anything small) off the coffee table. We bought a variety of toys for Baby Duke. He looked at them. He stared at us. Looked back and the toys, and back at us. We made baby-voice talking noises, and flipped those sticks adorned with ribbon, waiting for him to leap into the air and catch them! Nope. He looked at us like we were insane. 

My favorite experience is when we break out the laser. Oh, Ted LOVES the laser and he will run spastically. Seriously, he is completely spastic, even at 12 years old he still plays like a kitten. He gets wide eyed, and his legs sprawl out, he spins in circles, making himself fall over. He will chase that laser around the room and practically up the walls and across the ceiling like a cartoon character. Cecilia will partake, but only if Ted isn’t around (neither CeeCee nor Duke will play with Ted because Ted is a toy hog). But Duke? He sits there and looks at them with an expression that says, “You’re chasing a ray of light that you cannot catch. What are you doing?” It makes me laugh every time.

Finally, we discovered that Duke enjoys toys with feathers. Feathers on a stick work because we can kind-of-sort-of make it look like a bird in flight and he will jump in the air, catch it and walk off with the pride of the lion. We always give him huge praise for catching his toys, which may be the only reason he does it: to please his humans.

As he’s gotten older and I suppose resorted to pure boredom, he’s become more accustomed to playing with other things. We keep a toy box in the family room and the cats help themselves to the toys they feel like. We currently have a collection of stuffed toys he enjoys. The Cosmic Carrot is a favorite of all the cats in our house. I think we have three or four currently floating around. Duke brings them all into our room at night as little gifts. He also brings us his condor, and Buddy. Buddy is a stuffed little dog with a squeaker. Daily, Duke kills him and brings him to me. I haven’t trained him to bring the toy ALL the way to me, usually when I make eye contact he drops the dog and runs to me; but the antics are something to listen to. I always miss the actual kill, but he meows and howls, then howls with his mouth full of Buddy as he carries him by the head, trotting from one room to another, delivering the squeaky dog to me (or near me).

Interestingly enough, none of the cats really care for the fake mice, nor do they care for balls. It’s all about string and feathers in our house. And catnip pillows. I keep those hidden away as special treats for them to drool over and roll on every once in a while.