Saturday, April 2, 2011

Menelaus - The Cat With 13 Lives

Menelaus was an amazing cat. He decided to adopt us about 17 years ago, when my children were young. We already had 3 indoor cats so Menelaus was our outdoor cat. We lived in the mountains and it got pretty cold in the winter.

Our new kitty was such a scrawny little cat, we didn't expect him to survive the first winter. We didn't want to get too attached, so we didn't even give him a proper name. We called him "the marmalade cat" because he was an orange tabby. But we fed him, made him a little house, and slowly began to fall in love with him. When my 2 year old was outside, he would watch over her and keep her safe from snakes and gophers. He'd sit next to her and curl his long orange tail around her neck as she pet him. When my husband was outside at night with his telescope, the marmalade cat would patrol around him and make sure he was safe. He would dash by, trilling with a sweet kitty trill to let daddy know all was well. When my husband was deeply engaged in his observations, the orange cat would startle him and he'd just about jump out of his skin when, out of the dark, he felt something press up against his leg. But it was just the marmalade cat coming to get some love.

Amazingly, the cat survived the first winter. I didn't realize it at the time, but this was cat life #1. He had earned a proper cat name. Because cats are, by nature, royalty, my husband christened him Menelaus, after the red-headed king of Sparta.

One day Menelaus didn't come home. We were worried, but there wasn't much we could do but hope for the best. Our prayers were answered when he showed up again after 3 days. We figured he'd gotten curious and accidentally locked into a neighbor's shed or barn. Luckily, they found him before it was too late and let him out. That was cat life #2.

His tail was injured, but it seemed to heal. At least, the wound healed up. We didn't realize it was more than skin deep until one day, a week or so later, he tried to wave his beautiful orange tail in his loving way, but the top third of the tail stayed flopped over like a wilted flower. The vet diagnosed osteomyelitis, a bone infection. She told us if left untreated, the infection would spread to his spine and eventually kill him. It was a tearful decision, but the tail had to be amputated. What was left was an adorable 6 inch stub. It took him a while to get used to it, but get used to it he did. And didn't change his sweet nature at all. That was cat life #3.

We moved to a new house and my husband made a new outdoor kitty house to keep Menelaus out of the rain. One day a mama raccoon found his house and gave birth to her babies there. We were even more upset than the cat about this. It bothered him some, but he just took it in stride, like everything in his life. He had such a calm temperament.

So daddy made him a new home. We moved the new house to the upstairs deck. It was far above the ground and we thought it would be safe from racoons. He liked his new home very much, until one day a strange cat found it's way up to our deck and into Menelaus' home. It died there. This shook poor Menelaus' unflappable nature and he never slept in a kitty house again. This was cat life #4.

With 4 cats, 2 toddlers, five goldfish, and a hamster, the intervening 15 years went by in a blur. We always wished we had more time for the outdoor kitty, but it never bothered him. He loved us all so much. Deer, mountain lions, coyotes, skunks, and neighborhood dogs - he took it all in stride. He even broke his leg once and never told us. Cats are so good at hiding injuries. The broken leg, for an outdoor cat, would be cat life #5. We'll never know how many close calls he had with the native wildlife.

He hated being confined. We once tried to keep Menelaus indoors in cage while we were out of town for the weekend. He earned the nickname of "Kazinti warrior" upon our arrival back home. We tried once more, then never again. He was a free spirit and would not be caged. But he did eventually start sleeping indoors during the winter.

One of our indoor cats, as he aged, became incontinent and had to become an outdoor cat. Philip of Macedon was old, arthritic, and a little blind. That didn't bother Menelaus at all. Just as he had watched over my children when they were young, and my husband with his telescope, Menelaus became Philip's guardian. He would scout around the yard to make sure it was safe for our sweet old boy. He would stay close by Philip's side and herd him away from potential danger. Philip was able to live a few more years thanks to Menelaus' loving care.

Then we were down to one indoor cat and Menelaus.

By this time, the years were taking their toll on our sweet kitty. His "jumpers" were broken and he could no longer leap up to our porch when danger threatened. It was time for a well-earned retirement. We made him a house cat. It was a difficult transition for him. He still went out for his walks, and to lie in the sun, but more and more, he stayed in the house.

Eventually, the arthritis in his hips began, just like it had for Philip. He was in so much pain, we were afraid we would have to euthanize him. But in the years since Philip died, a pharmaceutical company had invented an arthritis medicine for dogs that showed some promise with cats. We were happy to try it out and it was a miracle drug. Menelaus was pain-free and enjoying life again. This was probably cat life #8 or #9. We had a few years of loving our happy little orange cat and seeing his bright, happy little face every day, as long as he got his medicine a few times each day.

Our last old cat was diagnosed with cancer and didn't have long to live. We decided to bring home a new kitten. She is a beauty, but fiercely territorial. Poor Menelaus had to reestablish his territory with this young whipper snapper. At first, things went poorly for our sweet old boy. Yet, amazingly, he eventually started winning. It is so funny to watch an arthritic, old cat "win" a territory battle with a healthy young cat. They never quite became "brother and sister" as we had hoped, but they eventually started having fun playing with each other.

One day my husband and I were out for dinner together, when we received a frantic call from our daughter. She had been tap dancing and the cat had gone into convulsions and wasn't moving. A frantic visit to the vet's, and it turned out Menelaus had developed a form of epilepsy brought on by sharp, loud sounds, and sometimes by extreme pain. He had at least 3 seizures that I know of, which is horrifying to watch. But after its over, its like it never happened. He was had a voracious appetite, was perfectly happy and perfectly healthy. So we figure the seizures were cat lives #9, 10 and 11.

The next event happened while we were visiting friends. We came home late Saturday night to find the cat listless and unable to eat. The visit with the vet was inconclusive, but signs pointed to severe constipation. Yes, you can die from constipation. My poor husband spent 24 hours with the cat that he doesn't talk much about, but the net result was "a big kablooie" and the kitty's digestive system came back on line. Life #12.

The next 2 years became progressively more difficult for Menelaus. Our heater went out over the winter, he caught pneumonia and developed a heart problem. But once again, the veterinarian's medicine pulled him through for cat life #13. But this was the worst winter in about 12 years, and our poor little boy just wanted daddy to make the sun shine again so he could warm up and be happy. While my husband is something of a miracle worker himself, he can't control the weather. The last few months have taken their toll on our sweet little boy. His digestive system has been touch and go for a few years, arthritis only gets worse, never better, his lungs have been damaged by pneumonia, and it is so cold.

Last weekend his digestive system did its last "big kablooie" and the arthritis in his hips and neurological damage left him almost unable to walk. The sun came out Tuesday, and he was able to go outside one last time and enjoy a day in the sun.

He was fighting up to the very end. He loved life and didn't want to let go and leave us. We will always love and treasure our memories of our sweet little boy.

Rest in peace, sweet Menelaus.