Sunday 5 February 2012

Lewis Moebius Pussy Cat RIP

All the pictures, and many more, are available full size here.

Lewis - or to give him his full name, Lewis Moebius Pussy-Cat - left us forever on February 1st, 2012, after a short but brave and characteristically graceful struggle with an especially aggressive cancer. He was beautiful, unique and gentle even if - like his humans (cats never have owners) - rather reserved, and not given to showing too much emotion.

He was born on May 1st 2004, near Seattle. It was Isabelle's idea that we should have a cat. She thought he would keep me company during her frequent trips. We also hoped he might reduce the number of squirrels who routinely plunder our garden. Even if he didn't catch them, we figured the presence of a big aggressive male cat would frighten them. Because of that, we'd asked for the biggest of the litter.

Our first encounter with our new and still unnamed kitten was his journey to our home in California. Isabelle picked him up and carried him on the flight in a zip-up bag. When she called me from Seattle airport all I could hear was his loud, continuous meows. He knew he was being abducted, and he wasn't keen on the idea. He meowed plaintively for the whole two hours of the flight.

Once home, he explored absolutely everywhere, behind every piece of furniture, under every bed. We were still getting to grips with American folklore and the heroic tales of the exploration of the West, so it was only natural to name him after the most famous of the explorers, Lewis of "Lewis and Clark" fame, especially considering where he came from. For now, he was just Lewis - the rest came later. Like all kittens, he was just adorable.

Every cat is unique. Even so, Lewis was pretty special. For a start, he was much furrier than other cats. Although technically a "short hair", he was the fluffiest short-haired cat there has ever been. This made him look much bigger than he actually was. His fur was wonderfully soft to touch, and handsome to regard. The only drawback was his serious problem with furballs.

His middle name, Moebius, came later, As he grew up he got into the habit of twisting himself into a very odd position, his head pointing one way, his tail the other. This only happened when he was very relaxed. He'd be lying on his side on the floor, at his usual eight feet from his humans. Suddenly his tail would swivel round, and there he'd be, in his Moebius position.  At the slightest disturbance he'd spring back to a normal position - even calling his name was enough.

Another unique thing about Lewis was his way of saying hello - I've never seen it in any other cat, and wonder where he learned it. In fact it's the single thing I miss about him most of all. When he saw you for the first time in a while - in the morning, or when he came in from the outside - he would first stretch out his front legs to their full length, his chin practically touching the floor in a kind of curtsey, stretching himself almost flat against the ground. Then he would scrunch his back up into an arch, high off the ground. He would do all this at a respectful distance, six feet or so. Only afterwards would he approach for a little stroke. Sadly, I never captured his greetings in a picture.

Lewis was affectionate only in his own very reserved way. He never jumped up on anyone's lap. Sometimes when I was working he'd approach to within a couple of feet of where I was sitting. If I bent down to pick him up, maybe he'd take a few steps back, meaning he wasn't ready for a cuddle.
Or maybe he'd stay put, a signal that he'd regally accept to be picked up and stroked for a few minutes, before wandering around on my desk for a while then jumping down. But with Isabelle, he was very happy to curl up on her desk for hours while she worked and be her "office cat" - though not to sit on her lap.
When we were eating or watching television, he'd curl up a couple of yards away - close enough to be with us, yet far enough to never be really intimate.

And yet we were sure he was attached to his humans, in his distant feline way. During Isabelle's frequent travels, when we were alone together, he behaved quite differently. For the first couple of days he'd sulk. He knew when she was about to travel - as soon as he saw an open suitcase, he'd make his displeasure clear, his ears flattening against his head. Later, he'd start spending more time with me, as if he realised he had a duty of care. Which after all, was the original idea. He really disliked it when we were both away together. One Christmas we were away for nearly two weeks, with someone coming in every day to feed him. When we returned he was in really poor shape, his coat matted and a dirty brown rather than its usual sleek black. We think he had spent most of the time hiding.

That was when we discovered his secret hiding place, at the back of a closet, completely invisible behind hanging clothes, padded by a pile of old clothes, permanently warmed on top of heating pipes. Right up to the very end we pretended not to know about it. Lewis was a very proud cat, and would have been mortified to know that we were aware of his occasional need to cower in a secure place.

Usually, his chosen sleeping place indoors was the bed in the guest room. He was most unapproving when an actual guest took his place. He also liked to sleep on a place in the floor that the underfloor heating made particularly warm. Yet he was never a cat who sought warmth - he never slept in front of the fire, as cats are supposed to, and he would sleep outside even in damp, cold weather.

Despite our aspirations for him, Lewis was never a hunter. He did once catch a baby rat, which he brought in to show us. He was so proud of the moment that he forgot to hold on to his prey, which promptly disappeared under the kitchen cabinets, never to be seen again. He spent the rest of the evening sniffing suspiciously around the kitchen. He caught a couple of birds, sadly including once our resident mocking bird. All that was while he was quite young. Once he was certain that the supply of cat food was apparently endless, he stopped even this minimal effort. In the second half of his life he caught a single mouse. He was justly furious when we took its sorry corpse away, spending the rest of the day sulking and sniffing around where he was sure he'd left it. As for the squirrels, they would walk past his nose without him stirring. In fact, we suspected him of asking solicitously after their families and the nut crop.

He was always a conservative eater. Attempts to change the flavour or brand of his cat food were doomed to failure. His one treat was prawns - every evening around dinner time he would get three of them. Isabelle occasionally tried to give him just two, but he could clearly count to three and knew that he'd been shortchanged. Since the prawns were frozen, they had to be thawed in warm water. Sometimes he'd wait to be given all three, but if we left the kitchen, we'd often find that he'd jumped up and got into the sink, fishing the prawns out of the water with his paw before eating them. Apart from that he never jumped up on tables or countertops. When we had fish for dinner (often), we'd try to feed him some, but he was amazingly fussy. Cod was OK, but halibut - his humans' favourite - never interested him. Sometimes we'd threaten to have him trade places with the feral cats in Hossegor, where we take our French summer holidays. They will strip a fish head to the bone in minutes, and certainly aren't fussy about what kind of fish it is.

Lewis planning his holiday
Almost the only other thing he'd eat was cream. For much of the year we eat breakfast in the garden. Lewis would usually come to join us - hours after his getting-up time - and graciously accept to lap up a small dish of cream, always leaving enough to cover the base. He was also partial to the remains of a bowl of cereal, and liked to lick up the yoghurt left in the pot, after I'd finished with the relatively clumsy utensil of a spoon. Maybe he wondered why I didn't just lap it up, so much more efficient.

He had several favourite drinking bowls. The biggest was in the garden. He always seemed a bit vexed when his humans jumped into it and started swimming. He seemed less bothered by the human activity at the indoor ones, but he always preferred them to the bowls of clean water which we also provided in each bathroom. Drinking from the pool involved some serious contortions, balanced precariously on the edge, and using a paw to judge the depth. It was so tempting to give him a little push - not that we ever did of course. He would never have forgiven us.

Lewis was determinedly an outdoor cat. He loved being outdoors, and was very rarely indoors during the day unless the weather was truly awful. When it rained he'd shelter somewhere - there are plenty of sheltered spots big enough for a cat. And when he did get wet, he'd come inside and demand to be dried, meowing until Isabelle (usually) came with a towel and rubbed him down. I doubt that he even noticed he was wet, but he really enjoyed being dried.
Our garden was truly his domain. He had hiding places that we never discovered. When Isabelle did her usual morning walkaround, he'd emerge and follow her round, a tiny black panther stalking through the grass. Or he'd walk round the top of the fence, eight feet off the ground, sometimes settling down on the four-inch wide ledge for a snooze.

(I find the whole idea of "indoor cats" repellent. It's just obvious how much they love being outdoors, how much they like the sun on their fur, the wind ruffling it, the fresh air, even the rain. The idea of imprisoning a cat indoors to suit a human caprice just horrifies me. What's worse is that so many vets and rescue organizations preach it and even refuse to let people adopt who won't promise to keep the cat indoors. Better to let a cat be put down for want of a home than experience the outdoors? - I don't think so. Of course it's "safer" - for humans too, but nobody suggests we shouldn't let humans go out into the dangerous world).

The social life of cats is a complete mystery. While they're not truly social animals, you can't doubt that they have relationships with each other - just take a look at a colony of feral cats. Lewis clearly did a good job of guarding his territory, because appearances by other cats were rare. He definitely had some kind of relationship with a neighbour's cat called Maui, but whether they were friends, enemies or something else, we never did discover. Ever since the time when Maui's humans tried to put him on a diet, he would regularly come into our house and eat Lewis's food. We could tell when, because he would wolf down the whole bowl, while Lewis never did more than nibble. In any case Lewis seemed to tolerate him, in the garden and even inside the house. Maybe this is as close as cats get to friendship.

Our last picture of Lewis
before he got sick
The first sign of something wrong was that he seemed to be losing weight. Also, his Moebius performances were becoming rarer. Finally, we took him to the vet in October. They did the usual vet things but failed to find anything wrong. After another fruitless visit, we took him along to the Adobe Animal Hospital where he had the great good fortune to be placed in the care of Dr Rachel Boltz. Isabelle is convinced by her feline demeanour that she was a cat herself in a recent former life. Privately, we called her Dr Cat - we hope she wouldn't mind. She was wonderful beyond all reasonable expectation throughout the whole sorry business.

We returned home after our Thanksgiving trip to Europe to find him still in good shape, his weight stable. Briefly, we thought perhaps he was recovering. But after a few days we weighed him, to find he lost a whole pound in just this short time. Clearly something was seriously wrong. There was an urgent visit to Dr Cat and tests of all kinds - including an ultrasound scan, Lewis upside down in a cradle purring loudly while she ran the scanner over his tummy. Sadly, her diagnosis was that he almost certainly had cancer of some kind - but which kind? Some are treatable with a decent prognosis, others almost invariably fatal in a short time. We hoped beyond hope, of course, that it would be the treatable kind.

Meanwhile we desperately tried to stimulate his appetite. We bought numerous different flavours and types of cat food, but nothing worked, or not for very long anyway. He would eat something new with enthusiasm the first time, prompting us to lay in stocks - which he then refused to look at. We suspected, though of course could never know, that he ate because he was hungry, but that every new thing made him nauseous which in turn put him off eating it. The list of attempts to get him to eat was very long: smoked duck, duck confit, smoked salmon, turkey baby food, various tinned cat foods. And each time we'd give him a second helping the next day, and he'd sniff at it, lick his lips - and walk away. It was horrible.

Finally, in early December, he just couldn't eat at all. One evening we were so happy that he'd managed to lap up a few drops of cream - and so devastated when, half an hour later, he vomited. It was clear that he'd become completely unable to eat. Next day he was in hospital with tubes everywhere. He didn't seem to mind very much - I spent an hour with him one evening, tickling his ears and talking softly to him, surrounded by other sick animals, as he purred gently. The next day Dr Cat snipped a large growth out of his intestines, sewed them back together, and stitched his tummy up. He came back home the following night, and straight away he could eat - amazing really. For the drips, the hospital had shaved two bald patches on his front legs, bright white compared to his matt black fur. They stayed with him until the end, like little headlights.

Lewis the office cat
Around this time the contractors arrived for a long-planned roof renovation. They made a tremendous noise, literally jumping up and down on the roof. On the first day poor Lewis cowered in his security closet. We felt terrible, imposing this on our sick cat. So for the rest of the week, we took him to work, armed with food dish, water bowl and litter tray. In the total tranquility of an office he spent the day snoozing and looking out of the window.

Lewis's impressive
operation scar
He was still struggling, though. We'd planned a vacation over Christmas, but we were worried sick about him. We arranged for someone to come and stay, to be with him the whole time, but at the very last moment we realised how silly it would be, us sitting on a beach trying to relax and enjoy ourselves while constantly worried sick about poor Lewis back home. Alaska Airlines were amazingly cooperative, and rebooked the trip for a later date barely an hour before the flight left. We really thought that he wouldn't even see the New Year. I cried more than I would ever have thought possible, at the thought of losing our beautiful cat.

Lewis joining in the
Christmas celebrations, his
"headlights" very visible
Ill as he was, he was still very much a cat. He was tired and less active - not that he was ever very active - but he still did as he pleased. We did our best to have a normal Christmas, and we have a wonderful memory of Lewis joining in the festivities, drinking from the champagne bucket. It was then that Isabelle formulated her thoughts: as long as he could be "the cat", and still enjoy a cat-like life, we should do everything we could to take care of him, and certainly not subject him to medical imprisonment which he would most definitely hate. When he could no longer be "the cat"... that was something to face later. As it turned out, we didn't have to.

Lewis as beautiful as ever, yet
with less than a month left to live
Between Christmas and the New Year, he started to do better. By now I was obsessively weighing his food dish and everything he ate. A cat needs about 200 calories per day. On good days he was eating this much, but there were bad days where ate less than half. We weighed him often, desperately hoping to see an increase - by now he was painfully thin. But each time, if there was any change it was in the wrong direction. Still, he was "the cat". When he first got sick, we started letting him sleep in our bedroom - that had always been off limits before. He passed most nights just in the entrance, rarely coming close to the bed - as always, he kept a dignified distance from his humans, certainly not admitting that he liked being with them. During the day, he adopted the bathroom, sleeping on a towel on the floor, right beside a rather fancy cat bed that our friend Anita had bought for him and which he contemptuously ignored.

We were delighted that at New Year he was still not only alive, but in reasonable shape. There was a very cold spell and he decided to spend nights outdoors, barely above freezing. If we brought him inside he'd stay with us for a little while, so as not to seem ungrateful, then went back outside. Why he did this was a mystery - it lasted for about a week, then he started spending the nights inside again.

In January we finally got a definite diagnosis of his cancer, and it was the worst possible - large cell lymphoma, which is the most aggressive and the least susceptible to treatment. By now we had accepted, intellectually at least, that he was unlikely to be with us for much longer. He started chemotherapy, although we all knew it wasn't likely to do much. But even a month, even a week longer with our lovely Lewis would be a blessing. By this time every little cuddle, every chance to stroke him and hear him purr, every prawn he managed to eat, was precious, to be cherished and remembered. On his return from the chemo session, we all went into the garden and had a cat picnic of smoked salmon. Lewis ate enthusiastically. It was a little journey back in time to when he was healthy.

Through most of January he seemed to be doing OK. He ate just about enough, most days, he could be tempted with treats - giant prawns that we would heat up for him in hot water. It was such a pleasure to watch him eat them, crunching through them with his molars and purring loudly at the same time, until just the tip of the tail was left. He spent the night close to us but was outside at dawn and rarely to be seen during the day. Anita had a knack for giving him his daily medications and would come to the house each evening. At first he scratched and spat, but he seemed to get used to the idea even while making it very obvious that he didn't think much of it.

Lewis snoozing under his favourite lemon
tree - you'd never guess that he had just four
days left
In the last week of January he started eating less - maybe two-thirds of what he'd eaten before, and definitely less than enough, as each weighing sadly showed. He was a bit more tired, but still behaving normally - still "the cat". By now we'd moved the cat bed to just outside the living room and he'd adopted it, spending much of the time there curled up asleep or just watching the world go by. He was still beautiful, and to see him strolling around the garden you would never have guessed how ill he was.

One evening he was dozing in our bathroom, his favourite daytime place indoors. I called him, using two of the three words in his vocabulary - "Lewis, prawn!". (The other was "cream"). He trotted smartly out to the kitchen and munched his way through not just one but two whole prawns, with delightful enthusiasm. Later he ate a piece of meat too. We really thought that perhaps he was perking up again, that the chemo was finally working. Although when I weighed him, he was for the first time under 3kg (6.6 lbs), barely half his healthy weight. Stroking him made it painfully obvious just how skinny he'd become - just a bag of bones, with every rib and every bump on every bone obvious to my fingertips. Still, he purred when stroked. During the night he came and went, spending some of the time with us and some in the garden. But then the end came astoundingly - and mercifully - quickly.

At 7am, we were awoken by two long yowls, of obvious pain. He was just outside our bedroom. I gave him some pain medication. There was no question of going back to sleep after that. Still "the cat" and offended by the indignity of the medication, he wandered off to one of his favourite places under the lemon tree.

Later, I saw him outside. He was unsteady, trembling with the effort of standing or walking. He managed to get under a bush in a sheltered spot. Those were the last steps he ever took. His distress was obvious. He was panting rapidly, his eyes wide open. The decision we'd dreaded, dealing with the slowly diminishing health of a still somewhat capable cat, had made itself. There was no choice. We briefly wondered whether we should let him die in the garden he knew so well, in his own familiar territory, but he was just too distressed and probably no longer aware of his surroundings. Occasionally he made pathetic attempts to meow, managing only the most feeble kitten-like mew. It was heartbreaking.

Dr Cat was not available, but we decided just to take him anyway. Our distress must have been obvious because as soon as we walked into the hospital, they went into emergency action. Before we knew what was happening, we were in a treatment room, surrounded by technicians, Lewis on oxygen and surrounded by warming packs. His temperature had already dropped catastrophically. Everyone was very kind, to the humans as well as to Lewis, but it was obvious that there wasn't much to be done. Dr Cat appeared and told us that he was "actively dying". She felt his tummy and said, "There's a large mass there. The chemo has failed." And then there really was only one thing to do.

By now he was sedated and peaceful. He passed surrounded by his humans. I nuzzled up to his fur and said, for one last time, "Goodbye, Lewis. We love you." And he was gone. He looked as beautiful as ever, his long black fur as lovely as ever, his eyes still open. But there was no cat left inside. It was time to go.
Lewis at his most beautiful, as we want to remember him