Elegy for a Musketeer

May 17, 2010

I had to put my cat Purrthos to sleep this morning.  Purrthos was a tortie flame-point Birman that I adopted back in early 1996 from the El Cajon animal shelter when he was about 6 months old.  I think I guesstimated his birthday as being sometime around October of 1995, which would have made him 15 years old in a few more months.  When I first got him, he was this little kitten with a purr as loud as a jet engine who wanted to sleep right next to my head on the pillow every night.  Eventually he succeeded, and he grew bigger.  And grew.  And GREW.  In his prime, Purrthos was well over 18 pounds and he was a fluffy cat, striking and beautiful with his cream colored fur, light orange points on his face, the faintest of stripes on his lower legs, and the prettiest pale blue eyes.  His purr grew right along with him.  You could be in another room of the house and easily know where Purrthos was just by sound, because the only time he ever stopped purring was when he was in a deep sleep.  Until today, that is.  Today he finally stopped purring for good. 

When we got Purrthos, I think the Disney remake of The Three Musketeers movie was out (with Charlie Sheen, Keifer Sutherland, Oliver Platt, and Chris O’Donnell) and I loved the characters.  Originally we thought of calling our new kitten some Spanish word for “fleabag” given that he was covered with fleas from the shelter, but a good bath, flea dip, and bug-bombing of the house took care of that.  Oh yeah, and we had him fixed at the same time.  Talk about a welcome home – right off the bat he gets his nuts whacked off.  Poor kitty.  Although knowing Purrthos, he probably purred until the anesthesia kicked in.  He was going to be named Porthos (choices were that, or Athos or Aramis – the latter two sounded rather silly if I stood out in my backyard calling them out loud), but it became pretty evident what his true nature was soon after we got him, and nothing but Purrthos would do.  Over the years, people would comment on how much they liked his name, occasionally they’d pick out that it was a Three Musketeers name when they heard he had a brother named d’Artagnan (and later, a sister named Sabine), although the best remark I got was someone asking me if “Purrthos” was the name for the Greek God of Cats.  I liked that the best.  

Mr. Purrthos

In addition to being the world’s friendliest cat, Purrthos was also a beautiful animal.  I never knew how a cat like him had ended up in an animal shelter.  I researched cat books when he was a kitten, trying to figure out what kind of kitty I’d adopted.  The closest breed he matched was a Birman.  Occasionally I liked to re-read the stories you can find online about the Sacred Cats of Birma:

The unusual coloring of the Birman is the subject of a charming legend. Centuries ago, the Khmer people of Asia built the Temple of Lao-Tsun in which to worship a golden goddess with sapphire-blue eyes, Tsun-Kyan-Kse. Mun-Ha, a much-loved priest, often knelt in meditation before the goddess with Sinh, a beautiful white temple cat, beside him gazing at the golden figure. One night raiders attacked the temple and Mun-Ha was killed. As Mun-Ha died, Sinh placed his feet upon his fallen master and faced the golden goddess. As he did so, the hairs of his white body turned golden, and his yellow eyes to sapphire-blue, like hers; his four white legs turned earthy brown – but where his paws rested gently on his dead master, they remained white as a symbol of purity. Next morning, the hundred white cats of the temple were as golden as Sinh, who did not leave the sacred throne until, seven days later, he died, and carried his master’s soul into paradise. Since that time, whenever a sacred cat died in the Temple of Lao-Tsun, the soul of a priest was said to accompany it on its journey to the hereafter.  (Courtesy of www.birman.org). 

Interestingly enough, when I first adopted Purrthos, I remembered looking at his face with his beautiful blue eyes (his are actually more of a light, sky blue than dark blue – perhaps the reason he ended up in a shelter is that he didn’t meet the breed standard), and in a more melancholy moment, thinking, “my cat has the face of Jesus”.  He did.  Purrthos had a pure, innocent face, sort of what I’d always envisioned the son of God would look like (well, if He were a cat, anyway).  I’m not a religious person by any means.  My religious upbringing is a smattering of being dragged to Christian Science services on random Sundays by my Mom, even though she professed to not care for the practice, and me telling her that I thought the assistant minister was a child molester.  I was all of maybe 10 years old and I already thought about things like this.  Sad, indeed, the loss of innocence.  

A Younger Version of Purrthos

It always used to amaze me that Purrthos really lived up to his name. He truly purred for every occasion.  Eating, sleeping, drinking, using the litterbox, eating grass, and so forth.  Take him to the vet and he’d purr when he got his temperature taken (I always did wonder about that one).  He loved getting baths and would purr at the groomer when he got blow-dried.  Once a year in the summer, I would have his fur shaved down, because I live in East San Diego county and it gets over 100 degrees pretty often in August and September.  When I started to see Purrthos lying on his side on the tile floor in the kitchen as often as he could, that was usually a sign that it was time for his summer trim.  Which he also loved.  The ladies at the pet groomer place loved to see him and were amazed that a cat was so mellow and easygoing, and actually purred even while he was getting his fur shaved off.  He liked to sit on my lap in the car when I took him to the vet, purring all the while, trying to schmooze his face into the steering wheel or up against my chin.  Although he wasn’t the world’s smartest cat, Purrthos did know in the winter that sleeping on my pillow with his belly pressed up against the top of my head, was a good way to stay warm.  And I adapted to having him sleep there, both the physical size of him hogging up my pillow as well as the noise factor of his purring.  I got to the point where I would wake up in the morning and he’d be there, stretched out across the top half of my pillow, sound asleep, and I hadn’t even noticed him all night. 

About six months after we got Purrthos, we got another kitten to keep him company, another male, in late 1996.  Originally named “Bootsie” by the animal shelter, I decided that moniker simply wouldn’t do, and he was re-christened as d’Artagnan.  d’Artagnan is a black and white tabby with white “boots” on his legs, so yeah, the original name fit … but let’s get real.  Bootsie?  No.  Just not a dudely enough name, if you ask me.  He was a little older (9 months) when we adopted him, and had already been fixed, but for some reason that didn’t stop him from occasionally trying to hump Purrthos.  He was a shy, skittish cat who spent most of his first month with us hiding under the bed, and during the rare times he did come out, his flatulence could clear a room.  I almost took him back to the shelter, it was that bad.  Thankfully his digestive system, along with the rest of him, adapted to his new home, and the toxic gas clouds became less frequent.  Amazingly, d’Artagnan eventually grew to be nearly as big as Purrthos, and in the last year, bigger, since Purrthos lost weight over these past several months.  But he will never match the size of Purrthos’ heart. 

My cat family grew again when I adopted Sabine in 2006, after my frustration with various cat adoption agencies around San Diego (“you can’t let your cat outside, it might get eaten by a coyote” … even though I have never willingly left my cats outside at night in over a decade and they seem fine and still love to go out …) drove me to the San Diego County animal shelter, where I found this sad-looking but beautiful buff-colored Somali kitten of 7 months old, with the softest fur I’ve ever felt on a cat and a face like a blonde Capuchin monkey, who had been dumped off at the night depository at the shelter for the crime of “house soiling”.  It did turn out that this little kitty was sick, and some antibiotics took care of the issue of the soiling, but, it turned out, not the peeing part.  I fell in love with her and brought her home, and she proceeded to pee on just about everything.  She has since learned the error of her ways, and now she only thinks out of the box when the litterbox needs cleaning and she feels the need to let me know as much … so she will pee on the hardwood flooring on the stairs, just to remind me to do my job.  Sabine’s original name (given by the shelter) was “Sweetie”, but being the first girl to be introduced to my two old boys (Purrthos and d’Artagnan were then at least a decade old each), she needed something a little classier.  The Countess DeWinter’s name from The Three Musketeers was Sabine.  So the new cat became Sabine.  Her various nicknames are all forms of “Princess” or “Her Highness”, but she is also known as the Dumb Blonde or the Vampiress.  

Our 4th Musketeer, as it were, is Minnie.  No, there is no Musketeer named “Minnie” that I know of.  Minnie is a bit of an entity all to herself.  She was a spur of the moment adoption from Petco in Santee in 2008, a tiny little gray kitty, a year old, who had already had a litter of kittens and yet weighed just over 5 pounds.  My kids and I couldn’t imagine such a small cat actually having kittens.  Minnie looks most like a British Shorthair, with a slightly flat face and a solid gray body.  To me she looks more like a sowbug, also known as a roly-poly or a potato bug, depending on what part of the country you live in.  She must have had a sparsely fed existence as a feral cat, because as my housecat, she is making up for lost time and calories, and has managed to put on a good three or more pounds since we adopted her.  She is still just as small as she was before – now she’s just wider.  I can see how Minnie probably fared quite well for herself in the wild – of my four cats, she is the most persistent hunter.  My boyfriend dubbed her the KGB Assassin, and it fits.  She will hunt down and kill just about anything, and if hungry enough, eat it as well.  She reminds me of a refrigerator magnet that The Onion website sells online that reads, “Kitten thinks of nothing but murder all day.”  That’s Minnie.  I adore her, but I know at any given moment she is probably trying to figure out some elaborate scheme that involves smashing my head in with a large, weighted object. 

Minnie came with her name, that was the title bestowed on her by the adoption agency that put her at Petco.  It suits her.  I thought about giving her a Musketeers name, such as Constance, who was one of the maids in waiting, but that really doesn’t fit her at all.  What does fit her is something along the lines of Minnie Mouse … she resembles a mouse with her short, dark gray fur and furtive, scurrilous nature … and well, what do you know?  Weren’t the members of the Mickey Mouse club called the “Mouseketeers”?  Close enough to Musketeers for my sake. 

Sometime last year, my kids decided that all of our cats should represent either religious deities or characters from Star Wars.  Minnie was the easy one, she is the Devil, Satan, Darth Vader, or that creepy-looking red dude with the dual lightsaber (Darth Maul).  Sabine is some lovely golden-haired angel or Princess Leia.  d’Artagnan seems to be tagged as either an Archangel or Obi-Wan Kenobi, and Purrthos?  From Star Wars, he is Luke Skywalker or Yoda.  On the religious side, my kids came up with the same observation I’d had about him years earlier.  “He has the face of Jesus,” Trevor said once, with all the innocent wisdom of an 8-year-old.  

Back in October of 2003, Purrthos was diagnosed with diabetes.  Type I, the variety that needs regular insulin injections.  My then-husband and I noticed that he’d started drinking a lot of water and peeing a lot, usually not in the litterbox, and was losing weight.  Our 18-pound cat dropped to below 13 pounds.  I was pretty dismayed at the news.  Diabetic?  Shots?  TWICE A DAY?  Our two boys were 4 and 2 at the time and were more than enough responsibility for us.  But we adjusted, or more accurately, I adjusted, and became Purrthos’ primary medical caregiver.  It was up to me to make sure we had enough insulin and needles on hand, and to take the time off from work to take him in for glucose checks.  Back then he got Humulin-L, manufactured by Lilly.  Eventually Lilly pulled Humulin-L off the market, and I scoured various pharmacies to stock up on what little I could find, because it was relatively affordable, being a human insulin.  Somewhere during all of this, I separated from my husband, moved out into an apartment, remodeled our first home, which had been a rental for the past 8 years, divorced, moved back into the old house, with 50/50 custody of my kids and full custody of d’Artagnan and Purrthos, who were around 9-10 years old at the time.  I offered to share custody of the cats with my ex but he told me to take them.  Most likely he probably didn’t want to be bothered with the time and expense involved in Purrthos’ care.  After Humulin-L went off the market and my stash dried up, I had to switch to Glargine insulin (also known as Lantus), which is about five or six times the cost of Humulin-L, and only available from my vet’s office.  I used to be able to get Humulin-L at Target, which was a lot more convenient, especially if I ran out on a weekend when the vet’s office was closed!  

As Purrthos got older, other things started to go wrong with him, as you might expect with an animal with a chronic medical condition.  He developed a heart murmur, and then hypertension.  I never understood how an animal who slept 22 hours a day could have high blood pressure, it certainly wasn’t from stress.  🙂  He developed arthritis and started limping, fortunately the medication he was put on for that helped a lot.  And, this past year, bladder and kidney stones, to the point where he needed abdominal surgery to remove them.  His bladder stones were of the variety that are hard to get rid of, so I needed to be aware of a reoccurrence of them.  After he recovered from his surgery, he developed an enlarged liver, but his blood tests didn’t show any cause.  Throughout all of this, I have had more than one person comment to me that they would never go to such lengths for a cat, and couldn’t understand why I would. 

I thought about this a lot in terms of what Purrthos’ care cost me since 2003, in time and money, and it boiled down to this: 

  • 4750 injections, given twice a day, 12 hours apart
  • Humulin-L and Glargine insulin: ~ $8000
  • Insulin Needles, approximately 4750 syringes: ~ $1500
  • Vet appointments for glucose monitoring, blood tests: ~ $7200
  • High blood pressure monitoring tests and daily medication, from 2008-onward: $1000
  • Arthritis medication (shots, one every three weeks): $200
  • Medication, tests, vet visits, and eventually abdominal surgery to remove bladder stones: $2000
  • Additional costs of special dietary food:  $2000
  • Cost for petsitters to come by and administer injections whenever I was out of town or away from the house for the evening: $1000
  • Time off from work for veterinary appointments, usually averaging 1 every 3 weeks:  Not calculated
  • Cost for additional laundry (washing soiled rugs, blankets, etc.) and gas to and from vet appointments:  Not calculated

In short, over the course of the years, I could have probably paid off my car with what I’ve been shelling out with the care of this one particular cat.  Suddenly this morning I went to feed my three other cats and it struck me.  I don’t have to go looking for Purrthos to make sure he comes out and eats, so I can give him his shot.  I don’t have to go looking for where he might have pooped lately (hopefully on a  washable throw rug and not the carpeting), and I don’t have to gather up the kitchen, entryway and hallway bathroom throw rugs every day or two anymore to wash them because Purrthos has peed on them.  I don’t need to remember to make sure I have enough glargine insulin in the fridge to get through the weekend, or enough needles on hand.  I don’t need to figure out when I can take Purrthos in for his next glucose check, which always had to be done 6 hours after his morning injection, so the timing usually involved me having to take at least a half day off work to go home and get him and make sure I got him to the vet at the right time.  

The song “Seasons of Love” from the musical “Rent” does remind me of one more bullet point for my list from above: 

525,600 minutes, 525,000 moments so dear.
525,600 minutes – how do you measure, measure a year?
In daylights, in sunsets, in midnights, in cups of coffee.
In inches, in miles, in laughter, in strife.
In 525,600 minutes – how do you measure a year in the life?
How about love?  How about love?  How about love?  Measure in love.
 

  • 7,884,000 minutes of unconditional, purring love:  Priceless

It’s Wednesday morning now and I’m getting ready for work.  All I had to do was pour food into three bowls, add some kitty treats, and I was done.  If I stay out late or spend the night with my boyfriend tonight, I don’t have to worry about making sure someone gets to my house to give Purrthos an injection in the evening and in the following morning.  I don’t have to warn anyone else to watch out for cat poop on the bathroom rug or pee on the kitchen rug.  I have three cats now that are, well, the reason people prefer cats – because you can leave them alone for hours or even a day or two at a time with just food, water, and a clean litterbox, and come back and they’ll be just fine.  It’s hard to believe that it has been almost seven years since I’ve had that level of freedom with my pet ownership. 

All that being said, I would love to see the face of Jesus just one more time.  

I miss you, Purrthos.

A P.S. to this – I have to give my utmost gratitude to the caring and wonderful staff at Balboa Vet Hospital (www.balboavet.com) – Dr. Alexander, Dr. Lee, Juan Pablo, Jessica, Michaela, Rachel, Tamsin, and all the rest of the staff, plus their office kitties, Harrison and O’Malley – thank you for taking such good care of my baby all these years.  I know you loved him as much as I did.

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About rachelroust

Looking to live a life less ordinary. Join me on the journey if you wish.
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6 Responses to Elegy for a Musketeer

  1. Lance-Robert says:

    Thank you, Cathy, for sharing this beautiful tribute to a truly exceptional cat with us. Purrthos was a wonderful cat who will be missed by all who had the great privilege of knowing him, including me.

    The fact that he purred through all things unpleasant was an inspiration. It’s just a shame that he could not speak English so that he could tell us where his incredible coping mechanism came from.

    I can’t help but think of what Kirk said at the end of Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan. “Of all the souls I have encountered in my travels, his was the most human.”

    I’m very grateful for having had the chance to get to know and love Purrthos, and I will miss him. My best wishes to you and yours during this difficult time.

    Love, Lance.

  2. Mikela says:

    Oh, Cathy. We are gonna miss this guy so much. He was the variety of special that was evident every day of his life, not just after his passing. We are all thinking of you!

  3. Jeff says:

    Hi Cathy,
    I am very sorry for your loss. I remember housesitting for you guys in the mid 90’s and a cat that would purr all the time and snuggle next to my head when I was trying to sleep, that being Purrthos. The first night I tried to move him away several times, but he always came back to sleep near my head. That first night I did not get much sleep. On the second night, I just went with it and his purring had a calming effect so that I got to sleep quickly, sort of listening to ocean waves! I used this on the next two nights also. All will miss Purrthos.
    Love Jeff

  4. Allegra Lee says:

    Cathy,
    What a beautiful remembrance of a very special kitty. He was indeed a wonderful boy and will be missed. He was lucky to have had such a loving home and I am sure he will be watching over you with affection and gratitude.

  5. rachelroust says:

    I got another nice comment from Dr. Miranda Alexander, from Balboa Vet Hospital, which she emailed to me, I wanted to share it with you here – and thank all of you for such sweet remembrances of Purrthos and your lovely sentiments!

    Dear Cathy,

    I read your blog this morning. I am so sorry for the loss of your Purrthos, I know how that feels…it’s like a piece of your soul has gone missing. Certainly…my Mercy’s picture is over our couch I talk to her all the time. For me , she is the face of God.

    What a lovely piece you wrote about him. I will keep it always.

    Take care,
    Dr. Miranda

  6. Aileen & Dick says:

    We will miss Purrthos, too. What a truly loving, responsive creature! You wrote a beautiful tribute to him. Thank you for sharing your experiences and feelings. It is always so difficult to say goodbye to our pet friends, even as we realize they depend on us to make humane decisions. (It’s been 24 years since I took our German Shepard, Kory, to the vet for the last time, and we still have his photo on our bedroom wall.)

    Cathy, whenever we spent the night baby-sitting for you, Purrthos slept next to me, not on my pillow but right next to my body. The purring prescence of my “diabetic buddy” was comforting.

    Whenever our kids or grandchildren lost a pet, my question was ALWAYS, “Was it worth loving him/her?” Both of us feel that knowing and loving Purrthos was a special joy!

    Love, Aileen & Dick

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