Monday, August 4, 2008

Flapjack: 1999-2008

This is a hard post to write. We've had to say goodbye to our kitty of nine years. Those who've met Flapjack know that she has always been a personality. She had her ideas about how the world should be, and arranged her surroundings accordingly.

From the beginning, she and her sister Diesel showed some of the behavior I'd expect from cats who didn't get the right care when they were little. They had been spayed at 8 weeks, and we adopted them at 10. Very, very young to be on their own already. Diesel turned inward and developed an eating disorder (which her "new" family of nearly 3 years assures us is still going strong), and Flapjack decided that she'd be safe if she could always be alpha cat. This meant we had two very affectionate kitties who loved to play with us nonstop. It was wonderful, until we realized it was nonstop and then we added a human baby to the mix.

Our girls, Flapjack & Diesel, on a happier day.

As the golden queen of the household, Flapjack always took her job seriously. She was always first in line for a head scratch. If I wasn't quick enough on the draw, I'd have some paws on my hips and look down to see an inquisitive face wanting to know where the hand was. For nine years, I've been able to count on a mewed "hello" every time I return home from somewhere.

There are a few less pleasant memories as well. The shoes, belts, watchbands, and electrical cords that were chewed beyond recognition. I have not had houseplants in the last eight and a half years, because the time I tried to thwart Flapjack's consumption of them she scaled an unscalable height for the sole purpose of dumping my last two plants, pots and all, to shatter all over the floor. There have been other things, but those are some of the highlights. The things that made her our kitty-the things we loved and hated and generally wove into our lives together.

Even fake plants were fair game.

Insecure older cats don't do well with kids, we've discovered. Diesel was in agony when Elise was born, and after trying everything we cold think of she was still urinating on everything in sight. With Diesel, we were pretty sure she'd perk up in a house where she'd be the only cat and there were no kids. Thanks to some very wonderful and generous friends, she had a chance to prove it and is now happier than she ever was in our home.

Always top dog.

Flapjack was a different story. She didn't like any territory encroachments, and worked tirelessly to keep Elise from usurping her position in the family hierarchy. When Elise was a baby, this made a lot of things difficult, largely because Flapjack's strategy involved inserting herself between me and "that interloper." We noticed a marked upturn in defiant behavior (jumping on counters, scratching at doors, etc.) any time we let Flapjack get away with that. It's been policy to not let her walk physically between Elise and me ever since. That helped. A bit.

So, Mom, what are we looking at here?It wasn't always awful. Of course, Flapjack "claimed" this little sofa as her own within a few months of this photograph.

Unfortunately, this training wasn't holding. If I'm honest with myself, it hadn't worked for quite some time. Our cat who was not previously prone to out of the box thinking began having "accidents." We were concerned by this and took her to the vet. No problems with her lab work or exam. A few months later, the same thing. It's now a few months beyond that and if Elise leaves a toy that resembles a container on the floor, it will be peed on. While the loss of some paper dolls and a Candyland game aren't earthshattering, they are indicative of a wider pattern that we saw all of the time. Flapjack was getting more and more aggressive about "reclaiming" territory from Elise.

We have been working on this for awhile. I've taught Elise how to play well with kitties, and she is the sole dispenser of the delicious kitty treats for which Flapjack would do just about anything. I thought I was building a relationship between my kid and my cat, but it looks like I was establishing Elise in a subservient role. At least Flapjack thought so, because we had a potty-riffic weekend. It was mildly horrible. If it were one weekend, I could give it another go, but things have been deteriorating steadily with no apparent physical cause.

Because we promised to keep her as an indoor cat when we adopted her from a shelter so long ago, Flapjack had limited outdoor experience. She never willingly went outside until we moved here, and never demonstrated the kind of "street smarts" that would let her be a successful outdoor cat. Or even a reasonable barn cat somewhere. The "no kill" shelter options out there sounded nice until I realized that this poor cat would go insane trying to be tops somewhere. And she'd probably make many other kitties miserable in the process.

We tried the great outdoors in a supervised kind of way.

Venturing outside, but not able to identify her own front door to come home on her own. (That's the cat, not the kid. Kid knows what her house looks like.)

Our decision was to have Flapjack killed. At the age of nine, with her stress about being the ONLY cat, competing with humans for attention, random destructive habits and now urination, there was no way she was a candidate for adoption. As we're getting ready to move, our house will only be getting more chaotic, and we were worried for the stress on the cat. I don't think she had another move in her, to be honest. Not without seriously addling her little brain.

Plotting their next move.

I submitted a copy of our previous landlord's letter of recommendation as part of a rental application this past weekend. Taking the time to read the letter again after nearly 2 years, it was painfully obvious that Flapjack was much transformed from the kitty in the letter. I never thought I'd be one of "those people" who hauls a pet off to the Humane Society instead of hanging on to them for life. And yet here we are. Andy and I are so sick about it, but rationally we know it's the best we could have done for our Flapjack.

Not sure this is a gift.

As far as Elise knows, we planned to take Flapjack to the animal shelter while she was at school. She knows that Flapjack is not coming back to our house. She knows it's not her fault that her kitty peed on her stuff and it's not her fault that the kitty has to go. Oh, and that we'd never send a kid to a shelter no matter how sick, confused, or downright mischevious she was. We're choosing not to mention death at this time, but I suspect she will figure it out before too much longer, and then I will be honest with her.

We will miss our kitty so much. Flapjack was a good cat. It's going to be quiet around here.


Jaya said...

That is sad. I'll miss Flapjack too--I'm glad I got the chance to meet her. Lolly sends love too (she just doesn't know it.)

Anonymous said...

Saying good-bye to pet for any reason is so very, very hard. Know that you gave Flapjack a very good life, full of love and food and scratches. Yes, Elise will figure it out and you are right to be honest. She will survive the trauma as will you--but be prepared for all of you to cry a bit first.
I am thinking of you all. Hug Elise extra well from me.
Tsunami, like Lolly, sends love to you all--though she will never admit to such human emotions.

SWE said...

Thank you so much for your love and kind words, ladies. In spite of the work we put into addressing these behavior issues, I can't help feeling like we failed our kitty.

Motherhood has been an unexpected lesson in loss. My critters have always been my babies (even since I was a kid), and it has been so hard to give them up one by one. At least Forest (my box turtle of 10 years) and Diesel (Flapjack's sister and littermate) left to happier home lives than the one we could provide with a baby in the house. I'm proud that I could at least do that for them. And I'm devastated that I couldn't do the same for Flapjack.

As I told Andy as we hugged one another and wept in the parking lot of the Humane Society, "It sucks being a grown-up." This is one thing in my life for which I never wanted to bear responsibility. I know we did the best possible thing in this situation, but that doesn't stop it being horrible.

Your love and condolences mean so much to me right now. Thank you for being here.