in Check It Out

Jupiter is gone

Jupiter in better days

Jupiter in better days

Today was the day I was hoping would never come, as impossible as it is. Today was the day we said goodbye to Jupiter, our porch cat.

Jupiter wandered into our lives ten years ago, his initial wariness giving way to unabashed love. Once a feral cat darting from home to home, he knew he had found his home when we stopped to feed and love him. The only night he ever spent indoors was his last one, last night.

I am in shambles.

He was the most dog-like cat I’ve ever known. He was super-chill, rarely letting anything faze him. He would come up and hug anyone who happened to stop by to chat. He would sometimes tag along with us when we would take the dog for a walk, trailing behind us and darting from home to home as if he were stalking us. He also always came running when he would hear our front door open or our voices calling to him.

He was a superstar of a cat.

I worried about keeping him outside. He got into a lot of scrapes that way. I was always worried about him and tried to do what I could to keep him as safe a I could short of inviting him inside. One time early on we had a scare when he disappeared for a few days but fortunately he came trotting back. But still I worried. I began to console myself that nature would take its course, whatever way it saw fit. As Travis said when he opted not to come to Jupiter’s euthanasia (and this is perfectly fine – everyone grieves differently), at least we will be aware of his fate. Many cats simply never come home.

It was only weeks ago that I had leapt out of bed in the dead of night, furiously putting on clothes and grabbing the flashlight because in my sleep I had thought I had heard him yowling as if in a fight. I’d get as far as flipping on the porch lights and see him peacefully snoozing on the front porch before I’d turn around and shuffle back to bed. Any time I’d hear that yowl (or thought I did) would have me leaping up.

Often he would scrap with the new neighbor’s cat when that cat would wander over and try to take Jupiter’s food. On occasion, Jupiter’s wounds would be severe enough to earn him a trip to the emergency veterinarian. Needless to say, I’m not a fan of the neighbor’s cat.

One night several years ago I leapt up from my recliner to hear an otherworldly yowl coming from the front of the house. I swung open the door and shone the flashlight across the street to see Jupiter squaring off with a large canid of some kind. I laughed when Jupiter quickly turned tail and trotted over to see me as if he had not a care in the world. It turns out whatever he had been facing was yowling, not Jupiter! I’m not sure if it was a dog, a coyote, or what, but Jupiter was clearly in command of the situation!

He was an easygoing cat that he would even purr in the midst of getting his shots at the vet. The staff there fell in love with him and wanted to take him home. Though I’d manhandle him to put him in his carrier, or give him pills, he would never, ever bite nor scratch me. Somehow I always had his trust.

Being a porch cat, Jupiter was known throughout the neighborhood. Neighbors would wave at him as he surveyed the area from his perch near our door. Some would come up and offer him head scratches. The Herrmann kids and the Ewasyshins girls would often sit on the stoop and get some loving from him. It was sweet to look out and see him being loved on, and returning the love as well.

Unfortunately, a few months ago a friend in Oakdale lost her identically-looking cat, Fred. She stapled posters up all over the neighborhood, causing many to misidentify Jupiter as Fred. One well-meaning but overzealous neighbor on PLainview Avenue scooped Jupter up from our yard and called my friend, thinking she had found Fred. I diplomatically rescued him and did my best to let everyone save face but I was mad that someone would take my cat. I was also kinda mad that Fred’s owner’s posters had led to the catnapping.

Hallie had bonded just as strongly as I had with Jupiter. It was a team effort between us to convince this feral, jumpy, scrawny cat into becoming part of our family. With her away at college, she urged me to keep up with Jupiter and I did the best I could.

Travis had seen Jupiter slowing down. He said Jupiter wasn’t jumping up on the table to eat anymore. Indeed, I had not seen him hanging out the way he had before. Still, his behavior hadn’t crossed the threshold for me to be concerned about him. But he was obviously slowing down some as he had seemed to have lost weight. At his last vet visit in June, the vet reported that he had lost some weight but it wasn’t substantial enough to make any diet changes.

On Wednesday, though, I noticed he had a dark discharge from his eye and nose. He was sneezing and it appeared he had an injury to his left hind leg. I called and had a vet appointment for him within an hour. As soon as the vet examined him, she discovered some nasty bite marks on his abdomen. Some of the tissue had necrotized! She immediately took him into surgery, cut out the dead tissue, sutured the other wounds up as best she could, and gave him some fluids. Jupiter was sent home with a bag of antibiotics, pain pills, and the dreaded Cone of Shame. I took home a cat still dozy from the surgery and set him up on our back porch for recovery.

It has been a dreadfully hot summer, however, and Jupiter was slow to perk up. He was placed in the dogs’ crate with a catbox and a towel to lay on, his cone still firmly affixed around his neck. I soon saw him panting heavily and shallowly and it appeared he was unable to cool himself off. Kelly put up a towel to keep him out of the sun and I continued to try to get him to eat and drink.

Thursday night he finished off most of a can of cat food, so it appeared that we had turned a corner. I was hopeful he would recuperate. We didn’t want to keep him in the heat, though, and debated about where we might go in the house. We settled on moving the crate back to the dining room where it had been for the dogs and keeping him inside for as long as it took. Jupiter seemed to be more comfortable there but he still showed little interest in eating or drinking.

When he showed no interest in his food and drink again this morning, I texted Hallie that she should not pass up a chance to see Jupiter again. She was shocked when she saw him, unable to raise his head to look at her though he could still be heard quietly purring. Soon Hallie was quietly sobbing and I realized my optimism about his recovery was foolishly misplaced. She urged me to take him in to the emergency vet and I hemmed and hawed until I called them an hour later.

Off Jupiter and I went to Wake Veterinary Hospital in Knightdale, with me thinking all the while that we would be inconvenienced by a few hours and that would be that. Sadly, it was to be Jupiter’s last trip.

The hospital was unusually slammed for a Saturday. On the phone, I Was told there may be an hour wait so it was a good time to come by. By the time we arrived, though, the wait had ballooned to 2 to 3 hours. I sat with him in their freezing cold waiting room while the dogs waiting around barked at each other.

Hallie texted me while we waited, saying she was fine if we had to euthanize Jupiter as she had already said goodbye but if we chose to do that, she wanted to be there. This sobering message erased any thoughts I had of walking out of there with our cat.

About an hour into our wait, a staffer named Lori came and got our information. Minutes later, the vet was checking Jupiter out. It was not much longer before Lori was calling me back into the exam room.

The vet doctor’s face told me all I needed to know. She sadly informed me that Jupiter was most likely already suffering from sepsis and possibly organ failure. He was over 10% dehydrated and his body temperature was lower than normal. We could put him through a tough regimen of fluids, drugs, and surgery only to still lose him.

She suggested it might be a good time to consider euthanasia.

Putting down a pet is a heart-rending thing to do. That it’s almost always the right thing to do doesn’t make it any easier. This little cat had so much love for us, and we had grown so used to this love, that the thought of not having this little critter around anymore was to painful to consider. And yet, something I had seen in him the day before – perhaps an imagined knowing in his eyes – made me suspect that he might be ready to go.

“OK, it sounds like he is not going to get better, so let’s do it,” I responded. It was hard to get the words out but there was no doubt they had to be said.

I told her that Kelly would be walking in any minute with some of my things so I would like to wait for her to get here. I also texted Hallie and she dropped what she was doing and began driving over from Carrboro.

Lori brought Jupiter into our room, lying on his towel in the bottom half of his cat carrier. Kelly and I sat on the floor next to him, stroking his head while we said goodbye to him. Though he was so weak he couldn’t lift his head, he was still faintly purring. This cat never, ever held any grudges.

Hallie had arrived a little after 5 PM and the doctor returned to our room. With little fanfare and ceremony, we lifted Jupiter’s carrier onto the table. The doctor administered one shot as a sedative and Jupiter went still. Then the doctor administered a fatal dose of sedative which stopped his heart.

The doctor removed her stethoscope and quietly announced he was gone. I quietly burst into tears.

Kelly offered Hallie a moment alone with Jupiter and moved me out of the room. We sobbed in each others’ arms while Hallie paid her last respects. Then with tears in her eyes, Hallie went back to her homework in Carrboro and we stood quietly over the lifeless body of our porch cat.

I found Lori again and asked if we could collect some of Jupiter’s fur before he was cremated. She helped shave off a few ribbons of it and put it into a plastic bag. Then we turned him over to her and she soon brought back our empty cat carrier.

Kelly and I drove separately back home. I propped the empty carrier onto the seat next to me the way Jupiter always rode with me. Then when I got home I felt compelled to put away all the cat items. I couldn’t bear to look at them anymore.

Now there’s just emptiness where his stuff used to be. There is a hole in my heart, too, which isn’t likely to go away any time soon. This poor, scrawny critter had nothing when we met. He lived his life on the streets and had to become tough.

And yet, we tamed him. We loved him. We fed and took care of him. He had a place to sleep and yet he still had his freedom to explore. I may always wonder if I made the right call in keeping him an outdoor cat, especially after Rocket died and there wasn’t as much of a threat to his safety indoors. I thought I would be taking his freedom away from him, though taking away his freedom is might be what he wanted most.

The cat who always purred in the toughest situations was purring right up until the end. I hope we gave him a good life. Certainly, we rescued him from his feral ways, and along the way he captured our hearts.

It will be a while before I stop looking out for him on the porch, or expecting him to pop out of the bushes as I walk to the mailbox, or stop looking up as I drive by the house to see an orange ball of fur sitting contentedly on our front porch.

Fair winds, my little friend, Jupiter. Until we meet again someday.