Wednesday, August 15, 2007

A Tale of Three Cats, Max, the Condo, Bowmanville, and finally RP

No dogs allowed; that was the law in 1989 according to the 535 N. Michigan Avenue Condominium Association. A choice had to be made. We were a year away from marriage, law school began in August, and something was missing. When you are a dog lover, these laws really rip at your emotions. The rationale becomes clear after you realize that residents wanted a quiet environment unpierced by the sound of barking. there was no place to walk the dog without pavement. "Olive" was the nearest park at that time. The few trees en route had to be navigated, discreetly, but the video cameras in the maintenance elevator and the rear halls nixed any hope of getting fido under the radar. In spite of my allergies to cat dander, I learned to love Elie and Max.

The nearby Anti-Cruelty Society's edifice just had its late '80s makeover. I knew that going to law school would leave me in the library for indefinite and irregular times. Before you begin school, you read about the horror stories; the first year, they scare you to death, the second, they work you to death, and during the third, they bore you to death. My fiance would be spending some time curled up in front of the tv without me. It begans to become clear that she needed another love interest. I did not want that to be one of my classmates or a co-worker. I put up no resistance and we did time in the feline section.

I had grown up with a Westie and a terrier, but mostly hunting dogs. I witnessed a sixteen year old with drivers permit hit our fleeing 'wired' terrier, Scampy, on a quite suburban street in 1966 after we moved away from our Winchester and Rogers two flat in 1965. This was quite dramatic, since we drove Scampy's remains to the Becker Animal Hospital in Glencoe. Scampy became a disappointing memory after he scampered out of our lives.

The Westie, Mopsy, was eventually given up to an elderly couple, because he repeatedly ran away. He also would not get along with my dad's new hunting dog, Lady. The noble Labrador Retriever was the canine of choice in our family. Most of our dogs spent time in the cornfields in Richmond or Wayne, Illinois. However, the more recent canine editions tended to be less disciplined house sitters. Cats were never considered, because my dad and I had allergies to cat dander. However, I spent time with cats as a kid at a summer camp. I accepted that cat are just as affectionate and loyal as any dog.

We looked around at the walls of cages. All of these forgotten felines lives might be lost. Many of the cats were older. They had names and the sad story that led to their internment. Some of the owners were allergic. Others moved or were too old to take care of them. A few did not get along with other pets. A few probably went to nursing homes. We looked, but these cats weren't ready. Maybe, they would never be ready. We wanted a cat to grow into our family and the cats were both grown and seemed disappointed. We wanted a feisty, yet friendly youthful feline. We wanted spark and that slight smile. We had to look further.

One cage on the back wall housed a flurry of gray and white. Some of the cats drew our attention like a magnet. As we looked, personalities began to unfurl in the muted meows and purrs of another happier and untainted generation. A few were more dominant, some were cute; others had feature that were given priorities. Some seemed loyal to others in the litter. This group became a tribe and we began to experience the legend that was unfolding.

We were not looking for two cats, but there were two in that litter. They got along with each other. One was cute, lovable and snuggled with anyone willing to give it attention. The other wanted attention and consent to climb and explore all limbs and that which the front and back of a shirt had to offer; he was also a licker. There is a moment, when human and pet bond. You don't expect it; it happens. My desire for a dog was lost to kitten hugs and the affectionate rubbing of our chins and necks.

We wanted both. To my wife, they were inseparable bookends. They were nearly identical with subtle differences. Anti-cruelty had a rule; you cannot adopt two cute cuddly kittens, particularly from the same litter. If you adopt two cats, then one must be an adult. The rationale was unappreciated; it made for an uneasy decision and departure.

Adult cats should be cared for. I have always believed that when you adopt a pet, you do it for life. You don't abandon kit when cats get ill. You try not to get sticker shock with the vet bills and negotiate a plan if necessary. You try to make make plans for the unexpected; a cat gives unconditional love, but in exchange, it becomes completely dependent upon you. Plans for perpetual care deserve contemplation and closure. I did not know why the adult cats were abandoned; only what Anti-Cruelty was told. Yet, none of the older cats made it to the level of trust or mutual acceptance.

We committed to the more lively and cuddly one, who licked our ears, but we wrote down the tag number for the cute, naive, sweet one. We made it past the interview, later discussed the situation with my sister in law, and left with a plan. Two days later, Max was adopted by my sister in law, but also entered our lives and joined Elie in our northeast corner unit overlooking Lake Michigan and the Days Inn. The Days Inn is a story in and of itself, but I don't write a blog about Streeterville.

The cats found a way to get attention. They took to the white shutters that opened up from the kitchen. Climbing the shutters became an event during that summer. The dilemma over whether to declaw and neuter was not a controversy. The cats were scratching the new Homemakers sectional, among other items, which were beginning to show wear. Max and Elie ignored the scratching post. We had no intention of letting them out of the condo, but they found a way a few times. Max was more laid back; his secret weapon to sudden surges of energy.

Max and Elie got their names from two sources. In our tradition, we usually give names based upon the memory of a respected relative. Although this is not required for animals and perhaps is arguably sacreligious. Max is the name of my mother's deceased uncle. Max had a noticeable sense of humor, but his wife Edith 'arguably' mistreated him. Some claim that she abused him, but Max was a kind soul and dealt with his 'alpha wife' until he could not take it any more. In fact, Max is the guy in the center of the photograph at the top of the home page. I understand that Max lived in Rogers Park in from the '40s through the 60s.

Max the cat proved that condo associations have a mix of residents with varying peeves. Max loved to unpredictably, but rarely bolt out of the condo and into the hall way. He would run about twenty-five feet, realized that there was no place to go, and rolled over. This happened two or three times in one year. All we had to do was yell "Max" and one of our elderly neighbors let the Condo Association know that menacing gray and white kittens were prowling the halls eager to spray the walls. It was one of the last times that Elie or Max managed to traipse the hallway.

After a year, fears of law school were overcome and we moved to Bowmanville, which gave the cats had more space. Our three bedroom apartment at my in laws two flat gave the cats more room to roam. It also provided more window ledges and animal life to observe. Max had a detante with one of the local squirrels. The squirel would climb within five feet of Max's window and the two would chirp or scowl at each other depending upon their mood until one would relent.

Max was a bitter not a licker. He developed this annoying habit of nipping at your nose or toes at about two in the morning. This eventually stopped because Max prized his bedspace more than his nose or toe fetish. However, it was intermittant and this meant that Elie, who was the licker spent more time at the head of the bed, while Max might get an involuntary push that encouraged him to leave the feet of the bed. The line, Max be a licker, not a bitter was not pursuasive enough. However, Max could hug.

Max's hugs were unconditional, but always arrived when you needed them. All you had to do was pick him up and those two furry white paws wrapped around your neck in unison. The comfort of Max's nuzzling ears and head on your neck could calm anyone. Max was this loving and nurturing being that could always soothe you at the most frustrating moments. The trivial demands of life dissolved and you were left with emotional fulfillment. Max could rest on you chest with the tranquil effect of the most effective breathing exercise ever conjured by any yoga guru.

Max scared us on a few occasions. Once he found nutrition in rubber shower suckers, which afixed to his intestines, blocked his bodily functions, and made him throw up until there was not much left of him. Apparently, a barium milkshake at Dr. Hornings loosened it up and Max began to eat, again. Max also found serenity within the inner depths of an obscure closet. He disappeared for nearly thirty-six hours when the door closed and he remained hidden in the front bedroom. After hours and significant scrutiny of five square blocks of our neigborhood, Max reappeared and became part of the Rabbi's speech at our wedding.

Max's brother, Elie, passed away at the age of thirteen. He fought back diabetes, took insulin shots, but in the end his kidneys became obstructed. One day, he looked like he was having a diabetes type attack. It was at that time that we realized that his urination or lack of it signaled a more serious condition. He stopped eating. Animal 911 in Skokie discovered that his kidneys were obstructed in four or five places. He would have to get dialysis and might live a week with it. Elie passed away five years ago and is buried at the Hinsdale Pet Cemetery in a yet to be marked grave.

Recently, Max was showing signs, but we, again, did not pick up on it. We brought him into Riser Animal Hospital a year ago. Recently he was not getting all the way into the litter box and urinating outside it. We brought him on a Saturday and had testing done. Interestingly, an ultrasound showed no kidney obstruction; I was temporarily relieved. Max had test a year or two earlier, but tests showed nothing. On Sunday Max leaned on the upstairs wall, lost his balance and fell as he headed towards our rooms. Something was not right; I stayed home on Monday, called the vet, and they looked at his Saturday labs. Max had to be brought in.

The vetrinarian decided to run some tests and Max's heart beat was getting more unsteady. He decided to look at his heart on the equipment at Riser. It appeared that Max had three tumors on his heart. The vetrinarian suggested that we try to ease him out of his misery. I was not immediately ready for this, having witnessed Elie's end. Max was a happy cat and this photo was about as blue as he got; it was taken hours before his death.

I have heard quite a bit about those who are committed to dogs, but they often seem totally ignorant and prejudiced when it comes to cats. I was one of them. I know what a cat is capable of. If you choose wisely, you will find a cat worthy of attention and love, even if you put up with the puff ups. However, taking care of cat dander is a committment worth the effort. Responsibility is part of owning up to your pet. Your pet is more than property, it becomes a reflection of what values you encourage.

Over the years, it became difficult for Max to stay with us in bed. I needed to take better care of his dander and allergies could keep me up. He also occassionally and affectionately nimble at our our nose or toes, which woke us up. His long absence from our room made him drool in delight when he got to sleep with us. However, on his last night on this Earth, he came into our room, went under our bed and laid down.
I let him stay; I sensed something was wrong. In the morning, it was difficult, but I managed to get him out from under the bed. Max passed away five hours after the last two photos were taken at around 2:30 p.m. on July 2, 2007 in the Hospital. He was eighteen years old. He is buried next to his brother, Elie. Max is survived by his adopted sister, Phoebe, daughter of Snowball, sister to Charlie and the late Holden Nicolas, who were once owned by Nate Duncan, a friend from Maxwell and Halsted.

This took a while to post, because I was trying to figure out how Max fit in the overall scheme of this blog. I also had to locate and scan the older photos. I regret that some Rogers Park bloggers are ignorant that cats are affectionate and loving beings worthy of adoption. I am not one of them. Don't give up on pets just because a condo association won't allow dogs.


Catherine on Eastlake said...

i loved your story. max and elie were truly loved and lucky to have found you both.

sending you and your family a big hug.


Kheris said...

Great story. I have been a cat owner for decades and have HellBoy! and Sako with me now (numbers 5&6). You are absolutely spot on regarding the life commitment to our furry partners. You are also right that cats are a lot more loving and loyal than most folks seem to realize. I love my boys, even when HB starts looking for ways to get me up before the alarm rings.

SouthEvanstonian said...

A beautiful story. I am so sorry about your loss. You gave Elie and Max a wonderful life, though; Catherine is right, they were very lucky to have found you!

Fargo said...

Sorry to hear about your loss. I'm glad that your babies had such a good life.

I had 3 cats for years, but one died last year after being ill for a while. My older kitty is now 17 and having some health problems. I hope she'll be with us for a while yet. The younger one is still an energetic little punk even though she's 8, not a kitten.

When cats find a good loving home, they usually respond to that love. Cats and dogs give different kinds of love, but they are each wonderful in their own ways.

Toni said...

These all-knowing creatures have a way of choosing their 'person'. They just let us think we're in charge don't they?

Of all the kitties who have shared their lives with me, few were chosen. The rest just seemed to appear or came to be fostered and became part of the family.

Thank you for sharing.

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