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Friday
Mar292013

Cruddy: A Tribute

Cruddy in Brooklyn, New York (© 2012 Amber Drea)

This week, I experienced the loss of a pet that affected me more deeply than I ever imagined it would. I grew up with cats and dogs, but I rarely saw them live for very long. They would run away, get hit by cars, contract diseases that no one bothered to have treated by a vet. I had two hamsters—one got lost in the walls of our apartment and died; the other crawled up the curtain of our sliding glass doors and then fell, breaking his leg on the way down, so my mother euthanized him. While I loved these pets, I never got too attached because I knew they'd inevitably die or disappear.

Cruddy was the first pet I took into my home and raised from a kitten through death. I knew her for slightly more than 11 years, most of my adult life, and she was my best friend in many ways. My roommate, Jessica, and I found her at Churchill's Pub in Miami in early 2002. We were there to play a gig with our band, Southern Oracle, and a bartender had brought in a stray kitten to see if someone would adopt her. When I entered the venue, I heard an animal wailing over the music and I followed the sound to the back of the bar, where a small, scruffy ball of black fur sat meowing at the top of her lungs. I immediately fell in love and, due to her unkempt appearance, named her Cruddy after the Lynda Barry novel, which I had recently read. I let her sleep in my bed that night, and when I took her to the vet the next day, those scabby, hairless patches around her mouth turned out to be mange. We all itched for a few days, but eventually the rashes cleared up. 

When I was accepted to grad school, Cruddy and I relocated to Chicago. We took three days to drive to the Midwest, stopping at campgrounds along the way. Cruddy was so freaked out after traveling all day and listening to the sounds of insects and other animals in the forest all night that by the time we made it to Shawnee National Forest in Southern Illinois, she still hadn’t defecated. So I put her on a leash, and she took off running down a dirt path around the pond. I kept up with her as best I could, and once Cruddy had expended a sufficient amount of energy, she stopped dead in her tracks and took a massive dump. I felt an enormous sense of pride for getting my cat to poop on a leash like a dog.

Cruddy at Cloudland Canyon State Park in Georgia (© 2002 Amber Drea)

In Miami, Cruddy had free reign of the entire courtyard in my apartment complex and would often be out all night. Unfortunately, the best I could find and afford in Chicago was a tiny studio apartment with no access to the outdoors. Thinking she might be lonely, I adopted a 12-week-old gray tabby, much to Cruddy's dismay. I had to keep Marcus locked in the bathroom for a week so Cruddy couldn't attack the poor little guy. Eventually she warmed to him, but theirs remained a love-hate relationship.

Marcus and Cruddy in Brooklyn, New York (© 2012 Amber Drea)

After a couple years, we all moved in with Jeb, who grew to love Cruddy as much as I did, and we'd take turns being her favorite human, while Marcus would take turns annoying each of us—Cruddy included. She'd become sedentary in the old apartment and kept gaining weight despite the more spacious surroundings. I knew it wasn't great for her, but I'd always wanted a fat, cuddly cat, and she seemed happy. Still, I tried many different diets and attempted to get her to exercise more, to no avail. Whenever I pulled out the cat toy, Cruddy would just lie there and half-heartedly claw at the feather if it came close enough. 

Fat Cruddy in Brooklyn, New York (© 2008 Amber Drea)

In 2008, Jeb and I packed up a U-Haul and drove east to Brooklyn, New York. We tried to sedate Cruddy with Benadryl, but that just stressed her out even more and caused her to foam at the mouth. She cried the entire trip. When we got to the new place, Cruddy and Marcus hid out in the kitchen cupboard for the first few days.

Marcus and Cruddy hiding in cupboard in Brooklyn, New York (© 2008 Amber Drea)

Our first Brooklyn apartment was small, and Cruddy's sedentary lifestyle continued. All she did was lie around—in bags, in boxes, on boxes, on the floor using a book as a pillow (which got her featured on Julie Klausner’s blog). Last year, we found a bigger place, and I immediately noticed a change in Cruddy's energy level. She started jumping up on the high perch and getting more playful. She began slimming down.

Cruddy with onion skin in Brooklyn, New York (© 2012 Amber Drea)

In retrospect, her weight loss was probably caused by the hyperthyroidism, but it was nice to see her in good spirits. 

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This past February, I decided to take Cruddy to the vet for a check-up. As a result of that first visit, three issues came to light: Cruddy's thyroid levels were extremely high, as were her liver enzymes, and her heart seemed to have a moderate murmur. We started Cruddy on Tapazole for the hyperthyroidism and would recheck her bloodwork in 30 days. The hope was if we could get Cruddy’s thyroid under control, the liver and heart issues would clear up as well.

Three weeks later, Cruddy began exhibiting signs of nausea, so the vet prescribed Cerenia and Famotidine, and she seemed to improve. The following week, I brought Cruddy back for the 30-day check-up. This time, her thyroid levels were too low, but her liver enzymes were still elevated. However, the heart murmur was slightly better. The vet reduced the Tapazole by half to bring the thyroid back up and also recommended that we schedule an ultrasound to see what was going on with Cruddy's liver in order to rule out any additional underlying problems. In the meantime, the vet wanted me to give her a nutritional supplement for the liver, but the pills were so big that I had to cut them into four pieces, and even in her weakened state, Cruddy still fought me on taking them.

Cruddy post-vet appointment in Brooklyn, New York (© 2013 Amber Drea)

It was around this time that Cruddy's appetite decreased drastically and she began drooling nonstop. Her left eye also started filling up with mucous. When Jeb brought Cruddy in for the ultrasound, the vet didn't find any masses in her liver or digestive tract, so they attributed the drooling and lack of appetite simply to a side effect of the Tapazole and credited the eye issue to dehydration. The vet recommended more Famotidine and a wet food that's easy on the stomach, but Cruddy still wasn't interested in eating. She didn't even want treats or tuna. After three more days of fasting, the vet decided that the problem must be her teeth, which she'd noticed were bad during the first visit, but didn't want to put Cruddy under anesthesia until her heart, liver and thyroid were under control. We scheduled the dental for the following day. That night, Cruddy slept on my chest for the last time.

When Jeb brought Cruddy to the clinic the next morning, the vet could immediately tell that Cruddy was jaundiced due to heptatic lipidosis, or fatty liver disease. The vet started Cruddy on fluids and kept her in the clinic overnight. I visited her that evening and she had a tube in her nose and an IV hooked up to her arm. She seemed miserable. During the previous few weeks, despite her declining health, Cruddy spent a lot of time curled up in my lap or lying next to Jeb and purring. I took her behavior as a sign that she was going to be OK.

Now I believe she just wanted to be close to us as much as possible before she died.

Jeb and Cruddy in Brooklyn, New York (© 2013 Amber Drea)

The next 36 hours were a blur. I called the vet after noon on Friday, and she said Cruddy was doing better. But by the time I arrived at the clinic around 3 o'clock, Cruddy's breathing had become labored and her temperature had dropped. The vet urged me to transfer Cruddy to the 24-hour hospital, where they had state-of-the-art equipment and could monitor her more closely. I began to feel like this was the end, but forced myself to remain optimistic that Cruddy would pull through.

At the emergency clinic, the vet said Cruddy was stable, lifting my hopes slightly. But just before 10 o'clock, the vet called to tell me that Cruddy had deteriorated further and asked me to verbally approve DNR—Do Not Resuscitate. Those words hit me like a punch in the gut. The tears started flowing and didn't stop for hours. I went to bed puffy faced and sick to my stomach, wanting so much for there to be a cat god to whom I could pray for Cruddy to come home happy and healthy.

Cruddy on Jeb's legs in Brooklyn, New York (© 2013 Amber Drea)

I jolted awake at 5:30 a.m. on Saturday with a clear head and a heavy heart. I knew exactly what I had to do even before I checked my phone and saw two missed calls and voice mails from the vet. In the middle of the night, Cruddy's breathing had become even more labored and she began showing symptoms of cardiac arrest. I asked the vet if he thought we should put her down. He said, "I don't think that would be the wrong decision." 

I woke Jeb up, and we called the car service. The hospital was empty, save a handful of staff and maybe one other pet owner. We were led to the large emergency room. Cruddy lay on a blanket, and her chest expanded and contracted rapidly as she struggled to breathe. There was no doubt we were doing the right thing. I asked the vet what euthanization would entail, and he said it's two shots: a sedative followed by an overdose of anesthetic.

Jeb and I took a few minutes to say goodbye. We both kissed her and told her we loved her. When the vet returned, I cradled Cruddy in my arms as he administered the injections. Her chest stopped heaving, and for a moment she was calm. Suddenly I wanted to scream, "I change my mind! I don't want her to die!" But instead I just slumped over her body and sobbed, murmuring, "I'm sorry, Cruddy. I'm so sorry." Jeb rested his head against mine and began crying too. The vet emptied the second shot, and Cruddy went completely limp. He checked her heart and said, "She's gone."

I held Cruddy a few minutes longer, stroking her fur and smelling her head, before the technician came in and took her away. I didn't think we needed the ashes, but Jeb wanted to scatter them some place. It turns out he can sometimes be more sentimental than I am. We also got an impression of her paw in clay. 

Cruddy's paw print (© 2013 Amber Drea)

+++

Cruddy on guitar in Brooklyn, New York (© 2012 Amber Drea)

It's been six days and I'm still having trouble accepting the fact that Cruddy isn't coming home. I will never again hear her squeaky meow or her thunderous purr. I will never again feel her soft ears between my fingers or her silky fur under my palm. I will never again scratch the base of her tail, causing her to obsessively lick her paw. I will never again see her peeking out from under the bathroom sink or staring at me while I’m showering in the morning. I will never again watch her waddle across the floor and then wait patiently for her explicit invitation to climb up on the bed or couch. I will never again laugh as she struggles comically to pull herself up onto said bed or couch. I will never again watch her eat food piece by piece or nibble spaghetti Lady and the Tramp-style. I will never again see beads of water dripping from her chin. I'm even going to miss her bony spine and her sharp shoulder blades and the sweetly stinky smell of her drool.

Fortunately, I have this handsome boy to keep me company: 

Marcus on perch in Brooklyn, New York (© 2012 Amber Drea)

I think Marcus is going to miss Cruddy too. 

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Reader Comments (2)

Amber, thank you for sharing your story of Cruddy's life. I had a very similar experience with my dog who gave me 17 years of unconditional love and devotion. My heart is so sad and I am greiving with you and Jed. I pray God will surround you with His love and comfort. Love you, Kitti

March 29, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterKitti Homyak

Wow, I love this post, thanks for sharing

April 3, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterLeah Pietrusiak

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