Sticking a needle in a cat seems simple enough: You pinch the scruff of fat on its shoulders between your thumb and forefinger, jab in the syringe, depress the plunger, and in two seconds you’re done. The cat feels hardly a thing. (Apparently, cat’s backs aren’t very sensitive; maybe they get toughened up when their mothers carry them around by the scruff of their necks as kittens.)
But injecting our cat Puki is another matter. She is so thin -- a sheet of fur draped over a sharp-spined skeleton--that there’s hardly any skin to grab. When I insert the needle in the tiny pinch of flesh on her back, I’m afraid it will poke straight through to the other side. But Frink and I do it twice a day nonetheless. The injections are the only thing keeping our kitty alive.
Puki (pronounced Pookie, named for a naughty Icelandic sprite) has kidney disease. It causes her to vomit frequently and become anorexic. No matter how many varieties of tasty treats we put in front of her, some days she simply will not eat. The medicine is meant to calm her stomach and stimulate her appetite. We had been doing very well, getting her up to 7.3 pounds, until a recent downward spiral.
Puki doesn’t seem to be suffering – she still chases ribbons, purrs when you scratch behind her ears, watches the birds outside the window with murderous interest, and sleeps all night curled up in the crook of Frink’s arm. But we know that someday this will no longer be true. Someday we will have a hard decision to make. But not today. She’s lost ground this week, but the vet seems confident we can bulk her up again. Which explains why our kitchen looks like a mini-hospital ward.
There are syringes and needles, bottles of sticky orange fluid we're supposed to squirt down her throat, special powders to mix with her food. And then there's the IV-bag with a long, clear hose and very fat needles that we use to pump fluids into her when she gets dehydrated. She sits patiently through this procedure, letting us massage the big Quasimodo hump of fluid that collects in her back until it shifts and flows through her body. But she fights like her wild-cat ancestors when we try to give her oral medicines, whipping her head from side-to-side, clamping her jaw shut, flashing her claws in terror. Which is why we have shifted to the injections. We had to get over our needle phobia, but they're a breeze compared to the oral medicine.
It may seem wasteful to spend so much on a cat in a world where people go hungry. But Puki is family. She came to stay 10 years ago, several months after I had to say goodbye to my 22-year-old Siamese. When I was finally ready to share my life with another cat, I went to the pound. I was looking for a Siamese, not a plain, standard issue tabby with ears as big as a small rabbit's. But every time I went back, searching for my shallow notion of feline perfection, Puki would come up to the door of her tiny cage, stick out a paw, and look me straight in the eyes with a steady gaze. There was something so sweet and so persistent about her that I finally succumbed and brought her home.
I realize now what an effort it must have taken for Puki to ask for a home. She is a very delicate and shy cat. She does not grant her trust lightly, unlike SamIAm, our big, snuffling dog of a cat, who will leap into anyone’s lap and settle in for a long, sighing snooze. Puki takes her time sizing people up, deciding if they meet her high standards. It took a year before she would sit in our laps. Eight years went by before she became an undercover kitty, nustling and nudging her way under the sheets.
Now of course, she throws her small weight around like she runs the joint. And I hope she'll keep bossing us around for a long time to come.