Saturday, May 16, 2015

Souchie (1994 – 2015)

   Unfortunately yet another obituary: raising some catnip for a passage over the Rainbow Bridge, as I had to say goodbye to Souchie early this week. It certainly had been a long, long time together, which doesn’t necessarily make it a damn bit easier. Twenty-one years of adventures together, migrating from one side of the continent to the other (much like Bird-Dog, and even little Pippen too), around Alaska, with spells in Montana, Maine and more. He will be deeply missed about the cabin, and leaves a pretty big space in our life. Been a bit of a bummer year in losing both people and pets, but this one in particular will leave a big ol’ hole.
   More mullings over the fold...

   Spent the last couple months agonizing the second-guessing of making the decision to put him down: when and why, too early or too late… figure you wind up dealing with feeling guilty either way. But when he broke my heart by managing to get up on the couch with me late one night - something he hadn’t been physically able to do for quite some time – it tore me up but also set something free inside. Looking at me with those deep, luminous orbs, either saying please don’t put me down yet… or was it please have the strength to let me go.
   Now he was telling me it was time.

   Souchie had been spending over ninety-five percent of his time simply sleeping, no more playing or purring, and was increasingly arthritic – to point of being pretty wobbly on his paws. Also he was down to a third of his body weight, just over 5lbs, and attempts at administering subcutaneous fluids was an utter disaster. Compounding this was the appearance of mysterious pools of clear, odorless liquid around the cabin: this was further evidence of organ failure, complete shutdown of the kidneys.

“We who travel in Time are dreamers who occasionally share a common experience.” –  Elric of Melniboné

   I balanced two opinions from a couple different veterinarians. The animal hospital had run a wellness checkup with requisite bloodwork, and ascertained he was indeed in terminal stage kidney failure, compounded with some oral issues (including an abscess), the extent of which were difficult to fully gauge, as due to his advanced age anesthesia wasn’t an option. Neither were massive costs for what might ultimately prove to be inconsequential maneuvering, staving off the inevitable… and prolonging the agony. Pain medications and antibiotics offered a blissful but temporary reprieve, and I am glad that his last few weeks were relatively comfortable.

“So I'm packing my bags for the Misty Mountains… Where the spirits go now” (Page/Plant/Jones)

   Some time later, a second vet weighed in with some bluntly honest advice, namely asking me the question “what are you doing?” and pointing up something that hadn’t dawned on me: the objective perspective that is lost when illness becomes “normal.” Like the boiling frog syndrome, you never notice when events begin to evolve slowly into something else where sanity is really quite debatable.

   So I scheduled euthanasia with yet a third doctor, my normal vet who had given Souchie his very first shots as a kitten. Probably one of the toughest gigs, as folks who tend to care an inordinate amount about their pets are also the very ones who will utilize the services of a mobile veterinarian so as to spare the stresses of travel and a clinic environment. That said, getting to watch a grown man cry with his kitty in his arms as the tranquilizer takes effect has to be a depressing way to start a workday at 8am. Veterinarians everywhere certainly earn respect at a challenging job that entails such a full range of highs and lows.

   Background score: have had this song looping most of the day... a wonderful rendition of "Don't Ever Leave" from 2010's "Jasmine" by Keith Jarrett & Charlie Haden...

   Even though the tundra was still a bit frozen, I managed over the course of a week to dig a deep enough grave in the back woods beneath a towering spruce under a thick bed of moss. Hauled a granite tombstone from fifty miles away at a quarry on the banks of the North Fork of the Chena river: fitting, as my own mother’s ashes are scattered not far away. Fresh boughs and rushes made for a bier, with the requisite scattering of afterlife treats, a couple toys, and catnip. The neighbors gave eulogy: a mated pair of Gray Jays and also two ravens who have once again set up residence, along with the omnipresent cacophony from our family of Red squirrels. And at the last, the aching, bittersweet song of a Hermit thrush came trickling through the deep boreal forest.

Boy did cats ever look stupid in the 90's

   When I adopted him from the local animal shelter, I had to fight off a mob of proverbial cat ladies for him, as he was part of a litter of kittens that contained one precious little snowflake of a classic Seal-point Siamese. The rest of the bunch was of mixed patterning, and days before I had bonded with the one soft gray guy, who let me know exactly where he wanted to go and with whom. As in reaching through the bars and grabbing to say in no uncertain terms “HEY! RIGHT HERE!” Problem was, so many folks showed up for the white one, that they had to do lottery-style drawing, and thus everybody that lost then immediately wanted MINE instead. Mine, mine, mine. They put up a big fuss about having another drawing, but as I had been the only one to show up specifically for Souchie, there was no question about who he was going home with. Mine.

Sneakers + Souchie

   That was back in 1994, the same month of my mother’s death, and Souchie was co-parented – maybe more of a big brother - by the legendary Sneakers, who promptly took him under his paw and certainly did his part bringing him up right. We even both got “fixed” at the same time (different doctors though), as I always maintained that I wouldn’t ever do anything to one of my animals that I wouldn’t subject myself to as well.
   He never really connected with the other cats that came and went: tolerant but touchy about getting punked around by a boisterous Atticus. He’d always been a bit aloof about Pippen and the Bird-Dog, and pretty much a one-person cat when it came to company… well-adjusted and socialized, but he just didn’t really give much of a shit.
   So, yeah, in other words: a cat.

   He was quite the hunter: before my having a shift in awareness about the impact of domestic cat predation upon wild bird populations and switching to indoor cathood, he spent a lot of time outdoors, roaming the grounds and patrolling his turf. Frequent love-offerings of vole-heads and squirrel-tails aside, his most memorable trophy was somehow managing to haul a hare almost as big as himself through the cat door one morning. That and the time he poofed up at a meandering moose, growling and hissing while separated by a mere six inches (to be honest that’s including the windowpane). Not the first time he would inspire a panel.
   True to his lineage, Souchie was the most vocal cat I ever heard, let alone had, and developed quite the range of peculiar vocalizations, including the incessant caterwauling of his elder years. He was named after my favorite tea at the time: Lapsang Souchong, as it evoked a similar strong and smoky impression.
   Probably not too much of an exaggeration to say how long ago he saved my life: in a very dark time and place, laying down upon my chest to methodically clean my face of tears. I’ll never forget that gentle reminder how it’s often the little things that make us able to keep on going. I always owed him for that, and so many more moments.

Snugglebutts: Souchie + Pippen

   Besides the heart & mind, Souchie had his certain spots about the cabin: a cozy cat bed right underneath the drawing table in the studio (conveniently right in front of the heater vent) so we could always see each other when I was at work. For years he’s had his own special sleeping spot when we shared a couch, with his own special position: front paws and upper body half draped over my one arm, awaiting the embrace of the other across the top, so as to rest his head in the crook of my elbow.
   Never had a cat cuddle up in quite such a way, ever.

Makes for quite an empty space. Peace... my long-loved, long-lived fuzzy little friend.


  1. Rest in peace, Souchie. Best thoughts to you, Jamie.

  2. Very, very sorry to hear this. Such a beloved cat. You gave Souchie a wonderful life. My condolences.