Memories of Meli
How do you describe a small blue-grey cat with large eyes who chose you to be his person; who tunneled into your heart and remained there, regardless? With great difficulty and many tears.
In 1976, I had to put down my 14-year-old Siamese, Aman Ra, who had metastatic bladder cancer. I vowed "never again". But in 1990, I realized how much I missed being greeted with joy every day whenever I returned from work, shopping, or just from a trip to the lobby to retrieve the mail. My work schedule was too erratic for a dog's needs. Another cat was what I wanted.
In the late summer/early fall of 1990 I began my search in earnest, and went to our local shelter almost daily, to find a cat that would be "the one".... one who was unique; perhaps another Siamese or part-Siamese. No kittens... Everyone wants kittens with their cute ways, big eyes, and playfulness. I wanted a cat past that age; one whose personality had already developed, so there would be no surprises. I went one day with my mom, and she pointed out a 10-month-old stray blue-grey cat that she thought was very pretty, but I wasn't sure I wanted that color. I went to the cage and looked at him, talked to him, and told him what a pretty boy he was, and then I began to walk away to look at the other cats.
"Not so fast" he said to me by grabbing my shirt with his claws and pulling on it. It was then that I noticed he had a padlock on his cage, while all the other cats had a slip-lock. I called an attendant to inquire why he was the only cat with a padlocked cage and was told that, within 1/2 hour after arriving and watching the attendants open and close the cage to give him food, water, and toys, he lifted the latch himself and went for a leisurely stroll throughout the room. It was then that I asked to take him into the "get acquainted" room. But, first, I put my name in so that I would be the first on his adoption request file. We played about 20 minutes and I knew this was the one and only cat for me. I could see the Siamese intelligence and scrutiny of everything I did. He was funny, charming, vocal, and demanding. He was definitely not going to be easily occupied on his own... This was truly a fully interactive cat.
I anxiously waited the requisite time before I could bring him home. In the meanwhile, I purchased a "blankie" for him to cuddle into; a covered litter box; quality wet and dry food, and catnip toys. I was at the shelter just before the close of business on the appointed day. I was so worried that his original people would come to claim him. When I arrived to bring him home, they told me he had a very severe upper respiratory infection and asked if I still wanted him. Of course I wanted him. I gave them his name - "Meli"- which is Greek for honey, because he was so sweet. However, he quickly acquired other names... Meli Mou (my Meli), Agapi Mou (my love).
I immediately took him to the vet. My neighbors went with us and were excited because he looked just like their neutered male, "Smoky". They envisioned a playmate for him, because their older cat had recently died.
Meli endured the exam, and I was told his infection was very severe and would require antibiotics for at least 2 weeks. He also had to have a flea bath at home because there was evidence of flea "dirt" on him. I was concerned about the bath because of the infections but home we all went, with the flea shampoo. The bath didn't go over well with him at all. However, he LOVED getting dried with my hair dryer. The meds were another problem. It took the 3 of us to get him medicated twice daily for 2 weeks.
While at work, he stayed cuddled in his blankie on my bed, except to eat and use the litter box. His "aunties" checked on him several times daily; brushed him; talked to him; soothed him. But, one day when his Auntie came to brush him and talk with him, she realized his respiratory infection had worsened. She took him in his blankie into the bathroom, closed the door, got the Vicks, and turned on the shower to the hottest temperature. She sat with him in her arms and rubbed his chest with Vicks until it began to sound less congested. When she was satisfied that his chest was more clear, she turned off the shower, waited until the room cooled down, and took him back to the bedroom and on the bed. She called me at work, and I made a vet appointment. Of course, Auntie came with us. The vet declared the crisis over, thanks to Auntie's ingenuity. To his last day, he still loved a few licks off a menthol cough drop, and having the hair dryer blown on him while being brushed.
Meli recuperated, but with some residual respiratory problems, such as runny nose and sneezing. He soon was introduced to Smoky who wasn't thrilled with this interloper in HIS home, but Meli followed protocol and rolled on the floor in front of him, belly up, to display recognition that SMOKY was in charge here. They played and chased each other daily. Meli would wait at our kitchen door M-F for Auntie to come over to take him at 10:30. He would have lunch with them, play and nap with Smoky, then go to their door to return home about 1 hour before I arrived.
During this time, he was rapidly learning Spanish from his "Aunties", while learning Greek from me. He was tri-lingual in no time. Meli and Smoky were "best buds". Everyone had said that there was no way 2 male cats would bond, even though they were neutered. They were look-alikes. At the end of Smoky's life from diabetes, Meli physically supported him with his body so Smoky could go to his litter box; he waited for him, and supported him back to the living room. Smoky was too sick and weak to play anymore, but Meli understood this and bathed him daily. Just a few days before Smoky crossed The Rainbow Bridge, he gave Meli one last chase through his apartment, then went back to sleep on his rug. Meli was so happy. Right after Smoky "went away", Auntie took Meli to their home and he walked around crying, taking in Smoky's scent in the house and lay down on his toys and cried. When he came back home, he ate virtually nothing for almost 3 days. He was very depressed. Until Meli's death, if I asked him if he remembered when Smoky went away, his ears would perk up and he would rub his face into my hand.
Meli had obviously been in a home with a dog, because he had dog-like behavior: running to the door with his tail at attention when the bell rang; immediately sniffing the shoes of the visitor; then going into the living room, falling down belly up so his tummy could be scratched. He understood come, sit, stay, give me your nose so I can clean it; go to the kitchen (bedroom, office, bathroom, do you want: feta cheese, peanut butter (creamy), steak, bacon? If he didn't want it, he didn't come. When he recovered from his initial illness, he would run back and forth the length of our long corridor, sounding like a horse galloping. If he spotted an open door, he would run in, and belly up on some total stranger's rug. No fears. He loved the humidifier in the winter and would sit in front of it letting the moisture hit his face. He also loved the heat from the late afternoon sun. He couldn't be brushed enough. He quickly learned (in English and Greek) "Give me your cheek, other cheek, head, neck, kolaki (tushy).
Meli began to display his Siamese genes as soon as his health improved. He had his catnip toys, but his favorite toy kept in a drawer, was an elastic box wrap I had doubled and tied it into several hard knots. Then I would throw it and he would get it and run back to me with it in his mouth, so I could throw it again. His other toys were soft squishy balls and I stupidly assumed he would chase them all over the apartment until he was tired. WRONG!! He jumped on the bed with it in his mouth and dropped it for me to throw again. I would ask him to bring me his squishy ball and he would appear with it in his mouth. Sometimes he just showed up with the ball ready for me to throw it until my arm was sore. Then a ball would disappear for days only to reappear in the middle of my bed as a subtle hint.
He sat on the entry hall table and howl at the ceiling at midnight. I was afraid I'd get a call from the concierge desk. He rearranged EVERY painting on the walls. Vertical became horizontal and vice versa. He would jump from the wing chair to the top of the stereo to the top of the 7 foot high china cabinet. He would lay up there with his head and paws hanging over -- sort of like a vulture's pose. When he was ready to come down, he ran partially down the glass (it was full of paw prints) then slide the rest of the way to the floor.
At the time he was neutered, I also had his front nails declawed, not knowing at the time that it was an amputation. I would never do that again. When he came home after his surgery, he promptly dug into one of his favorite foods. By this time, despite the surgery, he had already jumped several times from floor to kitchen counter and back. As he was filling his belly, the Aunties came over to check on their adopted bebe. As soon as he heard their voices, the food dropped out of his mouth and he rolled over to show them his paws and nether end. What a ham he was. He really knew how to suck up for sympathy. They gave him treats and hugged and kissed him and held him. He ate it up.
After he was fully healed, and knew he was firmly ensconced in my heart and home, the true Meli appeared. The first time was when I came home from work (I always came and went from the kitchen entry) and found every upper and lower kitchen cabinet open as well as the lower drawers. I didn't know what to think. I walked into the living room and saw the entry hall closet sliding doors open; then the linen closet in the bedroom hall; all 6 of the bi-fold doors in the bedroom, and then the bathroom vanity door and drawer. I thought someone had broken in. No.... it was just his curiosity - the master sleuth, exercising his right to see what was where. He watched me open and close my nightstand drawer. He stood on his hind legs, grabbed the drawer pull, and moved his other paw along the side of the table from back to front... Obviously demonstrating he knew the direction it moved. Of course, this didn't work, and the drawer was very heavy. However, he was able to get his paws into the drawer pulls on the small lower drawers of my dresser, and curl up on the socks inside to sleep. He kept trying the double drawer one level up, to no avail. Then, one evening while reading in bed, he strutted into the room, tapped one drawer pull until he could get his paw into it, did the same with the other one, stood up on his hind legs, leaned backward, and pulled that huge heavy drawer open enough for him to jump into. When he had proved himself, he left the room with a flip of his tail.
Meli chattered through his throat... "eh eh eh eh eh" - Another Siamese trait. By this time, my baby was up to about 10 pounds... he liked his food. He was definitely going to be a big boy when he reached full maturity. He was 15 inches high; 36 inches long from the tip of his nose to the end of his tail, and topped out at 15.9 pounds. There was no doubt he was all macho male.
I soon realized Meli really needed a playmate. Even though he still visited his Aunties every day, he seemed depressed when he came home because his Smoky was no longer there. He slept on Smoky's toys, and in the sunlight... but it just wasn't the same. Meli had a shrink, because of a severe biting problem. I was on call 24/7, by phone, because of my work. Often, a call would come shortly after I arrived home when I was relaxing on the bed with Meli resting on my stomach and enjoying being brushed. As soon as I began talking, he would bite my hand then go for my arm, shoulder, anything exposed. Diagnosis and treatment - 1/2 hour of undivided attention when I got home from work. It seemed to do the job. But there were other things that set him off, such as my raising my voice to him in a strong "NO". I made the decision to find a companion for him.
On the advice of his therapist, we decided on a cat 2-3 years' younger, so his dominance would not be tested. I tried 2-3 cat organizations and newspaper adoption ads. None worked and back they went. Then, a cat foundation sent me a photo of a 2-year-old spayed snow white female. She had a very traumatic background - her 1st owner had almost completely torn off an ear, to teach her not to scratch his speakers; then she was in a foster home for love, treatment, and healing. A young couple adopted her and kept the name her foster mom gave her - Nyssa, because they didn't want to cause her more trauma. She stayed with them for 1 year but because they went camping almost every weekend with their dog, she was alone too much. Also, I later found out the husband didn't like her problem with vomiting, which came from eating too fast, and nervousness. They brought Nyssa to us on June 30, 1996, put her carrying case on the floor and opened the door.
Thump, thump, thump went Meli's heart. He was in love instantly, and she was beautiful. He tried to go to her in the cage, but she would have none of that and she was scared to death.
I told him to let her come out on her own to explore and to leave her alone. They looked at me like I was crazy, but he understood exactly what I said. It was killing him, but he sat there and watched her explore. They left and now the 3 of us were alone. I had already set up a litter box in another room for Meli and a new one in the bedroom closet for Nyssa, along with food and water. She remained in the closet or under the bed for 3 days. I didn't see any food disappear or any use of the litter box. She was just terrified. When I went to work Monday morning, I closed the bedroom door and left Meli with the run of the rest of the apartment. I knew they would begin sniffing one another under the door. When I came home and opened the bedroom door, she promptly ran out and jumped onto the dining room table. There she stayed for at least 1 hour, with him watching from the floor. He had already been told several times "Leave her alone.... when she is ready, you will know". The next morning, she was locked in the bedroom again until I came home. This time, she explored the entire apartment, with Meli right behind her. However, each time he approached her, she spit at him and administered a hard swat with her paw.
Nyssa became more comfortable and slowly began to accept Meli as a playmate and couldn't help being impressed with how handsome he was. By this time, his eye color had turned to green. Besides, he was 4 years' older so he couldn't bother her too much. What a poor judge of character she was. Despite being neutered, he knew a female when he saw one, and this one was a babe. Because he wasn't neutered until he was 1 year old, and had been a stray for ???, he'd obviously had a taste of heaven during his time on the streets. He chased her night and day for sex, and knew exactly what he was doing... Even though it WAS in the middle of her back. Usually she fought him off with all the sounds of a catfight involving 10 cats... Except it was all from Nyssa. Meli was the strong silent type. Once in a while, she would let him have his way, then clean herself for a good 1/2 hour afterwards. He, in proper fashion, collapsed next to her in a deep sleep, complete with snoring. The indignities she endured... But she truly loved Meli and would frequently kiss his face and immediately regret it, because he clearly had mis-read the signals.
Meli LOVED when I yodeled, and that's how I frequently called him. His favorite song was "The Lonely Goatherd" from Sound of Music. Nyssa ran in the other direction.
They both loved the Christmas tree but Meli got excited when I began to open the boxes with the ornaments. He loved to sleep under the tree because of the heat from the lights, and always next to the Manger. He knew not to touch the tinsel. However, one day Baby Jesus was missing and there he was, on Meli's blankie, soaking wet from a good bath. He made me laugh because he was so fussy. He would bathe Nyssa but stop at her nether end, which she intentionally kept a little dirty.. She was no dummy - She had quickly learned his intentions when bathing her.
In September 2004, Meli's weight was 15.9; at his ultrasound 10-07-2005, it was 14.7; 07-07-2006, it was 11.8. He was not in pain; he appeared happy; his interest in Nyssa was gone. He seemed to be concentrating on the energy he needed to die. He used the litter box about 60 times in 24 hours. Sometimes, he cried a little because he was straining. His appetite had not faltered but he was not gaining weight: he had become cachectic; in other words, the cancer was taking the nutrients from him to feed itself. He was still meticulous about grooming himself, and he still wanted to be next to me at night, even though he went to and from the litter box. I had "accident" pads on all the places he slept or napped. If he was sleeping soundly, he wet the pad. He had a few accidents outside the box and cried pitifully to let me know so I could clean it immediately. By July 12, he was using the litter box but nothing happened. Still, I praised him for being a good boy and going to the box. He was eating less and sleeping more... another sign his body was shutting down.
I believed he was about ready to cross the Rainbow Bridge. Even though he was curled next to me getting brushed and was happy to be with me, he no longer groomed himself, which was a 4 times daily ritual, so I cleaned him with baby wipes. I knew the time was near. He was 17 1/2, which in human years is about 84. All I could do now was watch him, love him, clean up after him quickly to avoid his embarrassment, and wait for him to let me know he was ready to say goodbye. I knew I'd never be ready, but it was out of my hands.
On July 13, I found a very good home-care vet. He has a full surgically equipped mobile medical van for cats and dogs. He does exams, gives vaccinations, teeth cleaning, and surgery in the van. It makes the animal more comfortable. The most comforting thing was that he performed at home euthanasia, where the animal is in its own territory and most comfortable. He came here because I wanted him to meet Meli first and for Meli to meet him. Meli let him brush him and hold him. I got Meli on my lap to brush his tummy so the vet could feel his bladder. I also felt it. It was full and hard. I knew this meant Meli didn't have much time left. His abdomen was also full of a hard mass. His guess was that Meli would not last through the following week. I thought it would be sooner and that Meli was only holding on for me, even though I kept telling him it was okay; I'd miss him like crazy, but I'd be all right.
Over that weekend, Meli was swaying when he walked because of weakness. He had taken to staying in a corner of my walk-in closet and come out occasionally to cuddle with me for an hour or so then return to his sanctuary. Nyssa knew something was wrong and kept looking at him in my closet. He had lost the ability to swallow and couldn't even take water from my finger. I called the vet on July 16 and we made the appointment for July 17, at 11am. He told me to have everyone there who knew and loved Meli. I kept it to me, his Aunties, and my oldest friend from work who had several pets. I placed Meli at an angle in the center of our bed and the 4 of us gathered around him -- brushing him, talking softly to him, praising him, and I just stroked that silky fur and cried. I had eradicated my worst fears of taking Meli in his carrying case into the sterile environment of the vet's office. This way, we were with him in his territory, helping him cross the Rainbow Bridge. The vet said a prayer for aid in making the transition swift and painless.
Even though his eyes were open and he was becoming comatose, Meli was first given a very mild sedative which had him sound asleep in less than 1 minute. Once the Dr. was assured he was deeply asleep, they placed him on a very large thick towel, and he administered the lethal injection in a tiny vein at the bottom of his leg. His heart stopped in about 4 seconds; there was no pulse; his pupils were fixed and dilated, and we could feel his body temperature falling. He had crossed over. We said a prayer for his journey. He never felt anything: no fear, no pain. Meli went when he was ready and on his terms.
The vet's assistant lifted him in her arms cradled in the towel, and we all kissed him goodbye. She carried him down the hall as though she was carrying and infant in a blanket. He was taken to the pet crematorium. When I received his ashes a few days later, I took the packet out and showed it to Nyssa -- she had continued looking for Meli in my closet, even though she was under the bed when his passing took place, and she heard us crying. I told her this was Meli. She sniffed the bag; licked it, and ran her head all over it. She still goes into his closet several times weekly, and comes out screaming... she's calling him.
When it's Nyssa's time, I will do the same. When it's my time, your ashes and Nyssa's will be placed with mine and we will be together for eternity -- The Three Musketeers.
Sweet dreams Meli Mou. When you were created, they threw away the mold. We know you are watching over us.
Your Mama, Eleni and the Love of Your Life, Nyssoula
Nyssa still goes into our walk-in closet, where you stayed your last few days because you were weak and embarrassed by your "accidents" which you could not control... It was your kidneys failing, and the cancer that had returned. That is why I covered all the furniture, our bedsheets on top and under, with pads so you would not be embarrassed. This was your home, and the bed you slept in from the day you came home with me. I had a nice wicker kitty bed for you, but you had your own ideas about which bed was proper. And there you slept, every night, with your head on the pillow; covers up to your neck, and one foreleg on the pillow next to your head, like your "just 5 minutes more" photo. My sweet fur baby, Nyssa was screaming for you a short while ago... she was looking for you - Again. So, despite all your fights, she really did love you then, and still loves you now. Can you believe that cute little girl who always wiggled her bottom when she walked, will be 18 years old in December? And she looks just like she did when she first came to live with us, and you fell in love. Yes, her bottom STILL wiggles when she walks. I knew you were wondering.
Have no fears Meli, you were and still are my life and my love. I love Nyssa very much, but I loved you first, and my love for you and for Nyssa are different. You were secure and afraid of nothing. Nyssa had a terrible start to her life and is afraid she will be hurt again. ... I love you very much, and send you many kisses.
Your Mama, Eleni and the Love of Your Life, Nyssoula.
© July 17, 2011
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