Bear-Bear died on 25th February, 2014. He was about eleven years old, very possibly older. He was my foster-cat; I never adopted him, which I regret now. But he didn’t know the difference, of course. After a while, I didn’t either. But I feel it now. This is his story, accompanied by photographs in no particular order or preference.
He came to me in April of 2013. He was found wandering around an apartment building, and was taken in by a couple who felt sure that he was lost and someone was searching for him. He was such a friendly fellow that he must have been missed. He was neutered, so someone had taken the trouble to see to that. He was healthy and strong, well-fed. Yet no one came forward in response to the couple’s search. Bear-Bear became another lost cat, and was taken in by a local rescue-group. This group’s headquarters suffered a terrible fire, of which I wrote at the time, and, after a while, Bear-Bear and a few other cats were transferred to the care of the Lethbridge PAW Society, the cat-rescue group with which I volunteer.
The BB soon went to live with a couple on a ‘trial-adoption’ for two months. Thereafter, he went overnight to a veterinary hospital for some more or less routine health-work; nothing serious. The couple could not be reached when it was time to collect Bear-Bear. That cat came to stay with me for a day or two. When his prospective people were reached, they stated that they had decided against adopting Bear-Bear, and no satisfactory explanation was ever given as to why. Bear-Bear was homeless again, and his two-day stay with me became longer - permanent, as it turned out.
What was Bear-Bear like? He loved people, first and foremost. He had lived, when first rescued, with several other cats in a temporary facility. He got along with all the cats there. He ignored them, really; people were his interest. He enjoyed talking to them, whether it was me or friends come to visit. “Raa,” he would say, or “rao”, with different inflections, depending upon the meaning. He would greet me at the door when I came home, usually trying to get there first, so that he didn’t have to wait behind the other beasts, and he sometimes would appear on the bed at night, trying to get as close as possible to my face. That would have been more endearing if he hadn’t also been suffering from a cold during many of his attempts.
He played when he first arrived at my house, chasing fuzzy mice I would throw him and trying to catch a toy on a string. He also liked 'Undercover Mouse'. But his health declined soon after, and playing slowed and disappeared. But he remained sociable to the end, ready to discuss things and events, even if his loquacity suffered.
The BB was not upset by much. He was very adaptable and would have done well if adopted into a new home. Novel situations did not faze him, and even a journey to the veterinarian did not worry this cat. He would lie in his carrier and speak to the people in the car with him. He never cried or sang; all his talk was conversational. They sounded like comments: “Look at how blue the sky is this afternoon; isn’t that nice?” or “Is this route different than last time?” and “I never noticed that Burger King before.”
He was patient, dignified. He endured medicine through most of our time together. First, I tried giving him pills. That would not do. Bear-Bear simply would not take them; too degrading, I suspect. So then I was given medicine to rub in his ear. This he took stoically. Later, the drugs were dispensed orally, but in liquid-form, and he acquiesced to this method, though he never liked it. This became worse when he stopped eating, and had to be fed by syringe. He never fought me. He was very helpful - and that was a favour to me but to show his disdain for the process, he would turn his head, or push away the syringe with his paw, but he accepted the food, though he couldn’t have guessed why I was tormenting him so.
Before he became sick, Bear-Bear enjoyed eating. He usually cleaned up his dish. I tried to interest him in good foods, but he preferred the less healthy ones. Eventually, just before he stopped eating, he seemed to like some better choices. In his heyday, he could eat a whole tin of his favourite food. I of course would give him as much as he wanted, as he was a biggish fellow and he was never as weighty as he should have been.
Bear-Bear was a long and lanky beast, tall, with a span from nose to tail’s tip like the spread of a hawk’s wings. He was light on his feet, considering his size, and I compared his gait to that of a deer’s, rather than Josie’s brontosaurus, or Tucker, who reminds me of a manatee with legs. The BB was graceful until a week or so before he died, when he mis-stepped from time to time. His footfalls were quiet, and unlike Renn’s heavy stumping, the first intimation that Bear-Bear was present was often a quite “rao rao”, when he wanted my attention.
But, oh, what an ugly fellow he was. I would tell him that, too. “An ugly brute,” I would call him, though he never took offence. His facial colouring reminded me of a drunken clown, too inebriated to apply his make-up straight, and his pink lips were spotted with black, making it look like the end of his tongue was lolling out. But his eyes were golden and bright, and full of enthusiasm and cheer.
It was discovered that Bear-Bear had anaemia when he went for a dental operation to fight his mild gingivitis. He couldn’t take the anaesthetic, so the gingivitis stayed. It gave him bad breath. Now, I had an ugly, smelly foster-cat. Strangely, it didn’t bother me much. I probably was ugly and smelly to him; he liked me anyway. More worrying was the low number of blood cells in his body. The doctor concluded that it was either a case of his body mistakenly killing off its own blood cells, or cancer.
A long course of Prednisone initially helped raise his cell-count, but that didn’t last. We think now it was cancer. The BB retained his appetite for quite a while, though he continued to lose weight. Then he refused food except at breakfast, so I plied him with as much of whatever he would consume at that early meal. Then, he stopped eating even then. I had to feed him by syringe, something we both detested. His deterioration thereafter was rapid. He grew weak. I came home one day to find that he had pooped on the floor and wet in a cat-bed: he didn’t feel that he could manage the stairs to where the litter-boxes were kept. I moved a box upstairs, and once again, his hygiene was good. He was always conscientious about that. But he ceased grooming himself eventually.
Bear-Bear’s life in his last two weeks was confined to his heated cat-bed, with periodic trips a few feet away to the litter-box. He even stopped drinking water, which had lasted longer than his desire to eat. But he still was able to find me to tell me he wanted to sit on my lap, and at those moments, it was as if he were healthy again, so bright and glad were the sounds he made.
He died a few minutes before six o’clock, 25th February, 2014. I and a friend from the PAW Society took him to the veterinary hospital at five. First, Bear-Bear had a catheter inserted in an artery of his leg, and we spent some time with him before a tranquilizer was administered to knock him out. He was a tough one, even at this stage, because he had to have a second dose: he just wouldn’t go to sleep. When doesn’t a cat want to sleep? There were too many things left for him to do, he probably thought. He wanted on my lap. I stroked his fur, which was still smooth, and talked to him as he, eventually, abandoned consciousness. I wanted me to be the last thing he felt and heard, so that he would know I was still with him.
The lethal dose was then given. The end came very quickly after that, and he was gone. He was very limp, not at all as though he were sleeping, and his pupils had dilated to fill his eyes, making them black. His soul had departed.
I had taken pictures of him the previous weekend, the last photographs of my long-cat. He looked ravaged. I’ll never show those images to anyone. I present to you instead pictures of Bear-Bear in the glow of life. He was, perhaps, already dying, a cancer growing within him. But you wouldn’t know it. He was a happy, cheerful cat, ready each morning for a full day of eating, sleeping and gazing at the wide world. I miss him, and will until I myself die.
I can’t say farewell to Bear-Bear, because he will never leave me. His memory will remain, a little less clear each day, but always present. He is a part of my life, and will stay far more than the ten months which God kindly gave me to know him. He is a fixture in my heart.
As the BB himself would say, “Raa.”