How can a life that consisted almost entirely of sleeping have such an effect on another life? For seven and a half years, an orange and white cat was a big part of my existence, which is ironic because she was actually a tiny animal. This is a long article, reflecting not Tungsten’s size, but her contribution to my world.
Tungsten came into my life in mid-August of 2007, when she was already about seven years old. Tungsten was my first cat. As such, she taught me a great deal about the species; not that she consciously did so. She assumed that I would come fully knowledgeable, and if not, that was my problem, not hers.
I decided to get a cat for company. Several of my friends and acquaintances had cats, and I thought that I could open my home to one. Truth be told, I preferred dogs at the time. But I lived alone, in an apartment, and couldn’t see keeping a dog inside all the time while I was at work. A cat took care of its own immediate hygiene needs. And it was smaller, and so would fit into an apartment better. Even so, I waited until I moved into a larger apartment before getting one.
The cat I chose was Tungsten. That was her name before I even met her. It wasn’t the name by which she was known at the time, but Tungsten was what I wanted to call a pet, if I ever got one, so when I adopted my first, she became Tungsten. Though I don’t choose cats based on their appearance, I was attracted to her picture because of her lady-like posture, and the white fur at her throat, which resembled a bunch of lace. And there was something about her that connected with me the moment I met her. After the initial visit, I told a friend, “She goes to the top of the list.” Following a week’s further thought on the matter, there was no list.
Tungsten was excited when she came to my place but this gave way to a kind of depression. I’ve seen this process in several cats over the years, when they see that they will not be going back to their familiar world. But their mood usually changes soon. Tungsten quickly realised that she was the only cat in her new home, with plenty of space, no competition for the food bowl, and the undivided attention of a human, even if that human was yet a stranger. She slept on my bed that night.
It didn’t take long for Tungsten’s personality to emerge. She was a tiny cat but when she wanted to be heard, her cries could echo in a person’s head. She would let me know when she wanted something. She could be relentless in asking, too. For years, after dinner, she would hound me (can a cat ‘hound’?), while I was making my post-prandial cup of tea, to hurry, so I would sit down and provide a lap for her.
At night, she would lie in the crook of my knees, though later, after neck troubles forced me to sleep on my side, she would join me at chest-level. I would hold my hand so that she could put her rear legs in it, then curl around and rest her head on my thumb. She was that little. Sometimes, I would vary my position and lie on my stomach for a period. This did not suit the orange one, who would whine until I turned over and provided my hand for her to lie in. In the last few months, she had taken to reinforcing her desires by climbing onto my nightstand and knocking things off if she wasn’t getting her way.
A quick learner, she could understand many words and phrases, though ‘no’ did not seem to be among them. I would hold her and we’d look out the window together. “What do you see?” came to mean ‘look out the window’ to all the cats; “all done” means ‘no more’ or ‘finished’.
She drank water from a running tap. I know she also drank it from a bowl, but until her later days, she would rather have died than let me see it, and thus learn that I needn’t have hastened to turn on a tap whenever she was thirsty. As for food… Well, she was a messy eater. She had three teeth extracted very early on in our acquaintance, and I think this kept her from grabbing bits from her bowl properly. I used to tell her that she could make a mess without actually eating anything.
Then came the day when I brought home another cat. I thought Tungsten was lonely while I was at work. She may have been, but not for feline company. Josie and Tungsten got along like a house on fire. You know, the kind with women and children screaming at windows and men leaping from upper floors. They fought. Blood was drawn. Tungsten grew depressed, and I thought I’d ruined everything. I had little idea of how to integrate cats then, but those two helped show me what to do, and what not to do. Josie is at heart a pacifist, and she acquiesced to the imposition of Tungsten’s top-catness. So order was restored.
Tungsten never really reconciled herself to the loss of only-cat status. Though she remained top-cat all her life, she would have preferred to be alone with me. I know that. But the desire to help other cats was too strong, and Tungsten paid for that. It is a regret I have. The tiny terror, however, showed each new arrival what was what. The only real trouble she had was with a foster-cat named Wixie, who wanted to be top-cat. There was fighting, even between Wixie and Josie, and Tungsten realised that Wixie, who was shaped like my later cat Tucker, and just as heavy, had the advantage, and would prevail sooner or later. Fortunately, Wixie, and her friend, Mystery, were adopted, and order was restored yet again.
For a minuscule creature, Tungsten was tiger-hearted. Her best feline friend was Renn, twice her size and more than thrice her weight. They would groom each other, and lie beside one another on the couch. But Renn has a nose as big as his top-cat’s rear leg, and likes to use it. He would sniff Tungsten to excess, and when the orange one had had enough, she would whap my big boy several times across the head. Everyone obeyed Tungsten.
She really did have little fear, only a visit to the veterinarian causing her anxiety. She stood up to cats three times her size, was untroubled by thunder and hail, and thought a vacuum cleaner was a fur-grooming accessory. Her soul was dauntless.
Tungsten used to play; this involved the usual fuzzy mice, string toys, etc. But it wasn’t a big part of her life. It’s not as if she ever needed to lose weight. Even when she played infrequently, she stayed active. She sometimes shot up from the basement and rocketed across the house, to the astonishment of her adopted siblings. When we lived in the old apartment, she would zoom through the nylon tunnel as I walked beside it. She could leap straight up five feet and had the unnerving habit of jumping onto my shoulders. You’ve not been startled until you’ve turned your head and seen a cat in mid-flight coming right at you. The orange one had an imagination, too. I once witnessed her launch herself from my bed, arrange herself in the air as if about to land on prey - feet splayed, claws out - only to land on nothing but carpet and walk away. I learned then that cats can pretend.
Then there was our game. Tungsten and some of the other cats met me at the door when I returned from work. But unlike the others, she accompanied me to the bedroom while I changed clothes. She would get on the bed and wait for me to spread my arms and cry “Tungsten!” upon which she would flop over on her side. This was a relic of her younger days when I would flip her. I still rolled her over as she aged, but it became more of a gentle turn. Sometimes, she would tip herself over. Then, I would rub her fuzzy face, and her sides, the latter quite hard - but she enjoyed it. This would be repeated several times, after which I would carry her to the bathroom for a drink of water. She purred strongly after our game.
But my friend was more content to relax on a lap or a heated cat-bed. This became the norm when she started suffering from hyperthyroidism. I noticed that she had developed a ravenous appetite, so I took her to the doctor. She was prescribed a medicine that could be rubbed into her ear twice a day. This was in early 2013, and so the medicine allowed her to fend off the effects of hyperthyroidism for two years. She became less active from that point, but was certainly not very unhealthy.
About thirteen or fourteen months after this, Tungsten developed kidney disease, and eventually ended up in stage two kidney failure. We fought this at first with extra water syringed into her via the mouth three or four times a days, and then with subcutaneous fluids. She took all this with fortitude. Then, in the last few months, she started losing weight. We fought that with syringe-feeding.
But Tungsten was wearing out, and the end came rapidly. In the last week, her breathing started to sound like an old engine that was failing. She slept in awkward positions, as if she couldn’t find comfort, even in her beloved heated cat-bed. I took her to the hospital on a Sunday, and she was found to be severely dehydrated. She remained there for two nights, on intravenous fluid. It took that long to refill her. When she came home on Tuesday, she was no better. She started pushing away the syringes that brought her food and water, which she had not done previously. She didn’t want to eat and, though she seemed to want to drink, she wouldn’t take water when it was presented to her. She would not drink from a tap anymore, nor from a bowl, and began resisting the syringe.
I think she had developed cancer, the kind that cats seem to acquire these days. It struck hard and fast. The effects her last illness caused were not those of kidney failure or hyperthyroidism.
Whatever the cause, she had come to her finish. She would sit, then stand, then sit again. There was somewhere she had to go, but when she wobbled out of her bed, she didn’t know in which direction she should walk. She was weak and had trouble with mobility, anyway. Tungsten remained herself even so. I brought a litter-box up from downstairs and placed it not far from her bed, for her ease. She could not always climb into it, and avoided the steps I had made for her from old telephone books. But she was a lady, and tried her best to keep hygienic. But she had had enough.
Had she allowed me to feed and water her, the dehydration she had suffered had demonstrated that, even using subcutaneous fluids, I couldn’t have put enough water into her to keep her going. And she had lost half a pound in a couple of months. There was no way I could have fed her enough to keep her weight steady, never mind regain what she had lost. I promised her that I would let her go. I called the animal hospital Wednesday and made arrangements for the next morning.
But Tungsten demonstrated that even at her worst, she could do…her worst. As she had been doing for some time before, when she could still drink, she woke me at five o’clock, on her last day. Despite her enfeebled body, she had managed to get up to the basin in the bathroom, and was asking for water. Thank you, my love; I didn’t need that extra half-hour of sleep, anyway. But she wouldn’t drink when I ran the tap. I gave her some water by syringe, just to wet her mouth and throat, but I knew then that I had made the right decision.
The animal hospital has a little room set aside for terrible events like this. It has an exterior door that leads to a bit of garden with a tree and and a bench. The garden has access to the front of the building, so one can leave without going through the hospital’s waiting room. The exterior door is glass, so I held my friend and we looked out together for a while, as we used to do.
Then, it was time. It was very quick. Tungsten was ready, I think. She lie down, already tired, and she was gone.
All done, Tungsten. All done.
I would like to thank Ann of Zoolatry, who made the wonderful graphic tribute to Tungsten’s memory, on my sidebar. She made one of my friend Bear-Bear last year. I’d like to thank Kim of Fuzzy Tales for asking Ann to create the memorial. And I am grateful for all the sympathy expressed at my loss. It will take a while to thank each person individually, but I intend to.
As if you haven’t seen enough of the tiny terror over the years here, I have included many pictures that I had taken of her. The one immediately below is the final time she was on my lap: ‘her last lap’. And below that, is the last picture I took of her. She looks quite well in it, I think. The image is illusory.
The ultimate photograph is my favourite of her. It was the one chosen for her month in the 2014 PAW Society calendar. She is smiling in it, as you can see, happy, optimistic, trusting. That was my friend, Tungsten.