It’s hard to believe that there was a time when Parker didn’t live with me, yet he came to stay only two years ago.
It was in January of 2017 that the orange-boy arrived. His diabetes was not stabilising in his foster-home and, as I already had a cat with diabetes (Tucker), I was asked if I could take on one more, and manage his condition. I agreed.
Right away, Parker showed that he was a friendly fellow. If he was distressed or even confused by his change of residence, he did not show it. He was ready to make friends with his new human. Toward his feline roommates, he maintained an aloofness that never really went away. He tolerated the other cats, especially if they tolerated him, and was prepared to live and let live.
This attitude was not returned by everycat in the apartment. Tucker, for one, took exception to his presence. There were confrontations, warnings and, on one occasion, a brawl - a real cat-fight that drew blood, though it was a torn claw rather than a bite or deep scratch. Parker’s relationship with the roly poly one improved after Raleigh was introduced to the household. A new cat both Parker and Tucker could look down upon worked wonders, and accomplished what no amount of admonition from me could have. This was a lesson to me.
Another lesson my sturdy-boy taught me was how to inject insulin by syringe. His insulin delivery was different than Tucker’s, who received his by a ‘pen’. Parker’s was drawn from a vial, after which I had to poke him with a long needle in order to give the required medicine. I had never done this before, and my first efforts were clumsy and wasteful, not to mention stressful to my new guest. But I learned how to do it and, except for a handful of instances when he felt the puncture, Parker seemed satisfied with my new knowledge.
His teeth were in bad shape, so he had to have several of them - nine, to be exact - removed. That was when I learned that we had become friends. I met him at the veterinary hospital after his surgery. He was brought out in his carrier, and kept his back to its door. I spoke to him, however, and when he heard my voice, he turned around and rubbed his face against my fingers on the bars. There was no going back from such a development.
In his early days with me, Parker was a very active fellow. He enjoyed knocking about the ubiquitous fuzzy mice, and jumping on the track-ball (which only foster-cats in my care seemed to find entertaining.) There were numerous times when I would be sitting at the dining table or standing in the kitchen and be startled by a sudden rush and crash as Puck would launch himself at the track-ball and skid with it across the floor. He also liked to sleep on the track-ball; half the time it served as his pillow.
When he was still, he liked a hard floor, or box. He never cared for the cat-beds. He tried them a couple of times, but they never caught his fancy. He wasn’t a lap-cat, though, when he first arrived, he would sit beside me on a couch and lean. He was a good leaner, leaning against the base of cat-trees, against chairs, against me. It was his style. I think he favoured the look of nonchalance it gave him.
He liked to climb, to see what was on top of things. More than a few times, I would find him on a kitchen counter, having leaped up there in a single, noiseless bound. He took to relaxing there, stretching out and snoozing. He did it so frequently, and appeared so at ease, that I was loathe to move him. So I didn’t. Sometimes, he ventured even farther up, though he often would, once there, cry for help in getting back down.
Rarely, he had fun with the nylon tunnel. He would wrestle with one end of it, then zoom through it, perhaps stopping at the far end to wrestle some more with his imaginary opponent. Parker had a good imagination.
What I will remember most about the energetic side of my orange friend is his walks. I wanted to give my cats a bit more stimuli, and thought to take them outside on a leash and harness. Only Parker found the experience appealing. He found it so appealing that he wanted to go out all the time. Eventually, he learned that it was usually a weekend adventure; he knew that whenever I was home all day, he could sit at the door, paw at it, cry, and eventually, I would probably take him out.
We went out in warm weather and cold, though sometimes it was too cold for walks. Other times, it was too wet, or windy. In the wind, Parker wouldn’t walk. I imagine he felt that he had no need to; the smells that were so much a part of being outside would come to him, rather than him having to seek them out. We even sallied forth in the snow, where Puck, smart outside adventurer that he was, would walk in my footprints, where the snow was already dinted.
So much did he want to be outside that he took to pulling down my jacket when he wanted to go for a walk. Sometimes cats are too smart for us.
Outside was where he met his admirers, of whom he had many. He enjoyed meeting people, and would walk over to them so that they could see his mancatly handsomeness up close. Neighbours and strangers paused to pet Parker and talk to him. When I would see the same people on my own, they would inquire after my orange friend. He was very popular.
I noticed an odd element to his walks. The white fur on his paws would turn a dingy grey. It was not dirt. It would not wash off, and did not affect the orange fur. Someone suggested that it may have been extra blood, running to the feet when they were especially active. That seemed a likely explanation, and I have quoted it thereafter.
He went to the pet-supply shop where the rescue-group to which I belong, the Lethbridge PAW Society, displays cats ready for adoption. He was very well behaved there, and many became fond of him. Considering the future, it was, perhaps, as well that no one wished to adopt him then.
I even took him to a local school, as part of a programme for teaching children about animals. Unfortunately, the new environment and the many children seemed to unnerve him, and he wasn’t on his best behaviour.
This attitude, in October, 2018, was the first indication of things to come. At the end of the year, Parker’s appetite, always good, began to diminish. At the beginning of February, I took him to the doctor. It was there that I learned that Parker had cancer.
I saw an x-ray of it. It was huge, even then. Puck was given just weeks to live. I was determined to give him a good few weeks, and to keep him comfortable for as long as I could. Astonishingly, his appetite remained hearty throughout his illness, and even increased. I knew that eating, and eating well, brought him pleasure, and I believed the nutrition helped his body postpone its ultimate defeat. I also continued to take him out for walks. These raised his morale, but I longed for spring, when he could enjoy the outside to its fullest. I didn’t think he would survive to the warm weather. But he did.
I watched his body distend as the tumour increased in size and push his internal organs outward. He became thin, his spine sharp along the ridge of his back. His weight-loss was disguised, however, as his tumour’s growth imitated a more or less healthy rotundity. He grew lethargic, except for his desire to go outside. Once in the fresh air of spring, he would gain strength, and we walked surprising distances, almost to his last week.
Most nights, he would throw up, sometimes during the day, too. Initially, it was a violent explosion, with a great deal of liquid. This later became firmer, less ferocious, and rarer. I could pretend that that meant Parker was improving, but I knew this was not the case.
The amount of food he ate - sometimes two thirds of a 5.5 ounce tin at one meal - and his walks kept his morale up, and this assisted his war against the tumour. But he could not win it. Three times I noticed him diminish and thought in each instance that his moment was near; three times he beat back the assault. But not the fourth time.
Saturday, June 1, 2019, was Parker’s last good day. It was what I had come to call a splendid day. My orange-boy ate exceedingly well at breakfast, and we had a purr-filled petting session afterward He spent much of the morning and afternoon snoozing, but we went outside as well, though he didn’t walk much; he had become quite weak. The following day was very different.
Parker was restless. He ate decently but not as much as I would have liked. I was worried about him by the afternoon, but he was able to snooze and seemed to calm himself. In the evening, we went outside. He liked to be on the grass but, because he tended to eat it (causing himself to throw up later; at this point, I did not need him to have an added motive for vomiting), I would keep him off of it. This time, he did not try to consume any grass, and we lounged together in the shade, and felt the balmy breeze. At one point, my boy wished to go back inside. Once there, he walked directly to the litter-boxes; when he emerged, he wanted to go outside again. That’s how conscientious he was about his hygiene.
But it was symptomatic of the end. Throughout the evening, Parker was restless again, his tail switching back and forth. By nine o’clock, he had taken to going to the litter-box and lying down in it; he needed to go - or thought he did - but couldn’t. He was breathing rapidly. It may have been a urinary blockage, but I didn’t think so. In any case, he had to go to the doctor.
Fortunately, my veterinary hospital has an emergency service; I was put in contact with the doctor on call; she was already at the the hospital, doing other work. My regular vets are not Parker’s, but his was not available at ten of a Sunday evening. And I feared that what was needed was something any veterinary could accomplish. I took my boy on his last hospital visit.
He started crying on the way, and by the time we arrived, he was breathing through his mouth and salivating heavily. The doctor’s examination proved that there was no blockage - his bladder was soft - but that there were multiple tumours pressing outward. One, or more, were probably putting pressure on his bladder, making him think he had to use the litter-box when he did not. But Parker was in pain, and there would be no recovery, even to a limited extent, this time.
The sturdy-boy lived up to his nickname; he had battled the cancer every inch, and wasn’t giving up now. He was growling and combative, and required two injections of tranquilizer to calm him. I held him and talked to him - but he was never one for sentiment, really. However, when the final drug was administered, there was no sign of a transition: he was with me one second and gone the next.
My friend was a fighter. He and I managed to get his diabetes under control, and his curves showed that he was doing very well; his doctors were pleased with his progress. When his cancer was discovered, his remaining time, we were told, would be measured in weeks. He died just a few days short of four months later. It wasn’t until I looked at the photographs I took of him on his last day that I realised how thin he had become. Perhaps I should have let him go sooner, but he I am certain he was not in discomfort until his last day. I watched carefully for any indication, wanting to give him as much of life as possible, without risking pain.
And Parker loved life. He loved being outside, smelling the scents in the air, meeting people, watching birds; everything was a stimulus to him. He was originally found behind a shopping mall; its name inspired his own. He was trying to scrounge sustenance from garbage bins. How he came there, we have no clue - as is the case with most rescued cats - except for his friendliness, which demonstrated that he had had a home, and a human family. He had likely been abandoned. His family had not loved him enough.
But he found a new family. The rescue-group by whom he was saved placed him in a good foster-home, but one which was too busy, with too many people coming and going, to give him the required attention. So he came to live with me. It wasn’t ideal: with so many cats and only one human, I’m afraid that I can’t give any individual feline the constant notice he needs. But I think Parker felt at home, and loved. He was both.