All (a-hole) creatures great and small
The long, annoying, heartbreaking journey of keeping my cat alive
It starts at the sink.
It’s summer 2020, and my cat Harvey meows at me while perched upon the edge of the bathroom sink. “What do you want?” I ask, in the fever-pitched, manic voice I use when talking to babies and animals. Harvey meows again, his lips quivering. “You want a drink?” I nudge the handle until a gentle stream pours from the faucet. Even though Harvey has a running fountain that performs the exact same function, he puts his head under the sink and gulps like he’s never had water in his life.
Cute, I think. A little sink drink.
I shut the water off, and Harvey, satiated, licks his lips dry.
A few weeks later, my eyes crack open, Ren and Stimpy-style. Harvey’s hideous yowling reverberates in my brain. The clock reads 5:00 a.m.
It’s been going on like this for a while.
I stumble out of bed and look down the hall. The bathroom light is on. Of fucking course it is. The motion-sensor light, activated by Harvey’s little body.
He’s back on the sink.
I turn it on for him. I’m no longer concerned about the pressure, and he shoves his tongue into the surging waterfall. I let him get a good sink drink, which, by now, is no longer cute. As the water runs, I wonder if my cat’s doing this on purpose—if his incessant need for me to turn on the sink is some deep-seated resentment toward me. I wonder if he can somehow read the digital clock and has somehow decided that 5:00 a.m. is the time when he needs water. I mean, I don’t know he can’t, like, tell time, but maybe he can recognize the shapes of the digital numbers? I briefly wonder if covering the clock with a towel will throw him off.
I plan little revenges. Just wait until you’re trying to sleep. He laps at the water, impervious to my half-crazed stare. Then we’ll see who’s laughing.
Later in the afternoon, I find Harvey sleeping on the couch.
“Meow! Meow! Meow!” I yell at him. “How does it feel?” My wife Jessica looks at me like I’ve lost my mind. Maybe I have.
“Stop bothering him,” Jessica says.
When the yelling doesn’t seem to affect him, I gently poke Harvey’s belly and he looks up at me like, bruh, what the fuck?
I start closing the doors to the bathrooms before going to bed. It doesn’t help. Harvey will sit outside one door, meow, and then move onto the other bathroom door and meow. Repeat, repeat, repeat. His noises echo throughout the house. He’s like a ghost stalking up and down the hall, but, like, a really cute ghost. This goes on for months. We sleep wearing noise-cancelling headphones.
I suddenly have an idea. Eureeka. my brain says, deadpanned and sleep-deprived.
I place plastic bowls filled with water outside the bathroom doors at night. That way, before he even can think about a sink drink, he’s got access to water.
Bradford, you are a genius, I tell myself (omitting the fact that it took two months to think of this plan).
For about three nights, it works. But then the meowing returns.
That’d be a good name of a horror movie: The Meowing.
I gradually notice the result of Harvey’s increased and incessant water-intake as the litter box becomes swampy with it. Where before I could go a few days without cleaning the litter, it’s now a daily duty in order to keep the ammonia scent from stinging my eyes and turning our house into a capitalized-Cat House.
Every morning, I clean up white paw prints. He’s given up on burying his soiled litter, so he tracks it through the house.
I follow the prints down the hall, through the living room, up on the chair, then the couch. I almost feel like a detective. A piss detective! And the mystery I need to solve is: What am I going to do about Harvey?
I take Harvey to the vet—a traumatic experience for both of us normally, but even more so during the pandemic.
If you’re wondering why it takes me so long before calling the vet, you probably don’t have a cat. Cats, frankly, are assholes, and they’ll suddenly decide to change their entire personality on a dime. Any behavioral aberration brings with it the eternal conflict: is my cat really sick, or is he just being a dick? Make no mistake: Harvey is often a dick. Do I need to shell out $100 (at least) to have a medical professional to tell me that?
We sit in the vet’s parking lot, waiting for the tech to come grab him. We’re listening to Radiohead. Sometime over the years, I’ve determined that Radiohead is Harvey’s favorite band. The song playing is “True Love Waits.” He loves that song, I’m sure of it.
When describing Harvey’s symptoms, it’s hard to convey my concern. “He uh meows a lot at night and he’s always wanting water from the sink.”
The tech takes him away and I wait in the parking lot, listening to “True Love Waits” on repeat.
My vet, Dr. Ball, returns a half hour later and says that Harvey’s problem could be caused by three things: kidney failure, diabetes or hyperthyroidism.
“Or it could just be behavioral,” he says.
I get a call from the vet. Lab results are in.
Early signs of kidney failure.
“Cats with this diagnosis can live for many years with a high quality of life,” says the person on the phone.
I don’t tell her that I just sort of imagined Harvey living forever.
We change Harvey’s food to a high-carb diet. He fucking hates it, will barely even touch it. I order a tube of Mirataz, a transdermal appetite stimulant. Wearing a rubber glove, I squirt a line across my forefinger and rub it into the inside of Harvey’s ear. He’s reluctant at first, but slowly gives into this little ear massage.
I look up Mirataz, and its active ingredients are derived from mirtazapine, a popular antidepressant.
Hmm, I think. Do I really need this rubber glove? Seems like a win-win situation: appetite stimulant for you, antidepressant for me.
Weeks pass. Harvey doesn’t get better, despite begrudgingly eating his expensive kidney food after being chemically provoked. In fact, he looks terrible. He’s stopped grooming himself, and has lost so much weight that his fur hangs off him like a dirty carpet. He’s lost his balance, sometimes wobbling like a drunkard. He even has trouble leaping up onto the couch.
Vincent, our younger cat, tries to engage him in roughhousing, and Harvey just lets whatever happens happen. He has no fight left. This, I’m certain, will mess up the household feline politics for years to come.
The only time Harvey seems to have any energy is in the middle of the night, when he yowls for me to turn the sink on.
One evening in December, I lay on the couch, engulfed in the sweet escape of a weed edible, and Harvey climbs up on my chest. I swirl my thumbs in his sunken cheeks and look at this skinny thing that used to be my cat. He looks like a sick rat now, like absolute death.
I take him back to the vet. It’s only been two months since his kidney diagnosis, but it looks like an old cat now. They said he had many years left with a high quality of life! Years!
They take more samples. My vet, Dr. Ball has since left the animal hospital, so my cat’s well-being is in the hands of strangers. Everything just feels so futile.
The vet calls back—an older gentleman from the sound of his voice. He tells me that my kitty has diabetes and that it’s quite serious. I tell him that I brought Harvey in only two months prior, and there was no mention of diabetes. This new guy has difficulty finding Harvey’s medical records and I know that he’s just a temp filling in after Dr. Ball’s departure and COVID has put an incredible amount of pressure on the vet industry, but for a moment I just want to scream at him.
“Oh, I see,” he says, finally locating Harvey’s chart. “Yeah, his blood sugar was only slightly elevated then. Not even high enough to raise alarm.” It seems that even a cat’s blood sugar can be a dick.
“I’m going to refer you to some places to take him,” the vet says. “When you call, ask to speak with internal medicine. And I hate to say it, but this is going to be expensive.”
Every animal hospital that the doc refers me to doesn’t have an opening for months.
We take Harvey to College Animal Hospital, a small clinic on El Cajon Blvd. The doctor prescribes 2.5 units of insulin, twice a day. I hold the prescription like a ticket to heaven, and immediately take it to CVS. When the pharmacists ask for patient information, I tell her the name is Harvey, and then I clarify: “He’s my cat.”
“Ah,” she says, disinterested.
The bottle of insulin and 100 needles comes out to about $140.
I get a text from CVS, meant for Harvey, so I respond as him.
Harvey gets weirdly into the insulin shots. Is it some sadomasochistic thing? While we prepare the needle, he jumps up on a stool, and before injecting, we allow him to sniff it—like he’s verifying the contents. He then presents his neck to us. After quick stab and a quiet meow, he gets treats.
We take him to the vet every week to check his blood sugar and adjust his insulin dosage. 2.5 units becomes 3.5 and then 4.5 and then back to 3.5.
With his new high-protein diet—which he actually eats—Harvey begins to fill out. He grooms himself again. He puts Vincent back in his place. I imagine him saying “Don’t call it a comeback!” as he whaps his friend the face, and I can’t help but root for Harvey.
A few days ago, after weeks of excellent progress reports, Harvey wakes from a long nap, takes a few steps, and completely collapses to the side. He struggles to get up, meowing at Jessica and I with a terrified look in his eyes. His head keeps twitching.
Low blood sugar. It has to be. The doc warned us about this.
We rush to his side, move him into his cat bed, and place his food bowl next to him. He eats ravenously. Jessica fills a shot glass with syrup and rubs it on his gums. His little face becomes sticky, like he’s just gone to town on a pancake buffet.
I call the vet and describe his symptoms. She confirms that it’s low blood sugar. She says to keep an eye on him, and to keep close tabs on how much he eats before each shot.
In the time it takes for Harvey’s levels to get back to normal, he allows us to hold him, bounce him, treat him like a baby. It’s weird.
Harvey still meows at night, but not for sink water. Through all of this, he’s developed this desire to be locked in my office at night. So every night before bed, I move his food and his water dish in there and close him in. I wonder if he thinks of it as a safe space, or he just wants to be alone. At this point, I’m ready to meet any of his demands.
And it’s not even that annoying when he meows at 5:00 a.m. for someone to let him out. Just kidding, it’s still very annoying. But at least it means he’s still there.
THE WEEKLY GOODS
I feel bad for anyone who’s had to close up shop during the pandemic, but I was especially heartbroken when two of San Diego’s coolest, weirdest, and most diverse art endeavors—City Heights’ Teros Gallery and publisher/bookstore Burn All Books—had to shutter their brick and mortar locations. They provided valuable space and opportunities for emerging artists and writers (especially artists of color), and their respective tastes for anything funny, strange, sweet, and wild were supreme. Now, the two entities are officially partnering up and raising money for a new space. I can’t even begin to imagine what kind of magic will emerge from this pairing, so let’s make it happen.
Years from now, San Diego historians might use Casbah bar manager Ben Johnson’s film, Fanboyto pinpoint the start of when we collectively began clawing our way out of the long, dark era of COVID. Perhaps I’m being a tad superlative, but there’s no denying the overwhelming joy and enthusiasm that the film stirred up. I mean, it sold out three nights at the South Bay Drive-In—a remarkable feat in a city where, during normal times, getting your friends to come to a show is like pulling teeth. But if you missed out on those drive-in showings, you’re in luck: Johnson’s demented thriller is now available to stream on Amazon Prime. It’s a twisty ride, bolstered by great cameos and anchored by Ben’s unnerving and hilarious portrayal of an obsessed groupie. I’m sure Ben has doomed himself to a lifetime of “cold Mexican lager” orders once The Casbah reopens, but it was definitely worth it.
The greatest trick the devil played was actually convincing us that all true crime documentaries and podcasts are worthwhile, but friends, have you seen those recent docs about Cecil Hotel and The Night Stalker? Trash! Absolute garbage. But just when you consider cutting the cord on Netflix, they release something like Murder Among the Mormons. The series follows Mark Hofman, a Mormon practitioner who made millions in the ‘80s selling historic documents. His exploits came to a head, however, when he claimed to have documents that debunked the Mormon Church’s origin story. And then people started dying: two of Hofman’s associates died by pipe bombs, and Hofman himself was also badly injured by one. To say any more would spoil the strange, sad and brutal mystery, but being from Utah and raised Mormon, I obviously was hooked. I was only a baby at the time, but my family lived in the neighborhood where one of the bombings took place. It’s just yet another example of how America’s first major religion perpetuates violence, and has a dark and brutal history that’s often overshadowed by its cheery demeanor and regressive politics.
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Julia Dixon Evans edited this post. Thanks, Julia. Go follow her on Twitter.