02 July 2013

Fushi and Saiba

I first met Fushi and Saiba in January of 2004.

They were only about a month or two old at the time.

I had lived with their mother, Midnight - a tiny all black cat who liked to hide under places so she could attack my ankles when I walked by - throughout the previous summer, at a traveling carnival in the midwest.
She was the only cat in the household, and was indoors only.  She got out just once, for just a few hours, but then, that's all it takes.

My aunt Joy, who was Midnight's human, came to New York (where I worked at the time) to visit, since the carnival is closed during the winter.  When we met, she asked if we might want a kitten.  Since me and Aileen (my wife at the time) both worked full time, I said we should get two, so they would have someone to keep them company during the day.
We got one boy and one girl, both with gray and black tiger stripes, and white "socks" on some feet.

They were so tiny I could literally hold them both in the palm of one hand.  We brought them home (to our RV in NJ) in a backpack.  The boy curled up in a tiny ball at the bottom, while the girl stood on top of him so she could reach her head out the top and look around.
That pretty well summed up their personalities for the rest of their lives.

The first day in their new home they hid in the tiny space between the sofa cushion and the computer desk, a space maybe 4"x4"x12".  They came out for food, and began exploring.  When we showed them the litter box they knew instantly with no coaxing what it was for.  We soon had to build a wall around it though, because in their zeal and impatiences to get back to playing, they would tear out of it at top speed every time, like a redneck in a muscle car on a dirt road, leaving a trail of kitty litter behind them along the floor.

We waited a couple days to get to know them before figuring out their names.  We went through various sound combinations before settling on Saiba and Fushi.  I initially suggested Saiba for the boy and Fushi for the girl, but Aileen pointed out that there personalities warranted the reverse, and she was quite obviously correct, and their names were set.

When they were kittens they were indoor only.  They were curios about the world outside the door, and tried to sneak out.  I decided one day to let them see how unpleasant it was outside so they wouldn't keep trying, so, under close supervision, I let them venture into the snow.  I figured once they realized the outside was wet and very cold, they would run right back in.  Instead they ran under the housecar and hide behind the tire.  Then they both started crying because it was cold and they were unhappy and scared, and they wanted me to rescue them.  Only, they refused to come to me when I called them, so I had to crawl underneath on my belly, through the snow, and retrieve them both manually.

From the start Saiba was adventurous and mischievous.  Fushi watched what she did, and tentatively followed.  She would jump up on the counter to sneak treats, then he would follow, she would hear us coming and jump down and run away, leaving her brother to get in trouble for the crime she had encouraged him to participate in.  She also loved unrolling toilet paper.  When we started keeping it so it couldn't be unrolled, she found fun in simply shredding all the spare rolls.
I tried to build them playgrounds and beds, and bought them stimulating looking toys, but they generally shunned anything intended for them - why sleep on a soft warm cat bed, when there is a  hard lumpy computer keyboard to sleep on?  Why play with a fake mouse filled with catnip, when it is so much more fun to deliberately knock everything on the table onto the floor one item at a time, and watch them fall?  I don't fully understand cat psychology.  All I can say is they were both too cute to possibly be mad at.

Especially since they always meant well.  Unlike a lot of cats I've met, neither of them ever deliberately scratched, and never bit in anger (just the occasional affectionate nip) - not even when we would torture them by doing things like trimming their claws or giving them baths.  They would try to escape, but were never ever aggressive.
...to humans.  They were both remarkably skilled at catching flies.  I never knew a cat could catch a fly, but they did, to every fly that got in the house, and then they would eat it... usually.  Except the one time I followed a trail of ants to the dragon fly one of them had hidden under the floor mat.

They spent plenty of time play fighting with each other.  Wrestling matches frequently ended up with them on the floor, head to toe, each clutching the other's body with their front paws, and kicking each other furiously in the head with their back paws.  Its a sight that has to be seen to be fully appreciated.

They also both loved their humans to play with them, and to sit on our laps.  They liked to sleep on us, but they are semi-nocturnal and would wake up and play the game where you attack anything moving beneath a blanket, and that didn't really work for the humans, so we compromised, and let them sleep at the very foot of the bed as long as they left quietly if they wanted to get up, and didn't walk on us.  Saiba accepted this compromise, but Fushi was inconsistent - to the point where eventually (years later) he was one of the key factors in deciding to upgrade to an RV with a bedroom door, instead of just a curtain.

They also were always very affectionate with each other.  They spent about as much time liking each other's fur as their own.  Sometime, when they were lying together, they would so seamlessly go between cleaning themselves and each other.  It was often time hard to tell where one ended and the other began.  Sometimes I suspected even they weren't sure.  But it didn't matter, because they were brother and sister, and they loved each other.
When they were about 4 or 5 months or so they began to be a bit too affectionate with each other (if you know what I mean) so we had to get them altered ahead of our original schedule.  We were poor back then but we found a program to help with that sort of thing.

It didn't seem to affect Fushi one way or the other.  It could have been a coincidence of timing, but it seemed Saiba was a little less interested in affection from her brother after her operation.  She still played with him, still let him tag along on her adventures, and she still absolutely loved humans (especially her caretaker/roommate humans, but all other humans too), but she increasingly distrusted all other animals, and even Fushi only got a partial pass.

About this time all the snow had melted, and they were getting a bit bigger.  Plus they were now both sterile, and had all their shots and flea protection.  They were getting increasingly restless and crazy in a 150 square foot space, and it was time for them to gain some freedom.  I put a plastic curtain in the gap between the open window and the frame with just enough flap at the bottom for a cat to fit through while keeping bugs and weather out.  They got bells on their collars to protect the birds, and went out to explore.

Saiba got herself stuck in a tree, but then she figured out she could jump on to the roof from there.  Ever after it was common to hear tiny feet scurrying across the roof at any random time.  The only rule was the had to be in before dark, or else the window would be closed and they would have to spend the night outside (just like Peter Pan).  Once she figured out how to get on the roof though, she realized she could come right up to the skylight above the bedroom and cry until we let her in.

Over the winter we had sealed up the space below the house for insulation.  I didn't like the cats getting under there, because all the pipes and random crap was down there, and because we couldn't get them back out.  So I put a brick on the one access opening to beneath the house.

One day Aileen and I were playing badminton outside.  Fushi sat next to the field, perfectly still, just watching the biride fly back and forth, back and forth.  Occasionally someone would miss and it would fall, but he would just sit there, watching.  Biding his time.  Until it fell in exactly the right spot and he sprang into action like a jack-in-the-box, grabbed the birdie in his mouth, pushed open the access door to under the house like the brick wasn't even there, dropped the birdie in the exact center of under the house so it would be as difficult as possible for us to reach it, and came back out the door and returned to his original location, all faster than the time it took you to just read this sentence.  He ended our game, but it was one of the most random and funny things I have ever seen him do.

In late summer of 2004 we moved back to CA.  Fushi absolutely freaked out.  He had no idea that his house was also a motor vehicle.  He hid inside the furnace, and cried constantly.  Saiba sat on the table and watched the world go by in the window. We stopped at burning man on the way home.  They say no dogs, but they never technically said no cats.  

Then they lived at my mother's house for a few months.  They would sometimes go out on adventures for 24 hours or more, but once Saiba didn't come back for several days and we started to worry.  I combed the neighborhood until, a block away, I heard what sounded like her voice.  I asked the neighbor if he had a cat, and he didn't, so we realized it was my cat trapped in his garage.  Apparently she snuck in just as he parked his car, on his last day of work for the week. 

A little after that their nighttime mischief helped us decide to get a bigger better place to live.  They made the transition quickly and easily.  I had a window replaced with plexiglass and installed a cat door in it.  We moved to Oakland, and they got along reasonably well with the many strays that our new neighbors fed, though Saiba was growing increasingly intolerant, and occasionally getting into fights.
At one point she got some sort of UTI.  Before antibiotics and a change in diet fixed her up, she was peeing much more often, so she decided to find extra places to do it.  For some reason she thought the space between the couch cushions was a drain.  But it wasn't.  Once we got her to change her mind about the suitability of that spot, she then started using the bathroom sink.
Of course that was an absolutely fine alternative - better, in fact, than the litter box.
Until, that is, one time when she was on the roof, and realized that the roof vent was directly above the sink, and figured that she could just pee through the roof vent instead.  Well, pee doesn't just go straight down when you pee in a roof vent.  It splashes all over everything - and everyone* - in the bathroom.  Clever theory, my kitty friend, but unsuccessful in practice.  That was even worse than the sofa cushions.

*Everyone, at that moment, happened to consist of me.

Unfortunately Saiba's hatred of all other cats started getting worse.  When her brother tried to clean her or play with her, inevitably she would interpret something he did as aggressive, and it would frequently escalate to a fight.  Meanwhile she was starting fights almost daily with the strays in "her" territory (everywhere she went, even into other cats' homes, quickly became her territory.  When we were traveling and a friend would cat sit them, they would take over the house, while the resident cat stayed out of their way!)  At any hour of day or night us and the neighbors could here them yelling at each other.  Even in her quiet moments she started to seem stressed out, so we found a place that wanted a cat, where there were no other cats around to compete with.  We brought her to a restaurant and bar in the city that had a mouse problem.  She lived in the kitchen, where the mice were, but she would sometimes visit the top floor, where some staff lived, or the middle floor with the diners.  We came to visit a few weeks later, and she they had given her a sequined collar, and had gourmet wet food out to eat.  She came up to us and seemed to remember us, but its hard to tell because she always loved all humans.
We tried to visit again a month later, but we were informed she had disappeared.  They said she had never tried to get out the entire time she was with them, so they suspected one of the customers might have catnapped her.
I'll never know, but I prefer to believe that she was adopted by someone, and still lives somewhere in the city.

Meanwhile Fushi adapted to life without his sister.  He began interacting more with other cats and people.  Everyone loved him, especially the children.  Once a neighbor asked me if I needed money for cat food, because apparently he had been eating the food they left for the strays.  No, he is just a sneaky little guy who really likes food.  Ever since he gained 4 lbs (50%!) over his sister we started rationing his food.  Now he had finally found a way around that.

I settled into a pattern of feeding him at exactly 7am and 7pm.  Starting at about 6 we would start whining, reminding me it was almost food time.  He had always been very communicative, with very distinct meows for "hungry" and "let me in", "scared" and "unhappy" and "content".  My favorite to hear was his short chirp that just meant "hello" that he would make the first time he saw you when he came home from outside.  But his "almost food time" meows were persistent and downright annoying, and they earned him the nickname Chairman Meow, pronounced like the Chinese word for cat, which sounds quite a bit like the sound he would make.

I always used to say Fushi was not a particularly bright cat - until one day, in a particularly heavy rainstorm, he decided he didn't want to have to go outside and get all wet, and, having given up his litterbox years before, he peed in the toilet instead.  I never taught him to do it, never encouraged it in anyway.  I had considered it, because I had heard cats could be trained to, but considering how long it took him to learn to use the new cat door, I figured it would be futile.  And then he just figured it out on his own instead.  What a fantastic kitty.

Fushi lived with me longer than my (now ex) wife did.  He lived with me more years than my ex and my current partner Jessica combined.  Besides my immediate family, I spent more time with him than any other living thing, human or otherwise.  When he got old, and gave up playing as too immature, his favorite activity was to sit on Jessica or my lap, and just be there with us.  He still went on nightly adventures, but he would wait until we went to bed.  As soon as we closed the door at night, he would head out.  I have no idea where he would go or what he would do, but I had reports from the neighbors that he traveled a lot further than I ever knew about.

When he was about 10 he got sick one day.  He stopped eating, and his abdomen started to swell.  The vet drained the fluid, gave him a prescription, but the blood test and x-rays were inconclusive.  He started eating after his treatment, and was briefly normal, but over the next week he gradually gave up food and water until I started feeding him manually.  Cats have this stupid thing were going a few days without food damages their liver, which makes them not want to eat, which makes the damage worse, and its a viscous downward spiral.  He would fight with me over whether he should eat or not, but I generally, with much persistence, and much mess, would win.  He kept up his strength and went outside sometimes.  He wouldn't cry and didn't try to hide, but he lost a lot of weight and he no longer wanted to sit on laps.  There are about a dozen different possible causes of abdominal fluid build up in cats, many of which either: can self-correct with time, or, are fatal regardless of treatment.  So, rather than subject him to endless tests and treatments in scary machines in scary unfamiliar places, which required long car rides (he hated car rides more than anything else in the world - more than trips to the vet, more than dogs, even more than baths), I just focused on keeping him hydrated and treating his hepatic lipidosis.  That meant 5-10cc of meat baby food or watered down canned cat food at a time, for at least a full jar or can's worth a day.  Over the second week from his visit I got better at getting him to eat, until he would swallow most of what I gave him with minimal resistance.  When he started throwing up I gave him 1/2 a pepsid ac, which helped keep his food down.  
But then all of a sudden the abdominal swelling came back. With a vengeance, all within one day.
I had to go to work in the afternoon, and when I returned he had thrown up again in the bathroom where I had left him, went out to the living room, and had collapsed on the floor.  He was still breathing and alert.  I gave him his dose of diuretic, which was supposed to help keep his fluids where they belonged (in his blood, not his abdomen).  He tried to walk but he really couldn't.  He wanted to go outside, so I carried him to his favorite spot* and let him lie there a few minutes before we went inside because it was cold.  
*(His whole life he has picked a new favorite spot every month or two)
I read more about his symptoms - I had been reading all week - and determined that, since it has come back again, it was more likely not to be one of the conditions that resolves itself with rest and a gentle diet and time.
It was more likely cancer or heart disease or organ failure.  
To find out which would likely require multiple biopsies and a CAT scan.  Despite the name, I knew he would hate being CAT scanned, along with all the rest.  And that would just be for a diagnosis.  Of all the things it was likely to be, the two categories would be: no treatment exists, or, with intensive and regular treatment, lifespan could be increased, on average, 6-12 months.
The quality of life of those 6-12 months would not be as they were before he got sick.
If he was still alive in the morning, I had to think about putting him down.  I put him in a corner, like he would always do when he didn't feel safe, and gave him something soft to lay on.  I pet him and talked to him and then I went to sleep.
Next morning he had managed to get out of the corner and move several feet, but he clearly could not get up.  For the first time since he had first gotten sick, he started crying.  The moment I came in the room, he lifted his head and looked right at me and told me he was feeling terrible and he wanted me to help him, so I told him we would go to the vet and get him drained and hydrated again. 

Even though I knew he wasn't likely to survive whatever he had, at the very least I wanted him to feel better before he left the world. I don't know why.  It just seemed better.  When I put him in his carrier he stopped crying.  I suspect he understood that a trip to the vet was to help him.  We went first thing in the morning.  I got the call about 2pm.  He had clung to life longer than a lot of other cats with his symptoms, but they caught up to him.  He may have had pancreatitis or intestinal lymphoma.  In either case, it affects cats worse than humans, and there are limited to no treatment options.  There is some solace in that he was only in real pain the very last day.

He was a very good little cat.  Hopefully there is a kitty heaven, because he would definitely get in.  He was my best non-human friend, and one of my best friends of any specie.
Its only been a couple hours, but I miss him already.


  1. :'( :'( :'( :'( :'( :'( :'( :'( :'( :'( :'(

  2. I am very glad and humbled that I was able to be a part of bringing Joy to your life. My memories of you delight me almost as much as Fushi delighted you. This narrative is a wonderful birthday gift for me. (7/24/63) Thank you so much.

  3. That is a very sweet biography of Fushi.
    Let me know if there is anything I can do for you.
    Love, mom

  4. I miss you fushi-ma, my little buddy. Kari, thanks for sharing your friend with me too, I loved him. -jessica

  5. Fushi reminds me of our furry friend, Zoey, who also died early for a cat... She was our guard cat who didn't like people much, ever, and would sit at the top of the stairs and hiss and growl at Jonathan's friends trying to come up the stairs. Jon had a friend who was about 230 lbs and 6.2, a tackle on the HS football team, who freaked out when Zoey challenged him and the big jock wouldn't come upstairs. We all had a good laugh at that.



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