Wednesday, June 1, 2016

Baxter, the kitty kat who kept us putting one foot in front of another, died over Memorial Day weekend, leaving a huge hole in our hearts--and our lives

Baxter (left) and his big sister, Chloe
We hope our readers had a meaningful and enjoyable Memorial Day weekend. But it proved to be an immensely sad time in the Schnauzer household.

Baxter, our little boy Tonkinese kitty kat who had done so much to keep us more or less sane since we adopted him and his sister Chloe in summer 2004, died at about 2:30 a.m. on Friday.

We knew he hadn't been acting quite right for about a month, but we didn't think it was serious. It wasn't until last Thursday morning that Baxter started looking unsteady on his feet, and we made plans to schedule a vet appointment for him, even though we knew our depleted resources were going to make that a challenge.

Unfortunately, our "little feller" didn't make it through the night, He was curled next to me when I heard him let out a soft cough. That's not unusual for kitty kats, so I didn't think too much of it for a few seconds. But then I noticed he was laying on his side (unusual), with his head in a peculiar position. I called out to Carol, and she scooped him up to love on him, but we could tell from the vacant look in his eyes that he was gone.

Our eyes started filling with tears, and we both felt a numb sensation. As a human, you know you are likely to outlive your pets. But it seems like we never are prepared to lose them. The minute we realized Baxter was gone, our room at what we call The Shiftless Drifters Motel in Missouri, seemed to shrink and lose whatever luster it had. Baxter had given our spartan quarters a sense of life and joy, and we could feel that being sucked away.

I made a reference in last Thursday's post to our concern about Baxter. In fact, we were struggling in several areas, but Baxter's health was our No. 1 concern. In the post, I noted the apparent efforts of Gov. Robert Bentley to unlawfully use state and federal resources to target attorney Donald Watkins and me for breaking the story about Bentley's affair with former advisor Rebekah Caldwell Mason. Then I tried to show that such abusive tactics, and many others we've faced over the past two years, have consequences for their targets. From that post.:

On the bad-news side, my little family unit is suffering, physically and emotionally, forced to live like refugees in a hostile environment. If justice ever comes, I'm not sure we will survive to see it.

The illegal use of government resources to retaliate against journalists might go beyond Watkins and me--to include, in my case, a spouse and a furry loved one. My wife, Carol, and I, since being forced to move to our current (and hopefully temporary) location in Springfield, Missouri, have seen evidence that suggests Alabama and Missouri forces have engaged in a coordinated effort to steal many of our personal belongings, force us to the edge of homelessness, terrorize us with handguns and at least one assault weapon, and force us to live in a week-by-week flea-bag motel whose charms include bed-bug infestations and meth dealers around the corner.

In fact, one member of our family is suffering from physical symptoms that we think might be caused by an allergic reaction to bed bugs and the nasty residue they leave behind. But we don't have the resources to seek treatment. At the moment, we are not sure we can pay next week's rent, which means the roof over our heads might soon disappear.

The sentence in yellow refers to Baxter. My reference was oblique because pets are not allowed at our current living quarters. But I should have remembered that, some time ago, Carol's physician here in Springfield designated Baxter as a service animal, so I guess that made him legal all the way. And to be sure, he did provide invaluable services to Carol and me. To see his beautiful blue eyes, to love on him and curl up with him, to take in his wonderful smell, to laugh at his inquisitive nature and peculiar habits. . . well, all of that did an incalculable amount of good for our mental health.

A reader asked in a comment about Baxter, and I added this:

Anonymous said... I assume the one not doing well is your little furry guy, Baxter?
May 26, 2016 at 1:22 PM

legalschnauzer said...
Yes, you are correct, @1:22. We're not sure exactly what's wrong, but he hasn't eaten normally in 2-3 days, and that's always a concern. He hasn't been drinking much today. He's had some "inappropriate elimination" (peeing outside his box) in recent days, which can be a sign of several things, including a urinary tract infection. Also, he has asthma, and we now are having to deal with bed bug residue--plus, a number of smokers now live around us, and it wafts through our unit. He's not used to smoke, and we're concerned that, or some other environmental factor, is causing problems with his asthma. We're extremely concerned, and we don't have the resources to take him to the vet. Treatment might be as simple as a steroid shot, but we just don't know. Thanks for asking. May 26, 2016 at 1:28 PM

Baxter was a "special needs" kitty kat, and somehow, that endeared him to us even more than usual. He was diagnosed with asthma and high blood pressure (who knew a cat could have high blood pressure?) not long after joining our family unit. Our vet prescribed a human HBP medicine for him, and we always got a kick out of seeing a prescription for "Baxter Cat Shuler" at our nearby Walgreens in Birmingham.

We discovered Baxter's health needs one day when he started walking sort of sideways and eventually fell over in our foyer. I was talking with someone on the phone when I saw him collapse. I immediately explained the situation, hung up, freaked out, and summoned Carol for a quick trip to the vet. The HBP apparently had caused Baxter's loss of balance, and it probably would have killed him if Carol had not become an expert at giving him his half a pill almost every night. Those of you who've ever tried to get a cat to swallow a pill know how big a challenge that can be.

What caused Baxter's death? We probably will never know for sure, but a tech at an emergency pet hospital where we took him in the middle of the night said he'd had a good long life (13 years), especially for a cat with two life-threatening health conditions. We took that to mean Baxter likely died from organ failure brought on by asthma and HBP. We don't know if exposure to bed-bug residue and smoke had anything to do with it.

We do know that cats are creatures of habit, that they like a steady environment and are not fond of change. Baxter went through two moves, both under traumatic circumstances (Chloe went through one of the moves). They both seemed to adjust well to the upheaval, but who knows how it all affected them? I can't help but ask this question: Would we still have both of our beloved kitty kats if we had not been forced out of our home in Birmingham?

The emergency vet hospital is handling Baxter's cremation, and we now will have three urns--for Murphy, our miniature schnauzer; Chloe; and Baxter. Those urns are among the few possessions that have not been stolen from us over the past two years or so. Except for a seven-month period in 2004--after Murphy's death and before the kitty kats' arrival--we now are without a pet for the first time in 23 years.

While we never will know for sure why we lost Baxter, we'll be eternally grateful that we found him--and his big sister. (Chloe died in July 2015, apparently from gastrointestinal cancer; I call her Baxter's "big sister," because she was a beautiful, fluffy girl--quite a bit bigger than him. But they were the same age, born in the same litter.)

Baxter was the only male pet we've had, and as you might expect, he could be a bit of a pistol. (In fact, "Pistol Pete" was one of many nicknames we bestowed upon him.) Most of the time, he was a little gentleman and a delight to have a around. But when Chloe was alive, he occasionally found the need to "goose" his big sister in some way. Here's how we described all three of our pets in our post about Chloe's death:

We have a tendency to create "personas" for our pets. Murphy, the miniature schnauzer for whom this blog is named, was a feisty, playful sort, who was an utter joy but could be a bit overprotective of her family unit. She reveled in her "humans," but she probably didn't come across as overly friendly to people she didn't know.

Baxter, Chloe's brother (from the same litter), is our court jester and clown. He's got the typical curiosity of a cat and tends to get into things and occasionally causes messes. We think of him as this "dude" kind of fellow, who likes to go to the gym with his guy friends--where they swim, play racquetball, tell off-color jokes, and snap each other in the butt with towels when showering in the locker room. Baxter tends to be right under our feet, but he can turn into a "fraidy cat" when strangers enter the house. (Baxter, by the way, is doing fine, although he seems puzzled by his sister's absence.)

As for Chloe, it's like she never met a stranger. It's not that she would be all over them with affection. But she seemed to say, "Hey, come on in, there's tea in the fridge, snacks in the cabinet, and I'll be around listening to music if you need me. Hopefully, you won't need me, but make yourself at home anyway."

Baxter had this "Dennis the Menace" quality that usually manifested itself when he sunk his teeth into the nape of his sister's neck, as if he was going to bring her down and turn her into a meal on some imaginary Serengheti. Chloe was a good sport about it, and you could almost see her eyes rolling, calmly waiting for Baxter to get done with his tough-guy routine.

But at least twice, Chloe's patience ran out, and things didn't end so well for our "little feller"-- although it provided moments of hilarity that we will always cherish.

On one occasion, I was going down to our kitchen in Birmingham to make a snack, Baxter and Chloe following close behind. At some point, they got in front of me, and Baxter decided to pull his "George of the Jungle" routine, jumping on Chloe and grabbing her neck in a way that looked more vigorous than usual. "You'd better be careful, feller, she's bigger than you are," I said and went on the other side of our work island to make a sandwich.

I then heard a loud "Eeeeeek" that was so high-pitched I thought our windows were going to break. I looked on the other side of the work island to see Baxter on his back, with Chloe plopped on top of him. Baxter's eyes were big, and he had this look on his face like, "Don't hurt me, don't hurt me."

Chloe let him up, and a few minutes later, they were curled up together in a chair. But that remains the loudest and funniest "Eeeeeek" I've ever heard.

On another occasion, we were in Missouri--in the apartment where we were unlawfully evicted--and (as usual) I was the first one to bed. Usually, Baxter was second, followed by Carol. Chloe would sleep with us in bed sometimes, but she had a heavy coat, and if it was fairly warm, she would curl up in a chair or on the couch for the night.

I wasn't quite asleep when I felt a light plop on the bed, and I figured it was Baxter. With a sliver of light coming from the hallway, I could see a big, fluffy figure; it was Chloe. A few minutes later, I heard another plop, and this time it was Baxter--and he apparently was none too pleased that Chloe had beaten him to bed, and perhaps taken his spot. With just enough light to make out their shadows, I saw Baxter launch into his neck-chomping routine. But this time, he was not just lightly chomping down on an area of loose skin; he was pulling on Chloe's neck, and I saw her skin stretched out in a way that had to be more than a little uncomfortable.

I had a feeling this wasn't going to end well for our little boy. But I had always taken a hands-off approach to their antics, so I decided to wait a moment to see what happened. Suddenly, Chloe lowered her head, lifted her rump and then raised up with all her might.

With a loud "Aaaaacck!" Baxter went flying through the air, off the bed, heading toward our chest of drawers. "Oh, my God, he must be hurt" was my immediate thought. But it turns out that old adage about kitty kats landing on their feet proved to be true, at least in this instance. I saw Baxter sitting on the floor, on his haunches, seemingly no worse for wear. He appeared to have a slight look of satisfaction on his face. Before I knew it, Baxter was back on the bed, curled up with his sister.

When we had our house in Birmingham, Carol and I often would be reading or otherwise chilling out--with everything quiet, on all fronts. Then we would hear this rumbling that quickly grew to sound like a herd of water buffalo coming down the stairs. We would look to see Chloe flying around the corner, with Baxter hot on her tail.

These wild sessions usually would last 12-15 seconds. When the chase was over, they would look at each other, and plop down to take a nap. Baxter was always the chaser, and Chloe was the chasee.

As I write this, I would give anything to hear our "water buffalo" flying down the steps again. In recent days, we've gone several places and returned to what serves as our "home," expecting to find Baxter there to greet us. It breaks our hearts when we realize he isn't there. We so much want to kiss his head, massage his ears, pat his sides, and rub his pads.

For now, the sadness seems overwhelming. But someday, we hope to look back on those moments when Baxter and Chloe were so very close--and realize they are some of the fondest memories of our lives.

In recent days, for some strange reason, I've been thinking about Ball Four, by Jim Bouton, which almost certainly is the greatest sports book ever written--and one of the funniest books of any genre. Like many great works of comedy, the book is filled with thoughtful truths. Here is the book's classic last line:

You spend a good piece of your life gripping a baseball and in the end it turns out that it was the other way around all the time.

I'll never think of that line again without thinking of Baxter . . . and Chloe . . . and Murphy--because you spend a good bit of your life caring for pets you love, and in the end, it turns out that it was the other way around all the time.

Here is a video where we introduced Baxter and Chloe to Legal Schnauzer readers several years ago:


Anonymous said...

So sorry to hear about this. Baxter obviously was a huge blessing to you and Carol. Many hugs.

Anonymous said...

Very sorry for your loss. Our family has y'all in our prayers.

Anonymous said...

In our prayers Roger and Carol.

Anonymous said...

What a beautiful tribute to Baxter. And you could change the names, and this would fit for millions of pets around the world. They really do have a grip on us.

Anonymous said...

The unconditional love our furry friends give us is unrivaled in the human world. May God grant you and Carol peace during this grieving period for you. I pray Gods unconditional love will help fill the void somehow.

Bhamster said...

I had to LOL at your description of Baxter and Chloe doing their "water buffalo" routine, with it lasting about 15 seconds, and then they go for a nap.

That is so perfect for cats--15 seconds of action, followed by five hours of nap time. I've seen that many times in my own cats.

My best to you and Carol.

Anonymous said...

The love for your pets shines through in your writing. Beautifully stated.

Anonymous said...

I'm sorry for your lost. I know how much pets can mean to a person. When it seems the whole world has turned on you, your pet is still your best friend. There is a special place in heaven for them and I believe we will be reunited with them one day. Until then don't worry about them, they are in good hands and having fun with other cats & dogs. May God Bless You for being nice to a animal.

Itsmehoney said...

I'm so sorry to read about your and Carol's loss, Roger. I hope that the "happy memories" stage of grief soon comes your way and you two go in search of the kitty that needs your love and dedication and has the same to share with you both.

e.a.f. said...

I am so very sorry for your and Carol's loss.

Pets are such a warm and welcome presence in our lives.

My thoughts are with you and Carol as you carry on.

Wonderful tribute.