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  • Jeff Rokosz

End of Watch: Sassafras

Two years ago “Sassy” came into my life via my Twice Purrfect Feline Rescue. “Sassy” was a local relinquishment from a family that had been taking care of her for many months after her family moved away and left her outside to fend for herself over a Colorado winter. Based on history she was believed to be an indoor/outdoor cat under 5 years of age, and a good candidate to be rehomed to a loving family even though there was a permanent sad look on her face. When “Sassy” came to us, it was soon clear that she was much older than 5, and that she was actually a he. And thus, he became Mr. Seymour Sassafras (Frassa for short).

Frassa weighed in at just under 8 pounds, and his fur was matted from the back of his neck all the way down to his tail. On top of that, he had advanced arthritis in his rear hips and knees to the point that he could barely jump, and certainly could no longer climb.At first we were worried he had been hit by a car, but a vet examination showed it was only arthritis. That same vet put his age at right around 20! based on dental exam and bone density. It was incredible to think he survived a winter in Colorado on his own, hunting what he was able to hunt without being able to climb or jump.

The first week with us must have been hell for Frassa. He lived in our basement bedroom (to isolate him from our other cats until we could run some tests on his blood) so he knew when we were home as he could hear us walking around on the main floor While he found himself in a warm place, with good food, and a supply of love, he also found out that we had a comb, brush, and ever clippers. No less than 20 minutes per night were spent working, or cutting, out the knots of hair that matted his fur. It took a while, and I can say he was nothing but patient with us, and we finally got his knots finally worked out. Every night we were greeted with the same “old man” MEOW (pretty sure he only has one volume at his age), and when we put him to bed we were always given head butts and purrs even after all the pain. He never once threatened to bite or nip at us, and only once half-hearted raised a paw as if to signal surrender for the night.

Once he was in presentable shape it was off to the vet for a checkup and full blood work. This was when we learned about his arthritis, but we also learned that he was in stage 4 renal (kidney) failure which is one step below full failure of the kidneys. Unfortunately there is no cure for renal failure, however there are treatments and things that can be done to extend the expected life span. The medical issues, combined with his age, led us to make the decision that Frassa wasn’t going to go up for adoption through the rescue, but instead would live with us.

A plan was needed to make his remaining time with us the best it could possibly be. Step 1 was to find a food he would eat and get some weight put back on him. This was accomplished in the way of high quality tuna based foods, as tuna seemed to be the only thing he liked to eat (maybe he got tired of rabbit and chicken having to hunt for himself all those years). Step 2 was to make sure he got the needed medications every day. Lastely, step 3, was subcutaneous fluids twice a week. I don’t know how many of you have tried to give a cat fluids, but this is the only cat we’ve worked with that sat in your lap and purred the entire time he was getting his “top off”.

As the summer wore on, and Frassa became more healthy he started to come up from the basement and join our family, and other cats, in the main part of the house. He was a fierce protector of his new family and every evening would check the doors and windows to make sure the house was safe and secure. He didn’t always get along with the other cats (some of them can be dicks) and there was a pee war with our alpha male that lasted a few days, but eventually he settled in. Since he had a harder time defending himself against some of the younger cats, and he seemed to spend a lot of time in one of our spare bedrooms on the second floor, that room officially became “Frassa’s bedroom”.

In the fall we started to spend a lot of time out in the backyard, as he would sit in the windows of his room and stare out at the birds and squirrels, as if missing his time outside. He quickly established a routine, checking the entire perimeter of the yard for anything out of place, before coming to the grassy area to roll around and just be a general goofball. There was nothing he loved more than rolling in the grass on a sunny day, spending time with his new humans. Well almost nothing. We found out, quite by accident, that Frassa is a super destructive cat when it comes to his toys. He was given some puffs made of spun yarn and coated in catnip one day, and by the next morning there was nothing left except small bits and pieces. We also found out that he likes to yell at things when he kills them…. All night.

When winter closed in countless hours were spent on the couch, wrapped in a blanket watching football. I’m still not sure if he’s a Broncos fan like the rest of the family, but he certainly seemed to enjoy the bonding of team sports watching. During a brief respite in the weather he was even able to chase down and catch a vole that had invaded the backyard, at his ripe old age of 21. When spring rolled around it was back to spending time outside. Over the course of a year, with good food, and treatment for his renal failure, he topped off at 12 pounds, and went from stage 4 to stage 2 failure. This is an incredible improvement. The sad look was gone, the sparkle was back in his eyes, and he would grin every time he got scratchies. The rest of the year flew by, with us taking him outside whenever we could find time, and him just being a good companion.

Stop reading here if you want to avoid the sad part of this story.

As I sit here writing this the sad look is back, and the sparkle is gone from his eyes (and tears are pouring from mine). He’s 22 years old, and his body is shutting down. He still smiles when you pet him, and his purr never stops, but every day has been getting harder. He stopped “killing” his puffs 2 weeks ago, that’s when we knew something was wrong. Earlier this week, he lost his appetite and has almost completely stopped eating, and he’s having a harder time walking than ever before. This week he saw a vet, and the news we were dreading came back after his exam. It wasn’t the kidneys, but instead appears to be cancer. They think he has a brain tumor, as well as cancer in his abdomen which is causing it to fill with fluid.

We’ve been keeping him fed and hydrated as best we can because the weather here has been cold with rain and snow. I just want so badly to give him one more day in the sun. It’s the least that he deserves for everything he’s been through in his life. That very sun is starting to break through the clouds here right now, the storm is lifting, and tomorrow it’s supposed to be a beautiful day. We’re going to sit in the grass, and enjoy ourselves one more time before the end of his watch. Good bye Frassa. It’s only been two years, but I’m going to miss the hell out of you buddy.

For those of you still reading, thank you as this was really nothing more than something cathartic for me. Hug your pets for me tonight.

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