Cookie Checks the Cookie Jar

cat looking into flower pot

Cookie checks the "cookie jar", an old canister I used for outdoor plants this year.

I’ll plant flowers and vegetables in anything—with Cookie’s supervision, of course! Occasionally I go around to yard sales and buy some cheap ceramic items and use them for flower pots, in this case a canister set that had mostly broken lids so each pot was maybe a dime.

This one in particular held a pepper plant, not a cookie tree, but even though Cookie has been interacting with this pot nearly every day since last spring, checking it every morning, sitting by it in shade and sun, drinking from it and lately eating her snow cone from it, I never noticed it said “Cookies” until today. Guess that might have been why she’s been so fond of it.

Once she was done inspecting the inside for cookies, she decided to do the typical cat thing with the stem—run her nose along it, then gnaw on it for a bit.

tortie cat with twig

Getting some mileage out of the twig.

We are winning little battles, but we are slowly losing the war. Her hyperothyroidism along with the renal issues have been causing her heart to enlarge and it’s beginning to impede her circulation and breathing; she is frequently short of breath and her hind legs are typically weak. I carry her around though she doesn’t like it, but I can’t see her straining on steps and possibly falling.

Kelly has calmed down and attempts some comfort for Cookie, cuddling with her and giving her a pretty complete bath now and then.

Mimi sits with her by the kitchen furnace vent which is under a chair, forming a barrier so the heat will stay underneath and keep Cookie warm, and gives her very practical momcat baths.

The Fantastic Four keep an eye on her, and I’ll see one or another moving toward the top of the steps if she’s headed in that direction, Giuseppe keeps an eye on her on the cabinet in the kitchen, Mewsette cuddles with her, and Jelly Bean sits next to her and purrs fervently.

One evening as I was checking her temperature and heart rate behind the closed bathroom door, much to her objection, I could hear shuffling outside the door and knew the Four were out there, probably waiting to see if any food would come their way. Then Mr. Sunshine’s favorite wooden clothespin emerged little by little under the door right next to us, followed by a black paw giving it one final shove. I thought that was darned nice of Mr. Sunshine to give us his best clothespin, knowing it would make us as happy as it made him.

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All images and text used in this article are copyrighted to Bernadette E. Kazmarski unless otherwise noted and may not be used without my written permission. Please ask if you are interested in purchasing one as a print, or to use in a print or internet publication.


A Little Bit of Sunshine

tortoiseshell cat on wood

Cookie soaks in the sun.

After a series of rainy mornings we had a lovely sunny morning Sunday, and the day remained sunny from beginning to end.

tortoiseshell cat eating snow

Another snow cone!

For the first time in days, Cookie had a little time outdoors on the deck and she and I enjoyed the breeze that felt oddly warm after days of frigid weather.

And for the first time in days Cookie was more active, walking around, visiting me at my desk, ate more and more easily, and just had a more relaxed look about her. Normally she and I will go outside when I feed the birds every morning, and sometimes later in the day as well. But with temperatures well below freezing I haven’t wanted to risk Cookie’s depressed body temperature and apparently neither did she, so even though she sat at the door and wanted to go, when I opened it she wouldn’t go out. Eventually she quit asking, just went to sit in front of the furnace vent in the kitchen with Mimi.

rabbit tracks in snow

The bunny tracks.

But on Sunday morning, in all that sunshine, I picked her up and carried her outside, and together we looked out at the bunny tracks in the snow and felt the sun warm us. I took her in but soon she was back at the door soaking in the sunshine. As the temperature rose we went back outside, she stepped out onto the deck herself and walked around exploring, stepped down to the flower pot that still held a cap of snow and licked some of it, then explored the deck some more, walking better all the time.

Back inside, she ate some more, walked around the house looking out the windows and generally being her congenial little self before I settled her and Kelly into the bathroom where it’s warm and cozy from the sun for their senior special lunch and naptime.

Still, I found myself once again hovering around her, trying not to actively worry (ha), to remain calm and relaxed so that I didn’t upset her but I knew I’d spend all day checking on Cookie and wondering what else I could do for her. I had planned on printing more cards and working on artwork and writing a few articles, the busy creative schedule that I’ve looked forward to in the new year, yet every day lately this has been the pattern as I plan my day then abandon a good portion of it for concern over Cookie. I don’t mind.

pastel painting of stream in snow

Unnamed Tributary, pastel © B. E. Kazmarski

On Sunday I knew I’d never focus on what I had planned and decided I had to just leave the house for a while, break the spell, do something that both carried me away, relaxed me and filled me with inner strength to work with Cookie and accomplish all the rest I plan for my days and give poor Cookie a break. The sun shone on the snow and I wanted to be out there somewhere walking in it, feeling the stillness of a winter day, indulging in a little painting to free my mind from my thoughts and worries. I got in touch with a friend and we met at a local trail, went for coffee afterward and I returned with a painting and a lot of photos and a renewed spirit.

I’ve not doubt Cookie felt better as much for my absence as for my renewal by nature.

tortoiseshell cat on deck

Cookie observes her yard.

Cookie’s condition has improved since Christmas Eve when she suddenly couldn’t walk in the morning, her body temperature was low and she would not eat. She had compensated for so long but suddenly had to lower her standards. Intensive fluid therapy, vitamins and supplements and she’s more comfortable, eating well enough and walking better but I think we both know she’s losing a little each day in her battle with renal failure. Her hind legs, never strong to begin with, are still wobbly and sometimes just collapse; her right in particular just seems to have a mind of its own carrying little weight and slipping out to the side when she sits. A few days ago she could still get herself up onto the table and cabinet in the kitchen, but on Monday simply could not get up from the chair to the table. She’s been eating less and responding less, even to me.

Aside from all the supportive care, subcutaneous fluids and supplements there’s not much I can do, and where I have a day of work and projects planned I find myself unexpectedly spending more time, most of a day, checking on Cookie, trying to sense what she needs in this moment, trying one thing and another in addition to the regular treatments and just sitting with her on my lap trying to impart what energy and absorb what discomfort I can, finding myself exhausted in the effort, and we both sleep.

tortoiseshell cat looking out door

Cookie watches a bird on the deck.

This is what Cookie has done for me all these years, just being at my side, quietly vigilant, the only living being who understood what I was going through with my brother’s injury and my mother’s illnesses and their effects on my life and my business, all my worries and my struggles with my creative self, our losses of other feline members of our household, Cookie has simply taken it all in and given me only her expression, “I am devoted to you.”

It is a year ago on Wednesday that my mother passed away. I know the memory of that time and the thought of loss is heavy on my mind as I remember my sister, brother and I keeping a vigil in our mother’s room for nearly two days. She had been in hospital and been hospitalized before that more and more frequently; I knew intuitively her death was imminent but didn’t know when and really struggled with it for a couple of months before it happened.

It was also the first time Cookie ever showed physical distress through her support for me. I remember calling my veterinarian saying I didn’t know what was wrong with her but she was lethargic and had no appetite, I gave her fluids though she wasn’t necessarily dehydrated, her temperature was normal and no infections, and my veterinarian reminded me that I was under a lot of stress and Cookie always took that in from me. All these years of absorbing my angst, but at turning 19 it was almost more than she could take, though she would never consider turning away from me, not doing what she felt was her job, taking care of mom.

two cats at door

Cookie and Mimi enjoy the last of the sunshine.

She recovered as I started rebuilding my days and my business, but in May I could see she was losing ground again, and it wasn’t necessarily from my influence. Her June exam showed her thyroid had finally kicked into overdrive but her kidneys were slowing down. All this year we’ve done our best to balance this, and while she’s gone through all the days with me, following me upstairs and down, out into the yard and even to my shop a few times, I could see it was with diminished vitality though not diminished enthusiasm.

two tortoiseshell cats

Where's lunch?

Poor little Kelly is pretty upset, both at Cookie’s condition and my worry but calming essences and supplements have slowly restored her balance, at least where Cookie is concerned. She is still afraid of all the black cats though they never threaten her; Cookie is the last of the cats she came to know and be comfortable with, and I don’t know how she will react when Cookie isn’t there for her anymore.

With a few changes I’ve made to Cookie’s diet and a few new supplements and reiki sessions I may be able to help her restore a little, and she may surprise us all and take that little restoration and turn it into a big one. It’s all up to Cookie, and I will do my best to keep my worry at bay so that I don’t upset her needlessly and impede her wellness. But I think I’m not facing this very well, in fact I’m not accepting it at all at the moment. While writing this I had Jelly Bean curled tightly in my lap, purring heartily his healing purr for me, and Mewsette quietly near me as Cookie rested in the next room; I didn’t want to transfer my anxiety to her as I wrote, she should rest and let the young ones take care of me for the moment. She has instructed them well.

cat sitting by back door

Still my little sunflower.

This morning Cookie was sleeping in the bathroom where she stays overnight with Kelly, did not get up when I went in and could not control her hind legs when I picked her up and set her down to see how she was managing; that is not unusual the past few days and it only takes a few minutes to get warmed up and get a little more control. She dragged herself into the litterbox, then got out and walked to the landing on wobbly but working legs. I carried her downstairs and let her walk a few steps, the carried her to the cabinet for her breakfast, which she did not eat, only sat and purred loudly.

No sun this morning; it is overcast but not freezing. I picked her up and carried her outside, held her against my chest as we looked into our muddy back yard until I felt her gathering strength, set her down and let her walk around, unsteady but purposeful. She sat on the top step, I sat next to her and she looked up at me for the first time this morning, then gently put one paw on my lap followed by the other and pulled herself up. Curling on her side she faced the yard and purred, and we enjoyed a few minutes of the morning. Later I offered her breakfast again and she ate happily; daylight, fresh air, her deck, my lap, medicine for both our weary bodies. She and I will take it, for now, this comfort of each other and try to do a step or two better, just day by day.

All images used in this article are copyrighted to Bernadette E. Kazmarski unless otherwise noted and may not be used without my written permission. Please ask if you are interested in purchasing one as a print, or to use in a print or internet publication.


Cookie Love

tortie cat with parsley

Cookie has Parsley Eyes.

Cookie and I had a wonderful morning on Sunday. Instead of the heavy wind and rain that might have come our way from Hurricane Irene, we had fast-moving majestic clouds with bright sun and deep shadow and capricious breezes that tossed the maple tree branches, sounding like ocean waves.

tortie cat in grass

No, Cookie, you can't hide behind that blade of grass.

Cookie has accompanied me on mornings when I go outside practically since she’s been with me, but lately we’ve been battling a flea infestation and Cookie’s flea allergy is worse than ever. We’ve got things under control at the moment, but even with all my precautions outdoors to keep flea populations at a minimum, they are still out there and I don’t want Cookie to start her cycle of scratching, pulling fur and general skin irritation at the bite of just one flea. Today, it just seemed right.

I had intended just to hang out for a bit with my cup of coffee so we began on the deck but were soon down the steps and out into the yard, moving easily from the deck to the yard as Cookie explored and I did a little cleaning, transplanting and reorganization. Cookie would occasionally saunter out to the end of the yard and give me a sidelong glance, ready to slip off into her wild area under the trees, but for the most part she supervised what I was doing and downloaded her pee-mail.

tortie cat in grass

Cookie downloading her "pee-mail".

This year we had a sudden flea infestation in July from boxes I’d carried down from the attic wherein squirrels had nested, leaving behind bazillions of hungry fleas who wasted no time going to work on their new blood source. Cookie’s age and health were a bad combination for my 19-year-old tortie best friend—after nearly a month of treating the house with diatomaceous earth, constant vacuuming and combing and bathing the other cats were holding their own but Cookie was the target of too many fleas and began suffering more than just the skin allergy.

tortie cat in profile

Cookie's profile.

She would bite viciously at herself, pulling fur out in clumps, trying to scratch the same area she was biting and lacerating her tongue with her hind paw, and sometimes falling off of the table, my desk or a chair in her frenzied effort to get rid of the torture.

Cookie also developed an anemic condition from blood loss from all the bites and would leave blood spots behind wherever she slept. Using Frontline it was pointless to bathe her because it would wash away the effectiveness of the medication, and I could comb her all day and not get rid of enough fleas to make a difference.

We had almost had her heart rate under control with her hyperthyroidism medication but likely the anemia and stress of the situation pushed her heart rate up again, and worst of all she slipped into renal failure.

I used Capstar, an insecticide in a pill, that kills all the adult fleas on the cat within hours. I am horrified to use all these chemicals, especially on Cookie in that condition, but that was what worked to stop her reaction with thankfully no side effects, and the resulting conditions could finally be successfully treated.

tortie cat looking through railing

Cookie playing games.

I had a pretty frightening week in late July when, to try to treat all the conditions, I was dosing her with sub-cutaneous fluids twice each day in small doses to not overburden her heart, checking her heart rate regularly and administering double doses of high potency liquid vitamins, getting a few reiki sessions, using flower essences, using everything I had on hand, hoping she’d start to eat more and awake from her lethargy, just look at me like Cookie again, make a Cookie noise, and by the end of the week, she began feeling better.

Still, all through August, she kept wavering back and forth between feeling like her old self and just being a little tired, not as active, and certainly not doing all the Cookie things I’m accustomed to. I had to dose her with fluids now and then, and had to resort to Capstar again as even just one or two fleas could start the reaction again.

So this morning, she wanted to go outside and so did I, her Capstar should take care of fleas today, and I’d learned from years of senior cats that the little walk around the yard in the morning can make for a great day all around, so out we went.

After our initial session I told myself it was time I went inside and “get to work”, but I instead decided to grab my crochet and recorded book and sit on the swing with Cookie for a while. It’s been years since I had the chance to even just sit on my swing for any length of time. Cookie happily napped on my lap while I followed the story and crocheted, listening to the whoosh of the breeze and watching the shadows and sunlight play across the deck and yard.

tortie cat on lap with crochet

A relaxed hour on the deck.

After our relaxation, Cookie and I actually went back out to the yard for a while longer, and when I decided I really did need to go in—one cup of coffee can feel like a gallon if you wait too long—I had to carry Cookie inside at her protest. She hadn’t had her medications yet and she and Kelly needed their lunch, plus, even though it was cool, I’m always concerned about Cookie’s hydration and body temperature at her age.

Even after I carried her upstairs—because she would not go herself, even when I waved the bit of raw venison and the can of food in her face—she worked her way down from the drafting table where she and Kelly eat and wanted out the door of the studio. I opened it thinking she might want to use the litterbox in the bathroom, but she headed directly down the stairs and to the back door, sat down and looked longingly outside.

cat drinking from bowl

Cookie loves her water bowl.

Most of the time, you can trust animals to let you know what they need and I might have decided to go outside with Cookie for a little more time. But their decisions aren’t always the best, and sometimes you have to offer a little direction. Cookie has never liked to be carried so she protested again as we went up the stairs and back into my studio and closed the door and doled out lunch. She ate, then curled up on a blanket I’d put on the table for her, had a bath, and fell asleep. And slept, and slept, and slept. I checked her heart rate and hydration thinking I’d let her be out for too long, trying to decide if I needed to do something, but she gave me the tortie eye and eventually she got up, stretched, had a drink, ate a good bit of canned food, had another bath and went back to sleep.

I’ve continued the full flea assault on the house and all the cats, including using Capstar once a week but on just Cookie and Kelly. The girls have been staying in my studio, which was pretty thoroughly cleaned to begin with because of my renovation and easier to clean than any other room because I set it up that way. It’s been odd for them not to be part of the household most of the time, but once the fleas were under control downstairs, and Cookie was sufficiently strong and recovered enough, it was wonderful to see Cookie coming down the stairs and joining me at my daily tasks again. Best of all, she’s been sleeping next to me again.

But I can see she’s not back to her full self, and she’s compensating quite a bit for the discomfort of these conditions. After consulting regularly with my vet, I have continued the fluids and vitamins daily, and we’ve increased her methimazole which has brought her heart rate down.

For now it seems the renal failure isn’t just a temporary situation, but a chronic condition. I’m not sure if the situation with the fleas caused it, or if she was headed for it anyway as we had discovered in her exam in June, but in any case, to say it makes me very sad is one of my life’s biggest understatements.

I know that Cookie is 19, and I’ve been watching her lose abilities and agility slowly for the past few years. She had a difficult kittenhood, and I’m a little surprised after all her early health issues and physical limitations that she has gotten to be 19 without any problems. She’s never had a lot of strength or flexibility in her hips and hind legs, never been able to run and leap but she’s always improvised in every way she can find, stepping from one thing to another to get onto my desk, the cabinet in the kitchen, my bed, or the washer and dryer, always cheerful and completely ready for whatever comes next.

But even though I knew our time was getting limited, without anything specific I didn’t worry about how much time we had, just a little bit of fooling myself. Now with a chronic, end-of-life condition our time is finite, though that is mutable as well—Peaches lived six months after we began treatment, Stanley lived four years, diagnosed at about age 21.

tortie cat with serenity prayer

Cookie with my Serenity Prayer plaque from the garden—do you think Cookie is trying to tell me something?

At this point, she is still easily tired and her hind legs have less strength than before, wobbling a little more and threatening to take her down sometimes, and she can’t or won’t get up on some things she recently enjoyed, like the kitchen cabinet, her favorite hangout. Unless by some miracle we clear up this condition sufficiently, Cookie won’t be literally getting into things in the kitchen anymore, something she’s done all her life, and I will miss that part of our relationship more than I can say.

She won’t be following me around the house to supervise every little thing I do; I’ll be on my own. That and many, many more thoughts of everyday things…Cookie has always been with me in the house, wherever I am, whatever I’m doing, my impish little spirit familiar, my little Cookie-roo, Cookie-flower, Cookie Dough, Cookie Baby…the list goes on.

For now, when I look at her, my Cookie is still there, even if she’s not playing the same little Cookie games as before. And she has even done a few of her sweet interactions with me which she hasn’t done in some time—hopped onto my back and walked around and purred when I leaned over, and sat up on my lap, put her paws on my collar bone, looked me in the eye and given me a precious nose tap. She’s telling me not to worry. I am listening, but I need a little other reassurance as well.

We’ll see the vet again soon for tests and discuss a few other symptoms, see if there is anything else we need to do. I lost Peaches less than a year ago and I lost my mother in January, and I told Cookie I’m just not ready yet, she has to get better, this was just a practice session. But for certain at this point our schedule will change, and just like this wonderful morning out on the deck, every moment will be precious.

All images used in this article are copyrighted to Bernadette E. Kazmarski unless otherwise noted and may not be used without my written permission. Please ask if you are interested in purchasing one as a print, or to use in a print or internet publication.