11 August 2019

Retirement

If there's one thing I like to talk about on this blog, it's animals. I've always had a lifelong fascination with all creatures great and small and because Jack loves me, and we have the resources and space, we have had our share of a lot of different animals around the several farms we owned.
Hercules was an adorable kitten. ❤
One of the most constant figures has been Hercules the cat, who predates everyone except Jack and Stoney, including having our own children. He was brought in with his siblings, Snickers and RJ as tiny kittens whose mother had been killed, to the vet's office where I worked while finishing up college. Though they were healthy and absolutely adorable, their owner wasn't looking for more cats. Since we knew we were going to end up on a farm one way or another and because Jack likes to indulge me by letting me have animals, we adopted all three. Part of why they've been exceptionally friendly cats is because they were bottle fed and handled by all sorts of people. The result was three of the healthiest, friendliest farm cats I'd ever seen.
What cat actually enjoys going to the vet? Hercules is about as close as it gets.
Fast forward nearly twelve years and Hercules has seen it all. He's been an outdoor farm cat. He's been an indoor apartment cat--he's moved four times, and lived at three different farms. He's teased each and every one of our six children in one way or another and has sometimes paid the price for getting too close. Even then, he handles everything he's been given with an incredible amount of patience and I can just tell he has a good sense of humor about life.
One spring morning, I noticed something wasn't right with Hercules. He was slowly walking up the steps to the top tier of our deck and his eyes were completely dilated, like they'd be if he was hunting in the middle of the night. I grabbed a flashlight and when his pupils didn't so much as budge with the light on them, I feared the worst: Hercules couldn't see. I stuffed him in a cat carrier, ran the girls to school, rescheduled my day, and insisted they see Hercules at the vet.
At the specialist.
They took his blood pressure (hence the shaved tail...even though they ended up taking it in his arm anyway 🤦🏻‍♀️), drew a blood sample, gave him a thorough physical, but couldn't come up with any solid conclusion about why he was inexplicably blind. So, they referred us to a specialist an hour away and after a very expensive bill and even with an extremely competent veterinarian, we were no closer to a diagnosis than I was the day I'd found him in that state--they offered to run four painfully expensive tests that might diagnose his condition but with zero guarantees any of the suspected diseases were the cause. Heck, they weren't even sure a disease was the cause--his blindness could be caused by anything from a head injury to a brain tumor to glaucoma, on top of another dozen diseases and conditions an outdoor cat could possibly contract.
We made a feeble attempt to treat him with antibiotics and antiinflammatories but without knowing the exact cause, even medicine had the potential to do more harm than good. Cat's kidneys are especially sensitive, so it wasn't like we could run the gauntlet of every type of antibiotic possible because there was the risk of kidney damage. His retinas were already detached and there's no going back once that happens. Long story short, there's really nothing left to do for good ol' Hercules but let him live his life blind.
Really? That's where you choose to take a nap?
That means Hercules is officially in retirement. That also means Hercules is now an indoor cat. With all the risks of living outside, especially cars and predators or the potential he'd wander off and get lost, it wouldn't be safe. While I've been trying to be positive about it, the whole situation has left me in tears more than once. To say Hercules has been an awesome cat is a massive understatement. On top of being extremely friendly and welcoming to anyone who visited the farm, he has been an invaluable asset keeping the pests away. He was our big rodent hunter--more than once, he brought in rabbits, voles, moles, and rats as he patrolled the property.
Nova and Herc are best friends. 😻
Nova and Snickers are also missing having him outside. Hercules and Nova were always rolling around the yard, playing together in between naping and hunting. That means Nova's had to turn her attention to Snickers, who wants anything but to play with Nova. When the weather is nice, they sniff each other through the screen door. That sad sight makes me want to cry.
All his usefulness aside, I miss seeing him outside. When we'd walk to the garden, or go visit the forest, or check on the animals, more often than not, Hercules was following closely behind because he was such a personable cat.
Even when we were inside, he'd sit on the window sill or climb the fence to meow at us, as if asking what we were doing and if we could join us.
As much as he enjoyed the occasional jaunt inside while Claire wanted to cuddle him, he really did prefer being outside. Taking a nap in the sunshine or climbing a tree or racing around the yard was all he really needed in life.
Since Herc isn't able to pull his weight scaring away rodents (who seem to be everywhere and very unwelcome), Jack gave the girls the go-ahead to pick out a new kitten. When we were back in Nebraska for Independence Day, we went to a friend of my brother-in-law's and picked out an adorable gray tabby. We named him Mortimer--Morty for short--and he's an absolute hoot. He made the trip back from Nebraska to Indiana much more bearable for the kids. It's always fun watching a kitten play and figure out how to hunt, even if it's only paperclips or Lego blocks right now.
At first, Hercules wasn't sure what to think of Mortimer. Introductions of cats are stressful enough and Hercules could only smell and hear Mortimer--he couldn't even run away. But, true to his laidback nature, Herc hissed once or twice and got over it. Now the two wrestle, even if it is a very one-sided fight.
Hercules is enjoying his retirement inside but as quickly as Mortimer is growing and becoming the epitome of a healthy cat, Hercules is beginning to fade. His muscles are atrophing because he can't jump beyond getting on the couch, he can't run, he can't climb. The first of the feline siblings to go was RJ when we were away for Jack's internship in Texas. It was extremely unexpected and abrupt. Hercules' decline might last for a long time but while he's still healthy enough to find some joy in life, he'll have a place here.
Back when Herc was just a young buck, he still liked to snuggle.
Shout out to Jack for putting up with my ridiculous and inexplicable love for animals and loving me enough to break the cardinal rule of no cats inside. He's said more than once that Hercules has earned his retirement, so he's welcome to stay. It helps that he's not obnoxious because he can't climb onto the table or countertops--that's even something I appreciate. Even as blind as Hercules is, it is impressive how well he gets around, even with his constantly changing environment. He walks slowly, intentionally, and picks up his feet higher than normal, his whiskers keep him from running into walls, and he follows his nose to food and the litterbox. He's a sad sight but I don't think he's so bothered by his new reality.
Hercules is one special cat. 💕
Here's hoping we get to enjoy his company for a good while longer. 🤞🏻

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