Pepper has been a member of our household for 16 years. I got her (much to the surprise of my husband and boys!) while attending a Nebraska Nurses Association board meeting/retreat at a Bed and Breakfast near Murdock, NE (between Omaha and Lincoln). She was just a little gray furball, so soft. Pepper’s coat was the softest I’ve ever felt. It was like mink. Anyway, she was a farm kitty and didn’t like that I brought her to the city! For years, she had nothing to do with me. She wasn’t a “people kitty,” didn’t like to be picked up and only allowed certain people to pet her. She mellowed in her old age, though, and became a wonderful companion.
She was a great hunter and loved to go outdoor and find birds, bunnies and small ground squirrels. The neighbors were happy when we moved into our current neighborhood because Pepper got rid of many pests that had been ruining gardens and bothering landscaping for years!
Pepper moved with us to the Chicago area in 1996 and went missing a week after we moved to our new home. We thought she was a goner because we lived in a very busy suburb, lots of traffic, plus the county law stated that if your cat was loose, anyone could do anything to it, including kill it. She was gone for 2 weeks. We were so sure she was no longer alive, that we got another cat, Sabrina. Then, one day, a person called and asked if we were missing our cat. She had been in their neighborhood while these people were on vacation. They read her tag, which still had the Omaha address and phone on it. The people had investigated and tracked us down. Pepper had traveled a long distance, crossing three very busy four-lane roads to get to where she was. She possibly battled some geese along the way, too.
So, we drove from Carol Stream to Glendale Heights to pick Pepper up. It was happy reunion. Pepper was very personable for about a day, then she returned to her former standoffish self. (I think she thought she should continue to get tuna like she was given by the people in the neighborhood where she was found.) She didn’t like having another cat around either. She was used to being top kitty cat!
As the boys settled into the new schools and life in the Chicago suburbs, Pepper started to warm up to the boys. She started with Mike, allowing him to pet her. He was probably 6 or 7 years old at the time. Then, Joe was permitted to touch her, and lastly, David. Mom, however, was still shunned. She wouldn’t let me touch her and if I did, she immediately bathed. She had to remove all those “Mommy Germs!” When we moved back to Omaha, she became David’s cat. She slept with him and let him hold her. When he went off to college, she became my cat at last. She was very friendly in her old age. She continued to hunt (even without front claws) and loved sitting outside in the sun. As she aged, she was more reluctant to go outside during the winter time, but sometimes wanted to sit in the garage for awhile to “cool her heels.”
Just prior to Christmas, we noticed she was moving kind of slow and had lost weight. I finally took her to the vet last Friday because all she wanted to do was sleep under the Christmas tree all day. She was still drinking water, but not eating much. At the vet’s, we discovered she had lost 4 pounds, a third of her total body weight! She also had jaundice, which we hadn’t noticed until the vet pointed it out. Her diagnosis was Feline Hepatic Lipidosis or “fatty liver.” Apparently, older cats that are overweight sometimes stop eating. The fat is then broken down and deposited in the liver. If caught in time, it is reversible. The trick is to get the cat to eat. If she doesn’t eat, the fat continues to deposit and cause damage, leading to death.
The vet gave Pepper some IV fluids, antibiotic and vitamin B, then sent her home with a special prescription catfood. She instructed us to try to feed Pepper a little bit every two hours. She gave us a syringe in case we need to force-feed her. At first, we thought Pepper might do it. She ate a little tuna fish on her own. She refused the prescription catfood. I went to PetCo and bought some kitty milk, which the vet said we could try, as well as Fancy Feast and baby food turkey and chicken. She actually ate couple bites of dry food from Mike’s hand. But, it got harder and harder to get her to eat. We started giving her food from the syringe. She hated that! She tried to resist, but was too weak to get away. We thought we might turn the corner, but then she started throwing up. She lost everything we fed her. We were only giving her 2-3 cc, less than half of a teaspoon.
Last night, I was up with her, trying to coax her to eat. She started gagging at the very smell of the food. She would get dry heaves whenever I brought food close by. Around 2 am, I was sitting in the recliner, taking a break, when she jumped up on my lap like she used to do prior to her illness. She settled in and slept on my lap the rest of the night. It was as if she was telling me, “Please let me be, Mommy. Just let me rest.” So, in the morning, I told Dennis she wasn’t eating and we needed to take her to the vet. We already had an appointment. I cried as we strapped her cat carrier into the backseat. The drive to the veterinary office had become all too familiar. Dr. Apker met us the door and knew right away that Pepper hadn’t eaten for us. She knew what we would be asking. Dennis took the cat carrier into the small exam room and he and Dr. Apker opened the carrier. Pepper just lay here, not making a sound. She let Dr. Apker pick her up without any protest. It was as if she totally trusted the vet and was putting herself in Dr. Apker’s hands. Dr. Apker even had a few tears in her eyes as she explained our options. Because of her age, we said it would be torture to tube-feed her. The decision was hard, but it was obvious. The gentle vet who had taken care of Pepper since she was a kitten, held Pepper close as we left the room.
We will miss our dear friend, our beautiful kitty. She brought so much joy into our lives for so many years. I know people say pets don’t go to Heaven; that they just die. But, I want to believe that Pepper is in Heaven now, chasing bunnies and sunning herself, glowing in the love of her Creator.