the long goodbye

Mournjenluc2[UPDATE: At 3:45 PM PST, Clio breathed her last. It was quick — mere seconds — and we were with her to the end. Thanks to everyone who sent well wishes.]

We returned from our London trip on Sunday to find our beloved Resident Feline, Clio, in a sorry state. She had stopped eating mid-week, according to her caretaker, and while the vet was initially optimistic that it was little more than a "blockage" (i.e., constipation), poor Clio has not rebounded. If anything, her condition has worsened. So today could very well be the day we bid her a fond farewell and send her to the Great Kitty Hunting Ground in the sky. It's not definite yet: the vet is trying one last life-saving IV in hopes it will reverse (or at least halt) the damage to her liver and kidneys. But my gut feeling is that this will probably only buy Clio a couple of months, at best. I always swore I wouldn't needlessly prolong her suffering when the time came, and the Spousal Unit concurs. Understandably, I do not much feel like blogging while waiting to learn if this is, indeed, vaya con dios for our feline friend. Instead, I offer Clio's own bloggy "greatest hits," from her short-lived blog called I Am the Kitty. She's always had a penchant for cat-related science tidbits in her infrequent posts — with a generous helping of snark. Perhaps she will yet live to blog again….

[February 18, 2008]
This Axiom is All Too True

Found this cartoon in the Interwebs and I think it captures a fundamental truth about how humans view the noble feline: they infantalize us. I'm very fond of my Humans, and they converse with each other at a very high level, but the minute their attention turns to me, it's all cooing over how cute I am and asking, "Awww… who's the kitty?"

It's true, I am the kitty. But I did write my dissertation on feline influences and symbolism in the art and literature of Western culture. (I wanted to include a section on ancient Egypt and Babylonian symbolism, but my advisor insisted I narrow the focus.) Just once, it would be nice to have my intellect, as well as my cuddly cuteness, recognized. I'm just sayin'….

[February 19, 2008]
When Cats Calculate

Those silly humans seemed surprised a few months ago when Tatiana, a 350-pound Siberian tiger in the San Francisco Zoo, escaped from her enclosure by leaping over a 12.5 foot fence some 33 feet away. They didn't think this should be possible. That's because, unlike cats, humans are very bad at math. Perhaps they should spend more time scanning arXiv. They might have stumbled upon a useful paper by one Raza Syed: "Tiger Tales: A Critical Examination of the Tiger's Enclosure at the San Francisco Zoo."

Syed used a simple 2D projectile motion model to find the minimum velocity a 350-pound tiger would need to clear such an obstacle. It's simple ballistics, really — simple for a cat, anyway. Tatiana would need to reach a velocity of 26.7 MPH at an angle of 55 degrees. And she was highly motivated. (Rumor has it taunting may have been involved. But personally, who wouldn't want to escape such a boring existence?)
Syed claims to be a physicist at Northwestern University, but we suspect he had some feline help with this particular paper. One day, perhaps, kitty contributions to science will be fully recognized.

I Purr, Therefore I Am

Why do cats purr? Because we can. It makes us feel good, and it pleases our Humans — they find our purring comforting. Superstitious sorts even believe that our purr has special healing powers. And now physics has found a possible explanation for why the sound of the purr is so pleasant, along with evidence that there might be something to that old wives' tale.

Basically, scientists decided to measure a cat's purr acoustically and analyze how the vibration spreads through the body. They did this by attaching the world's smallest accelerometers — about the size of a matchstick — directly to the skin of the cats, attaching them with washable glue and medical tape, and recording the sounds.
The result: we fabulous felines purr between 20 Hz and 200 Hz frequency range — a known "therapeutic" range. Most effective is between 25-50 Hz, followed by between 100-200 Hz. They speculate that cats evolved their purring ability to promote healing after a long day's hunting.
Our secret is out.

[February 26, 2008]
It's in the Genes

Some of you probably missed the news last year that scientists have succeeded in a first-pass sequencing of the cat genome, accounting for some 20,285 genes plucked from a four-year-old Abyssinian named Cinnamon. Humph. Abyssinians can't hold a candle to tabby cats. But try telling that to biologists.

Anyway, those scientists published their genome sequence in Science magazine last November. The analysis still needs work, but it's about 95% complete. The most surprising finding is that the cat genome has more in common with humans than other "nonprimate species" — including dogs. This comes as no surprise to me, of course. In fact, I predict scientists will find that humans may very well have evolved from La Famille Felidae. We're that extraordinary.

[March 21, 2008]
I Shake my Paw at You

Sometimes I wonder whether scientists don't overthink things a little. My Primary Human recently abandoned me to attend some physics conference in New Orleans. I checked out the online epitome — because I like to keep track of what my human is up to — and found that there were a couple of papers involving computer simulations of "the feline reflexive habit of shaking its paw to remove an irritant."

Um, yes, we kitties do tend to shake our paws to remove irritants — or, in my case, to disentangle my claw from the delicate multi-thread count designer sheets Secondary Human recently purchased for the new bedroom furniture. I never really gave it much thought; a cat's gotta do what a cat's gotta do. Who cares about the specific frequency of the shake movement, or the underlying mechanism?
Scientists at Georgia tech and Georgia State University, that's who! They've developed a new software package called AnimatLab to simulate the paw shake motion. Apparently they think the typical paw shake frequency (about 10 Hz) is insufficient to account for "the high periodic accelerations if only the distal muscles were used." Their 2D simulated model "revealed evidence of a whip-like motion." They think proximal hip muscles could contribute to the high paw accelerations.
Whatevs. So long as those irritants get removed, and I don't get stuck onto the bedsheets, I'm happy.

[March 29, 2008]
Finding our Roots

I admit it: I'm a mongrel. Even the vet simply has me listed as a "domestic short hair." I was born on da mean streets of New York City and have no recollection of my specific parentage. This is not a tragedy for cats. By and large, we aren't concerned with geneologies and such. It's humans who are completely obsessed with tracing bloodlines and producing "purebreds" to humiliate them in various national competitions.

Earlier this year, Genomics published the results of a new study by scientists at the University of California, Davis School of Veterinary Medicine revealing that domesticated cats — all of us, from all over the globe, regardless of how different we seem superficially — actually came from the Middle East. This is based on analysis of DNA samples taken from 11,000 cats, specifically, the genetic microsatellites, or "junk DNA," that nonetheless can serve as useful genetic markers.
My favorite findings:
1. Persian cats turn out not to be Persian at all. They're just really pretentious Westernized cats. Tell that to the obnoxious Persian next door.
2. We are domesticated from Near Eastern wildcats. That explains my feral bloodlust. The birds have learned to fear me since once of their own got trapped in the loft. I am still The Mighty Huntress, however old and tame my humans think I've become.
3. Continued cat breeding is likely to lead to less genetic diversity among felines, and a greater likelihood of genetic disorders, such as polycystic kidney disease in Persians and blindness in other purebreds.
Take-home message: Mongrels like me are the hope of the future.

[August 7, 2008]
Glowing with Pride

Glowcats_270x202 Forget Dolly the sheep: the big scientific breakthrough in cloning occurred when scientists succeeded in cloning cats at Texas A&M University in 2002. They called the creature Copycat. Since then, all kinds of animals have been cloned: cows, dogs (why? just, why?), pigs, bulls and goats, not to mention glowing fish (tasty!). I think they should clone more mice. And birds. Specifically for cat-hunting purposes.

I suppose it was only a matter of time before those same researchers started tweaking our genes. That's the sort of experiment that can easily go horribly wrong. But the effort paid off last December, when Korean scientists at Gyeongsang National University in Jinju cloned a Turkish Angola kitten, modifying the three resulting copies genetically with a fluorescent protein to change their skin color. When viewed under ultraviolet light, the cloned kitten gives off a red fluorescent glow, while the original kitty appears to be green. (Sadly, one of the three cloned kitties didn't make it.)
It's not just for giggles, either. Cloning can help certain endangered species boost their low reproduction rates, and the genetic tweaking could help scientists better understand certain genetic diseases.
Alas, those same Korean scientists just cloned five little puppies — as if we need more canines on this planet! — all of whose names appropriately begin with "booger." Apparently the original dog was called Booger. I think if my humans had named me Booger, I would have spent the rest of my life shredding their furniture and peeing on their shoes in spite, before legally changing it to something more dignified. Like Clio.


25 thoughts on “the long goodbye”

  1. I hope Clio pulls through. We lost our first kitty 3 years ago to liver failure and after giving her every other day IV infusions for almost a year. The good news is that the IV infusions really did help her quality of life. She was active and hungry for a couple of days after each treatment. Once the liver failure started thought, it was just a matter of weeks. Taking her to the vet to be euthanized was the hardest thing we’ve ever done. It was the right thing for her, though. We actually probably waited a couple of days too long, but I was out of town and she somehow held on until I got home. My wife is convinced she was waiting for me to get back.

  2. Jennifer; my heart goes out to you, the Spousal Unit, and Clio. Not all that long ago, my now ex-Spousal Unit and I had to put our cat Slick to sleep.
    It wasn’t easy. But in reading through the comments here, there are people here who care about you. Draw on us if you need to.
    Best of luck.

  3. Thanks to everyone for the supportive comments. We’re still playing the waiting game; the vet wanted to keep Clio overnight to see if one more round of IV fluids revives her. But her condition is pretty critical, and we’re not overly optimistic — although hope springs eternal. It’s always a tough call between doing too much and too little, and keeping a beloved pet’s suffering to a minimum. But if another 12 hours gives her a fighting chance, it’s worth the extra anxiety of not knowing. I’ll keep you all posted. And thanks again. It is, indeed, a painful thing, especially when it’s drawn out like this.

  4. Oh no … this is horrid. I know what this is like as we’ve been through it too. Just hearing about Cleo makes me feel sick in the stomach; And I know how much worse it is for you, Here’s hoping everything works out OK. All available fingers crossed. Love to you all! xxx

  5. My 15.5 yr old ‘domestic shorthair’ fuzz-child Chevy sends his warmest purrs to the whole family.
    I’ve been in this spot time and again with cherished dogs and cats. What you’re doing is the best you can. Quality of life is the true measure, above all.

  6. An excellent kitty amongst kitties: affectionate, devious, determined, with a delicate purr and a taste for revenge. I’ll miss her too. I’m so sorry, Jen. Wish I could have been there for you. I’m glad Sean was.

  7. Jennifer,
    I am so very sorry to learn this. ::TIGHT HUG if you want it:: Losing a family member is never easy. I am so very sorry. I know the loss you’re going through. If it’s any consolation, so do more than a few of the people reading your blog.
    Draw upon us if you need/want to. I think it safe to say that we all love you.

  8. Jennifer, if you would not be offended. ::A very tight hug:: I hope it helps.
    You have people that like you and love you. Perchance we MIGHT be able to help.

  9. Thanks everyone. We’re holding up okay, and it was good she didn’t linger. Plus, we donated all her food and stuff to the local shelter, so she gets to give something back even in her passing….

  10. Oh dear; so sad … lots of hugs from here. I know how hard this is; we’ve been there; even just typing this brings tears. It is little consolation but remember that you and the vet did the very best you could for Cleo. Remember the good times, and that you gave her 14-odd years she wouldn’t otherwise have had. Now you must grieve, as you would for any other member of the family. And when you’re ready there’ll be another orphan pussy to be cherished. Lots of love & hugs. Keith xx

  11. You certainly have my condolences too. I wish she were still here so I could ask her if there has been any research on the symbolic meanings of the foot shaking. The front foot shake, usually seen at the door on the way out, literally (?) means water/snow/mud/cold will be on my paws if I go out there. But they have expanded the meaning to cover virtually any inclement weather, I’ve seen them shake the front foot when it was merely very windy, nothing sticking to the foot there. Similarly, the hind foot shake means “ew, I’ve got poop on my foot!” However, we’ve all seen it used when approaching canned cat food, and it doesn’t take a lot of imagination to see that it means “this smells like (foot shake).” The more interesting use is when it is directed at a human, like when you have offended them in some way, or another human that they don’t like is being a (foot shake). That’s a pretty high level of abstraction, except when directed at certain people. She seems to have been a very smart cat, maybe she shared some further insights into this foot shake thing with you? Again, my sincere sympathies to you and the rest of her family, rb

  12. My deepest condolences. As someone with four cats myself, I can well understand what a loss a departed feline is.

  13. RustyKittyOwner

    My Rusty Kitty went into renal failure last February from eating the tainted pet food. My entire family was distraught; he was our first pet! I came home from college a night before a huge exam to say good bye. But, he pulled through! I never knew how much a pet really becomes a part of your family. I’m sorry your Clio is gone.

  14. I’m so sorry to hear about your loss. It’s always difficult to lose a beloved kitty-friend. May she enjoy much mouse-chasing in the Great Hunting Ground beyond!

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