May 12, 2014 by Tammy
Yesterday, May 10, 2014, we said goodbye to one of the loves of our lives, our precious kitty, Roxy. It was one of the saddest, most difficult days Carter and I have ever experienced.
In our sophomore year of college (2001), Carter transferred from Clemson University to University of North Carolina – Wilmington because we missed each other so much. I had just moved into a little house that my parents had purchased as an investment property. At the time, Kai was living at my childhood home in Pennsylvania because I thought she might be happier there with the other dogs. (It wasn’t until later that I realized Kai enjoyed being an only dog and was happiest living with me.) My tiny home felt so big, quiet and empty, and my heart ached to adopt a cat. Carter and I decided to adopt a cat together, and we drove to New Hanover Humane Society to find our newest family member on September 14, 2001. We were 19 years old.
When we walked into the cat room of the animal shelter, we were overwhelmed by all the sweet cats who needed homes. We wanted to adopt them all. I was interested in an orange and white striped cat and was admiring him when Carter said, “Hon, look! This cat is reaching out to us!” I looked over and saw the sweetest, tiny black cat stretching one of her legs as far out of the crate as she could and looking right at us. I hesitated for a moment because I felt so bad leaving the orange cat behind, but the little, black kitty kept reaching out to us and we were instantly in love with her.
She was 4 months and 2 weeks old, and she only weighed a pound. She was all black with splashes of white on her chest and her belly. We immediately noticed that she had two cute little bald patches between her eyes and her ears. Her name was “Oberon.” We tried calling her “Oberon” that day, but as Carter said, it just wasn’t a fitting name for such a delicate kitty. At the time, I was a fan of a clothing/swimsuit line called Roxy and thought it would be such a perfect name for her. Carter thought it was a perfect fit, too. With her new home came her new name, and the beginning of a lifetime of love.
When we brought Roxy into my home, she hid behind the television, the couches and any other small spaces she could find. She did this for days, and I worried that she wouldn’t make herself at home. I’d go to and from class, hoping that she’d come out and receive the love I yearned to give her. Roxy came out of hiding on her own terms one day, and came over to me where I was sitting. I could feel her love and her trust right away.
From the day we brought her home, Roxy loved to hide in unique places. She hid under beds, under covers, on ledges up above the cabinets, on top of the refrigerator, on top of my armoir, in her little kitty hut and, once, even behind the washing machine. Sometimes she’d jump in our laundry baskets and snooze there. One of her favorite things to do was open drawers and hide behind them, and we always felt awful when we’d close an open drawer only to realize we were closing it on Roxy.
Whenever I opened my armoir, she’d come running and jump up to cuddle in my sweaters. She even did that a week-and-half-ago, despite how difficult it was for her to move due to her cancer. She wore herself out so much jumping into my armoir, that she plopped on the ground heaving for air. That’s how much she loved that spot.
One time, we couldn’t find her and were searching all over, until we finally found her hiding inside our couch. Lew’s cat, Bunny, had made a hole in the couch, and Roxy had climbed inside. We were surprised, amused and worried about how we were going to rescue her when we found a meowing bulge in the bottom of the couch.
Up until the day she went to Heaven, Roxy had to come out of her hiding places on her own terms. Whenever we had visitors, those visitors felt lucky and special to be approached by our elusive kitty. She loved people with quiet voices and quiet gaits, and was skittish around people with louder voices and louder gaits. She was especially affectionate to my Dad whenever he came over to visit.
She didn’t like loud noises, including the vacuum, loud voices and the doorbell. She’d run and hide from noises that scared her. In fact, we didn’t vacuum our house for the last 2 weeks of her life to spare her from the noise.
Roxy had the tiniest, cutest meow anybody had ever heard. It almost sounded like a little “meep,” and it seemed like it took her the utmost effort to squeak that little noise out of her little body. I’ll never forget when one of our pet sitters texted me to say, “You didn’t tell me that your cat has the cutest meow EVER.” She really did. And it made us such proud pet parents.
Roxy loved to curl up in a ball on the bed, and she’d wake up with a sleepy, little cat bedhead when we entered the room where she slept. She loved to jump up and sit on my lap whenever I typed on the computer, and sometimes she’d sit right next to the computer as I typed and just stare at me. I loved how much she loved and trusted me. She liked to cuddle up in our laps when we watched television or when I sat in our rocking chair.
When Lyla was a nursing baby, Roxy would jump up on the pink Boppy pillow and lay right next to her while she nursed. Those were the most peaceful, most love-filled moments, nursing our daughter and petting our furry one.
When Lyla was a baby, Roxy loved to try out all of her snuggle spots — she snuggled in Lyla’s bouncer seat, her crib and her tummy time mat. When Lyla received a princess hut, Roxy was eager to explore. As recently as a few weeks ago, she’d snooze on Lyla’s changing table.
Roxy enjoyed hanging out with and cuddling up close to baby Lyla, even letting her pet her, but when Lyla became a toddler, Roxy traded cuddling for hiding.
Oftentimes, Roxy would tuck all of her legs up underneath her so that it looked like she had no legs. Carter said she looked like a little “race car” when she sat that way, and so we always announced, “Race car!” in small, high-pitched voices (how we imagined Roxy’s voice would sound if she talked) when we’d catch her sitting in that position.
There was also a way she sat that earned her the nickname “vulture.” She’d sit on her back haunches and her shoulder blades would stick out like wings. We loved all of Roxy’s positions and all of her nicknames.
When Roxy was content, she purred and purred so loudly. She was like a little purring machine that just kept on going. What was even cuter and so uniquely her was that she drooled as she purred. The happier she was, the more she’d drool. Little beads of saliva would form at her mouth and just drip, drip all over us. Sometimes, there would be a little puddle wherever Roxy sat from all that drool! It was the most adorable expression of her love and contentment, and it made our hearts so light as we laughed at the cuteness of our sweet, drooling kitty.
One of our favorite Roxy-isms was how she’d stick her little tongue out of her mouth ever so slightly. Every so often, we’d look over at her and see her little pink tongue peeking out of her mouth . . . and it would just stay like that for several minutes. It was the cutest thing to see! Sometimes, she’d open her mouth and show her teeth, and she’d stay that way for several minutes. We read that this meant she smelled something bad, so we always laughed and wondered what was stinky when we saw her mouth hanging open.
Roxy loved to sit on windowsills or in doorways and look out at all the birds and lizards she saw outside. When she saw them, her tail would quiver and she’d make several staccato chirping noises in succession that sounded like the tiny bark of a dog. We always said that she was “barking” when she made these noises, and we giggled as we watched how intently she focused on her “prey” as she “barked” and quivered. She and Kai loved when we got the porch addition on our house. What a great spot for bird- and lizard-watching.
I remember how much they loved looking out at the balcony in our apartment when we first moved to Florida, too.
She loved to rub her head up against her catnip toys over and over again (she got very excitable over catnip), and when she was a younger cat, she enjoyed carrying around little toys in her mouth. She enjoyed clawing at things — her kitty hut, her dog toy, and especially our carpets.
She adored Christmas morning, when we’d always fill her stocking with little cat toys. She loved spending Christmas morning right by our sides, hanging out under the tree and discovering all the little toys we had bought her. She’d chase her new toys, rub up against them, and bat them with her little paws. And she absolutely loved snuggling under the Christmas tree all throughout the season.
One Christmas, I bought her a hemp mouse with an extremely long tail that was probably her favorite toy. She went crazy for that mouse, rolling around and getting herself happily tangled up in its tail. I actually bought her a second one this Christmas because she loved it so much.
When she was younger, sometimes she’d get rambunctious and grab our hands with her teeth and her feet as we played with her. She’d never be rough or hurt us, though . . . it was just like she was roughhousing with us while we roughhoused with her. She’d roll on her back and flick her feet against our arms or grab our arms in her clawed grips.
We had a red laser light toy that she absolutely loved to chase. We’d make the red light zoom around the room, and she’d wait, and wait, and wait, then run and pounce. She’d run and jump up the walls if that laser light climbed up them. She’d sneak up on it and chase it around corners. I think she could have played that game for hours without getting bored of it.
When she was a younger kitty, we used to play a hide-and-go-seek game that was so adorable. I discovered one day that, if I crouched down and hid behind something, she’d stealthily make her way towards me. She’d wiggle her little butt and tail, sneak slowly and low to the ground at first, then run and pounce at me. We’d do several rounds of this together. I’ve never known a cat to do that. It was our special, little game.
Roxy had certain foods that were her absolute favorites. If she heard Carter or I opening a can of tuna fish, she’d come running into the kitchen, sometimes seemingly out of nowhere. We could open other cans and she wouldn’t come running, but she somehow always knew when we were opening tuna fish. We’d pour some of the tuna juice into her bowl and some in Kai’s, and she lapped it up so quickly and happily. She also devoured bonito flakes. I could even call to her, “Roxy, do you want some bonitos?” in a high-pitched voice, and she’d come running for them. She also enjoyed catnip, and occasionally, I’d sprinkle some over her food. She was pretty picky about what she ate. We went through a few different kinds of cat food until we settled on Wellness, and even with that, she only liked certain flavors. She liked the chicken and herring, turkey and salmon, and turkey flavors, and was lukewarm on chicken. She was not a fan of beef. When she wanted to eat, she’d jump up to the counter, sit next to her bowls, and stare at us until we noticed her. I’ll miss those beautiful green eyes staring me down when I open the fridge.
Unfortunately, Roxy was also a fan of eating things that were dangerous for her, and we were constantly worried about keeping things out of her reach that could hurt her. For example, she loved to chew on plastic. If we kept the pantry door open, where there was often some kind of plastic from pet food cases or grocery bags, or if we didn’t immediately put a plastic grocery bag into our recycling bin, we’d find her chewing on it, head tilted sideways and little teeth a-gnawing. We’d get so frustrated, and we’d be laughing at the same time — why did she want to eat things that were so dangerous for her?
She also loved to chew on ribbons, thin cords, tinsel, plants and flowers. One time, as I got ready to run at the gym, I discovered that my headphone cord was chewed through. Another time, we found the cord to our alarm clock chewed through. And one Christmas, we got smart and swapped out our tinsel for beaded garland.
And the worst don’t-chew-that scenario occurred around Thanksgiving 2011 when I was 7 months pregnant. Oma and Pa were visiting, and Oma kindly bought us a pretty floral arrangement for our Thanksgiving table. Knowing that Roxy liked to chew on plants, I kept the arrangement on the desk in our office. I walked out of the office for just a few minutes, and accidentally kept the door open. When I walked back in, Roxy was chewing on the flowers. Then, she vomited. I knew that some flowers were toxic to cats, so I googled some of the flowers that were in our arrangement. I discovered that certain kinds of lilies are toxic to cats, and there were lilies in our arrangement.
I’ve never seen Carter so worried about Roxy. Though she seemed to be ok, we didn’t want to take any chances so we rushed her to the emergency vet, where she was given Toxiban. We were told to keep an eye on her during the evening and to bring her back for care if her condition worsened. Carter, who normally sleeps through everything, woke up with a jolt several times during the night to check on Roxy. It was absolutely heartwarming to see how concerned he was about our girl.
Oftentimes, our bedtime marked the beginning of Roxy’s nighttime adventures. Sometimes, we’d wake up in the wee hours of the morning to the sounds of Roxy running around the house, making crazy meowing sounds that sounded like deep, whining howls or moans. It sounded like there was an echo inside of her mouth as she proclaimed, “MOW, MOW, MOW.” We’d always wake up and start giggling in bed when she did this.
Nighttimes were also the times when she’d make the most noise in her litter box. She’d climb in, go to the potty, and then scrape up her litter with such enthusiasm that it often woke us up. We’d always chuckle. It was like she was trying to wake us up to join in her evening adventures.
We always had a loving and a silly relationship with Roxy. She showed us so much affection, and brought us so much joy and laughter. We used to pretend that she could talk, and we’d pretend that she had conversations with us by talking in a high-pitched, sassy voice that we imagined would be Roxy’s if she could talk. Carter would always make her say that she was Jewish and why didn’t we celebrate her holiday. When we’d come or go from the house and see Roxy waiting in the window, or when we’d see her from another room, we’d put our pointer fingers and index fingers up in a V-shape like her ears. It was our “hello” and “goodbye” signal. We’s sometimes accompany the signal with a high-pitched, “Prox-xy!” (We sometimes called Roxy by the nicknames of Proxy, Prox, Proxy-Frox, or Roxaphonic.)
Though our conversations and our signals with Roxy were all in imaginary fun, we did have a communication with her that was very real. My favorite moments with her were those moments when she jumped up in bed and curled up next to me. I’d pet her for as long as I could stay awake. Even better were those more sporadic moments when she curled up right on my chest and purred, and sometimes drooled. I’d pet her and begin to doze off to the sounds of her purrs. Then, I’d hear her jump off the bed and head for her evening adventures. It was like she had rocked me to sleep, and now her fun could begin.
Carter has his own sweet memories of Roxy curling up on his chest. He remembers a fuzzy, tan sweatshirt that he used to wear in college and that Roxy loved. She’d jump up on him as he sat on the couch, and she’d put her head and her front paws right up close to his chin as she snuggled into him.
Sometimes, we’d find Roxy and Kai snuggling up together. It was so sweet to see them cuddled up on the couch next to one another or cozying up together. They were buddies, and I think they liked to keep each other company when we weren’t home.
Roxy loved to be rubbed under her chin. We’d rub her with one finger under her chin, and she’d stretch her neck out and stick her nose in the air. She also loved it when we scratched her neck, stretching it out far so we could get all the good spots. Sometimes when we pet her, she’d stretch her legs out far and push out her claws, as if she was saying, “Ahhhh, that feels GOOD!”
When Roxy began sneezing a few weeks ago, our vet, Dr. Anderson, suspected she had an allergy. Roxy’s always been a perfectly healthy cat with near-perfect bloodwork as recently as April 2014, so the diagnosis made sense. Then, Roxy began wheezing, and when her bloodwork came back with a high white blood cell count, Dr. Anderson suspected a kidney infection. But when the wheezing didn’t stop and Roxy continued to decline food, it was time for x-rays. I talked with my vet friend, Dr. Walker, from PA, who gave us his suspicions (which were pretty much spot on) and who recommended that we get Roxy some x-rays and get her put on an appetite stimulant called cyproheptadine. After Roxy’s x-rays, Dr. Anderson gave us the devastating news that our precious kitty had a lesion on her kidney and cancer cells in her lungs. We went to a veterinary specialist who confirmed that she had kidney carcinoma, which is very rare in cats. Worse, and even more rare, the cancer had spread to her chest cavity and most likely wouldn’t respond to treatment.
I spent that evening snuggling with Roxy on our bed. She curled up in my arms and purred and we just enjoyed one another for close to an hour. We did lots of cuddling that next week. I opened windows for her each day so she could take in the breezes and the songs of the birds. She was constantly purring and flapping her tail, and she even “barked” at a lizard. I pet her every chance I got, stopping whatever I was doing to just lay on the floor next to her and pet her. Sometimes I dozed off to the sweet sound of her purring. Sometimes, she stretched out her legs and pushed out her claws to let me know how good she felt.
Carter and I are not ones to give up without a fight, so we ordered some cancer-fighting supplements online. While we waited for the supplements to come in, we gave Roxy buprenorphine to ease her pain and cyproheptadine to stimulate her appetite. She began to eat again, and she enjoyed sardines, tuna juice, freeze-dried salmon treats and a variety of cat foods. She was doing remarkably well considering her diagnosis.
Dr. Anderson, such a sweet, caring and intelligent vet, spent so much time talking with me on the phone and devising a plan of action. She explained that as long as Roxy still had quality of life (eating, drinking, using the litter box, spending time with family), that we could do everything in our power to keep her comfortable. She explained that Roxy’s chest cavity might fill up with more fluid, and told us it was reasonable to drain her and keep her comfortable. She also explained the signs to look for to determine if Roxy was having difficulty breathing.
Roxy is a fighter, and she didn’t seem to want to let on that was having trouble breathing. On Sunday morning at 3 a.m., she went into our guest room, where she never goes, and began panting. She also began meowing out in pain. Kyle and his family and my mom were all in town and staying at our house, so Carter and I rushed Roxy to the emergency vet, where they drained so much fluid it was incredible she survived. It was a terrifying night, and we were so thankful and blessed to still have her with us.
While we were at the emergency vet, the technician told us about a vet by the name of Dr. Nunez who had developed an alternative treatment for pets called i-Therm. The technician told us about some of the remarkable results Dr. Nunez had in treating pets’ cancers and giving them months or even years to live. We took Roxy to see Dr. Nunez two days later.
Dr. Nunez, like Dr. Walker and Dr. Anderson, is a remarkable man. We are so lucky to have so many wonderful veterinarians in our lives. Dr. Nunez talked with us for about an hour, explaining how i-Therm therapy works and how it might help Roxy. I-Therm works by creating hyperthermia in the body, causing the immune system to fight against the cancer cells. He looked at Roxy’s bloodwork and saw how perfect it was, and told us that there was hope for her. He explained that her cancer was aggressive and that trying to treat her would be like “climbing Mt. Everest on iceskates, but they’re damn good ice skates.” He gave her an i-Therm treatment that evening to help dry up some of the fluid in her chest.
The following day, Roxy had a carboplatin chemotherapy treatment followed by i-Therm. Unfortunately, Dr. Nunez found more fluid build-up in her chest cavity and had to drain her again prior to treatment.
Over the following few days, Roxy stopped eating. Her chest filled up again on Friday, and Dr. Nunez explained that her cancer seemed too aggressive to respond to treatment. He indicated that to do what was best for Roxy probably meant letting her go. I broke down in tears and Dr. Nunez comforted me and told me it was a safe place to cry. He jokingly said that he had wondered if I was “made of steel” or if I was “Batman” because it was the first time he saw me break down like that. “I’m just an optimist,” I explained to him. “I believe that things will work until they don’t.” We agreed that we would give Roxy one more i-Therm treatment to help her feel better, and then Carter and I would spend the rest of Friday and the first part of Saturday just being with her and loving her. I stayed with Roxy and pet her during her hour-long i-Therm treatment. She seemed so peaceful and content as she laid on a cozy pet bed and enjoyed the warm i-Therm. I cried and chatted with the sweet technician, then went home to my family.
That night, I tried desperately to get Roxy to eat. It had been three days since she had eaten more than a few bites. She would walk a few feet, then lay on the floor on her side, breathing heavily. She didn’t enjoy when I gave her the buprenorphine or the appetite stimulant, and sometimes it made her gag. Carter and I just didn’t want to put her through that anymore. What made it so difficult was that she kept on purring and flapping that tail. I was so torn because she showed these signs of contentment, but all the while she wasn’t eating and she was laying on her side all day. Then I realized, even if she starved herself, even if her lungs filled up with fluid, she’d keep on purring and she’d keep on flapping that tail, because she loved us. That love will live on forever.
That evening, I talked with Dr. Anderson, who agreed that it was probably the right time to let Roxy go. She told me she’d be at the hospital until 12 p.m. the next day, and that she totally understood if we needed more time for our goodbyes and wanted to go to Dr. Nunez’s office.
The rest of the night, we snuggled with Roxy on the couch while we watched TV. I got out a nice, fuzzy blanket for her to lay on, and she just adored that. I put it on the foot of the bed with us at bedtime, and she slept right at our feet all night long. I didn’t want to put her right next to us, because I know how much she enjoys having some time to herself in the evenings. Over these past few weeks, Carter and I had been trying to love her and cuddle her while respecting her kitty personality. Hard to do sometimes when all you want to do is hold her close forever.
On Saturday, we took Roxy to Dr. Dave at Dr. Nunez’s office, and he helped us to make the best decision for Roxy. He explained that this was probably a good time because, when a pet doesn’t eat, a pet doesn’t have quality of life anymore. He said that she would get more and more uncomfortable, and that we would be making the right decision to say goodbye before she was in too much pain. That’s when Carter broke down, and we both just lost it and held each other in our arms.
I was so thankful that our friend Susan dropped everything to come meet us at the office. As Carter and I cried in one another’s arms, Lyla played innocently with Susan in the main lobby.
Roxy seemed so alert, and I felt so unsure of our decision. Then, she lay down on her side and heaved, taking deep, difficult breaths, and it was like she was telling us, “I’m ready to go now.” We pet her and kissed her and told her how much we loved her. I held her in my arms as she went to sleep, and Carter and I wept together as I felt her body go light and peaceful in my arms.
The pain we are feeling is so tremendously heavy on our hearts. We cried our eyes dry yesterday, and coming home to just one of our two black girls was excruciatingly difficult. But Kai ran right up to us when we got home and nuzzled up against me, pushing herself into my arms for a fuzzy hug.
Today was Mother’s Day, and all I wanted to do was be with my family and to see them happy. We went to a dog park only a few blocks from where we said goodbye to Roxy, and I could feel my heart healing as I watched Kai sniff through the grass and chase squirrels, and as I watched Lyla and her Daddy playing on the playground.
I am so thankful for my family and for our Kai. As I felt the pain of our loss yesterday, I just wanted to jump out of my body. The pain was so overwhelming and all-consuming. I realized that it was important to feel the pain, to cry with Carter, and to flood myself with love.
We will continue to ache and to miss Roxy. The only way to work through all-consuming pain is to feel all-consuming love. We will laugh with happy memories of Roxy “barking” at birds and drooling all over us. We will cry when we call her to us and remember she’s not here. And we will love each other every second of every day, because there’s just nothing else we’d rather do to heal. We’ll feel the pain of the past while focusing on the joy of the present. And I believe that our sweet angel Roxy will curl up on our chests, purr and drool on us each and every night; that is, until she’s off for her nighttime adventures in Heaven.