Plastic Chewers, and Some Thoughts on Loss

balck cat in black and white
“What?”

Mr. Sunshine is coming home from the emergency hospital this afternoon, and he is fine. Giuseppe and Bean have moved from, “He’s not far away, he’ll be back soon,” and enjoying the little bit of extra attention and space they’ve gotten along with reassuring me since for some reason I seemed a little out of sorts, to demanding, “Where is he? When is he coming back?” Mewsette and Mimi stayed close to each other and both sat on my lap when I was at my desk last night, but stayed downstairs by the door.

And I had a lot to think about, as I have also been thinking a lot about these things recently in general.

Mr. Sunshine has a habit of eating plastic. Even when he only hears it his eyes light up and I would swear he was salivating at the thought of the taste or feel of chewing that plastic, and when he finds an errant piece I am hard pressed to get it from him.

This began at a young age—he was four months old the first time I had him in emergency because he was vomiting and not eating, and he managed to pass the tiny scrap that was causing the issue. He is now seven and I have been aware and vigilant; aside from a few slip-ups on my behalf we have had no more veterinary emergencies.

This is not easy. Not only the ubiquitous plastic bags but all sorts of packaging make it nearly impossible to eliminate plastic from daily life, and we get a double dose because I use plastic in my own packaging for merchandise when necessary. My own choices in plastics, including bubble wrap, plastic bags, print sleeves and the like, are as recycled and green and non-toxic as I can find, and those alternatives are available with a little searching. But they are still plastic and when Mr. Sunshine decides to taste the corner of a bag it still has the same effect in him. And I also tend to reuse materials in which I’ve received products rather than simply discard them, and those products are of unknown origin and content to me.

Storing this is an issue, partly because of the amount I keep on hand. I have two closets in my entire home, and the cabinets in my studio and a few other cabinets, and these are already full of things I don’t want kitties pawing into. For years I had stored it all in my attic, accessible through “disappearing stairs” with a trap door right there in my studio. I had used this like another room in the house for most of the years I’d been here, until the year I took down a box of paper and packing materials a squirrel had nested in and out jumped a few thousand hungry fleas and I was infested for two full years. Now I have these materials in my bedroom, divided into two large boxes with flaps closed and other boxes on top containing various paper envelopes and  boring cardboard sleeves and USPS Priority Mail envelopes, boring even to Mewsette.

But yesterday morning while the Four were happily at their wakeup routine, Mr. Sunshine happily digging one of my hands and then the other out from under the covers to briefly gnaw on them and purring all over me, I also heard the unmistakable crackling of cat-chewing-plastic. I sat up to see Mr. Sunshine blissfully chewing on an edge of bubble wrap pulled up from under a flap of one box, the box that had been on top covering those flaps and weighing them down now at an angle to the side, its cargo of paper envelopes gracefully splayed onto the floor. I yelled, “Hey!” which is never enough to move him, in fact he chews harder, then reached down and gave him a shove. He took off and I saw a small chunk taken out of the plastic. I reorganized it all, vowing to finally get a real container with a real lid or make room in my bedroom closet for it. Or get a bigger house. We’d all like that!

But just a little later after I’d finished my clean up Mr. Sunshine, sitting on the bed watching me, started heaving, then hopped on the floor and deposited a small amount of foam. Not only had I just seen him chewing plastic, but since my cats have been on a raw diet they simply never throw up, and when they do it’s likely an emergency. I cleaned it up, went to feed Smokie, then we all went down stairs for breakfast. Mr. Sunshine had his treat but no interest in food, went off and laid on the floor, then a little later threw up again. After resting a few hours I coaxed him to have a treat and he gagged a little. He was looking worse all the time, and when Dr. Michelle came over to visit Smokie and help socialize him with another person, Mr. Sunshine was growly unhappy about an abdominal exam. I was concerned this would go from bad to worse, and there was always the chance I was reading too much into the plastic, so off we went to emergency. On the way there I was confidently thinking, “This is just plastic, it will either pass or we’ll have to do surgery, hope not!” tempered by the memory of the times I thought it was “just this…”, and it turned out to be something far more serious than I had ever imagined.

Blood tests showed a teensy increase in typical white blood cells, xrays showed nothing, temperature was 103.7, so they kept him to see if anything really was developing, and as I’d mentioned, it was nothing.

Several things were at work here for me, and none of them had to do with random eating of plastic. The Four are now seven, and it’s not lost on me that is an age, as when humans reach middle age, when issues hidden by youth may begin to emerge—it’s when Namir’s heart murmur took a big jump, and when both Allegro and Fawn, I now recognize, both began to show the first symptoms of lymphoma, and I lost them both at about ten.

I began my life with this little family with the knowledge that any one or all of them could develop FIP because their half-sister Lucy had had it and possibly the immunity to that coronavirus’s mutation is in part genetic. They had passed the first and second year goals with no sign of anything but FIP can be devious, showing up in another set of clothes, appearing like just a cold or an infection that won’t go away, then later, if ever, revealing itself as the fatal illness it is. Just like Mr. Sunshine’s penchant for plastic, I’ve always been on the lookout for any sign of anything unusual.

And even though, seeing that most of my cats recently have lived into their later teens or early twenties, I’m hoping it’s way far in the future that I begin losing members of this wonderful family. I am quite experienced at losing cats, though that does not make it easier. I’ve known from the time I decided to keep them that losing these would probably be the hardest losses I’d experience, in part for me watching them grow ill and disappear one by one, and also in watching their losses of each other, with the memory of the ones who’ve died still alive in those who remain, they are so close. They’ve never been apart. Possibly it’s good that they haven’t paired off, that they still cuddle together as a group. But it’s never far from my mind, even when I enjoy their company all together, or one on one.

We use a house call veterinarian for their annual exams and most care that doesn’t require clinic activities, so, aside from Mr. Sunshine’s visit to emergency at four months, and Bean’s one blockage in November 2011, and possibly Mimi’s early appointments before she came to me, they’ve never been to a veterinary clinic since they were spayed and neutered, and never gone overnight. They’ve only been apart for relatively brief times. Perhaps with one missing overnight, two meals, a little over 24 hours, it’s a taste of what will be. I don’t mind the warning, I let myself dwell on it. In a way, it helps to soften the blow for me.

I really haven’t been too deeply involved in rescue and foster for a few years, too. From about the time they came to me in 2007 I’ve taken in ten other cats to foster and possibly rehome or return to their home, quite unlike the revolving household for decades prior to that. But I had forgotten the paranoia about any illness I’d developed over the years of caring for cats as I saw more suffering and learned more about possible illnesses that could enter and infect my household. I am as careful as I can be, and I know with some of the worst illnesses you have no idea they are there and there is no way to be careful enough. You always need to be vigilant, observant, never presume anything out of the ordinary is “nothing”. Always being wary, it changes the way you think about the sources of possible danger, and when those sources are the very cats you are trying to help it can confuse your responses to things.

But there were times when noticing “something that was probably nothing” really did clue me in to “something that was something”: Lucy’s slow recovery from spay, debilitating enough I thought she’d injured herself, and told my vet right away; a little lethargy in Kublai that turned out to be a brief, intermittent spiking fever, the first signs of the illness that wasted him, and may have actually been a latent form of dry FIP; that Stanley’s eyes weren’t the same large ovals they usually were, and it turned out he’d slipped into renal failure and was dehydrated, but with no other symptoms.

I have also been organizing my thoughts for speaking about “Loving Again After Loss” at Pet Memorial Sunday next weekend.

So I have a bill to pay and poor Mr. Sunshine had to be poked and prodded and have his leg shaved and he’ll come home smelling like all sorts of awful things! I heard he had a pretty good time back in the clinic area, especially when I heard how nice he was. And I not only have an assurance that nothing is there, I also have a middle-age blood panel and set of abdominal xrays for future reference. They’ll see their veterinarian for their annual exams in a month too.

black cat in black and white
A profile view.

. . . . . . .

So little Smokie has reminded me of Mr. Sunshine in several ways—that kitten arrogance, expressions, postures, and I even called Smokie “Mr. Sunshine” once. Up to now the evil hissing crackling plastic bag has been Smokie’s nemesis, but what did he do today? Ran right over to the plastic bag I was putting in the covered trash can and began chewing on the edge! I do have a photo of him for today, a little later…

. . . . . . .

"Doubt"
“Doubt”

Each month I take my disabled brother grocery shopping after his Social Security check arrives in the bank. A month ago I took him shopping and stopped to take this photo of the light through the green corrugated fiberglass siding of an industrial building at night.

Today was a month since I said goodbye to Kennedy. Last night I drove home from taking my brother shopping and once again saw this green glow in the dark. A month ago Kennedy had come home from the emergency hospital, sedated to keep him from seizing again, and I’d called my veterinarian for his euthanasia appointment the next day. I wanted him to have as much time as he could before he said goodbye. Also, my brother needed his groceries and an hour away would help me clear my mind and organize all that had just happened, and what was to come.

When I saw this image that night, the first word that came to mind was “doubt”. I’m not sure why; I don’t think I had any doubts about Kennedy’s health and my decisions, and the decisions of others, regarding him. Perhaps the word had nothing to do with him at all but was just an intuitive impression drawn from other sources—my relatives had worked in that mill at one time, friends had lived in this neighborhood, I had walked here many times all through my life, I had also just done some shopping for myself and was well-stocked for the next few days for my cats and me, and possibly it had something to do with the color green or the darkness around it and the abstract pattern glowing defiantly out of the darkness. I’m not sure, but I know that each time I see this again, driving, bicycling, walking, or anything that resembles it, I will think of Kennedy and that night. It’s funny how our minds and hearts make connections.

black cat
One of Kennedy’s last photos.

Read more under the topic of Pet Loss on The Creative Cat.

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13 thoughts on “Plastic Chewers, and Some Thoughts on Loss

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  • September 8, 2014 at 6:24 pm
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    Thank goodness Mr Sunshine is OK..I don’t understand why some cats have these strange cravings..I have one who likes to eat paper..toilet paper, tissues, tissue paper. napkins, paper towels,,can you imagine trying to keep her away from all of these household items..she swallows it down and then throws it back up..she scares me so bad sometimes..also my big black tuxedo boy enjoys digging q-tips out of the waste can in the bathroom and chewing them up..Keeping the bathroom door shut helps with the q-tips and toilet paper..but there is paper everywhere..I also had an old girl who has since passed who had the plastic attraction..mostly bags and plastic wrappers..any ideas about why they do these things B..I just opened my sketch of Kennedy that arrived today..with tears of course..All I can say is it is such a wonderful memory of him..I will find a suitable frame and he will go on the wall with forever beautiful Emeraude….Seeing the beauty in the everyday and ordinary is part of your gift Bernadette..People pass that building constantly pay it no-mind..you take the time to see what lies beneath..Hugs to all and an extra today for Mr Sunshine..PS…Thanks for the black cat hair in my envelope..Tell them I appreciate them sacrificing it for me..lol..

    Reply
    • September 17, 2014 at 7:48 pm
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      Bluemoonalone, part of the plastic attraction is that some plastics are made from corn derivatives and they actually smell good! Other things, who knows? But paper? I’d have to go out of business! I’m so glad to know you have a Kennedy sketch–the more people remember him, the more his story goes around, along with Emeraude. And if you need more black hair, well, you know where to find it!

      Reply
  • September 8, 2014 at 2:54 pm
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    sunshine….dood…glad ta noe ewe iz doin oh kay, we asked R pal frank ta send sum blessings
    yur way just for good measure….N try chewin on mackerull…..ewe mite be surprised !!

    ♥♥♥♥♥♥♥ two ewe Kennedy

    Reply
    • September 8, 2014 at 3:55 pm
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      Sunshine can use em! Of all the kittehs he’s the one who uses tools and is likely to do something foolish.

      Reply
  • September 8, 2014 at 9:04 am
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    Good to hear Sunshine is going to be home and he is fine.
    Life flows in ups and downs… doubts are part of it, but regrets are a bit useless at the end. I know it is easy to say but…
    The light is with you, and all the compassion and love you pour and purr.

    Reply
    • September 8, 2014 at 3:56 pm
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      Maru, you are right, regrets are useless, and I try not to create them. Glad he is well and we may know what it’s “not”.

      Reply
  • September 7, 2014 at 6:58 pm
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    Nancy, we should always make the most of every moment, especially with our animals because their lives are already so short. But definitely, try to leave no regrets, and always remember that many others know, and care. We’ll be having lots of hugs and kissed tonight!

    Reply
  • September 7, 2014 at 6:34 pm
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    My belated condolences on Kennedy’s passing, Bernadette. Glad that Mr. Sunshine pulled through. It’s so hard keeping them out of stuff. Phoenix, too, had a thing for plastic, especially for those little plastic safety seals on vitamin and Advil bottles. Couldn’t leave them in the little wastebasket, or he would nab. Phoebe’s weakness are ribbon and garbage-bag ties; and once, I spent 40 minutes scissoring the fringe off new slipcovers because I discovered that Magwitch, though not a full Siamese, has inherited the Siamese weakness for eating fringe. We do the best we can, and you do incredibly well by your cats.
    This was a beautiful piece. And you’re right about those connections. Certain flowers and things are connected with certain cats on a heart-and-soul level for me. There’s neither rhyme nor reason for the connections — they just are.

    Reply
    • September 7, 2014 at 7:04 pm
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      Tammy, what do we do about the trashpickers?! Mr. Sunshine does that too, and as far back as Kublai who would eat right through foil. It is interesting how memory works. I have cardboard boxes and clothes that trigger memories too.

      Reply
  • September 7, 2014 at 5:49 pm
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    First, I am so glad Mr Sunshine will be OK !
    Second, this is one of the most emotional post I have read in a while.
    It spoke to me on many levels.
    My take away from this is to live life fully with no regrets,love those around you(human and animal)
    and know that you are not alone.
    Give Mr Sunshine an extra hug from us, and give hugs to the others .
    Hugs to you too 🙂
    Nancy and the kitties

    Reply
  • September 7, 2014 at 5:31 pm
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    Hail Mr. Sunshine and be well, all.

    Reply
    • September 7, 2014 at 6:43 pm
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      He’s feeling fine, though the good drugs have worn off.

      Reply

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