Duke at SunsetHe was thin and white when I found him in my backyard. He was sick and so tired he couldn’t even bring himself to run away.

I brought him a bowl of water and came back out in 15 minutes and it was all but gone. In for a penny, in for a pound. I brought out some food — not too much, since he looked so thin, I was afraid he might not be able to handle it. 15 minutes later that was gone.

I figured I had a new cat.

He also had one blue eye and one green eye, like David Bowie. Since he was thin and white, I decided to call him Duke, after Bowie’s Thin White Duke persona.

But those were probably the only things about him like the flamboyant Bowie.

Duke was essentially a quiet cat — though when he was still living outdoors at my old house, he would meow insistently for food — and to try to get indoor privileges. Since I Duke closeupalready had two highly territorial male sibling cats, George and Dave, I elected to leave Duke as my outside cat.

But around the time that Dave passed away after a long bout with kidney disease, I noticed Duke acting funny when he ate, tossing his head to one side every few bites. Over the course of a few days, the behavior became more pronounced. Finally, I gave a good look in his mouth.

A trip to the vets ended up with most of his teeth removed, which meant he was coming inside. There was a huge raccoon in my old neighborhood and I wasn’t leaving Duke out there nearly defenseless. George, my remaining inside cat (well, sorta, actually George’s mother D’Kiki was living in my back apartment with two foster cats… it was a complex scene, cat-wise) did not take to the new interloper at first. He’d always bossed his brother around — even though his brother, a smaller tiger, was the better fighter — but a whole new cat… that was an insult he had a hard time accepting.

But eventually Duke and George became good friends. D’Kiki passed on, my foster cats went back to their original owner, I was able to adopt out the three rescue kittens who were born to a feral mother in or near my backyard, and when I moved, it was only Duke and George who made the move. By that time, George, who had been born with his brother Dave, their late sister Heidi, and three other kittens in a computer monitor box in a corner of my living room, was 14. That house was all he’d ever known and I was afraid he’d hate the new place — but he seemed to fall in love with it. He immediately adopted a window overlooking the rooftops in my neighborhood. But he was ill… and about 5 months after we moved, he did succumb to cancer.

Duke was a bit lost for a while — and so was I. But we supported each other (I know that sounds silly; I’m just telling it like it was). Duke kept me focused and moving forward. He gave me continuity. I’m not a big “people person” these days but my buddy Duke was always there. (Well, he didn’t have outside privileges by himself, so that was literally true.)

Duke had always seemed to have a problem with what appeared at first to be “dry heaves” (you should pardon the expression). Since he had extravagantly long hair, I assumed it was related to that. But I noticed he never threw up during those episodes. (But he did, on rare occasions throw up, typically after wolfing down a big dinner. After a while, it appeared that he learned to in smaller portions more often.)

Eventually I took him to the vets for a general check up and to see if they had any insight into these dry heaving episodes. After a series of X-rays and a consultation with her radiologist, my vet reported that Duke almost certainly had a cancerous mass between his lungs and stomach. I told her that the symptoms had occurred occasionally for several years at that point, really since I first started feeding him. “Keep him calm and comfortable,” she said.

That was almost two years ago.

And I think they were good years for Duke.Duke listens to 'Trane He was relaxed. He seemed to enjoy himself. I indulged his passion for Coltrane on the mellow side — his favorite album was the 1962 Coltrane for Lovers album. (It once even brought him home when he’d escaped and was defiantly holding out in a neighbor’s locked side yard. I coaxed and cajoled. I put a bowl of cat food out. In desperation, I opened the windows and put on Coltrane for Lovers… by the end of the second track he was back inside, curling up contentedly.)

His health problems didn’t seem to have much more than occasional impact. But in recent months his weight was down — even as his appetite was good and, on the vet’s recommendation, I’d started dripping him with hydrating fluids to offset cancer-toxin related damage to the kidneys. Still, it was a relatively light burden on both of us.

In the middle of last week, Duke had a violent seizure. It was too late to go to our regular vet (who was out of town, anyway) but by the time I got to where he’d dragged himself during the seizure, under a table where he was confined enough that he didn’t hurt himself to badly, he was calming down and beginning to breath normally. (Or normally for him, as his breathing in the last few years had become more rapid and shallower. Still, he usually seemed comfortable and happy.) Within a half hour, he was eating and seemed fine.

But two days later, he had another, less violent, but somewhat longer seizure. I stayed by him, holding his legs so that he couldn’t hurt himself. It seemed like that may have actually calmed him.

Yesterday, Duke had a pretty good day. He breakfasted and later dined on his current favorite food (chicken with liver), we went outside for a little while and I let him poke around in the plants. He seemed in good spirits and didn’t seem to feel bad. His coat looked good. (When a cat gets dried out, he gets that scarecrow-straw fur look.) He was a bit subdued but he mostly slept by where I was working. All night long, he slept right by my bed.

Around 4 or 5 am I heard him eating some of his dry food and thought that was a good sign. In the morning he looked good… but at a certain point he went in the other room. Something told me to keep an eye on him.

Duke passed away with me by his side, doing my best to comfort him.

He was a great cat.

Duke at Sunset

No song today. Go listen to some John Coltrane… Coltrane for Lovers if you have it. And say a little prayer for my pal, Duke.


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