Not long after being diagnosed with a cancerous tumor in his right jaw, Sprocket died at home with us on Saturday, August 21st surrounded by his siblings. He was 16 years old. I've been blessed with raising several kitties in my lifetime (Tuna Breath, Cocaine, Crash, Katie, Jumpy, Scout), but Sprocket was that "long-time companion" that I had a special bond with.
Life As A KittenBack in June of 1994, I had been taking care of my friend Jay Schwed's 19-year-0ld kitty, Gooby. She was a sweet-natured kitty but not particularly friendly to me. My kitty Crash was only 7 when he died ten months before and taking care of Gooby made me realize I was finally ready to adopt another companion. I put the word out to my friends that I was looking again. Crash was a black and gray striped short hair tabby and I thought this time that I would get an orange tabby. My friends were telling me about people they knew who had new kittens and I did look at lots of kitties. However, I wasn't having much luck finding a companion that seemed like we would be a good fit.
I remember it was a Wednesday, middle of June and I was driving down Ventura Boulevard in Studio City. I drove past the PETCO near Coldwater Canyon and something told me to turn around and go back. It was just this strong sense, a feeling that I had to go into this store. Sure enough, there were kitten adoptions sponsored by an organization called "Lifeline For Pets."
It was in the late afternoon, and almost all of the kittens were napping but there was this one black and white kitten that caught my eye. Even though all the other kitties were asleep, he still had lots of energy and wanted to play with my long ponytail I put up to the cage. He was a wild, 12 weeks old rescue kitten. I got permission to hold him and he had this wonderful deep purr. It didn't take me long to decide that this little boy was the one. I wanted to take him home right then but the ladies managing the kittens said I couldn't take him home; that my adoption had to be approved by the foster parent who wasn't there that day. Besides, they indicated that they had to check out my home to ensure it was kitty friendly and had screens on the windows.
I was beside myself. I couldn't believe it that they wouldn't let me take him home. They said it would have to wait until Saturday, when they would deliver him to my home and give him his last set of shots. I couldn't wait until Saturday! When my new companion arrived on June 16th, he made himself right at home.
One of the endearing things Sprocket did that first night and continued until he was about 10 years old was sleep on my right shoulder. Before he would go to sleep he would do the paw-paw into my neck, suckle on my right ear lobe and purr. As he got older he didn't sleep with me as much but he still occasionally sucked on my ear until he was about 12 or 13.
I had quite a few plants in that second floor apartment including seven ceiling height trees and it didn't take long for my new kitty to discover them. That's when I realized that he had more wild energy than my large house plants could take. His favorite game was sitting on the edge of the Terra cotta pots, leaping as high as he could, grabbing on then trying to climb to the top of the stalk before he got hit with the spray bottle. Even shaking 20 pennies in a can like the animal guru Warren Eckstein recommended didn't phase him or deter him from running around the apartment like a maniac. In time, he eventually pulled every single one of the trees out of their pots from climbing them and hanging on until he jumped down.
Once he had settled in, it was time to come up with a good name. My last kitty Crash had a motorcycle related name, (his full name was Redline Crasher; Crash for short) and I wanted to give my new companion a motorcycle related name, too. Several ideas I though of were Suzuki ~since I rode a GS750E~, Katana, Basanni, Webber but those didn't seem to fit. I settled on "Rear Sprocket" which eventually became just Sprocket.
When Sprocket was five months old, he taught me how to play fetch. I was on the sofa trying to get some paperwork done and he kept pestering me, getting into my papers and pushing them all around. I threw one of his tiny mouse toys across the room to try to get him to go play with the mouse. He ran after it, picked it up, brought it back and dropped it right in front of me. Surprised, I threw it again and he did the exact same thing. I threw it again. Repeat. Twenty, thirty times in a row, he brought it back. Fetch became one of the games he loved to play. He brought it back every time until he was 2 1/2 when he decided he only needed to bring it back halfway before he would drop the mouse.
Along with his climbing the house trees, he started to climb other things in the house. Here he is at about six or seven months, hanging out on the front door.
And, he liked to get into things. Trash cans became places where he would find new toys.
And, he liked to hide behind things like kitties do.
Sprocket, like many kitties became a bag and box lover. Leave a bag or box out and he had to make it his property for a while.
He'd let me know when his water bowl was low
... and when he was hungry.
Another difficult task was trying to box up presents around Christmas.
A little after he was two years old, a longtime girlfriend from Ohio came to visit with her 10-year-old black and white female doggie. Sprocket had never been around a dog before, but fortunately for Sprocket this doggie was raised around kitties. After they got to know each other... (that's my friend in the photo)
... Sprocket tries to get her to play with him.
Here's another attempt to get a playmate.
Sprocket got into just about anything and everything. He had a never ending curiosity. I remember one time in the old apartment, I was in the living room and I was hearing this THUMP! THUMP! THUMP! coming from the laundry room. I go to the laundry room and the noise is in the dryer. I open up the dryer and Sprocket jumped out. Fortunately, there had been a full load of clothes in the dryer almost dry when he crawled in. If I left the washer lid open, he would jump in. I finally cured him of that by holding down the lid lever when he got in there one day and turned the washer on to fill it. That cured him; he never got in the washer again.
As a kitten, he loved to watch me take a bath. He was fascinated by splashing water and loved to watch it but hated with a passion having to endure the torture of a bath for himself. When he was older, it took two people to bathe him.
Another big adventure when he was two-and-a-half was the great escape. I had a long work day and when I came home, Sprocket had vanished from the apartment. I couldn't find him anywhere. Then I looked in the laundry room and saw that the window in the back door was left up and a huge hole had been torn in the screen. He had gotten up on top of the dryer, smelled that fresh air coming in through the window screen and clawed his way out.
I was beside myself frantic. I printed up hundreds of flyers and enlisted my neighbors to help me look for him. I crawled under houses searching for him. He was gone for two days. On the third day, I got up real early so I could put some food out on the back stairs thinking that might entice him home. When I opened the back door, there he was, climbing the wood steps. He was black all over, had a few ripped nails and had picked up fleas. But other than that, thankfully no injuries. He got his first and only trip to a groomer to get him white and black and fluffy again. That big adventure started a life long battle with him and his desire to go outside. He escaped many times after that but fortunately never got very far or was AWOL for more than an hour.
Moving To A New HouseWhen he was three I moved into this current house and Sprocket's daily world got quite a bit bigger. There were new things to climb, like the shower door.
And he liked to help out with my sewing projects
and try out the fabric boxes.
There were new hampers to get into
new towels to get under
new places to nap
and new clients with shoes to check out.
bigger shoe boxes to claim
some humiliating situations to tolerate
as well as antlers at Christmas.
My husband also thought that Sprocket really wanted to go outside and hooked up an elaborate overhead fishing line to attach his leash to that ran from the patio all the way to the back property fence. With his leash attached to the line, he had about six to eight feet wide and approximately fifty feet long to hang out in. Every day he made a loud fuss at the back door until we took him outside. He could chase the squirrels a short distance and watch the birds.
We even included him in our backyard wedding.
He was to be the ring bearer and walk toward us on his fancy tether.
But when he didn't walk toward us like planned, my husband had to retrieve our rings off of his collar.
Sprocket loved being outside. However, he became Mr. Hyde when it came time to come back in. It got to the point where I had to throw a towel over him pick him up. When he became almost like Houdini and found a way to wriggle out of his harness his days of being outside had to end.
My husband often let him get up on the desk to take a nap when he was working on the computer.
Getting SiblingsWhen Sprocket turned 10 in 2004 we decided to get him some siblings. My husband didn't know anything about how much fun kittens could be until eight-weeks old Jumpy and Katie arrived.
Sprocket wasn't really happy about it, but he tolerated them. Up until then, he got all the attention.
He would watch them play...
and maybe look out the front door with them...
...but that was about it. As the kids got a bit older, Sprocket tolerated Katie and would occasionally let her get near him. Here's a rare photo of them together on the massage table.
And rarer still, all three kitties on the bed. But as you can see, Sprocket kept a safe distance.
After a rainstorm one cold February day in 2006, a stray kitty showed up on our back patio. He was crouching on top of an old cat condo that Katie and Jumpy had destroyed when they were kittens. We slowly gained his trust by fixing up a comfy warm bed inside a box elevated off the ground and regular, tasty meals.
The inside kitties watched him from the bedroom patio doors.
My husband eventually convinced me to let Scout come inside and meet the other kitties. We knew that Scout had been abandoned because he was already fixed but we didn't know how he would get along with the rest of the fur kids. The first time we brought him inside, he gave an affectionate head tap to Sprocket and then Katie. Sprocket had a fit and hissed at him. He was our inside and outside kitty until a serious bite by another cat (or dog; we never knew) ended his outdoor life. Eventually, Sprocket got used to Scout and on rare occasions would share a drink at the water bowl with him.
Scout and Sprocket had a few big adventures together. You can read about how Sprocket left his paw prints in the floor when we had to completely rebuild our kitchen floor last summer. Scout also figured out how to open the latch on the upstairs window that opens over the first floor of the roof. Sprocket followed him out but we were never sure how they both got down off the roof.
In the late summer of 2009, Sprocket started to have a ravenous appetite and at the same time, he was losing weight. For most of his life he was a hearty 16 pounds but he was down to just under 13 pounds. I had a hunch what was going on and I took him to get a full blood panel to get it confirmed. His thyroid numbers were off the charts. He had feline hyperthyroid. This would eventually kill him if he did not get on a special diet and medication for the rest of his life. But I was also reading about a treatment that could completely cure him: radioactive iodine. I found Advanced Veterinary Medical Imaging in Tustin, CA. After some finagling, I got Sprocket accepted as a patient. You can read about his week-long stay in the clinic here.
Although Sprocket recovered completely from that illness, he never regained the four pounds he lost.
In January this year, Sprocket was sleeping a lot and not eating as much. He had a follow-up blood test that indicated his kidneys were not doing too well. I took him to his long-time acupuncturist who gave him a needle treatment. Sprocket slowly started to get better and to speed up his recovery, I started to take him for walks outside. That became our ritual for the next month. He would get to go for a walk in the afternoon. He loved to go in my neighbor's backyard and chew on the tall wild grass. After a few weeks, Sprocket started to improve and get his appetite back.
The Long GoodbyeIn June, he started to decline again and I took him to a new vet for an exam and tests. The blood tests indicated his kidneys were back to normal but his liver enzymes were off the charts. The new vet thought he had a "non-active" tumor in his right ear. When Sprocket started to have balance problems getting up and down off the big cat tree, we knew we needed a second opinion. Enter the wonderful Dr. Sandy, who makes house calls.
Here's Sprocket the morning Dr. Sandy came to see him.
Dr. Sandy reviewed all of Sprocket's prior medical records and gave him a complete examination. She had me feel along both sides of his jaw at the same time to show me what she had discovered. There was a noticeable mass on his right jaw. She recommended we immediately put him on a high nutrient diet (Royal Canin Recovery RS) and that we take Sprocket to see Dr. Mills at the City of Angels in Culver City for an ultrasound of his jaw and liver. The people at this hospital were just the best and I will forever be indebted to Dr. Mills for his compassion and kindness that he showed Sprocket.
Dr. Mills did an extensive ultrasound of his liver and jaw and also drew aspirates (a needle is inserted and material is drawn out) from both areas. In his jaw he saw a mass that extended around to his cerebellum, the area of the brain just above the brain stem. (It wasn't inside his ear.) Dr. Mills said that the attachment of the mass on his brain was what was causing his balance problems and his inability to control and close his right eye. Unfortunately, the pathology on the aspirates was inconclusive. It didn't tell us anything. The procedure of drawing the aspirates was a big strain on Sprocket's body and it took days for him to recover. I had to decide whether or not it was reasonable to put him through the trauma of a biopsy procedure with anesthesia to confirm what we suspected: that Sprocket had cancer. Without getting a confirmation, Dr. Mills thought with the inconclusive results, it was most likely Sprocket had one of the more aggressive cancers, either a sarcoma or carcinoma that don't give up their cells easily.
On July 8th, with tears in my eyes all the way home, that was the beginning of the long good-bye. The goal was to keep him comfortable and the best quality of life possible. It was hospice care from here on. Sprocket was on the special diet, an appetite stimulant and fluids under his skin once a day and later, twice a day. Unfortunately, we had to take his favorite big cat tree out of the living room because he had already fallen off of it once, and he could seriously hurt himself if he fell again.
To keep his spirits up, I started taking him for a walk in the mornings and sometimes in the afternoon. After he ate his breakfast he would sit by the back door and wait until I got his harness and leash out. For the first few weeks, he liked to go next door to our west side neighbor, where he liked to munch on some tall wild grass in her back yard and hit his favorite spots in the flower garden. Eventually, Sprocket settled into a routine where he stopped at the back patio, stretched and then walked the driveway to the front of the house. He would stop at the big log, beside the hedge and look into our neighbor's yard towards the east. Then he'd head over towards the front walk. If the sun was out, he would stop at the Chinese coin stepping stone and lie down in the grass. After he was nice and warm, he would walk up the front porch steps and get up on the cat condo. I would sit there with him until he got sleepy and then I would bring him inside.
As the tumor grew and spread up behind his right eye, his ability of open his jaw became less and less. I had to puree his special diet food to a pudding consistency so he could eat. Each day, he still wanted to go for his walk outside. He was able to get around pretty well, get to the water bowl and hit the litter box without any assistance.
In those last weeks, he spent a lot of time in one of his favorite spots, the back of the sofa. One day, Scout wouldn't move when Sprocket wanted to lie down and I got a rare photo of them sharing the sofa.
Often times, I would bring his food bowl there so he didn't have to get down. Here is a short video of him having a meal.
The time finally came when Sprocket was no longer able to open his jaw wide enough to get his tongue out of his mouth to eat. It was time to end his suffering and say goodbye. The day before, Sprocket had two nice walks outside. Saturday, he spent all day on the back of the sofa, purring away. He was a fighter until the very end.
The month before, I had found this beautiful black and white hinged box in a second hand store. It was cardboard covered with a soft black leather. Inside was a nice black and white paper lining. I made him a black and white kitty mat bed for the bottom and a black and white blanket to cover him with. My husband suggested we put his favorite brush in with him that he liked to have his chin scratched with. We dug his grave before the doctor arrived and afterwords we buried him in the back yard next to Katie. As soon as we can, we will engrave a large river rock with his name.
I hope you enjoyed reading Sprocket's story. He was a wonderful companion with whom I had a close, special bond. We will never forget him for his memory and funny antics will always reside in our hearts.