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Memories of Rufus
We lost our sweet Rufus early in the morning on November 11, 2020. I'd like to tell you a bit about him, if you will indulge me.

In the fall of 2007, I had two cats - Baby Girl, aged 15, and Grady, aged 17.5. We suddenly and unexpectedly lost Baby Girl during surgery. She and Grady had never been close, so imagine my surprise when Grady was just obviously beside himself - howling, wandering the house at night, looking for her, you name it. We weren't looking for or ready for a new cat or cats, but Grady made it clear that he wasn't going to thrive as an "only".

Shortly after realizing this, I was out running errands and saw a sign that said "Adoption Event ----->" at a local library. I parked an went in. They had set aside a room for the 4 or 5 nonprofit rescues that brought cats to the event. There were folding tables set up in a U-shape with cats in large dog crates in each one for people to meet and interact with. I started at the beginning and methodically made my way through all of the cages. As I approached the very last one, I saw two cats in there - young tuxie boys. One was in the foreground closest to me, the other in the background. I bent down and looked in the cage and said, "who do we have here?". The foreground cat opened his eyes, did a cat-twist onto his back (the thing only cats could find comfortable), made eye contact and then stretched his one paw out and touched my face. I applied to adopt him and his brother, and a few days later, they were home with us.

We named them Rufus and Feats. They joined our family 13 years ago almost to the day.
These 7 month old brothers (at the time of adoption) were exactly what Grady needed. Given that Grady was already elderly and had chronic kidney insufficiency, we knew we had to adopt two so that they could play together while Grady held court. After an isolation and then introduction period, the three boys were together, and this had the desired effect on Grady. The youth those boys brought to our home and family infused Grady with youthfulness. He went on to live to just past his 19th birthday.

Rufus and Feats were found nearby to the body of their deceased mother at 2 days old. The rescue group that took them bottle fed them and raised them. If any of you have ever bottle fed or cared for a bottle fed cat of any age, you know that they are VERY people oriented. Very. After all, people are mom. There are downsides to this, of course. Orphaned kittens often struggle with knowing how to "cat" - they learn boundaries and proper deference and behavior from their moms, in addition to all the hands-on (or paws-on) care that a mother provides.

As a result of this, Rufus had classic behaviors throughout his lifetime of what animal behaviorist vets call "orphan cat syndrome". Some of those behaviors are adorable - like being totally people oriented and friendly. Like not only touching my face on that first day, but doing it nearly every day throughout a lifetime. Like having chronic woolsucking behaviors, where kittens either were never weaned or weaned too early demonstrate - that adorable kneading and suckling. Rufus did this pretty much throughout his life, either on a very soft blanket (which was always provided!) and, often, physically on me. When he would do that, it was like he went somewhere else mentally - his eyes would bliss out and he'd be in the zone. I would also gently stroke his head when this happened, trying to do mama cat things. Not sure if I got it right, but he never seemed to mind.

Some of those behaviors, however, can be troubling. In addition to woolsucking, Rufus had pica - a propensity to eat completely inappropriate (and oftentimes dangerous) non-food items. For Rufus, he would ingest plastic, tape, string, ribbon, floss etc. For thirteen years we have been diligent about ensuring those items were always safely out of cat reach or access because of this. He also had this weird hunting-attacking-killing behavior that's difficult to describe. 98% of the time, Rufus was calm, would interact with my other cats just fine, play normally, you name it. But 2% of the time you could see him flip a mental switch on a dime and he would go after one of the other cats. I mean - go after them. The funny thing is, he wasn't being aggressive. That wasn't his intent. he thought he was playing, but because of his orphan status, he never seemed to have learned where that line was. He also would bite us, especially when he was younger. It wasn't aggressive or defensive - it wasn't over-stimulation - he just really seemed to like to feel the texture of skin under his teeth (ouch!). I know - sounds weird. But Rufus was weird and wonderful and the wonderful all at once and all the wonderful weirdness so far outweighed the paltry negatives that we just adjusted. He couldn't help it, after all - no one ever taught him how to cat.

Rufus was stunningly handsome. I know we all say this about our cats. I get that. But I say that because whenever Rufus would encounter a new human - whether that was a visitor to our home or new staff at the vets or a specialist or what have you - they would all stop and comment on how good looking he was. And seriously? This would come even from people who weren't cat people. He was mesmerizingly good looking.

One of the things that I found really unique about him from all the others cats I've had was his need - his desire - to connect and hold eye contact. I'm sure many here are familiar with cat stare-downs, but that wasn't remotely what this was. he wanted to gaze at you and capture and hold your eye contact. Once captured, he would purr and gaze and then slow blink you. He was always making a deep connection in G that way - it was as if he wanted to look inside you, and to give you that same window into him. It was reciprocated - it was bonding.

And his purr - OMG. If he wasn't purring already (i.e., we walked in while he was sleeping), just saying his name would turn that motor right on. He was always quick to love and quick to appreciate with that purr. Later in life when he started having heart issues, I would joke with his cardiologist that we had to aggravate him to the point of turning the purr motor off just so that he could listen to his heart without interference. It always complicated me getting his resting breaths per minute as well. I would have to go upstairs and "nap" with him, only he was the only one napping. I was waiting for him to fall asleep and turn off that purr so I could count his breaths. :)

Particularly as a younger cat, Rufus would frequently become "Air Rufus". He could be sitting down on the floor in our family room and then spring into a standing 4ft. jump out of nowhere! He loved to do that during playtime - and we loved to get him to do that because it was amazing. Likewise, as an avid player, he would get so into playtime with a wand toy with a dragonfly at the end of the string that he would literally use his momentum to get up on his back legs and propel himself forward a decent distance on his back legs only - like he was walking, or walk/running. And the funniest part about that was, because he was playing at the time, his front paws would be in a up and posture, so he always looked like he was running on two legs to grab something slightly ahead of where he was. It was something to see.

My vets think that both Rufus and his brother had lifelong incredibly mild cerebellar hypoplasia. He was always just a little bit wonky on his back legs particularly, walking with his toes splayed and just ever so slightly wide apart. This gave him an interesting walking gait. Where most cats walk sequentially on their paws - 1, 2, 3, 4 - Rufus ALWAYS walked like he was marching - 1-3 then 2-4. It became a chant in our household when he would enter the room - "1-3, 2-4. 1-3, 2-4." It always made us smile. He had this amazing tail that was always straight up in the air, happy and alert, but the last 2-3 inches or so would curl over like a hook. He never entered a room quietly - he never slunk. He would always 1-3 2-4 his way into the room, announcing himself with his incongruous high meow. When this happened - and it happened daily throughout his life - my husband and I would announce him back, using his nickname: "MOO MAN!!!" He always entered a room to fanfare from the humans.

Rufus HATED (hated) to be confined or restrained. You had a short window to pick him up before he would use his considerable strength to wiggle/fight his way out of the restraint. This was true for my husband and I, for vets and vet techs, you name it. He was nothing if not consistent in this.

However, he was a world-class cuddler on his own terms. With my husband, Rufus would wait until he was done eating at our kitchen table. He would hop into my husband's lap, and wait for him to put his arms up in a cradle-type shape. Rufus would get in those arms, arrange himself how he wanted to be arranged, and then bliss out for lengthy periods of time as my husband scratched his belly and chest. He never did that with me, but had his own habits on that front. He would come sit on my lap for TV time if I put a soft blanket on it. He would get right on the body pillow I sleep against at night and arrange himself in the "crease" between pillow and mom. And without fail, he would twisty-cat over and touch my face, stare deeply into my eyes, and purr. If I offered my face, he would lean into and allow me to kiss his nose and mouth. This was a regular occurrence.

The last thing I'll touch on can't really be described. Losing Grady in 2009 was devastating to me. He had been the one constant in my life for the entirety of my adult life up to that point. Rufus helped me get through that, as did his brother Feats. They were only barely 2 years old when Grady passed, and Rufus used a combination of his charm (as described above) with extra frequency and intensity as well as his playfulness to jerk me back to life, to acknowledge the things that mattered. I had a whole relationship with them left to develop over their lifetimes, and I best pick myself up and attend that. I did, and Rufus helped with that immensely by just not allowing me to sink into despair.

It's so difficult to describe for others what makes or made a particular cat completely unique, to characterize how and why the relationship was special and precious. I've taken my best shot at that above. It will never be enough - but I hope I've provided a glimpse into what a unique boy he was.

I have a lengthy explanation of his medical history that I won't drag you through here. Suffice it to say, for the past 8 years I've been attending and managing heart issues in Rufus. In that sense, the pandemic wound up being a Godsend, because he heart disease worsened this time last year, and given my great good fortune in being able to work from home since March, I have been able to monitor him and strictly adhere to his complicated medication schedule. We threaded the needle with him and these heart issues with a lot of good veterinary care, diligent RenaRF care, and a whole lot of luck.

Rufus was in the hospital on a totally separate issue on Tuesday afternoon/evening, and we were beating that issue (pancreatitis). At 4:45am on Wednesday, a large clot broke free of his heart and caused him an immediate and massive stroke. He didn't feel it. One moment he was fine. He was Rufus. The next he was effectively gone. The ER called and I rushed up there and immediately had him euthanized. I knew looking at him that there was no coming back from this. I was fortunate enough to spend 45 minutes with him the night before despite COVID restrictions. The ER was mostly quiet, it was after hours, and they gave me the gift of letting me come in and hang out with him in one of the family exam rooms. And I'm telling you -- he was great. We were beating the pancreatitis. I'm grateful I had that time with him.

I'm having a super hard time with this. We all show love in different ways. I cuddle my cats, kiss and hug them, unabashedly and unashamedly. That's easy. The hard way that I show love for humans and cats alike is to be a successful and adept problem solver. I am in my element if you bring me a challenge, because I'll take it, research it, think about it, diagram it, and then develop a plan to get back to good. I don't quite know what to do with myself right now -- for one, I don't have any Rufus problems to solve any longer. For another, even though I know this is irrational, I feel like I failed in some way. Rational me knows I didn't. I spared no effort or expense to manage Rufus' heart issues for 8 years before his (and my) luck finally ran out. I had no right to expect this cat and his congenital heart defect to live to 13 1/2 years of age. But I am mad and sad and outraged that he only lived that long. I always wanted to be that person whose cat lived years beyond what was reasonable and then died from something else entirely. So I'm having trouble processing all of this -- which means I deeply appreciate being able to put it all here. I have nowhere else for it to go.

I feel... awful. Empty. Profoundly sad. I don't know how I will live in a Rufus-less house, how I can every be happy again in a Rufus-less life? I know that this will get better - that I will slowly, at my own pace, get to where I can focus on the awesome Rufus things and not so much on the fact that he's not here, but I'm not remotely there yet.

All of that said - the first promise I ever made to him is the last one I ever kept. I promised I wouldn't let him suffer, and that I would make good decisions for him even if it broke my heart. And it did - it broke my heart. But that broken heart is the balance paid on the account that gave me all that love, all those kisses, stares, cuddles, face-touches, purrs, kneads, sucks, jumps, runs, and yes - bites. :) I can't really embrace that knowledge right now - this is too raw and it hurts far too much - but that's the direction I hope to move in. Plus, I have his brother Feats to worry about. And two other cats - Bella and Meatball - besides. Thank God for that. They need me, and if I know one thing about myself, it's that I would never turn my back on that. It will keep me going.

So thank you all. I cried multiple times typing this, but I needed somewhere to put all of it. Thank you for letting me do that.

Please also visit Baby Girl, Clide, Grady and Henry.

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