Magnolia Moonshine (a.k.a. Miley of Morrisville)
by Michelle Ward
My cat Magnolia Moonshine was like a human child with pointy ears and a tail. If she didn’t have pointy ears and a tail, she would have looked even more human. After a while of getting to know her and bonding with her, it occurred to me one day that she was actually my daughter.

She was an all-white cat with pink ears, a pink nose, and beautiful blue irises that were made up of a crushed sea-shell pattern. I had never seen a cat with eyes that looked like crushed seashells before her and I haven’t seen one since. Her pupils also turned red much of the time. She was quite a beautiful phenomenon to me. She reminded me of both a magnolia flower and the moon with a blue corona.

Before she was mine, I had seen her profile in an adoption listing on the website of an animal shelter in Morrisville, VT. Her name was known as Miley then. She was noted as being a special needs animal. The profile said that she was declawed and deaf. It also said that she belonged in a house where she would be the only cat.

I thought she sounded perfect for me. I didn’t have a cat and my landlord had a one cat policy. The cat having been declawed meant that she wouldn’t be a problem for the guinea pigs I had at the time. Of course, I don’t think cats should be declawed and it upset me that that was done to her, especially since her toes would sometimes bleed if she flexed them to hard or hit them against something. Anyhow, aside from all that, I felt that her being deaf was good in a way because my apartment has annual fire alarm testing which gets very noisy and painful to the ears. That is, I figured it would be good if she didn’t have to hear something that would scare and torment an ordinary cat with a sense of hearing. Additionally, the listing had mentioned that Magnolia (Miley) was a domestic short hair. I actually prefer short-haired animals because they shed less hair than long-haired animals and they are just easier to care for.

Now, when I went to the animal shelter to meet her in person, her hair turned out to be a little longer than I expected. Yet, she still didn’t fit anything but the domestic short hair category. Aside from my discovering that her hair was longer than expected, I saw that she was overweight and the fur around her bottom and lower stomach area were stained urine yellow because she was an all-white cat, was too fat to clean herself properly, and the shelter didn’t seem to care to beautify her appearance enough. I regret to admit this, but when I saw all this, I was turned off from adopting her. However, I could tell she wanted me to take her home, plus the shelter said that no one else had come to see her or expressed an interest in adopting her before. So, I felt obliged to adopt her.

It turned out that her deafness wasn’t the only reason she was noted as special needs. That is, the shelter eventually told me that my Magnolia (their Miley) also had an incurable condition called Cystitis. This meant that her bladder was chronically painfully inflamed and urination was painful for her. Also, they told me that she was so picky that she would eat only two kinds of dry cat food and one of them was no longer available in stores. They said the only cat food she could eat was formulated specifically for cats with urinary health problems. This particular cat food had a high salt content in it and it made her very thirsty. The animal shelter told me to give her lots of water because the high salt content made her excessively thirsty and urinating frequently help her with her Cystitis.

I later found that they were so right about her being a picky eater. I had never seen a cat so picky before. She wouldn’t even eat canned cat food or tuna fish. However, she did jump up on my kitchen stove one time and eat pasta out of a pot. I discovered she loved vegetable oil too. She was full of many surprises!

I mean, the animal shelter had said she was deaf. Yet, there were times I had noticed that Magnolia seemed to hear me when I spoke to her. I also saw her respond to other sounds. I’m sure some of it could have been her feeling vibrations. However, I wouldn’t say she was deaf all the way.

Also, a year after I had adopted her, her Cystitis symptoms became worse and she began vomiting a lot and not having bowel movements. I took her to an animal hospital and got her an ultrasound to see what was going on inside of her. It was discovered that she had a stone in her bladder and a stone in her right kidney. It was also discovered that there was some unknown natural material inside of her that they thought was some part of her body but was not seen in other cats. Additionally, they found that Her right kidney was also smaller than her left kidney which meant that the left kidney had to do extra work. This may have explained her hearing problems as well being that kidney problems can affect hearing. The animal hospital said that she was most likely born with the dis-proportioned kidneys. They also thought she might have a rare genetic condition called Addison’s disease, but told me they would need to keep her overnight just to be able to get an appointment with a specialist who could perform expensive tests to find out exactly what her problem was. They also said that if they were to keep her in their hospital overnight, they might have to keep her longer and that this could be days or weeks.

So, here I had already paid for the visit, an exam, an ultrasound, the lab work, and treatment for dehydration. Altogether, that was a thousand or more dollars. Now, I was being asked to hospitalize her just so she could get an appointment with their specialist in time and get extra lab work done – but – I was also being asked to risk the possibility of her being hospitalized for days or weeks and thus my having unknown fees being added to the tab along with the possibility of her just dying in there while I was at home. Between hospitalization, an exam by a specialist, a consultation with a specialist, a battery of tests, and treatments, I would be expected to pay thousands of dollars which I didn’t have.

Technically, I could have paid a lot of it with credit card but then there was the possibility that I could find a place that wouldn’t charge me so much. There was the possibility that there was an easier way to help her. There was the possibility of her feeling abandoned if I were to leave her at the animal hospital overnight or in the care of strangers for many nights. The thought of her dying in the hospital when I was home really upset me. I felt that if she were to die, I wanted to be right there with her to comfort her. It didn’t seem right for her to die in the company of strangers, especially ones who are charging me so much money just to get help for her. Also, after the animal hospital had given her treatment for dehydration, she began eating again and it looked like she had some kind of bowel movement as she had excreted some yellow fluid. So, I felt there was the possibility that she was better and might just get better when we got back home and that it would give me more time to figure out what to do about the stones and the kidneys. I ended up taking her back home and doing some research.

Anyhow, it was such a surprise that Magnolia had a stone in her bladder and a stone in her kidney and that she had dis-proportioned kidneys and some unknown deformity. I mean, the shelter I adopted her from had had her for years and had a senior vet for her who gave her annual check-ups and everything. Yet, as I learned later on, they never once had given her an ultrasound. They clearly did not examine her thoroughly. I mean, they had actually misdiagnosed with her with Cystitis because of her having frequent and painful urination with no signs of infection. I mean, you would think that they would have given her an ultra-sound to see what was going on inside of her. So, due to the negligence and yet “expertise” of their senior vet, I had taken them at their word that she had Cystitis. I went for a over a year thinking she had Cystitis. I mean, they had told me what to expect for symptoms of the Cystitis and here I was expecting all her problems to be this Cystitis. Here I had no idea that the senior vet at the animal shelter could actually be wrong about something! If they had just given her an ultrasound at some point during all those years they had had her in their care, then they could have treated her appropriately and I would have been given the right information about her health condition. Not only that, but it would have saved me money as I wouldn’t of had to take her to the animal hospital to get an ultra sound and I wouldn’t have to get her treatment for dehydration.

Anyway, Magnolia ended up passing-away in front of me on October 4th, 2017. Sadly, seconds before she died, she had made a startling vocal sound of an unusual tone which conveyed that she was in pain and that something had happened inside of her and that it was something scary to her. Whatever was happening had made it so she couldn’t even finish her cry. It appeared that something deep inside of her had ruptured and affected her vocal cords. Not only did it already hurt me to see her in pain, but it was painful to see something unexpected and unfamiliar to the both of us happen inside of her body and for me to not be able to do anything about it or even help her. Furthermore, I couldn’t turn back time and make it not happen. I was just stuck with her dead body and the memory of her life and death.

I had tried CPR on her afterwards, but it did not revive her. At some point I was able to hear some sound come from her mouth. It sounded as though she was five-sixth’s of the way through death and out of her body and like some cellular part of her brain was finishing shutting down. I couldn’t get a pulse on her or a sign of breath. Eventually, I discovered that if I breathed into her mouth and pressed on her chest, the air would pass through the vocal area that was used for purring and I could hear a trace of the purring mechanism. It was confusing for me at first because I thought she had been revived and was coming back. However, at some point I came to the realization that she was gone all the way and my breath was only passing through her throat and affecting the vocal cords.

Eventually, I just hugged her body and walked around with it and wept for some time. Then, I laid the body beside mine in bed and went to sleep. I was hoping that she would come back to life. I was expecting her to be alive when I woke up the next day. However, her body only began to smell of decay after a while and I felt a cold coming on. I became afraid of the dead body making me ill plus making my apartment stink.

In the past, I had volunteered for the Wake Up to Dying Project traveling exhibit. On one of the days I volunteered, I had helped an instructor set up a workshop on After Death Care for the human body. So, I decided to apply some of what I learned from that workshop to Magnolia’s corpse. Being that Magnolia was constipated when she had died, the feces were still stuck inside of her body after death. Normally, urine and feces will come out of a body after it dies, but in this case the stool couldn’t come out. So, I ended up having to press the fecal matter out of the intestines of her corpse. Then, I bathed her corpse to deodorize it and clean it up for her fur was discolored from vomit and bloody urine. I also towel dried and blow dried her body after I bathed it.

Afterwards, I put a cotton ball in both of the ears of her newly cleaned corpse plus a perfumed cotton ball in the rectum to deodorize the body and keep any remaining fluids from leaking out onto the freshly clean fur. I also cleaned out the mouth of her corpse with a Que tip dipped in sage water. Then, I soaked a cotton ball in sage water and stuck that in the mouth with the intent of leaving it in there to prevent odor. However, the cotton ball kept the mouth open and I wanted the mouth shut, so I took the cotton ball out of the mouth. I left pieces of spice in the mouth though. Finally, after I had made sure the fur was dry and brushed, I wrapped her corpse up in her favorite blanket, wrapped the bundle up in plastic wrap, put the wrapped bundle in a plastic garbage bag, and stuck the bag in my freezer. I later sent the body off to a freeze-dry preservation taxidermist.

While the body was still in my freezer, any noise that came from the freezer made me question if Magnolia was still alive or if she was coming back to life. I would have to open up the freezer and take the bag out just to make sure she wasn’t alive while stuck in the bag. The thought of the possibility of her coming back to life while bundled, wrapped, and bagged bothered me. So, I kept having to check on that. Other times I would open the freezer with the hopes she would magically come back to life. Yet, each time I did this, I found that the body was stiff, still, lifeless, and cold.

Anyhow, after her death, I cried uncontrollably for days. The crying made my face swell up, made my eyes and throat sore, and made my nose run profusely. It made it hard for me to breathe. It also caused me to have a headache, a stomachache, a sore throat, and other pains. On top of all that, I wanted to die. I just did not want to live anymore.

Everything reminded me of her as well. Her stroller reminded me of all the trips outside we had made together. Simply looking in the mirror reminded me of a time when I was combing my hair and had mistaken shed strands of Magnolia’s white hair as me having grey hair prematurely. Brushing my teeth in the bathroom reminded me of the times Magnolia would sit on the bathroom sink or toilette tank and watch me do it. Using the toilette reminded me of the times Magnolia would use her litter box at the same time I was using the toilette. Lying down on my side reminded me of how she used to lie on my waist or hip. Lying on my back reminded me of how she used to lie on my stomach. Lying on my stomach reminded me of how she used to lie on my back. My bed reminded me of all the nights we slept together.
The reminders didn’t end there. A chair in the living room reminded me of how she tried to jump on it one time and slid-off of it because she had no front toe nails to stabilize her. It also reminded me of a look she had given me a day or so before her death, when I was seated in the same chair and had asked her to come up to my lap. She just looked at me like “You can’t be serious!” She had no energy or strength left in her to jump on anything.

The bathtub reminded me of how she had jumped in it a day or two before her death, while I was showering. She had been following me everywhere and was trying to be closer to me at all times. Not only that, but she started talking in some kind of cat language I had never heard her talk in before. It was like she was trying to talk to me in a human language to tell me something important. She acted as though I could understand what she was telling me.

My guinea pig’s cage reminded me of how Magnolia visited my guinea pig Rosey a day or so before dying. She sat near the guinea pig cage in a way that conveyed she was telling Rosey “Good-bye.” She was always good with Rosey.

Also, the kitchen sink reminded me of how I had bathed Magnolia before and after her death. That is, before her death, I had decided to bathe her in the kitchen sink because she had jumped into my bathtub earlier while I was showering and she had never done that before. I thought that her jumping into my bathtub when I was taking a shower could have been her way of saying that she needed a bath. She certainly needed one too given that the fur around her bottom had blood on it due to her peeing blood. Aside from that, seeing how she had wanted a bath and seeing how in pain she was, I reasoned that the warm water of a bath would comfort her and alleviate her pelvic pain especially since it does help me with menstrual pain when I’m menstruating; plus, her crying had sounded a lot like some of the cries I make when I have menstrual pains. So, I ended up bathing her in the kitchen sink because I was sitting in the living room by then and the kitchen was closer to us.
The bath did seem to comfort Magnolia at first. However, after the bath was over her pain became worse. She just cried out in pain more. I tried touching her gently on her pelvic area to see if I could alleviate some of the pain, but all it did was cause her more pain. Her painful cries conveyed that I had made the problem worse by touching her and that I shouldn’t have done that. It made me feel so bad that I had caused her more pain and upset her. So, I put her on her cat bed for a while, which had a vibrating pad on it that I could turn on or off for her. The vibrating pad seemed to comfort her at times; I had hoped that it would break up the stones inside of her as well. At some point, she tried to get to her litter box but was barely able to walk. It was hard for me to see her emaciated and unable to stand up straight or walk very far. So, I put her in the litter box to save her the trip she was trying to make. Afterwards, I had helped her out of the litter box and put her back in bed. That said, the vibrating pad, her bed, and her litter box were all after-death reminders of her and this horrible experience.

Shopping also became extremely hard for me after her death. Whenever I went shopping, I would pass through the aisle for cat food, cat toys, cat coats, cat litter, cat beds, and cat hygienic products. It always got me crying. Some stores sold pet costumes for Halloween and Christmas. That too always got me crying. All it did was remind me of how much I wish I could have bought some of those things for her. I thought about how if she were still alive, I would buy her some winter coat that was on sale or some Santa suit that was marked down. Even today, there are products that remind me of her. Even the name Magnolia or a picture of a Magnolia flower reminds me of her.

Apart from all that, I had many regrets as well and I still do. I wish that I had gotten her an ultrasound sooner. I wish that I had taken her to the vet sooner. I wish that I had done many things sooner. I wish that I went ahead with the suggested plan for the super expensive treatment to find out exactly what was wrong with her and if it was treatable. I wish I had the sense to ask the vet to do something about her constipation. I wish that I had known about the option of lithotripsy and was able to look into getting it done in time. I wish that I didn’t bathe her for so long a time. I wish I didn’t touch her pelvic area and cause her more pain.

Anyhow, I couldn’t find any pet bereavement or pet loss grief groups after her death. However, I did find an online article that talked about how you could keep your pet’s spirit with you if you kept their water and food bowl out. So, I kept Magnolia’s water and food bowls out for her. I changed the water daily. I also talked out loud to her soul. I kept hoping she would come back to me alive in a materialized body. I had no plans to get another cat. My landlord had a one cat rule and I wanted Magnolia to materialize and her absence to be all over with. I didn’t want to do anything to make her soul possibly leave me. However, at some point, I thought about trying to get in touch with Magnolia’s previous owners to see if she had sisters and brothers and to see if her mother and father were still alive. I thought that they might have some of the same problems she did and that I might be able to help them. I also thought it could be possible that one of them might be up for adoption or something. So, in the end, if Magnolia wasn’t coming back, I wasn’t up for getting another cat unless it was related to her.
Comments would be appreciated by the author, Michelle Ward
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