On Monday, December 3rd, we sadly said goodbye to our sweet, dear old cat Dusty. At 21 years of age, Dusty’s body had just given out. His health had been slowly deteriorating, and in the past two years he was suffering from arthritis, hyperthyroid disease in recent months, kidney disease, muscle wasting—but the final straw was an upper respiratory infection that he could not overcome with antibiotics. The infection worsened, and when Dusty started to have difficulty breathing—we knew we needed to let him go. But Dusty put up a hard fight, he had fought valiantly to live, and didn’t want to leave his loving cat mates and his humans—but his body had other ideas.
Dusty was the dearest, sweetest boy imaginable. He had a heart of gold, was gentle and kind to all of his cat friends, and was dearly loved by his best friend Angus who stayed loyally by Dusty’s side—licking him, cleaning him, care-taking him and cuddling him. Angus thought of himself as Dusty’s big brother even though Angus was many years his junior. Angus would hold Dusty in his arms, his legs extended cradling his body, and he would give Dusty this loving embrace for hours. Dusty could not have been happier and loved Angus back equally, and felt secure in Angus’s strong arms.
Dusty was our third cat. After moving to a more spacious home in 2003, we decided to adopt another homeless cat. We found Dusty in August 2003 at Animal Rescue Foundation (ARF) in Walnut Creek. We already had two wonderful cats, Pumpkin a homeless cat living on the streets in Kirkland, Washington and Big Red abandoned at the Oakland Airport. With our new house, we felt we could accommodate another cat with the extra space, and really wanted to give another homeless cat—a home. So when we arrived at ARF’s adoption center one balmy summer day in August, we were greeted at the door and questioned about what we were looking for. We quickly replied, “We want to take the cat that no one else wants. The cat that is always left behind, or is returned.” Excitedly, they immediately led us straight down the hallway past a myriad of rescue cats and rooms, to the far corner of the building where Gracie and Dusty lived in separate rooms. Both had been with ARF for 2-3 years and had been returned twice because they were extremely shy, timid, afraid and fearful of people. They both originally came from our local animal shelter and were on the euthanasia list. The decision about which one to take and which one to leave behind was an impossible one, so we concluded that we needed to adopt both cats! We could not fathom leaving one behind, and both needed a quiet, peaceful environment to heal their inner wounds and to overcome their abandonment issues. As we were driving home, we promised both of them, out loud, that this would be their final home, their forever home, and we would never give them up for any reason. All we wanted for them was their happiness, comfort and good health. At the time, we thought four cats might be excessive, but we honestly thought that was it—little did we know what the future had in store for us, and the plans the universe had for us—that we would end up being “foster parents” to many more rescue cats, keeping the unadaptable ones.
Both Gracie and Dusty had been abused—in Dusty’s case, he had been severely abused. Our vet at the time diagnosed him with brain damage because it was difficult for Dusty to process information, he was slow, his reactions not normal, he was very head shy, deeply fearful of humans—and of everything. We suspected that as a kitten or very young cat, he was hit on the head and cruelly abused, which triggered a deep fear of people and being struck or hit again. Every time we reached to pet Dusty or pick him up, his whole body cringed in retreat and recoiled. His tail area was particularly sensitive and he would bury his tail deep between his legs, cowering—his entire back end would flinch and shake from a fear of being touched; his body would grew tense and he would look up at us with pleading eyes—please don’t hurt me! He was so deeply fearful of being touched around his back-end that he would cry and look at us with the most mournful, sorrowful eyes just begging not to touch him in that area. Dusty’s experiences had been indelibly imprinted on him his entire life and to some degree even to his remaining days, although in this final year he was able to let go of much of the trauma and trust again. Dusty finally realized that we would never, ever hurt him like he was once hurt, and were only going to love him, soothe and comfort him in every way we could.
Every day, we worked to create a safe, happy home for him, where he knew nothing was expected from him, and we would ask nothing from him. We would only want for his comfort, security, and happiness, to be surrounded by his loving kitty friends, give him a warm, healthy meal twice a day. We just wanted to provide Dusty a peaceful house where he could express his desires and personality, and be 100 percent accepted for who he was. For years, Dusty hid under the bed in soft, cozy cat beds huddled with Big Red, Angus, and other cat friends. But over time, Dusty slowly unfolded, unwound and started trusting us and felt safe. He started to be at peace with who he was and how he felt, and know that his humans would only give him love and affection when he was comfortable with it. In time, that happened more and more often, and in the final years, Dusty had numerous breakthroughs that brought us great joy to watch. This year, Dusty even wanted to go outside in our garden—supervised—and wander the gardens, lie in the fragrant sage, dust himself in the dirt, and soak in the warm sunshine. In his last months, he cried to go outside, until he got too sick.
Finally, we knew that Dusty accepted us when over the past two years he stopped running from us. He starting coming to me when I was preparing food, and would sit at my feet looking up at me, longingly and lovingly seeking to be petted and stroked, even loving his tail being gently petted. He started coming to sit with us on the couch while we were watching TV, all by himself, totally unsolicited. These were huge breakthrough moments and took enormous courage for our fearful, timid, sweet boy. We cheered every little miracle and marveled at every advancement in his evolution. What trust and faith he had developed in us, not fearing us, but finally trusting us, even enjoying us—it just took a mere 14 years! But it happened, and we’re so thankful that it happened for him, that he could relax enough to really deeply enjoy his life and feel completely safe with his humans. We accepted Dusty from day one, just the way he was—we just let him evolve in whatever way was natural for him and only when he was ready. Dusty was finally ready at the end of his life—his heart opened, and opened and opened—until his very last day.
Over the years, Dusty had been a remarkably healthy cat from the beginning and for all but the last 1-2 years. I cannot remember a time when Dusty was sick or had anything less than a perfect blood panel and diagnostic tests. But two years ago, following several X-rays and an ultrasound our vet had diagnosed Dusty with Inflammatory Bowel Disease (IBD) or possible gastrointestinal (GI) lymphoma. Dusty had started vomiting at about 19 years of age—fairly regularly, and had also started to lose weight. After examining Dusty, our vet detected some thickening of his colon and some bowel loops, and his hair was starting to loose its glistening sheen, his gait started slowing down, and Dusty was starting to suffer from some mobility issues and arthritis. His movements were no longer fluid but looked more painful and stiff, and he experienced some muscle wasting which happens with very old cats. At the time, our vet felt no palpable abdominal mass, so IBD was the diagnostic presumption. So our treatment plan has been the same for two years: A half a prednisolone steroid pill every other day to reduce the inflammation, a weekly turning to monthly B12 shot, subcutaneous fluids twice a week, and smaller meals fed more frequently. In the past year, we have added Gabapentin to his treatment plan to treat pain from arthritis and reduce his anxiety.
So today, candles are burning in Dusty’s honor. He lies in state in a beautiful soft basket surrounded by his kitty friends of 16 years, and the spirits of all of those who preceded him who loved him too. Dusty had a huge presence in our home—though he was quiet—he was like a gentle giant who looked to us for acknowledgement and loved when we locked glances, it reassured him. He would look longingly at me on the couch, waiting for me to see that he was looking at me, then blink when I did.
You will be forever missed my dear Dusty, but we will never forget you and we will always love how very special you were to us each and every day. Thank you for sharing your beautiful, kind, gentle spirit with us. We are forever grateful.
Rest in peace my blessed, sweet, loving boy.
With all of our love,
Jennie, Jacob, and all of your furry cat family