Our beloved Maine Coon, Willie aka “Prince Wills,” “Willie Snickers,” “Our Cowardly Lion,” “Our Little Gentleman,” and most recently, “Buddy,” passed over the Rainbow Bridge on Saturday, June 21st, at about 6:30 am after a brutal battle with IBD — Inflammatory Bowel Disease.
Willie was many things to us: a rescue along with his mom, Tessa, and siblings, all of whom I discovered beneath a rosebush on the sultry afternoon following a Fourth of July; a warmer of laps–and the most purely loving creature I have ever had the privilege to love and be loved by.
From his first year on, Willie was a handful, a feline version of the Marley in “Marley and Me.” He gnawed the veneer off a suite of antique dining room chairs, consumed the corners of copious plastic CD cases, and bit through the handles of purses and, more benignly, paper shopping bags.
Beyond all, Willie loved electrical cords–Apple products were his preferred treat though anything running current would work in a pinch. When he was two, he sustained third-degree burns on the roof of his mouth that required an emergency veterinary visit and two solid weeks of twice daily antibiotics. It could have been so much worse.
But Maine Coon males are known for taking a while to mature and though fully grown, Willie obviously had plenty of kitten still in him. Given time to sew his oats, surely he’d outgrow the chewing habit.
He never did.
I tried coating all the electrical wires with cayenne pepper and Tabasco sauce–neither worked for long. Calling on my psychology training, I took a different tack: if I couldn’t break the behavior, then I’d redirect it by providing “appropriate” (and safer) options–cat chew toys and small rawhide dog treats. But though Willie availed himself of these offerings, they only whetted his appetite for the forbidden. I even arranged for an animal behaviorist to make a house call and assess him though frankly the “doctor” was nuttier than Willie–and A LOT less handsome. 🙂
For a brief time, I resorted to trials of kitty Elavil and Prosac. The drugs didn’t work so much as make him dopey–not my bright-eyed, mischievous boy at all.
Finally, I did the only thing left. I surrendered. I sheathed every electrical cord I could with plastic cable protectors, which he still sometimes found his way ’round, replaced or learned to live without whatever electronics he ruined, and prayed that whatever guardian angels Willie had on watch would approach their charge as a 24/7 occupation.
By the time we moved from Virginia to Manhattan in winter 2008, I semi-joked that Willie had blown through his “nine lives” and then some. Up until a few months ago, it wasn’t uncommon for me to be vacuuming, feel a sharp pull, and spin about to find his little mouth clamped down upon the cord. Mere seconds allowed me to shout “Willie, no, no!” before he bit through. (More than once, Raj and I mused that Willie must think “No, No!” was his middle name).
Oh, but he was a lover! Throughout the day, he’d leap onto the closed toilet seat lid, lift up on his hind legs, and gently place his front paws on my or Raj’s chest, his little face turned up to ours, silently begging to be picked up. Busy or not, how could we resist? Once one of us lifted him into our arms, he swiftly settled in, laying his front paws on either side of our neck, his gaze shining up into ours with a love that was both boundless and unconditional.
He wanted to be close always, to his feline family (our other Maine Coon, Jane, especially) but mainly to us, his People. He was the dog Raj had always wanted, trailing him from room-to-room and even playing fetch. On the weekends, he wasn’t content for just one of us to be with him. He wanted us both. If either stepped away, he’d glue himself to the barred bedroom or bathroom door and mewl until the MIA party relented and returned.
Though he occasionally pounced upon the other cats in play, he was always tremendously gentle with the two of us. Not once in nearly eleven years did he scratch me on purpose. Often when I held him baby style, he’d raise one of his tufted paws and, claws retracted, gently stroke the side of my face.
Like most cats, Willie was magnificent Muse material. He was the heroine’s cat in The Haunting, my Civil War time travel romance set in his birthplace of Fredericksburg, Virginia. (You can see his “bio” on my Best Friends page). Toward the book’s end, the villain gives the fictional Willie a swift kick–God, was that hard to write!–and pays dearly for it. Very dearly. And of course Willie’s alter ego survived with no lasting ill effects. Romance novels are all about the Happily Ever After, after all.
Alas, Real Life rarely writes itself so neatly. While Willie had always had periodic stomach upsets–with all those chewing sprees, how could he not?–last summer he began vomiting more and more frequently. We had the vet run a CBC panel, which came back normal. An abdominal ultrasound showed his intestines to be somewhat thickened from inflammation consistent with IBD, the probable cause a food allergy. On our veterinarian’s advice, we promptly put him on a novel protein diet and his symptoms seemed to resolve. Occasional flareups had me giving him Pepcid and Metronidiazole, but we were able to steer clear of steroids, which I viewed as a last resort.
At the end of January, he sickened again, violently so, and once more we rushed him to the vet. An abdominal x-ray revealed a fragment of what looked to be plastic that was nearly clear of his system. Once more his blood work came back normal, and we were assured that the “foreign matter” hadn’t perforated or in any way damaged his bowel. We shook our heads, torn between frustration and relief. Our little chewer was up to his old antics, giving us a good scare–and yet another anecdote to add to our Willie lore.
For a while he seemed to get better but by March he was a bit thinner and less playful. Mornings saw us cleaning up more and more hairballs. Despite or perhaps because of the frequent throwing up, he was constantly ravenous, racing to the kitchen throughout the day demanding to be fed, sometimes gnawing the shrink wrap off six packs of water and gobbling the garbage.
Come April, something was clearly very wrong. I took him back to the vet for yet more blood work and another ultrasound, expecting to hear that his IBD was acting up or that he’d eaten yet another “No, no!” Instead, the sonogram showed substantial inflammation in not only his intestines but also his stomach. The finding suggested that his IBD had progressed to small cell lymphoma. Distraught but determined to be proactive, we sought, and got, an oncology consult that same day.
Over the past six weeks, Willie has seen a veterinary oncologist, surgeon, internist, multiple ER doctors, an holistic vet (for weekly acupuncture and B-12 injections) along with our regular, wonderful vet. When the GI biopsies revealed that he didn’t in fact have cancer as we’d feared, “only” IBD, I wept with joy. We made peace with putting him on steroids, the typical treatment for stubborn IBD, and tried to be patient for the anti-inflammatory properties to kick in.
They didn’t, or at least not for long, despite increasing the dosage of prednisolone. When the internist posited that Willie’s thickened stomach lining and frequent vomiting prevented him from properly absorbing the oral medication, we learned to give him injections, three shots a day, at home. Subcutaneous fluids every other day kept him hydrated. It wasn’t a permanent solution by any means, but if we could just keep him going long enough for the treatment to work so that he could eat–and retain–his food, then it would all be worth it.
This last week was particularly painful as we watched Willie drag his little wasted body from one spot to another, seeking in vain to settle. His magnificent ruff was thin from the steroids; his belly and front legs, shaven for the surgery, still brightly bald; the once alert, mischievous eyes vacant and dull.
There was one more medication left to try, Leukeran, a strong anti-inflammatory used in chemotherapy. If it didn’t work, I would know beyond a shadow of a doubt that our darling boy’s day was indeed done. We would have to euthanize him. But we weren’t there yet.
When the piteous cry awakened us early Saturday morning, I knew Willie wasn’t going to last long enough for us to try anything further. An hour later, he was gone, leaving a hole in our hearts that no other cat will ever begin to fill.
Admittedly, Willie wasn’t an easy cat to keep. He tested my fragile patience many, many times. But then we don’t love someone because they’re easy.
We love them because they’re worth it.
And Willie was worth it–so very worth it. Only now do I fully realize just how very much I loved–love–him.
With our rambunctious boy gone, there will be no more “No, no!” anecdotes to report to family and friends. Never again will he streak across the living room and stop smack in the middle of my path, nearly knocking me over in his exuberance. Without he and Jane, my two Maine Coon minxes, dive bombing everyone’s food bowls, mealtimes are accomplished with far less fuss–and far less fun.
Willie, I understand now that you weren’t sent to test me. You were sent to teach me. The lesson, the main one at least, was patience. Alas, I was, and am, a slow learner in that regard. But because of you, I’m working really hard to do better, to be better, not only with the other cats but also with Life overall.
Bon voyage, Little Gentleman. We know you’re with your Auntie Jane now in a place where there are no nasty tasting medicines or poking needles or impatient moms shrieking “No, no!” often in frustration, almost always in fear. Surely there, in that Perfect Place, all the wires are attached to Apple products and you can safely savor to your dear little heart’s content.
With all my love now and forever,
Please take a moment to view this lovely tribute video short created by Willie’s papa, Raj Moorjani.