Monday, October 21, 2013

Louis “Louie” Armstrong Widdowson; b.1997, d. 2013

Impressions of Louie – (Louis “Louie” Armstrong Widdowson; b.1997, d. 2013)

            Louie was born in August of 1997 under the bed of our daughter, Marcie, at our house at 67 Blooming Grove Road in Hanover, Pennsylvania. Whitney, his mother, only had one kitten in her life and he was jet black like her only a short haired cat while she had long hair. We had her fixed not long after his birth. Louie had been the result of one weekend when she got out of the house while my wife, Beth, and I were in Ohio visiting Beth’s relatives.

            My first memory after that of Louie was how he’d carry a little stuffed bear around with him wherever he went. Sometimes it was just too heavy and his back feet would lift off the ground. Louie was born with a long memory although he didn’t seem too bright. He used to enjoy a drip coming from our bathtub faucet and for a couple of years after it was fixed and no longer dripped he still would sit and wait for it. Louie wasn’t very brave. In fact, he didn’t like people and when company would visit he would retreat into our bedroom and burrow under our covers with the cat’s belief that if I can’t see them, they can’t see me. Beth remembers how Whitney would be fussing at a cat through a window and Louie would lean around the corner looking but not wanting to be a part in the confrontation. If Whitney and Louie got outside somehow Louie wanted right back in and that’s how I would know they had gotten out as he would be at that window howling to get back inside.

            Although I was Louie’s principal care-giver Beth cared about him a great deal. Once, when he got his claws caught in the refrigerator leg she reached for the refrigerator just as he managed to get free and to stop complaining. I asked her what she was about to do and she said emphatically, “I was going to lift that refrigerator off of him.” Whitney would force Louie to wrestle with her even though he was reluctant. I remember one such combat in our living room while a visitor from France who had come to see my boxing club looked on in enjoyment. That was in 1999. I have a picture of one more recently when an aged Whitney tackled a much overweight Louie.

            As I said before, Louie was not a brave cat. When our son, Nathan, would bring his beloved Jack Russell terrier, Dave, over to visit and Dave wanted to play, Louie would invariably hide under the covers of our bed while his mother would stand guard in the hallway leading to the bedroom. I presume that Dave could have easily taken this little wisp of a cat but she was determined to defend her son, even if she wrestled him to the ground or slapped him occasionally as she walked by him. After all, Louie was her boy.

            While we were still living at Blooming Grove Road Louie’s anxieties started to come out. He felt that his tail was attacking him and would try to bite it and fuss at it. We had no clue as to what was causing this strange behavior. But it didn’t end there. After we had moved into the new home in New Oxford, he’d lick all the fur off of his belly. I presume that he might have had some kind of parasites like fleas because after I began using Pfizer Revolution on him and then, when I could no longer afford that, bathing him with Dawn Dishwashing detergent, the scratching ended.

            We moved to New Oxford in May of 2006. That summer, while entertaining my brother and his wife for dinner one Saturday, Louie and the other cats; Whitney, Shakey, and Meekah got out through an unlocked patio screen. I was mortified or maybe terrified would be a better word but Beth assured me they would come back after Shakey and Meekah returned rather quickly. Sure enough, about 3am, Sunday, there was Louie standing at the patio screen wanting to be let in. My sleepless night wasn’t over, though, until Whitney returned. I doubt they went further than the bushes around our house.

            Louie’s obsession with his tail resulted in a visit to the vet that almost resulted in surgery but they shaved his tail and after applying flea medication he stopped trying to bite it. Of course, he’d already taken off the end of it. Fortunately, surgery was not necessary. He also had an obsession with chewing on plastic his entire life and I had to keep plastic away from him or he’d chew on it and try to eat it. I think he liked it on his teeth.

            In spite of his unsociable behavior toward visitors and his hiding in the dark of the basement family room when his tail was bothering him, he was very affectionate. I remember him coming upstairs when Beth would come out and kissing her ankles and legs with her saying in a teasing voice she’d use when talking to a child, “I don’t want your kisses, Louie.” He’d pull my hand toward his head if he was standing next to me because he wanted me to pet him and while I brushed him he would constantly lick and rub my free hand, almost as if thanking me. His meow turned into a short of Bill the Cat, “thwaaaackkk,” from the cartoon series, Bloom County, that Beth was so fond of years ago. But Louie’s personality was more along the line of the sad-sack 1960’s comedian George Gobel. In fact, we often think of Louie as the cat version of Gobel.

            Back then, I knew nothing about cats being obligate carnivores. I poured a bag of dry food into a large “bistro” container for the cats to enjoy at their pleasure. Having heard vaguely in the early 1980’s that dry food only would harm a cat’s kidneys I also fed them wet food. But, Louie would graze and graze on the dry food. Eventually, he blew up to 20lbs. in weight. In 2010 the vet warned about his weight while we were fretting over what to do about his tail. Slowly, with great effort, I was able to get him down to 17 ½ lbs. But, that was by the fall of 2011 and it was too late.

            One day, we noticed that Louie couldn’t walk. He was moving on the hocks of his legs. He would come upstairs but it was a pathetic thud, thud, thud. We got him to a vet who said that he would never walk again, that he had diabetes, and that we had a week to decide whether we could afford to treat him with insulin and extended stays at the vets for stabilization. Having been crushed in the recession, having lost our jobs, and being unable to get jobs that matched even a healthy percentage of our previous incomes Beth and I were considering that for all of our sakes, as we needed to keep a roof over ours and the other cat’s heads and Louie was going to suffer more and more and we just didn’t have any money, he might need to be euthanized.

            After some time on the internet I found a site touting the miraculous benefits of vitamin B-12, Methylcobalamin, for rejuvenation of nerves damaged by diabetic neuropathy not only in humans but in cats. A lady had created a website about how her cat, Jasper, had his mobility saved by this vitamin. I hurriedly ordered some and within three days of taking it, Louie was walked again. He never suffered from this issue again even after I stopped giving it to him. Knowing we did not have the money for expensive treatment and taking the doctor’s advice on how cats need meat and lots of water in their diet I put all of the cats on a wet food diet.

            Within a short period of time, I had a new cat. In fact, friends on Facebook called him, “Newie Louie.” He was jumping up on counters, getting in my lap, racing me up the stairs from the basement, not hiding from visitors, and generally doing all sorts of cat things that he either hadn’t done in years or had never done. His anxieties seemed to have disappeared although he was still obsessed with plastic and although he didn’t enjoy chasing a string or a laser he would try to bat a broken rubber band out of my hand. I suppose because he just liked rubber and plastic. For eighteen months I had a new, improved Louie who enjoyed being with me and with the other cats and would even get annoyed when Meekah would get too energetic and wild around him and would walk over and smack her. It was funny and it was wonderful. He became my little best buddy. There were setbacks, though, as I would foolishly give him dry food as a treat and once in awhile he would get sick.

            For eighteen months after his “death sentence” he was a good size, about 15 pounds, and very active. Because of my spoiling he was the prince of the house, making his bed at various places for a couple of months until he was bored and moving on, going from window to table, table to counter, and even sleeping for a time on the bar in our basement. I made sure his water and food were near him and that he always had a clean litterbox. I have been in the habit of sifting each box (one for each cat although they use them interchangeably) twice a day, making sure all water containers contain  fresh water twice a day, and the food is fresh at least four times a day (I was up to five times a day on that but it was too wasteful).

            I began to notice Louie was losing weight in the summer of 2013. He was approaching sixteen years of age. Even as his weight plummeted and I had to coax him to eat, doing all sorts of things that other family members thought strange and funny such as pretending to eat his food myself first because others eating always made him want to eat, I still didn’t think anything really bad was happening.

            Finally, to my relief, Louie’s appetite returned. He was eating wet food with gusto  and his newfound “cattitude” was never was lost (I loved him racing me upstairs, jumping in my office chair when I worked upstairs and spinning around like it was just soooo much fun). Sadly, though, Louie passed away on October 19, 2013. I buried him the next morning with this epitaph inserted into a plastic bag and taped inside his box.

Here lays Louis ‘Louie’ Armstrong Widdowson, born in August of 1997 and dying in October of 2013. Be respectful of this grave and his remains, stranger. He was a prince among cats. I loved him very much. Think on this gentle creature. He loved much and was loved greatly. He is survived by myself, my wife, his mother Whitney, and his friends, Shakey and Meekah. May God receive his precious soul and may I see him again in the next world. (Job 12:10; Proverbs 12:10)

He lay on a cushion I took out of one of the cat carriers. Beth and I cried many tears. It was a sunny Sunday morning, October 20th, 2013. I will never be the same.

            Louie taught me a lot about life and my relationship with Christ, my helplessness, and my dependence on my Lord. Louie’s trust, tender love, and expectations of only good things from my hand, and help whenever he needed it will always stay with me. I will for the rest of my life see him look up at me with those big yellow-green eyes when I held him in my lap, stroking his head, and gently saying his name over and over, “Hello Louie-Louie, my Louie.” I will never forget how he’d lay his head on my chest and let me hug him gently and say, “I love you, Louie.” There is such huge hole in my heart now. For two years I struggled to give him a quality of life but, in the end, failed to extend his life longer than the 16 years and 2 months he had. I am just grateful that God gave him to us. The other cats; Whitney, Shakey, and Meekah, I loved dearly, but were dropped off on us by our children. Louie was born in our house and knew only us his entire life. He was and always will be, “My Louie.”

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