The injections worked very well for several weeks. Our first goal was to prolong Oddball’s life long enough for daughter Emily to return home from college and spend time with her. The major obstacle to that goal, other than her condition itself, was the fact that Oddball had lost a hind leg to cancer in 2005. The handicap had never hampered her–other than preventing her from jumping high, for instance, onto the kitchen counter–but now we feared that, if she lost too much strength, she’d not be able to walk. We really didn’t want to have to put her down, but the loss of the use of her back leg would’ve been the last straw.
It never came to that, fortunately. Oddball stayed pretty strong until the end of May. During her last week she became weak and, for some reason, spent most of the day in the master bathroom, so we brought her food and water in there. She liked lounging in her carrier, so I put that in the bathroom in case she’d like to rest there. Tuesday afternoon I went in to check on her. I heard her shift
herself inside the carrier with unusual effort, so I sat down and stroked her fur. She breathed hard, took three more big breaths, and that was all. Emily had cuddled her that morning before going to work, and my wife Beth had just checked on her just a few minutes before I did that afternoon, so we all felt glad that we’d cared for her up till the end and that she died at home.
Oddball was actually our daughter’s cat. Twelve years ago this month, seven-year-old Emily attended a Humane Society camp in Kentucky, where we lived at the time. She announced to us that we really loved this little two-year-old female tabby, already named Oddball. A few days later, we adopted her. In 2000, we moved to Ohio. The vet told us that cats “basically hibernate” during road trips–but this promise became a family joke, because Oddball was squirmy and restless for the two seven hour trip. We lived in Ohio for nine years, then we moved to St. Louis, so we had another road trip with an anxious cat. She did well, however, at the Red Roof Inn where we stopped at the halfway point.
Oddball was not usually anxious. In fact, she had a sweet, calm, and patient personality that vets and vet staff often commented on. She was also a pretty little cat, with a pleasant, oval face. She had a white spot on her stomach, which migrated slightly east but remained when her leg and hip were removed. “She’s the sweetest cat!” people always said. If I believed in reincarnation, I’d say she had achieved enlightenment and peace in a previous life. Her major “relapse” was when we got a second cat, Domino, in 2001. Oddball had come from a household with other cats, so we naively assumed she’d enjoy a buddy. Wrong! She resented the interloper and never really warmed up to him. He became ill in 2005 and we had to put him down, so Oddball returned to being the household’s sole feline.
Of course, with any pet that you’ve had for a long time, your mind fills with anecdotes. With cats, you think of a litany of hiding places, times when kitty disappeared so thoroughly you wondered if you had a cat at all, and examples of odd behavior (as in one of these pictures, where Oddball liked to lick soapduds from Emily’s bathtub). You also think of the thousands of conversations, jokes, and words of encouragement (“Such a pretty cat, aww, yeah!”) you had over the years with a creature who, presumably, doesn’t understand English (except for recognizing and ignoring some commands). One of Oddballs starring roles was when Emily and a friend did a video for a middle school history class, and Oddball played a puma which attacked a group of Western settlers. More recently, Oddball appeared (at 2:10) in a video about my wife’s new position as Webster University president: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5y8KMBWFIPM
This past Saturday we adopted a new buddy, a tortoise-shell, five-year-old female kitty named Taz. She disappeared for several hours before we realized she was hiding up the chimney. After I closed the flue, however, she settled in and cuddles with us as if she’d lived here forever. In addition to opening a new chapter in our family life, it has helped us enormously to have a new kitty as we continue to reminisce about Oddball and compare the traits of these unique little creatures.
Why did I put up with this? Well … my friend was a cat. Domino, whom I mentioned above, was a little Humane Society adoptee—adopted, in fact, on 9/11/01. He was an older, black and white cat, part Siamese and very vocal. He was supposedly eight when we adopted him but I suspect he was older; as our vet says, a cat’s age is difficult to determine unless you know the date of birth. We all loved each other for four years before he contracted some illness, lost his appetite, and had to be put down. His cremated ashes have an honored place on our bookshelves. A few days ago, we placed the container with Oddball’s ashes beside his.
My earlier description of him was true but playful. Needless to say, a pet is a real friend, though different from a human friend who can give advice. We receive unconditional love from a pet that we would never expect from a human. We might even disdain someone who showed a similar affection, for they’d seem to be needy and thoughtless. Perhaps that’s one reason we love our pets; the relationship is comparatively uncomplicated, yet very deep. I can’t overestimate the role this little animal has played in our family’s well-being, especially my daughter’s, whose pet Oddball has been through her childhood and teenage years. (I don’t mean to leave out dogs and other kinds of pets. Several of our neighbors walk their dogs.) If we’re Bible readers (and even if we’re not), we’d be self-centered if we failed not only to acknowledge our important people for our overall well being, but also our animals.
A few years ago I became curious about which animals are mentioned in the Bible. (Find a Bible topic that interests you. What does the Bible say about angels and “guardian angels”? What kinds of trees are mentioned in the Bible? How do musical instruments figure in the Bible? Go crazy: check out topics like the cities of refuge and the role of the Levites! A good topical Bible or Bible dictionary are essential even for very basic study.) So I took down my old Bible dictionary (King James Version), which, in a brief article, lists several animals, including apes, asses, badgers, bats, bears, “Behemoth” (which could possibly be hippos or elephants), boars, camels, cattle, deer, foxes, gazelle, goats, hares (Lev. 11:4, 6, Deut. 14:7), hart and hind, horses, hyenas, ibex, jackals, lambs and sheep, leopards, “Leviathan” (Job. 3:8, 41:1), lion, mice, moles, swine, weasels, whales, and wolves. The Bible also lists sponges, corals, mollusks, fish, amphibians, reptiles, asp, chameleon, cockatrice (Isa. 11:8, 59:5, Jer. 8:17), geckos (Lev. 11:30), lizards, serpents, tortoises, and vipers. Actually the KJV translation includes dragons—Psalm 74:13, Ezekiel 32:2, and in Revelation—and unicorns (Job 39:9-12). No cats, but the text mentions lions, a different genus but the same family.
Have you noticed that a lot of the Bible happens outdoors? Notice the travels of the patriarchs and their families; the people in the wilderness; the armies on the move, the ministries of Jesus. In one poignant Old Testament scene, Ezra commanded the people to repent of their sin, and the large multitude agreed—as soon as they could go inside from the heavy rain (Ezra 10:9-15). We know little about the place where Jesus lived (Mark 2:1, John 1:38-39); if he wasn’t visiting someone else’s home, he was outside somewhere, turning his observations of outdoor events into eternal teachings.
Once you notice the “outdoor” sections of the Bible, imagine the sounds in the background of the text: the sounds of wind blowing, the rustling of leaves, the crunch of stones as people walk, the lapping water of the waters, and the sounds of animals. We read the Bible for teachings that pertain to our spiritual and moral lives, but what about the outdoor world that lies so close behind the words of God? Read Psalm 8, 19, 14, and 136, all wonderful affirmations of God’s providential care of the natural world.
I turn in my old Bible to Job:
But ask the animals, and they will teach you;
the birds of the air, and they will tell you;
ask the plants of the earth, and they will teach you;
and the fish of the sea will declare to you.
Who among all these does not know
that the hand of the LORD has done this?
In his hand is the life of every living thing
and the breath of every human being (12:7-10).
The animals are wiser about God than Job’s friends, who try to be so theologically astute!
Look at Behemoth, which I made as I made you, says the Lord to Job, He is the first of the great acts of God (Job. 40:15a, 19a). At some point in my life, I wrote in the margin, Humans and animals equal. In God’s speech to Job chapters 38-41, God tells Job that, bad as Job’s problems are, the cosmos is far greater. Humans belong within a larger world of the animal kingdom.
I’ve had friends who point out that animals cannot accept Christ. I’d rather say that we don’t know what awareness of God animals may have, or how animals “duly and daily” serve God, as the poet Christopher Smart puts it. Nor do I know if the poet Schiller is right when he writes, in his Beethoven-set poem An die Freude, “even the worm [that is, the lowest of creatures] feels the joy of living” (Wollust ward dem Wurm gegeben). But I do know several things from the Bible:
· that Paul assures us that “the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to decay and obtain the glorious liberty of the children of God” (Rom. 8:21)
· that when a bull gave up its life as an offering, the person offering the animal lay his hand upon the animal’s head prior to the sacrifice, connoting a connection between the person and the animal serving him (Lev. 1:3-5).
· that God is concerned about the well-being of animals (the background, for instance, of the cryptic “kosher” law of Ex. 36:29)
· that Jesus promises God’s tenderness for even the lowly birds (Matt. 6:26)
· that Jesus identified with an animal, a sacrificial lamb.
God’s providential care is not just about us human beings: what God’s doing for us, what we should be doing, where we fail, and so on. As God reminded Job in those powerful chapters 38-41, God’s activity covers far more than we can fathom.
That gives us confidence. We know we have a Lord and Savior who doesn’t mind a bit that we’re needy, demanding, and come to him at all hours.
he who keeps you will not slumber.
He who keeps Israel
will neither slumber nor sleep (Psalm 121:3b-4)
Unfortunately (this has a happy ending), Taz disappeared almost immediately after we brought her home! We confined her to one side of the house, but soon after her arrival she trotted down a hallway, went around the corner, and wasn’t seen again. We looked under the bed and the sofa, looked up the fireplace in the living room, but didn’t see her. Did she get out of the house unnoticed? (Oddball had once slipped outside very stealthily when we’d opened a door to talk to a neighbor.) No, because when we rose in the morning, food and water had been sampled, and the litter box had been used. Spooky!
Two days later, as Beth sat quietly, she saw Taz descend from another fireplace–the one in the TV room—in order to partake from her water and food bowls. I hadn’t looked up there because she’d disappeared when she’d left the TV room and trotted around to the living room toward the other fireplace. Obviously she had gone around another corner while I was following her and returned to the TV room. Clever!
I quickly closed all the fireplace dampers. Although brown and black to begin with, Taz was obviously very sooty. Bathing a fully-armed cat (i.e., not declawed, as Oddball had been when we adopted her) seemed foolhardy, so we carefully wiped her off with wash cloths.
The last three and a half months have been much more uneventful. Her APA papers indicated she was shy at first but warmed up to people quickly. She soon became one of the family, slept with Emily and us, and she lounges on either of her two cat towers beside glass doors at opposite ends of the house. It was wonderful to have a cat while we were grieving Oddball’s loss, and also Emily got to bond with Taz for two months before she returned to college.
“Pets have such different personalities,” a friend said as I updated her on Stroble cat news. Like our other cats, Taz tries to get us up unconscionably early in the morning. Oddball seldom meowed, more often she squeaked when she was happy, and she made the fussy cat-sound eh-eh-eh at birds. Our earlier cat Domino, who was part Siamese, strolled around meowing for no apparent reason. Taz “talks” a lot, too, but she’s not a very vocal purr-er.
Beth looked up “Taz” on the internet and found a description of the frantic cartoon character, the Tazmanian Devil, which fit our cat rather well, especially her wild gallops across the room that do resemble whirlwinds. This is our first cat who likes to play fetch, with a toy mouse.
Speaking of mice, Taz caught a real mouse the other day and had a short, happy time playing with the poor thing. I took the jittery mouse away inside a garbage bag and released it outside, where it was either caught by the owl we hear in the night, or got away and has begun therapy…
Taz grooms and washes herself many times during the day; she might say, in the vernacular of the LOLcats, “Mai butt has a flavor!” Fortunately, Taz doesn’t go in for what I call “recreational vomiting,” a definite downside of cats. She’s only puked twice since we got her, while Oddball and Domino regularly upchucked just for the heck of it. Small blessings.