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Rommel’s last day…

Our cat, Rommel, died on Wednesday.  Irene raced him to the vet when she found him in a diabetic coma early in the afternoon.  The vet was unable to revive him.

Rommel has been with us most of his life: over 13 years.  We adopted him from the SPCA in Edmonton when he was about twelve weeks old.

A couple of weeks before we adopted him, I had lost my kitten Whisper.  We went to the SPCA to adopt a cat, and I was looking for something fluffy.  I picked out Willow, but another fellow picked her up before I did and was carrying her around as if he planned to adopt her.  I started looking around some more, and while I was wandering about Irene opened a cage with a little kitten in it.  She called me over a moment later: the kitten had crawled up on her shoulder and buried himself in Irene’s hair (which was long at the time).  That was Rommel.

We ended up going home that day with two cats.  Rommel and Willow bonded initially as paired adoptions often will, and Rommel started out as a playful, happy kitten.  Within a few weeks, however, he managed to break one of his rear legs, fracturing his kneecap.  That necessitated a couple of months in a cast and, to keep him from getting hurt further, meant that he spent most of each day in a cat “cage”.  It also meant that he spent a lot of time at the vet, first for X-rays, then the cast, then later X-rays, and removal of the wire that held his knee together.  And of course, as soon as he was fully healed he went outside and got an abscess in his foot.

Rommel went through a series of “accidents”: the abscess in the foot, another abscess in his back, a strange growth in his mouth…by the time he was a few years old, he hated the vet.  He also became generally mistrustful of people: he tolerated visitors, but he’d growl if they invaded his space or foolishly tried to pick him up.

Strangely, though, Rommel loved Irene and I.  His normal place was curled up with one of us, lying on our legs or feet if on the couch or in the crook of my arm in bed.  Once a day or so he’d decide he really needed a hug: he’d walk up and sit down in front of one of us, and stare at us until he was sure he had our attention.  Then he’d stand up partially on his hind legs, make sure we were watching him and looked ready, then he’d “launch” himself into our arms from the floor.  You had to catch him and lift him up: one paw would go on either side of your neck, and he’d start to purr.  His face would press under your chin or against the side of your neck, and the purr would get louder…perhaps he’d drool a little.

To the vets in his life, however, he was a holy terror.  He’d howl, and snarl, and spit.  He wasn’t “insane”, totally freaked out…his heart rate remained steady, and there was little sign of obvious stress beyond the violence.  His entire behavior was carefully calculated and controlled.  But a vet who wasn’t used to cats could be tremendously intimidated.

I recall one vet-related incident a few years ago.  Rommel had been at the vet all day for his second or third mouth lumpectomy.  I arrived to pick him up, and the vet as well as the vet technicians were on hand to warn me.  Rommel was a wild animal, they had had to sedate him heavily, and they were working out cautious plans involving heavy leather gloves and steel cages to transfer him into my pet carrier.  One of the techs handed me these gloves: great big leather gauntlets going half way up the forearm.  I put them aside as I approached the howling cat in his cage.  The tech backed away, saying “no, you should use these gloves”.  I said hello to a horrendously howling and snarling Rommel, his blurry eyes and wobbly body showing he was still suffering from the sedation.  Rommel’s howls went like this: “HRRROOWOWOWLLLLlllllhhhrrwwwl?”  He wobbled over to me and leapt into my arms, put one paw on either side of my neck, and started purring.  I calmly put Rommel into his carrier without any resistance, and paid the bill while the stunned vet technician and vet stood by muttering to each other.

Our vet for the last couple of years, Dr. Michelle at the Central Langley Pet Hospital, actually says she likes Rommel: I believe she said something to the effect that he is “lovable in his own way”, and that she likes his cattitude.  We switched vets to Dr. Michelle largely because of a couple of incidents like the one I described above with our prior vet: a vet who is scared of a cat can’t effectively treat them.  Doctor Michelle and the folks at Central Langley all seemed to understand where Rommel was coming from: this meant his visits were less stressful, and I’m absolutely certain his treatment was better.  Certainly I felt better seeing him treated with respect instead of fear.

During the past couple of years we’ve been dealing with recurrences of Rommel’s stomatitis: basically a non-cancerous lump that grows in his mouth.  The lump gets in the way when he eats: he bites it, it hurts, the lump gets larger, it gets infected…generally not fun.  He’s had dental surgery, steroid treatments, and a special diet to try to minimize recurrence.  The results have been mixed.

Recently Rommel was diagnosed with diabetes.  This might have been brought on in part by the steroid treatments…or possibly not.  I learned how to inject him with insulin twice a day, and we were making some progress treating him.  On Wednesday, though, something went wrong.  It could be that his insulin balance shifted rapidly, and the dose I was giving him became suddenly too large for his needs.  The vet tells me that I didn’t mis-apply the insulin injection (I.E. incorrectly inject into a vein) because the coma took place five or six hours after his last injection.  There may have been an underlying secondary issue.  Either way, he entered a diabetic coma and didn’t recover.

I will miss a lot of things about Rommel.

  • His hugs
  • the way he came running from the complete opposite side of the house at the merest sound of a tin being opened
  • his exuberant head butts and body slams when he thought there might be some food in the offing
  • he loved warm spots, probably because his long-ago broken knee was arthritic: turn on the fire place, and Rommel would appear magically to absorb its heat
  • Rommel knew how to open doors: we have long door handles in our house, and Rommel would sit on a shelf and lean on them until the door opened
  • His OCD: he would sit beside one of our plastic plants and bat at its leaf for an hour, non-stop…or jump up on a toilet seat and bat at the toilet paper until the entire roll was unraveled on the floor (that’s why our TP is in “backwards” in our house).  the entire time he would have a glazed “I’m stoned” expression…
  • the way he acted as toll guard on the stair way.  He’d sit sprawled across the top stair, and intimidate anyone who wanted to go up or down.  One day I found our 75 pound Rottweiler cross, Sadie, whining at the top of the stairs…she couldn’t get past Rommel
  • the way our house cleaners called him “angry cat” or “bad cat” or “don’t touch that one!!”

I hope Rommel had as much happiness as he brought to us, and that he knew he was loved.

6 comments to Rommel’s last day…

  • I’m sorry to hear that neanderthal kitty is gone, I’ll miss the thug. I got along with him fine, once he realized I wasn’t intimidated by his growls and my presence was usually associated with food.

    He’s proof that history remembers the hard cases more than the easy going sweethearts.

  • Thanks, Chris.

    The thug definitely carved a space for himself. He will be sorely missed

  • Oblivions

    Sorry to hear, Kelly. Rommel always pretty much stayed away from me so other than being the big boy in the house I only ever got to see him from the other wise of the living room.

  • Paula

    Hello Kelly. I just got a diagnosis of diabetes for my 20 year old kitty, Cinder, today. I love my baby, but I am wondering if it is time to put him to sleep. I will not be able to be around during the day to monitor his blood sugar, and I don’t want him to suffer alone.

    Your baby, Rommel, looks wonderful. Such a love. Never mind the vets or strangers….YOU were his people. He didn’t have to get along with anyone else! 😉

    I am truly sorry to hear of your loss. I can certainly empathize, especially right now. Please take care and best wishes.

  • Paula, thank you for the kind post!

    Rommel was a thug, but he was a sweet thug, and as you say we were his people. For all of his “bad” reputation, he would curl up (or around) our other cats and snooze with them happily. And he let our little kitten, Iris, steal the food right out of his bowl.

    I’m sorry to hear about your cat, Cinder. 20 years! That’s a nice age. How you and Cinder deal with diabetes is going to be a personal question just for the two of you to figure out. I will say this, though- Rommel didn’t mind the shots at all. As for blood sugar monitoring…our vet did the blood checks. In retrospect I wonder if, had we been doing more regular checks, Rommel might have done better.

    Best of luck figuring out how to work out the diabetes question.

  • Troy Adams

    The description you have given of rommel sounds alot like my sisters new cat, Nitro. He’s ‘accidentally vicious’ but when you pick him up he does what you described rommel to do.

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