Saturday, November 05, 2011

Ears Are Highly Overrated Anyway.

I was chatting with a friend a few days ago and somehow the conversation turned towards my cat Sapphire.  I can't remember how we got there, but it wasn't a surprise.  A lot of my conversations with people end up with me telling them something strange about one or more of my pets.  There's just so much material from which to choose!  Anyway, after telling her all about Sapphire's adventures all those years ago I thought I'd share it with all of you too.

I first met Sapphire in 1973 when a sneaky friend of mine presented her to me as a wedding present.  My friend was a Mothers' Helper as they were called back then (I don't know what the term is today), and looked after three children and did various jobs to help the working mum cope.  The working mum had come across this batch of dumped kittens and brought them back to her flat.  Once the kittens began to grow she realised her decision hadn't been the best one she could have made and handed the job of finding homes for them over to my friend, with the addendum that any kittens left over at the end of the week would be "disposed of".  That's all it took for me to accept my wedding present - the term "disposed of" sends chills up my spine.  Graeme was a little less than thrilled.  Realisation of his future hadn't quite hit him in the face at this time, but he was starting to suspect that I had a unique ability to acquire pets without actively trying to do so and he was worried.

While I was knee deep in wedding preparations I had sent Graeme out to find rental accommodation we could afford and that allowed me to keep a cat. He found such a flat and handed over the deposit and signed the lease. When I sent Graeme on this mission I had one cat that was coming to live with us (Topaz).  The rest of my menagerie were rather ancient and I didn't want to disturb their retirement with a big move.  They would live out the rest of their lives at my mother's house where they had always been.  I told Graeme that an extra cat wouldn't make much difference and everything was fine.  In the end we moved in with three kittens, Topaz the tortoiseshell, Sapphire the white cat with a few dabs of grey fur, and Ophelia a neurotic black and white cat.

We lived in the flat for two years with me acquiring more pets along the way.  You can read about all my extra pets  here  The cats lived in the flat nearly all the time venturing outside only occasionally.  We then moved to an acre near Mittagong and the cats learned to go outside more often and enjoy the fresh air and sunshine.  Unfortunately for Sapphire sunshine wasn't a good idea.  Every summer her white ears and pink nose would get sunburned and after a few years of this she ended up with some skin damage.  We took her to the vet and he said it was either a case of keeping her inside at all times or tattooing her ears and nose with a dark ink to proved protection from the sun.  We chose the tattooing option so Sapphire could continue to enjoy her new outdoor access.  We left her there overnight and made arrangements to pick her up the next day.

The vet rang before we headed off the next day to say that Sapphire had had a bad reaction to the dye and her face had swollen up drastically.  He had her on a drip and needed to keep her in until the swelling went down.  I agreed and went into worry mode - a common mode for me with the menagerie and later my children.  We visited Sapphire that afternoon and she was a sorry sight with her dark, scabby ears and nose on a face so swelled up she looked grotesque. It was hard to believe we'd always considered Sapphire the beauty of the family.  The swelling was so bad she could barely open her mouth to complain about the treatment she was receiving and the fact that she was now tattooed and didnt' get to choose the design.

After a few days the swelling went down, Sapphire was able to voice her disapproval of the whole incident again in loud meows.  She came home and told her troubles to the three other cats, settled down for a good sleep and continued healing.  The scabs on her ears and nose where still there but the vet said this was normal and the scabs would drop off in a few days.  He was right.  The only thing he didn't mention was that her ears and a small part of her nose would drop off too! 

We came home from a day out to find Sapphire with one ear missing and the other tip hanging at a drunken angle over her eye.  I rang the vet to seek advice on the catastrophe (excuse the pun - I couldn't resist).  He was less than impressed with the phone call.  He told me that he'd spent the day performing Cesarean operations on a herd of small heifers where a huge bull had got into their paddock nine moths previously and he wasn't in the mood for jokes.  I asked him why I would possibly think it was funny to ring him and tell him my cat's ear had fallen off.  I was serious.  The vet heaved a sigh and told us to bring Sapphire in straight away.  I think he thought maybe the scab had come off and we were confused or something.

We arrived at the vet's carrying a ticked off cat and presented her for his inspection.  There it was in all it's glory - an earlessearless on both sides.  He apologised profusely and said he'd never seen anything like this before. He continued to play with the ear tip while he talked to us, running it through his fingers, giving it a little flip and catching it.  I had to concentrate on what he was saying because I found his absent minded treatment of Sapphires ear very off putting in a ghoulish sort of way.  I pointed out that the blood coming from Sapphire's ear where he'd pulled the ear off was a thick, gunky blue.  He had a closer look and agreed.  Sapphire once again spent the night at the vet's while he tried to figure out what to do next.  In the end she came home the next day in perfect health but without ears and a small part of her nose.

Later when I examined Sapphire closely I saw that her skin had turned blue under her white fur.  She was darkest blue on her face with the colour fading the further down her body you moved.  She now had what looked like Kohl pencil eyes with the skin around them no longer the normal, cat approved pink, but now a dark indigo - very exotic looking.   The dye ink had got into her blood stream and stained her skin along the way.  How she survived with that much ink in her blood we'll never know but survive she did.

Years went buy and Sapphire lived a long and happy life.  She remained blue (and of course earless) and just a few years later, while still a young cat, went blind.  Whether the dye had anything to do with that I don't know, but I suspect it did.  That was when I gave up rearranging furniture in the house.  I used to rearrange the furniture every few months just for a different look.  The first time I did that after blindness struck our Sapphire she kept ricocheting off the furniture.  She expected everything to be just where she'd left it the day before and when it wasn't she bumped into it. She was often found in a corner of the room meowing plaintively that she didn't know where she was anymore - everything was strange.  Rather than have Sapphire resemble a ball bearing in a  pinball machine for ever more, I gave up on my decorating pretensions and stopped moving things about.  

Sapphire lived until the ripe old age of 18. She remained the boss of the cats and most of the dogs even after losing her sight, and led a happy normal life.  She did attract a lot of notice when visitors met the blue skinned, earless cat for the first time.  They'd ask what happened and I'd tell Sapphire's story once again. One time the question was asked Graeme's brother piped in quickly answering the new visitor's question of what happened to Sapphire's ears with "They were delicious!"  The visitor took a few horrified steps back and I quickly intervened with the true story.

One unexpected outcome from Sapphires brush with tattoo ink was that the vet never charged us full price for anything again.  He came out to help with my horse Christie one time when she had colic.  After hours of working on her and getting her back to normal, he was packing up his gear.  Sapphire spotted him and wandered over to say, "No hard feelings," and pass the time of day with her medical practitioner.  She rubbed up against him preparatory to opening the conversation and the vet looked down, shuddered and said, "That cat still haunts me."  He proceeded to charge just for the medications used, not his time or travelling.  I explained that we didn't blame him for Sapphire's new look, but he refused to take a cent more. For a few years there we had the  cheapest vet bills we'd ever had.  Sapphire smiled a smug smile when I mentioned this to Graeme and I could almost see her saying, "You're welcome."

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