Charcoal was a beefy, thick unneutered male. He had those giant, hammerhead shark, intact male cheeks and was very well muscled throughout his body. I called him the “Pitbull of cats” because he was so muscular. He likely spent his days perusing the countryside wooing the lady kitties and then found himself caught and thrown into a stainless-steel cage at the shelter. We all know the kind. Stainless, cold, and loud, lined with newspapers as a laughable source of bedding and a rinky dink tiny litter pan. If he was lucky, he would be provided a small amount of food and water that hopefully he didn’t spill in his frantic attempts to reach out for affection through the cage bars. Charcoal was lucky. He was handsome, young, and full of life. He caught the eye of one of the rescue folks and was pulled before he met an untimely end.
I met Charcoal in the isolation room at my first clinic. He had been brought in after being pulled from a kill shelter almost exactly one month prior to my employment there. He needed to be neutered, but like so many, he had developed an upper respiratory infection due to the stress of the shelter. He was examined, dewormed and started on antibiotics. I was training in our treatment area at the time and part of that training was to care for the cats in isolation.
So, he ended up in yet another cage in the isolation room. He had mucous and snot pouring out of his eyes and nostrils, sneezing and hacking. I would like to think that he recognized the difference between the accommodations at the clinic verses the shelter. He had soft plush bedding, toys, towels, nice clean litter pans, canned and dry food provided twice a day, meds to help him feel better and he had me. I came along about a month after he had arrived, but I was smitten right away.
As he started to feel better, he really wanted out of that crazy making box! I would take care of everyone and then let him out to play with the feline flyer feather toy. And could he fly! He would jump 5 feet in the air, thudding to the floor. Jake and I later nicknamed him “Charcoal Briquette” because he was like a ton of bricks. He walked heavy, jumped heavy, and while he was graceful and light on his feet, he had a heavy foot step. He was like having a ton of bricks on your chest. Well, this is how he landed on the isolation room floor during play, and we got in trouble! The doctor whose exam room was beneath the Isolation room told me we needed to keep it down because we were disturbing her appointments. I really wanted to get him free and out of there. He was neutered and the stress of the surgery resulted in yet another upper respiratory infection. He spent a couple of months in the Iso room and at the time I thought it wasn’t that bad, at least he was safe. Looking back, I now know how very glum, brown, dark and dreary that room was, but he was safe.
I had never seen a cat like Charcoal before. His coat pattern was called a “smoke”. To the untrained eye he looked like a black and white tuxedo, but he had white fur underneath the topcoat, which was black. This gave him a smoked, charcoal gray appearance, hence the name. He was beautiful and to this day, so many years later, I have seen other smoked cats, but rarely a smoked tuxedo, he was special.
Needless to say, when he finally got free and came down to be with us in the main part of the clinic he was naughty! He had pent up frustration from being confined for so long and he was so thrilled to have friends to play with, and stuff, he really like “stuff”, he played with anything. One day, on my day off, I got a call from the owner of the practice, “Come get your cat”, she said to me! He was taking the phone of the hook, spilled coffee, knocking over the pen cup into the clinic cat’s litter pan below. Naughty, mischievous, curious, driven, strong, intelligent, these are all good adjectives to describe Charcoal.
We alternated weekend shifts at the clinic and on one of my weekends off I received a call from one of my co-workers who was doing adoptions that day. She said she had some people interested in BOTH Isaac (later Kodiak) and Charcoal, and that I needed to choose who I was taking home or if I was taking both of them. When I started there, only a few months earlier, I had 5 cats. I took Peaches home my first week, then Mammas and her kittens a few weeks later. Charcoal and Kodiak would make number 12 and 13, insane right? Well, I chose Charcoal, and I spent the whole weekend with my stomach tied in knots wondering if Isaac (Kodiak) was going to be there Monday morning when I walked in. Well, he was!!! Charry and Kody were friends and went to bed every night in the same room together and I really did not want to separate them. So…I adopted them both as a pair shortly thereafter as that situation made me realize that I could not let either of them go.
He loved life at our “cat house”. He climbed the 6-foot scratch poles we installed and walked the cat walks. He lived on the screen porch whenever it was open for business. He used to love to sit on his cat perch and reach for the hammock swing, grab one string with his razorblade claws and gnaw on it. We joked that he was trying to sabotage it so that one day he would have the strings thinned enough that whoever was sitting in it would fall to the floor! He loved interactive toys, he was a master forager, and he adored those little “sparkly puff” balls. He would get one in his mouth and call and yowl, we loved that. Charcoal also liked to box! If we “put up our dukes” he would bat at our fists and box with us, it was super cute! He was the kind of cat that wanted to be with you, but not held, wanted to be next to you on the sofa but not on your lap. There is nothing wrong with this! So many people seem to be disappointed in not having a lap cat. Having a “right by your side cat” can be just as wonderful.
He jowl rubbed and marked the bejesus out of me his whole life. I was convinced that he was the reason I have struggled with acne around my chin for so many years! He did it to Jake too, loved to rub on his goatee fuzz. This type of marking denotes ownership, and he was marking me as his human. I was happy to wear the title. I once had a client give up their cat for jowl rubbing the walls and leaving brown marks on the corners. I explained to this insensitive human that her cat loved her, her home, and was marking her space because she was happy and comfortable there. This human didn’t care and gave the cat, Katie, away anyway. I asked her if she had ever heard of a sponge and escorted her out of the building. It is a disgrace the expectations people have of these guys and how so many humans have no desire to have empathy for and learn about that which they do not understand.
Charcoal integrated nicely into our home; he was always quite the gentleman. He got along with everyone; he never presented any behavior challenges that I can recall. I cannot tell you that I learned something miraculous from sharing life with him that made me a better behavior consultant. Charcoal was Switzerland in our house. He was often the first to make friends with a newcomer; in fact, he became Hitch’s first friend and wrestle buddy, even with the age difference of 12 years between them!
Charcoal was pretty low maintenance for most of his life. I act preventatively and treat what I can early, and he had of course had the benefit of some arthritis supplements, antioxidants and O3’s since he was senior. When he was about 14 he started having inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) type symptoms. It wasn’t severe, just some bouts of soft stool that would easily clear up with meds. Over time the bouts became more frequent and harder to resolve, and he began to very gradually lose weight. Lab work and radiographs were normal and ultrasound revealed ropey intestines from IBD but that was all.
So, we treated him. After all, this was an extremely common problem affecting cats, mostly seniors and we were very familiar with the treatment protocols. As his symptoms progressed it was assumed that, like so many, the disease had morphed into Small Cell Lymphoma. Chronic inflammation over time likes to become cancer, and cats are no stranger to this phenomenon. Charcoal was strong, and quite honestly, just wouldn’t die! He went from about 14# when first becoming affected to 5.82# the day he left us. This weight loss was extremely gradual. As I have learned, Small Cell Lymphoma is a wasting disease. These animals rarely get a single solitary mass, rather the cancer is diffuse throughout the GI tract, and they simply do not absorb all of the nutrients in their food and waste away. I have never treated a cat so successfully with a long-term chronic disease as I did Charcoal. He never really seemed to feel bad. Polypharmacy is what I believe his care protocol would have been coined. Chemo drugs, steroids, daily fluid therapy, Vitamin B12, omega 3 fatty acid supplements, antioxidants and a myriad of other meds were managing him quite nicely. Through it all this cat continued to play, forage, and sleep on his favorite heated beds, he even climbed the 6-foot-tall scratch poles! He had quality. I think what readers should take away from this is that preventative veterinary care, treating problems early, and actually administering the meds prescribed makes all the difference. We had him micromanaged and would just tweak his medication recipe if his needs changed.
Charcoal finally left us on February 22nd, 2014 one week shy of his estimated 17th birthday. He was still fighting and struggling to go on. He was such a strong cat and a strong personality. Like our dog Grant, who Charcoal was also friends with, he was never going to appear weak. Despite his wobbliness, and difficulty walking he climbed the stairs to our bedroom one last time and got up on our bed and under the covers. It was hard to make the decision to finally call it. There was a chance that all the immune suppressive drugs had sparked an ear infection causing him to walk as if he were drunk and stumble to one side. But we really wanted him to let go with dignity and strength. If there was an ear infection, how much more time would treating that buy us with only 5.82# of Charcoal left? There was not one more med left to give him to treat his cancer. He had been on 14 different drugs and supplements for the past year, daily fluids, an appetite stimulant to keep him eating well. The morning of the day we let him go, he had jumped up on the kitchen counter and ate his snickers bars for cats, a packet of Whiskas and even an entire jar of baby food.
All of his friends were with us to let him go, at this stage we did not have very many cats left or so it felt, until we were down to the four we have as I write this. Simon came over and nibbled on his ear, Vader sniffed his head and went and lay down beside us. Mammas came and sniffed him, Hitch groomed his forehead. We knew he would have to really be ready or he would fight too much. He was ready, there was no struggle, and our dear sweet Charry Manders, left us forever.
The house is quiet; we miss him screaming at us for his breakfast (the appetite stimulant made him a bit demanding but we liked that!)
The sofa is a little emptier at night.
The bed is a little colder.