Vader was an ordinary domestic short hair black cat. He was one of 4 kittens in his litter and we decided to keep the whole family including his mother, Asia. At the age of six he had started showing some asthmatic type symptoms and was brought into the vet for a chest x-ray. He did have asthma but the radiographs also showed an incidental finding, a mass on his right shoulder blade, a hemangiosarcoma. Vader had to have his right leg amputated if there was any hope for him to survive. We already had one 3-legged black cat so why not a matching set? He recovered from this surgery just fine. I have always said that for cats, four legs are extra! They do so amazingly well being handicapable, as I like to call it.
The surgical experience was quite traumatic. We attempted amputation at clinic where I was working but we did not have cautery back then. The tumor bled, a lot. He had to be closed back up, temporarily and transferred to my favorite surgical hero and have the complete amputation the next day. What an ordeal for him. He was painful and scared but thankfully, once he was awake from anesthesia, I was able to administer a nice cocktail to keep him comfortable. It is different when you are removing a source of pain as with Lefty’s amputation, but Vader didn’t know anything was wrong with him. He felt fine and then suddenly someone was trying to remove his leg. It was hard for all of us to say the least.
A few years later our home caught fire and we were not home, but all of our animals were trapped in the house. Vader spent most of his days upstairs where the fire started. A window unit air conditioner had shorted out and up went the drapes, the bed linens, etc. Mostly, we had a lot of soot damage from all of the synthetic fibers going up in smoke. By the time I had arrived home the fire had already been snuffed out, but how? According to the local fire department Vader saved our home and our entire family!
Out of fear I’m sure, Vader went into the master bath and hid behind the door. In doing so he accidentally closed the door, locking himself in the upstairs bathroom, the place in the house with the worst smoke damage. The fire department informed us that the air vent in the bathroom was aiding in fueling the fire with oxygen and you could see the streaks of clean white ceiling rushing directly into the vent with soot marked ceiling all around it. I found Vader gagging for air on the floor of the bathroom near the tub. The blackness came off on my hands when I touched him. According to the fire department, had Vader not closed that door, we would no longer have our home. You can see his desperate attempts to escape in this photo. Vader’s one front paw print under the doorknob and streak marks of a panicked cat's attempts to survive dragging down the door. Our home was covered with soot laden and frantic, dog and cat paw prints all over, but none as sad as Vader’s.
All of our animals were immediately taken to Paws Whiskers and Claws, our vet hospital, to be bathed and examined. Amazingly, Vader was the only one who suffered medical complications from the fire. His asthma was severely affected by the smoke inhalation and he spent 5 days in an oxygen tank. He continually coughed up the equivalent of black rubber bands. We made him an oxygen mask so he could come home. When he needed it he would get up from wherever he was and slip his head inside the contraption that we devised and we would turn on the oxygen for him. When he had recovered from his coughing fit he would simply leave. It was absolutely amazing!
Adopting related cats is one of the single best things you can do. Keep littermates together, keep a mom and two kittens. We are doing cats a disservice by breaking up families. If you would like a harmonious multi-cat household, adopt a family of cats, you won't be sorry! As you can see, from birth until their senior years, they were all always together! It really makes all the difference.
Vader continued to have ongoing medical problems, some because he was a senior cat and he was aging but others were a direct result of the house fire. He would cough so hard he would pee his pants. His favorite place to sleep was our bed. There was no way in hell I was going to deny this cat the chance to sleep on our bed, no way, but changing the sheets daily sucked too. Little known fact about me, I LOATHE changing the sheets. It is my least favorite household chore and I have always loved to clean! So, every morning when we got up, I would make the bed (which I do not do!) and place a shower curtain liner over the bed. Then, I would lay a machine washable fleece throw over the bed and BOOM, Vader had carte blanche bed access all day. Some nights we even slept with the shower curtain. He saved our house from burning to the ground and killing our entire family, we would do whatever necessary!
In his last year of life we think he developed some neurologic issues. He exhibited strange behaviors and was hyperreactive to certain sounds like metal on metal. There was no “event” he just became quite “blank” and had a significantly decreased quality of life so we felt we had to say good-bye. He was the first of the family to leave us, he made it to 15 years old despite it all.
So, as it turns out, Vader was not just an ordinary black cat after all, but rather an extraordinary one. We have him to thank that our house was still standing that night, and that all of our dogs and cats were alive. Black cats are bad luck? I think not. In Vader’s case, the force is clearly with him.
We are forever grateful, Baby Vades. We love you.