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Good-Bye Mondo

2014-08-20 21 min read Life marco

All of you who knew him will be saddened to hear that Mondo, my cat and friend of 13 years, passed. He was the loudest of cats, especially in the middle of the night, but it was near impossible not to love him. He made up for his annoying night time ways with a cuddly and loving personality that charmed even the lightest sleeper.

Mondo was perfectly fine (as humans can discern) until mid-July 2014. Then he turned suddenly ill, seemed to recover, but four weeks later had a fatal relapse. Cancer ate him through and through at the young age of 13.

Now that we got the fundamentals out of the way, a little bit more about Mondo:

1. Come Hither

2001 minimondo chasing mice 20140820 1056862934We got Mondo second hand. We had settled on a Bengal, because their playful nature sounded appealing. We looked at different catteries (I think that’s what they are called), but then an ad on Craigslist showed up. Bengal kitten, 3 months old, for $450. They would usually go for $700, so it was a good “deal.” Personally, I wouldn’t ever buy a breed cat, considering how many wonderful cats are available in shelters, but I am able to compromise.

The circumstances of the hand-over were strange. Mondo (under a different name) belonged to a busty blonde that wanted to hand him over in some giant mall parking lot in the East Bay. We crossed the Dumbarton Bridge for the first time and parked. She was already there and came out of her car with this tiny little furry bundle in her arm.

The first thing he did was the thing he would become famous for: Mondo yowled.

It was a sound so loud and intense, you couldn’t imagine a cat making it – let alone a tiny thing as Mondo was at the time. But despite the cars and the bustling lot and the nearby freeway, everything stopped when Mondo yowled.

The hand-over was quick. The lady was a little emotional, but Mondo seemed to be fine when I took him in my arms. Instead of doing what I thought normal, look back at his “mommy,” he looked at me and then buried his tiny head under my armpits, as if to drown out the noise and sorrow of the world. Never mind that the noisiest thing in this sorrowful world was his very own voice.

2. Early Days

2001 mondo playing with the rainbow ribbon 20140820 1121793459Like a great many kittens that find a new home, Mondo disappeared as soon as we let him out of his carrier. We didn’t see him for three days – quite a feat, considering this was in a two-bedroom flat in San Francisco with no room to spare.

He was fine, though: we could see he ate and used the litter box, presumably at night when nobody was making any noise.

Eventually we would catch a glimpse of him. When he saw we noticed him, he’d disappear again. But of course by then we knew where he was hiding. By day three, he was comfortable with us enough to be see in broad daylight, with nothing but the banister to protect him from us. On day four, he was already so bored that the giant smelly things (us, to a cat) didn’t seem so bad any more and he ventured out to play with us.

There were a few notable things about Mondo that stood out. He was extremely fearful of human touch. He absolutely hated being held. And the door bell sent him scampering and hiding under the bed. Also: males coming into the house were loathed.

After a while, I started reconstructing my version of Mondo’s early days. We had gotten him (after we got the papers we had proof) when he was 3 months old. Since catteries do not hand over kittens until they are 8 weeks old, that means the first “owner” had him for about four weeks. She did care for him, in her own way, and she seemed genuinely upset when she handed him over.

I imagine she got a Bengal not realizing they are loud. She probably lived in an apartment (as is common in the Bay Area) where she was not allowed to have pets. Normally, a cat wouldn’t have made a huge fuss, but you couldn’t hide Mondo. He was simply too loud.

I also imagine that she tried everything to keep him quiet. She must have had some sort of male companion that got rough with the little kitten, and that seems to have engendered all his phobias: fear of being held (and tortured), fear of the door bell (and the guy that would enter), fear of males (that only showed up with murderous intent).

The lady also did something despicable and had him declawed. While he was a very agile cat, declawing means Mondo would never be able to survive in the wild, which meant he had to stay inside all his life.

3. Living with Mondo

2001 mondo peeking out of a plastic bag 20140820 1146534355Mondo was full of anxieties. I assume some of them came from the early torture, but I think he was anxiety-prone, anyway. For instance, his night-time yowling (which was the cause of his torment) seemed to be stirred by anxiety. He would yowl when he wanted to be reassured, and he wouldn’t stop until you replied. It didn’t really matter how you replied, he just wanted to know you were still around. Once you shushed him, or talked softly to him, he’d quiet down again. If you ignored him, he would not stop and continue for hours.

The anxieties also made him a total cuddle bug. He was extremely afraid of people in general, and of strangers in particular, but once he decided he liked you, he would come to you and snuggle up right by you. He didn’t want to be touched or held, he just wanted to feel you near him, hear you breathe, smell your soothing smell.

Mondo, like all kittens, was also incredibly playful. He was the feather and string kind of cat: if you had a shoe lace he could run after, he’d chase it all day long. Turns out cats come in two main flavors: those that chase after motion, and those that go after sound. Mondo was of the first variety, and was fascinated by all things moving.

He ate a lot and grew really fast. After six months, he was about three times his original weight and a sturdy, strong cat. Aside from the night-time yowling, he was an exceptionally agreeable cat. Not too curious, very playful, always cuddly.

In the Fall of 2011 we eventually moved from San Francisco to the South Bay, to be closer to our Silicon Valley jobs. On the drive down, we found out that Mondo absolutely hated driving in a car. He wouldn’t stop complaining during the entire 40 miles drive!

4. Mondo and Shasta

2001 fluffy tails are a bad sign 20140820 1310934082As many find out down there, being closer to your job cuts down on the commute, but typically means you have to come in to work more often. By Christmas we knew Mondo needed a companion, so we got a second cat. Since we thought we had had great luck with Mondo, we got another Bengal, Shasta.

The two didn’t get along at first. Shasta was the usual 8 weeks old when she came, and about a quarter his size. Despite that, she packed claws that he didn’t have. When the two met, we followed the rule book to the T: put them in separate rooms, let them get used to each other’s smell, introduce them to each other slowly.

Things seemed to work out, but Mondo soon found out he couldn’t command his “sister” around like he thought he rightfully should be able to. Whenever they fought, Mondo would try to claw her the way she clawed him, and that never ended well.

Eventually, the two settled in a love-hate relationship. Sometimes they would groom each other or cuddle up in the easy chair, and sometimes they’d chase each other around the house. Mostly, though, they seemed indifferent to each other and much more focused on their human companions, which I always found a little odd.

The two were also as different as two cats can be. Where Mondo was loud, Shasta was incredibly quiet. Where Mondo craved affection and attention, Shasta was very deliberate about when she wanted contact and when she wanted to be left alone. Where he was afraid of touch, Shasta would come and jump on your shoulders and purr there. Where Mondo loved strings, she loved paper balls and ice cubes. She got into trouble all the time, he would just stare at her in disbelief.

5. Back to Frisco

2005 under the table 20140820 2035746732In 2003, we sold the place in Los Altos and I moved back to San Francisco with the two cats, who were now my sole responsibility. Soon, my job was even higher-stress, but we had a beautiful, sun-drenched loft in the Mission District.

Mondo didn’t do so well there. He loved the place, but the nights were filled with his yowls. They were particularly bad because the place was not big and because I was stressed out so much. I didn’t realize that, but my yelling at him made his anxieties worse.

After a year, the owner wanted to move back in and I had to find a new place. It’s not easy with cats, so I ended up doing the San Francisco unspeakable: I moved to the fog belt. There was this little house on Hazelwood, a tiny beauty with enough room for all of us.

We moved over he hill (the usual yowling from Mondo, now joined by Shasta who was also not happy). The next morning, I went to the gym. I came back two hours later, to find a satisfied Shasta strutting around the place. After a while, I started thinking Mondo should have been somewhere in sight, and I went looking. He was gone.

I looked everywhere. The place was a one story Spanish colonial with a two-room basement on a hill. No Mondo on either level. There was another level underneath, mostly a storage shed. No Mondo there. I was about to lose it and start a long-range search in the neighborhood, almost certain Mondo had died on the first day in the new place.

Then I looked again at the grass patch by the garbage cans. Two little eyes stared at me in the drizzle, full of hatred. It was Mondo, who had apparently escaped his prison only to find the big wide world was very much less hospitable than he thought.

I pulled him out and, for one, he was grateful for being held. We went back in and he looked even happy when I toweled him gently dry.

6. Off to Minnesota

2008 playing on the rug 20140820 1277612492In 2006 I got a call. The other original owner wanted the cats back. I thought about it and had no reason to say no. Sure, I’d miss them, but I knew I was going to move out of the little house, eventually, and it would be close to impossible to find a place with them in tow. Also, I lived by myself, and the new place in Minnesota would be much larger and there would be a whole family to play with them.

I went to the vet and then to the airport. Amidst yowling of the ordinary kind, Mondo and Shasta left for their first flight. Off to Minnesapolis!

They did really well, there. I kept asking for pictures, and they always looked some shade of satisfied. (If you are trying to catch a cat being happy, that’s one arduous task!)

I went and visited them, once. They recognized me and were very playful, and otherwise seemed very happy. I watch them watch birds fly near the windows. We didn’t have a lot of birds in San Francisco.

7. Back to California

20131219 winter in san diego 20140820 1773115417After I declared myself over Silicon Valley, I moved to Hawaii and then to San Diego. A year after, I heard grumblings from the Midwest: the job was too intense, and the cats (Shasta) had started to destroy furniture. Apparently there was a cabin in the woods, and on long weekends without family, the cats saw to it that they’d make sure they weren’t forgotten again.

It’s either you take them back, or we’ll have to find someone to adopt them! That was the verdict. I needed no prompting: as soon as I knew it was a likelihood, I started searching a new place. My current apartment in UTC was too small for the two of them, and I didn’t know what the landlord would think of pets.

So I moved into this place in Pacific Beach in July, and in August 2011 the cats came to stay with me. They were ten years old, but still as sprightly as they’d been on the first day.

At first, I wondered how they’d behave when they saw me again. I took the old trusted Outback, realizing they probably had “cat-forgotten” me. That’s what happens when kittens are left by their moms: they forget about her and when they meet again, it’s as if they are just two random cats crossing paths.

When I got to the airport, the two of them were mewing uncomfortably behind the counter. I gave the rep my papers and he went back to fetch them. As soon as they saw me, strangely, they quieted down. It was a good moment.

They liked the new place. It was full of nooks and crannies, and my usual brand of cat-friendly messy. I had a roomie that loved cats and the four of us got along swimmingly.

Mondo and Shasta also loved the weather, with winters warmer than other people’s summers and summers colder than other people’s summers. The two of them moved around the place according to their temperature needs. Mondo loved sunshine and declared an old Royal Hawaiian towel his personal property: I put it near the glass patio door of the “winter bedroom” (because it got more sunlight and so was warmer in the winter) and he’d spend days there napping.

8. Mondo Down

20140711 mondo down 20140820 1332402515We’d been here almost three years. Shasta had gotten seriously ill once, in 2011 – chocolate poisoning, but had recovered. She also tended to vomit a lot, a consequence of hasty eating. Also, she tended to get into hairy situations all the time – curiosity killed the cat! I was concerned about her long-term prospects.

But Mondo, he seemed the pictures of the eternal cat. He was sturdy, he hadn’t had a health problem all his life, and he never did anything dangerous. He wasn’t picky about food, he wasn’t difficult with his behaviors. He just seemed happy and content.

Get this: over the years he even got comfortable being held, be it only by me. I even got him to balance on my shoulders and be all proud of himself! And he got comfortable with others, too: my new roomie, Jeffrey, seemed to have the same “energy” as I, and Mondo would frequently mistake us for each other (as humans go, we couldn’t look any more differently, but to cats we are possibly just the same).

Then, I noticed that Mondo hadn’t slept with me. Sometimes that happened, but it was quite rare. The one thing you could count on was that Mondo would, at some point in the night, cuddle up to me. Usually his butt was in my face and I wasn’t happy, but there was something absurdly lovable about it.

Mondo had also not meowed that night. When he’d sleep on his own, he would usually wake me up in the middle of the night. Then I’d just have to say, “Mondo?” and he’d shush again. Not this night. It was Wednesday, 7/9.

The next day, Mondo was unusually quiet. He sat on his towel all day, moping. He didn’t move, didn’t squawk, didn’t visit. That was a little unusual. I just thought it a sign of age.

The next morning, though, Mondo still hadn’t moved. It was time to visit the vet. I drove to a pet hospital nearby, by the vet couldn’t see him right away. I was to come back at 12 (I had gotten there around 7, opening time).

As I got back, Mondo was visibly ill. The vet looked at him (a different person than the one in the morning) and told me he was dying. I was beside myself and decided to go for a different hospital.

20140716 escape from the vetatraz 20140820 1777010030A quick consultation showed me that Turquoise Animal Hospital was the best choice in the hood. I dashed over, and the vet could fit him in at 2p. I drove back home and then back to the hospital in 30 minutes. I don’t know why I did that, I should have simply remained there.

The new vet (third by now) looked at him and told me Mondo was seriously ill. His temperature was down to 94F (which was still better than the 92 measured at noon) and he could barely feel a pulse. After the blood work and urine came back, he recommended steroid shots, antibiotics, and an injection of fluids.

I took Mondo back, hopeful. He looked sedated (although I don’t think they gave him anything). From then on, 7/11, I would watch Mondo like a hawk.

Saturday was better. The fluids seemed to kick in. Sunday was terrible, and I thought he was going to die. Monday, then, things looked up. He ate again, with abandon, and would be more himself. Then Tuesday was worse, and Wednesday better. It was a see-saw, but all in all, things looked up. He was walking more confidently, starting to explore his home again. He used the litter box, ate, drank, even played for a short while when the roomie came to visit.

Then things turned sour, quickly.

9. Latter Days

It was a Thursday. I came home from a volunteering job around 9:30p and found him in the bedroom downstairs. He hadn’t moved from there all day, and was quite passive. I sent an emergency request to the vet and went to sleep.

The next morning, things hadn’t improved. I set up shop in the bedroom and brought him all the required comforts: litter box, Royal Hawaiian towel, favorite food, water, and toys. He still ate like a champ (his last food: Purina One Sole Flavored) but started looking a tiny bit distressed.

20140808 the last night was really dark 20140820 1712171434I didn’t hear from the vet all day. Meanwhile, his condition was deteriorating very rapidly. Worse: he was deteriorating in the same way he had done a month before. If this was the same as then, it meant it was likely a chronic condition. Mondo was not going to recover. Given that it had been life-threatening the first time around, I didn’t know what to do.

I was seriously torn. On one hand, I wanted to make Mondo whole. I wanted nothing more than wave with Harry Potter’s wand and have him meow at me as loud as he used to. On the other hand, I knew that was not going to happen, and it was time for me to face the fact Mondo was probably not going to survive this.

He started mewing again. He wanted company. He felt lonely and sick and wanted me to make him better. Or do something. Just not touch him.

At some point, at night, he decided to try me. He hobbled over from his side of the mattress, with the pink towel, to me. He snuggled up, like in the old days. After a few minutes, it was too much and he moved again. He was moving all the time, in discomfort.

Saturday morning, I knew he was going to die. I also knew how much his life had been rife with anxiety, and I knew there was nothing that scared him more than the vet. Everything about the vet was horrible: strangers that prodded and poked, being separated from everything he knew, all those strange smells of weird animals and rival cats. Plus, he was cold anyway, and the vet’s offices were freezing.

I spoke with a friend in the early morning. Her husband said he was certain it was just kidney stones. I didn’t want to take Mondo to the vet, but even more than that I wanted it to just be kidney stones, and Mondo just a short ultrasound therapy away from getting better.

20140809-1127 sedated before final rest 20140820 1405819044I dashed off. There was no appointment, they told me, but they could take him as a drop off. They’d call when they knew more. I said I’d wait.

They had mercy on me. The vet looked at Mondo about an hour later. It was the same thing. I asked for an X-ray, because I knew what the vet was telling me. The X-ray revealed that his body was full of fluid. The vet said they could pump him full of steroids and vacuum out the fluids. That would give him another week or another month.

I was about to lose my little buddy of 13 years. I didn’t want to. But I knew that one week or month would have been time for me, not for him. I had seen him suffer. Pretty sure that’s not what he wanted again, a week or a month from then.

Things got really messy at the end. They tried a shunt in the right leg and it didn’t catch, so they put it in the left leg. When the vet pushed the syringe, the vein exploded. The sedative worked, but when the vet tried to inject the final poison, he couldn’t get it through. He finally took a second dose and injected it directly in the chest.

The weird thing: Mondo stopped complaining the moment the door opened and he saw me. I stopped tearing up the moment I saw him. We went through it together, until the final thump in the chest.

When Mondo was dead, it was unmistakeable. Even heavily sedated, there had been life within him. As soon as his feeble heart stopped, he slumped. I tried to pick him up, but he was almost a liquid trying to flow out of my hands.

10. The Aftermath

It’s been a little over a week now. Yesterday, the call came in that his ashes are back from the crematorium, and I am going to pick them up on the way to the gym.

Shasta is doing strangely well without him. She is a little bored because she doesn’t have her usual playmate, but she makes up for it by playing more with me. She loves paper balls, right? So she will play fetch and get one for me and spit it out right in front of me. Play. Now.

She also stopped vomiting. I guess that was part of her own anxieties, all food related. She is a tiny cat, and she may have been the runt of the litter, always fearful she wouldn’t get enough to eat. Now she leaves the food on the dish and comes back for more, later.

I have been a little beside myself since last Saturday. Mondo was my friend and I miss him. I miss him jumping on the couch to watch TV with me, miss his begging to go out only to get scared after a couple of minutes, miss his head butting against my fist.

I also feel terrible about the way he died. Should I have done something differently? How early should I have known something was wrong? Should i have had him euthanized the first time around? Should I have refused euthanasia the second time around? Ultimately, I blame myself for his death because I was responsible for him.

But, in the end, I do Mondo a disservice when I think about what I could or should or would have done. What matters is not that he died or how he died. What matters is that Mondo was alive. That he was a character full of love and of fear, a unique cat that touched my life and that of many others. Mondo was a friend and I will miss him, warts and all.