Jax & Jersey

by Randi
(Edmonton, AB, Canada)

Today I celebrate spending over eighteen years with Jax and Jersey, the best feline companions a person could ask for. I had them for nearly half my life, and sometimes I can't remember what life was like before they became a part of it. Deciding to have them euthanized was terribly difficult.

Jax and Jersey were born in late 1996 on an Alberta farm. At the time, I lived with a man named Rick in a Red Deer apartment and it was our landlords that brought two kittens to the building to let us choose one to take home. They were so adorable that we chose to have them both. I remember our first couple of nights were mostly sleepless due to constant meowing as they got used to their new home. Rick named the boy Jax, while I named the girl Jersey. I named her this in error. You see, I'm a simple city girl and I thought that the pattern on her coat resembled a Jersey cow. Years later, I learned that she actually resembled a Holstein cow. Whoops. Thankfully, her original name stuck.

That winter, they settled in with us very well, taking naps in laundry baskets and on coffee tables and getting treats out of wrapping paper tubes. I taught myself to crochet that year and they easily accepted that the yarn was my toy, not theirs. Jersey would sit on my lap and sleep while I crocheted. Jax's purr was like a loud motor as a kitten and it always came out easily throughout life. Jersey was a little more selective and you really had to get close to hear her purr. I loved that they were so different but so wonderful.

We moved to Blackfalds, AB for a few years. Life was good with stairs to race up and down and a basement to hide in. A lot of time was spent on top of the couch looking out the big front windows at the world outside. Rick moved away and agreed to let the cats stay with me. There was a terrifying few weeks where Jax was let outside on his own one day by a roommate, and no one noticed right away. In the morning, I began frantically looking for him but had no luck. I contacted animal control and the SPCA, as well as posted some signs in case people saw him. I was terribly worried for him because it was cold weather, we lived near a train track, and he was a declawed indoor cat. I missed him dearly until one evening a few weeks later, I heard a cat meowing in distress as I walked from my car to the house. It didn't sound like Jax, and I couldn't see where it was coming from due to the darkness. But I had hope. I put my things inside the house and came back out to try to pinpoint where this strange-sounding cat was. I called softly to it, trying to coax it out of the neighbouring shadows. It took some time, but after a few minutes, I could see a black cat under a shrub. I reached towards him and even though he backed away from me, I was able to snag him and pick him up. I turned towards the street lights to look into his eyes to see if it was Jax, and I thought it might be. I took a quick look at his belly to see if this scared cat had Jax's white patch between his back legs, and sure enough, it did. I quickly brought him inside to assess any trouble he'd encountered while on his adventure away from home. He was thin and dirty and had a couple of scrapes but otherwise he seemed ok. He told us all about his adventures in kitty-speak that night, and Jersey was very interested in the scent of this cat that seemed both familiar and strange with all the outdoor scents on him. After a couple of days, everything was back to normal.

Moving was always an adventure. We once moved to Vernon, BC and the drive there in the big U-Haul van was pretty frightening for both cats. Luckily for us all, they settled down after a couple of hours. Moving back to Red Deer was identical. Sometimes cats are so predictable. Eventually, we moved to Edmonton to what would be their final home.

Jax and Jersey had a few opportunities over the course of the years to get to know and live with other cats, but it always took everyone a long time to adjust. Jersey wanted to be friendly to other cats, but she was small and quickly learned to keep her distance. Jax was more of a true scaredy-cat so he would spend a lot of time hiding under beds to stay safe. My friend Nolan's cat Kitty came to live with us for a bit and was particularly unforgiving, but somewhere there's a picture of all three cats napping on one bed. Mom's cats Bob and Wrigley were only slightly easier to live with, and we shared a home with them a few times. Each time, the adjustment period shortened, but it was always a rough few weeks that included some segregation and a referee now and then. There was even a short time we lived with a chihuahua, and this time, the intimidation tables were turned so that Jax and Jersey were the king and queen of the castle. Overall, Jax and Jersey were always most content without other animals around, and they had their way the majority of the time.

Both cats had special talents and personality. Jersey was very good at standing on her back legs with treats held above her nose, while Jax somehow learned to play fetch with his fuzzy ball and shoelace. There are many memories of him chasing his ball and trotting back to drop it just far enough from me that I'd have to get up in order to throw it for him again. He was also very good at bringing the shoelace and dropping it at my feet to indicate that it was time to play. Jersey loved to play with my mother on the stairs and we also often played a bedtime game where she would attack my hand under the sheets. Jax favoured drinking fresh water out of a dripping bathroom tap, but sometimes he didn't know when to stop. For the last year, his favourite spot to hang out was on top of the hot water tank because it was nice and warm. After he burnt his tail twice, Hugh fashioned some chicken wire around the stack to protect him from further injury. He continued to jump up there despite his arthritis and having an electric pad covered with blankets on the couch at his disposal, proving that cats do what they want when they want.

The cats slept with me at night up until about a year ago when there began to be accidents in the bedroom. This was about the same time Hugh moved in, so we're not sure if this was the cause or just a coincidence. I figured the cats would have a hard time adjusting to having the bedroom door shut to keep them out, but they surprised me by easily accepting it. Afterall, they had plenty of other comfy places to sleep. One of our favourite things to do was nap together on the couch. Whenever I pulled out the blanket, they'd come over and settle in. It was bliss.

In the past few months, both cats experienced increasing health challenges. I had heard of a mobile vet service and kept that in the back of my mind in case we ever needed that since car rides were stressful. It was an irregular mole-like lump on Jax's side that encouraged me to call the vets to come do check-ups one day this past June.

There were concerns about Jersey with some of her symptoms and behaviour and just as the doctor suspected, she was diagnosed with a hypothyroid condition. This was the reason for her high metabolism, racing heart, insatiable appetite, constipation, vomiting, and being underweight. We began giving her conventional thyroid medicine on her ears due to a lack of more holistic treatment options. Treatment only ever assisted with decreasing the frequency of vomiting; the rest of her symptoms continued and worsened. She also had some degree of kidney disease and resulting dehydration, for which subcutaneous fluids were given.

For Jax, the prognosis was more alarming. The mole I was concerned about ended up being a non-issue, but other problems were uncovered. Along with late-stage kidney disease and extreme dental calcification that made eating a challenge, there was a mass in his belly that was later determined to be a bladder tumor. A urine sample turned out to be very remarkable as the vet had never seen one come out so pink and cloudy. Test results listed the longest list of sediment and particulates that the doctor had seen in a single urine sample, and this included transitional cells which could indicate cancer. We declined having the test done to determine if it was cancer because at Jax's age and with his kidney disease, the vet would not recommend surgery anyways. A procedure like that would be very expensive and the anesthetic would likely kill him. We decided to go with palliative care to make him as comfortable as possible, giving him pain medicine and the same subcutaneous fluids we gave Jersey. Jax went from 18lbs in his prime to just 6lbs and his excretory function became deeply compromised. Life was difficult for Jax and caring for him became a challenge and left us in agony. When was enough enough? It was a question I asked myself hundreds of times.

I always said I didn't want them to suffer too much yet I couldn't help but be scared to face life without them by my side. Aside from my mother, they'd been the next most constant thing in my life. I second-guess myself and wonder if my attachment was too strong or somehow inappropriate, but I think this is actually fear of being judged by those that don't understand. Our western culture's perspective on life and death and pets is so far different than some other cultures but it's all I know. While I perceive that some pet owners unfortunately over-"humanize" their pets, I couldn't help but do it myself at times. Did they love me or did they just like a comfortable place to nap and be fed? Either way, they gave me a profound sense of comfort and peace just by being in the same room. The calming effect of having pets is very real. I'll dearly miss having one or both curled up on my lap, and the unconditional love I felt they gave me. I will forever cherish my many memories of life with them. To my handsome boy Jax and my pretty girl Jersey, I will always love you.

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