May 4, 2014
For Jaguar Jake
You were born into a strange world.
Like a candle, you were meant to share the fire.
I don’t know where we come from, and I don’t know where we go.
But my arms were made to hold you, so I will never let you go.
This and subsequent verses from “You Were Born” by Craig Minewa, Cloud Cult
I want to tell you about Jaguar Jake. And about love. I do not want to talk about loss, but that is part of this story. Mostly, though, it is about love.
In the last few years, I have written enough about kittens to have developed some immunity to their charms. Along with so many fans of sundry kitten cameras, I’ve fallen in love over and over again, flirted madly with idea of adoption, and have in the end been grateful for a sensible partner who was correct when she told me the time was not right.
In late 2013, we were both convinced that the time was indeed right, and that the pair of kittens who captured our attention and hearts would do just fine together in our household. This was not a decision made lightly. There were many discussions, as there should be. We had to think not only of them, but of our other feline residents, all older rescues with special needs of one kind or another. When it came time to submit our application, we were ready.
Jaguar Jake and his brother Siberia were born in a wooded area near an office park close to Vancouver, B.C. in early September 2013. They were rescued by a kind gentleman who found them and 8 other tiny, sickly kittens, and took them to the Langley Animal Protection Society. They came from an extended litter, with at least 2 mothers and an unknown number of fathers, all feral. It was touch and go for quite a while as these tiny survivors faced every imaginable challenge, from malnutrition and parasites to respiratory infections and a rare form of ringworm.
The only reason they made it was the care they got from LAPS, and two women in particular. Their foster mother Shelly Roche took care of them day and night, and shared the process with hundreds of Livestream viewers who watched her medicate and bathe, cuddle and comfort on camera. Shelly named each kitten after a wild cat, no doubt intending to imbue them with the courage and vitality of their namesakes. Of course, she and a cadre of faithful volunteers came up with a full litany of nicknames. Bobcat became Bobbles; Lynx, with his wily ways, is still the Lynxstigator; our Siberia is certainly the only gray tiger known as Sibby Sibs while his fierce brother Jaguar took on the moniker of Jaggy Jags, and later in our household revealed himself to be the perfect Jake.
While we all marveled at Shelly’s devotion and determination – and did I say love? – we were awed by a veterinarian who went way beyond the call of duty to help these kittens survive otherwise unbeatable odds. Dr. Renee Ferguson was on hand whenever her considerable skills were needed, and we will always be grateful to her for saving Siberia at her own home on a frightening dark night when he could have succumbed to pneumonia. I did say love, right? Dr. F did not want to neuter Sibs until his lungs were completely clear, even if that meant that he couldn’t be adopted until he was nearly 5 months old. We waited patiently, and were delighted to see pictures of the good doctor’s happy dance in early January when Sibs was finally declared snip-able. At that moment, we started to plan the drive north to pick up our boys.
And now the true love story. 8 of the Jungle kittens are tabbies, as exotically marked as their namesakes. Jaguar and Siberia were the only “solids” in the lot, with subtle stripes and spots showing through their respective dark brown and gray coats. In this group of uncertain parentage, these guys were obviously brothers. Perhaps because of that, perhaps because of Siberia’s serious illness, they were also the most bonded in the group. Shelly insisted they be adopted together, and did her very best not to separate them for even short periods. The day Sibs was neutered, Jaguar went along to be with him. The day we brought them across the border, they nearly fused in a corner of the carrier. In a rare moment when they explored their new home separately, Siberia ended up behind a closed door, and Jake came to tell us immediately.
Love your mother, yeah she’s a good one.
She’ll build you armor; keep you warm as a hen.
The stars may fall and the rains may pour,
But I will love you evermore.
BecauseYou were born to make this right.
You were born to chase the light.
In the weeks before our trip to Canada, we transformed my sewing room into a kitten kingdom. We furnished perches with beds, installed a tall climbing tree, and stocked up on every toy that looked interesting. The kittens spent the first week in there, and during our frequent visits, we started to get to know them. Despite their closeness, they were two very different characters. Jaguar Jake interacted with us most and cuddled when we held him, while Siberia was much more interested in exploring beyond the door. He was the first to escape, and walked right up to our Finn cat, tail in the air, completely self-confident. When Jake met Finn, he looked surprised, and let out the fiercest little hiss. We all laughed, and even Finn seemed amused in his own way.
Jake’s greatest delight was in stealing feather toys and running off with them. We cached some toys-in-waiting on the bottom shelf of the linen closet, and one day when we left the door ajar, the kittens discovered them. Jake grabbed a da-bird feather replacement, still on its card, and trotted proudly down the hallway. For the next several hours, he hid his prize under different pieces of furniture, always keeping tabs on it, and growling quietly if we approached. His fierceness made us laugh, because underneath the bravado was the dearest little guy, a complete goofball with a sense of humor who was very happy to be with his brother, and with us.
To make sure the kittens could eat their fill without pressure from the adult cats, we fed them in their room. It was quite a parade down the hallway from the kitchen, with Jake in the lead, peeping all the way, and Siberia halting progress by stopping in front of us to yell that we weren’t moving fast enough. Sibs started developing an adult cat voice quickly, and he uses it often enough to earn the title of Town Crier. His brother, in the meantime, stayed very much a sweet kitten, with the softest fur and the gentlest disposition we have ever had the privilege of experiencing.
With a little distance, we can now point to moments when we knew something was off with Jaguar. From the beginning, we noted that he was smaller than his brother. He ate well, and we assumed he would start catching up soon. Instead, he fell further behind, and seemed increasingly less energetic. Imminent growth spurt, we’d say. But that never happened, and as we observed changes in the shape of his stomach, my own tied itself in knots. On our first visit to the veterinarian, I finally blurted out the question that was waking me up at night: could he possibly have Feline Infectious Peritonitis? I was assured that he looked too healthy and didn’t have any overt symptoms. Still, I couldn’t shake the sense that we would soon be hearing the words every cat lover dreads.
FIP is a cruel disease, impossible to detect without symptoms, and difficult to diagnose even as it becomes more obvious. At this point, there is no cure, and not even an effective treatment, especially for the wet form. It can affect one kitten in a litter, or it can kill all of them. And it moves fast. When we finally had enough test results to confirm the virus, Jake’s stomach was large enough to impair his mobility, and he was very tired. We were told that he was not in pain at that point, and we opted to try a round of steroids to help make him more comfortable.
Even through brief moments of denial, we knew what was coming, and were determined to do what was best for Jaguar Jake. And that included reminding him of how much he was loved. The day I took him in for the first test, he was separated from his brother. As I later wrote to Shelly, “I talked to J the whole way, telling him his story again, and reassuring him of how much he is loved by us, and by you. I reminded him of everything he has already overcome, and what a big, strong heart he has. On the way home, acknowledging through tears that things didn’t look good, I thanked him for being such a brave boy.”
And brave he was, until one night shortly after the last test when everything changed quickly. The signs we had been warned to watch for manifested at once. He stopped eating and was started to experience respiratory problems. Most telling to us was that he seemed frightened, and would no longer let us, or his brother, close to comfort him. We tried to reach two veterinarians who do euthanasia at home, but neither was available the next day. By morning, it was clear he was in pain, and we did not want to wait. Our regular vet saw us at the start of her shift.
Remember I want to tell a story of love, and that is what this is. Having adopted “famous” kittens, we were in a unique situation. From the beginning, we knew that the Jungle Kittens had touched the hearts of thousands of people from all over the world. After another one of those crucial pre-adoption discussions, we agreed to start a Facebook page so that fans could keep up with the last 2 Jungles to be adopted. It was a joy to post updates with pictures of Jaguar and Siberia unpacking their tiny suitcases, as Shelly would say. They settled in quickly and happily, and were so used to having their pictures taken that the new paparazzi in their lives were not unduly annoying.
The day we got Jaguar Jake’s diagnosis, we asked Shelly to notify the other Jungle adopters before we told their extended family online. Writing that post was one of the most difficult things I have ever done. Every keystroke felt like an electrical shock jolting my otherwise numb body. How could this possibly be happening?
Within minutes, we started to receive messages from hundreds of heartbroken people, all expressing collective disbelief, and offering support. In his remaining days, Jake was in everyone’s hearts and thoughts. And on the terrible morning of April 11th, as we held our sweet, gentle boy for the last time, we in turn were held by friends we know well, and people we have never met, but who loved this kitten as if he were their own.
Oh my precious, oh my love, when they come to take me,
I will hold you from above.
I don’t know why we’re here, and I don’t know how,
But I’m here with you now, I am here with you now.
Because you were born to make this right.
Because you were born to change this life.
Because you were born to chase the light.
Because you were born.
That love has always included Siberia, and when people write about him now, they ask about his health, and how he is adjusting to life without his brother. FIP is unpredictable and casts a long shadow. All we know is that at the moment, Sibs is strong, healthy, and growing. It is likely that our older cats were exposed when they were younger and developed resistance. Only time will tell. Living with this uncertainty is a lesson in staying as present as possible. Getting too far ahead of ourselves and drifting to worst case scenarios does nothing for any of us, but it is a difficult trap to avoid. We are learning that staying open is a moment-to-moment decision.
As to how Siberia is adjusting, we can say that he has a resilient spirit. During the last weeks of his life, Jaguar Jake did not have the energy or strength to play. His brother began adapting then, seeking other outlets for bursts of kitten enthusiasm, and returning to Jake to cuddle and nap. The first 24 hours without Jake were wrenching as Siberia searched every corner of the house. We rearranged our work schedules during the next week so one of us would be home with him, and we have continued to provide him with plenty of opportunities to play. He now has a full array of interactive toys, and he makes his changing preferences very clear.
While he had his brother, Siberia did not need us as much as he does now. Day by day, he is getting closer to us. We got him a “bucky” to cuddle with at night, but he no longer is interested. We often wake up with him sleeping close, and he happily greets us when we return to the house. And day by day, we fall more in love with him. Sometimes, I am seized with fear of losing him too, or of never being certain enough about his FIP status to be able to adopt another young friend for him. But I am getting better about calling myself back from the brink with a reminder to love him more each moment. That is all any of us really has in life.
Over the years, I have made many quilts for cats, my own, and others. I generally can tune into the cat, and quickly intuit the right colors and design. Before we traveled to Canada to adopt Jaguar and Siberia, I started three different quilts for them. I just couldn’t settle on one – nothing felt quite right. As adoption time approached, I chose a very simple pattern to make from warm flannels. The boys loved it, but now, I am called back to finish one especially for Siberia. It is a star quilt, made from fabrics in dark brown, gray, and purple, and bordered with a band of interlocking pieces. Both Jaguar and Siberia have been stars in their own right. Now Jaguar shines brightly in another constellation, and he will as long as we all remember him, and know that his is a story about love.