The Silence of the CansSep 01, 2020 11:54AM ● By Gayle Morrow
Luna (Luna Lovegood is her full name) is one of our cats. She showed up in the driveway one hot afternoon about four years ago. She was emaciated, sickly, and, we thought, well on her way to that great catnip patch in the sky. We gave her a safe place to rest and be comfortable for the time we thought she had left, and waited for what we believed would be the inevitable outcome.
She fooled us. She got better.
As her health improved, Luna revealed herself to be a very outgoing and social feline, interested in all kinds of things, and, for such a teeny kitty (five or six pounds, max), remarkably full of herself. She once went nose to nose with a black bear, she has made the neighbor’s German shepherd run for cover, and, when the chickens are out in the yard, she has a great time making them squawk and flap. She’s a busy girl.
Luna’s had chronic respiratory issues since she found a home with us, but they never seemed to affect her mood, her agenda, or her dining habits. While she did favor the occasional spoonfull of Stoneyfield Farms plain organic yogurt, she would turn up her miniscule nose at the treats and canned food the three other kitties enjoyed; her dining MO was to sample bits of dry food from their dishes (even though it was all the same kind of dry food), sort of like the feline version of a progressive dinner. A little here, a little there, yum!
But right around the time the coronavirus hit the news, Luna stopped eating. She stopped drinking. It was as though a switch had been shut off. She’d look at her food and water like she didn’t know what it was or what she was supposed to do with it.
She stopped playing. She didn’t want to chase Lucy, one of our other cats, up the stairs, an activity which had been one of the most fun things on her daily to-do list (Lucy, who is at least twice Luna’s size, chooses to flee from her much smaller nemesis, yowling as though her whiskers are being jerked out one by one). She spent hour after lethargic hour under the woodstove.
I took her to the vet. Once, twice, several times. She had pills. Many pills. For many days. Have you tried to give a cat a pill? It is not a one-person job, despite the breezy assurances from the vet techs that “all you have to do is...” She had hydration treatments. She had blood work that was inconclusive in some areas, and even more inconclusive in others. There was no definite diagnosis except that she did test a mild positive for Lyme disease. Hmmm. Maybe better than Kitty Corona, which I was pretty sure was a thing, but maybe worse. More pills. More time under the woodstove. I’d crouch down next to her to watch for the shallow rise and fall of her gaunt little sides—yeah, she’s still breathing, but I don’t know how or why. Some evenings she’d come up on my lap, and some nights she’d curl up next to me in bed, but by this time she was practically ethereal, nothing much more than a puff of air.
I expected each morning to find her dead.
Throughout the days and weeks she wouldn’t eat or drink on her own, we’d fill a plastic syringe with canned cat food and squirt it into her mouth (again, not a one-person job). We gave her water the same way. She hated it, absolutely hated it. But at least she was getting some nourishment. Maybe there was hope. But maybe not, as friends were also reporting an unusual spate of animal health issues—there were vomiting dogs, coughing horses, cats in other homes who weren’t eating or drinking. One of my horses developed a snotty nose (big nose, lots of ick). It felt like the Twilight Zone meets All Creatures Great and Small.
One evening, in desperation, as I watched Luna look confused and mournful at her food dish, I opened a can of evaporated milk—something she’d never before shown any interest in—and poured out a little for her. Miracle of miracles, she drank some. Then she drank more—can after can. I promised I’d buy her a cow if she would just keep on taking nourishment.
A few days later, I opened one of those fancy, schmancy cans of kitty paté—again, nothing she’d ever even deigned to sample—and put a little in a dish next to her evaporated milk. A second miracle. She ate.
It’s been seven months and Luna is back to her old self—in spades. She has resumed her habit of munching on dry food from all the kitties’ dishes. She’s gained weight, she’s playing, she’s chasing leaves and chickens in the yard, she supervises me when I’m doing things outside, she’s waking us up at 5 a.m. because she wants—well, who knows what she wants, she just wants—and she’s back to chasing Lucy up the stairs.
Remember that scene in The Silence of the Lambs, when Clarice Starling is talking to Dr. Hannibal Lecter about her childhood? She’d heard lambs screaming—they were being slaughtered—and she was recounting to Dr. Lecter her unsuccessful efforts to save one from that fate. In his creepily prescient manner, the good doctor wonders about her motives for trying to save Catherine Martin, the young woman abducted by Buffalo Bill, and also destined for slaughter. Does fledgling FBI agent Clarice think that maybe she won’t be tormented anymore by dreams of screaming lambs if she can rescue Catherine? I don’t know, Clarice says. I don’t know.
I thought Luna would lose her enthusiasm for canned food, as all her other pre-illness behaviors have returned, but she has not. She knows the sound of the can being opened, and she knows when it’s time for that food to be in her dish. I’ve shared my life with many animal friends, and it always hurts like hell when I lose one. But I saved one this time, and if the cans are never silent, that’s OK.