Rockets Life Journey
In 2002; while living in upstate NY a young, orange cat started coming to our back door and stare inside at the 6 month old kitten that my friend had rescued 5 months earlier, the kitten had barely survived after being thrown out of a moving vehicle and landing in our yard (as they all seem to do). This visitation went on for days and during this time I learned from the tag on his oversized collar was named “Fred” and the address was only a few houses away so we decided to open the door to see if Fred and the newly named vehicle stunt kitten my friend appropriately named “Crash” would get along. Fred walked right inside like he had done this thousands of times before, he barely glanced at us as he and Crash walked towards each other, neither one in a threatening way, and after a few seconds they customarily sniffed each other’s butt, (I’m so thankful this is not a human requirement) within minutes it was like they were brothers from another mother. They began chasing each other, barrel rolling across the living room, running up and down the stairs and Rocket the young juvenile kept toying with kitten Crash hitting his back legs with such accuracy causing Crash to face plant and summersault numerous times, they were absolutely entertaining.
They played for a long time, building up an appetite and when it was time for Crash to eat I of course offered Fred some canned food as well, he politely accepted and began eating with determination, not looking up once, cleaning every spec of food off his plate and when he was finished looked up at me with his gorgeous green eyes, it was a look of both contentment and thankfulness. Needless to say the boys did a couple hours of Olympic napping afterwards and when Fred was ready to leave he sat at the back door like a perfect gentlemen, never making a sound, for whatever reason Fred was ready to leave his newfound friend and these two humans who laughed a lot and seemed to be easily entertained, it was at this moment I realized how very intelligent Fred was; he was able to work his cuteness and charm to get inside a strangers house, play, grab a meal, sleep, then leave at his leisure, not unlike a few dates I had back in the day…
The following morning I opened the back door to let the sun in and with perfect timing (as Fred would be known to have) there he was standing at the door with a freshly caught field mouse squirming in his mouth, he had brought it to me as a thank you gift for the food, shelter and love he was shown the previous night. He dropped the mouse for me who was obviously so traumatized that it didn’t even try making a run for it, I looked at him and said in a very serious voice “oh no thank you I’m full, you go ahead” he obviously understood what I meant because he picked up the mouse and ate the whole thing in front of me, minus the tail, he must have thought I wasn’t a very bright human, after all this was a fresh meal I had just turned down. I watched him eat his mouse with a squeamish look, I could hear the bones crushing even through the glass storm door, it was over within minutes and it was apparent to me that this was not Fred’s first field mouse meal. He seemed so proud of himself, borderline cocky as he finished his breakfast and strutted away, I opened the door, thanked him (sarcastically), picked up the tail and walked back in and put it in the trash, this was the beginning of my ebb and flow relationship with Rocket.
How Fred became Rocket:
Months went by and so did this routine with the boys, Fred came to the back door almost daily and was let inside to visit Crash for as long as he wanted, often times staying overnight.
Crash had suffered some injuries when he was thrown out of the car, a concussion, bleeding some from his nose and ears and he lost some loss of smell that he never regained but the worst thing he lost was his sense of fear, Crash feared nothing and to this day Crash still fears nothing. One day my friend was going outside and Crash raced by her and got outside at the exact same time one of our neighbors had his beautiful white German Shepard outside without a leash, the dog saw Crash and took off after him, and of course fearless Crash went running towards the dog, but what no one knew until afterwards was that Fred had been up in the tree watching all of this unfold, Fred jumped down from the tree and ran into the side of Crash knocking him over which then gave my friend just enough time to grab Crash before the Shepard got to him. And what happened to Fred? Well he didn’t skip a beat, he kept going after knocking Crash over circling around and was back up in the tree within seconds. It was after this happened that we started calling Fred by his new appropriate name of Rocket.
How I became Rockets humom:
In 2003 my friend was being deployed to Korea and I decided that I needed to trade in my snow shovel for a sand shovel so Florida was my destination. It was during the preparation of this move that my friend decided she was not going to move without taking Rocket, she said Rocket would die if left here, how his “owners” (I use this term loosely) didn’t care about him and reminding me of times Rocket came to the back door with icicles hanging from his eyelids and whiskers and shaking.
I am not one to steal someone else’s animal (unless I see signs of physical abuse) but after asking Rockets owners if my friend could have Rocket since he was already a part-time resident with us and them saying no and knowing she was right about his fate if he was left with them, I said nothing.
As fate would have it one week before we were to move Rockets next door neighbors moved so that day we brought Rocket inside and never let him back out again, we figured it would look as though his next door neighbors took him, and I guess it worked, no one ever came to our door asking about him. That night for the first time in almost a year since Rocket started visiting he sat at the back door to go outside and when he wasn’t let out for quite some time he cried, it was a soft, pathetic cry, looking at me with his gorgeous green eyes like I was abusing him, it was heartbreaking and there were a few times I questioned the whole thing and was tempted to let him out, I thank God I didn’t do this.
My friend and I had decided that I would take Crash with me and she take Rocket to Korea but when I got to my friends house in Florida her female light tortie cat (with an attitude) hated Crash, she would hiss and spit at him upsetting my then 6 and 9 year old god-daughters because this was their “Precious” and they had never seen her act like this. Once again as fate would have it, Precious hated Crash but loved, loved, loved Rocket, this incident changed my life, I kept Rocket (who now was an indoor only cat) with me and Crash went to Korea.
Several years later the boys got to live together when my friend had to deploy to Afghanistan and unlike her Korea deployment she couldn’t take Crash with her so I took care of him until she returned a year later. The boys were once again together; Crash who had been such a tiny kitten with a loud voice now weighed 5 more pounds than Rocket and they played very hard together, gone were the days of Rocket being able to toy with Crash, Crash used his weight to body slam Rocket and Rocket used his speed and street smarts to take Crash down, they were still so entertaining.
Easy going Rocket:
I work from home 75% of the time so Rocket and I were very close; he had a wonderful, funny personality, always cracking me up with his antics for getting my attention if he felt I was not being the humom he had trained me to be. He was very affectionate, easy going, a lap cat and of course a Mommas boy, Rocket would stand on his back legs and put his front legs on my thigh, this was his way of letting me know he wanted to be picked up and he never cared what I was doing at the time. When he was 12 I decided to try taking him outside for walks, he quickly learned to walk on a leash and thoroughly enjoyed going out and being able to smell and see all the things he once lived in.
The other 25% of the time I have to travel for work and it’s usually to another state and after the loss of my Mom in 2012 I had no one I could trust to watch Rocket so he had to start coming with me all the time instead of occasionally. In a hotel room he acted like he lived there and in the car he was great too, using a litter box at 70 mph always impressed me. Rocket had flown a few times with me when he was younger but I was concerned now that he was older things might have changed but that was not an issue, with the exception of taking off, the flights were uneventful. During takeoff he would look out the window, then look back at me with big, almost cartoon-like eyes, and would give a long but not very loud meeeoooww, I would smile and reassure him that everything was fine, he would look out the window until we leveled off then he would either sit or lay on my lap the rest of the flight. Traveling is stressful for humans and can be for animals, especially cats and I don’t want to sound like I’m promoting this, I am not. Rocket was not the norm, he adapted to change well but he also fed off of me, if I stressed, he would stress.
There were only a couple of people who were down right mean about him flying in the cabin and I have two things to say about this; airline employees are not known for handling cargo very well and although they state certain areas are temperature controlled, I find this to be hit and miss considering how many animals have died in cargo or were left sitting out on the hot tarmac where if the animal didn’t die from the heat they got so incredibly sick that they never regained their health, the public statistics don’t reflect this and the other problem with their statistics is when an airline settles out of court with a guardian they are required to sign a disclosure saying they will not go public about their animal dying, so we really don’t know how many have died in cargo and I would never take that chance even when it meant a passenger didn’t like Rocket being there, I wasn’t flying with him for the fun of it, I was flying to get from point A to point B as fast as I could just like everyone else on board.
The first couple of days in February 2015 I noticed some behavioral differences in Rocket, he started tracking the wall when he walked, his head was tilting to the right, he was just not himself. I had taken Rocket to his veterinarian a week prior because he had been losing weight since November 2014 and we were trying to figure out why but at this visit all his blood work was again normal and even better than it was 3 weeks earlier, so his vet referred me to an internist. While waiting for the internist another veterinarian came in first and after doing the basics and watching Rocket walk around the room she stated she thought Rocket needed to see their neurologist not the internist because she thought he had a brain tumor. The neurologist, Dr. Anne Chauvet walked in the room, looked at Rocket and her face lit up, it was unusual to see this from a veterinarian. After doing a few neurologic tests she also thought he had a brain tumor but only an MRI could tell us exactly what was going on. That day he had the MRI and afterwards she came in and said that she was very sorry to tell me but Rocket has a very large macro-adenoma pituitary tumor and it’s inoperable.
I finally got Rocket home that horrible day and for the next two weeks I cried and when I wasn’t crying I was researching several hours a day trying to find options for him, but there was little information out there on cats with this type of tumor. By the end of the two weeks with much prayer I decided to do as she suggested and that was to take Rocket to the veterinary school in Gainesville, FL for radiation treatments.
Rocket passed the 2 days of pre-testing at the vet school but one concern they had was that Rocket was not up to date on vaccinations (according to AVMA standard), I told them that if they could prove to me 1. He needed them (i.e. prove that this would be beneficial for his overall health) and 2. They could without a doubt assure me he would not get an injection site sarcoma that I would agree, needless to say they could not prove either, they said they would keep him away from other animals, good idea I replied.
His first day of radiation was on a Monday and it was a hard day for both he and I; they took Rocket at 7:30 am and I did not see him again until 6:30 pm. After taking Rocket that morning he sat somewhere in a cage for 5 ½ hours before it was his “turn” so that evening when a student brought Rocket out to me and told me to bring him back the following morning, I told her that I would be here but that they were not going to take him from me until it was his turn. The student said nothing and got the oncologist, he came into the room and I explained that I was not going to spend another 11 hours here tomorrow while Rocket sat in the back unable to eat and sitting alone for 5+ hours, that this was unacceptable. He told me to bring Rocket in at 7:30 and they would put us in a room together until they were ready for him. Needless to say Tuesday went much faster, in fact Rocket just happened to be first that day…
Wednesday was supposed to be his third and final treatment but that morning Rocket was not acting the same, something just wasn’t right. I drove to the hospital and told his oncologist that Rocket was not the same today and I thought he needed a break. He said I knew Rocket better than anyone, that they go by what they’ve always done but that they don’t know everything, he said to take Rocket back to the hotel, that it would not interfere in his prognosis and to come back the following day for the final treatment.
I drove us back to the hotel and spent the day with Rocket, it proved to be one of the best decisions made at the time, he rested, he ate and for the first time in nearly a month he initiated play with me. The picture I posted of Rocket on twitter the day he passed away where he is on his back, mouth open, eyes closed, paws around my hand was taken that very day and it’s one of my favorite pictures of him.
Rocket made it through the 3 radiation treatments very well and I saw immediate improvement in his neurologic behavior, I had nothing but hope at the time that the radiation stopped the tumor from growing any further.
After we got home I went back to transitioning Rockets diet from commercial canned food to a species appropriate raw meat diet, Rocket was down 3 pounds when he went through radiation and although his overall muscle mass was good he was skinny, you could feel his backbone when petting him. After 2 ½ months on the raw diet I was able to get 3 pounds of healthy weight back on him and his coat, which had always looked good, now looked amazing! I believe had I not switched his diet that Rocket would not have lived nearly as long as he did, and if I am picked again to share my life with another cat a raw meat diet will be a must from the beginning. One final note on the subject, I am a vegetarian going vegan but I knew I could not change Rockets biology to fit my own, or my beliefs, Rocket, like all cats are obligate carnivore’s that’s how God made them.
Rocket and I had 6-7 really good months after he had radiation, it gave him some very good quality of life back, but sadly it did not stop the tumor from growing as I had hoped. Rocket started slowing way down, things he did in his daily life were getting less and less, he was struggling to remember the most basic things, in my last ditch effort to try to stop the tumor from growing I took Rocket to see a different oncologist in Jacksonville, FL in January 2016 but all she could suggest was one of two chemotherapy drugs, this was not even close to what I had hoped to hear, I was thinking more radiation treatments but it wasn’t an option, so I decided to try the one drug that crossed the blood-brain barrier; it was one capsule, once a month for 6 months. In my mind I had already decided if I did not see any improvement after the second dose/month I would stop it, and that is exactly what happened. The first dose was given at the oncologists’ office and I got the second dose of chemo in the mail, it came with a warning and a pair of “rubber gloves” to wear for administering and that’s all I want to share publicly about this experience right now.
In late March I knew Rockets time with me was near the end, I emailed Dr. Anne telling her this terrible news and she replied asking if I would bring Rocket to see her, no appointment, no exam, just could I bring him to see her. You see when she met Rocket last year she had an orange kitty named Edward that looked like Rockets twin, and they were the same age. Dr. Anne had to put Edward to sleep last fall; he was losing his battle with cancer.
In early April Dr. Anne gave me an option, she said when I was ready and thought Rockets time was up she would offer (on her dime) to try to remove the tumor, which would mean removing his pituitary, she could not promise me anything except that Rocket would not be in any pain. This was neither a quick or easy decision for me; I was faced with two options; euthanasia for my best friend, my boy, a cat that had just turned 15 but was still healthy from his neck to his tail or I faced having Rocket go through a risky surgery with a 50/50 chance of survival. There were things in my personal and spiritual life that happened which pointed me to go ahead with the surgery and that’s the choice I made. On April 22, 2016, I took Rocket for surgery and Dr. Anne was not able to get all of the tumor, only about 1/3 she said it was just too big, that it had grown substantially since the last MRI in September. After surgery Rocket was critical, his body temperature was very low and wasn’t rising, they let me see him and I knew I couldn’t let him see or sense that I was a complete wreck. I stood in front of his cage rubbing his body roughly to try and wake him up and to help get his temperature to rise, I kept talking to him, telling him how awesome he was, that I loved him with all my heart and that he had this, finally after several hours of doing this his temperature came up but he was critical. Dr. Anne would not allow me to stay with him or there past 9:00 when they closed and assured me they would call me if anything changed. Saturday morning I was there early and by 1:00 pm I was able to take him home, but on Sunday I knew his body was shutting down, the trauma and certainly all pharmaceutical’s were just too much for his body to take. That day I tried finding a veterinarian to come to the house to put him to sleep but it was early evening on a Sunday and no one would come until Monday morning. I gave him pain meds and kept him next to me on the bed, just after 3:00 am he tried standing up which woke me up and several minutes after that he took his last breath.
Would I do it again? Yes, but with one change that happened after surgery. I’m still able to look at the bigger picture and I have no doubt with everything Rocket went through it will help other cats with pituitary tumors.
Many people reading this may think the coin business must pay very well, but the truth is Rocket had pet insurance, I got it for him when he was 11 years old and if he didn’t have insurance this would be a totally different story.
Rockets brother from another mother Crash shares his life with 8 other cats; he is the oldest, the alpha male and the peacekeeper of their home. Rocket and I have visited them over the years and the close bond Crash and Rocket shared never changed, when Rocket would walk in their house Crash not only welcomed Rocket but also submitted to him and Rocket always took the role of the house alpha male, (even with 2 other males in the house that are real brothers) it was a bond that surpassed time, a relationship unlike any I’ve ever seen and I have no doubt Crash not only knows, but shares my pain in the loss of Rocket.