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Farewell, Henry

28 June 2010 by Mike Gogulski
Posted in diary | 26 Comments »


Henry, 1 April 1992 - 27 June 2010

Henry, 1 April 1992 - 27 June 2010


Henry died yesterday, 27 June 2010, at the age of 18 in Bratislava, Slovakia. I miss you, buddy.

I first met Henry in mid-1994, when my girlfriend-and-future-wife’s mother reported she’d met someone with a cat up for adoption. We went to visit him and found him adorable. Apparently, Henry was the terror of the household, though, and they wanted to get rid of him because he was scaring their new fluffy white kitten. So, after brief deliberation, we brought Henry home to our apartment in Maitland, Florida. Later, we adopted another cat, Liza, from an animal shelter. She got her name from the old song:

There’s a hole in my bucket, dear Liza, dear Liza
There’s a hole in my bucket, dear Liza, a hole.
Then fix it, dear Henry, dear Henry, dear Henry,
Then fix it, dear Henry, dear Henry, fix it.

Henry and Sidney, in Santa Cruz

Henry and Sidney, in Santa Cruz

Henry had been declawed in the front, either in response to his terrorizing the fluffy white kitten, or because his previous owners owned an African gray parrot. Later in life, Henry was to repeatedly demonstrate his deference toward birds, apparently having earned early on from the parrot that beaks and feathers don’t mean food, but painful biting.

Henry traveled extensively. From the apartment we moved to a house in Winter Springs, FL. Later, Henry would find new homes with us in Coon Rapids, MN, Norwich, CT, and Hamden, CT. After my wife and I split, Henry moved with me to Santa Cruz, CA, where he lived in 4 different homes with me and my girlfriend. It was my girlfriend who truly civilized Henry. Where previously he had been rather aloof, preferring mostly to be admired from a distance rather than cuddled or any of that undignified nonsense, she was able to create a connection with him which resulted in long hours sprawled between her blanket-covered legs while she worked on her MacBook. So, too, he was mellowing with age, preferring to stay near the house rather than race off into whatever jungle was closest by to find prey to stalk and animals to beat.

Henry later spent half a year with me between Waukesha and Madison, WI, before heading south again to spend a few months with my sister in Orlando while preparations were underway to move overseas.

Double trouble: Henry in Bratislava, late 2005

Double trouble: Henry in Bratislava, late 2005

Henry came to Bratislava in August, 2004. In early 2005, my girlfriend and I split, and I agreed that Henry should go with her because of the close bond they developed. Later that year, Henry accompanied her to Vilnius, Lithuania, where she’d found a contract teaching English. The next year, though, Henry was to rejoin me in Bratislava, since neither of us thought that her new Asian destination was a particularly good or safe locale for him.

In late 2009, Henry moved with me to Spain, though briefly, before returning to Bratislava with me in February of this year.

In his recent years with me, Henry became more and more attached to me. I used to tell people that he was more and more kitten-like as the years went by. Where previously he would only sleep at the very foot of the bed (preferably on or between my lower legs), he came more and more to sleep up near my head, or sometimes curled against my chest or back. Going-to-sleep and waking-up times were precious to Henry and me both, as he would come stalk across the bed in search of some petting and scratching, and often reciprocate by licking my face or driving his purring snout into my ear.

In August, 2009, Henry started running into the real problems of aging. For some years he had been suffering slightly reduced mobility and flexibility due to arthritis. Now, though, his kidney function weakened substantially. Amid two hospital visits where he was tested, injected and given overnight saline drip infusions, it was determined that his kidney function had deteriorated substantially, little surprise at the then-age of 17. He switched to a special diet for cats with weak kidneys, and improved.

Play... later... 17 March 2003

Play... later... 17 March 2003

In March, just after returning from Spain, Henry experienced another setback. He had been developing cataracts for several years, as evidenced by an increasing bluish tint to his pupils. Now, though, he lost almost all of his eyesight over a period of a few weeks, being left only able to perceive broad differences between light and dark. He navigated about with his whiskers and senses of smell and hearing. When he was up and about and wanted to be active, though, he frequently paced in tight circles, always counter-clockwise. He was still the same delightful cuddle-buddy as before, but sometimes a bit frustrated due to this new difficulty.

Last Wednesday, 23 June 2010, Henry started acting very lethargic. He had been enduring some constipation for about a week, but was still able to go, and was somewhat relieved by the addition of some olive oil to his diet. That day also, he started squinting a lot, and had a bit of brownish discharge from the corners of his eyes. The next day was worse, with his energy level very low, more discharge, eyes completely closed all day long, and when he refused a selection of foods in the late evening, I decided it was time for the vet.

We visited the non-stop animal hospital at about 11:30pm on Thursday night. Henry received about 60 minutes of saline infusion, the feline equivalent of Zantac, some antibiotic eye drops and an enema. He also had a blood test, which showed good kidney function but a rather high urea level. We went home, Henry with a cannula still in his foreleg, and with instructions to return the next evening for a check-up and more infusion.

Carrot! I am the boss of you! 24 June 2002

Carrot! I am the boss of you! 24 June 2002

Fortunately, Henry held his business until after we got home, where he promptly experienced total gut blowout in the litterbox as a result of the enema. Feeling better from that and from the infusion, he ate an entire plate of food, and then most of another. Things seemed to be looking up. The next day, though, the lethargy returned with a vengeance, and he often had trouble standing up, seemingly unable to maintain the muscular tension required to keep his back feet close together.  At times, he would go to the litterbox, make a failed attempt, sit down in the box, and then later lay down. Two or three times, I either talked him out of the box or removed him bodily.

Friday was more of the same, with Henry lethargic and sometimes plopping himself down for extended periods in the litterbox. I later wondered if this was some kind of sign, as if he knew it was time and was sort of “throwing away” his body. We went back to the hospital for more infusion and observation that evening, and the doctor wanted to keep him there until morning.

Saturday morning saw me meeting Henry at the hospital. He was miserable to have been there overnight, but calmed a bit with my presence and some proper petting and stroking. There was bad news: Henry was passing blood in his stool, and some kind of mass in his abdomen was evident via palpation. It wasn’t clear what was going on, but cancer was the top worry. The doctors again wanted him back in the evening for more infusion and observation. They also wanted to do a detailed examination to determine the nature of the mass and the cause of the bloody stool. The first word was “laparotomy”, which made me cringe. This is an exploratory surgery in which the abdominal cavity is opened up more or less completely so that all parts can be examined. I inquired about ultrasound and X-ray options, and left without making a decision.

At home, amid bouts of fitful sleep, I thought about what the doctor had said. If they did an ultrasound and nothing showed up, the would have to do surgery anyway to find out what was wrong. Same thing for an X-ray. And if they did find something non-intrusively, they would still have to open him up in order to determine if it was benign, surgically reparable, or perhaps metastatic. Mentally, I was prepared for the very worst, and resolved that if metastatic cancer was found on the operating table that I would give the order for euthanasia.

Henry at the hospital, 27 June 2010

Henry at the hospital, 27 June 2010

Meeting Henry again at the hospital on Sunday morning found him in seemingly poorer condition. Coaxed out of his cage onto a table, he was barely able to stand, his legs just buckling under him. I spoke with the doctor regarding the choice of procedure, and he agreed there was little sense in doing an ultrasound or X-ray, so he began to prep for surgery. This doctor, who had spent two nights with Henry, would pet and scratch him and call him “Expert”.


I spent about 15 minutes with Henry as preparations were being made, petting him, kissing him, scratching his ears and stroking his nose and face between the eyes. I told him he was going to sleep, and that this might be goodbye.

Around 9:30am, the vet gave Henry a sedative (forgot the name) via his cannula. My buddy flopped over and started to drool a bit even before the full dose was administered. About 10 minutes later, a dose of ketamine was administered (Ketamine? I love that stuff!). I told Henry to enjoy his trip in the eighth dimension, gave him some more petting and scratching even though he was unconscious, and left the room as the vet prepared to intubate him for respiratory support and anesthesia using isoflurane gas. I went out to smoke a cigarette, then returned to the front room of the clinic to read and wait, nervously.

Just after 10am, the doctor came out to discuss the findings. The surgeon had located a cyst on Henry’s pancreas, and they had drained it into a syringe, resulting in maybe 3cc of clear fluid. They said his abdominal cavity had an overall yellowish color, which could indicate a liver problem, feline leukemia or FIV, the feline equivalent of HIV. Also, one of his adrenal glands was significantly enlarged. There was no chance to remove or biopsy the adrenal gland, the surgeon saying that attempting to do so would likely result in Henry’s death. No intestinal blockage was found, and no cause for the bloody stool determined. Absent a clear sign of metastatic cancer, I ordered Henry sewn back up, and tests conducted for liver function, feline leukemia and FIV.

About 10:30, the latter two tests came back negative, and Henry was in recovery. I went into the surgery and visited him, where he still lay unconscious while the drugs wore off. I was very relieved, and hopeful that he would recover. I went home, the doctor telling me that he’d phone with the liver test results, and planning to visit Henry that evening after he’d awakened.

Just after noon, the doctor called. “His heart failed,” he said, “about 20 minutes ago.”

I returned to the hospital immediately. There was my buddy, dead on the table. I stroked him, cried, and told him I love him. He was still so soft and lovely — but cold.

The doctor said that Henry had been recovering normally. During surgery, his heart and lung function had been strong. Apparently, though, as the anesthesia and sedation began to wear off, some kind of shock set in, and his heart began slowing down. Resuscitation was attempted to no avail, and Henry died around 11:50am.

At about 8pm, Henry was laid to rest following a brief ceremony in Devín, Slovakia, at the confluence of the Morava and Danube Rivers. I, my friend and her daughter threw some items into the river to prepare the way for him: two of his food dishes, several handfuls of food and treats, some catnip spray, his green catnip-infused toy frog, two toys my friend had made for him, some loose tobacco and a pack of cigarettes, some coins to pay the ferryman and a laminated card with the photo above and the legend: “Henry, 1 April 1992 – 27 June 2010. You are missed by many.” And then Henry’s body went into the river, and now lies someplace between there and the Black Sea. My friend and I drank a toast of brandy to Henry, and cast our glasses into the water.

  1. 26 Responses to “Farewell, Henry”

  2. By Jason Hurley on 28 June 2010

    I’m sorry for your loss. He was a hansom little guy. My wife and I recently lost a beloved rescue, Lady the Cocker spaniel, to Keto-acidosis. We only had her 6 months. She was abandoned at 8 years old by her first family because her diabetes caused her to have accidents in the house. It was very hard but we know her last few months were filled with love, a sense of belonging, barking with our other dogs at the asshole at the front door delivering pizza, and rewards of pizza crust afterward.

  3. By Kent McManigal on 29 June 2010

    I am so sorry. I miss him just from reading your post.

  4. By Darian on 29 June 2010

    That’s sad. It sounds like Henry had a good life with you though.

  5. By Renee on 29 June 2010

    thank you for sharing your last moments with Henry, it was an honor to read it. It was like standing behind you the whole time. Hugs.

  6. By James Tuttle on 29 June 2010

    Thank you, Mike, for sharing this. Henry was a most handsome cat. All the best.

  7. By David Z on 29 June 2010

    Sorry for your loss, Mike… Although I’m not a “cat person” (I like other people’s cats, just wouldn’t own one myself!), my family always had dogs growing up and I remember coming home from school in seventh grade and my dad telling me that he had to put down the family dog… Reading this brought some tears to my eyes, for your loss, remembering my own, knowing that one day I’ll be making that same trip to the vet with my own dog, and also as a reminder that we’re all very, very mortal.

    Chin up, comrade.

  8. By Stephanie on 29 June 2010

    Henry –

    He had more character, independence and personality than any cat I’ve never known, or likely ever will. That’s why I loved him so much. He was his own cat. Everything was on his terms. He decided when, where and how he was going to get what he wanted and what he would accept or not accept from people. He picked you…or he didn’t. But I was lucky: Henry most definitely chose me.

    I had only been in his house for a few minutes back in summer of 2000, visiting my then-boyfriend in Connecticut, when I sat down in an office chair and he hopped right up on my lap and stayed there like he owned it. This might sound run of the mill for any number of cats, but not Henry, I was told; he never did that. He didn’t mingle with the humans much. He mostly just swatted at them, made grumpy faces and kept on walking like the king he was – royal. But Henry and I had made a connection. From that moment on, I belonged to him and like two creatures that belong to one another we stayed together spending a lot of time together over the next several years.

    In the years I knew Henry, he lived with me and Mike in several houses in Santa Cruz, California where we spent many happy years, and then later in Madison, Wisconsin. Henry always slept on my legs. He loved my legs. No matter where I was – laying down or sitting up – Henry had to perch on my legs. He was my catboy, my cuddle creature. During our time together, especially while we were living in Santa Cruz, he became the sweetest cat ever: purring and schnuzzling me for attention. Sure, he still swatted at our housemate as she passed by sometimes, just to tell her he was hungry, but that was just Henry. He was a no-nonsense cat. During those years, Mike was often away and it was just me and Henry – home sweet home.

    Henry was great with other animals. Well, I should say, Henry tolerated other animals well. He had no time for them and looked at them like they were beneath him, but he could be in the presence of dogs without running away, like some cats might, and even lived peacefully with our dog, Shadow, for a time. Same with birds: he and a friend’s pet cockatoo could both walk around the room without Henry chasing him or trying to eat him. He wasn’t happy about it, mind you, but he tolerated it.

    When Mike and I decided to leave the States, he stayed with his sister for a few months in Orlando, Florida while we traveled through Mexico, Belize and Guatemala before we came back to bring him to Bratislava, Slovakia with us. After a year there, and a break-up from Mike (Henry’s other person), I decided to move to Vilnius, Lithuania with Henry. It was in Bratislava, before our departure, that Henry obtained his EU Pet Passport, which allowed him to travel freely within the EU, and had his ID chip inserted. When Henry was with me, no matter how far away from my homeland I was I always felt I was at home.

    A year later, Mike and I decided it would be best for Henry to return to Bratislava to live with him rather than continue on with me in my travels to Asia. It was very difficult parting with him, leaving him behind in Bratislava. It took the better part of a year for me to stop expecting him when I entered the flat, to stop seeing him with my peripheral vision curled up on the floor or on the couch only to find it was a pair of shoes or a sweater.

    I never stopped thinking about him or missing him when I sleep. I got regular updates about him and his current antics and level of affectionateness from my former partner, who was taking excellent care of him. I haven’t been back to Europe in the four years since I left Henry but was planning a trip there in late August when I had hoped to see Henry again. I can’t believe I didn’t make it in time.

    Henry, I loved you so…with all my being. You stole my heart and I was glad to have given it. You were special: the greatest cat ever, really. I’m so glad we had so many years together and wish we could’ve had more. I wish you could’ve had more as well, but you lived a long, healthy and happy life. You were surrounded by so much love in the last decade of your life between Mike and I and everyone else you touched and charmed. You will never be forgotten. You will always be our catboy.

  9. By disinter on 29 June 2010

    Very sad. Sorry about your loss.

    Cats are wonderful pets.

  10. By B.R. Merrick on 29 June 2010

    Your second picture of Henry (where he’s checking out the bird) looks exactly like my cat Snagit, whom our family had for more than 20 years. He was one hell of a cat, and basically spoiled most other cats for me after that.

    So now I’m sad right along with you. Losing a beloved pet is really tough. You’ll never replace Henry (just like Snagit), but you may someday fall in love again.

  11. By Bradley Jardis on 29 June 2010

    My sympathy to you for loss of a loyal family member.

  12. By BroadSnark on 29 June 2010

    Really sorry to hear about Henry. He looks almost exactly like my cat, Monkey. (And coincidentally, I’ve lived in Orlando and Santa Cruz also.)

  13. By Temujin on 30 June 2010

    Very sorry to hear this. Chin up, he was a good friend.

  14. By George Donnelly on 30 June 2010

    Mike

    So sorry to hear about this. I’m sure he was happy with you and had an excellent life at your side. Be well.

  15. By Alicia on 1 July 2010

    I am deeply sorry.
    :-(

  16. By Seth on 1 July 2010

    Mike, thanks for the write-up sharing the life and times of Henry the Cat. Sounds like he had a good run and enjoyed a happy life with a caring owner. I am sorry for your loss.

  17. By gilliganscorner on 2 July 2010

    Mike,

    Your story made me cry like a baby…the same way my dog of nine years, Charlie, died in December of 2006.

    He died in my arms.

    Never…never…never…did I *EVER* expect the death of a 40lb tawny dog to hit me so hard. When the life faded out of him as a result of the needle (Charlie had cancer) and went still, I was racked in spasms of tears and crying. No one was more surprised than me.

    In other stupid words…I know exactly how you feel.

    It gets better. Promise.

  18. By DixieFlatline on 3 July 2010

    I am really sorry for your loss Mike.

  19. By Survival Acres on 4 July 2010

    Wow. Thank you for sharing. I have not visited here in a long time, but after reading this, I’m glad that I did.

    I know it’s hard to write about our friends like this. I had to do the same. Our friends are unquestionably the better parts of us.

    I lost my beloved dog after 14 years, he has still left a huge hole in my heart a year later. The tears come too easily still, I miss him terribly, there is so much more that I wish I could have done, so much more that I wish we could have shared together while in life. But I learned some things in the past year, he’s still here, inside.

    Our beloved friends may be gone, but they’re still here, within us all, teaching us about life, about love, about meaning and about ourselves, if we will listen to their gentle souls.

    Henry is still there, inside you. This is where you now carry him, and he carries you when you need him most.

    Please never forget that this is now where Henry lives on. He’s become a part of you forever, for as long as you both shall live.

    This is a wonderful and precious gift they’ve given to us, one that we can only realize when they have departed. We are quite privileged that our beloved friends chose to share their lives as they did, enriching us and making us more complete then ever we were before.

    Thank you for sharing your story.

  20. By Elaine on 5 July 2010

    I had the pleasure of meeting and living with Henry way back in 1999. I met his father, Mike Gogulski while attending graduate school in New Haven, CT where we worked together on my Public Health Internship project for several months. I dressed up as a French Maid and met Mike on Halloween night at the infamous Anchor Bar in New Haven, and by Thanksgiving, had moved in with Mike, Henry, his other kitty Sylvester, and my five pet birds which included Sidney the gray cockatiel pictured above. Although I could never trust Sylvester (Silly) with my beloved Sidney, Henry was allowed to be in the same room while Sidney waddled around hissing and spreading his wings. Apparently Henry was petrified of an African Gray Parrot that he had lived with before Mike adopted him and even though Cockatiels are about ¼ the size of Grays, Henry was equally fearful of my little feathered friend. Henry eventually learned to tolerate Sidney and amazingly enough, never tried to eat him!

    Henry wasn’t the first kitty that Mike gave to a former girlfriend. I gradually became very attached to Sylvester, and when Mike and I split up he told me that Silly was my kitty, which made me very happy. That was the beginning of a new awakening for Henry. Stephanie came into his life and gave Henry the unconditional love that he deserved. Henry failed to thrive in menageries and was happiest while living as an “only kitty”. I was fortunate enough to move to California with Mike where he and Stephanie both helped me transition to my new home by including me in their young and hip social circle. Stephanie even got me a job at a pet store where her brother worked until I found employment in my field. Reading Mike and Stephanie’s Tales of Two Henrys brought back so many memories about life in Connecticut and my exciting journey to California.

    Sylvester died suddenly on Christmas Eve, Eve in 2006. My former partner Nathaniel and I waited three months before we adopted Stanley the gray tiger cat who has a taste for tuna fish and textiles. Although Stanley is a big fat love, Henry and Silly will always be my very first kitties. That photo of Henry and Sidney is particularly heart wrenching because I lost touch with the woman who adopted Sidney from me several years ago.

    Over the past year, several of my dearest friends, including my graduate advisor have received disturbing medical diagnoses. My 85-year old mother was just admitted to the hospital with congestive heart failure yesterday. The loss of Henry is just another reminder of how fragile life truly is.

  21. By matt on 5 August 2010

    I am sorry for your loss. You eulogy was quite touching though, and I bet he had the best life you could have made for him. Be proud, making cats happy is so worthwhile.

  22. By George on 11 March 2011

    sorry for your loss. really liked your interview to RT about renunciation of citizenship. Still in Bratislava then?

  23. By Mike Gogulski on 11 March 2011

    Thanks, George. Yep, still here.

  24. By Ronin jr (formally whatever) on 14 August 2011

    I’m more a dog person

  25. By Ronin on 15 August 2011

    @formerly whatever – get your own moniker, how about Soldier of Sam?

  26. By Ronin jr on 19 August 2011

    how about shut up?

  27. By Hokusai on 21 August 2011

    Ronin jewnier perhaps is some sailors lap dog.

    RIP Henry, and condolences to Mike G.


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