Beth Innis, DVM
Churchill Despite my animal loving youth, I had never been allowed to have a cat. Something about the smell of the litter box and the audacity of cats to even have to toilet in the house… and them being so…. un-dog like made my parents declare a firm “absolutely not” to my pestering. Surely, we were “dog people” after all. Lucky for them, I met my future husband, Tom, at the mature age of eighteen. He had been raised only with cats by parents who proudly considered themselves “cat people”. So in a way, we were like Romeo and Juliet. Just kidding, clearly not, however, we both were dying for what the other grew up knowing, so as soon as we were (almost) done with grad school and settled in a grungy, crumbly apartment that allowed my Pit Bull, off to the shelter we went. I distinctly remember advocating for a jet black, spirited guy while Tom fell deeply for a little tabby and white character. “He looks so healthy and perfect,” he said, or that’s how I remember it. He wore me down, I figured he knew how to pick out kittens better than me having more experience, we put down our names for him and planned to pick him up after his little self was neutered. Ah, and when we picked him up… the mucus streaming from his nose was amazing! It didn’t stop! His coat was rough, he snuffled his way home in the car, I thanked the Universe at least I was now a vet and had a team who could help me figure out how to get him well. Surely, we could get him well. He was named Churchill after the prime minster. I’m not sure we knew what kind of energy we were inviting in when we named him. Once in our crumbly apartment, he took one look at Bella, the 64 pound roommate we had chosen for his little 3 pound self and gave a confident “HISSSS”, glared at her in the face and arched his tiny back like it was Halloween. And so his leadership over our family began. Cuddling on the sofa that afternoon, with his stuffy nose by mine, I discovered my allergy to him. It didn’t change anything with his adoption, but it did lead to a lot of ingestion of antihistamines on my part. He never stopped snuffling. He had blood tests, nasal swabs, radiographs, endoscopic exams. He had antibiotics, steroids, amino acids, food changes. While he sneezed on everything in his midst, and suffered regular bloody noses, he cheerfully demanded dinner and bossed around the dog, then the dogs, then the dogs and the other cat, Roosevelt. And we humans scuttled around cleaning up after him and apologizing to guests. When boarded at the clinic that I worked at he would wander the wards and steal food from other cats and sneak in and use their litter boxes. If a glass of milk was left on a table, his paw would immediately enter it. If a human baby was removed from a snuggly baby chair, Churchill would immediately take over the space. Should you bend over a book or a computer lost in thought, he would come from nowhere and land on your back, claws IN. After some years, I took my animal herbalism training and started him on an herbal combination that would at last limit the bloody noses, if not the sneezing. He joyfully ate it up purring, always, as he ate. When my girls were toddlers, I knew they were the children of vets, when they showed me their “technique” of getting onto the top bunk if Churchill was there. “Mommy, I just throw the comforter over him and rush past before he swipes me!” they proudly told me. All children were warned to steer clear of the friendly-appearing cat that sat innocently on the kitchen stool, waiting to smack them on their way past. He was considered good training on teaching kids to be careful around animals. I sometimes described him as “the bad boyfriend that you keep going back to”, it was impossible to explain how quickly we forgave his indiscretions as once he started walking away and talking idly to himself, we could only giggle and sigh, “Oh, Churchie.” There were little moments, though, glimpsed between his clowning around, when you could see his utter sweetness and devotion. He and Tom could carry on conversations for paragraphs and he would only sit on Tom’s lap, and my, where they deeply in love. When Bella, the pit bull, started to get sick and we were a little slow to put it all together, he stomped in front of us and urinated on her bed as if to draw an arrow to her and tell us to get it together and figure it out. When I was sick or sad, he would snuggle his little self next to me, not ask for a thing, and stay with me till I was better. And then, one day, he didn’t feel well. My love for him far outweighed my medical degree, so off we went to the ER. Nothing was found, he did better with a little supportive care and we headed back home. A month later, a call came into my work from my husband, his voice strained, telling me to meet him at the ER, he had the girls and Churchie was not okay. I met them there and it seemed the little white and tabby character had suffered many seizures, from which his little brain couldn’t recover. In typical Churchie fashion, he softly fell from a stack of about six blankets that he was perched atop of and was soon rescued by his favorite guy and whisked to a place that would help him. When Tom whispered a final goodbye, the heart monitor sped up a bit to let him know that he was loved. It was Churchill that taught me there are some diseases you cure and some you learn to live with. He taught me that sometimes confidence outweighs muscle and humor trumps cleanliness, and that you don’t have to be nice to be remembered. He taught me that if you are going to fall, you might as well do it from as far up as you can climb.