Shadow was, and still is, a very special cat.
He was born in a large cage in the porch of the Bachelor Pad in April 2008. His heavily pregnant mother, Keisha, was rescued from the dustbin of the Shah Alam High Court canteen and he was born 2 days later along with 4 of his siblings. 3 of them were adopted, and Keisha was herself adopted after spaying. Shadow and Mini-Me failed to be adopted and thus they came to be my permanent children and part of my gang of Rowdies.
Shadow was a quiet, thoughtful, sweet and loving boy. He was very protective over his sister, Mini-Me. When all of the Rowdies had to be given a medicated bath and I left Mini-Me in a locked cat carrier to soak, Shadow tried to set her free because he couldn't bear to see her upset. When his other non-biological sister Daisy accidentally got shut in my wardrobe, he scratched at the door and meowed until I returned to set her free. When Pix had displaced aggression issues and beat Shadow up, Shadow ran to me for help even though he was well capable of roughing one-eyed Pix up. Shadow was a lover, not a fighter. He loved to cuddle and would sit on my lap for hours while I worked at my laptop. He would rub his cheek against mine when he perceived that I was sad. He would come to rub his face all over my hands and ankles to thank me after a nice meal of roast chicken or Fancy Feast Royale. Shadow makes being a mama so easy and such a joy.
When we first moved to the Wee Green Flat, Pix's displaced aggression issues seemed to go away (perhaps thanks to Feliway pheromone spray, perhaps because they all arrived at the same time and thus the hierarchies in play at the old Bachelor Pad disintegrated) and Pix and Shadow got along just fine. They ate together and sat on the window seat and furniture together. I was happy beyond words and could not stop taking pictures of them together. Shadow was happy and confident and relaxed. He would climb up onto my lap at every opportunity. My children were happy in our clean, spacious new home with all the places to sit and climb and hide and play.
Within a week, though, I noticed puddles of feline vomit each time I came home from work. I didn't know who the culprit was, and cleaned everything up dutifully. All the cats seemed healthy and fine and so I attributed it to a change of environment or food.
Another week passed and I noticed that my poor Shadow was losing weight. I rushed home from work the next afternoon and took him to the vet to run all the necessary tests. I was afraid that he was having problems with his stomach or kidneys.
The reality was worse. The ELISA test showed that Shadow was FELV-positive. My world came crashing down. Why? How? Why? All the cats are neutered and vaccinated and kept indoors. No rescue or foster cat is introduced until all have been screened for common illnesses and FELV/FIV, dewormed, Frontlined and vaccinated. The clothes I wear while helping out at the SPCA animal shelter go straight into the laundry hamper. I keep a spotless house. How on earth could my sweet, gentle Shadow have contracted FELV without ever leaving the house or coming in contact with any outdoor cats?
I was shattered, but we have to be practical. I put him on the RetroMAD1 clinical trials immediately and started him on a cocktail of immune-boosting drugs. The good doctor speculated that Shadow was probably infected weeks ago, long before we moved to the Wee Green Flat, and the symptoms only started to show when his illness became chronic. There is a good chance that all the other cats have been exposed to the virus, and if any began to show symptoms, I must take them to the vet and put them on treatment immediately. Dr. Tan took a blood sample from Shadow for testing in the event of a false positive on the ELISA snap test.
My dream life in the Wee Green Flat with my cats quickly spiralled into a nightmare. Shadow refused all food and became withdrawn. I isolated him in a large cage in my bedroom and closed the door and started a daily regimen of force-feeding him medicine and pureed food, and cleaning and disinfecting the rest of the house to prevent the other cats from getting infected. My heart was broken over and over again each day at having to confine my beloved Shadow and stop him from being with his siblings.
I don't know what I could have done, in retrospect, to prevent Shadow from succumbing to the deadly disease that afflicted him. He was diagnosed as being FELV-positive, so there would not be many vets who would be willing to board him and put him on IV drips. In the event that he was put on IV drips, how long should I let him remain on drips? If he continues to refuse food, do I continue to keep him on drips until the end of his natural life? What sort of quality of life would he have?
To stop the vomiting, I put him on anti-nausea tablets and to try to stimulate appetite, I got the vet to give him Vitamin B Complex jabs. To protect his liver from fatty liver disease, I crushed milk thistle and dandelion supplements and added them to his feed.
Kind friends rallied around me. Nicole made buffalo stew (buffaloes are not factory farmed or injected with antibiotics the way livestock is) for Shadow, which I blended and pureed and fed to Shadow using a syringe. Karen came over with steamed fish for Shadow and the other rowdies. Aravind helped out with the vet bills. Still, Shadow failed to improve. By now I was driving home every lunch hour to syringe-feed him. I stopped all after-work activities (except for teaching at Beacon, which I agreed to do twice a week for all of Ramadhan as the other volunteer teachers would have to break fast and attend terawih prayers with their families) and all home improvement projects were put on hold until Shadow showed signs of improvement.
The full blood test report brought strange news. Apparently Shadow was not FELV-positive (a significant percentage of ELISA tests register a false positive), but the lab technicians and vets were unable to tell what exactly was ailing him without a second blood test, which they could only perform in another 30 days. That gave me some hope that Shadow might recover and not have to be isolated from the others again, but it was a very small hope since he was still so ill and weak. Until they found out what mystery virus was attacking him, I had to keep him isolated and his living quarters and food and water bowls disinfected in between use. My focus was only on getting him to eat and regain some strength.
Sadly, Shadow never did improve. I had a premonition of his death on the evening before he died. When I changed my Facebook profile picture to one of Shadow, Aravind had posted the link to the Beatles' pensive hit, 'Blackbird', in the comments. We prayed fervently for Shadow to 'take these broken wings and learn to fly', to be healed and well again.
Hours before Shadow died, I went to the vet to get him more supplements and wet food. Then I stopped by the supermarket for groceries. The song 'Blackbird' began to play over the supermarket PA system, sweet and clear. I didn't want it to be a sign that Shadow was leaving us. I wanted it to be a mere silly coincidence. I drove home in a fog of tears.
Shadow was still alive, but incredibly weak. I held him and told him how much I love him and reminded him of the good times we had in the 7 years he was my son. I recalled the birthday parties and Christmasses and Lunar New Year feasts of Fancy Feast and roast chicken. The time I set up the new scratching post and put up the window ledges for them to sit on. The hours cuddling in bed when I got to sleep in on weekends. The treasure hunts I did using Greenies and dehydrated salmon cubes. I reminded him of all the good things he has done in his short life. I reassured him that I would set up a Shadow Memorial Fund to help other animals with medical vulnerabilities. I told him I would never stop being his mama, I would never stop loving him, and I would remember him forever even in lifetimes to come. I then gave him his final feed, which doesn't seem strange or irrational if you have ever been a mama. You don't want them to go on an empty stomach.
At 3 a.m. on 10th July 2015, Shadow slipped away peacefully, in my arms.
The loss of Shadow hit me hard. Why us? Why Shadow? Why was he taken from me so soon? Outwardly, I seemed to function normally. I cleaned and put away his things. I took Shadow's body to the vet for cremation. I took care of the flat and the other cats. I went to work and attended a meeting the very next day. I went to the SPCA and helped other animals the same weekend. I took my friends out to a charity fundraiser dinner. But inside, I couldn't believe that life could go on without Shadow. I felt wretched when I woke up in the mornings and there was no Shadow to feed and medicate. No Shadow quietly sitting in his cage in my room when I came home from work. No container of Shadow's medicines and syringes on the kitchen counter. No food that needed to be pureed and blended and syringe-fed to Shadow. I stopped sleeping, and instead, I filled up my nights with all the home improvement work I put on hold when Shadow fell sick. Things came to a head on the Monday after his death when in the process of stripping a water-damaged wall in my bedroom, I punched a hole in the wall and injured my knuckles. The pain was cathartic, and I started to calm down and was better able to express my grief to myself after that. I called up my best friend Nicole and cried over the phone. I told her truthfully that I got Shadow's ashes back from the pet cremation service, but I don't want ashes, I just want my Shadow back. She talked me through my pain and grief and we talked about when she lost her little Poodley to serious and prolonged illness two years ago. Yes, life has to go on, but I can miss Shadow and carry on functioning and caring for the other cats at the same time. I miss Shadow and the time we spent together. I even missed caring for him when he was sick, even though I would much prefer him to be well and healthy. Caring for him and syringe-feeding him was not a burden or an inconvenience. It brought us closer together. At least I still got to hold him. He is my son. He will always be my son.
I don't think I will ever stop missing or loving Shadow. Time doesn't heal all wounds, but it can make the pain duller. Take your broken wings and learn to fly, brave and beautiful Shadow. I will come look for you at the Rainbow Bridge when it is my time to cross over.