Adam Rice

My life and the world around me

Tag: death

Bird down

This morning while Gwen was puttering in the back yard, a juvenile bluejay landed on the ground, near our back door. He looked like he had his flight feathers, but the feathers on his head were still downy. He wouldn’t or more likely couldn’t fly away; he could hop, but mostly stayed put.

Not knowing what else to do, we set out a shallow pan of water for him. He made no effort to get away from us, but did hop into the pan of water.

About an hour later, I looked in on him. He was still in roughly the same spot. I refilled the pan of water and set it next to him. He looked at me and opened and closed his beak a few times as if silently chirping or begging for food. He flapped his wings for a moment and flipped over on his back. The nictitating membranes blinked across his eyes and he died.

When we looked at his corpse, we saw a spot on his back where he had been attacked.


We buried Kevin today.

A freight train hits you just as hard, whether you’re blindsided by it or you saw it coming from miles away. Kevin is the third old cat that Gwen and I have had to euthanize, after Oscar and Squeaker. In Kevin’s case, we had a better sense that he had little time left, but being mentally prepared doesn’t lessen the impact.

Kevin came into Gwen’s life as a young, scrawny tomcat in 1994, not long after she moved to Austin. Gwen already had Oscar and didn’t want another cat, but he kept hanging around in her garden until she took him in. After Oscar established that she was the boss, the two of them were buddies forever. Once a part of Gwen’s household, Kevin filled out to a majestic 17 lb.

Every cat has his or her own personality, and, apart from his fear of small children, Kevin’s was always unceasingly sweet and happy. He would start purring the moment anyone picked him up.

Four years ago, Kevin lost his best buddy Oscar, and it was clear that he was lonely. When we got a pair of kittens two and a half years ago, one of the two, Bubka, decided that Kevin was her new best friend, and so happily he had another excellent cuddlebuddy in his later years.

We’re not sure how old Kevin was—we estimate he lived to be 19. Old age was not easy on him. He developed an allergy that could only be treated with prednisone (though for a full year the previous vet insisted it was behavioral). He became completely deaf and his vision deteriorated. He suffered a herniated disk in his spine that left his hind legs wobbly. He was recently diagnosed with intestinal cancer. But his sweet disposition remained unchanged. It seemed that he never stopped enjoying life.

This morning he was too wobbly to even sit up, and was not purring. He was clearly having intestinal distress. His condition improved a little as the day went on, but we knew it was time. He spent the day lying on the back porch with Gwen, with friends dropping in to say goodbye.

(Gwen here.) One of Kevin’s nicknames was “Kev-Dog”—after his entirely endearing trait of simply following me around the house like a good dog so he could always be in on the action. His favorite thing was to enjoy a good book with me, stretched out on my legs on the couch. And sleeping all night as near to my head as I would allow. He was loved by many, and his sweet nature won over more than a few cat-dislikers. He had a bad spell once that involved a urinary catheter and a move from the vet to an emergency hospital—when we saw the vet after a miserable long wait, she looked at him and said “This must be Kevin,” and he started purring loudly. He was that kind of guy.

A word of grateful thanks to our excellent vets at Austin Vet Hospital (especially Dr. Besch) and their caring staff. They looked out for him in a way that I would wish for animal friend.

Kevin & Oscar

Kevin & Bubka

Sheldon Brown, 1944–2008

Sheldon Brown has died. He created what may be the most extensive trove of cycling knowledge on the Internet. Which I hope will endure.

I encountered him on Usenet under the rec.bicycles.* hierarchy, where he was always a source of good information and good humor. I ordered equipment from the store where he worked a few times and was glad to have his advice. Cycling is poorer for his loss.

The Boston Globe on Sheldon Brown .

Oscar: 1991–2007


We put Oscar in the earth today.

Despite the name, Oscar was a girl, and every inch a princess. Gwen tells the story of when she first got her. Gwen was living in Minneapolis, and the mother cat’s owners (who called Oscar “Whiner”), brought her over to Gwen’s place. Oscar was the runt of the litter, but as soon as she was released in Gwen’s apartment, she walked around the room, sniffed everything, jumped up on a table, knocked something over, and then came over to Gwen, got up on her hind legs, and gave Gwen an affectionate head-butt. This was her most endearing habit, and often used in the years that followed to defuse anger at, say, knocking something over. In that moment, Oscar became Gwen’s cat.

A year or so later, Gwen moved to Austin, and moved around in Austin quite a bit after that. Oscar was her one constant companion. She added another cat, Kevin, to her household, and when Gwen and I got together, we wound up with three cats between us. Hence the king-sized bed.

Oscar had been a svelte 17 pounds in her prime, but once she hit a certain age, she started losing weight, and her kidneys started shutting down. Ironically, the weight loss made it easier for Oscar to get into trouble, which she did, jumping up to places she couldn’t reach when she was heavier but younger. She often found ways of getting into trouble specifically to push our buttons, to let us know it was time for a snack or something. As infuriating as she could be in these moments, she always made us laugh (either at her or ourselves) because her needling was so transparent, and yet so effective.

Over the past four days or so, she lost interest in eating (apart from barbecued chicken from Hoover’s) and became much quieter. Gwen took her to the vet and found that her blood urea nitrogen level (an indicator of kidney function) was off the scale. The vet said Oscar had “days or weeks.”

With much grief and second-guessing, we made the decision to euthanize her, and this afternoon, after a snack of barbecued chicken, the vet came over and ended her life. We are both wrecked.

It’s a hell of a thing, having pets. You take them in as cute companions, knowing in the back of your mind that some day, a day like this will arrive. And when it happens, you’re completely unprepared.

(from Gwen) It’s impossible to sum up a life together in a few paragraphs. Oscar has slept by my side (or, more often, on my pillow) for 16 years. She’s made me laugh, pissed me off, purred in my ear at 5 a.m., and today licked my tears while we were hanging out together for her last few hours. I hope I can always remember the smell of her head, in the sweet soft spot between her ears that tickled my nose at the beginning of endearing-for-life head-butt. And I hope her cat friend Kevin, who has always been “Kevin and Oscar” will find some way to be Kevin. Rest well, Oscar. Piggy. Pig Pig. Muffin. Pig-a-Muff. Muffy. Muff Muff. Schmooky. Schmook.

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