Goodbye Phoebe (2000-2011)

Barely a few weeks after losing our cat Sicily, we lost our “baby” Phoebe, an amazing black lab on July 15th. I’ve been putting off writing this for months now, and I really need to get through it. I’m not sure I’ll do her justice in the first post here, so I’ll probably go back later and edit it.

phoebe in sun on deck on mineshaft.jpg

Like Sicily, Phoebe suffered a rapid onslaught of cancer. We noticed a number of small hard lumps going in almost a straight line down her back, and initially attributed them to a skin reaction from changing the stuff we used for anti-flea/tick. But they quickly became larger and harder, and then she simply stopped eating. We tried everything to get her to eat (and I mean everything you can think of). The vet wasn’t sure what the problem was, but was concerned about the lumps, so we tried some different meds and food, and he took a biopsy of one of the lumps.

Long story short, it was cancer and progressing rapidly. In less than two weeks she went from a happy and active dog, to a frail shadow of herself that struggled to stand on her own and could barely drink water. After some long conversations with the vet and now a specialist at the NC State Vet School (one of the highest rated in the country) we decided to try to treat her. There was a reasonable possibility of beating the cancer or we wouldn’t have tried. 

So we tried and she improved quite a bit for a couple of days, but then she got worse again, and very quickly. She couldn’t stand on her own anymore, wouldn't eat again, lost control of her bowels, and was panting in a very haggard manner. We took her back to the emergency room late that night, and they told us she was having a hard time breathing and getting oxygen, and she was starting to get dehydrated. They said they would do what they could to get her through the night, but we needed to make a decision.


We went back in that next morning and she was still in their intensive care ward. She looked so pitiful. She could barely lift her head an inch off the ground to great us, and her tail could barely wiggle the tip. The vet told us she didn’t think Phoebe could make it another day and was struggling to just breathe. Holly and I decided to let her go peacefully and we were thankful to God for the extra time we had with her while we were trying to treat the cancer.

She ws a talented begger as well. You couldn’t make anything in the kitchen without her needing to be there to inspect what was going on and beg for scraps. She felt she had a duty to lick every plate and bowl before it went into the dish washer (especially if it had macaroni and cheese in it beforehand). We took her to the beach with us every year, and she would go nuts chasing the surf or just running around in the sand. 

She always greeted us at the door, and was sure to bark at any odd sounds or people she wasn’t familiar with. But she was tremendously sweet for a dog. Even late at night when I would be working at the computer, she would come in, sit down next to me, and put her head in my lap. And of course, when she was cold she had her spot on the bed, even if that meant pushing us off.

Phoebe at Vet with monkey.jpg

She always greeted us at the door, and was sure to bark at any odd sounds or people she wasn’t familiar with. But she was tremendously sweet for a dog. Even late at night when I would be working at the computer, she would come in, sit down next to me, and put her head in my lap. And of course, when she was cold she had her spot on the bed, even if that meant pushing us off.

I have so many more things to say or talk about, but I’m running a little out of steam now. Even months later, it is hard to talk about her. I loved that dog dearly, and anyone that knows me, will tell you we bragged about her a lot and were devastated at losing her. It still hurts deeply. I catch myself looking for her, or expecting to see her around the corner. I can barely look at my photos of her without tearing up a little bit. 

We recently adopted a new member to the family, another black lab mix (rescue), named Sydney. I’ll write about her later. Its been hard not calling her Phoebe, and remembering what we have lost, but she is quite a unique dog herself and is already making new memories with us.

I can’t help but think that Phoebe would have liked Sydney, and I wish they could have met. I think they would have gotten along well.

 I’ll probably upload some other photos here or in the gallery later.

Sleepy Phoebe - by robertrice.jpg

Goodbye Sicily Cat (1998?-2011)

I lost my calico cat, Sicily, to lung cancer tonight.

I am a dog person, and most of my friends will tell you that I brag about my black lab, Phoebe, all the time. My wife and I love that dog like a child. Some of you will understand this and know what I mean.

We don’t talk a lot about our cat Sicily though. Mostly because, I guess, she has been such a quiet fixture in our lives for almost thirteen years (she was a “rescue” when we got her). She was a gorgeous calico cat, if a little overweight, very sweet, affectionate, and pretty damned cuddly. She like lazing around the house laying flat on her back, or curled up on a pile of laundry. I loved Sicily as much as I love Phoebe, but our relationship was different. She was always in the background, napping in a corner, or chasing imaginary prey through the house with her tail fluffed out like it was an afterburner propelling her at light speeds.

Sicily liked to sit on the back of my office chair every now and then, and grab the back of my head in her paws and start grooming my hair. That was funny until she used her claws to make me hold still. I remember waking up one morning, years ago, with her sitting on my chest, purring, and trying to groom my moustache. That was a bit unsettling obviously.

Over the past year and a half or so, she had gotten into the habit of jumping up on my lap while I’m watching TV. I usually recline back a bit, and she eventually would situate herself across my lap and chest, sometimes with her arms stretched out towards my shoulders. Without fail, I sit down, TV comes on, and before the first commercial break, there she is, making herself at home.

She liked to nap on the vents in the house (warm in winter, cool in summer). She loved a little zebra stuffed toy thing with catnip in it. String was her absolutely favorite toy (she would literally play fetch with it). And she adamantly refused to drink water out of her bowl. She would only drink out of Phoebe’s water bowl.

About six weeks or so, Siciliy developed a small lump inbetween her forelegs. It felt like a typical fatty lump that most pets get, so no worries. In the last several weeks, the thing grew quickly to something about the size of a half dollar, which was causing us some concern and we planned on taking her to the vet to get it checked out. However, in the last two days, we noticed that she was coughing and hacking a lot, like she had a bad hairball she couldn’t spit out, and last night her breathing was a little accelerated. By this afternoon it was very shallow and rapid. By this evening, she looked like a runner after running a race. And then we noticed that the lump on her chest was bleeding and she wouldn’t stop licking it.

Time to head to the emergency vet. We had originally planned for a mobile vet to come out for the exam (she gets very distressed in cars), but that wasn’t going to work. Anyway, we took her to the emergency vet clinic at NC State, and got there around 1am. They put her on oxygen, took some x-rays, and told us her lungs were severely compromised with cancer (“extremely bad” the vet said).

They let us see her again, and she looked very ragged. Even worse than when we had brought her in probably less than a half an hour earlier. She still looked pretty alert, and still very distressed (she didn’t handle the brief car ride to the vet very well at all either). Holly and I started petting her and trying to soothe her. She calmed down and tried purring, but could barely manage that with her lungs.

I decided to have her put to sleep. I love that cat very much and while I want nothing in the world right now, but to have her sitting on my lap as I write this, I couldn’t stand the thought of what she was going through not being able to breathe, and having a lung full of cancer growths. Some day I might write about the final years of my mothers life battling progressive systemic schlerosis (schleroderma) and how it affected her lungs, but I am still coming to terms with that (she passed away in 2000), and I’m not feeling in a talkative enough mood to share that much right now.

Anyway, the vet (wonderful, named Nicole), was very empathic and gentle about the whole process. I held Sicily in my lap with her head in my hand, and Holly was sitting next to me, stroking the fur on her back, as Nicole administered the drugs. Sicily passed away quickly, and painlessly. We spent a few more minutes petting her and saying our final goodbyes.

It pains me deeply that I don’t have more photos of Sicily. I loved that cat. I have so many memories of her going through my mind. Things she liked, things she didn’t like, little quirks of personality, the little fuzzy nuzzling affections, her meow, her purring, her darting little paws underneath doors trying to bat at some toy or another, playing fetch with a short length of parachute cord (she LOVED tearing through the house dragging that in her mouth), and times when she tried bossing Phoebe around.

I’m sorry to lose you Sicily. It will be a while before this pain, like so many others in my life, settles into a dull scar. We will miss your playfulness, your fuzzy affection, and carrying you around in our arms like a baby (she liked that a lot too).