On Thursday night, Lord Snow passed away. Today, I’ll share what happened, and why he was the best boy ever. Please join me for a celebration of one of our community’s mascots, a sweet, elderly white cat who knew a lot more than he let on. In a real way, he stands as an embodiment of something we talk about a lot here. Today, Lord Snow Presides… over Lord Snow himself: over life, death, immortality, and what really matters most.
Originally I’d intended this post to be a retrospective and celebration of Lord Snow, but along the way I ended up wanting to talk about all the important stuff this topic carries along with it: love, socialization, quality-of-life issues, death itself, and ultimately, what actually makes for true immortality. Lord Snow was this blog in a lot of ways. I’ll show you how, today.
Hello, Babies. Welcome to Earth.
In late 2003, Lord Snow entered our world. His mother was a surreally-beautiful floofy moon-white beauty–and ex-feral–called Mystical (Miss Tickle; Ticklebits). His father was an affectionate and jaunty tuxedo cat named Harmony. Accordingly, his sole littermate Monster was a tuxedo cat and Lord Snow himself was white. Neither kitten inherited their mother’s incredible coat, alas, but they did at least get her delicately-tinted green eyes.
Mr. Captain had already moved on from the relationship when the kittens were born. Still, as a favor to his ex, he and I adopted the mother and kittens when they were about 3 months old (I think?).
Religious Homeschooling: Not Even Once.
Long ago, I used to joke that Lord Snow and Monster grew up religiously homeschooled.
When we got the little family home, Mystical immediately slid herself and the kittens under the entertainment center, where they largely remained for a couple of months.
Consequently, her kittens missed a lot of essential socialization at an exceedingly critical phase of their development. This unfortunate lack would shape both kittens for their entire lives. Like their mother, they went their entire lives having no idea how to speak People or Cat.
Years later, when I began blogging, I began learning about the socialization problems of kids raised under religious zealots who homeschooled them. In that case, the parents do it specifically to isolate their kids from the big bad world. But the effort backfires enormously later, when those kids discover they lack essential interpersonal skills.
As weird as it might sound, I could perceive echoes of those problems in Monster and Snow.
(I don’t want to minimize in any sense the damage done to people raised like that, of course. I just saw some similarities, is all. If anything, our recognition of those similarities, I think, helped me and Mr. Captain deal with the challenges that came with living with unsocialized cats.)
Mystical might have been fine with squeezing into that narrow space under the entertainment center, but her growing kittens were not. Once they emerged from it for good, they began exploring their new world.
We learned fairly quickly at that point that Lord Snow was danged near his mother’s size and still trying to nurse! Though we weren’t sure how to handle that situation, eventually Mystical herself did. Still, he needed a few messy object lessons to get the idea.
(He always looked so hurt after getting batted away. I’ve never seen a cat that could convey hurt feelings like Lord Snow could.)
Lord Snow grew very quickly from a little white puffball to an GINORMOUS, 20+ pound, snowy, aristocratic, genteel, and most of all solitary fellow. Gang, he was huge. An absolute unit.
For a while we weren’t sure he or his sister even knew how to purr. They both came by the habit very late in life.
Where that subtitle came from.
In photos, I can see Lord Snow as a kitten sleeping against the other cats in the household. Sometimes he even sat or rested in his people’s laps (or, memorably, in clean cat boxes, or plastic bags, or whatever else he could enclose around himself). Often I see him in these pictures curled up against his sister, even, all over our little home; their favorite spot was my laundry hamper, though they’d settle for pretty much anywhere else if it was too empty to be soft bedding for them.
But that all co-sleeping ended once he got half-grown. Once Snow was half-grown, he began growing into the persona he’d occupy for most of his life.
Though far from unfriendly, he simply wasn’t a cat who sought a lot of attention. He liked attention; he just didn’t seek it. Instead, he seemed more content with being a presence.
Sometimes he’d come and rake his fangs against our legs to let us know he was hungry (it was sort of like how cats brush their whisker-pads against people, except he bared a fang so it scraped across skin; you wouldn’t miss that sensation even if you were quite distracted!). He adored his Cat Dancer toy more than life itself, though he was more of a haver than a getter in such cases–like me in my youth, he had a major Fear Of Missing Out (FOMO). If he captured a toy, he refused to let it go again.
Otherwise, he had a well-born Englishman’s innate dislike of being a bother or inconvenience. Sometimes, in his later years, the only time we really saw him was at bedtime, when he took up a position against my side like he owned it.
I’d Like To Talk T’Ya For Few Minutes About Dia-Beetus.
Where that subtitle comes from, complete with an “uh” counter.
Lord Snow’s first seizure scared the willies out of us, but we were even more startled when he began dragging his feet. Then he seemed to lose the ability to move them at all. Horrified, we rushed him to the vet–where we learned that he had diabetes. He dragged his feet because of feline diabetic neuropathy. (The vet also told us big kitties are at greater risk for both problems.)
We intervened immediately with shots of insulin and a grain-free diet, which got his legs working again within a single day. Unfortunately, his age, the beetus, and the spacing of the seizures meant he couldn’t really be medicated for these episodes. Overall, though, the whole experience was one of those super-easy fixes that all pet owners hope for.
His sister, tiny little ball of pure feline hatred and thrumming energy that she was, continued to radiate perfect health.
Just a Little One.
And here’s where that subtitle comes from.
When she was five or six years old, Monster finally came out of her shell a little. A few years later, though, she declined with shocking, alarming rapidity. At the vet, we learned that Monster was very close to dying of cancer. At that point, we made the difficult decision to let her end her life there, quick and clean.
Very shortly afterward, we adopted Bumble and Bother. We’d seen them at the vet’s office the day Monster died, and learned they were having a difficult time finding homes because of a very minor stomach problem they needed medication to heal. We adopted them, then got them through the stomach problem with ease.
We never once worried about Lord Snow’s reaction to the kittens. Never even once. We took precautions, but those turned out to be unnecessary.
He seemed more perplexed by these little fuzzy race cars than anything else. Bumble in particular tried very hard to make friends with him, going on a full-scale charm offensive, but Lord Snow clearly had no idea how to react to these overtures. He didn’t speak Cat at all, which confused the kittens to no end. They enjoy full fluency in both Cat and People, which Snow lacked.
I’ve never seen a more dramatic demonstration of how a lack of socialization hurts animals than in how Snow related to the kittens.
Eventually Bumble stopped trying so hard, though I continued to find them all sleeping together sometimes.
A Long Golden Twilight.
I think we knew long before the end came that it was looming ahead of us. Lord Snow eventually needed to have most of his teeth pulled, but that effort gave him almost another whole good year. He stopped enjoying his toys as much as he had once–though he still managed to find enough energy to dash up and down halls on occasion. What he really wanted to do was sleep, often, for long periods of time–and eat, especially catnip treats.
As Lord Snow declined, his behavior changed. Bumble took those changes particularly hard.
He didn’t understand why Snow was acting so bizarrely, and it made him nervous and weirdly aggressive.
Early one morning this spring, Lord Snow had a seizure right on top of Bumble while they were sleeping spooned together on the bed with us. The results of Bumble’s absolute freakout panic sent me to urgent care with a gouged waterline on one eye and a deep gouge across the bridge of my nose that bled like a mofo.
Thankfully, he didn’t get my eye. But forever after, Bumble was incredibly wary around Lord Snow. Therapy, FeliWay, conversations, distractions, playing, yes, they helped enormously to end the direct fighting. They just couldn’t erase Bumble’s fears entirely. Any time Lord Snow made a strange noise (like his squeaky, raspy meow), or moved in a way that Bumble hadn’t been expecting, he’d be right there, eyes wide and vigilant, ready to act.
Lord Snow barely noticed Bumble’s unease. He continued to go his way, reacting with concern and confusion whenever the younger cat got out of hand toward him. Disturbingly, he began to run away from their tussles, rather than slapping the hell out of the younger cat till he fled. That change, too, was a shift in dynamics that deeply disturbed Bumble and only contributed to hostilities.
For the last week, Lord Snow slept more and more, and socialized less and less. He stopped jumping up on the bed at night.
Then he had a mild seizure early Thursday morning.
Bumble, predictably, got super-aggressive right off the bat, but we separated them as soon as we woke up and realized what was happening. We put Snow in the bedroom, closed it off, and let him rest.
Something felt different, though. Normally, even after a bad seizure, Snow was always up and on his feet a few minutes later–and hungry. This time, Snow stayed exactly where I put him. We made sure he had food, water, and a litter box, and let him rest. But he didn’t touch the food, and his litter box looked almost pristine after an entire day.
Meanwhile, Bumble was even more on-edge than usual as well. He prowled the house like a guard dog. Nothing could distract him.
I finished my post that night, hung out in comments for a bit, then went to check on Lord Snow again.
Snow just was not recovering. He didn’t want to get up. Really, he just wanted to sleep. He seemed so weak.
Mr. Captain and I saw that together, and our world came to a crashing halt on the spot. We needed to have a very difficult conversation then and there about Lord Snow’s quality of life.
Quality of Life, For Cats.
When we’re talking about people, quality of life is up to them, really, as much as is possible for them to say. For cats, things get a little more difficult because they can’t tell us exactly where they stand on any of the markers we’d use. You can find scales and tests out there, like this one, to help owners figure out how high a cat’s quality of life is, to help decide when the end has finally come.
Ultimately, though, nothing really prepares any loving owner for that evaluation, when it turns out too close to zero.
Once we’d realized that Snow was in pain and that he was not bouncing back from this one, we knew we had an emergency vet visit to make. On the way, as Snow put up perfunctory complaints in his zipped-up soft-sided carrier, we talked about what we thought he’d tolerate in terms of treatments, if an any fix, easy or not, was in the offing. We ruled out shots, pills, and repeat vet visits; Snow hated them intensely.
He hated handling generally. We wouldn’t make him do that. Not now.
But once we got to the vet, he quieted down. We waited together in what the clinic called a “Comfort Room.” (Christ, I’m tearing up.) I pulled Snow from the carrier and into my lap, and he stayed there.
He stayed there.
Guys, this cat hated laps. He did not like being held or handled at all. But he waited in my lap, not even mildly curious about his new surroundings. He let us pet him and cuddle him, purring and blinking up at us in that kitty-code for love. Right then, we knew we were doing the right thing. Even when he’d had neuropathy, he’d dragged himself to a hiding spot in the vet’s office. But he wasn’t even trying to hide now. He was too weak to do it.
The vet examined him, said that she thought it looked very serious, and agreed with us on all counts regarding his quality of life and prognosis. There’d be no easy fix and no miracles for Snow, except for one.
The end was quick and painless. He didn’t even try to resist anything that happened. I think he knew.
We could not bear to go home with the empty carrier. We abandoned our symbol of defeat there, at the vet clinic.
It’s held too many sweet cats on too many “last journeys” for me to want it in my house anymore.
The Vast and Benevolent Brotherhood.
As Mr. Captain and I left the clinic, crying, our arms tight around each other, our journey through the parking lot took us past that wing of “Comfort Rooms.” There, we saw a young, mixed-gender couple in another of those rooms with a large, drowsy-looking Big Yellow Dog settled across both their laps, its tail wagging softly.
The woman half of the couple met my eyes as we left, just for a moment. Mr. Captain and I were part of that vast fraternity (humbly borrowing a name by WWII cartoonist Bill Mauldin for combat troops) that she was about to join: The Vast and Benevolent Brotherhood of Them What Have Lost Someone. She seemed startled to recognize my grief. Then we vanished from her view forever.
In a way, that quick shared glance comforted me.
Death is simply part of life. It’s one of the very few near-universals in the world. We don’t really understand all of it, as Calvin’s mom said, but we do the best with what we know. As part of doing our best like that, we try to make that final passage as easy as possible for those we love.
And the moment we invite a pet into our lives, we open the door to that future pain of passage. That’s a pain many people simply don’t want to endure, and one can’t blame them. It’s enormous. Those fuzzy little race-car kittens turn into stately adult cats, who then eventually turn into weak, ailing senior citizen cats.
More often than not, we must help them over that last vet visit. Nature might be red in tooth and claw, but she doesn’t normally make decisions by fiat in these cases. Nope, this one is all ours. Ain’t she a peach.
What Lord Snow Knew.
When we got home, we discovered that we’d forgotten to close the study up. Left to his own devices, Bumble had thoughtfully taken the opportunity to chew clean through our Vive’s USB cable.
If you can’t laugh you’ll cry, as the saying goes. It was such a visceral sign of how life goes on. We didn’t want it to right then. We wanted it to stop for just a minute so we could process our loss, but it did regardless. The kittens needed gooshy food, posts needed writing, jobs needed doing, dishes needed washing, and USB cables needed re-ordering.
But we’ve been talking often lately, as life rolls on around us, about what Lord Snow knew.
The big joke about Jon Snow, in Game of Thrones, is that he “knows nothing.” I initially began calling Snow “Lord Snow” as a nod to his general noble bearing, but I thought it was fitting in that other way as well. Lord Snow didn’t understand a lot of things. He seemed constantly bewildered by the other cats in the household, didn’t comprehend human affection at all, and generally speaking spent most of his days in a gently-confused-looking state. Absolutely everything baffled him. (He didn’t learn what “pointing at things” meant till his last year of life, which is also when he finally figured out that cat treats taste nice.)
But he did understand the important things.
He was hands down the sweetest, most trouble-free pet I’ve ever owned. We’ve never once worried about him getting aggressive, or doing stuff he shouldn’t. He always used his box, never made a mess, and waited his turn. Even when he thought it was well past dinnertime, he expressed his concern with fang-rubs along our legs rather than something more destructive or irritating.
More than that, though, once he finally began showing affection at night, he couldn’t let the dawn come without purring by my side for a few hours at least. That was our time. That’s what I’ll remember most about him–that and those fang-rubs, and how much he adored it when I made a “C” with my hand so he could shove his nose and whiskers through the arch of my fingers–and how genuinely sweet he was–and how truly gentle.
What Matters Most.
I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: love can make us immortal.
Fifty years after any of us dies, probably nobody will remember the sound of our voices on the air. That number’s probably way smaller for cats (and dogs). But if I do manage to make it into my 90s, I’ll still remember Lord Snow–because of how well and how much he loved his family.
He was a class act, and I mourn the loss of him. In a very real way, it feels like he embodied so many of the things we talk about on this blog, which is why I named our off-topic chat series Lord Snow Presides.
And that’s why it’s going to continue to be called that.
This post came out a hell of a lot longer than I’d intended. Thank you for reading all this way and spending this time with me–for spending your time on Roll to Disbelieve, for being there, for doing your best with what you’ve got. I struggle mightily to find words to express my thanks and appreciation for your company and friendship. You. Are. The. BEST. <3
NEXT UP: We plunge back into the thick of things! See you soon.
The kittens keep interrupting me while I’m writing this post by bringing me their favorite toy. Right now, their fave is a strip of fur tied to a long, thick white shoelace. They drop it at my feet and pester me to MAKE IT GO PLEEEEEEEEEZE, MAKE IT DO THAT THING AGAIN. Interruption Count:
1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8
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Lord Snow Presides… is our weekly off-topic chat series. I’ve started us off with a topic, but feel free to chime in with whatever’s on your mind! I named this series after Lord Snow, my sweet, elderly white cat who passed away this past week. He was the best boy ever, and will be sorely missed.