Wednesday, March 9, 2011

In Honor of an Extraordinary Cat, Thoroughly Modern Millie (Millie)

Laurel & Millie visiting in bed - something they never did!
We lost an important member of our family yesterday - we said goodbye to our 9 1/2 year old cat, Millie. She was our family's first cat and obviously made a good impression because my husband and I have another cat, my parents' now have two cats and our son and his boyfriend also have two. We first met Millie as a scared little 9-10 month old kitten in the dog room of the our local APL (Animal Protective League). I was there with my daughter, Kristen, who was struggling to live with an anxiety disorder  in a post-911 New York City . We hoped that having a cat would help her so we were looking for an older kitten that would enjoy keeping Kristen company in "the big city". Kristen was drawn to the little kittens but I kept going into the dog room to see what looked like a lovely grey female cat who was obviously not liking the dogs' barking but would come over to say hello and when I brought her out, loved to snuggle. It took a bit of persuasion but I talked Kristen into the little grey girl. We took her home and realized that she wasn't grey at all but rather, a dilute calico. Her name seemed obvious (since Kristen was in school for musical theater) - Thoroughly Modern Millie (Millie for short) since she was leaving the small town (Cleveland) for the big city (New York). Millie stayed with us for a couple weeks while Kristen got settled into a new apartment before we took her to their new home. 
Brent is allergic to cats but while Millie was with us, he saw what a lovely addition she was to our family and told me that he would get allergy shots so that I could get my own kitten.
Millie was a huge hit in NYC - without her help, we believe Kristen wouldn't have been able to stay there and she made friends with everyone who came to visit her. In fact, she paid particular attention to people who weren't fond of cats, winning any number of them over. 
Kristen (and Millie) moved into a different apartment the day she graduated from AMDA (American Musical and Dramatics Academy) with two roommates. Brent, Devin and I were there with our cat, Maggie, for graduation and to help them move. While we were watching their Showcase Performance the evening of graduation, the usher came to tell us that their new apartment building was on fire. Of course, our first concern was the two cats and thankfully, someone had gotten Maggie and Millie out of the building. As it turned out, their building was not on fire but rather one right behind them - it was a huge 12-alarm arson fire and of course, we weren't allowed back in the building until early the next morning. We spent the night in a Barnes and Nobel and McDonalds.
Kristen got a job acting in a children's theater tour right after school. She was gone for four months and her room mate took care of Millie. Unfortunately, her room mate wasn't into cleaning so she didn't change the litter box and used roach spray all over everything: fresh fruit and clean dishes on the counter as well as Millie's water and food bowl. When Kristen was finished with the tour, she discovered that Millie was having neurological problems - the vet confirmed that she was being poisoned (in fact, everyone was - just Millie was the smallest). Although we took the roach spray away from her roommate, it was apparent that we couldn't trust her to take care of Millie when Kristen was gone, so when she got a job and had to leave, we made arrangements to pick Millie up and fly home with her. After Millie made several trips back and forth, Kristen got a job about two weeks after taking her back and when the job lasted almost a year, we suggested that Millie stay permanently with us. She has been here ever since.
I never expected Millie to grow old - she always seemed delicate and I didn't think the poison had helped. She vomited with hair balls and we had to be careful about leaving clothes on our tub. Because the litter box had gotten so dirty when Kristen was on tour, Millie had started urinating outside it; something that is very difficult to correct. Thankfully, she usually used the shower as the alternative and we could just rinse it out. Around the Holidays last year, we realized that Millie was losing weight quite rapidly and was vomiting even more than usual. We were used to her vomiting with the hair balls so at first, we didn't find it too alarming. We also knew that going to see the vet was going to be traumatic and tried to weigh the benefits versus that trauma. By the beginning of February, we realized that Millie wasn't going to get better on her own and that we couldn't feed her enough for her to gain weight. We also had an idea that something bad was wrong with her. That was confirmed with the diagnosis of lymphoma. We had decided that we weren't going to do anything heroic to keep her alive. We tried steroids and feeding her a grain-free wet food. At first, it seemed to work nicely. She ate everything we would feed her and was keeping it down. But after about two weeks, she started vomiting again and that became a vicious cycle. Since we put the steroids in her food, she wasn't getting them and vomited more. Over the weekend, we made the decision to let her go and enlisted our friend and veterinarian, Kate, to help her pass peacefully and with dignity. It was as good an experience as a death can be and we are very grateful to Kate and her staff at Mentor Veterinary Clinic for that. We spent time thanking Millie for all she has done for us and passing along messages from many of the people who loved her. If we had any doubts it was the right thing to do, seeing how accepting and peaceful she was in the end have stopped them. Our home is a lonelier, quieter place without her but we are certainly better for having had her in our lives.

Laurel & Millie visiting in bed
Millie snuggled in bed
Millie played an important role in the early training and socialization of Laurel and Hardy. After her experience being barked at in the APL, she held a lifelong grudge against all dogs. I got our other cat, Maggie as a little kitten and she loves our dogs - she will tease them and invite them to chase her. Millie was a kind and gentle soul but she just tolerated the dogs - she taught them that they were not allowed to chase all cats, even if they are running (they chase Maggie, they didn't chase Millie); she taught them that if a cat hisses at them and beats them on the nose, they aren't allowed to retaliate and she let them know that not everyone is going to want to have anything to do with them (an idea quite foreign for a Lab). I don't think they ever understood why Millie didn't care for them but they accepted that she didn't. And just the other night, Millie and Laurel laid with me with their heads right together - something I couldn't remember seeing ever before. Our entire family will miss our sweet girl, Millie!
Thoroughly Modern Millie, an extraordinary cat


  1. What a beautiful tribute to what sounds like a much-loved pet. I am so, so sorry for your loss.

  2. Oh dear! I just stumbled on your blog and your beautiful tribute to Millie has wrenched my Human's heart.

    Hawk aka BrownDog

  3. Hi Y'all,

    Please stop by tomorrow and pick up your Award.

    Hawk aka BrownDog