Winter of Dispair

image courtesy of pixabay.com

I sat on the back of one of the green chairs

and looked out the front window over the yard below.  It was a fantastically sunny spring day.  From my perch I was able to watch two squirrels playing a game of tag. 

Something inside me yearned to be out on that lawn flocking around with them, but I knew it was never to be.  You see Daddy had taken me outside on Rapi’s leash one day last summer.  I remember the smile growing on my face until my cheeks hurt from the pleasure.  The anticipation was rich and full.

Daddy swept me up into his arms and held me like a human baby.  I love when he does that.  It gives me a unique view of my black legs and white feet.

Anyway, he kissed my little pink nose, then swept the door open and stepped outside with me still in his arms.  I was horrified.  It wasn’t anything like I thought it would be.  The second he set me down, I raced back into the house and hid under the sofa the rest of the day.

Kerfoof!

The chair rattled underneath me.  It seemed too much to be the big orange cat, but admittedly, Rapi’s appetite had been growing lately.  I turned to look and was met by a pair of big brown eyes.

 “Geez Mylo, you scared the dickens out of me!”

“Sorry.”

The creamy furred dog stared back at me with a smile.  Mylo was big and rambunctious, but he had the kindest of hearts.

“Have you seen Cindee?  I can’t find her anywhere,” the dog asked, having taken a seat next to me.

Images of the big brown labrador-pitbull mix filled my brain.

“She is at the vet’s Mylo.  She goes every month remember?”

The dog stared out into the yard.  It was as if he had wandered off to some other distant shore.

“Oh yeah.  But why?”

He had returned to earth, and with questions.  This was going to be a long conversation.  I could feel it in my soul.

“For her monthly shot,” I answered.

“Monthly shot?  What is it for,” the dog asked.

“Nobody has told you about that winter of despair,” I asked, not believing that nobody had shared the story with him.

He looked deep into my eyes and shook his head.

“Hmmm, well get comfy my puppy pal, and I will tell you all about it.  It all began one winter’s day three years ago …”

Silver light filtered in through the window that night.

I paced back and forth on Cindee’s bench, the one that sits under the windows in Mommy’s office, looking out at the crescent moon that hung in the crisp night sky, Venus glowing softly nearby.  My brain still ached from the events of the last two weeks.  Our home which was always overflowing with laughter and play was held hostage by silence and worry. Beneath me the gentle strains of piano had begun to waft up through the air.  It was a melancholy sort of tune, not one that matched my style, but certainly one that seemed fitting of the atmosphere.  Being the ever-curious cat that I am, I tip toed down the stairs to see what was happening.

Cindee lay on the pull-out sofa, her eyes closed and her breathing calm and steady.  The sounds of gentle snoring leaked from her nose.  Next to her sat Rapi hovering over her like a guardian angel, his anguish was palpable pouring out of his misty eyes which watched over her sleeping form.  I snaked my way across the room, and with a bound, softly touched down ever so gently next to the orange cat, who scarcely paid any attention to my arrival.

The sleeping dog let out a single snort but did not open her eyes.

“Shhhhhh, you will wake her,” Rapi warned me.

“I know,” I whispered back, watching the dog’s expression with bated breath.  At first it was a deep inhale, but then, her breathing became steady again and soon, the gently snoring resumed as well.  A bullet dodged.

“Why are you still here,” I asked Rapi, my tummy rumbled and felt a little queasy.  He still hadn’t looked at me, and he hadn’t responded to my query right away either. 

“Rapi,” I gave him a verbal nudge.  He turned his head lethargically, his red blood shot eyes burrowed into me as he sat silently.  All the noise in the world seemed to come to a screeching stop.  Everything but the tick … tick … tick of the big wooden clock.  Time droned on around me, but I wasn’t going to give in, I needed an answer.  I drew in a deep breath in preparation to ask him again when his lips twitched.

“It’s all my fault,” the words came tumbling out in a soul sucking groan.  His head dropped to his chest; his body trembled with a deep sigh.

“Oh Rapi, it’s not your fault,” my conciliatory words were met by a brick wall.

“Go away Yehudi,” he groaned, laying a paw against my forehead, and pushing.  He succeeded in knocking me off balance.  I knew I should stay and talk to him, but Rapi was a stubborn cat, so I took the cowards way out and walked away.  I decided to retreat to the big sofa, where I curled into a ball and let my mind drift off to that fateful cold morning in the back yard.

Brrrrrrrrrr

It looked cold outside.  The ground was covered in a four inch thick blanket of white fluff, but Daddy had been out early in the morning and cleared all the snow off the back patio and sprinkled a doggy safe salt to keep it from getting slippery.  It is a good thing too, I mean, nobody wants to go slip sliding on their butts across the frozen ground, do they?

Daddy slid the back door open with a whoosh, and the wind reached inside and slapped us across our faces.  How rude!   The frigid air caused each of my raven colored hairs to stand up and complain.  Though it was an individual effort, together my hairs bonded together as one force to create a cacophony of noise that reached my brain as an overpowering impulse that said … yikes! It is cold!  Of course, my brain had no alternative but to acknowledge the protest, directing my body to immediately leap up onto the dining room table to find refuge without having to give up a clear unobstructed view.  The retreat to higher ground had also given me the advantage of being able to see the snow-covered vista that was our back yard through the large sliding glass doors.  Rapi on the other hand was much braver than I.  Instead, he chose to lower his rather large orange body down into a seated position right in front of the glass, so that he could have a front row seat of his bestie.

Who was his bestie you may find yourself asking?  Common sense would inform you that it must be another of his kind, perhaps a female cat, like Bella or myself.  Raposo, or Rapi as he prefers, was not your ordinary cat.  He liked mutts.  While he was a cat that enjoyed the company of dogs, his affections were reserved for one dog in particular, a large brown Labrador mix with floppy ears, dark eyes and a complex personality.  A dog named Cindee, with the emphasis on the “ee” as latinos are wont to do.

“Be careful Cindee, it looks slippery out,” Rapi warned the canine as she trotted out the back door.  The dog shot him a look over her shoulder and smiled a wide toothy smile.

“I will, Rapi,” she answered in a lilting sing song kind of voice that she had picked up from Mommy.

The door slid shut behind her, closing with a thud.  We watched as Daddy and Cindee marched out into the back yard, I from the warmth of my table-top perch and Rapi from ground level, his face just inches from the glass door.

Poor Rapi,

I thought to myself, my gaze fixed on his form across the room.  He was carrying the burden of this unfortunate incident all on his own.  His body was rigid, and while he was still a big cat, it was clear that he had lost a lot of weight these past two weeks due mainly to his stubborn refusal to leave the sleeper sofa.  It had become such a rare event that the only time he was spotted away from the sofa was on trips to and from the bathroom, and one time, early on he had gotten in trouble because he peed right on the sleeper sofa.

His once proud frame had begun to slump.  Both Bella and I had tried to talk to him, but he refuses to open up to anyone.  The only person he will talk to is Cindee and many times that is only when she is asleep. 

On the subject of sleep, Cindee was getting plenty, it seemed most of her time was spent in dreamland, while Rapi on the other had would stay awake until he would reach the point of exhaustion and his body would force him to take a nap.

He glanced over at me and caught me spying on him.  The old Rapi would have hopped down off the sofa and gave me a good beat down, but this ragged, burned out version of my friend only grimaced and glowered at me.  If it were possible, I am sure he would have given me the middle finger, but thankfully, he doesn’t have fingers, instead he opted to turn his back on me.

I watched his tail flick back and forth.  The rhythm of it was hypnotic, lulling my thoughts back to that day two weeks prior.

Snap … crackle … crunch,

The cold brittle branches moaned so loud we could even hear it inside the house.  Leaving our warm refuge, Cindee dashed out into the back yard and romped through the white stuff.  A big smile spread across her face and her tail began to flail back and forth.  She danced around and barked with a fervor reserved only for wintertime.  Today, the breeze was blowing the snow around like little waves of mist floating on an ocean of white.  The wind was shaking some of the smaller tree branches dislodging pieces of snow, which fell to the ground like mini snowballs.

“Let’s get some snow,” Daddy’s voice coaxed Cindee from behind.  The labmix stopped in her tracks, spun around, and gave him a big goofy grin.  Poof.  Daddy gently lofted a snowball in her direction.  It connected solidly with her face.  The brown dog shook her head furiously to remove the snow that had stuck to her snoot.  Daddy let out a loud laugh, so loud that it caused his belly to shake, kind of like that fat guy that comes down chimneys on Christmas Eve. 

Cindee wore a deep frown at first, but it quickly melted away transforming into a boisterous barking laugh.  A quick glance below me revealed Rapi standing there staring out at them through the big sliding doors in the dining room.  He lifted a paw and placed it against the pane of glass and grinned at the big dog.

“Look Rapi!”  Cindee yelled from across the yard to him.  We watched as she lept off the ground and snatched one of the falling balls right out of the air with her mouth and landed on all fours.  Rapi laughed heartily, then jumped into the air too, mimicking her move, even though he couldn’t get all four legs off the ground.

“Do it again,” he shouted, banging his paws against the glass. 

The canine hopped in the air, then took off running around the edges of the fenced in yard until she had done one complete circuit then stopped to do her business. 

Cindee and Daddy started for the house, but another mini snowball falling from the tree grabbed the dogs attention.  I watched from the edge of the table as she spun and launched herself up into the air.

“Get it! Get it!” Rapi yelled. 

Oh what the heck!  Why not I thought?

“You can do it Cindee,” I shouted so loudly that Rapi glanced over his shoulder and winked at me.

She was like one of those famous acrobats that you see when you go to the circus.  Her long brown body had stretched out gracefully.  She craned her neck out at the last second and successfully nabbed the beautiful white orb out of the air. 

“Wow!”  The words involuntarily escaped my lips. 

“She is so beautiful,” Rapi said, as if he were a master mind reader, snatching the thoughts from my mind. 

Cindee’s back legs touched down on the ground but slid outward doing a split like one of those cheerleaders at the football games.  I heard a pop and felt a growing sickness in my tummy, which only grew worse when her body slammed into the ground with a loud thud. 

Help!  Somebody help!

Rapi screamed at the top of his lungs. 

“What’s wrong sweety,” Mommy voice came from the stairs.

“Mommy, help Cindee,” he tried unsuccessfully to draw her attention to the window.  It wasn’t until Daddy came running up to the door that she looked out the window and saw the brown dog lying in a heap, her whimpers swirled around and were blown away on the wind.  Without thinking Mommy dropped Rapi onto the floor.  Lucky for him, he still had some cat reflexes left and he came to a not so graceful landing on all four legs.

“Oh Rapi, I am sorry!” 

“Help her!,” the feline said hopping up and down pointing out the window.

The door slid open again and Mommy dashed outside with Daddy.

I hopped down off the table and plopped down next to Rapi, by now Bella had come downstairs and joined us.   All we could do was stare out the window and watch Mommy and Daddy try to help.   At first I thought the window was fogging up because of our heavy breathing, but surveying the room around me I realized my brain was descending into a fog, it could not accept what was happening outside as fact.  It could not comprehend that the big orange cat that sat next to me, the cat that was my strength and my mentor, was sniffling, weeping and broken.

Swoosh … thump!

Bella’s grey and white body landed on the big sofa next to me.

“He still hasn’t moved?”

“Nope!”

“I wonder why,” she asked, now holding Rapi in her line of sight also.

“He thinks it’s his fault.”

“That’s crazy, he didn’t go out there and push her down, did he?” Bella asked, as if she wasn’t really sure of what had happened even though she had heard the story more than a hundred times in the last fortnight. 

“Of course not,” my voice sounded a little grumpier than I had intended.

“Should I go talk to him?”

“You can, but he will probably just poke you in the nose,” I warned her.

“He will do no such thing,” she huffed and leapt from the sofa.  I watched her march across the floor and hop up onto the sofa next to Rapi.

“It’s not your fault!” she said a little bit more forcefully that I would have.

What can I say, I was wrong.  He didn’t poke her in the nose after all.  Instead, he peered ever so thoughtfully into her eyes and held them for the briefest moment, then slapped her across the face as hard as I have ever seen him slap anyone before.  She quickly sprang from the sofa and headed back upstairs, stopping at the bottom step she glowered across the room at him.

“Maybe it was your fault!” she hissed at him and disappeared up the stairs.

I shifted my attention away from the spectacle that was Bella back to Rapi but was met with Cindee’s big brown eyes staring into mine.  She smiled warmly, yet weakly, at me.  It felt like a shock of electricity went through my body.  I had been so worried about my friend Rapi, that I had forgotten about Cindee and her ordeal.  I thought back to the night she told us what the doctor had said.

She sighed wearily  …

Then took in a deep breath.  All three of us cats had joined Cindee on the sofa bed to hear about her visit with the doctor.  The day of her accident, she was able to visit our regular vet, Doctor Bob.  We all love him, he is kind and givs us nice pets, and yes, the most wonderful treats. 

We all fell silent and listened as our brown furred friend told us her story, making sure to do her best Doctor Bob impersonation, which we all loved because she does it so good. 

Cindee spoke and her story went like this:

“There you go little one, just relax,” he soothed me with both his voice and the gentle message that he was giving me.  I was just about to fade off into nappy town when he grabbed my legs and began to flex each one of my joints, beginning with my ankle and ending with my hip.  Then he did the whole thing again to my other leg.  It wasn’t as bad as I thought it would be, the pain was only a little and just when he touched my knees.

“There that wasn’t so bad was it Cindee?  You are such a brave girl,” he said with a warm smile.

“Well, the bad news is that she has ruptured the ligaments in both of her knees.”  Doctor Bob’s voice sounded serious.  He explained it was like when an athlete injures his ACL.  My gaze kept shifting around the room, from Mommy to Doctor Bob to Daddy back to Doctor Bob.  I didn’t really understand all the things that they were talking about.  I knew nothing about CCL’s or ACL’s or anything else, I just knew I was in lots of pain and wanted to be home in bed.

“The good news is there is a surgery that can repair her legs,” he said, smiling at me.  I smiled back at him.

“Unfortunately, I don’t do that surgery, but I will put you in touch with Doctor Van Olsen, he specializes in this,” Doctor Bob said, his fingers still scratching me behind the ears.  Then he gave me a delicious cookie!

I sniffled at first then …

I smiled thinking back on that moment, Cindee telling us such terrible news and at the same time being happy about that cookie.  Of course, a couple of days later she met with Doctor Van Olsen and had a complete workup, x-rays, blood work, the whole deal.  Since then, she spends most of her time sleeping on the sofa with her guardian angel watching over her. 

I couldn’t take this any longer, I rose to my feet, stretched, and strode over to the sofa, with my chest full of white hair puffed out. In one bound I was on the sofa next to Rapi.  He turned and gazed angrily into my eyes.

“I told you to go away,” he hissed, but I stood my ground.  I stared him down and watched alertly as he slowly began to lift his paw.  As I said, I have had enough.  In one fluid motion I took the big cat by surprise, connecting with a left hook, then following it up with a right hook.  He looked at me stunned.

“We have to talk,” my steady voice surprised even me.

He pinned his ears back and hissed something I cannot say.

“What’s going on,” a groggy sing song voice asked from behind Rapi.  I watched as he turned to look at Cindee who had been awoken by the commotion. 

“S .. s .. sorry,” Rapi stammered. 

“We were just talking,” I offered, not exactly sure of what to say.

“Talking about what?” Cindee asked, her face lined with both curiosity and concern.

“Nothing important,” Rapi snapped back.

“About Rapi feeling like it’s his fault you got hurt,” I spilled the beans. 

The orange cat turned and snarled at me.

“Is this true?” Cindee asked, “you feel responsible?” her gaze directed at Rapi.

He began to wither under her stare.

“Tell her,” I said with a verbal shove.

“It is,” he hung his head.

“I am sorry I did this to you,” his eyes began to fill with tears.

Cindee barked out a hearty full-throated laugh.  It was such a beautiful sound.  It was like a song, a song that is the heartbeat of the house.  I couldn’t help but smile.  Rapi, however, didn’t feel the same way, instead, looking at her with an expression of pain on his face.

“You silly cat, it was nobodies’ fault.  It was an accident,” Cindee rebuked him with love.

“But,” he began to protest.

“No but,” she interrupted him, “do you remember what you said to me before I went outside that morning?”

“No,” the orange cat’s normally perky voice sounded drawn and dejected. 

“No? I will tell you,” she said her eyes locked onto his.

“You said, and I quote … Be careful Cindee, it look’s slippery out!” she said imitating his voice almost perfectly, only a few pitches higher.

I couldn’t help but giggle.   

“You do good impersonations,” I told her.  We all had a good laugh for a moment, before Cindee turned things serious again.

“Rapi, I know you have not left my side since this happened, and I need you to know that this is not your fault.  You are the best friend a girl could have.  Whatever you are feeling inside, let it go.”

He did his best to smile, but we could both tell he had not let it go.

“Tomorrow is the day?” I asked her.

“First thing in the morning,” she said her lips curling to form a tiny smile.

“Are you nervous,” Rapi asked, his face wearing a serious expression.

“A little.  I have never had a surgery before,” she said, leaning forward to kiss him on the top of his head.  Her confession was so authentic, it hung in the air for a few moments, all of us silent taking it in.

“You will do fabulous!” I cried out with a giggle, trying to imitate Cindee now.

We all laughed together.  For a moment, the concerns of the day and the future vaporized, leaving our minds and hearts filled with happiness.

The image of that day lingered on …

in my mind, until I became aware of Mylo, who sat by my side blinking at me.  I could see by the look in his eyes he was a little stunned by my memories.

“She is okay isn’t she?”

“She is Mylo.  But that is why she needs to go to the vet every month.  She needs shots in her knees to help keep her feeling good.”

He let my words tumble around in his brain for a few minutes.  I can’t blame him, the whole thing was a lot to take in.  He was about to ask another question when the door opened a crack.  At first, a brown nose poked through the crack, then the door was flung open wide.  Cindee stepped through, her tail flailing wildly in the air.

“Yay! Playtime,” Mylo screeched.

The brown dog sat down and held up a paw stopping the puppy in his tracks.

“What is it Cindee?”

“Let’s play later, I need a little nap first, okay?”

The puppy cocked his head to the left and looked into the older dogs eyes, then grinned.

“Sure thing!”

We all looked on as Cindee strode across the floor and jumped up onto the sofa, where she snuggled up for a nap.

“Hey Cindee,” Mylo called from across the room.

“What’s up,” Cindee asked, lifting her head to look back at him.

“I love you Old Lady!”

“I love you too Mylo!”

A NOTE FROM DADDY:

As it would turn out for Cindee, and to a lesser extent the rest of us, 2019 would indeed become a winter of despair that would linger long into the summer.  But as always, the sun came out and brighter days came again.

For more information on Tibial Plateau Leveling Osteotomy or TPLO as it is known you can visit the VCA hospitals website, which came in very handy for us. There are also troves of information online about the topic, and of course, the best source of information is your veterinarian.

In Cindee’s case, she needed to have a TPLO done on both of her legs.  For Cindee her ordeal began on a winter day in January of 2019.  Her first surgery was in April of that year and her second procedure followed in June.  The surgeries were successful in that she was able to walk, but unfortunately, she had a pronounced limp in one of her legs. 

In June of 2020, she went in for surgery to have the plate removed in the leg that had been troubling her.  After her surgeries, we opted to take Cindee for physical therapy which helped tremendously in her recovery.  Today she runs and plays as if nothing had ever happened to her. 

What about the big orange cat you ask … well, her true and loyal friend Rapi was constantly at her side, watching over her and loving her the whole time.

We are all very happy that we chose to have the surgeries and physical therapy and we are deeply grateful to the staff of Amclare Veterinary Hospital for diagnosing Cindee’s injuries; the VCA Sheridan Animal Hospital who handled her surgeries and took such good care of her, the Village Veterinary Clinic who lovingly provided her physical therapy and our pet insurance company who was with us on every step of this journey.

Author: H. Scott Moore

H. Scott Moore is a native of Western New York, where he grew up enjoying the rhythm of life in the changing of seasons. Intrigued by his pets and curious about what they were thinking led H. Scott to combine his passion for animals and love of reading and writing to create a world where everything is experienced from their point of view. When he is not working or creating, H. Scott likes to spend his time in nature with Cindee, Mylo, Rapi, Mommy, and the rest of the gang!

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