My journey with Popeye sometimes connects me to other people who have their own amazing stories with their furry loved ones. Thank you, Jennifer, for allowing me to share Jonas' story:
I was struck by the similarity between Popeye and my cat Jonas. Jonas was rescued as a kitten from the middle of a busy street and brought in to the veterinary hospital where I was working as a veterinary technician. He was terribly underweight and so weak he couldn't lift his own head. That would have been enough to justify putting him down but the state of his eyes didn't make things any better. They were covered in ulcers and so swollen the lids wouldn't close. I picked him up so the veterinarian could administer the injection and the little creep sunk his teeth into my hand. I knew he wasn't done fighting and asked the vet to give him a chance. The deal was I would pay for all medical expenses and foster him if he survived.
You can imagine where this is going. I think his foster status lasted only a few months after I brought him home. He lost both eyes but being blind doesn't slow him down one bit. I should have realized that first bite was a warning of things to come but in truth I wouldn't trade him for the most well-mannered feline in the world. Feral cats are supposed to be shy but Jonas was born fearless. He loves going for walks on his leash and takes a daily bath in the tub. I won't lie and say he doesn't run into a wall now and again (okay, make that every five seconds), but his only reaction is to bounce off and head the other way.
What really resonated with me were your emotions regarding the decision to amputate Popeye's legs and your anger when people suggest his life isn't worth living because it isn't "normal". Jonas lost his left eye very young but his right eye retained some light perception. An ear infection caused facial nerve paralysis on the right side of his face and he lost the ability to shut that eye. This caused damage to the interior of the globe. In cats a severely damaged globe can develop a lethal form of cancer. There was no way to know if Jonas would ever develop it but I made the decision to have the eye removed as a safeguard.
It was without a doubt the hardest decision I've ever had to make. I was taking away the only sight Jonas had ever known. My worst fears came true after the surgery when Jonas sank into a deep depression. He lay in one spot for three weeks and even stopped torturing his sisters. The guilt was terrible and it got to the point where I couldn't even look at him without bursting into tears.
Three weeks to the day after the operation his right socket swelled up to the size of a golf ball and he had to be rushed to the emergency vet. They drained an abscess from the eye socket. When he came home the first thing he did after walking out of the carrier was tackle our oldest cat and bite her in the ear. His depression had stemmed from a hidden infection, not his blindness. Having to make decisions like that for a pet is heartrending.
His blindness isn't Jonas' only medical problem. During his first surgery he suffered a cardiac arrest and was without a heartbeat for three minutes, resulting in very mild brain damage (it takes the form of fleeting periods of confusion- never more than ten or twenty seconds at a time).
In three years he's been sedated seven times and endured four surgeries on his eye sockets to correct various complications from the botched removal.
He almost lost a leg from a vaccine reaction and his immune system is badly compromised. For Jonas his lack of an immune system is actually more troublesome than his blindness.
Before the diagnosis he loved going to Petsmart and riding in the cart (we can no longer risk exposing him to any pathogens). It was funny watching people's reactions. Half wouldn't even notice he had no eyes. The other half would reach out to pet him and then notice his scars. You couldn't actually see their expression change to pity. They'd ask me how well he got around and I'd tell them he had absolutely no problem navigating. It wasn't strictly true (the walls are not his friends), but lying was the only way to make them see "disabled" animals can live good lives. I've had people tell me it’s cruel to keep him alive. If they spent ten minutes with him they'd understood that Jonas is HAPPY. He isn't just "coping"; he's living life to its fullest every single second of the day.
If you made it all the way through this I just want to thank you for seeing that Popeye's life wasn't over just because his hind legs didn't work. I'm not sure who would win if we put Popeye and Jonas in a room together, but I'm sure it would be one hell of a battle. Neither of them seems the type to back down from a fight!
Jennifer (with assistance from Jonas, who loves to chew on the keyboard while I type)