2007 – 2020, RIP
In January 2007, Benny was born, in a litter of Burmese kittens. As a pedigree cat, his owners doubtless had hopes of selling him on at a premium price.
Unfortunately, Benny’s front leg was slightly wonky. It just wasn’t totally straight, although whether this was congenital or as a result of a later mishap is not known.
In the years that followed that leg definitely caused him some mild discomfort, as he used to shuffle that leg a bit when sitting down to get it into a position that was more comfortable.
That wonky leg, alone, probably precluded Benny from being any kind of show cat, even though he was one of the most beautiful cats I’ve seen.
We don’t know what happened with Benny between then and 2012, some 5 years later He appeared on the Bacon radar when my daughter, Kirsty, bought her first house in north Milton Keynes, UK.
Kirsty has inherited both my wife’s and my love of animals, and then some. She immediately noticed several cats at the back of the shared driveway to her house that she deemed were somewhat neglected and needed “feeding up”, and proceeded to buy tins of cheap cat food and giving them all an additional meal now and again. She’s done this all over the world from Sri Lanka to Australia. She just cares.
Benny, however, seemed particularly forgotten. He was without doubt the friendliest cat there but didn’t seem to have a home. Some detective work by Kirsty and her neighbour eventually determined where he belonged, and so they discovered his name, but they didn’t seem to be bothered about Benny at all.
From mid-2012 to June 2014 Kirsty took it upon herself to feed Benny regularly and her neighbour kindly allowed Benny to sleep in her shed in a box lined with a warm blanket. Many were the occasions when Kirsty was dashing off to work, but realised she had not fed Benny so got out of her car, put down food for him and only then continued her journey. I truly believed this ensured Benny survived each winter, as well as creating a bond between Kirsty and Benny.
Action needed to save Benny
In June 2014, we visited Kirsty and happened to see Benny come down from the neighbour’s roof for his food. He didn’t look great, still being underweight and now with a swollen cheek that was causing him some distress.
Kirsty decided the time had come to contact the RSPCA. This is a large UK-based charity, the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals. They take in feral, injured and mistreated animals on a daily basis and bring them back to health and rehome them if they can. So Kirsty reported that this cat was being neglected and waited for a response.
One day, whilst Kirsty was at work, the RSPCA arrived, identified Benny and took him away. Kirsty could not get any information from them as Benny was now part of an animal mistreatment case. For two weeks she hit the bureaucratic brick wall of silence. She pleaded with them and said she would adopt Benny, but the RSPCA stated this would be impossible as she lived so close to his original home Benny would surely just try and go back there.
So Kirsty broached the subject with us, basically informing us that we would have to adopt him if all else failed. I know; we were volunteered, against our better judgement at the time. We had repeatedly said that our pets caused so much grief at their passing we just couldn’t have another one. We should have listened to our own advice. Or, in Benny’s case, maybe not.
We found out, some years later, that Benny had been brought to an RSPCA-partnered vets near Milton Keynes. There his fate was considered by the vet and the RSPCA. He had the Calicivirus, symptoms of which include severe inflammation of the mouth, redness and bleeding from the mouth (chronic stomatitis) and an ulcer or eroded area on the tongue (dead tissue area). One (perhaps controversial) treatment is to remove all the teeth, as the virus lives around the teeth. Benny’s life hung in the balance as the pros and cons of saving him were considered. It was the fact that he had some foster parents lined up (yes, that’s us) that swung the pendulum in his favour, according to the vet.
More info on the Calicivirus here (opens in new tab)
And so all Benny’s teeth were removed (apart from the tiny ones at the front), he was given a course of antibiotics and steroids and, after two weeks, Kirsty was told we could collect him. We were adopting him (not just fostering) but the RSPCA offered to cover the cost of all future treatment to his mouth that was calicivirus-related, as though he was being fostered. Nice of them and that’s one reason why I support the RSPCA to this day.
Imagine this: a neglected cat that had all its teeth removed, shut in a small cage all day for two weeks whilst he recovered, suddenly being given to two total strangers.
Friendly, Benny might be, but we had the feeling he was just going to run off and hide behind the sofa when we got him home. It’s what scared cats do, after all.
We got home, shut the utility (laundry) room door so he couldn’t run under the sofa, sat on the floor cross-legged and opened the pet carrier not knowing what to expect from Benny. We certainly were unprepared for what happened. Benny jumped gracefully out of the carrier, circled us once or twice and then promptly sat in Anita’s lap.
I can’t remember if he was purring but he didn’t seem scared in the slightest. He just wanted fussing. And so Anita fussed him and made all the right goo-ing and gah-ing noises. After a short while he got up and came over to me and repeated the same action. He instinctively seemed to know that he was safe and had arrive at his “fur-ever home”. We were overwhelmed by his total acceptance of us. And from that moment he stole our hearts, forever.
So how does a cat with no teeth eat? Better than you might think, apparently.
In the early days we had to hand feed him wet cat food, from our hands as he refused to eat it off the dish. We think this might have been an anxiety thing, or perhaps his gums hurt him after the op (you think?) ; we were just glad he was eating proper cat food however yukky it was for us. Actually, despite it being a bit yukky we didn’t mind at all, this was for the good of Benny (BCE).
However, after some weeks of this, we reckoned he was just trying it on, so we tried to encourage him to eat directly off the dish by dispensing a small amount of “squirty cream” (in an aerosol) onto his food.
It turned out that this cream was Benny’s favourite food in the whole world. He liked it so much we had to ensure we only gave him the “lite” version as he refused to eat cat food unless some was put on it! Talk about making a rod for your own back.
Eventually he ate his food from his plate without extra encouragement and without the cream, although he would often ask for cream by looking meaningful at us, then at the fridge where it was stored. How much more plainly could he talk?
I’m so happy that I gave him a small (golf-ball sized) blob of squirty cream every night with his last spoonful of cat food. Anita would often admonish me for doing this, worried that it was not good for his health, but Benny loved it. And I loved that he loved it. Win win.
In his last few days with us he would not even eat the squirty cream, let alone proper cat food. It broke our hearts that he would refuse even this, his wonderfood. We knew that things were bad at this point and that we had to “do the right thing”.
For the next 18 months, from July 2014 to February 2016, Benny had to have treatment for his mouth which would flare up every 6 weeks or so with blistering and redness as the calicivirus took hold again. We would check his mouth whenever he yawned, which happened quite often as he loved a snooze in his bed. He could sleep for 20 hours a day, no trouble at all.
We’d take him to the same RSPCA-partnered vet who would give him the required steroid and antibiotic jabs (plus the usual annual immunisations) and also give us some Virbagen Omega suspension in saline, which is a sort of anti-HIV drug for animals. It is not yet known whether it is truly effective against the calicivirus but the RSPCA agreed to give it to him so we gave him just 1 millilitre every day of his life, straight into his mouth from a syringe. Never once did he object; it really was as though he knew it was helping him. Or that he just trusted us, completely.
After his steroid and antibiotic jabs we would go home which took about 15 minutes. During that short time Benny would already start to recover and would happily eat some food as soon as we got home. Over the next 24 hours all the redness in his mouth disappear and he’d be back to normal. Amazing recovery. Until the next time, of course.
In February 2016, about 18 months after we had adopted him, Anita and I suddenly realised that Benny had not been exhibiting the usual symptoms that indicated his mouth was playing up. We checked the diary and were astonished to find that 8 weeks had elapsed since his last steroid treatment. We were initially horrified that we could be so remiss but after inspecting his mouth we could only see pale pink gums and tongue – no redness or soreness at all.
Nonetheless, we still took him to the vets who checked him out and identified a tiny area where the gum was redder than it was supposed to be. Generally, though, he was fine. We were on tenterhooks as to whether he was “cured” or whether it was just a temporary reprieve.
As it turned out, he never needed another steroid/antibiotic injection again. He had vanquished the calicivirus after some 18 months of treatment. What a wonderful day that was!
The vet’s suggestion was that we continue with the Virbagen Omega solution, which we did. Whether it had any effect on him at all remains unclear but never once did he refuse it or make any kind of fuss, for the six years he was with us. And the Calicivirus never made a reappearance either.
The Good Years
Benny wasn’t lazy, but anything that required some effort on his part was too much for him.
If you rolled a ping-pong ball towards him he would swat it, and even swat it again unless it rolled out of outstretched paw reach, at which point he gave up.
He’d then roll onto his back so we could fuss his tummy. His tummy was the last place his fur grew back properly. When he arrived, back in 2014, his tummy was only sparsely populated with very fine down. You could easily see his pink tummy skin. By 2016 the tummy fur was thick and luscious, typical of a Burmese. We loved to rub it, and in turn he loved us doing it. Win win.
The exception to all this sloth was usually at 4am in the morning when I’d be woken by what seemed to be a stray hippopotamus running around downstairs. In reality, it was Benny chasing one of his many small toys around, including that ping-pong ball. Just to change the mood he’d sometimes chase a small, hard plastic ball with a bell in it. I think he did this to ensure we were involved in his antics. He probably used up all his energy in those 10 minutes which meant he just had to sleep the rest of the day away.
During this time I was working and got up around 6am, sometimes before Benny had got up, sometimes not. Once I gave up working (I won’t say “retired” as I’ve never worked harder) Benny was my alarm clock. If I wasn’t up by 6am he’d jump on the bed with a gentle meow and head-butt me until I responded. If I didn’t respond, hoping perhaps he’d let me sleep on, the head and nose-butting would get more intense. Although he’d accept a fuss at this time, his real agenda was to get his breakfast by getting me up.
Benny could not always meow. When he first came to us he had no voice at all. We didn’t know at the time that he was a Burmese cat either. We Googled it and found that Burmese cats are quite vocal, being related to the Siamese cat, form strong bonds with their “owners” and are very sociable. They are also, apparently, very playful but Benny must have been a throwback if you read my comment above about everything being a bit too much trouble for him. But he had his occasional, mad 10-minute moments when he would rush around the house like a cat on speed. This often happened after he had used his cat tray. Just sayin’.
One early morning, after about six months with us, we heard this tremendous wailing in the lounge. Yes, it was Benny, who had found his voice and now sounded more like a Siamese than anything else. Luckily for us, he only emitted those sounds occasionally, when he was particularly excited at seeing a squirrel, for example. But, although he could now meow like a regular cat , mostly, many of his meows were silent, right up to the end.
Benny, like most Burmese, had a strange dog-like ability to understand the spoken word. Somehow, he could understand some commands, although the one he always responded to was “Want some cream?” at which point he would run, not walk, to his feeding station, ready for his dinner.
Nighttime was a tried and tested ritual with Benny. He’d notice when we were getting ready for bed and demand his splodge of cream with his tiny supper. Then he’d come up to bed and snuggle Anita, regardless of whether she was reading or doing the crossword. If she didn’t acknowledge him he’d just swat the book, or try and sit on it, until she took notice and snuggled him.
For my part, he’d come over to me whilst I sat watching TV in bed and try and nose or gum rub. Then he’d lay down on my tummy / chest and expect fusses. Many were the occasions when he would climb up my torso and expect me to literally catch him and cradle him like a baby, all the while expecting snuggles, cuddles and belly rubs. Eventually, at over 5Kg he’d be too heavy for me so I’d drop my arm a bit and he’d get off and go into his bed. So well trained! So was Benny.
When the TV went off and I lay down with the lights off, he’d often climb out of his bed, walk up my body (and at 5.3kg he was no lightweight) and snuggle in the crook of my shoulder, his head just inches from mine, whilst purring like a tractor. He often fell asleep there, only returning to his bed if I moved. This happened most nights for the best part of six years. He was so affectionate to us.
He did this shoulder snuggle thing during the night too. Often I would wake up, or be woken up, during the early hours with Benny already snuggled in my arms, purring contentedly. I’m so pleased to say I never pushed him away, not even when I had to to go to work the next day at 6am. After all, he was just saying how much he loved me. And so we would snuggle for 20 minutes, after which he would return to his bed. I’m sure I was sleep-deprived for years because of this.
The Decline of Benny
Benny’s decline was as sudden as it was swift. We noticed in June 2020 that he had a small red lump in his mouth, under the tongue. It was only really visible when he yawned but we noticed it was getting bigger so we took him to the usual vets.
It pains me to say that one of the vets screwed up, big time. It appears he was so keen to remove the lump that he either damaged the nerves of the tongue during surgery or removed so much of the muscle that controlled the tongue that when Benny was returned his tongue lolled out of his mouth with little control. Benny could no longer eat or drink by himself.
If the vet had not bungled the op, Benny would have still had cancer, of course. He would still have had only a short time with us, possibly shorter than it turned out because the lump in his mouth would have grown. But at least he would have been able to eat normally during his last few weeks with us. I’ll never forgive them for this blunder.
We syringed some water into Benny using some special recovery syringes just to keep him hydrated but this was not the answer. He couldn’t even lick his wonderfood cream off my finger as his tongue came out of his mouth at a 45-degree angle and didn’t have a licking action.
Within a day or so he was back at the vets having a feeding tube inserted so that special recovery food, in liquid form, could be syringed directly into his tummy. Benny liked neither the tube, nor the cravat he now had to wear to keep the tube in place nor the food, which I tasted and it reminded me of the American grits, otherwise known as wallpaper paste with added sand. He just sat in a hunched up position in his bed. He was not happy.
To add insult to injury, just as the feeding tube had been surgically inserted, and Benny was still in recovery at the vets, the practice rang to say the biopsy of his lump had shown an aggressive mouth cancer, called oral squamous cell carcinoma and, by the way, did we want Benny put to sleep? You know, as he’s here and all that.
We immediately declined that rather unfeeling suggestion (vets, like some farmers, seem to lose their empathy over time) and collapsed into sobbing wrecks. Our wonderful Benny had cancer. It was unfathomable that this could be the case. How long had he got? Was there any treatment? How was he (and how were we) going to cope?
We were distraught at the thought that this tongue problem was going to be permanent but little improvement over a week could be seen. Eventually, after a week of the feeding tube palaver, Benny started throwing up his recovery food. Back to the vets, who rather offhandedly suggested that the tube might be in the wrong place or that the cancer had already spread so much he couldn’t eat anyway. We agreed the feeding tube should be removed and that we’d feed him liquidised food until such time as he recovered or… well, we didn’t finish that sentence, as we knew what it would mean.
New (empathetic) vets
When Benny returned from having his feeding tube removed he was ecstatic, purring and fussing us. He was so pleased to see us it was heartbreaking, mainly because we knew this was only going to end one way eventually.
We didn’t want to take him on the relatively long car journey to his existing vet any more, especially not after the botched op, so we changed vets at this point, using the much closer, local one with which he was already registered for his annual jabs.
He still couldn’t eat anything by himself but at least we could syringe feed him, via his mouth, which he tolerated amazingly well. We figured that at least he was tasting the food, and swallowing it, so he would know he had actually eaten something. We felt that psychologically it was better for Benny.
We continued this syringe feeding for a whole month, 3 or 4 times a day, anything between 2 and 4 syringes per meal. We tried to ensure he “ate” the equivalent of at least two tins of cat food per day, sometimes three.
In addition to his tongue issue, he also hyper-salivated now. Our new vet suggested that the old vets had perhaps damaged a saliva duct when he was operated on. It was another cross to bear for him, and another thing for us to deal with as he tried eating.
After a month, in August 2020, we noticed he had an improved control of his tongue, and could lick things better, so we put the liquidised food on a plate, along with some squirty cream and other liquid cat food. He lapped it up, without too much trouble, apart from the yukky, stringy saliva which we cleaned up for him as he seemed to find it a problem.
For the next month it was a mixture of us syringing, and Benny slurping up, the liquidised food. He was getting much better at eating non-solid food even though his tongue never went back to normal.
Throughout August 2020 we had a new mealtime routine, with Benny instinctively understanding that feeding would now take place in the cat run where we could hold him, if required, at worktop counter height. We were all lucky it was a warm summer in the UK that year.
He now ate just about all liquidised food from his plate. I was getting quite hopeful he would make it to Christmas 2020. Yes, things were definitely looking up.
Then, towards the end of August 2020, Benny suddenly declined all offers of food and didn’t want to lap the liquid food off the plate. He even refused the wonderfood of squirty cream. Although we could still feed him using the syringes it was obvious things had taken a turn for the worse. We discovered that he had another lump under his tongue, which was starting to loll out of his mouth again. He didn’t look very happy.
He also looked old, quite suddenly. His normally dark brown face was now mottled grey. His whiskers were white with tiny blobs of brown. He was 13 years old (nearly 14) but looked older. And he didn’t want his squirty cream.
Anita and I knew what this meant. Once again, we were reduced to sobbing wrecks and we couldn’t bear the thought of losing our Benny; that said, we knew that Benny’s quality of life was the only thing of importance. And that was in a tailspin. We delayed for a couple of days over the weekend to see whether he would improve; after all, he had proved that he was resilient. He didn’t improve. We made an appointment at the vet for Wednesday, 2nd September 2020 at 11am.
Last cuddles and snuggles
That night I couldn’t really sleep. I knew what was probably going to happen the next day and I was distraught at the thought of losing him. Benny seemed to have a relatively quiet night in his bed; I can’t remember if he came up during the night for a snuggle. What I do know is the nighttime snuggles were getting rarer as his condition deteriorated.
That morning I couldn’t bear the thought that Benny might be hungry so we gave him two syringes of his most favourite food at 7am which he tolerated but I’m not convinced he enjoyed particularly. But at least his tummy was not rumbling. At about 9am, as I came out of the shower, Benny appeared in the bedroom and indicated in his usual manner that he wanted a cuddle from me. And so we cuddled and snuggled for the last time.
It was so quiet that Anita wondered what was going on and found us both snuggled up on the bed so joined us. It was one of the few times when we both snuggled Benny at the same time. It was almost as though Benny knew what was going to happen and just wanted to say goodbye to use both. Yes, I know, it sounds like wishful thinking but I know Benny. And he just knew.
At eleven o’clock we were at the vets, in floods of tears, asking for the vet’s considered opinion that this was probably the end. She inspected Benny and reported, very sympathetically, that Benny had lost over 0.7kg in weight since she’d seen him a month previous, and that his mouth was quite red, he didn’t seem happy and there was only one way this was going to end.
We agreed with her that the time had come for us to do the “right thing”. We stayed with him as the vet slowly gave him the anesthetic overdose. We fussed him and told him we loved him as he first fell asleep, then his heart stopped and he was in no more pain.
We had a private, individual cremation for Benny. The lady who arranged it collected Benny from the vets and did all that was necessary, including snipping a bit of his tummy fur as a keepsake.
His ashes are in a pewter urn of a sleeping cat; this is very appropriate (and poignant) given that Benny could sleep for up to 20 hours a day.
Both Anita and I have had cats before and they were great. Their passing, some 30 years ago, caused a lot of grief which is why we resolved never, ever to have pets again. Then my daughter got a hamster as kids do, and later, a fancy white rat. Both caused considerable distress when they passed away. Never again, we said. No more pets.
But Benny was special. He was definitely the Best Cat Ever with his special, unique character. He just loved unconditionally and wanted love (in the form of cuddles and snuggles, good food and a comfy bed) back.
The bed is empty without him. I would never have believed how long and hard a grown man or woman could sob into a towel over a pet. But this was not any pet, this was Benny. Our wonderful Benny.
Anita and I find it very hard to even mention his name right now, one month after his passing. We still have our private grieving moments. I have made a photobook recording his journey with us over the years. Right now, it’s too painful to open. In a few months’ time, maybe.
Goodbye, Benny. RIP. In the six years and two months you were here you gave us so much love and, in return, you were the most loved cat ever.
We miss you so much and will never forget you.