Sunday, October 03, 2010

Harlequin Palwick Meyer

May 2, 1999 - October 3, 2010

Harley, aged eleven, died at 6:50 a.m. on Sunday, October 3, 2010, the day when many Episcopal and Catholic churches observe the Feast of Saint Francis and hold special services to bless animals. Euthanized after complications from routine dental surgery, he is survived by grieving owners Susan Palwick and Gary Meyer, and by fellow felines Figaro and Balthazar.

Early Life

Harley, shown in this photo with Figaro, entered Susan and Gary's lives on July 2, 1999. Susan had gone to the animal shelter to look for a lost cat (we never found Grendel, who probably fell prey to coyotes), and discovered a pile of black and white fluffballs covering the bottom of a huge cage. Someone's cat had had kittens at home. The day the kittens were eight weeks old, the owner brought all of them to the shelter. One of the black-and-white fluffballs had climbed the side of the cage and was hanging there by its toes, mewling furiously with flattened ears. Susan interpreted this protest as, "Take me home," and decided to do just that. Because the tiny black and white kitten looked he was wearing a mask, Susan named him Harlequin before even leaving the building.

Susan's mother Helen, who predeceased Harley by not quite six months (April 11, 2010), was visiting when Susan adopted Harley, and was in fact waiting out in the car. Helen had refused to go into the building because she loved animals, and shelters upset her too much. She fell in love with Harley instantly and held him on her lap on the ride home. In later years, she often commented that Harley -- who loved to roll on his back, as in this photo -- looked "like his stuffing is coming out."

Susan treasures the "Harley Mama" mug Helen gave her one Christmas. Other people think the mug has something to do with motorcycles, but of course they're wrong.


As a kitten, Harley delighted in using the rungs of a livingroom rocking chair as parallel bars, spinning around them in cat gymnastics. He was also an energetic devotee of the laser pointer, which he enjoyed even more than toy mice. As an adult, he was especially fond of cavorting in packing peanuts.

Like almost all cats, Harley loved boxes and the challenge of wedging himself into small spaces. His personal twist on this habit was a game Susan called "Everything Here is a Cave," which involved entering small spaces head-first, leaving his furry rump hanging out. This was an especially amusing exercise when performed in trashbaskets, in which Harley sometimes then rolled across the floor. Unfortunately, no photographic record of this hobby exists.

One of his most endearing traits earned him the moniker "Rescue Kitty." If one of the other cats was trapped in a closet or in the garage, Harley would find Susan or Gary and meow while pawing at their legs, prompting the human response, "What's wrong, Lassie? Is Timmy trapped under the tractor again?" He would then lead Susan or Gary to the appropriate door and paw at it until they opened it to free the other cat. In a hilarious version of this exercise, Harley frequently tried to rescue Susan from the shower, which he considered a diabolical death trap. Racing in circles around the bathroom, he'd yowl until Susan emerged, when he'd rub himself frantically against her legs to express thanksgiving for her deliverance.

When Susan and Gary's cat Belphoebe had to be euthanized several years ago, Harley's role as "Rescue Kitty" became especially poignant. He traveled in circles around the house, examining each door he found, as if hoping that Phoebe would be behind it. Susan finally told him, "Harley, she's behind a door we can't open.'


As devoted as he was to his humans and the other cats he lived with, Harley was good at striking haughty poses. He was particularly adept at a disapproving stance Susan dubbed his "owl look," in which his ears flattened back and his eyes narrowed. (This was much the same expression he'd worn at eight weeks old, hanging by his toes from the animal shelter cage.) He often danced away from visitors who wanted to pat him, although he was very gracious to overnight guests and to our friends' Rob and Shelby's son Erek, who delighted in patting Harley "because it feels like patting a pillow." Veterinary staff often commented on what a sweet and cooperative cat he was, a trait they especially appreciated because Susan and Gary have had other cats (the late Pyewacket, and the current Bali) who go ballistic the minute they see a carrying case.

Harley was a beautiful animal, a study in contrasts, with the softest and silkiest coat of any cat Susan or Gary have ever had. For most of his life, he did such an excellent job of grooming himself that Susan and Gary didn't have to brush him. In the last few years, however, he occasionally had to go to the vet to have a huge mat cut out of his fur. He bore these annoyances with characteristic dignity and grace, and he had so much fur that his losses were rarely obvious.

Although Susan and Gary did everything possible to give Harley the best life they could (spoiling him rotten, in other words), he didn't get to go outside as much as he would have liked. When he was still young, we let him explore the deck once in a while, but after Grendel disappeared, we started keeping all the cats inside. Harley loved to look out windows, especially during snowfalls, and especially at the quail who provide Kitty TV in our yard. When he could, he'd dart out the front door and roll ecstatically on the front walk before Susan or Gary recaptured him and brought him inside again.

Final Illness

As Harley grew older, he began to develop kidney disease, a common problem in cats. His veterinarian, Dr. Sarah Wilson of Kings Row Pet Hospital, kept a close watch on his health with regular bloodwork. Last summer, she recommended that he have dental work this fall, since dental problems in cats can contribute to, or cause, other health issues.

Susan scheduled the surgery for Friday, October 1. Because cats have to be under general anesthesia to have their teeth cleaned, Dr. Wilson did extensive lab work on Harley several days before this to make sure he'd be able to withstand the anesthesia. His bloodwork showed that his kidneys were about where they had been, so we went ahead with the surgery.

On Friday, Harley had five teeth extracted. Dr. Wilson kept him in the hospital longer than usual, giving him extra fluids to help his compromised kidneys flush the anesthesia out of his system. When he came home on Friday evening, though, he could barely move his back legs.

Because it was now after hours (Susan has learned never to schedule veterinary surgery on a Friday!), Dr. Wilson wasn't available. Susan called the Animal Emergency Center in Reno and was instructed to bring Harley in to rule out a blood clot. The veterinarian on duty, Dr. Chap Pratt, initially did rule out a clot, because Harley's femoral pulses were strong. He gave Harley more fluids and sent him home, with instructions for Susan to call if Harley's condition didn't improve.

On Saturday, Harley was still very unhappy. His gait had gotten a little better, so Susan and Gary hoped he was on the mend. But he didn't eat all day, and in the early evening, he began howling in pain. Susan brought him back to AEC, where Dr. Pratt told her that Harley's symptoms were classic for small blood clots that would not completely block the arteries -- and thus not interfere with pulses -- but that still caused great pain, and could also travel without warning to the heart or lungs, causing sudden death. Unfortunately, this is not a very treatable condition. Dr. Pratt took x-rays and performed other tests to rule out conditions with better prognoses, but found no evidence to contradict his initial diagnosis.

Harley was hospitalized at 11 p.m. on Saturday so he could be given more effective pain medication than Susan could give him at home. Dr. Pratt said that he would monitor Harley through the night; if he was better or the same this morning, we would have begun more extensive diagnostic testing.

But at 5:30 on Sunday morning, Susan and Gary were awakened by a phone call from Dr. Pratt, telling them that Harley's pain had gotten worse, despite the best efforts of the hospital staff to alleviate it, and recommending euthanasia. Harley's increasing pain was classic for a pattern of progressive blood clots, possibly secondary to an underlying but invisible heart condition, that would almost certainly kill him quickly.

After showers and a quick breakfast, Susan and Gary arrived at AEC at 6:40 on Sunday morning. A tech carried Harley, wrapped in a soft blanket, into an exam room so they could say goodbye, but Harley was howling and clearly miserable. This was so hard to watch that Susan and Gary immediately summoned Dr. Pratt to end Harley's pain. After the first shot of sedative, Harley stopped howling; after the second shot, his heart stopped very quickly. His end was peaceful.

Susan and Gary stayed in the room for several minutes, hugging Harley and each other. Susan blessed Harley and said a prayer over him, and (with her ever-present knitting scissors) took a memorial lock of his fur.

We wish to thank the many friends who have loved Harley throughout his short life. We especially thank Dr. Wilson, Dr. Pratt, and the technicians at Kings Row Pet Hospital and the Animal Emergency Center.

Rest in peace, Harley. You're behind a door we can't open, but you're finally Outside, where you always wanted to go. We hope you're having splendid adventures.


  1. What a beautiful eulogy! Peace to you and all of your kitties.

  2. He really was gorgeous!

    I laughed a lot reading his memorial, but now I'm crying. I'm sad for you all and wishing you comfort.

  3. I'm very sorry, Susan--it's so hard to lose the beloved beasts, and Harley sounds like a wonder and joy.

  4. He was a beautiful boy. I am so sorry.

  5. Anonymous10:17 AM

    I am so sorry to hear this news. Lovely eulogy; he had a great life. I'm going now to give Squid a big hug ad a treat.

  6. Condolences on the passing of a beloved member of the family. We have had that experience and nearly had it again recently. You have given him a lovely and no doubt fitting tribute. I like "rickety contrivances . . . ." The church, at its best, is such a contrivance.

  7. Anonymous2:38 PM

    My husband Chris and I are both sorry for your and Gary's loss. Thank you for the lovely eulogy.
    Peace, Kristen & Chris

  8. So gorgeous and he sounds like such a sweetheart. My three are getting treats in his honour.

    Much, much sympathy to you and yours.

  9. Anonymous4:55 PM

    Susan, Your beautiful tribute to Harley speaks volumes for the role of animals, especially pets, in our lives. As you know, Misty was Bill's constant companion during his illness and subsequent death, and now mine in our large, empty house. She came to us for a reason, as Harley came to you. Rejoice in the love!

  10. Anonymous5:07 PM

    Susan and Gary,

    So sorry for your loss. I know you will miss him.



  11. thursdaynextgal8:05 PM

    You are in our hearts.

    thursdaynextgal and Oliver

  12. I'm sorry for your loss Susan. *Hugs*

  13. Anonymous8:03 AM

    Dear Susan and Gary,

    I'm so sorry for your loss.

    Thinking of you both, and Figaro and Bali,


  14. oh. i am so sorry.

    i have been camping in th national forest and pirated an open network to find out how harley is.

    i'll chase a bird in his honor.

  15. Anonymous7:48 PM

    Harley is in excellent company. Nala, Kitsu, and Rocky have left us in that last couple of years for the big laundry basket in the sky. I am sure that they are playing with all our lost socks.

    My heart is with you,
    Liz Lasater


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