Ghost, our male albino checkered garter snake, was an inadvertent case study on whether caloric restriction correlates with longevity. He was never a particularly enthusiastic feeder, preferring smaller, less frequent meals: if you tried to feed him weekly or even biweekly, or a meal commensurate with his size, he’d be prone to refuse. Even by male garter snake standards he was underweight, and in recent years he looked positively gaunt. Fragile, even. Yet somehow he managed to live longer than any other garter snake in our care. When he died yesterday, he’d been with for more than 16 years: I got him in April 2005. And he wasn’t a baby then: I think he was born in 2003. Which would have made him 18½ or so when he finally went—older than Extrovert, our female wandering garter snake, who died in 2016 at the age of 17.
Woke up to discover that our glossy snake had died overnight. Unlike Doofus, this was not unexpected: she was old (I got her in September 2001, and she wasn’t a baby then) and declining; she hadn’t eaten in months.
She was a runt for her species: glossy snakes are usually larger. But she was pretty gentle, which made her useful in introducing nervous people to snakes. In my experience most people in North America slot harmless snakes into one of two categories: small and fast (garter snakes) or slow and huge (pythons). The glossy snake was small and slow, which helped. A nice little snake.
(She was also massively chonky: glossy snakes are desert creatures who normally feed on lizards; an all-mouse diet in captivity led to some serious fatty deposits.)
We lost our cat Doofus on Friday. His decline was sudden, sharp and unexpected: he went from apparently fine to a memory in the span of a week. And we’re still very much in shock about it.
He was at the vet on Wednesday on account of his having become increasingly lethargic and barfing more than usual (which with Doofus was saying something). The vet found some indications that he had early stage one kidney disease, and prescribed a new diet and some medication. Despite this his condition deteriorated sharply the next day. He went from ambulatory to unable to manage stairs within a matter of hours, and then suffered a severe and prolonged seizure. Back to the vet as soon as we could the following morning, where despite being administered anti-seizure meds, he suffered three more seizures, at which point it was clear that recovery was impossible. We ended it at two in the afternoon on Friday.
Our oldest cat, Goober, died at noon today. He’d been suffering from kidney failure for some time, and this week things took a turn for the worse: he stopped eating and drinking, and was close to the end on multiple fronts. So we took him to the vet and had done what needed doing.
Here are some things you should know about Goober:
He was a big cat. When we first saw him at the Arnprior animal shelter on 28 July 2004, he was larger than the other kittens in the room. There were a lot of other kittens in the room, dozens of them, and they were passing infections back and forth. Goober—then called Mervyn—seemed a little bigger, a little older, and possibly a little harder for the shelter to place; also maybe a little healthier, a little more robust, but we’ll get into that later.
Vacuuming a cat requires only one thing: a cat with zero fucks to give. A cat that stands their ground when other cats scatter to the wind. A cat that cannot be yelled at to get down from there. A cat that ignores what he chooses to ignore. A cat that stands athwart. A cat like that will not run when the vacuum cleaner comes out. A cat like that will sit there and dare you to vacuum them. And then not care if you do. Because running away and giving a damn is just too much work. (Also, they might actually enjoy it, but would prefer it if you didn’t tell anyone.)
Goober has always been a cat you could vacuum. That’s because Goober is serene in his own domain: he is only afraid if he gets outside, or is moved into a new home, or goes to the vet. I’m sad to report that he is now in decline: he’s lost a lot of weight and is looking shakier all the time. He turns 16 this month, and we’re not sure how much longer we’ll have him. But he’ll still gouge your knees if you don’t pick him up, and grab your plate away from you if he wants your food—and yes, he won’t budge if you bring out the vacuum.
He’d probably still punch a dog, if a dog were available for him to punch.
Today is an anniversary of sorts. May 30, 1999 was the date I got back into snake keeping, when I brought home, from a pet store, a young female corn snake I named Pretzel. She wasn’t a particularly large snake, though she wasn’t a newborn, and she wasn’t particularly flashy: just a plain, ordinary corn snake with no fancy colour or pattern mutations.
Twenty years later, Pretzel is still with us, hardly changed from the day I brought her home. The Dorian Gray of colubrid snakes. I was going to say that she’s still going strong, but that’s up in the air at the moment. Right now she’s sequestered in a cage with a nesting box because she seems to be with (absolutely infertile) eggs; last week she had a few seizures that may or may not be related. We’re keeping an eye.
Extrovert, our female Wandering Garter Snake, finally died overnight. She’d been declining for months and we’d been expecting this for quite some time. She last ate on March 23rd, which was not immediately a cause for concern (she’d gone off her food before, in 2011 and 2014, but her appetite came roaring back in each case). But as the skipped meals piled up it became increasingly clear that this was probably it. We kept offering her food, just in case, but in the end it was the end.
Extrovert came into my hands on May 12, 2000. She was a well-started juvenile by that point, which meant that she’d been born the year before. That made her 17 years old when she died. Now, 17 years is a magnificent age for a garter snake. Not unheard of, but certainly not typical. She’s outlasted any other garter snake we’ve had, and a good number of the other snakes, too. Only four have been in our care longer than her.
This month Jennifer and I started doing something we’ve been meaning to do since the fall of 2013: weigh all the snakes in our menagerie. It’s something neither of us has ever done before; we’d had vague ideas of the approximate weights of our various critters, but that’s about it.
Our method was pretty straightforward: tare the scale, stick the snake on it, and take its picture. Those of you who follow me on social media will have seen the photos already; I’ve assembled them into a photo album here.