Pooh the cat was a very good cat and a very bad cat. Pooh had the uncanny ability to alert owner Veldalou Renken as to any problems with the ailing 77-year-old's medical equipment. But Pooh also had the nasty, inexplicable habit of biting no one but Renken - which in the end turned out to be her worst health problem of all.
Pooh the cat was a very good cat and a very bad cat.
Pooh had the uncanny ability to alert owner Veldalou Renken as to any problems with the ailing 77-year-old's medical equipment. But Pooh also had the nasty, inexplicable habit of biting no one but Renken - which in the end turned out to be her worst health problem of all.
"We kept saying, 'Get rid of the cat. Get rid of the cat,' " says sister Freida Craig. "But she always made excuses."
Renken, a widow, lived with a son in the town of Monica, near Princeville. Several years ago, she got Pooh, a Siamese.
Pooh mostly was a good companion for Renken, who suffered multiple chronic ailments, including high blood pressure and congestive heart failure. Somehow, Pooh instinctively knew if any of Renken's medical equipment were to go on the fritz. For example, if something were to go amiss with her oxygen tank as she slept, Pooh would jump onto her lap and wake her up.
"It was a good cat," says her sister, 86, of Wenona. "It was very sensitive to her needs."
The cat never went outside. Further, its shots were always up to date. Still, for reasons Renken never could explain, Pooh got more aggressive over time.
The cat often would nip and bite Renken. But it never bothered anyone else.
"I'd go over there, and it'd just come up to you," her sister says.
Still, though Pooh would lash out at Renken, she never got mad at the cat.
"She would always blame it on herself," her sister says.
Her kin urged her to get rid of the pet, but Renken would hear none of it. Instead, she often just shrugged off the attacks. When bites got particularly bad, she would seek medical treatment, which often involved dressing the wound and a round of antibiotics.
"Her skin was really thin," her sister says.
In mid-October, Pooh tore into Renken's left calf. Days later, on Oct. 22, she talked to her sister by phone and said, "I'm so sick."
Ravaged by nausea, vomiting and diarrhea, Renken called for help. An ambulance took her to Methodist Medical Center. She was diagnosed with cellulitis, a bacterial infection under the skin.
Though the hospital treated her with antibiotics, the infection already had spread quickly. She died there two days later.
Earlier this month, a Peoria County coroner's jury ruled the death an accident stemming from the cat bite.
"There are a lot of germs in an animal's mouth," says Coroner Johnna Ingersoll. "With her medical condition, perhaps she was more susceptible to infection."
Ingersoll said some members of Renken's family doubted the cat bite had killed her. One of their theories: She got infected not by the cat but from a cut when she brushed against her microwave oven.
Yet another excuse for Pooh? My calls to Renken's survivors - including the son with whom she made her home, Thomas Renken - went unreturned.
Her sister says Pooh still lives in Renken's home, with Renken's son. You can imagine that's what Renken would want for Pooh.
"She wouldn't give it up for the world," her sister says.
Phil Luciano can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (309) 686-3155.