Meet my furbaby, Giz. Her name is pronounced with a soft “g”, as in “goat”, not a hard “g”, because, well, that would be a nasty name for a cat. Giz’s given name is Gizmo, but we’ve never called her that. My brother named her when he was a kid (and he’s now 28! Gulp! My BABY brother!). Giz was a stray cat from the farm across the street from the house I grew up in. As a kitten, she got attacked by another cat and her face was pretty messed up. She actually had a hole through the bottom of her mouth under her tounge that you could stick your finger through and see it come out of her chin–gross. My mother (who loved all animals EXCEPT for cats) nursed her back to health. She bandaged her chin and filled the “hole” with Neosporin and fed her with an eyedropper until she was able to eat on her own. Once she recovered, my mom decided to keep an eye on her. Giz never moved quickly (which was probably one of the reasons she got so beat up–she just wasn’t able to get away fast enough), and would spend days burrowed in the mulch in mom’s flower beds. When she got hungry, she made her way down to the dog’s pen to get a few bites of Sarge’s leftover food. My mom had another dog, Heidi–a pomeranian mutt, that Giz loved to pal around with. We had always joked that Giz thought she was a dog because that’s all she knew. Pretty soon, Giz was INSIDE. Curled up on mom’s pillow. So much for mom hating cats. Giz won her over.
At some point throughout the years, Giz got gingivitis and had to have a bunch of her teeth pulled. From that point on she was restricted to wet food, meaning that you could never just leave her for a weekend. Once my mom passed away, I knew my dad would never want to deal with caring for a high-maintenance cat. I didn’t even ask him to. After mom passed and Mike and I headed back to to the town I grew up in, I threw the cat carrier into the car. I didn’t need to. On the way home, Giz curled up on my lap in the car and fell asleep.
Mike was unemployed at the time, so he was home alone with her all day. In 2 months time, he got so attached to that cat that it was absolutely uncanny. I jokingly said that I had adopted her so legally she retained my maiden name. He was visibly upset and argued that WE had adopted Giz, so she should have OUR last name. I never brought the subject up again.
Almost 3 years ago at a routine vet checkup, the vet commented that she had lost 2 pounds. “Big deal,” I thought, “who wouldn’t want to lose a few?” On a once 8lb cat, it’s a bad thing. After testing her, he told us that her thyroid was not functioning correctly and that we’d have to give her pills twice a day. As agreeable as she is, she took the pills without a fight. At the next checkup, the vet told us that our options were to continue with the pills, or take her to a clinic in Pittsburgh that offered radiation therapy. They would keep her for a week, blast her thyroid with radiation, wait for her to emit some of it so that she was safe enough for limited human contact, and send her home. The kicker was that radiation therapy was $1200. It was right around Christmas and money was tight to begin with. The clinic only performed the radiation treatment every so often, and although there was usually a waiting list, there was one opening in the early January session. We barely hesitated. Even though Giz was close to 15 years old and the vet tried to talk us out of it because of her age, and even though it was expensive, we knew we would find a way.
I dropped her off on a rainy Monday morning, with copies of her X-rays, a bag full of canned food, toys she would never even think of playing with, a pillow from our bed (which was destroyed after her stay there because of the radiation), and a single-spaced page of typed instructions, her likes and dislikes, quirks, and all of the things that make her different from every other cat in the world. The clinic called me daily with updates, but it was a long long week. On Friday, Mike picked her up and brought her home. For 2 weeks, we could pet her sparingly and only if we washed our hands immediately. She had special cat litter with special handling instructions because of the radiation. She couldn’t sleep in our bed and we actually had to shut our bedroom door to keep her out. She was never a crier, but she sat there at night and wimpered for hours. It broke our hearts.
Fast forward over 2 1/2 years, and she’s still fine. She’s relatively healthy, except for a heart murmur that she’s always had that’s getting worse as she ages. And the subcutaneous IVs we have to give her weekly to flush toxins from her organs–that just started about 9 months ago. And me sticking a needle into the scruff of her neck barely bothers her.
She sleeps on my pillow, and because I’m such a heavy sleeper, she moves over to Mike’s pillow at around 5AM if I’m not up already and licks his head until he wakes up and feeds her. If she can’t wake him up by licking his head, she sits on his chest and head-butts his chin. She’s adorable. She’s snuggly. She greets us when we come home from work like a puppy. Even though she still doesn’t move quickly, or much at all, she purrs so loudly you can hear her across the room.
She’s my link to my mom, and as long as we can keep her alive without her being uncomfortable or in pain, we’ll do it. No matter the cost. I’ve never truly believed in reincarnation, but every once in awhile I catch myself wondering if my mom’s soul or spirit or essence is in that cat.
Mike and I have a plan for when one of us either comes home one day and finds that she’s no longer alive (I just can’t type the “d” word) or if she’s close to passing. A plan for telling the other person based on numerous scenarios–don’t tell me if I’m away somewhere longer than a 3-hour drive, tell me immediately if I’m at work and I’ll come home, that kind of thing. We’re at the point that we leave the contact info for the regular vet and the emergency vet in plain sight whenever we’re away for a weekend and Mike’s sister stays here with Giz. We know it will happen someday. We can’t avoid it, but we’re trying our best to be rational and be prepared.
And whenever the day comes that she goes quietly to wherever cat spirits go after death, we’ll cry. Uncontrollably. And miss her every day.