Tuesday, September 20, 2011

The Death of a Cat

Gizmo. Gizmatron. Mr. Gizter. Gizzie. Adopted from the local SPCA, Gizzie was a black domestic short-hair cat distinguished only by his shape – 16 pounds precariously balanced on four dainty paws with a triangle for a face – and by his animosity toward strangers and his adoration of his family, marked by his heartfelt “head butts” which served for hugs.

Gizzie, with friends
Gizzie turned 13 in March of this year. You couldn’t tell. He still acted like a kitten, albeit a 16-pound kitten. He’d hunt down and snatch up an old catnip “cigar” that had been pushed around for eight years. All narcotic effect had evaporated, but Gizzie still found it intoxicating and would carry it into our bedroom with a deep-throated, gargled growl that said, “Look what I captured – and you’re not going to take it away from me!” He would leap from the dishwasher counter to the kitchen island with the arc and agility of a Lipizzaner stallion, only to sail to the other side by landing on a scrap of newspaper. He chased his tail, chased our younger cat, chased an errant untied shoelace. If one of us happened to lie down on the couch for a catnap, he would jump on our chest and settle in with a contented purr, not caring that his 16 pounds severely compromised his chosen beloved’s ability to breathe.

In fact, Gizzie spent his life not having to care, because we always cared for him. This was more than just providing Purina cat chow and water. We often had to save him. He was in our family for all of two weeks when he managed to scramble up over the barrier in the room in which he was sequestered, scuttle across the kids’ 2nd floor playroom floor and scoot right through the posts of the banister to begin his free fall onto the kitchen tiles below. I happened to be heading up the steps. I put out my right hand and caught him in my palm. Not many months later, we returned from work to hear a plaintive mewling in the kitchen. No kitten in sight, but we traced the sound to a gap between the kitchen wall and a counter top where lodged a heating unit. Gizzie had managed to get himself wedged into the two inches between the heating unit and the wall. I still can’t remember how we got him out of that tight spot, but I think it may have entailed Jon holding on to me while I half lay on the counter with my scrawny arm blindly groping for the kitten.

As Gizzie grew, he found different tight spots. Not realizing that he had outgrown one of his hiding  places, he once got himself under the hutch in the dining room only to find that he could not get himself back out. Caterwauling ensued. In this case, I think it was Jon who was the hero. Then there was the winter that Gizzie managed to get lost in the French drain system that ran under our old farmhouse. Naturally it was after a blizzard and snow was piled high. Again, Gizzie knew that we would rescue him. Once we realized he was missing, I went out and circled the house, calling his name. He answered immediately—from underground. Gizzie’s talkative nature saved him as his cries helped Jon pinpoint where in the French drain system Gizzie was located. Jon pulled out the grill from the closest spot, I called Gizzie, and Gizzie responded by coming within arm-reach of Jon, who hauled him to safety.

Gizzie also had two bouts with a classic neutered male cat malady, a urinary tract blockage. I won’t go into great detail. I will just say that the first time standard procedures were followed. The second time our wonderful vet completely reconstructed Gizzie’s innards, in essence making Gizzie's urinary tract that of a female cat. No more blockages. And then there was the time at the old farmhouse when a fox chased Gizzie up from a pasture. (At 16 pounds, Gizzie presented a mouth-watering morsel.) I was on the back porch and screeched like a fishwife to scare the fox away as Gizzie bounded onto the porch and then sauntered into the house.

All of these events occurred at our old house. In 2005 we moved to the new house and life with Gizzie became much calmer because he became an “indoor” cat. We settled in, and I thought we would have him around for at least 16, or more, birthdays.

In early August I noticed that Gizzie was not eating with his regular gusto. By mid August I was worried because it looked as though his chest contained bellows working at full force. I took him to the vet. X-rays were taken. Specialists were consulted. This time it was Gizzie's breathing that was compromised. He had tumors in his lungs.

If you were keeping track of the Gizzie events, you would have counted that we had saved him seven times. If I wanted to stretch the truth for literary purposes, I would have invented an eighth episode so that at this point in the essay we would be at nine lives. But I’m not going to invent. At event #8 we were defeated. We could not save Gizzie, or even lengthen his time on this earth. We tried. We got him a super steroid shot. We got him a special prescription to stimulate his appetite. We got him Fancy Feast Gourmet Chicken to accompany the prescription. Nothing worked.

On August 30, our wonderful vet came to the house. Even though Gizzie had spent four days straight on daughter Annie’s bed without budging, even though he next struggled onto our bed for what he could not have known was his last night, even though he could hardly move – when the vet appeared, he was still our Gizzie : snarling and biting and ornery with someone who was not family. And then Gizzie was gone.


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