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Izzy

This was originally several separate posts, which I've whittled down and sewn together into one long entry. It's too many words, sorry, but I love my cat and couldn't shut up.

March 22, 2020 ♦ My semi-feral cat

For fifteen years I had a great cat, the smartest and silliest and friendliest cat I've ever known. She developed kidney disease, and the vet wanted her "put to sleep," but the cat still purred when I petted her, so euthanasia was out of the question. She died in my arms, purring and then quiet.

Eternal catnip, Minky. 

♦ ♦ ♦

After great mourning, I needed another cat in my life, but all the shelters are locked down because of the virus. A local shelter's on-line description of one of their rescue cats caught my eye. 

Isabelle, the website said, came from China, and she's a legal immigrant, with a cat passport (who knew cats could get passports?). But the people who brought her over had mistreated her, and often left her outside, even in Wisconsin's harsh winters, until they gave the cat to the shelter.

The website described Isabelle as "semi-feral," but it's a no-kill place, so Isabelle had been there for years, with no interested adopters. When I inquired on the phone, they tried to warn me away, but I'm stubborn and had decided.

A staffer wearing rubber gloves and a full face-mask fought, struggled, wrestled the cat into the carrying case I'd brought, and all during the drive to my apartment, Isabelle hissed and growled.

When I brought the carrying case in, set it down, unlatched and opened the gateway, she darted out and under the bed. After that, there's been evidence of a cat — food and water disappear — but actual sightings are rare, and there's been no contact whatsoever.

When we see each other, the cat either hisses or hides. "Semi-feral," the shelter said, but I haven't seen the "semi" part. She's feral.

It's been a week and she's never attacked me, but always looks and sounds like she might. No regrets from me, though. I admire the cat's reticence, and her sound judgment about me. 

December 18, 2020 ♦ A matched set

The shelter had warned that it might take months for the cat to accept me, or she might never. And indeed, progress has been slight. 

Sometimes Isabelle forgets to hiss at me when I step into her room. I no longer worry that she's going to attack me, but she's clearly unhappy whenever I'm near her food or water (though all I ever do is replenish her supply; I'm not sneaking a bite or a drink, honest). 

Oddly, she's never objected when I empty her litter box. She watches, and finds it fascinating. Yeah, human, that's what you're good for. 

Other cats have been 'my' cats, but Isabelle isn't, and probably won't be, ever. She's absolutely her cat, and I have still never touched her. She won't let me close enough, and doesn't like it when I try, so I stay away.

We're a matched set, I think. We both don't like people in general, and me in particular. We've both been mistreated, and have trust issues, making friendships difficult.

She's a four-legged fur-covered me, and our every interaction reminds me that maybe I should let down my defenses down once in a great while. I ought to stop hissing at strangers.

February 4, 2021 ♦ Some slight progress

Me and my feral cat might be making some slight progress. She's always hidden whenever I enter the room, but twice in the last week she's stood her ground and simply stared at me from twenty feet away — without even growling.

Maybe she's noticed that my presence coincides with the arrival of cat food, and that I've never yet attacked? Or maybe she's strategizing how to kill and eat me.

April 17, 2021 ♦ Détente, or the brink of war?

It was an odd night for me and Isabelle, my mostly feral cat. The closest we've been, until last night, was opposite sides of the room, with the cat glaring or hissing at me. Last night she approached twice, came within arm's reach, but I wouldn't dare.

But she looked at me, almost the way a sane/tame housecat would look if she wanted attention. Or, like a killer tiger might look, stalking me, preparing to attack. 

So I only watched, and said some soothing words, same as I would if she was further away. She came no closer, but also didn't run away, and then I must've fallen asleep.

When I woke up, and the cat was watching me again, from across the room. I put my hand down toward the floor, inviting her to approach for some petting or a treat or something. I've offered this invitation many hundreds of times, and she's never responded with anything but hissing, but this time she slowly stepped toward me.

So I withdrew my hand. Sorry, but that cat has hissed at me infinite times, and I honestly worried that she'd worked up her courage, and her intent was to rip the flesh off my hand. 

Instead I stood up, and the cat hid as she always does when I move. In the kitchen, I fetched my mandoline glove, the knifeproof hand-protection I wear when slicing vegetables. If the cat attacks, I want her to attack the glove. Makes sense, right?

Back in the bed, now wearing the glove, Isabelle watched from across the room as I lowered my hand to the floor and called her name. But she didn't approach, she hid. Maybe I'd missed my moment.

This cat has been living with me for more than a year, and we've touched twice, both times very briefly, and both times she was trying to attack me, so any optimism must be cautious. My fingers are crossed, but if the cat's nearby they're going to be crossed inside that protective glove. 

April 18, 2021 ♦ Snowfall

I adopted the cat Isabelle on March 11, 2020. The agency warned me that she was "semi-feral," and I was told it might be months before she accepts me. 

Well, it's been a year, and a month, and a week. I've fed her about 750 cans of cat food and scooped her litter box 400 times, and she's hissed when I entered the room, at first, and then whenever I was in "her half" of the room, and then whenever I came within ten feet or so. This has been our 'progress'.

She's been coming closer lately, and this morning the cat was staring at me from across the room, as she's been doing for a week now. I mumbled a few words of nonsense, hoping to convey the notion that while I'm twenty times her size, I'm not dangerous. I slipped the protective glove onto my hand, and put my hand in glove down toward the floor, beckoning.

She stared and stared and stared, and then she approached, same as she'd done last night. She came closer, close enough to touch, but I didn't. She was sniffing my chair, so I waited.. 

She sniffed at the chair and the nightstand, and then sniffed at the glove, and then, and then, and then, pushed her head into my gloved hand, so at last I touched her, through the glove. She yowled but didn't run or hiss or attack, so I gently stroked her head. 

If this cat would ever let me pet her, I always figured it would start slow, just a brief touch and then she'd retreat for a week. Boy, was I mistaken. She wouldn't let me stop. 

I removed the glove, and petted that cat for an hour and a half. She never retreated and there were no breaks and honestly, my arm is a little tired from all the petting. She loved it and so did I. 

I rubbed her head, knuckled her ears, stroked her back and her sides, gently tugged at her tail, and even briefly scratched at her belly.

Mostly, though, it was her head. Every cat has a favorite spot to be petted, and for this cat it's her head. She loves it when I vigorously rub above her eyes and to the back of her head. She was loving all of it, but she loved that the best. 

At one point, when I'd briefly stopped petting her to pick up something she'd knocked to the floor, she put her front paws up on the side of my bed-chair. It was just for a moment, and then I resumed petting her, and she went back to the floor, back to nuzzling up against me and the chair. But I'm taking that brief moment of paws-up as a hint that maybe one day she'll be in my lap or my arms. Oh, man, that would be awesome. 

Through it all, Izzy never stopped meowing, but 'yowling' is a more accurate word. She goes YOOOOWWL, and does it hoarsely. You'd barely recognize it as a meow, and I've always thought of it as a roar.

Until now the roar meant, Keep your distance, buster, but now it means something nicer, and I'm no longer scared. The yowl is growing on me. So's the cat. 

There's white fluff in the air, and a light dusting of white fluff on my bed-chair and on the floor, because Izzy is mostly white, with some orange and black scrambled in. It looks like it's snowing in my bedroom — white fluff everywhere — and a couple of times I've inhaled the fluff and spit it out, but I don't mind. If this keeps up I'll have to sweep the room once in a while, but I won't mind that either.

And finally, when Izzy decided she'd had enough petting, she curled up at the side of my bed-chair, where I'd been petting her, and she went to sleep right beside me.

When I got up to type this, Izzy scampered back to her corner of the room, because she always (and still) freaks out when I'm standing up. But she didn't hiss, she only ran. And I'm a happy old man with a happy cat. Yowl! 

April 30, 2021 ♦ Still snowing

It is fabulous to have a cat again. I’ve sorta had Izzy for more than a year, but really only had her for a few weeks, since she suddenly decided I’m OK and allowed me to pet her. Now every time I pet my big fluffy happy cat, she yowls and yowls and yowls, and I marvel at how completely she changed without warning, from a hissing monster to the wondrous friend she is.

She’s the only living thing that I’ve touched in 2021, and it’s made life better, but (like everything else) it's a mystery. I never changed my behavior, but suddenly she changed hers. Izzy does things Izzy’s way, and she wasn’t ready until she was ready.

Oh jeez, here she comes again — so excuse me, it's time to pet the cat who's now my cat.

4/30/2021   
Republished 4/21/2024   

6 comments:

  1. Well, damn, that's publishing-level writing. I've had cats since I was five or six. My folks had kids late and fell in love with a dog I met but can't remember. Parting was sorrow but not sweet, and they decided their kids needed pets but not a dog. So Sis and I each got a cat. Mine was black and white and I was a lousy caregiver. But my mom backed me up so Snoopy had a long, healthy life. Snoopy lived until I left home and I didn't have time or a suitable environment for a cat until McG came along, and we had 12 years together. Mac was run over by a damn car. I got married and divorced and, eventually remarried to a cat lover. She had one cat, and that lasted quite a while, but when Molly died, my wife went without for a year, then attempted to save every needy cat in the Great Pacific Northwest. I think we topped out at 14, but that time of my life is a little hazy. Now, like us, all of our cats are old but mostly not infirm. The youngest is 12, the oldest 17.

    I'm a fan of the work of Kinky Friedman, including his novels and his music. He wrote a series of mysteries, many of them featuring his cat. He spent winters in New York and summers on a ranch in Texas. The cat finally died, and this is what he wrote:

    "On January 4, 1993, the cat in this book and the books that preceded it was put to sleep in Kerrville, Texas, by Dr. W. H. Hoegemeyer and myself. Cuddles was fourteen years old, a respectable age. She was as close to me as any human being I have ever known.

    Cuddles and I spent many years together, both in New York, where I found her as a little kitten on the street in Chinatown, and later on the ranch in Texas. She was always with me, on the table, on the bed, by the fireplace, beside the typewriter, on top of my suitcase when I returned from a trip.

    I dug Cuddles’ grave with a silver spade, in the garden by the stream behind the old green trailer where both of us lived in summertime. Her burial shroud was my old New York sweatshirt and in the grave with her is a can of tuna and a cigar.

    A few days ago I received a sympathy note from Bill Hoegemeyar, the veterinarian. It opened with a verse by Irving Townsend: “We who choose to surround ourselves with lives even more temporary than our own live within a fragile circle . . .”

    Now, as I write this, on a gray winter day by the fireside, I can almost feel her light tread, moving from my head and my heart down through my fingertips to the keys of the typewriter. People may surprise you with unexpected kindness. Dogs have a depth of loyalty that often we seem unworthy of. But the love of a cat is a blessing, a privilege in this world.

    They say when you die and go to heaven all the dogs and cats you’ve ever had in your life come running to meet you.

    Until that day, rest in peace, Cuddles.

    Kinky Friedman

    Medina, Texas

    February 5, 1993"

    ReplyDelete
  2. Sorry about Snoopy and Mac and Molly and all the rest. Impressed that you remember the names. It's depressing, but I can't remember the names of most of my cats and dogs from long ago. But if I saw any of them again, I'd remember just where they like to be scratched.

    Fabulous Kinkyism, too. The eulogy for Cuddles improves my opinion of Mr Friedman, and my opinion was already high as a hawk on a skyscraper's roof.

    ReplyDelete
  3. It's eight minutes to six on Friday morning, and Martha just went upstairs to catch some shuteye. Our oldest cat, and, I suppose the one I'm closest to had another seizure today. He's a happy cat when he's feeling OK, but seizure disorder has been a long, three year battle. The first two medicines we tried reduced the frequency of the seizures, but they terrified him and we couldn't explain to him what was happening, partly because seizure disorder isn't entirely understood in humans, let alone cats. Miraculously, the third and last medicine significantly reduced the frequency of the seizures to a couple times a month. Vet Dr Bob made that the last choice because it is fairly rigorous medical therapy that requires us to get up in the middle of the night to treat him (as well as a couple times when the Sun is up. His other vet says his response to the last med was unlikely. Few cats fail out of two meds and respond to the third. I didn't name him Captain Jack Sparrow, but Martha did because in a litter of four kittens who had somehow lost their mother, he was crawling out of the vacant house they were living in and retrieving whatever food he could find for the family. We adopted all four kittens, and although two of them have died, Jack and his also-sick-but-game sister, Ducks. And I call him Jack or, late at night, Jackie. I just served him some Ocean Whitefish and Tuna, and he ate pretty well. I had a tuna burger for dinner many hours ago. Maybe he'll pull through and be happy for a couple more months. He has two vets, both of whom call him Captain Jack, and I haven't found a cardiologist willing to replace my aortic valve. I don't believe I'd have it any other way.

    John

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  4. One of the very worst things about being poor is weighing the cost of the vet and medicine. I spent upwards of a thousand dollars on my previous cat in her last week of life, which I simply could not do if the same malady hit my Izzy. In addition to universal health care, America needs universal pet care. And no, I am not kidding.

    You're a champ, man, because I know you're not rich but you give the cats tuna as a treat, and have two vets for a cat who needs two.

    So you're going valveless? How sucky is the prognosis without the surgery, if it's not too dang nosy to ask?

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  5. We live longer lives than our grandparents and our health care systems seem considerably more advanced, but as a person at the poverty line (looks like tuna burgers for the next week) I rely on the public medical system to extend my life, which means that I'm my own care manager. When I was more capable, I had a doc I trusted and admired who got me through three back surgeries and an AAA repair, but he retired (not wealthy of course -- he was an independent and got pushed into retirement by big medicine).

    My doc now is a PA who worked under my old doc for a while, and tries to do the right thing, but the specialists are in charge now, and I'm relying on considerably overtaxed resources. I need three more scans to determine the best course of action, and I need to arrange those scans myself. What happens if I don't get a valve replacement is that I die in the next two years or so. It might not be medically feasible, but I grow tired trying to find out.

    If I sound bitter, I'm not. Just tired.

    John

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. No dying please. Consider it against the rules.

      Getting someone to give a damn is one of the central challenges of health care, as you've noticed. The list of people who care is you, and anyone who loves you, but rarely includes doctors and nurses.

      Congrats on not being bitter about it. You're a better man than bitter me.

      Delete

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