A few years ago my wife and I went to visit a friend who had a litter of cats, eight weeks old, that needed homes. We stopped by one evening and peered into a large cardboard box full of small, furry critters with big eyes and big ears who meowed very loudly and often. We thought it would be a hard choice, picking just the right kitten, but it wasn’t. Zack picked us. I had reached into the box expecting to pick up the closest furry little beast, but one looked up into my eyes and immediately jumped into my outstretched hand. And that was how I met Zack. My wife, Kimberly, saw another cat she thought was cuter, and was almost sold on its cuteness. But then I handed her Zack, who sat in Kim’s lap and hissed and swatted at any other cat who tried to get close to her. Zack had made up his mind, and there was really no changing that. That little guy became our newest family member. Kim named him Zack on the way home. He was ours and we were his.
It all happened very quickly.
Kim and I have had a number of cats during the years we’ve been together. Most of them lived a long time. Some didn’t. Some were very healthy, while a few got sick. The pet cat I had when I met Kim developed diabetes a few years after we were married. For two and a half years I had to give her insulin shots on a full stomach every twelve hours. We took her everywhere we went, including vacations in Maryland. She didn’t travel well, but she knew she was with family, so she stuck it out with few complaints. We had another cat who developed a blood clot in her back, shutting off the blood supply to the back half of her body. Half of her was paralyzed. By the time we got her to the emergency veterinarian the back of her body was pretty much dead. She was in perfect health that morning and buried in the back yard that very same afternoon.
It all happened very quickly.
Or last cat loss wasn’t tragic, but it hurt no less. She was about twenty-two years old before her body finally gave up. I hope our two cats, Zack and Zoe, can live that long, but in our perspective of time that’s not quite long enough. Jim Stafford once wrote a version of the song, Mr. Bojangles, where he wondered why our pets don’t get to live too long, but they still have to die old. What makes it worse, of course, is that when we finally do lose our loved and cherished pets, they still seem like our children. Our babies.
Zack is in a bad way now, and we’re doing everything we can to keep him alive and well. Somehow (and there are lots of theories) he got pancreatitis, which led to liver problems, which led to Zack not eating at all. Now we have to teach his stomach to eat all over again because he has no appetite. Left on his own, Zack would starve to death, so we feed him through a tube that has been implanted in his neck, leading directly to his digestive tract. For the last four days I’ve been giving him food through the tube every six hours, along with pills and water for hydration. I will do this every day until he gets better and becomes his old self again. I miss Zack, our old Zack, who jumps up on my chest, knocking the wind out of me. The Zack who hides from us in closets and high places, and then pounces on our backs, scaring the bejeezus out of us.
I want this skinny, dull creature to miraculously transform himself back into my good friend, Zack. The vet tells us he’s doing fine. But it doesn’t feel fine. And I don’t want to lose another family member. The vet tells us that all we have to do is continue to feed him and fatten him up, and he will recover and be his old self again. Our old Zackaboo!
I just wish it would happen quickly.