She was a rescue cat. The adoption process was akin to what you might have to go through to bring a baby into the States from Azerbaijan. We completed a five-page questionnaire, providing two personal references plus our vet’s. It required we sign a pledge, guaranteeing that once adopted we would be responsible to provide a life-long home for our foster animal. In the event we could no longer do so, we promised to return the cat to the shelter. We waited for the phone to ring, signaling we’d been approved. When it did, we made the appointment for our visit to the no-kill shelter.
It was overwhelming. Imagine an old house, divided into four or five sunny rooms. Every room contained twenty or so cats. Each cat wore a collar with a number, corresponding to a card with its name, brief description and history. We moved from kitty to kitty and room to room. Reading all their stories was often more heart breaking than their little faces. I still remember this enormous white male cat, at least twelve years old, who had been adopted and returned three times. Seems he didn’t get along with other cats or some of his owners.
Of course we found something to love about most of them, but we could only choose one. We already had Charley. She was our seven-year-old pure bred weird cat. Her companion had been David’s cat, Baby, who’d lived to see twenty-one. She was a sweetie all of us were missing terribly.
It was the next to the last room where we saw her. The entire outside wall was windows, and there were three shelves lined with little kitty beds. We were greeted with meows coming from every level, furry ones rubbing our legs, and lots of loud purrs. There were two similar looking short-haired Torties, sharing the same shelf. As I moved closer to read the cards to see who was who, the one nearest me reached out a paw, gently petting my nose. Her name was Paint. She was approximately three to five years old. David was talking to the other Tortie. They weren’t related, as we’d originally assumed. We moved on to the last room.
Once we’d met all the kitties, we decided to go back and revisit each room again. There were several cats we wanted to reconsider. As ridiculous as it may sound, I couldn’t help but feel that Paint had already picked me. Once back in her room, we looked at the two Torties together. I was leaving the final decision to David, hoping against hope he’d pick the kitty I was now certain had chosen us. He did.
We learned she was a good eater. So much so, she had earned the shelter nickname ‘Meatball’. From the front, looking head-on, she was this elegant little cat with dainty paws and delicate thin front legs. From the back, she had this big wide behind, like many of my zaftig female family members. Both the uninspired name Paint, and that horrid nickname had to go. On the ride home, she was rechristened Elizabeth.
It didn’t take too long before we started calling her Liz. Then Lizzie. She came to any of them. David even called her Lizzie-Lou sometimes. She quickly fit into our family. Although they didn’t NOT get along, there was no great love between Charley and Liz. We adopted her because we didn’t want Charley to be alone, yet they usually chose different rooms in the house, unless it was bedtime. Their relationship was based on avoidance.
Maybe a year and a half later, Liz began having difficulty eating. As she chowed down at breakfast and dinner, she often winced while gobbling her food. This quickly escalated to shrieking mid-chew, and she would bolt suddenly away from the bowl in frightened pain. After two or three of these episodes, we ran to the vet with her.
It was an autoimmune disease, not too common (of course). Her gums became painfully inflamed by the slightest plaque build-up. She was given a prednisone injection, and we were advised to have her undergo gum cleaning. On that first procedure they removed a bad molar as well. Things cleared up. Liz was soon back to eating like a lumberjack again. Less than a year later, it had to be repeated. This time, they removed another tooth, but while under anesthesia, she had stopped breathing. We now had new worries for our sweet Lizzie.
In the meantime we added a Shih Tzu son to our household. The family dynamic changed dramatically. Charley-weird-cat grew even weirder, spending most of her time upstairs. Rather than displaying jealousy, Elizabeth stepped up and became a wonderful surrogate Mommy. She even groomed the fuzzy little guy at times, and allowed him to bite her tail as though she were one of his frisky litter mates. Once he’d grown as tall as Lizzie, her mother role ceased. She still allowed some occasional playtime on her own terms. They shared dry cat food and water from the same bowls.
Less than a year after came the third incident of Elizabeth’s gum disease. Both David and I had lost faith in her vet, a cat specialist. We consulted our pooch’s vet. He read her medical history and advised surgery to remove all her remaining molars, (something her original vet had hinted at as a possibility early on). “But how will she be able to eat?” we both worried aloud. He assured us she would quickly adapt. He also promised the anesthesia would be carefully monitored during the procedure. Lizzie had the operation.
The surgery took place in the morning. We both hoped she could stay at least overnight. She came through with flying colors and was ready to be picked up the same afternoon. Both of us were nervous. What if her gums started hemorrhaging? What if she stopped breathing overnight while she slept? But when we placed her into the cat carrier she behaved just like our gal Lizzie, purring and happy to be going home. We asked when she would be able to eat. The vet said “she will when she’s ready”.
The dog was all over her when she jumped out of the carrier, sniffing her butt and going for her tail. She hissed at him and headed straight for the dry food bowl. We stood frozen, watching and waiting. She used her tongue like a little shovel, pulling in piece by piece, each morsel avoiding her missing teeth, swallowing it whole. Yes indeed, she was a good eater! She never had another gum problem.
Just before last Christmas, Lizzie began acting strangely. She spent a lot of time in her cat box, doing nothing. She began to be finicky about her food. She ate canned food twice a day. Sure, she had favorites. Some flavors she ate more quickly than others, but she never left food uneaten. Until now. She looked like she was losing weight. We went to the vet.
It was her kidneys. Some values were way too high. She had a bladder infection. Her blood work didn’t look good. All I could think of was “Please, not before Christmas. I’m not ready for this.” I know David well enough to sense he was thinking the same thing. We neither of us wanted to say the words to each other. The words, if spoken out loud, would make it real. On the Doctor’s advice, we put her into the clinic for five days of iv fluids, antibiotics for the infection and something to build up her red blood cells.
We would take turns going in to visit her after work each night. She was responding well to the treatment. Bad numbers were creeping down slowly, and good ones increasing little by little. She had lost several pounds. The fifth night we went together. We would be taking her home. The Doctor asked if we had questions. David asked through tears…”how long?” The way ‘Miss Elizabeth’ was responding we were told…”months”. They had a cat around Lizzie’s age who’d made it over a year and was still okay. We took it as good news. The best Christmas gift we could have.
We began a regimen. We would bring her in once or twice a week. A technician would administer subcutaneous fluids while we waited. It only took a few minutes. They gave her anti-nausea drugs and something to increase her appetite. Every other week they would test her levels. Still, she was no longer the good eater she had always been before. I began preparing chicken breast, chicken livers, lean pork–anything to get her to eat. She came running at the sound as I put each dish down. She’d sniff and feign interest, but she ate next to nothing. I bought every variety of canned cat food she had once enjoyed, and watched her walk away thinner and weaker each time. She just wanted to sit in our laps, curled up and purring while we stroked her skinny body. She started spending time hiding in the attic much of the day.
We had a Saturday tech appointment. “What are we doing?”, I said through tears to David. This was like what they do to keep geriatric relatives alive. Lizzie had no more quality left to her life. Our selfishness was the only thing keeping her alive. We met with a doctor instead. Checking her over, she agreed she was in bad shape. She’d lost half her body weight. If she’d been an outdoor cat, she told us, she would have gone off alone to die. It was time, we told the doctor. Our Christmas gift had expired.
In our almost twenty years together, David and I have gone through this four times now–three cats and one dog: Tippy, Baby, Skippy and now our precious Lizzie. It never gets easier. It is pain and heartache, acute sadness and so many tears. There is nothing good about it, except the feeling that we’ve done everything we possibly could to get to this awful point in our life. Comes a time when even all your love and caring are no longer enough. Lizzie was just the best kitty ever. And she has left a huge hole in our family.