He came into our lives like a little grey tornado. Anne was still working as a Vet Tech at the Paris Hill Cat Hospital, and we were looking to add a new kitteh to our family. The Hospital had gotten in a barn litter to be adopted out, and I went up one evening to meet Anne at work and pick one of them. I don’t even remember exactly what made our pick stand out from the litter, but I do remember the first time we saw each other, when he rolled over and showed me his belly. I was immediately smitten.
Anne and I had a good-natured debate on the way home as to what to call our new little fur ball. My ideas were kind of bombastic and lame while Anne’s were, as usual, much more practical from the standpoint of what we’d be hollering every day at meal time. I’m not sure exactly when “Zippy” came up but I do know it was one of her inputs.
We got home, placed the carrier in the living room of the little apartment we had at the time, and opened the door. A grey streak flew out into the room and, without pausing for an instant, grabbed a toy mouse in his path and then proceeded to tear up the room with mouse in tow. Another of the crazy antics I remember was he’d leap to the top of the scratching post, paws outstretched, then swing himself Tarzan style around the top of it and let go to fly into an arc in some other direction.
Okay, Zippy, then.
Over the next few years he just grew on us even more. He would watch TV with us, alternating between batting at the moving images on the screen and darting behind the set to see what was back there. He adapted well to our existing cats and from the start showed a high degree of social aptitude and intelligence.
More years passed, we moved a couple of times, and Zippy grew from the crazy youngster into an adult, then became the elder statesman, and eventually moved into the cranky curmudgeon role as our cat population evolved.
When I began working from home full time Zippy took it upon himself to be my Trusty Helper. He’d patiently wait for me to get my morning coffee, then curl up in my lap and purr and head-butt me as I’d slowly wake up while reading the day’s email on my tablet. If I were working downstairs on the couch he’d periodically hop onto the sofa and let me know it was time to put the laptop away and snuggle with him for a while. In my office he’d jump up onto my desk (though in later years that became difficult and he’d bat my leg for me to pick him up). There he’d curl up in a good spot and rest his head on my left hand while I continued to work with my right. Some of the pictures in the slideshow above are from his “helping” me work.
I indulged him, because I knew he wouldn’t be around forever and work was only work. How I cling to those memories now.
His collapse came quickly. That is both fortunate and tragic.
Just two days ago he was behaving normally, “helping” me and everything. Then came yesterday morning when he didn’t come down the stairs for breakfast or his morning coffee snuggle. I found him at the top of the stairs. He came down halfway and then just stopped and cried.
I brought him down the rest of the way and took him to his food but he wouldn’t eat. I did a couple of morning things and then went to find him, and discovered him in the living room sitting in a large puddle of clear vomit. He didn’t even move to get out of it.
Looking back now with hindsight, some part of me knew right then things had gone horribly wrong but the rest of me went into fix things mode. I cancelled my appointments for the day, scored an appointment at Paris Hill, then took him in.
For this first visit things didn’t go terribly amiss. He was still presenting reasonably well, just dehydrated and a little weak. They did blood work, tried to get a urine sample (but his dehydration prevented that), gave him some subcutaneous fluids, and prescribed a supply of medicine to mitigate the vomiting.
When we got home things went downhill fast. The first major red flag was when he came out of the carrier and began to have trouble walking. Then he went back to the carrier and clearly wanted back in. To give some context, our cats hate those carriers. This was not a comfortable-feeling behavioral change.
Over the next several hours I tried to coax him out of the carrier, but no dice. Around that time I discovered a pile of feces under the coffee table and realized he was unable even to make it to a litter box. Now I was more worried than ever. He would eat some canned food, but wouldn’t touch water, and wouldn’t have anything to do with the litter box I brought over.
I knew things had gone really wrong. I set him up with the cat carrier near the sofa, a litter box and water bowl in easy reach, and settled down for a long night on the sofa keeping an eye on him. I dozed now and then, but I knew he was having difficulty. He would stir and move around in the carrier, cry out as though in some pain, and was clearly having difficulty getting comfortable.
I finally got up for good around 5:00 this morning, then made what arrangements I could at that early hour to cancel the day’s appointments. Time seemed to drag forever until I could take him back for the Hospital’s 8:00 opening time. I didn’t have an appointment but I was beyond caring about that.
When I got there, of course it was a very busy day compounded by having only one doctor in that day. Whatever. I told them I’d wait as long as I needed to. Let me say right here and now that the staff of Paris Hill Cat Hospital went above and beyond in the cause of helping me and Zippy. They were understaffed, busy as hell, yet they never balked at accommodating me. At one point Anne (who is in Europe on vacation right now) wanted to ask some questions of the doctor, but they have limited cell phone access from there because of roaming costs. The staff didn’t blink and arranged things so Anne and the doctor could talk directly. That was just one aspect of their awesome help.
This is where I make a “long story short” because most of the related time was spent waiting and fretting. The doctor examined Zippy, very thoroughly, and made several astute observations based on his behavior. Between that and some indicators on the blood work from the previous day she already knew what was up but was very careful not to dash my hopes until she knew beyond any doubt. I know now that her exam told her he already had seriously wrong things going on in his abdomen. She advised a chest X-Ray before sending me to Ithaca (a two hour drive) for ultrasound checks. Those came back with bad news: growth in his lungs consistent with tumors. She already knew his abdomen was a problem so this was just a sign the suspected cancer had grown beyond any help. There was clearly no need for the ultrasound.
We agreed it was best to have the X-rays evaluated by a specialist, and they could transmit them and get the results while I waited. We went that route, and the confirmation came back with the heaviness of Zippy’s death knell. It was theoretically possible to prolong his life for maybe a few months of intensive treatment and discomfort, and he was already in bad shape.
No. It was time to let go.
Thanks to the magic of modern technology I was able to bring Anne into the room virtually via FaceTime on my iPad, and so to that extent we were all together at the end. Before Zippy’s pain meds kicked in and took him mentally out of things he wanted to be in my lap and to rest his head on my arm one last time. I took multiple pictures of that, the last pictures of him alive, and I will cherish them.
Goodbye Zippy. You were the best. I love you and I miss you.