About four years ago I decided I wanted a dog. It was several years since our collie/lab mix Charlie died and felt my heart healed enough to let another animal in. I didn’t want just any dog. Not a puppy. Not a new being to housebreak, no time for that with a family of full-time workers. So an older dog. Young enough that his joints didn’t creak and wasn’t too tired or lazy to play. One that didn’t shed. A must after having two hairy dogs that shed year-round. I scanned the pet ads weekly for awhile and even went to check out a schnoodle at the local humane society. Adoption papers were filled out but sadly the dog went to another family. Just as well – he seemed too frisky and not the pleasant lap dog I envisioned. After awhile I abandoned my search. It was not to be.
Imagine my surprise when for my birthday three years ago my daughter Elise came home with a kitten rescued from her workplace. A cat! I don’t want a cat! I didn’t hide my disappointment too well and made excuses. I’m allergic, etc. She was upset. Elise meant well – but it was a cat. I was done with cats. We lost three cats over the years, two to incurable illnesses and one was hit by a car. No more cats for me. I wanted a dog. However, the kitty couldn’t go back where he came from so I reluctantly accepted him. I glimpsed a black ball of fur as he skipped out of her arms and ran away to hide. She scooped him up and handed him to me. I took one look at that little face and the scared green eyes peering at me. Will you be my Mommy? Would I? It didn’t take long for me to fall in love – well like. I liked him at first, love came later – but not too much later.
Now what to name him. This is where Elise and I disagreed. She wanted to call him Fitzgerald, but since he was my cat I claimed naming honors and called him Chachi. Everybody knows Joanie Loves Chachi….
Chachi was a real sweetie. He used his box from the first and almost every time after that. A normal cat, eating, playing, and a lot of sleeping at first.. Yet he was different in many ways from our other cats. Loveable when you got to know him, Chachi liked to sit in your lap or right next to you. Our other cats were a bit standoffish and preferred to be by themselves. Shy around strangers, he hid when we had guests. Only to come out looking for attention when they were gone.
He was so scared those first few days. While learning about his past, I understood why. There are quite a few feral cats on the grounds where Elise works. Chachi’s mother was one of those cats. The rest of his litter mates along with his mother were killed by coyotes. He was coaxed out of a drain pipe and came home with Elise. Poor baby. No wonder Chachi was so skittish at first.
It didn’t take long for him to become a true member of our family. After having three girls, Chachi was the boy I always wanted. Even if he was a cat! When I came home from work he would look up from his resting place and meow a greeting to me. I would pet him, talk to him and we bonded. I gave him many nicknames, Chach, Mr. Chachi, and my favorite Tiddy Bits. Chachi gave me a look at the last one, that said “Really, Mom?”, but he answered to them all.
Chachi was strictly an indoor cat. Never caring to venture outdoors, it never seemed to hold any interest for him.. The door garage door would be open and he would just sit there peering out but not moving. We always wondered if it was because of where he was found. If only cats could talk. He had a way of communicating though, intuitively he knew when you were not feeling well. Chachi would come up and lie right on top of you putting his face next to yours and rubbing your cheeks. So sweet.
And that part about him not being an outdoor cat? He got out just twice. The first time I didn’t know until I got a call from the vet telling me my neighbor found him. Thank goodness we had him micro-chipped! The second time Chachi went missing for about a day and a half. Because we were used to him and not concerned about his absence, we didn’t realize it at first. When we did, Elise and I panicked. I made up fliers and walked down the street and put one in every mail box. By the time I got to end of our very long block I got a call from Elise. She discovered him safe and sound in our back yard. I flew home. Boy was I glad he was OK. We feared the worst – hit by a car or eaten by a coyote.
Chachi was such a good guy. He let me dress him up for Christmas and Halloween. I bought a red and green hat with jingle bells on it for Charlie. When I found it in my Christmas stash, I put it on Chachi. Can you say photo op? Oh and the witch hat and ribbon Halloween collar? Too cute. He let me put it on him and wore it long enough for me to snap a few pics. Like I said if only cats could talk. He tolerated my silly nonsense because I was his Mom. I fed him and changed his box and let him sleep on me. I was in love with the little critter.
Out of the blue Katie, my oldest daughter, fell in love with a cat and wanted to adopt it. Her lease has a no pet clause so she asked if the cat could stay with us until she found a place that would allow pets After much deliberation on our part and plenty of cajoling on Katie’s part Dad and I said yes. Katie was recovering from a miscarriage, physically and emotionally; Gertie seemed to fill a void. Since Chachi’s personality could best be described as chill, we thought they would get along. However, he wasn’t ready to share his home with another “cat”. It took some coaxing, but eventually they formed an unlikely truce. Chachi would hiss at Gertie and she’d give him a look that said’ “Oh, really?” and walk away. Now who was the chill cat. Used to being in a shelter with other cats, she was oblivious to Chachi. But not to his food dish or litter box. I gave up trying to feed them separately and just put extra food out. Eventually Chachi tolerated Gertie’s presence in his space and would swat at her tail. Or stalk her. It was funny watching him.
When Chachi began to act different we were a bit concerned but not overly so at first. With Gertie eating out of his dish, it was difficult to tell how much he was or wasn’t eating. We didn’t notice any signs at first, but I made a vet appointment when Chachi began to act strange. Lethargic, not eating, and hiding under my bed even when there was no one around. Chachi had a fever but nothing serious seemed out of whack so we went home only to be back the next day. He saw the vet twice more in three days. He was no better, if anything getting worse. Blood tests were normal and X-rays only showed gas from his esophagus to his rectum. Gas? What was this mysterious thing he had? The vet recommended a specialist after the X-rays. This was beyond her scope and she wanted Chachi to get better.
We were hopeful that this vet would be able to help. He hadn’t eaten in a week or so and was obviously not well. She performed an ultra sound which showed nothing out of the ordinary. However, she wanted to examine his throat and needed to put him under general anesthesia to do so. I consented, anything to find out what was wrong and make Mr. Chachi better. Well, she discovered what she called “shmoo”, a cottage cheesy looking mucus that coated the entire back of his throat. It was so thick she had to use a tiny catheter to intubate him because a normal tube wouldn’t pass through the shmoo. His throat was cleaned of all the gunk and tissue samples were taken to be biopsied. Chachi had a rough time waking up from the anesthesia and was kept in an oxygen cage until he woke up. We were able to take him home that same night. We still didn’t have a definitive answer as to what was wrong and we hoped that with the goo gone from his throat he would get better. We were given instructions on feeding with a syringe and how and when to medicate him. He was prescribed three medicines, a painkiller, a steroid and an antibiotic. We medicated him and fed him and he still seemed weak. I just assumed it would take awhile to recover from the surgery. I remember being under anesthesia and how long the after effects lasted. Elise and I were vigilant. Elise more so. Feeding him, fussing over him and chiding me when I wasn’t doing something right and reminding me when it was time for his meds.
Syringe feeding him became more difficult. It was hard to get more than a teaspoon down him at a time. That seems like so little, but then he was nothing more than, skin, bone, and fur. I called the vet again and was told the bleeding from his nose would stop, don’t wipe it away – let it scab. I did and it did. A small victory. We took it one day at a time. When he lapped out of his water bowl on his own a couple days later, Elise called to tell me. I had a mental celebration. Maybe he was going to get better.
I was on jury duty that day and couldn’t have my phone with me. When I got out of the courthouse I had several texts and missed calls from Elise. I called her right away and she described some erratic behavior by Chachi. Later that night I witnessed that same erratic behavior. He was having a seizure. Perhaps the third one that day. He had a mild one earlier that I dismissed until I saw this. Poor Chachi. I called the specialist and made an appointment for the first thing the next day. He never made that appointment.
Opening my heart to Chachi was easy. Saying goodbye was hard. He had two or three more seizures that night. The last and final one I witnessed was something no pet parent should have to see. He hardly spoke the past week except to growl at me while trying to feed him. In his final seizure he convulsed and reared his head and the most pitiful howl came out of this throat. When it was over he laid down and never came up again.
As I prayed over Chachi that afternoon I asked God to make him well, yet I resigned myself to whatever happened. Lord, your will be done – not mine. We lost Chachi that night and still have Gertie. Even I thought she may be responsible. A carrier with no sign of disease herself. The vets assured us this was not so. Gertie is an old girl, 8 years old. My mom’s name was Gertrude and was called Gertie by friends. A coincidence?
As Dr. Seuss said – “Don’t cry because it’s over – Smile because it happened.” I’m smiling at my memories of Chachi and making peace with Gertie. I’m liking her more and more…and like leads to…well, love.