I don’t believe illness makes someone brave, but there are inspiring ways of handling the difficulties of being chronically ill. My father was one of those people. Even before cancer, he was an eternal optimist, and remained one until his death. That was just who he was.
It may seem silly to draw this comparison, but honestly, I can’t help but think of my father’s spirit when I see my cat, Zoey. We didn’t know it when we adopted her, but Zo isn’t like other kitties. Despite being a natural carnivore, her body can’t handle large amounts of protein. It makes her skin break out in hives. Since mainstream cat food at most pet stores contain large chunks of meat, she can’t have any of it. She can’t even have treats. The only safe food she can eat is a prescription hypoallergenic brand that can only be ordered online, in quantities that cost $70 per bag. The protein in it is minced so small that she gets what she needs to live, but not so much that she’ll continue to break out.
Yes, it sounds crazy. And maybe it’s crazier that my husband and I willingly shell out that much money for a cat. But…look at her.
If only he could have met her, my Dad would have loved this cat. He was raised with dogs and didn’t develop an affinity for felines until he married my mom, who found a stray in a dumpster outside their apartment and begged him to let her keep it. Not wanting to upset his new wife, he agreed, and did not expect to fall in love with her (the cat, that is). Garfield lived with us for twenty years, and we’ve had other cats since. But Zoey, I’m convinced, is a puppy trapped in a cat body. She’s exactly the kind of kitty that a natural dog lover like my dad would adore.
I’ve never seen a cat run down the stairs and roll on her back in front of the door so she can get a belly rub before I leave the apartment. She’ll watch through the window as we leave, which just breaks my heart.
I’ve also never seen a cat run downstairs to greet someone the moment she hears the key turn in the lock. She also recognizes the sound of my husband’s car when he presses the electronic lock button, and will run downstairs to wait for him. She follows us everywhere, loves being held like an infant, and meeting new people. She cozied up to the plumber who came by to fix a leaky faucet. Most astonishingly, she purred and rubbed her face against the vet tech with a syringe in her hand, about to give her a vaccine.
So it breaks my heart that at just over a year old, she’s already suffered so much. Her skin has become so itchy, she scratches herself bloody, thus earning herself the “cone of shame” (but still looks adorable in it). When she couldn’t scratch her face through it, she tore the fur off her feet instead.
And yet, she’s still as cuddly and lovable as ever. Still follows me around, jumps in my lap to read with me, and purrs constantly. Nothing fazes her at all, not even a rare allergy condition. I’ve never had an easier time taking a critter to the vet, because to her, it’s an opportunity to meet new friends and get loved on.
Is it weird to say that I’m learning from her about choosing joy in hard circumstances? Because cats, by nature, just don’t act like she does. My other kitty, Catniss Everclean, also loves affection, but is more typically aloof around people she doesn’t know, and definitely prefers ear scratches to being held. Zoey is the antithesis of everything non-cat people don’t like about cats, and I have no idea why…but I would like to think it’s because she’s grateful we adopted her, two people who can afford to care for her special needs. Other families might not be able to, and animals certainly get dumped for far more trivial reasons.
Just like with Dad, love is not always pretty or easy, but I wouldn’t trade my ZoZo girl for any other cat in the world.