Cisco, my little black cat of 11 years, died recently of kidney disease.
Back in August of 2000, after working the night shift at a hospital, I drove home at 7 a.m. on an elevated four lane road in downtown Springfield, Ohio. I was in the left lane, heading south, and I could see a squashed black furry creature right on the yellow stripe with cars whizzing by in both directions. As I went by, I was wondering what poor animal this was — a skunk maybe? I turned my head and looked down and a little kitten, very much alive and not squashed at all, looked up at me. Just lying there petrified. I couldn’t imagine how he got to that point without getting hit because there weren’t any houses or green space nearby. He was just plunked down in the middle of car and concrete hell. I drove till I could get off the overpass and turned around. I came back up the other way and, as there was no shoulder, I parked in the right lane, put my flashers on and, for good measure, left the driver’s side door open as a way of saying: “Stand clear, everybody: crazy animal person at work!”
I waited for some cars to go by. The kitten was still alive, still staying put… Just as I was about to pick him up — he ran from me, shit, across two lanes to the other side of the road. I ran after him. He ran again up the side of the road. Goddamit. Cars are flying by, everybody in the daily rush to have the marrow sucked out of their bones. This time, however, he let me pick him up.
I needed another cat like I needed a hole in the head. I had several of my own and I also was taking care of my mother’s cats. I’d sold my house a few months before and moved in with mom because her cancer was getting worse, spreading to the bones. When she got the diagnosis of breast cancer 10 years before we agreed that she’d either beat it or die at home — and now we were at Plan B. She had gone into the hospital a couple days before I found Cisco because her left arm had broken, weakened by a tumor. I called my friend Dave Nibert that afternoon and told him, “I can’t take on one more cat.” Dave listened, finally saying, “Maybe this will turn out to be a good thing.”
And it turned out to be a great thing. No cat ever loved me as much as Cisco. He was my shadow for 11 years. He was also one of the last living links with my mother. Thanks, Dave.
That night I took Cisco in a brown paper bag up to the fourth floor of Community Hospital during visiting hours. Mom was very depressed, not just about bone cancer which, as we joked, quoting some movie about something else, “ain’t no goddam joy ride,” but also about being in the Temple of Doom, as the late Dr. Robert Mendelsohn called hospitals, and by the lengthy time she was away from her cats for the first time in a long time. She was mighty surprised and happy to see this little bundle of love that I pulled out of the bag.
The hospital actually had some vegan spaghetti for her that night and she sat up in the bed with the plate on her lap. Cisco began walking in the spaghetti, purring, meowing and rubbing up against her, occasionally giving the spaghetti a lick. Recognizing him immediately as a Cat-God, we let him do as he pleased. Hell, if you can’t make a mess in a hospital where can you make it? He came to the right family. A couple nurses saw him but didn’t say anything. Sometimes if your illness is serious or painful enough even medical professionals will cut you a break.
This was a time when the NASDAQ was still imploding and the tech company Cisco was very much in the news and that’s what I named him after. Nothing made mom tireder than hearing about the stock market and NASDAQ mania, and she unwillingly absorbed minutia about it like other multi-month spectacles — like a presidential campaign or the OJ Simpson murders and trials. She was a little puzzled that I’d named Cisco after a capitalist entity and said, “Why don’t you just call him Advanced Micro Devices?”
Cisco turned out to be a kind of an advanced micro device. He was the other cats’ own personal Jesus. As the years passed, he befriended cats that the other cats didn’t like or who were loners. I had never had a cat like this. Cisco was the first furry friend that Scamp had ever had in his life — Cisco took Scamp on immediately and was always grooming and snuggling with him. After Dominic and Koko’s mother, Cheek, died, Cisco took on Dominic and became his sleepytime pal. I thought Dominic might follow Cheek straight into the grave because he couldn’t stand to not be in view of her at all times. With Cisco’s help, Dom’s now 17. The first time Cisco saw Cheek, he ran up to her and tackled her around the neck. Little cat jaws were dropping as all who witnessed this thought: Are you out of your fucking mind? (My cats cuss a lot, too.) Cheek was sweet with people but not to be trifled with by other cats. But Cisco got away with it — he gave a lot and he got away with a lot. Everybody loved him. Until his illness, he was ever-present happiness. Cisco aka Cissy aka Brat Cat aka Little Black Velvet Bastard was an instigator of many purr parties.
Cisco couldn’t get close enough to me. He was always biting my cheek or nose or chin. More love! More attention! More food! I wish I was as good as he thought I was. He thinks I’m his mother or I’m god, I’d tell somebody. Adoration was the operative word for anybody who saw us… Most nights for 11 years he would sleep against my chest with his head under my chin and his paws over my left arm. But it seemed to be a thing of just getting me to sleep because he would be gone by when I woke up. It seemed very deliberate. A pattern, a routine. Stability. If I was curled up with my girl friend he’d either try to horn in between us or be on the other side waiting patiently for when I would turn over– you know, get back to the important stuff! I had a couple other aggressively loving cats but little Cisco was determined to go to the head of the class.
December marked the start of his mysterious illness. Overnight, he had trouble walking — he swayed. He looked like part of his backside was paralyzed. He stopped eating, he seemed like he was going to die. $1800 worth of hospitalization, lab work, an EEG and an ultrasound couldn’t figure it out, turning up only that he had some kidney disease. The vet started talking about “quality of life” and euthanasia.
However, just as mysteriously as he got sick, he started getting better. By February he seemed to completely reverse whatever was wrong — he was running and jumping again. It looked like a miracle. That lasted until May when he took a turn for the worse, so I started force feeding him and giving him fluids under the skin because of dehydration with kidney disease. I went full court press on love and attention and bought him a heating pad which he enjoyed, as he often sat on my lap when I was on the computer or watching a movie. I took to buying used movies at the video store. We must have watched 100 of them May through September, although he didn’t want the nutritional yeast popcorn anymore. One time I remember saying to him: Well, if you’re not giving up, neither am I. So on we went — fluid bags, needles, movies, nose rubs and kisses.
I force fed him for weeks, not ever expecting him to eat again on his own. But on July 4, when he heard me feeding the other cats, he came from upstairs and went over to the chow dish and ate. I was stunned. And he kept eating on his own, through July, August and most of September. He went back to enjoying the Friday night catnipalooza. I thought he was going to pull off another miracle. But the loss of kidney function was inexorable (so said the vet) and finally overtook him in late September.
If you meet the Cat-God along the road, always save him or her. You might just be saving yourself, too. Or go to your local animal shelter and rescue an animal from death. Never buy from breeders, the slave traders who help create and perpetuate pet overpopulation. (A “responsible breeder” is an oxymoron. If they were responsible they wouldn’t be trying to make a dollar off slave trading.) Go to the pound and walk down dog and cat death row. You’ll see plenty of purebred dogs along with the mutts. Look at the dogs standing up at the front of the cages, with cocked heads and expectant eyes, literally begging for their lives, or look at the withdrawn and abused cat sitting at the back of a cage. All it would take is a pet or two from you and you’d find out that this being would like nothing more than to love you till the end of her/his or your days. Abused and neglected as they are, they are always willing to give humans more chances. Remember: they’re the gods, not us. Every pound is the reality of assembly line killing but also the potential of Epidaurus, a center of healing. Go there, or you can do what I do: build a concrete and steel-reinforced bunker 100 feet below the surface of the earth, bolt the door, be very quiet, and cat in trouble will still find you.
Cisco, I miss you my little buddy. You’ve got big paws to fill.