Whenever I feel myself about to say “my cat” I think of that Beatles tune, “Norwegian Wood” – which begins: “I once had a girl, or should I say, she once had me.” The cat I know as Gizmo has “had me” for about fourteen years. He is now, according to the vet, dying from something called FIP.
He actually doesn’t seem very sick. He’s lost a lot of weight, to be sure. He still eats, and still goes crazy with desire when he smells cooked meat, especially chicken, but he’s skinny and bony. It’s distressing, as he’s always been such a vital cat.
I first met Gizmo when he was still a kitten. A very active kitten. He was sharing a townhouse with a young couple but for reasons unknown, they decided they had to find him a new home. Gizmo ran up to me and swarmed around my legs, rubbing against me and butting me with his head. I reached down and returned his affection, and we’ve been pals ever since. Love at first sight, I always say. I agreed to take him with me. On the way out the door, I was told that Gizmo liked to sleep on a human head at night, and that he had only been eating human food, not cat food. This proved to be a problem.
I’ve always supplied my cats with high quality cat food. I just couldn’t bear to give them the cheap stuff, since it seems to lead to health problems later in life. Anyway, most cats seem to prefer the expensive, sold-only-by-vets stuff and that’s what I bought. Gizmo had no interest in it at all. He looked at it as he might at a bowl of dirt: as if there was no possibility that this could be food. I knew that he couldn’t go on eating human food, because it doesn’t contain everything cats need, so we waited for him to get hungry. And waited. Finally, in desperation, we smeared some of the wet cat food on a chicken bone. It smelled enough like human food that he licked it off, then never looked back. He retained a strong desire for human food, but he ate that specific kind of cat food without complaint for most of his life after that.
Gizmo is a terrific tree-climber. On our walks through the woods on Triangle Mountain, he would often get a crazy look on his face, then run straight up a nearby tree, hang on about ten feet up, look around for a few moments, then jump down.
One of our walks took us farther than usual. I noticed that Gizmo had plopped himself down in the path and was breathing heavily. I realized that given his size, what was a long walk for me must have been a major odyssey for him. I stopped to keep him company, then we turned back. He stopped to rest several more times and his pace gradually decreased. Not wanting to leave him behind but wanting to get back to the house, I offered to carry him, but he refused. That’s Gizmo.
The trails on that mountain are frequented by dog-walkers. I generally became aware that there was a dog nearby when Eddie and Gizmo disappeared into the bush. They would reappear after the dog passed by. On one occasion, the dog and its master appeared behind us without much warning and surprised all of us. Eddie disappeared as usual, but Gizmo went on the attack. While the dog tried to cower behind its master, Gizmo whirled around its head, hissing and snarling. It looked like there was a tornado of fur and claws hovering over the dog. The dog’s master and I stood staring, not moving, stunned by what we were witnessing. After several passes, I saw an opportunity and was able to restrain Gizmo by pinning him to the ground. He struggled and snarled at me. There was a look of complete wildness on his face and he appeared not to recognize me. The dog and its owner moved on; the dog whimpering. I exchanged an amazed look with the dog’s master and, hesitatingly, offered an apology, saying that Gizmo had never done anything like that before. He shook his head, as amazed as I.
Gimzo is the only cat I’ve ever met who likes the taste of soap. The vet says he may be trying to supplement his diet in some way: most soap contains fat. All I know is that from time to time I’ll catch him sampling soap in a bathroom. He sniffs the bar a few times, then proceeds to lick it. This goes on for up to a minute, during which time he is clearly ingesting some of the stuff. He seems to prefer natural soaps to the more heavily scented stuff.
Gizmo was never quite a lap cat. Like Eddie, he would climb up and settle in a lap when it suited him, but if you tried to pick him up and put him in your lap he would immediately leave. Generally when Gizmo climbed into my lap, it was because he wanted some attention. If I was at my computer, my attention would often wander from Gizmo, and he responded by extending his legs into my belly and reaching up to gently scratch my beard. Lately, of course, he’s been in my lap a lot more, as he is clearly more in need of comforting.
Cats are all different. My two boy cats are as different as they can be. One way they differ is in how they prefer to be touched. Eddie can’t stand to have his face touched and shrinks away if this is attempted. Gizmo, on the other hand, craves this. He particularly likes pushing his face through my closed hand, so that his face reappears with ears back and eyes wide open. I can do this over and over and he loves it.
When I moved from Victoria to Vancouver, I brought the cats on the last trip in a large van. To make them a bit more comfortable, I let them out of their travel cages and they wandered around inside the van, eventually finding corners in which to curl up. Neither of them likes traveling in cars and howl a lot while we’re moving. After getting off the ferry in Vancouver, I had about a 30 minute drive to the new house. It was dark by that time. A few minutes into that drive, Gizmo hopped into my lap. He seemed scared and I comforted him as best I could, without it affecting my driving. We started through a long tunnel, and Gizmo chose that moment to raise himself up to look outside. What he saw was a series of bright lights, quite close by, flashing past as we zoomed through the tunnel. I felt him stiffen and he slowly drew himself back down into my lap, trembling. I’m sure he had no idea what he had been looking at, but I know it freaked him out.
UPDATE 2010Mar28: Last night Eddie brought in a dead rat and laid it next to my bed. I congratulated him on being a mighty hunter. Gizmo, who had been curled up on my bed, went to investigate, picked up the rat and carried it under my desk, where he proceeded to do what he has almost always done with rats brought in from outdoors: he ate its head. This made me happy, since a) he was doing something that he obviously enjoys; and b) he ate something, even if it was only a rat head. Poor little guy, that’s probably the last rat head he will ever enjoy.