Thursday, December 3, 2009

Geri, the elderly cat

During my second year of medical school, I adopted a cat from the animal shelter. Because I wanted a cat to sit by me while I studied, I avoided the kitty route and looked for an older cat. At the shelter, a long, grey-haired cat, with big green eyes looked at me, rubbing against the bars. I fell in love instantly. When the cage door opened he walked to me, and I picked him up and he started to purr.
I could feel every vertebrae on his emaciated body and could smell his butt, but I knew that he was the cat for me.

When I brought Geri home, he explored his surroundings with confidence. I gave him a bath and fed him. He ate voraciously, getting food everywhere, then opening his jaw wide in a silent roar between bites. In the morning after I showered, Geri would wait for me on the toilet and reach out and place his paw on my arm as I sat on the tub edge brushing my hair, looking intently at me.  He reminded me in many ways of my deceased father, and sometimes I wondered if my father's spirit lived inside him.  He would meow hideously when he was alone in a room. The shelter said Geri was 11, but the veterinarian I took him to said that was a “kind estimate”, and that he was likely 17. The vet thought Geri had serious health problems and would likely not live a full year. Geri’s lab work showed hyperthyroidism.  I took him home and fed him all he could eat and gave him anti-thyroid medication.

Geri gained weight started playing. His favorite toy was a pair of earplugs connected by a wire dangling from the back of a chair. I originally let him out in my backyard because he was unable to jump very high, but one day I looked out and saw him walking by on the fence.
I didn’t let him out unsupervised anymore. But those golden days were over much too soon. Geri started having bathroom problems and trouble breathing.  I took him to the vet.  Geri’s lung x-ray showed congestion, and a fluid sample showed cancer cells.  My vet said it was time to let him go.  I agreed. Geri had been letting me know he wasn’t enjoying his life, retreating to a corner of the room in solitude, gasping for breath.

I only knew Geri for three months, but I felt loved and understood by him. He would greet me at the door when I came home and follow me when he was well.  He was dependable.  I loved him more than I thought I could love a cat.  Before Geri, I thought people who mourned their pets were silly. Geri made me realize that animals have souls, and that people who love animals are not lonely people looking for a substitute for humans, but loving people making a connection with a fellow being.

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