For all you animal lovers out there here is an essay written 5 years ago after my cat, Gabby had a massive stroke. My cat is as important to me as any family member and what we went through together was the most important thing that ever happened to me. I learned what I was capable of, and I learned, through unconditional love what it is to save a life.. It’s the thing I’m most proud of. Hope you enjoy our story.
GETTING GABBY WELL
I never liked cats. They seemed like pets for people who couldn’t handle dogs. I grew up with dogs. They were a big part of my world and I loved the rough and tumble childlike feelings they kept me in close touch with. Cats were cold, sneaky, and opportunistic. Dogs had it all there on their faces and in their eyes. Cats had secrets. Dogs smiled. Cats smirked. Cats didn’t play fair. They didn’t need you as much. They had attitude. I didn’t like them at all.
I never understood childless couples who’d found a reasonable facsimile in a feline. The cat in question would seem to be blasé’ as the couples fawned and fussed like they had a lovable cherubic offspring resting in their hands. I didn’t get it. It made me uncomfortable and more than a little self righteous.
Then I got a cat.
Back around 2003 my then girlfriend and I were living in a two bedroom apartment in beautiful Redondo Beach, California. My girlfriend wanted a cat. I didn’t. I was working pretty steadily as an actor, but didn’t feel quite comfortable about having another mouth to feed, much less a mouth attached to a species I felt no sympathy toward. I liked my carefree life and was still in love with my late lamented Basset Hound, Shemp. I was a dog guy and that was that.
One weekend we decided to get away to Lone Pine, California. Lone Pine is located about 4 hours north of Redondo Beach and boasts rock formations like no other. Hundreds of films were shot there, especially westerns, and since I am an incurable old movie fan I wanted to go and see those beautiful old stones with my own eyes. The town was very small and had just one main street. Along that that street was the town bulletin board upon which there was a 5 by 7 card that read, “9 kittens up for adoption. Get one while they last.”, followed by the address and phone number. My girlfriend extended her lower lip about as far out as it could go and asked if we could take one of the little darlings home. I reluctantly said, “Let’ s enjoy the rest of our time here then stop on the way back. If they have any kittens left we’ll take one.”. I secretly hoped they would all find new homes before that time, but that was not to be.
I had to laugh when I learned that there were all 9 kittens left. Not one was adopted. They all seemed to be playing underneath the elderly couple’s double wide trailer, so the woman gathered them up and brought them over for inspection one by one. They were all cute, I must admit, but it was the last one that stole my heart. The woman held out a tiny gray ball of fur with blue eyes and a head that was easily twice the size of her body. This ball of fluff took one look at me and bravely hissed. I said, “That’s the one.”. It was love at first sight. She had spirit. She could probably play like a dog.
We shared an uncomfortable ride home and then got to the threshold of our apartment. When I carried that kitty through the door of my home something strange and magical occurred. I immediately knew that I would care for and love this cat for the rest of the time we had together on this earth. She was my baby. I loved her. I loved her like she was my own child. Does that happen to everybody?
We called her Gabby, because she was from the place where western sidekick, Gabby Hayes made about 4000 films. She’s my first cat and I’m now a devout believer. Now I know why those “crazy” couples treated their cats like children. Now I know how you can bond with these seemingly cold and mysterious creatures. They’re not so mysterious at all. I can usually look at Gabby’s eyes to know what she wants, where she’d like to be, and how she’s feeling. She turned out to be the kind of cat that played fetch, carried on rough and tumble, and met me on the path when I came home at night so I could carry her the rest of the way. Gabby was also blessed with the rare “cat travel gene“. She is just fine in the car, is a perfect angel in an airplane, and has been all over the country with me staying in some very nice hotels when I’d do a road company tour. She even lived in Las Vegas with me the year I did Mel Brooks‘, The Producers at the Paris Hotel. She was absolutely perfect.
Then one Friday evening I opened in a play at a theater close to my home. There was a reception afterward, and the wonderful new woman in my life and I were enjoying ourselves. Suddenly I noticed that someone with an unfamiliar phone number had left a message on my phone. I returned the call and heard that my neighbor from across the street had found Gabby in the middle of the road in front of my house groaning and unable to move. He assumed that she was hit by a car. I called back immediately and was told that the neighbor who happened to find Gabby (before an inevitable car tire did) worked at the local Animal Emergency Hospital. I’m not a religious man but I suddenly gained a pretty good respect for those things called, “miracles”. I left the party without explanation to anyone except my girlfriend and raced to my car. She followed shortly in her own vehicle. I must’ve gone through 4 or 5 red lights as I frantically sped to the hospital. With tear soaked eyes I begged the powers that be to keep her alive and out of pain. It was horrible and dangerous.
When we arrived nobody could tell us anything. We were asked to wait in the lobby for an eternity. A movie played on their wide screen TV but I couldn’t pay any attention. I left the room and went outside to the parking lot where I cried, screamed, begged, and pleaded with unseen forces to protect her. I was a total wreck. Then they called me in for the consultation.
She was alive but not well. She had the look of an empty puppet, a puppet of Gabby without the hand inside. She looked sad, addled, and frightened. She couldn’t move anything but her head. Her once long and lustrous gray hair was matted, and because of the IV one of her legs was shaved. I tried to hold back my tears so she wouldn’t be upset, but at that moment I felt like making a deal with the devil to take me so Gabby could be restored to her normal self. She was entirely helpless and the diagnosis was extremely iffy.
The X-rays showed no internal injuries. None. There were no broken or fractured bones and no internal organs were damaged. The doctor’s were baffled. They kept her for observation the whole next day to see if there’d be any change. The next evening I got a lesson in the old adage, “the show must go on” as I performed in a crazy light hearted comedy, knowing the whole time that my Gabby might be dying. I kept my phone in my costume pocket while onstage knowing that if I felt it vibrate I could get the message as soon as I exited. I was a tearful frightened mess. (The cast was amazingly supportive, but then most show folk are helpful sensitive souls.)
The following day the doctor sent Gabby to a neurologist. My girlfriend had to take her on the hour long journey as I had a matinee that day. I dreaded what news might come. Again I played in the comedy despite mentally being somewhere else. Then, at last, I heard the real scoop.
An MRI revealed that Gabby had had an embolism. At 6 years of age she fell victim to a stroke. She lost the use of three of her limbs, and her head leaned towards the left. Her eyes seemed far away and confused. She couldn’t sit up, defecate or urinate without help, could not eat or drink on her own, and she had an exploded blood vessel above her left eye. I don’t think I ever cried so much before. I’ve had relatives pass away but I never reacted the way I did thinking that Gabby might not make it. I couldn’t reconcile the fact that she was only 6 years of age and was being knocked down like this. I thought of that perfect, energetic, and goofy kitty who I’d left behind that early evening when I went to work. She was in rare form that day, being especially lovable and frisky. A few hours later I was sitting with a broken little cat crying my eyes out.
My girlfriend is British (Scottish by birth but raised in England) and I’m an American with a strong Sicilian background. Although I do not have mafia ties (Oh how I hate that image.) I do have a dark and emotional nature. The British girlfriend had nothing but positive things to say right from the outset, while I was mostly about gloom and doom. I really couldn’t help it, though. I was mourning the fact that my Gabby might never be the same kitty I fell in love with. I cried because she probably would never be able to go outdoors on her own anymore, and that her life would be forever hampered by a limp, or worse, and that she would never again meet me at the pathway when I arrived home. I had every right to feel this way, but then so did my girlfriend. One thing dictated her mood; Gabby was still alive. Even so, out of frustration one day I said to her, “You know, your British spunk clashes with my Sicilian angst.”. We got a much needed laugh out of that.
Luckily the neurologist told me that there was a chance for recovery. It would take a good deal of work, and a lot of money. I gulped hard and said, “It’s just about getting Gabby well.”. I’m not a wealthy man, in fact not even close. I’m an itinerant actor for hire and I work when there’s work, otherwise I live on my savings. Well, now my savings had a different place to go. My life had to focus on one thing and one thing only, getting Gabby well. It was all about getting Gaby well.
She stayed at the hospital under observation and care for almost two weeks. I went every day. Four hours in the morning, and fours hours in the evening. I hand fed her, stroked her, learned how to express her bladder, and most importantly told her I loved her again and again as I pet her supine form. I thought we’d bonded before but from this time on we were as close as any two creatures could be. I saw the love in her eyes and the appreciation for not giving up on her. I saw her try things for me that the doctors said she wasn’t doing for them. I would see her eyes light up whenever they carried her out to me at the start of my daily visits. I was unemployed, but like my positive British girlfriend reminded me, “It’s a blessing that you have all the time in world for her. You could have been working in a bank, or something!”. She was right, of course.
Just before the two week mark the doctor told me that I could take her home. I was thrilled because, although we have two dogs of our own at home, the “strange” dogs at the clinic were scaring Gabby. I wanted her to get the relaxation she needed in familiar surroundings. Before taking her home I had a million and one questions. What if she won’t go to the bathroom? Where should I keep her? Exactly how much water should I put in the hypodermic needle to make her drink? They gave me some fluid in an IV bag that I had to administer to her every morning. They gave me instructions on how to release the dripping water with a valve, and then, to my complete shock, showed me how to stick a VERY large needle into her back. I left feeling very overwhelmed and more than a bit queasy. I was determined, though. I would not fail my little girl.
The following weeks were amazing. She slowly improved by the day. I began to take her to physical therapy sessions twice a week where they gave her acupuncture, as well. I would sit with her and do her leg rotation exercises three times a day and put her through the other exercises the doctor advised. I patiently hand fed her and got her to drink. I expressed her bladder so she would release the urine she couldn’t seem to manage on her own. I administered laxatives so she would poop. I moved her from side to side so she wouldn’t develop bedsores on her weaker side. I became her fulltime caregiver.
Before my eyes she began to eat on her own. The drinking took a bit longer, but I decided to try something. Since she wouldn’t drink out of her bowl I had to shoot water down her throat from a hypodermic. She hated it. So, one day I gave her a bowl of milk to see what she‘d do. As I thought she would she began to drink the more desired liquid from the bowl. Then I placed a bowl of water in front of her and got the desired results. Whenever she wouldn’t drink from the bowl I would reach for the dreaded hypodermic and show it to her, and that usually did the trick.
The day of joy and celebration, though was when I heard her crawl clumsily into her litter box to do her business on her own. Like a proud parent I have to this day made it a point to throw a little party in my heart every time I hear her scraping away at the litter. She was getting stronger and stronger.
She is now just over the 6 week point and about 70% recovered. I am as grateful a man as any in the world. She was up last night running from room to room, jumping on the bed, then to the couch, then back again. She begs to be let out, but that’s not an option right now. She eats like horse and goes to the bathroom on a regular basis. Gabby is getting well.
I would never wish this experience on anyone, but I learned some things that I would never have learned otherwise (isn’t that what it’s all about, anyway?). During this experience, whenever I encountered someone who could not understand why I would spend my life savings (and beyond) and go to such great lengths for the sake of a measly little cat I was able to see them in an understanding light. I was like that B.G. (Before Gabby.). At the same time I often felt very alone in my concern for this small animal. People generally tend to be more sympathetic to the plights of a fellow human being. That’s understandable, but it’s essential to remember that I was dealing with a member of my immediate family. Whether she’s human, or not is not the issue. Blood doesn’t play into it. Our pets bring us joy and they are cherished for the unconditional love they give to us on a daily basis. That kind of devotion is rich and rare, and it should be rewarded with our own equal love and devotion in return. Some “get it” and some don’t.
Money is also a huge issue. During these uncertain economical times we all might not have the resources to handle the cost of a pet’s medical care. I was lucky in that I have friends and family who were sympathetic, and I had some savings to draw from, but there are some that have nothing and no one to turn to. Costs are enormous for uninsured pet owners. Upon seeing some of the bills my jaw became permanently ajar. But trust me, if your beloved pet has a chance for recovery beg, borrow, or steal to bring them back. You’ll feel so good, even as you pay the bills, even as you ask a family member, or a friend for a loan. What a shame that the life of a living thing should be contingent on whether or not you have the money. What a barbaric situation that is. for pets and human beings.
On the other hand I also learned how kind and caring people can be in a pinch. The cast and crew of the play I was involved in at the time took up a collection for us, my girlfriend dug up some hard earned cash of her own, and some cherished family and friends helped, as well. I’m forever grateful to them, and (although I was embarrassed at first) I accepted those offerings as gifts, not for me, but for Gabby and her well being. They all helped in getting her well. I felt like George Bailey at the end of “It’s a Wonderful Life”.
Most importantly, I learned what I am capable of doing when the going seems impossible. I was petrified when this challenge was presented to me. I felt inept and unqualified. This was a stroke victim I had to deal with. Me. I had to stick a long needle into my baby’s back so she wouldn’t dehydrate. I had to help her to re-learn how to eat on her own, walk on her own, and go to the bathroom on her own. Me!
It’s all working out, though. Although I know she isn’t 100%, yet, I know that all the effort has been nothing but worth it. I look at her happily lolling on her blanket and know that I had a hand in that. She is back to being playful and mischievous and she surprises us everyday. Her gumption is an inspiration and she represents the bright side to each gripe I may have about whatever hurdles I meet in my daily life. She’s a miracle.
So, despite what the experts say to you about whether or not to put your injured or sick pet down, remember that your pet is counting on you to be responsible and sensitive to their needs. Remember that meds aren’t the only solution and science is sometimes fallible. If this story has touched you at all feel free to draw from it when faced with this challenging decision. Think of the little gray cat who could barely move, and then come on over to my house and watch that same little gray cat jump and run happily from room to room.
Gabby’s getting well. Yes sir, she’s getting well.
I wrote that about 5 years ago. Gabby is doing fine. She never came back 100% but she doesn’t seem to mind. She is about 90% well. Her right side isn’t quite up to her left but she more than manages. She walks, runs, plays, and continues to be one of the brightest parts of my life. She’s my miracle kitty and I love her more than words can say.