Cleo, Christmas 2007

My cat Cleo was diagnosed with diabetes.

The vet called Monday to let me know the results of some tests I had run on her last Saturday. I’d noticed a sudden increase in urine in the litter box (fortunately, it was all in the litter box) and I immediately became suspicious. I had a hunch right off the bat that it was Cleo–being severely overweight, she was the most likely candidate. And people had been warning me for years that I had to find some way to keep her weight down because she could get diabetes. I listened, but didn’t alter my cat parenting. It was a lot easier for me to free feed the cats because when I go on my little weekend trips, I don’t need to worry about having anyone come in to watch them. I didn’t have to worry about rushing home to feed them regularly. I could have my pets and my lifestyle too.

Making a cat lose weight is hard. The best bet I had was perhaps not letting them free feed, taking the food away as soon as they were done nibbling, and bringing it back later in the day. But, again, that required me to actually think about something other than myself. So. I view it as a fault of my parenting that Cleo got diabetes. Yes, she has the propensity to be overweight; she’s been overweight since the moment I selected her at the Humane Society of Akron. Her little tubby body with too-short legs are what endeared her to me, in fact. That and her general sassy personality.

At the Humane Society, Cleo was housed in the room where cats who got along with other cats were kept. Cats in this area are kept in open cages where, if they are not “roomed” with another cat, they could see other cats in other cages. There’s a separate room in the Humane Society for cats who don’t generally get along with other cats and those cages fill a wall and each cage can only fit one cat. They can’t see each other within their cages.

When my husband and I went looking for our new cat–we called her the child we would have together, as opposed to my “step-children” Nicki and Tanya who Mike had since before he met me–we purposely sought cats who were easy-going and could get along with other cats since we would be bringing a new cat into a two-cat home. So we were in the room where the social cats were housed and we were looking at all the friendly little kitties who were rolling about and mewing in their cages. And Cleo was sitting alone in a cage, looking up at me with her wise old eyes. I put my hand to the cage and she nudged it with her head and began to purr loudly. I thought she was adorable; with her white whiskers and the white spot on her chin, she looked like she had a fu manchu.

I turned from her cage to look at some other cats–I was browsing, I’d just got there–and I heard this bold, flippant, “Ew!” from Cleo’s cage. It was as if she said, “Fine! I don’t need your attention, you stupid human!” I turned around and she had tossed herself, somehow, into the makeshift hammock that was strewn across her cage. She was laying like a person would–on her back, paws in the air. I fell in love with her at that moment. She was taking no shit from anyone. If I wasn’t adopting her, she was showing me that she was just fine without me.

We didn’t get her right away. We were trying to look around at all the shelters to make sure we found the perfect new daughter to adopt. But when I left the Humane Society that night, I couldn’t stop thinking about Cleo’s cute little face, her sassy demeanor, and her tubby, stout little body. Plus, she was black and white; she fit into the color scheme of my currently existing cats (Tanya being fully black, sleek like a panther; Nicki, a black and white “tux” cat.)

Tubby and stout,  Cleo is a solid mass. Mike and I liked to call her “big-boned.” I often thought that if Cleo were human, she’d look like Miss Cleo, the so-called psychic who used to advertise on television late at night. Right down to the Jamaican accent. But I think my Cleo is a lot wiser. Like a Buddha.

A pissed off Cleo, post-bath

Mike and I used to jokingly refer to her as a “gaseous anomaly” (borrowed from some episode of Star Trek) because she used to lay down some nasty gas. Okay, she still does that sometimes. I guess we had all sorts of funny inside jokes about Cleo. She was always a constant source of entertainment for us. When Nicki and Tanya would hiss and try to fight with her, Cleo would fight back with the calm persistence of someone who was above it all. She did what she had to do to get respect.

I named her Cleo (though Mike wanted me to name her “Aurora” because I always wanted to name a real kid that and he hated the name). But we called her “Boogie.” I don’t know why, but it’s permanently her second name. She will respond to either Cleo or Boogie. Some of my friends have little nicknames for her, too, such as “Pillow Kitty” (Gwenn) and “Rolly-Poley Kitty” (my cousin’s husband Peter).

Since I first noticed she might be having health issues, I’ve paid closer attention to her and I realize that she’s not 100% herself. A cat is lazy, but her level of activity has dropped considerably. She spends a lot of time laying in front of the water dish, perhaps for easier access to quench her frequent thirst. She hasn’t been managing care of her fur–there’s more mats than usual in her hair. She’s lying around in general a lot more. And I notice every time she starts down the steps to the litter boxes.

I take her in to the vet again on Saturday to learn how to give her insulin shots. She’s going to get all new food and I’m panicking about how I’m going to keep Nicki from getting it at it. The last time I tried to feed Cleo a special prescribed diet food, I ended up having to give it to Nicki too because Nicki would only want the food that wasn’t in her own dish if she figured out it was different. That’s why I stopped feeding Cleo the vet-prescribed diet food that could have, perhaps, prevented her diabetes. It was too expensive to feed both cats on it. I’m sure the special food for diabetes cats is the same sort of expense. And I’m sure that Nicki is going to want to eat it because it’s different.

How'd she fit in there?!

My lifestyle is altered. I’m trying to think of it as the same thing as having a dog except that I still don’t have to run home to let the cats out before they use the floor as a bathroom (as is the case with most dogs). So now I’ve got to find a “baby-sitter” who has no problem coming to my house twice a day to feed the cats and administer shots to Cleo. I’ve already got dates coming up: TOSRV, the MS 150, the mid-week trip to Michigan for the U2 concert, and my trip to Seattle for a week and a half in July. I’ve been fretting for the last couple days about what I’m going to do about all these events. And I’m bumming because I wanted to sign up for Roscoe Ramble in August. Because I hate to impose on my friends, I imagine I’ll be paying a lot of pet-sitting fees. Which might ultimately cause me to cut back on the number of weekend trips I go on.

I guess I’ll work it out. I see no other choice right now because I can’t let my cat suffer. I don’t want to give her away to someone else because she’s become inconvenient to my single life. That’s so shallow and mean. The vet says that after some treatment, cats occasionally will clear themselves of the diabetes symptoms and go back to normal. But she warned me not to expect that. The symptoms came on so suddenly–within the last couple of weeks–so I’m hoping her case of diabetes really isn’t that serious. I’m praying for some recompense for my bad parenting. Maybe I still have time to undo the damage I’ve done.

Admittedly, a part of me would not forgive myself if I bailed on Mike and my “love child.” The only conversations Mike and I ever had about death was about who would take custody of our cats if we both tragically died. That’s how much we were attached to our pets. In fact, I’ve told myself many-a-night that it’s a good thing I came into Mike’s life because I dread to think what would have happened to Nicki and Tanya had Mike left them orphaned. And who knows what would have happened to Cleo if we had never rescued her from the Humane Society. It is a no-kill facility. Cleo had already been there 9 months; maybe she would have been there for life. That’s no life for a cat.

Everyone in my family is a sucker for animals. My parents have kept their dogs well beyond senility. My brother and his wife have two cats. It seems none of us can be without a pet. As much as I begrudge my situation now, and as many times I swear that I will not have any more cats after these ones, I know that it’s not true. I would feel incredibly lonely without the company of a pet. At times when I was going through the worse moments of grief, my cats were always there, demanding attention, purring on my lap, and letting me know that I wasn’t alone. Their simple love cheered me on lonely nights. Petting them soothed me when I cried. Pets are often used to help sick people in hospitals and I understand why. They coax the nurturing nature out of us, even when we think we are totally devoid of a nurturing nature.

A relationship with a pet is give and take. I suppose now it’s my turn to give.

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5 thoughts on “Cleo

  1. If I remember correctly, I was there with you and Mike on your initial visit to the Humane Society, because that was around the same time I was looking for my first cat. And I almost did adopt a cat that day, but then they learned she had a medical problem and as a first time pet owner I was advised that it might be too much for me to handle then. Was all meant to be, because otherwise I never would have found Zoelle.

    Just remember, Heidi, if your friends are offering to help you, taking us up on our offers is not inconveniencing us.

    • I think you were there the day we decided to actually get her… I think we adopted her that day…

      I am only not taking you up on your offer to house Cleo while I’m in Seattle because it inconveniences me :) I’d rather find a solution where someone can come to her, even if I have to pay for it. But I’ll keep your offer in mind.

      • We may be available for some of your shorter trips, you’ll have to check with us as the time comes closer to see if we’d have a chance to get out that way on those days.

      • Well I KNOW you aren’t available for the U2 date :) You guys could spend a weekend at my house and enjoy the change of scenery… See what’s like to live “down south”. Experience yuppy suburban living at its finest. Marvel at the decadence of one who has a library, an office, and a guest bedroom all in one house…

      • Mars Girl Bed & Breakfast! You have to make your own breakfast, though, and please clean up after yourselves when you leave ;)

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