Saturday, July 10, 2010


Almost 10 years ago, I met Zeus for the first time. I had been thinking of introducing a new member to my two-human and two-feline household and a good friend happened to know a couple who'd been fostering a momma and her two kittens for one of the local shelters. I'd never before brought a new cat home to my guys Tarwater and Monzo, so I had second-guessed myself into thinking that a kitten might be the best choice. (I've since learned through further adoptions and fostering that age is more or less irrelevant when it comes to determining how well cats will adapt to each other, but that's best left for another discussion on adopting non-humans that I hope to initiate in the near future so that I can stress the point that non-humans of all ages need homes -- regardless of age or appearance.) From what I was told, Zeus' mother had been abandoned pregnant in an apartment by tenants who'd skipped out on their rent; thankfully, the building's owner called a shelter for help instead of putting her out on the street to fend for herself and this is how she and the only two kittens who survived the ordeal ended up in foster care. Although I had only "planned" to fall head over heels in love with one, it took me less than 15 minutes to realize that I'd be signing papers at the shelter the next day to bring home both Zeus and his sister Sophie.

Kittens always seem like a great idea at the time. They're adorable and spend the majority of their kitten-hood operating in two modes: check-my-breathing-to-make-sure-I'm-really-just-sleeping (see photo above and to the left) and chaotically insatiable. If they seem quiet in-between, they are likely practicing being stealthy and likely getting into something you forgot to kitten-proof. A total of 6-7 years sharing my home with various cats and cat-proofing accordingly had not left me prepared for the energy and curiosity of kittens and all that entails. I still remember the first time I felt like a complete failure when it came to providing my feline family a safe environment the day Zeus and Sophie came tearing out of the bedroom and bumped into a three foot tall decorative bottle made of thick glass I'd had for years. I watched it wobble... and crash, splintering into thousands of little shards as Zeus and Sophie stood frozen, probably more wide-eyed and terrified at my cry than of the bottle's noise. I stepped across the room in my bare feet to scoop them up just as the upstairs neighbour came knocking on the door to make sure that we were all alright. And we were.

As the kittens grew older, friends who visited couldn't help but grin at Zeus. He had this habit of sitting so very calmly and quietly. He was unflappable except when he tried to get Tarwater's attention, and then it was a sad event to watch. Zeus almost behaved like that worshiping little brother who wants to tag along and be included and who then goes away sulking after getting brushed off (in Zeus' case, after getting sent off with a growl or bat on the nose). Tar eventually gave in so that in later years, it wasn't uncommon to find him fast asleep with Zeus wide awake and curled up around him and purring loudly.

It was Zeus I was most worried about when Tarwater died last year. And it was just a few months after Tar died that Zeus ended up getting sick and requiring a special
trip to the vet's for the first time for what appeared to be a mild case of vertigo. The vet ran a few tests and suggested further tests at a recheck appointment if the vertigo hadn't subsided (but it had). By Xmas, Zeus ended up with mild and easily treated gastritis. By April, the vertigo and the gastritis had both returned and I decided to book the earliest appointment I could to press for further tests; the night before his appointment, he'd also started coughing mildly--something new. Freaked out at being at the vet's, his coughing soon turned into wheezing and a few X-rays later we confirmed that Zeus' lungs were inflamed. The vet wrote the vertigo off as having been caused by poor oxygenation; she administered steroids by injection and gave me a prescription for antibiotics "just in case". Over the course of the next several weeks, we returned a few times for further check-ups and X-rays (the steroids would help, then their effect would wane) and Zeus was finally diagnosed as possibly having the onset of feline asthma. Tuesday, two weeks ago, I brought him in again because he'd started coughing. A different vet than the one who'd been treating him before suggested avoiding a steroid injection and instead trying oral and inhaled steroids, sending me home with $200 in prescriptions after noting that his lungs didn't sound "too bad".

Two days later--Canada Day, a holiday for me--I woke up in bed and the first thing I saw was Zeus convulsing beside me, staring at me with his eyes and mouth impossibly wide and his nose and tongue blue. I called my vet's answering service and rushed him to the on-call
emergency vet's by cab. I held an oxygen mask to his face for nearly an hour as the vet injected him with fast-acting steroids, wrote down his history and then taped plastic sheets around a cage so that he could pipe oxygen into it and allow Zeus to be more comfortable. I was sent home and promised regular phone updates, which at first were that he wasn't responding very well. Only at the end of the day was I told that he was finally stable and that imaging had shown that he'd developed a serious case of pneumonia, probably due to his weakened lungs and depressed immune system (no thanks to the steroids he'd been getting). The next morning, the vet called to tell me that Zeus was panicking and that this worsened his breathing; he suggested that I take him home, and by the time I arrived, Zeus had already meowed himself hoarse and looked worse than when I'd brought him in. After hydration, syringe-feeding, antibiotics, a human consultation with my vet the next day (Zeus was in no shape to travel) and 2-3 mostly sleepless nights later, my sweet boy was (and is) on the mend.

During these past few weeks, I've had many friends--both old and new--offer words of support. Some of you also offered to help with the expenses incurred over the past few weeks because of Zeus' crisis after I'd admitted that my underpaid self was tapped out. Some of you weren't even people I knew particularly well, and some of you were people with whom I've had personal or political differences in the past. I'm not the sort to ask for help and felt awkward receiving it, but in this case, the possible alternative was unthinkable and I realized that this wasn't about me. I want to thank you for the advice, the kind words, as well as for any contributions that were made so that I could ensure that Zeus received the care that he did.
He's my one of my favourite persons, and if you ever meet him, you'll understand why.


The Compassionate Hedonist said...

Bless you for the love you shared with your feline friend! A lot of vegans refuse to share their households with cats and I think that is sad. I am happy that Zeus found you!!

LoncheraV said...

Thank you for sharing this Mylène :) I am glad Zeus is getting better. I hope he lives lots of more years to keep bringing you joy, love, and purry kisses.

Anonymous said...

It tears my heart to hear of how the most fortunate among the tragic millions of these little refugees find us... and how we live and die, both in joy and in sorrow, in each other's arms :'o(

I hope Zeus has a long time left to spend comfortably with you and yours. His eyes are so full of love.


Lorraine Haines said...

Thank you, Mylène - it is wonderful to read Zeus's story. He really is beautiful!
So, so happy that he is feeling better - you've both been through so much.
All my love to you both.

MikeyPod said...

So happy Zeus is on the mend!

Vanilla Rose said...

It's nice to get some good news.

SalT said...

I'm so glad Zeus is getting well :) This is brilliant news!

Anonymous said...

I'm so glad to hear that Zeus is doing better, Mylène! He's lucky to have found such a caring, compassionate guardian; his life (and Sophie's!) could have ended up so much differently.

M said...

Thank you so much, everyone, for your kind comments. Zeus was very lucky on so many levels. He's doing much, much better now and I'm keeping my fingers crossed the he continued to stay well. I hope that he's with me for a long time, still.