Wednesday, 11 October 2017 08:56

A warm bath and belly rubs cap a wonderful life

Written by  Lee Sullivan

My daughter Braelyn was out of the house last weekend, attending her third Lenoir-Rhyne homecoming as a proud alum. And I can’t help but believe, it’s what Ziggy was waiting for.

Our quirky, noisy, mischievous male feline, part of the family since Braelyn started middle school, waited for my daughter to leave so he could say goodbye.

From the time we acquired him as part of a brother-sister team — Braelyn and her mom were just “going to look,” but after meeting the grey pair they convinced each other waiting was too much of a risk — he fulfilled every wish a pet owner could have. Lovable beyond belief, Ziggy was as friendly a creature as anyone could imagine. There were no strangers, just people who had not yet had the wonderful opportunity to rub his belly.

He was big, but really just an oversized baby. Folks normally uncomfortable with cats would shrink back a little when he came prancing, but when he circled their legs, rubbed his back against their shins and mumbled that deep, vibrating grunt that served as his best attempt at a purr, they usually gave in.

He put up with a lot, asking just the basics — food, water, head rubs, reserved spots on every bed, couch, chair and blanket in the house, first dibs on fresh litter, the occasional serving of tuna and a body to press against on cool nights — in return.

When Braelyn received a pair of Christmas pajamas, with a matching set designed for a pet, Ziggy was the designated model. He was tricked into it because he was so friendly and — since his sister embraced the more traditional, aloof approach to a cat’s role in the household — he was easier to grab. But once we squeezed all of him into the soft sleep-wear sweater, he endured long enough for a few pictures, making it clear afterward that he had earned a special treat.

He was also the reluctant volunteer victim of my one attempt at do-it-yourself pet grooming. The poor guy, with shaggy hair and a fluffy tail, was a magnet for lonely fleas and, to make matters worse, he seemed allergic to their presence. One summer, in what looking back may have been an ill-advised bit of beer-induced brilliance, I decided if his hair was shorter, he’d be more comfortable and fleas would have fewer places to hide.

He let me hold him, of course, but even he had second thoughts when he heard the clippers. The bizarre stripes of long, short and zigzagged paths that I created before he managed to escape hung around well into the fall, as did his reluctance to allow me back into his inner circle. But he eventually forgave me, rewarding me often with the chance to rub him.

In recent weeks, he began to fade. Rare seizures had always bothered him, but they became more frequent. And when his appetite eased, we knew it wasn’t good.

The vet prescribed medicine. The seizures stopped, but little lovable Zig was struggling.

Last Friday evening, after Braelyn left for Hickory, he wandered through the house — the only home he had ever known — one last time.

He let me give him a warm bath, dry him off and hold him for a while wrapped up in a blanket. He didn’t put up a fuss when I pushed medicine into his mouth. Then he eagerly lapped up some water and tried his best to enjoy one last serving of the special soft food we stocked up on to help lure him to take his daily dose of pills.

As I rubbed his head and then slowly moved my hands way down his spine, he slowly rolled over, just like he had done since the first day we got him, so I could have easier access to his soft, pink belly. He laid his head back, let loose a low rumble — he never learned to purr — and made it clear, as he always did, that he enjoyed the attention.

For most of his life, this would be when he’d wrap his front paws around my hand and hold tight, telling me in his own subtle way not to stop. But this time, the energy wasn’t there. He just looked at me. I kept rubbing, hoping against hope it might encourage him to hang on a little longer. But our big grey boy had fought long enough.

I nestled him down near his food bowl. He looked around at what served as his warm and welcoming home for nearly 13 years, slowly dropped his head to the blue, knitted blanket he had slept on as a kitten, closed his eyes and died.

I buried him in the back yard, wrapped in his blanket and with a few well-deserved cans of his favorite treat. And then I returned to the sad, quiet house, dreading the days ahead and the news I would have to deliver when Braelyn came home.

The sadness lingers, as it is supposed to, but Ziggy went out on his terms. And we have no complaints.

We provided a lifetime of belly rubs, but he left us with more than we could ever give him in return.

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