Asheville Citizen-Times 03/26/2014 –
Years ago, Guido lay in the tall grass, his head tilted awkwardly, his eyes half closed. His brothers, Giovanni and Vincent were nowhere in sight and had probably run away at the first sign of trouble.
I raced into the yard. As I approached, I could see his eyes were now closed and the side of his body was coated with blood. I pulled my sweatshirt off, wrapped it around his waist, and using both arms struggled with him to the car. I took off for the nearest ER, slowing only at intersections.
I paced in the waiting room as his blood dried on my tee shirt.
The surgeon emerged from the operating room. No internal injuries. Guido would live. He was stitched up, pumped with antibiotics and painkillers, and would be closely monitored in the hospital for the first 48 hours. But he would live.
“I’m curious,” the doctor asked, “how did he get his name? I’ve been in practice for twenty-five years and never had a cat named Guido.”
I nodded. “My neighbor was Sicilian. His wife gave all the kittens in the litter an Italian name. Guido was a gift.”
“And a wonderful gift,” the veterinarian added. “He has a great disposition.”
That would be right—orange, big and gentle, he was the ultimate survivor as evidenced by his encounter with what I think was a raccoon.
My four-year-old daughter and Guido were inseparable. She would carry him around the living room, the backyard, or park him on her lap, all the while talking nonstop.
Guido’s sole bad habit was wandering. He occasionally disappeared for a day, sometimes three or four. Once during a hurricane, he was gone almost a week. But he always returned.
I was raking leaves behind the house when I first noticed he had grown thinner. The diagnosis wasn’t good—diabetes—and he turned out to be only moderately responsive to insulin and dietary therapies. With his condition declining, our vet floated the idea that down the road we might have to face a final decision. I hesitated. Guido didn’t. He disappeared again.
Suddenly, I was faced with a deadline. He couldn’t survive without insulin for an extended period of time. I made phone calls, distributed handmade flyers, knocked on doors, and searched the surrounding woods.
“Don’t worry,” my daughter said to me, “Guido always comes back.”
I knew that some cats slip away and find a quiet, hidden place to die. As the days turned to weeks, then months, his death was an ever present undercurrent seeping through our daily lives.
Until he returned.
I saw Guido walk into the yard. I picked him up and he yawned. When our veterinarian heard the news, she was amazed that he was able to survive for two months without insulin. She mentioned the possibility of misread or mixed-up blood tests, or the miracle of a diabetic cat surviving without conventional medication, but had no concrete answers. (By chance, I later discovered he had spent two months in a farmer’s barn, sleeping on a blanket in the center of a spare tractor tire, just a mile down the road. The grower’s wife thought he was a stray and fed him, but never injected him with insulin.)
Our vet didn’t believe he was in pain and suggested we try the insulin for two weeks to see if he grew stronger.
Guido continued to struggle.
Eventually, I was out of options. With the help of our veterinarian, I explained to my daughter that Guido was sick and no one would want him to suffer. She held him in her arms as he was given the shot. His last memory was her sweet face.
Following the burial, the two of us stared into the woods, her hand in mine. After a minute, we turned toward the house. I picked her up as I climbed the steps to the porch. She looked back once and then rested her forehead against my shoulder.
I’ve always wondered if Guido defied all odds and somehow managed to return and say goodbye to the little girl that loved him unconditionally.
And I think of an orange cat dozing in a square of sunlight on the wood floor, or bounding across the green of the backyard when I called, or watching him jump in the air chasing fireflies as my daughter, hair still damp from her bath, laughed and pointed from behind the screen of a bedroom window,
Yes, I remember it all.
Arrivederci, Guido. Until we meet again.
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