For more than twelve wonderful years, I was blessed to have a cat named Mr. Zig in my life.
Right from the beginning, he was a special cat. He was kind, and gentle, and had a wonderfully playful spirit.
But in the end, I paid him back for his love and beauty by allowing him to die a degrading and painful death.
This is probably not a story that anyone should read. But I know in my heart that one day I will need to come back and remember, so that is why I write.
A Turning Point
In 2008, my life was at a crossroads.
I had been living in Romania long enough to get the hang of things, but I still wasn’t sure whether it was a place that I wanted to live permanently.
After a great deal of trial and error, I had managed to figure out how to work “remotely” (via the internet) and earn a stable income.
I also had a few friends, but I hadn’t yet figured out how to get a social life going.
That summer of 2008 was a long and lonely one for me, a time of sleepless nights and lots and lots of soul searching.
But in August, I saw a poster advertisement for an upcoming salsa (dance) class.
Right away, I knew that this was my make-or-break moment. Either I’d push myself far outside my comfort limits, or I needed to move on elsewhere where perhaps I spoke the language better.
I chose the salsa class, my hands so slicked with sweat when I signed up that the cash was limp and damp when I handed it over.
I never did become a good dancer, but I did form lifelong friendships from that class.
And from that moment, I knew that my home was in Romania.
Quite literally, from my infancy, I’ve been around cats my entire life.
When I moved to Romania, I sorely missed having a cat around. But I have always believed that it is wrong to take in a cat and then have to give him or her up a few years later.
Therefore, it wasn’t until I learned to dance salsa that I was ready to receive a cat into my life.
A short while after the classes began, in November, an old friend of mine from Brasov called me up, asking me to take one of her cat’s kittens.
I knew the mother cat quite well, and she was on her third litter of cats. Seven or eight cats from the previous litters had gone to folks in Brasov, but they were running out of takers for the kittens from the third litter.
Long story short, I volunteered to take one of the runts, and my friend agreed to transport her up to Cluj on the train.
The cute little kitten she brought me was a star from the moment I met her.
On the train trip up to Cluj, Noodles had climbed out of her box and charmed half the people in the car.
She immediately settled into my apartment and became my sweet little princess. She was (and still is) a talkative, affectionate, and incredibly cute cat, and I could not have been more thrilled to have her in my life.
Over the years, I got some of the timelines mixed up in my head. But this week, I had to go through all of Mr. Zig’s documents, and that really helped me refresh my memories.
At some point in October 2008, a month before I got Noodles, the little kitten that would become known as Mr. Zig was born on the streets of Timisoara in far western Romania.
October is rather late in the breeding season for cats, so it’s no surprise that he was a cold and hungry little guy when my friend found him crying near the public garbage dumpsters one day in November.
Mr. Zig was cold, hungry, and miserable, and he immediately melted my friend’s heart.
At that time, my friend was living in an extremely small apartment with her family, and they already had a small dog, so it was no surprise when her mother said she had to get rid of the cat.
But Mr. Zig somehow charmed the mom into allowing him to stay for a few critical weeks while my friend nursed him with a cat milk concoction from the veterinarian.
Once he got big and strong enough to run around, however, it was time for him to go.
Luckily, my friend had a friend who had just moved into her own apartment in Timisoara and was interested in taking in Mr. Zig.
And for a while, everything seemed fine.
He’s a Killer!
Relayed through my friend, I began to hear horror stories of how Mr. Zig was tearing up the house and being very aggressive with people. Therefore, the friend felt like she needed to get rid of Mr. Zig.
But where would he go?
Desperately, my friend called everyone she knew, but there were no takers. So she called me and asked me if I would take him.
At this point, Noodles had been with me for about a month, and everything was great. She was about six weeks old when I got her, so I was enjoying all of her young kitten play energy.
Mr. Zig, on the other hand, was already about three months old and had a reputation as a wild, aggressive cat.
I was living in a very small apartment, and I wasn’t sure he would be the right companion for Noodles. But my friend insisted, to my eternal thankfulness, and told me Mr. Zig was a special cat worth going all the way to Timisoara to get.
And she was very, very right about that!
When I got to Timisoara, I checked into a hotel and then met up with my friend.
Together, we took a taxi out to her friend’s apartment building. As it was a cold January day, we wanted to go inside to do the transfer, but the friend had called and said that Mr. Zig was being too wild, so she’d bring him outside once she’d gotten him into the cage.
When she came outside, all I could see was the large cage in her hand. But I did see the fresh blood dripping down her neck, and she told us that Mr. Zig had attacked her, unprovoked, in the bed while she had been sleeping.
Still, though, she was sad to see him go. As she handed over the cage, she said, “I want to keep him, but I just can’t. He’s a killer.”
Stunned, I hopped in a taxi and took Mr. Zig up to my hotel room. I had some food and water ready for him, but not a litterbox. I tried to make do by placing a mound of cotton balls in the corner.
I then shut the door and let him unwind and explore the place in peace while I hung out with my friends and did some other things.
The Long Journey Home
When I arrived back at my hotel room that night, Mr. Zig was hiding under the bed, and the food was untouched.
The next morning, I scooped him up, discovering that he had chosen to go to the bathroom under the exact center of the bed, which resulted in a lengthy and difficult clean-up.
In his cage, he hated all the motion and the shaking when I was carrying him, and the loud noises at the train station made him start trying to claw his way out.
Once inside the train, however, he calmed down just a tiny bit and only let out a miserable wail every ten minutes or so during the six-hour ride back to Cluj.
His eyes were wide with fear, and trying to stroke him with my fingers through the bars did nothing to comfort him. He was completely miserable, and I felt terrible for putting him through it.
At long last, after another bout of shaking and vertigo from the taxi ride, I finally got to set down his cage on the floor of the bathroom in my apartment.
Wanting to give him some time to adjust before he met Noodles, I closed the bathroom door and let Mr. Zig out of the carrier.
Immediately, he made a beeline for the litterbox and quickly relieved himself.
And from that moment on, he was completely calm and at ease.
And far from being a “killer,” he was one of the sweetest and most gentle souls that I ever met in my entire life.
With his cute face and oversized paws that almost looked like mittens, Mr. Zig was an adorable cat with a spirit to match.
From the Heart
I don’t even remember how his first encounter with Noodles went because that’s the kind of cat he was – he got along with everyone.
Thanks to one of my salsa friends, I have a few photographs of Mr. Zig when he first came into my life, and it’s easy to see his playful spirit was there right from the beginning.
While Noodles is a pushy, demanding cat at times, Mr. Zig was always incredibly gentle and almost stoic in his non-neediness.
Yet, at certain times, this incredibly cute and mischievous spirit would come out, which always made you laugh instead of getting angry.
For example, Mr. Zig was a champion thief when it came to food. More than once, he even managed to hook a piece of fish out of the dog’s bowl, and I’ll never forget the sight of him dashing off at top speed, his tail straight up and erect, and that fish dangling under his chin.
In the above picture, Mr. Zig has somehow managed to wedge himself between the window and the outer wooden blinds, but what you can’t see is that beyond the blinds was a five-story drop to the ground below.
As scared as I was that he was gonna fall off, that expression on his face made me reach for the camera.
Mr. Zig always loved being photographed, and he always seemed to know how to turn his body so that you got his best side.
I’ve known a lot of cats over the course of my life, but I’ve never seen one make friends with more people and other animals than Mr. Zig.
In Cluj, I sometimes threw parties at my house, and there could be dozens of people wandering about, talking in loud voices and playing music. The other cats were scared and hiding in the bedroom, but Mr. Zig always came out to say hello, pleasantly startling many of my guests.
But it wasn’t just people (who could be relied on to sometimes feed him tasty treats) that he got along with, but other cats, too.
Throughout the years, several “third” cats came into my life along with Mr. Zig and Noodles, and it was always Mr. Zig who was the first to welcome the new cat.
In Cluj and later in Chisinau, I fed the cats outdoors, and every once in a while, Mr. Zig would come trotting up with some “junior cat” from the neighborhood, allowing him to eat some of the scraps.
Even when some neighborhood “boss” cats would try and fight Mr. Zig for dominance, he’d only respond long enough to earn their respect, and after that, they let him do his thing in peace.
About the only animal he didn’t “get along with” is our dog Tina, mostly because he was so proficient about stealing food from her bowl.
Still though, their relationship was never inimical, and one of his favorite tricks was to dash past her at mealtimes, causing her to break into pursuit as he easily jumped out of the way to safety at the last possible second.
And when Tina was very young, Mr. Zig played a hand in saving her life.
During her puppyhood, she picked up and ate something rotten from the street, and she became stricken with an aggressive virus that left her weak and listless.
As we waited for the medicine to do its work, the veterinarian told us to try and get Tina to eat to help her build up her strength, but she had very little appetite.
However, I discovered that if I put out some food near her and Mr. Zig approached, that was enough to get Tina up and moving, and then she’d eat once I’d chased Mr. Zig out of the room.
One day, right after I brought Mr. Zig home for the first time, my friend came to visit me and check out the new cat.
She, too, fell in love with Mr. Zig right away. But when she asked me what his name was, I told her that I didn’t know.
My friend in Timisoara had given him a name, but it didn’t feel to me like it really suited him. But yet I couldn’t think of a good name, so I asked my friend in Cluj for some suggestions.
It was she who came up with the name “Ziggy,” which is what it says on all of his official documents. But right away, I started calling him Mr. Zig for some reason.
Later, Mr. Zig got called all kinds of permutations on his name, including “Zee-grow” and even “Mr. Zee-grow.”
Largely thanks to his fondness for food, I started calling him “Piggles” sometimes, which my wife always heard as “Pickles,” something we didn’t find out until after she’d known him for several years, hilariously.
But Mr. Zig was his most common name, and that’s the one most people knew him by. Over the years, hearing the “Mister” part translated into Romanian and Russian has always been pretty funny.
Twelve Years a Buddha
Over the past two weeks, as I watched my beautiful cat sink into wretched misery, I went back and reviewed all of my memories of him.
And so, so many of them are of Mr. Zig “just sitting around.”
All cats, especially once they grow out of kittenhood, spend a lot of time “chilling,” but Mr. Zig would spend hours elegantly sitting somewhere with his paws curled up under his chest, apparently staring at nothing, just comfortable being himself in what I can only describe as a state of meditation.
Some of the joys of having a cat like Noodles who cries for attention and yells when her dinner is late is exactly that give-and-take relationship that you have with them.
So when I say that Mr. Zig liked to spend most of the day just sitting there serenely with his eyes half-closed, there is not much of that interaction that cat people enjoy.
And yet, as a person who has worked remotely for more than 15 years now, facing deadlines, angry customers, and late payments, there were thousands if not tens of thousands of times that I would look over from my desk, see Mr. Zig “just sitting” there, and feel a sense of calm radiate through me. In fact, whenever my life went through a rough patch, it gave me a lot of patience and calmness having Mr. Zig sit there in utter serenity.
I really don’t think I ever met a cat who was so unruffled by the affairs of the world. I always loved that about him.
Mr. Zig’s Dragon Face
Facial expressions are very important to people. Dogs have much more “human-like” facial expressions than cats do, which is why some people find it hard to bond or relate to cats.
Yet most pet cats do employ facial expressions, even if they are less expansive than that of dogs. Cats twitch their whiskers, angle their ears, flare their nostrils, and even sometimes turn up the ends of their mouths in a kind of smile. I think most people who love cats learn to read their facial expressions.
Mr. Zig did all those things occasionally, but far more often, he would get what I call the “Dragon Face.” When you were interacting with him, his face would remain absolutely immobile, his eyes open but not open wide. His whiskers would remain completely relaxed, and the same thing with his ears.
On top of that, he would look at you without moving the iris of his eye or by turning his head. The only way you even knew that he was looking at you was the way he would dilate his pupils to track you.
Seen in one light, it almost looked like Mr. Zig was “zoned out” or that his brain was completely disengaged. He’d be seemingly looking at you, but it also felt like he was just looking through you as though you did not exist.
But in another light, Mr. Zig’s golden eyes with those strange horizontal slits looked like the eyes of a dragon of yore, sitting inside some mountain atop an enormous pile of golden coins and other treasure.
The “soul” behind Mr. Zig’s eyes could feel incalculably old and ancient, the eyes of a powerful creature who lived in another plane of existence and was amused by the mere presence of a mortal.
That’s why I called it the “Dragon Face,” although a friend once said it’s more akin to that of a crocodile with everything but his head submerged in a river, lying in wait for some unsuspecting prey to pass by.
The “Dragon Face” made it impossible to read Mr. Zig’s emotions by looking at his face, but I always knew how he was feeling by observing other parts of his body. And again, he was a sweet and gentle boy, so all the perception of menace or “cold-bloodedness” was just an illusion in your mind.
It took some people a while to figure that out, but I always loved Mr. Zig when he had the Dragon Face because I knew that he was always in a happy mood when he was doing it.
God, he really was amazingly cute sometimes.
A Special Grace
Physically, Mr. Zig had a stunning masculine cat body, elegantly symmetrical in every way.
His fur pattern was a common “tabby” type, but the fine details were done by an expert hand. The complexity of his stripes was superb, and the bright white fur under his chin provided perfect counter-shading to his tawny striped coat.
In short, Mr. Zig was a beautiful cat. And while his fur was not the longest or the softest, his entire body emitted a wonderful odor. He ate fish every day of his life, but that is not what he smelled like, at all. Instead, it was a fresh, deep aroma, and I loved burying my head in his fur and deeply inhaling his fragrance.
Mr. Zig rarely seemed to be engaged in any strenuous activity, yet he remained in perfect physical form for twelve years. Sometimes clumsy at timing his landings, only those who knew him well got to see him at his athletic best, launching himself high into the air and twisting and turning in order to catch a morsel of food or grab a piece of string.
And while all cats like to curl themselves into a ball to sleep, somehow, Mr. Zig was able to curl himself into a tighter and more symmetrical ball than anyone else, all while making it look graceful and easy.
Throughout the entire twelve years that he was in my life, he never once scratched me or bit me, even in panic. On cold nights when he wanted to climb into bed, he did so gently and respectfully.
Mr. Zig truly was possessed of a special kind of grace.
Mr. Zig’s athleticism also found another outlet – opening doors, especially cabinet and refrigerator doors behind which food could be found.
Over the years, I’ve caught him in action a few times. Curling one paw, he was a professional at hooking the edge of the most tightly sealed doors and using his superb musculature to pull them open.
In his first home in Cluj, I had to buy a bungee cord to tie the refrigerator closed, and in our first apartment in Chisinau, we had to put a heavy chair in front of the refrigerator.
One time, though, he managed to break into the fridge when we were both out of the apartment, and we came home to see him dash out of sight, a chunk of meat dangling from his mouth and his belly swollen as large as a python’s. It was hilarious.
It was only after we got Tina and installed her dog bed adjacent to the refrigerator that Mr. Zig’s door-busting tapered off. But every once in a while, if the dog was out on a walk or dozing off too soundly, Mr. Zig would make a lightning raid on the refrigerator.
The Exact Right Amount
If you ever decided to pick up Mr. Zig into your arms, he’d probably let you hold him for a minute or so before squirming to get free.
But about once a day, he’d get in the mood for some affection. I cannot even remember how many times I’d be working at my desk when Mr. Zig would come over, rise up on his back legs, and plead with his eyes for me to pick him up.
Mr. Zig had a strict rule, which was that he always wanted to sit facing your right arm, never your left. I’d hoist him up into the proper position, stroke his beautiful fur, and press my face against his fantastic smelling body to listen to his gentle purring.
And then, after about ten minutes, he’d tell me he was done, and I’d set him down. And that’s how he liked it.
Last Sunday was the last time I got to hold him that way, his bony ribs pressed up against my face as he softly purred.
At that point, he was too weak to wash himself properly anymore, and so he stank a bit, but that was my last good, happy memory that I will ever have with him, and so I will cherish it forever.
Mr. Zig’s Comeback
In 2014, I was illegally scooped up by three immigration agents in Romania and given ten minutes to pack before they escorted me out of the country.
I spent most of those ten minutes making phone calls to try to get someone to help me with the cats. When I was dragged out of the house, I had to leave the cats locked outside with only a little food and water.
Thankfully, some very kind people stepped in to help. For a while, Mr. Zig and the others spent time at a veterinary clinic, but then they moved into someone’s apartment for a few weeks.
After a couple of months, a kind friend drove the cats all the way from Cluj to Chisinau, and we were reunited once more. I, of course, was overflowing with happiness, but Mr. Zig looked like he’d just stepped away for a couple of minutes, and nothing whatsoever interesting had transpired.
Our apartment was kind of “half” a floor up, and in the winter of 2014-2015, we figured out that we could prop up a couple of branches outside our bedroom window to give the cats a “bridge” to the outdoors.
The bridge made from tree branches was quite steep, but it was good enough for the cats, and they had a couple of great days outdoors, exploring. But someone kept taking the branches, or the wind would blow them down, and so we couldn’t keep it up.
Then we tried opening our apartment’s front door a crack so the cats could exit down four steps and out of the building.
That worked more or less all right until one day, Mr. Zig failed to come back.
We went all around the neighborhood, looking for him and calling out his name, but we saw no trace of him.
He didn’t come back the next morning, and so we went searching for him again. The weather got colder and it snowed several centimeters.
Every day, whenever I had to go somewhere to buy groceries or something else, I would roam the neighborhood, looking for Mr. Zig. But we never found him. And as the nights grew colder and colder, I really began to worry that he was in serious trouble.
After two weeks with no sight of him, I logged into Facebook (which I was still using in those days) and moved all of the photos of Mr. Zig into a new folder, and then marked it private so that only I could see it. I’m not sure why I wanted to hide away photos of him like that, but that’s what I did.
But then one morning three weeks after Mr. Zig disappeared, we woke up to the sounds of a cat crying outside our bedroom window where the branch bridge had been. I dashed to the window and looked outside, and lo, and behold, there was Mr. Zig!
I do not even think that my feet touched the ground as I flew out of the apartment and around to the back of the building where I scooped up Mr. Zig and raced him inside.
I examined him all over, and there was not a scratch on him. Furthermore, he looked great and had obviously been eating well. As my wife and I made a fuss over him, he looked at us as though it was all no big deal and he’d merely stepped out of the house for a minute or so.
We stayed in that apartment for about four more months, and we never learned anything about where Mr. Zig had been or who had been taking care of him. All I knew was that I was overjoyed to have him back and, perhaps more importantly, that he wanted to be back with us.
You know, I believe that the sound of Mr. Zig meowing that morning when he came back is probably the one single sound that gave me the most joy in my entire life.
The Beginning of the End
In August 2019, when my wife and I moved to Tiraspol into a rental house near a large park.
Mr. Zig, of course, was not happy to give up his familiar grounds in Chisinau and be locked in another cat carrier and taken on a journey, but the whole thing took less than two hours, and he quickly acclimated himself to the new house.
Whenever we move, we follow a rule that we keep the cats inside for two weeks to let them get used to their new home and not get confused and try to take off for the previous one.
After the two weeks were up, we opened one of the kitchen windows. As usual, the fearless Mr. Zig was the first one courageous enough to explore outside.
Unfortunately, it wasn’t long before one of the local “boss” cats came over and began tangling with him. His fur puffed up in fear, Mr. Zig dashed back inside.
Sadly, that would be the very last time he would ever get to go outdoors in his life.
A day or two later, a major problem developed with the house’s roof, and so we were forced to scramble for a new place before we’d even finished unpacking.
Luckily, our landlady owned several properties, one of which was her family’s old Soviet-era apartment, and the tenants had just moved on to another city.
The new place was right in the heart of downtown, but it had one major drawback – we were on the second floor, and there was no way for the cats to go outside.
A few months after we moved into the downtown apartment, the global panic hit.
My wife and I had to quickly adjust to her working from home. With the restrictions on inessential travel outdoors, the apartment soon grew quite crowded.
With only the dog able to relieve herself outside, we had five beings (two humans and three cats) using the bathroom on a full-time basis. Furthermore, the bathroom was also where I fed the cats as it had a door I could close to keep out the dog.
With so little space and so many creatures crammed into a very small space indoors, it became quite a big job to keep everything as hygienic as it should have been.
Our initial plan had been to move to Tiraspol, get a feel for the vibes of the place, and then buy a house if we determined that we had found our home here. The Great Panic, of course, threw a wrench into all of that, and so it wasn’t until earlier this year that we began to take steps to find and buy a house, one that would definitely have plenty of space (indoors and out) for the cats.
But it was too late for Mr. Zig, although we didn’t know that right away.
A Feline Olympian
Throughout his whole life, Mr. Zig had always been a cat that radiated health and vitality. As other cats went through scrapes and cuts and flea infestations, Mr. Zig glided through without the least bit of trouble. Even when a neighborhood boss cat would give him a thrashing, he always walked away with nothing more than a tiny scratch.
In fact, I remember bringing Noodles home after she had been anesthetized (for her spaying operation), and it took her many hours to recover. But when I brought Mr. Zig home, he staggered to his feet less than 10 minutes after he woke up. He was still quite wobbly for an hour or so, but I was extremely impressed by his strong spirit.
After more than a decade of perfect health, unfortunately, we didn’t get scared as much as we should have in February 2021 when Mr. Zig suddenly and unexpectedly had a tiny scratch on his right cheek get infected.
Actually, I cannot even be sure that he was scratched, but that’s what I assumed at the time. Whether it was internal (as I now suspect) or external, within just a couple of days, the infection grew and pus began building oozing out of his cheek.
We debated whether or not to give him antibiotics. On one hand, it might knock out the infection, but on the other hand, the antibiotics might wipe out his healthy gut (and other) bacteria, and I knew that Mr. Zig had a very strong immune system.
As I dithered, the infection quickly reversed course, and Mr. Zig soon seemed to be completely healed.
For a few months, Mr. Zig was his normal, happy self, but he spent long hours on the windowsill, pining to go out, and I knew that we all needed to get out of this tiny worn-out apartment.
But then in June, the infection came back, in exactly the same place. A day or so later, Mr. Zig started limping as though his back left leg was injured, although I saw no injuries, and it didn’t appear as though it was painful when I probed it with my fingers.
This time around, we went and got the antibiotics, but there was some delay as I figured out how to get Mr. Zig to actually swallow the drops. Squirting them directly into his mouth caused him to get very agitated and upset, and so it took me a couple of days to figure out how to coat his meat with the drops to ensure he ingested it.
Unbeknownst to us, though, it was far too little, too late.
Rhymes with Dancer
The infection on his cheek went away, but the sickness inside of him continued to grow because now it was cancer.
As far as we can tell, the infection had inflamed the inner part of his eye. Somehow, in older cats, this inflammation can develop into cancer of the eye, which quickly spreads throughout the body.
For a while, the limp went away, but the damage to his eye never healed. Within a few weeks, Mr. Zig started having trouble controlling his muscles as the cancer invaded his brain. Mr. Zig began to stagger and sway like a drunk, and his back, left leg would sometimes get paralyzed.
Sores began developing in Mr. Zig’s mouth, making it almost impossible for him to chew. I learned how to cut his food into tiny bites the ideal size for him to scoop them into his mouth with his tongue and then swallow whole with a minimal amount of chewing. And I held my arms on either side of his body as he ate to stop him from swaying to one side and falling down.
As the cancer further robbed him of his coordination, I had to help pick Mr. Zig up and carry him to the litterbox and to the kitchen when it was feeding time. Soon, he no longer joined in at mealtimes and had to eat separately.
At this point, Mr. Zig could still walk, but his coordination got worse and worse, leaving him a crippled shell of his formerly glorious physical self.
For a while, though, an incredibly long while, I had hopes that he might just make it through. As long as he was eating and getting enough rest, I thought he might be able to gather his strength and fight this thing off.
But it wasn’t to be so.
Sliding into Hell
Three weeks before he died, Mr. Zig started hiding away from everyone else behind a curtain, sleeping in a shoebox that I had lined with a blanket that was one of the few items left from our time in Cluj some seven years earlier.
That blanket was quite special because it was the one I used whenever I had to put him in his carrier. Nothing could ease his stress from traveling or a visit to the vet, but at least the familiar smell did bring him a small sense of comfort, and he sometimes used to enjoy sleeping in the cage at home because of that blanket.
Two weeks before he died, Mr. Zig was no longer capable of jumping onto the windowsill, so he slept on a nearby nightstand. Normally, he might have preferred our bed, but he was now too unstable to balance himself on the soft bed and angle himself to clean himself. Somehow, he learned to wash his face while lying on his side, and that gave him a small amount of dignity and relief.
During the last ten days of his life, though, Mr. Zig was too weak to do even that. I moved his shoebox and blanket down to the floor next to my desk, and that was where he spent almost all of his remaining time.
One night though, about a week ago, the night air grew chilly, and Mr. Zig somehow managed to pull himself up onto the bed. Even in his crippled state, he gently nestled in next to us without causing the slightest disturbance.
Mr. Zig’s appetite, prodigious and enthusiastic throughout his entire life, began to slip away. Even the tastiest morsels of his favorite foods were left half uneaten.
Soon, he longer needed me to carry him to the bathroom anymore. During the last few awful days, he would crab his way onto the balcony to relieve himself, toppling over on his own wet patch on several undignified and miserable occasions.
And then, Mr. Zig’s appetite faded away to nothing. He stopped drinking water, and I knew that he was at the end of his journey.
In June, we did find our house, and it has a wonderful garden perfect for cats to explore. But we are still in the process of getting all of the paperwork sorted out, so I told Mr. Zig many times, “Just hang on a little while longer, and you’ll get to feel the grass under your feet once more, my beautiful boy.”
But he couldn’t hang on, although he gave it his most determined effort.
The last three days of his life, my presence just caused him misery. He hated it when I tried to clean him. He resented me trying to entice him with food. He hated it when I put a drop of water on his nose, desperately trying to get him to drink. He did not want to be picked up or petted. All he wanted to do was curl up in his shoebox and rest.
Having spent so much of his life “just sitting,” it almost looked like Mr. Zig was his normal self, sitting there in that box. I’d be at my desk, working on the computer, and glance over, and sometimes, I could convince myself that everything was going to be all right.
But it wasn’t all right.
The End of the Line
When a terminally ill cat stops eating, there are only two choices: letting them starve to death or euthanasia.
On Wednesday, August 18, 2021, Mr. Zig had not eaten for two full days.
In desperation, I sliced off a thin piece of chicken meat fat, holding it up to Mr. Zig’s nose. His nostrils flared, but then the gastric juices in his stomach (which are 100 times more acidic than in a human’s stomach) began washing over his inflamed throat and stomach, and he let out the most horrible yowl I’ve ever heard.
That was to be Mr. Zig’s last sound that he ever made on this Earth, and I am truly sorry that I inflicted that pain upon him.
Once I realized that he would never eat again, Mr. Zig, the cat who loved to eat, who would hoot with happiness with his eyes wide open and his tail straight up in the air at meal times, I knew then that euthanasia was the only option, an option that is only slightly less horrible than the alternative.
On Wednesday night, my wife and I each made our pilgrimage to Mr. Zig’s shoebox bed and said our goodbyes.
On Thursday morning, August 19, 2021, we called the veterinarian and got an appointment for 11 o’clock.
The Last Mile
I carefully prepared Mr. Zig’s cage, wiping off the dust and lining it with one of my old flannel shirts that he used to like to sleep on.
I then carefully maneuvered my emaciated cat out of his shoebox and into the cage, once again wetting his fur with my tears.
Throughout his whole life, Mr. Zig always hated going to the veterinarian. Trips to the vet meant painful injections and scary pokes and prods by strange people.
Despite his weakened condition, Mr. Zig began moving around, trying to struggle free of the cage. From that moment on, every remaining second of his life would be filled with terror and suffering.
My wife called a taxi, and we went outside to wait for it. The air was cold, and a driving rain had begun to fall. During the last hour of my beautiful cat’s life, I got him doused with cold rain as we dashed across the sidewalk to get into the taxi.
Ten miserable minutes later, Mr. Zig was scared stiff as I undid the latches of his cage to let the veterinarian examine him. The vet poked and prodded him, opened Mr. Zig’s mouth to look inside, and shifted him this way and that. Mr. Zig’s eyes were wide with fear, and there was nothing I could do to comfort him.
It only took the vet a minute to tell us that nothing more could be done for Mr. Zig and that the only option was euthanasia. We had known this in our minds when we took him to the veterinarian, but hearing that final sentence pronounced snuffed out all of our last hopes.
My wife and I immediately burst into tears. Speaking in Russian, the vet said something to my wife about how we should wait in the next room while he administered the kill shot.
Even though I knew it would bring Mr. Zig no comfort whatsoever, I simply couldn’t let my beautiful boy spend his last few moments on this Earth with a stranger. My wife (wisely) went off to the waiting room while I nodded to the vet to do it.
This is where I am supposed to lie and say that Mr. Zig gently faded off to sleep, but that isn’t true. The last few seconds of his life were filled with unimaginable suffering. His eyes were bulging out as he convulsed multiple times as the poison spread throughout his body. His heart began beating extremely fast, and his tail began shaking like an angry rattlesnake.
Even in his weakened and emaciated condition, even crippled with cancer and with little control over his muscles, Mr. Zig fought the poison right until the end. He never made one sound, but his last moments were of sheer terror and pain. And all I could do was hold him down to keep him from thrashing himself off of the examining table.
In the last few seconds of Mr. Zig’s life, something passed over me, some kind of tremendous force that caused my entire body to go into something akin to an epileptic seizure. Some type of waves were flowing through me that were so powerful that I felt like an overheated electric transformer about to explode, although there was neither heat nor violence in the sensation.
And then, of course, it was over. Mr. Zig’s heart stopped beating. His lungs stopped drawing air. My beautiful boy was dead.
I then called out to my wife and began putting Mr. Zig’s cage back together. His eyes were still wide open, so I gently covered his face with the blanket and then carried the cage into the waiting room.
The veterinarian, god bless him, looked more shaken than I was. When my wife asked how much we owed him for his services, it was all he could do to choke out the words “whatever you think is fair” as his trembling hands clutched for the pack of cigarettes on his desk.
As we stepped outside to call for a taxi, the sun broke through the clouds, and the rain tapered off.
I felt Mr. Zig’s spirit rise into the air, and then it was gone, dispersed in the wind.
In America or other places, a bereaved person who loses a pet might have the option of burial in a special cemetery or cremation, but none of those options exist in Tiraspol.
Instead, we rode home in silence, reversing our steps from just one hour earlier, gently carrying the cat carrier back into the house and setting it down on the floor in the bedroom next to Mr. Zig’s shoebox.
I then washed my face and hands two times in order to steady myself for the task ahead.
My wife and I then went into the bedroom and closed the door behind us to keep out the other animals.
On the floor, we laid out an old bedsheet that Mr. Zig had slept on hundreds of times when it had adorned our bed. A few days earlier, my wife had used it as a “blanket” when she went for a walk along river, and so it smelled of earth and the forest and all of the wild places that Mr. Zig loved.
I then gently lifted Mr. Zig’s lifeless body out of the cage and onto the sheet. I then wrapped him up in his old red blanket that he had been lying on when he died, leaving only his head uncovered.
My wife and I then covered him in tears one last time as we said our goodbyes. I took one long, last deep inhalation of his fur. Although he stank and smelled of sickness, underneath, there was still that rich, wonderful smell, and I let it flood my lungs.
I then covered up Mr. Zig’s head and carefully wrapped him up until he was a soft, pillowy package in my arms.
I then took him to the kitchen where I had already prepared a space for him in the bottom drawer of our freezer. Now, he sleeps just a few centimeters below where the frozen fish is kept that he enjoyed eating so much in life.
When we finally move into our new home, we will give him a proper burial and place a marker in our garden so that we will always have a place to visit with him. And then, at long last, Mr. Zig will finally be in a beautiful, natural place where the sun shines through the trees and the breeze gently ripples through the grass.
And if there is some other place where cats go after they die, then I hope Mr. Zig is there, taking in a gorgeous summer afternoon as he leaps with delight into the air in pursuit of a butterfly.
What else can I say as I look back on all the long years that this unique soul and I kept company? Mr. Zig was a good cat, a special cat, a wonderful cat. The world would have been a far poorer place if my friend had not rescued him from the garbage dumpster all those years ago.
But now, we are stuck here, images and memories of Mr. Zig everywhere around us in this cramped, worn-out apartment. We had a golden cat who blessed us every day with his presence, and we loved him with all of our hearts. But we failed him. And while it can be argued that he had a very good and happy life, my ignorance and laziness needlessly cut short that life.
Cats do get old and die, of course, and I’ve had to say goodbye to many beloved cats over the years. But in my heart, I know that if we had kept the house more scrupulously clean and found a way (or a place) for Mr. Zig to go outdoors sooner, he would’ve been here with us on this Earth for many more years.
So yes, my heart was open with love from the first day I met Mr. Zig right until the last day when I was forced to kill him, but that’s not always good enough. Sometimes, you have to take responsibility for your actions, and it was my job to take care of him, and I failed to do that.
Mr. Zig, I do not know where you are, or even if there is any more of you to be found, but you were a wonderful, beautiful, majestic, and gorgeous being.
I never deserved such a good cat as you, and it hurts so much to know that my stupidity caused you a miserable and wretched death when all you ever wanted and deserved was a peaceful life. I just hope that you can remember all the good times that we had together because everything I ever did for you, I did it with love.
I miss you so much, my sweet boy.