The Year of the Cat

What a Nine Pound Feline Taught Me About Life

by Dan Doviddio

I’m sitting on a bench inside the Arboretum Animal Hospital. My black ‘I’ cap bill pulled low over my eyes as I lean over and study the floor. My neighbor, Jerry is sitting across from me concentrating on that chicken game so familiar these days. The only thought on my mind is that I hope my little buddy makes it. I think about how all this started, this friendship with a cat. I start at the beginning….

It is a typical late January in Wheaton, Illinois. It’s around the mid twenties with snow spotty on the ground. I peer outside our back windows and see a white and orange tiger striped cat soaking up what little rays the sun has to offer. He looks like the epitome of basking. He’s stretched out gathering all the heat he can. So content. I can feel this cat’s energy. Yes, very content.
Izzy winter laying out in sun
Another feral cat hanging out in the yard?

We have a lot of stray and feral cats in the Wheaton area. I took this cat as just another one.

Christine and I were getting ready for our annual January getaway. Every year we escape the brisk winter of northern Illinois for a week of warm sun. This year we were going to Costa Rica. This week my mind was concentrating on finishing up what little work I had and getting ready for the trip.

We got back from Costa Rico the first Saturday of February. On Sunday I went out to gather the food provisions of the coming week. When I get home Christine tells me about the cat she saw on our deck. She had put food out for him; some left over chicken we had from our late dinner the night before. Hmm, I was thinking, there goes my lunch tomorrow. Christine described the cat as the one I had seen basking in the sun a couple of week’s prior. She mentioned that she could get pretty close and the cat didn’t run off. That was different from our previous experiences with the stray cats in our neighborhood. He didn’t flee with humans present. He stayed back though, at a safe distance.

Later in the same week, I was on the deck getting the grill going. It’s snowing lightly, but swirling in the wind. All of a sudden a blur appears at my feet, twisting in and out. It’s a white and orange blur. He never stops moving. I go in the house and see if we have anything we can share with this little guy. I find some more chicken, geez, another lunch given away.

I work out of the house, punctuated with business travel. For the week, in general, I plan Christine and my meals. Tonight was roasted Asian salmon. After feeding this skinny cat, he continued to wind through my legs. Not unlike the snow around us, he moved like a blizzard. I looked at this little cat and named him ‘The Blizz’.
Standing Outside in February

The Blizz and I repeated this general routine for a week. I had gone to Aldi’s and bought some dried food and started feeding him out on the deck in the morning and evening. He always showed up.

The Blizz looked like he was sleeping under the deck. The deck is built into a hill and is a good place to get away where bigger animals such as coyotes can’t follow. I found a sturdy box that had been used to deliver a case a wine to our house. I lined with some leftover 12 inch by 12-inch ceiling tile; put a towel folded at the bottom. I thought ‘The Blizz’ might want a warmer place to sleep. I put it under the three-foot overhang of our deck. He took right away to his new abode.
Sleeping in box
Sleeping in his new home

By this time I would throw on my hoodie and gloves, bring out a glass of wine and sit while the grill was warming or cooking. Eventually ‘The Blizz’ would come and sit beside me. I had a new buddy.

I called a few friends to see if they wanted a cat. Christine and I both have allergies to cats and on top of this, we have a dog, Teddy B and a cockatiel, Weederman. Our cockatiel is deathly allergic to cats, as cats have a tendency to want to eat ‘The Weedman’.

No one could oblige. I called our dog walker Jacquie, who walks Teddy B while we are away. She said she would come by over the weekend to check him out. Jacquie wasn’t able to make it and called later that week to see The Blizz. By that time it was too late. I had a new buddy, my guy, The Blizz. I figured since he loved being outside so much, he could be our outdoor cat.

So since The Blizz was our cat, we thought we’d take responsibility for him and get him his shots and neutered. I called a local shelter to see if they could recommend a vet since we adopted this homeless cat, there must be discounts. I figured if you can adopt a cat at a shelter for less than a hundred dollars, they must have a connection. First thing the lady at the shelter tells me is to bring him in and they would adopt him out. Hmm, I thought why are they saying this. “Why I ask?” “Because it’s dangerous outside for a cat.” The shelter lady says. I reply, “If it’s so dangerous, how did you get to work today?” Now I’m not saying the animal shelter lady is incorrect, but there is this self-righteousness that seems to drive them. Probably from the fact that they see so much. But it’s kind of like a cop. It looks like a dangerous world if that is all you see.

Finally the DuPage Animal Shelter points me in the right direction. I find a vet reasonably close by who offers discounts on situations such as ours. So I make an appointment for Friday at 11 AM. Now, how do I make it so The Blizz shows up on time?

So I decide in meditations that week to appeal to The Blizz’s Higher Self. I told Blizz’s Higher Self that I had only The Blizz’s best interest in mind. And that I would appreciate it if I would be granted this permission to take care of him. And by the way, could he please show up at 10:30 AM on Friday for our appointment. I left it at that.

By this time we adjusted the screen porch slider so The Blizz could come and go as he pleased. We have these comfortable outdoor chairs and loveseat that are fully cushioned. When The Blizz first come in and lay on the loveseat, I went over and pet his tummy and chin. When I did, The Blizz wrapped his arms around my wrist and hugged my hand to his chest. I was very touched. I guess I was his guy too.
Izzy hugging my foot
My new buddy

All our animals are my guys. Weederman has been with me for 23 years. Teddy B for four years. But I’ve never seen such a loving and appreciative animal as The Blizz. There is just a way he enjoys life and appreciates all he sees. He lives life to the maximum level. Whether he is fighting off the stray cats that come around the house or chasing a rabbit at full speed as I watch through three back yards. Or climbs a tree to go grab a squirrel.

On the Friday of our appointment, I went to the porch at 10:30. I went out the back door. As I entered the porch, here comes The Blizz through the sliding door opening. Right on time.

What an adventure this was taking The Blizz to the vet. We had a temporary cardboard animal carrier. It took the Blizz one minute to bust out of it. All the way to the vet The Blizz is on the dashboard meowing the whole time. The Blizz does not like surprises.

Later that day after the deed was done, I was told by the vet to make sure to keep The Blizz inside for 24 hours as he was still woozy from the drugs. Now armed with a new cat proof carrier, we were off for home. Where do I keep a wild cat, I thought? Christine and I decided the garage would have to do. We kept the cars outside and put together a makeshift litter box. We gave The Blizz some food and water to tie him over. As usual The Blizz was not a happy camper. You could see him checking out the premises and wondering what hell was now cast upon him. He wanted no part of me, so I left him to himself for the evening. I left the lights on so he could get around in his woozy state.

Next morning I reviewed the carnage of the garage. The Blizz did his blizzard thing. Luggage had been knocked off the shelves, as were other objects. He picked a doormat to urinate on. And to top it all off I saw where one of the plastic light bulb cages I had put around the lights in the garage to protect them from breakage, had been melted onto the bulb. Apparently, The Blizz had leaped to one of the bulb protectors and hung there for god knows how long. But long enough to have melted the bulb protector to the bulb. And The Blizz was nowhere to be found. How does a cat disappear in a garage? Finally we found him hiding under a shelf way in a corner that only a cat would get into. I had to drag him out. I took him to the porch and let him go. The Blizz shoots out the slider and back to his freedom.

Of course he was back shortly for a meal and the comfort of the porch.

The Blizz and I in February and March started a new ritual. Before bedtime I would put on my jacket, hat and gloves, sit in my chair out on the screened porch and The Blizz would sit in my lap. We would do this for fifteen to thirty minutes each night. It was a quiet way for me to end the day and quiet my mind. If I was away on business and came home late in the evening, Christine would announce ‘your buddy is waiting for you’. I enjoyed the fact that he was my buddy and that we enjoyed each other’s company. There is a certain peace of mind The Blizz seemed to possess and it was rubbing off on me. Peace seemed like a good thing. Nothing you have to do that sitting quietly won’t cure he seemed to communicate. I listened.

One thing I noticed about The Blizz is his curiosity in what you’re doing. He stares intently and follows you around on whatever chore you may be doing.

Springtime is working in the yard for Christine and I. The Blizz was our constant companion. From cleaning up the yard to adding new plants to putting in the vegetable garden The Blizz was there. He loved watching us work. He would play with bugs or just watch intently as we worked. Or as cats are want, sleep in our close proximity.
Izzy glam shot
Hanging out while we work in the yard.

Outside was The Blizz’s realm. He had made sure the house was now his kingdom. He had driven out all the cats but his new running buddy, a cat we named Coal. The Blizz and Coal, I had heard from neighbors, would lie out on driveways on sunny days together. They also had found a new cat grocery store. One neighbor had hung out a bird feeder. This was too good to be true for these guys. The neighbor soon took the bird feeder down. I had two thoughts on this. One, I have a pet bird and don’t like the thought of cats grabbing them for food. But I also eat meat myself and understand that the cats need food for survival too. So the two thoughts washed each other out.

Coal and The Blizz were companions, but Coal kept his distance from the house. Eventually we would catch Coal in the porch where The Blizz would share his food. Sometimes Coal would sleep in the porch too. It was kind of cool to see. But that slider being open let Coal escape, as he wanted.

Around April, we decided The Blizz needed a name change. He had become our cat and we decided to put a collar on him, so people would know he wasn’t a feral cat. Christine and I agreed on Izzy. Kind of a nickname to the formal The Blizz. I got a charm made with his name and our phone number.

It was only a matter of one day and the collar was gone. Dang! So he was going to blow through collars. We got a call from a neighbor, hesitantly saying they found our cat’s collar, it was Jennifer from next door. I could tell she thought maybe a coyote had gotten the cat. We do have a lot of coyotes in Wheaton. It’s become a two-sided issue with some on the side of killing the coyotes because they are a danger to kids. The other side is a live and live side. And even though I now have coyote food, aka a cat, I try not to side on fear anytime I can.

So I replaced the collar and we went through Izzy losing his collar and a neighbor finding it and calling us. This was Izzy’s way to introduce himself to the neighborhood. Izzy ranged pretty far, with calls coming from blocks away. There started to become Izzy sightings. Neighbors telling us that Izzy would stare in their windows or doors at the family dog. People telling us about Izzy’s last meal. Or my neighbor, Mark across the street telling me he saw Izzy chase a squirrel up a tree and Izzy was about to grab the squirrel and pull him down. Mark then went on to say he got Izzy’s attention so he wouldn’t grab the squirrel.

Even my next door neighbor, Tom started buying treats for Izzy. This according to his wife, Jennifer, as Tom hates cats. So people in the neighborhood had gotten to know Izzy.

Then there was the lady up the street who’s father had built our house in 1955. After she returned one collar, she started Paying attention to Izzy’s whereabouts around her house and what he ate. So now I was getting first hand accounts of his outdoor eating habits including parts he didn’t care for.

We finally gave up on the collar as Izzy was going through more than we were getting back. Izzy clearly didn’t want a collar and his wish was granted.

In July I was having a beer on the porch with my neighbor Mark from directly across the street. Izzy and Teddy B were hanging out on the porch with us. Mark was telling me all about all the coyotes he had been seeing around our neighborhood. We went outside where I was showing Mark some things we were growing in our garden that summer. Izzy followed us around like he always does.

Later Mark went home and Izzy decided to take a siesta in the cool green grass of what was a warm July day in the neighbors yard next door. I could see him from the porch pawing at bugs lazily as he sunk into the grass. All of a sudden I started thinking about the coyotes. I was struck with the fact Izzy could be a coyotes next meal. For some reason, I decided to go outside and get Izzy. Izzy, not being too happy about this, is fighting me all the way back to the porch. As we get to the porch and I put Izzy down, I see a coyote walk right over the spot Izzy had been laying in the grass.

Had I attracted this coyote or had I been alerted to take action? I’m thinking a little of both at this point.

As late August came we decided to let Izzy come in the house. I would see him peering in the window at us. Not necessarily wanting in the house, but seeing what we were doing.

Izzy hesitantly came in the house and decided the outdoors was for him. But eventually he got used to the indoors. When he would come in, he would go up to Teddy B and let Teddy sniff him. Izzy always deferred to Teddy, letting Teddy know he wasn’t taking over.

The house was one place Izzy could let his guard down. He would sometimes go straight for the spare bedroom and borough under the covers. I found out when I had returned from a trip and put my suitcase on the bed, right on top of Izzy. He quit doing it after that.

Weederman, our cockatiel, wasn’t afraid of Izzy. Weederman is over 22 years old and doesn’t have the sense he used to. So the water bottle with detergent is the weapon of choice to let Izzy know to stay away from the cage.

The first time I nailed Izzy with the water/detergent stream mix; I had temporarily broken a bond between us. Where outside we were equals, inside the rules seemed to change substantially for Izzy. And he didn’t like it.

Eventually the trade off of being in a warm stable climate of a house attracted Izzy and he decided he would take advantage of sleeping during the various parts of the day or night, be a lap cat for a while then go back to the outdoor world he truly loved.

Izzy spent more time in the house and had gotten into a little routine. He would love to go on walks with Christine and Teddy at night. Teddy would be on the leash and Izzy would run along side, climb up a tree and then catch up. As Christine would bring Teddy in, Izzy followed. This would be a regular thing.

Izzy would stay until about four or five in the morning get fed and then hit the outdoors. This four or five o’clock wake up was not to be ignored. Believe me we tried. He would slam the blinds into the wall, stand over you and meow as loud as he cold or knock stuff off the dresser. Closing the door didn’t work as Izzy would find ways to make noise to get your attention.

So now Izzy is an indoor/outdoor cat, having the best of both worlds.

So things went like this for a while.

I get up Christmas Eve. Christine and I both slept in this day. We’re having friends over for dinner. I was going to the kitchen to start the coffee, when the doorbell was ringing frantically. I rub my eyes and pad downstairs in my sweatpants, sweatshirt and slippers. It had snowed again I see. I open the door and I see Theresa our neighbor with her husband Jerry not too far behind.

Theresa is worried and looks to have tears in her eyes. She asks, “Izzy, he’s brown and white right?” Theresa knows Izzy, so I’m a little confused. “Yeah” I reply with hesitation in my voice. “Oh Dan, make sure, I think it’s Izzy” says Theresa. We quickly go across the street. There’s my guy, lying in a snow bank. Blood is running out a big gash in his left side of his head. His eyes are running with blood. Izzy isn’t moving. This looks real bad. Real as I don’t think he is going to make it.

I feel tears gushing out of my eyes. Theresa tells Jerry to take me to the vet or hospital. Izzy is such a sad sight, everyone is confused. I go back home to quickly change.

I see Mark is out now too. I go back across the street to see a police vehicle is on site. Its Animal Control. The officer has a large carrier where we gently lay Izzy.

Jerry and I head out to our vet. I sit in back with the carrier so it doesn’t fall off the seat. We get to the vet and they are moving in slow motion. The receptionist goes to the vet. I can see the receptionist and vet having a conversation. The receptionist comes out and tells us the vet will see us when she can. I just look at the receptionist and then back at Jerry. “This isn’t good,” I say. The receptionist, looking concerned, says, “I think you should go somewhere else.” Jerry and I agree.

We get back in the car and Jerry calls Theresa. Theresa tells us to go to Arboretum Animal Hospital. We go.

On the way to Arboretum, Theresa tells us over the phone, that a car hit Izzy. A lady had just came by and told Theresa what had happened. She had seen the car in front of her hit the cat. She followed the cat as he walked about a block towards home and pass out in the snow bank. The lady couldn’t wait, so she asked a man who was walking his dog if he would wait with the cat. The lady had called Animal Control.

It was heartening to see how nice people can be. Izzy had a lot of people pulling for him.

In the meantime I can hear Izzy meowing like he does in the car. Good sign I think.

Jerry and I arrive at Arboretum Animal Hospital. As we arrive, they quickly take Izzy away. Just like a real emergency hospital. Jerry and I wait.

Its now been about 45 minutes. I look up and adjust my cap as a veterinarian assistant comes over to me. She tells me they won’t know anything for sure for about 12 hours or so. They need to see how Izzy will respond. She asks if I want to see Izzy, I say “of course.”

When I see Izzy in the cage, he has fluids being pumped into him. I see Izzy fighting with the plastic tubes that are inserted into his nose. Another good sign I thought.

I’m told he has a slightly broken jaw, head trauma and sinus damage. They’re not sure yet if he’ll pull through. I mention he’s up fighting with his feeding tubes. I’m told that’s normal, but possibly a good sign.

Jerry and I go back home. I keep the conversation light. We’re both White Sox fans and discus the Sox chances this year after picking up Dunn.

I let Christine know what Izzy’s prognosis was. We’re solemn, but there’s work to be done. People are coming this evening and I’m grateful for more company to take the edge off my mood.

My brother calls to see what’s up for Christmas. I tell him the story. “Man that sucks,” he says. I tell him, “You know, I don’t care much for Christmas gifts, but tomorrow, I want my cat back.”

It’s so easy to get caught up with one’s feelings. Seeing a little animal you care about hurt and in pain is hard to take in. You remember how strong and active they can be and to see them in Izzy’s condition is difficult at best.

But I was soon to learn something else from this little cat.

We got a call Christmas Eve from Arboretum Animal Hospital. Izzy was going to make it. We could pick him up on Christmas Day.

Christine and I go to Arboretum the next morning. After paying the $1200 bill, we wait for the vet to get our now strictly in house cat. I can’t tell you how much this cat has cost in vet bills. From patching him up from fights with other cats to some not to successful bids in catching his prey for dinner.

We wait in one of the examining room while the vet get’s Izzy. They bring him in. The vet tells us how everybody loves Izzy. He’s so cooperative and nice they tell us. I take a look at him, not looking so good. His eyes and nose are caked with blood still as his sinus is still draining. He has a two square inch gash on the left side of his forehead. He is docile, not moving at all. “Morphine.” The vet says.

We get Izzy home. He has to be hand fed this mushy food through a syringe in the side of his mouth. Because his jaw was separated at the front clavicle, we were told that they didn’t know how long we would have to feed him this way. Also lot’s of moist air for his sinuses to heel.
Izzy gash
The day after Izzy came home from Arboretum Hospital

Never underestimate an animal’s ability to heal. In less than three days, Izzy was eating his normal canned food. In four days he was chasing Weederman (back to separating the two). By the end of the week Izzy was all the way back to normal. It was truly remarkable how fast he healed.

It seemed he just willed himself to better health. Or maybe our wanting a healthy Izzy combined. The neighbors were blown away. “In a week?” was the normal response. I mean, you had to see him lying in the snow. Jerry says, “I really thought he was as good as dead.”

So now we have an indoor cat. Izzy’s not always that happy about it. Our house is all windows, a lot of them floor to ceiling. He goes nuts if he sees another cat outside.

Izzy spent a year staking out his territory, now other cats are treading over his turf. He races downstairs, upstairs and back again. Sometimes running and leaping to the top of kitchen cabinets from the floor with a running start. I’m blown away by his athleticism.

I think the saddest thing so far is that his running buddy, Coal, came by the other day. Izzy actually made a crying sound. He was upset. And as cats have, a strange way of reacting, from hissing to crying. He probably wants to go out and re-establish his territory and then be friends again. We gave Coal a can of food that he wolfed down. But Coal keeps his distance.

It’s hard to take away the outdoors to an animal that loved his life outside. From basking in the sun, climbing trees, running at full speed chasing his latest prey, hanging out with his buddy Coal, visiting the neighbors and teasing the dogs through the windows of their houses.

But all in all though Izzy is adapting to being a house cat more and more everyday.

So what did I learn this year from this little cat?

Bask more.

Run at full speed sometimes.

Have good running buddies.

Don’t take life so seriously.

Be inquisitive.

Pay attention.

Eat well.

And when life flattens you, get up, shake yourself off, forget about what happened and bask some more.

Izzy after injury healed
A couple of weeks after the accident