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Memories of Zorro
Eulogy for a Compassionate Cat
Zorro (Spring 2001 -- January 11, 2010)

I first met Zorro almost nine years ago during a late spring thunderstorm. The west winds were blowing strong and gusting, and the onslaught of rain was coming down horizontally. I was sitting on my living room couch around 6:00 p.m. on that Sunday evening when I heard a very high-pitched series of "meows." (Zorro had the most high-pitched meow of any cat I've ever known, even before he was neutered!). I went out into the downpour, and crouched to look underneath the deck that was attached to the condo I was living in. There, in the grassy area beneath the middle part of the deck, sat a very tiny gray and tan kitten with black stripes and a couple of white spots. His fur was drenched, and he was wailing mournfully in that falsetto voice. It was a voice that I often found to be quite annoying, but now I would give anything to hear it just one more time.

I couldn't fit my body under the deck to crawl to the kitten, so I said to him, "Come here, kitty. Let me take you inside to dry you off." To my amazement, he came right to me. I had no intention of keeping the kitten at first since I had other pets at the time, but this little guy was the most affectionate cat I'd ever met, and I fell in love with him at the first swipe of the bath towel I used to dry him off.

A friend suggested the name Zorro, since the dark stripes around his eyes made him appear to be wearing a mask.

Zorro's most prominent personality trait was his compassion. Whenever I was upset or depressed about anything, or when I was feeling physically ill, Zorro would always come to me, gently place a paw on my cheek, and give me a "kissy" (as I called it) on the nose. At times when I wasn't upset and just wanted to bond with my little buddy, I would say, "Give me kissy," and he would respond by licking my nose. I feel that Zorro took better care of me than I did of him at times.

Zorro's companion cat, Cody, another stray who was a year younger, never seemed to be quite as in touch with my feelings as Zorro was. For that matter, no pet that I've ever had, cat or other animal, has come close to demonstrating the capacity for emotional connection that Zorro showed.

Zorro often displayed his compassion toward other animals, too, sometimes surprisingly so. When my mini-lop rabbit, Hunnybunny, was very ill with gastric stasis, Zorro would give her kissies on her nose as she lay on the couch beside me. I believe that those kisses, along with modern veterinary medicine, helped to cure Hunnybunny.

Sadly, Zorro passed away on a cold, snowy winter's day from kidney failure. I believe that his kidney disease was genetic since his half-sister, Jethrine, who was adopted by the friend who named Zorro, passed away from a kidney ailment at around the same age as Zorro. The two cats had been borne of the same mother, a promiscuous stray known as "Fertile Myrtle" around the condo complex. (I eventually captured Myrtle and had her spayed through a trap, neuter, and release program).

Zorro, like most cats, was not a perfect saint by any stretch of the imagination. His second most prominent personality trait was gluttony beyond anything I've seen in any other animal. He wolfed down his food much quicker than was good for him, which some strays are known to do, and then he proceeded to push Cody away from his food bowl so he could help himself to that, too. He also frequently tried to steal whatever I was eating, often putting his paw on my plate (usually right on top of my meal), once knocking an entire dish of Chinese food onto my lap. Zorro also would tip over the kitchen wastebasket in his quest for any possible scraps of food. Whenever I shouted the words, "Zorro, no!" in response to one of his misbehaviors, Zorro would take it out on Cody, chasing him down and jumping on him. Cody, sweet little cat that he is, never stopped loving Zorro nonetheless. It was impossible to stop loving Zorro regardless of his antics.

I think the worst thing that Zorro ever did, in my eyes, was to kill my pet rat, Riley. (And you cat fanciers out there need to believe me when I tell you that rats make great pets, too!). Zorro was simply acting on instinct, and the whole incident was really my own fault. I had been cleaning Riley's cage, so Riley was running around in the room that he stayed in. I was going in and out of the room, carrying in paper towels, pet bedding, etc. I never noticed that Riley ran out of the room as I was going in, before I could shut the door quickly enough. After I finished cleaning the cage and couldn't find Riley, I wandered around the condo looking for him. I found him dangling from Zorro's mouth. Zorro ran away from me when I called to him, and when I finally caught up with him, Riley was bleeding heavily from the neck and passed away within minutes.

I sat down at my kitchen table and sobbed over Riley's death, overwhelmed with grief and guilt. Zorro jumped onto the table and tried to put his paw on my face, but I tossed him off of the table. I was so angry at him that I essentially ignored him for two days after Riley's death. Finally, it sunk in that Zorro was merely following his instincts, and that I, and not Zorro, was to blame for the rat's horrible demise. I so wish that I could have those two days with Zorro back right now. I would shower him with the love, forgiveness, and compassion that he always gave to me, instead of giving him the cold shoulder.

During Zorro's last weeks on earth, I felt compelled to reciprocate the compassion that he so freely gave. When he fought against getting subcutaneous fluids at home via IV bag, I didn't force him into it. When he began to panic and thrash around while being put into the cat carrier to be taken to the vet, I stopped taking him there. I knew that any medical intervention on my part was only delaying the inevitable, and I also knew that Zorro would want to live out his final days in as peaceful a manner as possible. When he could no longer walk, eat or drink, I reluctantly had him "put to sleep," a necessary step that I didn't ever want to see come to fruition.

The phrase, "broken heart," which we hear over and over again during our lifetimes, never had any literal meaning to me until the morning that my Zorro passed away. As Zorro lay on the veterinarian's table, his intense, soulful eyes filled with a mix of wisdom, sadness and acceptance, I said to him, "Give me kissy," and he immediately obliged. I knelt down and placed my forehead up against his (he always enjoyed this forehead-to-forehead contact throughout his life), the vet administered a shot to Zorro's right hind leg, and Zorro peacefully passed on. I felt a visceral splitting inside of my chest, and found it difficult to breathe. I now knew what it meant to be "broken-hearted."

What keeps me hanging on as I grieve is my belief that Zorro is running around in Heaven with his half-sister, partaking of all the catnip and Catsip (cat milk) that he can get his paws on. I also believe, although many people don't, that I will be reunited with Zorro and my other furry friends when my time on this earth is up. If there weren't any animal souls in Heaven, it just wouldn't be Paradise to me. In fact, if I had to spend eternity living only among human souls, that would feel like a personal sort of Hell!

So I look forward to the day when Zorro once again tenderly puts his paw on my face, and gives me a "kissy" on my nose. He was a cat that possessed so much beauty, both inside and out, perhaps way more beauty than our often ugly world can assimilate or accept. When I think of how tragic and untimely Zorro's death was, I am reminded of a line from Don McLean's classic song that honors Vincent Van Gogh, "Starry, Starry Night." Of course, my words vary just a little: "But I could have told you, Zorro. This world was never meant for one as beautiful as you." Rest in peace, little buddy, until we meet again...

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