In the way of the introvert, Zo was never the showiest of cats, but she made up for it in resilience. A few months shy of 19, she’s outlived four other cats, two of which were younger than she.
Jean was at the Pet Valu getting cat supplies (I assume) when he called home about the cat available for adoption there.
“So she’s a little black calico?” I asked.
“You’ve seen her?” replied Jean, confused.
But I had not. I just suspected Jean would find it hard to resist a cat who resembled our recently lost Bob.
I agreed to the adoption of the two year old. It was our introduction to Pet Patrol, from whom we’ve acquired all our cats since. We didn’t then know the advice that you shouldn’t get a cat that reminds you a lot of the one you’ve lost. I don’t think Zoë suffered from the comparison. For one thing, she actually was somewhat similar to Bob.
Zoë’s backstory was that she had been owned by a bit of a cat hoarder and hadn’t been fed the best quality food. A lifetime behaviour of hers, that I assume harkens back to that time, is that whenever she got an especially good treat, she would carry it off into a corner to eat it. That way no other cat would steal it, you see. (Though in this house, I never saw another cat steal a treat away from her.)
Zoë joined a household of two older males, Romey and Sandy, whom we seem to have very few photos of. (It was a different time!) There wasn’t much drama in integrating her. I noted at the time that she seemed much livelier than they.
Zoë, of course, outlived both these guys. We lost Sandy first, to complications of diabetes, Romey later, to mega-colon. I recall trying to tempt Romey with various treat foods when he was ill, and Zoë sweeping in to finish after he did his bit of nibbling. The only time of her life that she got a little pudgy.
Zoë was then a lone cat for while, til we adopted McSteamy and Mocha. Those two took to each other instantly, leaving Zoë the odd woman out—which I think suited her just fine. She was a bit miffed at having them join the household, and never really cottoned to Mocha; they’d sort of natter at each other on a semi-regular basis. McSteamy, though, she appeared to get along fine with. He knew well enough to never attempt to cuddle with her, though he did constantly with Mocha.
She outlived them as well. Mocha we lost to throat cancer, McSteamy later, to lymphatic cancer. As lone cat, Zoë would often choose to sleep underneath the guest bed, which I found a bit odd; who was she hiding from? It’s only occurred to me recently that McSteamy spent his last weeks encamped under that bed. Perhaps she was revisiting his scent.
Jean and I got very close with Zoë during this period of her lone cat-ness, building up rituals: TV time on the couch, morning visits, joining us for meals. Though she was never a cuddle-bunny, we learned to appreciate the more subtle ways in which she showed affection.
After a time, though, I wanted to adopt more cats. But I was very worried about how Zoë would react.
With cause, as it turns out! Though she took to Mac very easily, and indeed seemed to find him a great deal of fun at first…
She took an instant dislike to the shy Gus, leading to months of angst (on my part, and probably Gus’ too) as she bullied him and really slowed down the process of integrating him into the family.
With time and age, Zoë became less enamoured of Mac’s energy, particularly when it was directed at her. And she grew more appreciative of Gus’ more easy-going ways. But their addition enriched her life, as the house became filled with new cat toys, cat trees, cat sleeping spaces, and we added on an outdoor enclosure (initially used by Zoë only!).
For years we used a catsitter named Mike, whom Zoë was very fond of. Upon Mike’s retirement, we used a series of others, none of whom she grew very close to. Some never saw her at all during visits, finding our claims of owning a black calico fanciful.
In general, she didn’t appreciate visitors. Any knock on the door or doorbell ring would send her scurrying for cover. If it turned out to be a repairman or such-like who was going to stay a while, she would stay under cover, sometimes for hours—especially if they were noise-producing visitors.
I’m not sure where she got this extreme fear of strangers, but possibly from the time we were using a home vet? She was the only cat who seemed to respond more poorly to his visits than to going out to see the vet.
The cleaners we used to have come in regularly might not have helped, either, particularly once our regular cleaning person retired and we started using a service. They didn’t physically bother her the way the vet did, but they were noisy, and poking into all the corners of the house, no doubt including getting close to some of her hiding places.
Yet, she’d end up OK with some of the visitors we had: she was fine with my parents, and with some friends who came over more regularly. She’d actually come out and hang. (At a bit of a distance, of course.)
At one point when she was a lone cat for the second time, I got the idea of having someone actually house-sit while we were away, instead of just coming by once or twice a day. Why I thought this was a good idea for a cat who hates strangers…?
The first night, the housesitter reported, Zoë went under our bed and just “cried and cried”. We’d never known her to do that when we were home. We were a bit startled to realize how attached she was to us. The next day, reports said, she crept out a bit more. Finally she stayed out. (At a bit of distance, of course.)
As we added cats, we decided to continue with the house-sitting, though we never knew what we were going to get with Zoë. One time she was pretty good most of the days, then at the end decided to hide in a wall and refuse to come out, even for food. (She was out instantly when we got home. Then we barricaded the wall.)
She’d seem quite accepting of the housesitter for one trip (and it was always the same one, I would note!), then revert to hiding under the bed for days for the next. She’d join the boys for eating one time, then decided she needed food delivery service the next. In what was described as a “miracle”, she actually jumped on the housesitter’s lap once, and stayed there a while. But even that didn’t prove a permanent breakthrough.
But with us, her loyalty never wavered, even if we sometimes had to give her medication, or take her to the vet, or invite noisy people into her room.
We were her people. And that was that.
Zoë really didn’t have too many health problems in her life. She was one of those cats with generally good teeth, though at one point she did have to get one extracted. At times, possibly partly related to boredom the food options at the time, she got a little too thin. She once had some mysterious injury that made it very difficult for her to swallow food. She managed on a liquid diet for a couple days, and it seemed to resolved itself without need of veterinary intervention.
As an older cat, a blood test revealed some issue with her liver. We tried supplements for a while, but they didn’t make much difference, and she got increasingly cranky about having to take them. From then on the liver issue was merely monitored, not ever treated.
In 2020 she was diagnosed with kidney disease. A fairly common cat disease, there’s no cure, but it can be managed to some degree, and some cats live with it for years. Zoë was to fall in this camp, even though our treatment plan was pretty light.
There are special foods you can give cats with kidney disease—but they’re not the tastiest, and tend to a little low in protein. I tried a can on Zoë and she didn’t show much enthusiasm. Another approach was simply to feed them high-quality can or raw food. That is the route we took. Zoë liked variety in her food, and seemed more important that she keep eating a good amount than having a particular nutrient balance in what she took in.
We also put water bowls all over. That girl drank her weight in water daily, it seemed.
And that approach worked, until it didn’t. Until recent months, she largely hung onto her weight. She almost never vomited. Tests showed kidney deterioration, but only at a slow pace.
But then it caught up with her, as it does. She started losing weight. She grew weaker and less able to do things (arthritis also contributed to that). Blood tests showed high potassium levels, so we added a supplement to her food to block absorption, and she was fine with taking that. She also got injections that helped with pain management and mobility.
But none of that was a cure. Gradually her world became smaller. First she stopped going outside. Then she went from jumping on our bed in the morning, to just hiding under it. Then the downstairs visits became less frequent, til they stopped. For quite some time she insisted on jumping up on her kitchen chair, until that just didn’t work anymore and she finally accepted us lifting her on to it.
Heat retention became an issue for her, and she grew increasingly fond of a stereo cabinet that we left on all the time as her personal heater. She could sleep on top of or behind it. Finally the upstairs, her previous refuge, seemed too much work, and stayed mainly on the main floor.
Her fondness for food continued nearly to the end, but as that started to go, we knew she wouldn’t last much longer.
Essence of Zoë
At some point Zoë got spooked about workouts, somehow, and ended up afraid of yoga mats. She would scurry from the room as soon as I picked one up. She was quite dubious of me if I was in workout gear.
When we were eating something she thought smelled particularly good, she’d request a taste by patting me with a paw. If the morsel was to her liking, she’d take it delicately with her teeth (and, as already, reported, jump down to eat in a corner, if it was special good).
She despised getting her nails cut. To be fair, we only started cutting her nails later in her life, when her nails started to in thick and curly, to the point where they grew into her nail bed a couple times. So there was some association between nail cutting and pain there. But man, so angry! You’d think we were torturing her.
Zoë was always extremely well-behaved at the vet, likely as a fear response. Always, that is, except for one time when they cut her nails. “She got so angry!” the vet reported.
She loved playing with string-adorned wand toys.
She adored high places: tops of cabinets, tall chairs, cat trees, table tops.
She could be a pretty good hunter, even into her old age (we’d get the occasional mouse in the house, and she did have her enclosure…)
She required a “blanket barrier” before she would lie down or walk on you.
She had a phase where she was extremely protective of the house against outdoor cats. Seeing one outside, she would fly into rage at the window, making the most godawful noise.
She preferred carpet to sisal scratching posts.
Cranky though we sometimes made her, she was unfailingly gentle with people. She never scratched or bit us, or anyone.
She had great markings, including three orange toes that I never tired of looking at.
She would sneak around on kitchen counters at time, on the hunt for treats.
She sometimes showed affection by licking—faces or hands. Her tongue was pretty rough, but it was still pretty cute.
Now that I think of it, maybe she wasn’t that much like Bob.
She was all Zoë. She loved, and she was loved.
We’re going to miss you, little lady.