In July 2009, our two dogs found an animal in our flowerbed. Hearing excited barking, I ran out of the house to see what it was. What I saw shocked me.
There was a small tabby cat, so skeletal and weak she couldn’t walk. When I picked her up I was horrified to feel every bone in her body. I was surprised she was still alive.
Astonishingly, as I held her she began to purr.
I rushed her to our vet who took a blood test and informed me that she had feline leukemia. At that moment I could have simply walked away (she wasn’t mine, after all) or given my consent for the vet to euthanize her, which he was inclined to do.
I somehow couldn’t do either. I walked out of the office holding her, as she continued to purr.
I brought her home and set her up in my home office, making a little bed by the window and feeding her every hour or so. She gratefully accepted everything I gave her. When I went to bed that night I didn’t know if she would be alive in the morning. But the next day there she was, ready for breakfast and purring at the slightest touch.
Over the next few months, I fed her around the clock and she slowly began to lose her starved, haunted look. Within a year she was playful and plump, with a plush, glossy coat. She had beautiful bright green eyes and a little Groucho Marx mustache. I named her Graceling, or Gracie for short.
I knew, of course, that adopting this cat with feline leukemia had the potential to break my heart. I also knew that, with two kids and three other rescue pets, my time and resources were limited. But I couldn’t turn her away for the simple reason that she hadn’t caught many breaks in her lifetime, and she deserved better than what she had gotten so far.
What seemed like an emotional, maybe even irrational decision, turned out to be the best decision I could have made.
Over the next three years, Gracie became my constant companion. She stayed in my office beside me as I worked, in a bed next to my computer or on her window seat. She was so content, we could often hear her loud purring from other rooms in the house. Gracie brought joy and comfort to me every day with her gentle, sweet and reassuring presence.
Then, a couple of months ago, Gracie’s leukemia became symptomatic. By July she had lameness in one leg, caused by a tumor on her spinal cord. Her condition worsened very quickly; within two weeks she was unable to walk or do anything by herself. Still, even then, she continued to purr whenever we were near her.
Last week, I slept every night on the floor of my office with her because I was afraid she would die alone in the middle of the night. Thankfully, that didn't happen. But there was a point where I knew I had to call a vet to come to the house. I made the call on Friday and held Gracie as she slipped away.
It was devastating to lose my precious little cat, and I’m still struggling with the pain of it. But having her in my life was something I wouldn’t have traded for the world. I know if I ever find another lost soul in my flowerbed, I will make the same decision.
I realize not everyone could, or would, do what I did. But it proved to be one of the best things I’ve done in my life. Adopting a so-called “unadoptable” pet sometimes involves taking the more difficult path (not always, if the animal is healthy), but it can be one that’s rewarding in so many ways that seem unimaginable at the outset.
My other three pets, who are very healthy, were once considered "unadoptable" too, but they, like Gracie, have brought our family so much joy.
As for Gracie, her positive spirit never ceased to amaze me. With the light, sweet grace she brought into my life, I felt she gave me much more than I ever gave her.