GUS: The Purring Little Engine That Could…..
Nine years ago, I never could have imagined what life lessons would be learned from a tiny spriggy haired boy named Gus. I was volunteering once a week at the Good Mews Animal Foundation, a no kill cat shelter, in Marietta, Georgia. I enjoyed my clean and feed shift, but I was always saddened by all the cats and kittens that needed and longed for good, loving homes. We only had one cat, Teeny, at the time and she definitely ruled the roost and thought herself the queen of everything. But I was ready for a new furry child and my husband, Brian, gave me the OK. I told one of my fellow volunteers that I'd like to adopt a tuxedo kitten. With a twinkle in her eye, she said, "I know of JUST the right kitten for you!" So, I drove to the shelter to meet this "perfect" kitten. I shook hands with his foster parents and laid eyes on the frowziest little mop of black fur. They began to explain how he was the only survivor from his litter. All of them had been attacked by some sort of animal. He had sustained an injury to his back legs but had pulled through his ordeal! My heart melted, of course, and I knew he had to be with me. This tiny alien-ish creature had been through so much tragedy already. Adopting him was the very least I could do, right? Oh boy. Let me tell you, as I walked out that door with my new son in tow, I had NO CLUE what I had just gotten myself into.
The first week with Gus was much like that rollercoaster ride at the amusement park that takes you flying up and then quickly turns you upside down and then jolts you from side to side. Pure craziness! Gus couldn't use his back legs at all, but I've never seen anything so small move so fast. He would fly around on his front legs like a lunatic. The problem was that we quickly realized that the injuries he sustained had also given him major neurological issues so he wasn't able to control his bladder or bowels. He would just go....everywhere!! It was a nightmare. We both thought, what in the world have we done? Oh, and did I mention that Teeny was beyond livid and put out by her new brother? But Gus was incredibly happy and purred louder and more often than any cat I'd ever known. He wasn't a bit sad about his challenges. The world was his oyster and the whole house was his litter box! Whoopee! He played so hard and with such zeal that he would often crash into a coma-like napping state. I will never forget the day he went flying into our guest bedroom, tinkled all over the beautiful organza curtains that puddled (no pun intended) on the floor and instantaneously zonked out into kitty dreamland. And then, at the end of the week, the boisterous joy abruptly stopped.
We came home after an evening out to find Gus in an almost catatonic state. His eyes were open and glazed over, and he was completely still. He was totally unresponsive but still breathing. We were in a panic and rushed him to our vet. After examining him, the doctors shook their heads and told us to be prepared for the worst but that they would do everything they could. That night, I crawled into bed while Brian stayed on the couch watching TV. As I drifted off, I heard the worst wail I’d ever heard. He was crying hysterically over the thought of losing our little boy. We both knew then that we were IN for life. He was our hot mess, and we were completely in love with him. If he survived the night, we would make it work no matter what.
The next morning the vet called to say that Gus was fine and that they had no idea what had happened. What???! He was eating and purring and doing just great. Little did we know that this was foreshadowing for many, many similar situations in the future. We brought him home and over the next nine years, we learned the true meaning of patience, perseverance, unconditional love and most importantly, the power of the purr.
(I warn you now and apologize profusely for discussing otherwise impolite and inappropriate topics like pee and poop, but when describing life with Gus, it has to be done.)
For the first few years of Gus’ life, he battled chronic diarrhea and constipation. It was always one extreme or the other. We made constant trips to the vet and tried countless drugs to control it all. And remember, he didn’t use a litter box…ever. We should own stock in pet cleaners and paper towels. I even learned how to give a cat an enema. You haven’t experienced life until you have experienced that pleasure! But Gus made it as easy on me as he could, as always. He would purr and let me do what I had to do. Most cats would have scratched your eyes out and be hanging from the ceiling at the sight of an enema heading down there! We often wanted to tear our hair out, but we tried to adapt and as long as Gus was happy, we could endure the inconveniences. Our mantra became, “If Gus is purring, everything’s gonna be alright.”
We quickly learned that when Gus was about to oeuf (our special word for poop), his tail would fluff up like a squirrel’s and he would RUN! At least there was a little warning. It was almost like he knew something strange was happening in his body but he wasn’t quite sure what it was, so he thought he’d better run away from it….fast!! We literally planned our lives around that boy….trips were few and far between and every time we moved our first priority was finding a place without carpeting. Not as easy as you’d think. Apartments always seem to have at least one bedroom with carpet. The leasing agents would always look at us with a perplexed expression when we strongly insisted on NO carpet. How do you explain that your cat has faulty plumbing without them banning you from renting altogether? Fortunately, we always seemed to locate an old apartment with hardwoods or a new apartment with trendy concrete floors.
Despite his health issues, Gus grew into the most handsome boy. He had fur like black velvet…thick and so soft, the longest white whiskers you have ever seen and the cutest built-in white bow tie, shirt and shoes. Early on, he even managed to start walking on his back legs. He sort of scuffled around clumsily, but was able to use them nonetheless. He was so full of quirky personality! He would lumber over to the sofa every night and stretch one paw up to let us know that he was ready to be lifted up for a cuddle. He would lie on his back tucked into his dad’s or my armpit enjoying hours of chin scratching purring non-stop. He loved tuna juice and treats. His favorite toys were milk jug tabs and the plastic safety wrap on dip and sour cream containers. He loved the crunchy sound of it for some reason. And ironically, Gus LOVED carpet. When we would take him to Raleigh to visit my parents, he would roll around on their carpet and purr like he was in heaven. I felt so bad that he didn’t have his very own carpet, so I made sure to put washable fuzzy bathmats around our apartment for him to enjoy. There were only two things that Gus really hated…kittens and baths!! We started doing a lot of feral cat spay/neuter and kitten rescue, and he was never excited about sharing space with those silly kittens. But baths were even worse. He would rather sit in a cloud of filth than get a bath. But alas, once it was over we would bundle him up in a towel and the purring rumble would begin….
Everyone who met Gus was enamored. He could convince even the most vehement cat haters to change their tune. His doctors adored him, the vet techs swooned over him, family members and friends always inquired about him as if he were a human child (as it should be!). One of his doctors in Atlanta joked that when he was in the treatment area at the clinic that he would stick his head out of the sunroof of his carrier and wave at his fans. I even wrote and illustrated a children’s book with Gus as the main character and customers would write to me about him. One of them said that her grandchildren who lived in China had called to see how he was doing. There is no doubt that Gus was one-of-a-kind…special in every way!
Throughout the years, Gus endured other health problems. He developed hematomas in both ears. Once they were drained and scar tissue developed, he was sporting crinkly smooshed ears that gave him even more character…as if needed more! He also developed various skin allergies. He would pull his hair out in clumps. He would get sores on his tongue and gums. For several years, we were able to control all of it with frequent steroid shots. He had several scary bladder infections as well. Let’s just say, we had many close calls with him, but he always rallied and pulled through. He was such a tough cookie! And over the past few years, things got easier with his bladder and bowels. I learned how to express his bladder twice a day over the toilet, and Brian figured out how to manually stimulate his bowels. We had things running like a well oiled machine. I just wish we had video of the whole process… would be some priceless footage but I doubt our veterinary antics would make it into any medical manuals.
I could wax on about Gus stories all day long, but I need to wrap it up with two quick tales that illustrate true love. Last Thanksgiving we went to see my parents. We settled in for a lovely home cooked dinner that my mom had labored over for days. Blessings were said, forks in hand, and down the stairs came a fluffy tailed furry turkey!! Noooooo!!! Not an oeuf during Thanksgiving dinner!! Gus flew by us on his way into the kitchen as Brian and I dove out of our chairs. I knew what was about to happen so I was already crying laughing in anticipation. Brian picked him up and kept him stationary as Gus had an explosion of sorts all over the wall. We could barely stand up we were howling so hard at his impeccable timing. My poor mother just quietly helped us clean it up and didn’t say a word. Meanwhile, we could hear my dad and aunt chatting calmly in the next room like nothing unusual was happening. Oh me, it was like a strange sitcom. Another fond oeuf memory occurred a few years ago in our Atlanta loft apartment. Back then, Gus would sleep on my pillow wrapped around my head. One night, I was abruptly awakened by a furball diving over my face. I felt Gus’ legs knock me in the nose as he tumbled onto the floor. I was too tired to get up and see what was going on so I fell back asleep. When I woke up the next day and looked at myself in the bathroom mirror, I blinked bleary eyed and noticed a brown streak across my forehead. Are you kidding me? All you can do is laugh when your cat oeufs on your head in the middle of the night. Classic. I scooped him up and gave him a kiss and thanked him for brightening my morning. True love, I tell ya!
We loved Gus more than words can express. He taught us not to take life too seriously, roll with the punches, never give up, enjoy simple pleasures and above all, purr like crazy! That can get you through just about anything. Gus took his last breath on Monday, July 19 at 4:15 pm. His little body just couldn’t battle through his final challenge. We still can’t quite grasp the fact that he is gone. Life will never be the same without his happy spirit rumbling and bumbling around in our lives. But we are quite sure that Gus now has angel wings and strong legs and a perfect plumbing system. He is rolling around on endless miles of soft carpeting purring his days away. We miss you desperately, precious boy. xoxo
Never underestimate the power of the purr.