A Tribute to Zeus, the Cat Who Saved Me
In the afternoon of July 22, 2018, I had to say good-bye to my beloved, faithful best friend, Zeus. He was an extraordinary being. Let me tell you a bit about Zeus and how he saved me.
To summarize how we met: wrong guy, right cat.
In the fall of 2004, a curveball flew out of nowhere and shattered my life. A second one abruptly emerged in 2010, just as I was getting back onto my original path. Both were doozies by any standard (think about the worst thing that could happen to you and multiply it times ten).
Wrong guy wasn’t in the country when the first disaster struck. His cat, Zeus, was.
From that moment, Zeus transferred his loyalty to me, becoming my savior in the process.
Cats protect injured members of their family, often by crouching over them and shielding them from the detection of possible predators. That’s what Zeus did for me during the next fourteen years, literally and figuratively, until the end.
The best way to begin to explain how he saved me is describe a typical day for us.
Humans are creatures of habit, after all. We find our joy and purpose not from isolated moments (these only provide a temporary lift) but from our daily routine.
I got up at six, which was Zeus’ preferred breakfast time. As with all our meals, he supervised its preparation, enthroned on the top of the fridge or the dining table. After we ate, I showered; my protector stood outside the stall, on the off-chance that I needed a paw. Then, I’d join him for the first of several walks taken over the course of the day.
As much as Zeus loved the outdoors, it wasn’t safe to let him roam on his own. Wrong guy had Zeus’ front paws declawed—the barbaric practice of amputating a cat’s “fingers.”
In his younger years, more often than not, he ran ahead, and I frantically followed. His delight was to bolt down a neighbor’s driveway into a backyard and dart through a series of these while I screamed his name, convinced something awful would happen—would he end up on a lost cat poster?!—searching, heart racing, until I found him. Which, thank God, I always did. Or, to be more accurate, he found me again.
On those rambles, he’d work his magic with other souls in need. He was selective about whom he’d approach. Invariably, I discovered this person was in crisis: a spouse had died or some other gut-wrenching personal pain. Over he’d go, and sad faces would light up. (Some became his fans and regularly visited him.)
No matter how bad of a day, I always knew that Zeus was waiting for me. Sitting on the cat perch of the front window of whatever place we inhabited, he’d be pawing a hello on the glass.
During the evening, Zeus would frequently cuddle with me, which always lifted my spirits. In old age, he became even more affectionate, crawling into my lap or resting his head on my leg while I watched television or read a book. If I was working at my desk, he’d sit by my side, giving me a head butt when he thought it was time to take a break.
At night, he’d tuck me in—no lies! It was difficult for me to sleep. Zeus would crawl on top of me and carefully work his way around, pawing the blankets until I was cocooned in them. He’d then lay down curled into my side or draped over my feet, assured of my comfort. If I moved, he’d go through the entire process all over again. Some nights, the little man was pretty tired by the time morning rolled around!
Between you and me, I thought more than once I couldn’t carry on. Zeus, though, kept me going and gave me a reason to keep fighting. What would happen to him, if I wasn’t around?
I loved him a lot, you see, and that was an unexpected development. Years of hurt had resulted in a fortress of ice around my heart. Gentle Zeus melted it. Amazing, isn’t it?
Rest assured, Zeus’ devotion wasn’t a one-way street. I gradually adjusted my lifestyle to
further his happiness. For instance, after our first apartment, we lived in houses with backyards, so Zeus would have a sheltered place to prowl. I fed the birds, so he’d have the pleasure of watching them, and created beautiful flower beds for his enjoyment, catnip plants scattered throughout.
In 2005, Zeus almost died from poisoned pet food. My valiant warrior survived but refused to eat: he’d contracted fatty liver disease. Rather than have a feeding tube inserted in his furry tummy (he couldn’t bear it), I hand-fed him for three months, on a schedule of every few hours, around the clock. After that, he had other related health problems.
My daily routine therefore came to include taking care of his medical needs. The passing years led to additional age-associated health issues for Zeus. This was no burden for me: he always gave me more than I could ever give him.
Because of Zeus, I was never lonely—we were a close-knit family of two. This swelled to three when Athena joined our ranks in late 2012.
The addition to our family was down to Zeus. On one of our outings, I spotted a skinny kitten living under a porch. Despite my best efforts, I couldn’t get near her. (For the love of Zeus, I’d started noticing homeless cats and saved as many as I could. They were always placed for adoption with animal rescue groups.)
I left food for Athena, hoping to win her over in the usual fashion. It didn’t initially work. She was frightened of people—with good reason, for she’d been abused. How, then, did she draw close enough to rescue?
Zeus, of course. She’d creep out from under the steps and stare at us as we made our way down the road. She began to sit on a neighbor’s railing and watch us interact inside our house through its windows. Eventually, she decided it was safe to consume meals on our deck, overseen by Zeus.
Athena, it turned out, wasn’t going anywhere, having won my heart and, more importantly, that of Zeus. He had to show her every so often who was boss, but now he had a friend when I wasn’t home (neighbors told me he no longer sat at the window and cried when I was away).
Zeus watched over Athena almost as carefully as he did me. For example, when she got stuck in a ceiling (don’t ask) or in a tree, he’d shepherd me to her. On our trio walks, he’d lead the way. Should Athena wander off, he’d stop, go fetch her, and we’d proceed. If she seemed about to make an unfortunate decision, he’d touch noses with her, and she’d stop. He groomed her too, which always made Athena smile.
Well, you know by now how he saved my life in one way, by keeping me going while my old one disintegrated. He also gave me a new existence and purpose.
Zeus was my first silver lining, you see. I got that message as early as 2005, as I studied this miraculous being and was grateful beyond belief for his love and presence.
Now, it wasn’t like I hadn’t gone through hard times in the past. I’d survived these by escaping into the fictional worlds of books and trying to look on the bright side. Mostly, I went to “it could be worse” and “these scars make excellent armour” kind of thinking to soldier on.
Zeus taught me to do more than that—to find the good in the bad, hang on to it for dear life, and use it to forge upwards. That knowledge kick-started a new way of understanding the world, and eventually, to my writing about silver linings for others.
This little fur man even deepened my faith. As a result of his love of nature, I started
noticing its wonders too. I was already marvelling at the glory of Zeus, so it wasn’t much of a stretch to do so to the rest of the planet and ultimately the magnificent Creator behind it.
Let there be no doubt—I’d go through it all, again and again, the hell on earth of those years, to be with him.
Zeus’ physical decline was shockingly rapid this year. He dwindled from fourteen to twelve pounds, then quickly to ten, dropping to a skeletal nine pounds. By the time the vet pinpointed the right problem, the disease was in an advanced stage, although little could have been done for him even with an earlier discovery.
On a Saturday afternoon, the vet said there wasn’t much time.
Saturday evening, Zeus wanted to walk in the garden. Early Sunday morning, despite the rain, he sat outside under the porch awning, looking at the flower beds and birds. Inside the house, he would suddenly get up and stagger into a room, glance around, and depart. He was clearly saying farewell to his world.
Later that morning, Zeus began to stumble around (more so than could be attributed to the pain medication), going off to corners and closets, staring at the wall in an unfocused gaze, and crying when I picked him up. He didn’t want cuddles, couldn’t bear to be touched, and for the first time in our life together, didn’t purr when I lay by him to stroke his head.
I realized, watching him deteriorate, that it was cruel and selfish to continue to keep him with me. He’d been a faithful friend, and it was my turn to be a good one to him. On Sunday afternoon, we went to the vet hospital with Athena in tow. I hoped they’d say that his distress could be alleviated and I could take him home with me, just for a little while more. Maybe they would even say there was a miracle cure.
That’s not what I was told. And so he said good-bye to us, mostly at the very end to Athena. He crawled into her carrier and lay down next to her. Athena tried for some years, you see, to sleep curled up with him, but Zeus wouldn’t have it. Oh, he loved her a lot, but he wouldn’t lay down with her, reserving that honor for me. In the last ten minutes of his life, he chose to give that gift to her.
To me, he’d given many gifts, the best of which was his love. And in the process of saving me, Zeus became the cornerstone of my existence, woven into the fabric of my life.
This house is now so silent and empty. Amazing how this tiny brown ball of fur filled up the space. Filled up my days and heart.
I promised him, the morning of the final day, that since he’d given me my life, the least I could do in return was make sure that it was a good one. The truth is, without his gentle, loving companionship, I can’t see how to do that. But he led me to a new door, and I owe it to him to try my best to go through it.
Now, this is supposed to be a tribute to Zeus, and so far it’s mainly about how he saved me. That’s only one aspect to this extraordinary being’s life.
Let me tell you more about Zeus, who had quite the personality! Until the very end, he was a big boy with an even bigger heart. You’d think a cat of his size would be an avid hunter, and he did initially display this sort of inclination. The thing was, he adored me and knew I didn’t want him to kill any living being. So he’d watch the birds, even surrounded by them under the bird feeder, and not lift a paw. His gentle, kind nature was also evident in encounters with smaller cats, who were usually frightened by his relatively huge proportions: Zeus would crawl to them on his belly to say a reassuring hello.
Which didn’t mean he wouldn’t fight, if push came to shove. Those instances arose only if his territory was under siege. Then, the little lionheart would charge into battle, not seeming to grasp or care, more probably, that the odds might be against him. On one memorable occasion, the Irish wolfhound that foolishly came onto our porch to say hello was confronted by Zeus. The much larger dog stumbled away, visibly shaken! The stag who wandered up to our living room window also got a rude awakening: Zeus met him at the glass, bravely signalling cat-style if he advanced any further, there’d be a reckoning. Where was Athena? As always, bringing up the rear.
Smart as all get out, he understood what I said and taught me his language too—the meaning of different meows, a twitch in his expressive face, an elegant roll of the furry shoulder. A hard stare meant I overstepped, eyelids half-closed or a slow blink signalled his approval. Ears rotated to forty-five degrees meant I was acting ridiculous, extended to ninety, fair warning, cut it out! (Such stern admonishments were rare and their causes were one hundred percent my fault, of course.)
When he stood motionless in front of me, I learned that was my cue to follow him, and he’d lead me to the door for outside time or to the couch for cuddles or to his beleaguered little sister, when she was in some sort of peril brought on by her invariably poor choices.
He ate in tiny bits over the day, a true foodie, savoring each bite! He was always up for a morsel of tuna or salmon appetizer but mainly preferred chicken in his entrees. Human food? Zeus would stand in front of me—silently demanding his due with a direct gaze, never begging—whenever cheese, peanut butter, and ice cream scents wafted in his direction.
He loved to chase fisherman toys and was always game to bat around a catnip pillow or lay down with his relatively giant head on the miniature cushion. Visual entertainment? He liked to watch television nature shows or the occasional cartoon; movie-wise, Zeus preferred bird videos.
Mostly, he liked to survey his kingdom from a cat condo or window perch. He was quite the looker and, to my amusement, was often serenaded by female cats sitting outside. They were clearly unaware that all he could offer was a chaste love! Did he take heed? Only if the gal in question had white fur, the fluffier, the better. That was his preference, it seemed, and then he’d settle down and enjoy the song.
Sleeping choices? When not with me, in whatever place I might sit, keeping it warm for his best friend.
I expect he’s saving me a place in heaven. God sent him to me once and I hope and pray to meet him again. As always, I expect Zeus to lead me onto the right path.
I am blessed beyond belief that Zeus shared his journey with me.
If you have or had a “Zeus” in your life, I’d love to hear from you. We’re the lucky ones, aren’t we?