How a special needs, ugly zombie cat helped me heal

by Andrea Giannini

I write this as a suicide attempt survivor, an addict in recovery, and a survivor of sibling suicide who also suffered addiction.

There was a point in time where I worked for a company full of empty promises and lacked any kind of empathy. During this time period, I lost my brother, Josh Giannini, to suicide because he could no longer live with his demons.

But this isn’t about Josh; he’s had his moment of fame through this amazing outlet of a blog. This is about the support I received during and after the death and bereavement period of losing my brother, and the struggle of losing my pet.

I worked for a veterinary clinic as a groomer.

Upon starting, they introduced me to the pets with no homes who were up for foster. During my 6 month stay at this occupation, many of them never received foster homes. I was warned about a particular senior cat. She was feral and had holes in the roof of her mouth that led to her nasal cavity. This led to eating and self-cleaning problems.

She was the most horrific-looking cat, like she just walked out of Stephen King’s Pet Cemetery. Many of the homeless pets had resided in these small enclosures for extended periods of time, and this specific cat had been paying her mortgage for a year now.

The kennel staff periodically, but not regularly, attempted to remove her filth in a gentle manner; gentle in a way not to provoke her to wreak havoc. But this was the only human interaction she had known for a long time.

For a time, I trusted the staff with their advice to use caution with this cat. But as time went on, as it always does, I started to scratch the top part of her head, the only part of her that wasn’t optically or physically appalling. She seemed confused at first, but quickly melted at my touch. This ended up becoming a daily exercise during my lunch breaks.

Eventually, I asked the manager if I could give her a good, healthy scrub. As a groomer, I know how to handle cats in the bath, and I knew she would hate it, but she would feel so much better. After some consideration, the manager agreed to let me bathe her. It went as to be expected with a cat. She reacted like I was pouring acid on her. But after she was scrubbed clean, I wrapped her in a towel and hugged her for 10 minutes. I did this weekly for a couple of months.

It became an unspoken label that I was now her guardian

I considered fostering her and getting her out of that cage that held her captive, but who was I to take home this high-maintenance cat? I already had 2 cats and a pit bull at home. Would the cats even get along? Would I come home one day to the pit pull covered in blood and some unrecognizable remains of what used to be a cat? And if nothing else, how would I keep up with her daily cleaning and feeding?”

My heart had broke for her and I felt I wasn’t an adequate parent enough to give her the life she deserved. So I emotionally stepped back. I stopped bathing her regularly and I stopped visiting her on my lunch breaks. I couldn’t even go to that wing of the hospital without feeling pieces of my heart crumble to the floor.

A kennel attendant noticed her appearance receding to the zombie cat she used to be and suggested I foster her. Internally, I thought this lady has lost her mind, but in reality, she had more faith in me than I did. After explaining my emotional struggle, she said for me to think about it. I agreed to think about it.

A week later I had made up my mind. I would ask the main vet if I could foster her. I was prepared for a straight “No.” You have too many animals already. She’s more than you can handle. You can’t afford her care. But the vet responded, “I think that’s a great idea!”

I brought her home on Friday, March 24th. She acclimated quite well for a cat. So well, I considered that she may be part alien. She didn’t walk well, though, because her leg muscles atrophied from having lived in a cramped cage. But she quickly made herself at home and claimed my bed as hers. She was polite enough to let me sleep in the bed, too. As for the other pets, they were all afraid of her so no one bothered her.

On Wednesday, March 29th, I got the call at work from my mother that Josh was gone.

After begging the unempathetic management to allow me leave, despite there being quite a few dogs left to groom, I made my way home. This cat, that was so intent on living the dream of a warm bed, switched gears on me, literally. She became the most snuggliest being I have ever known. She continued this behavior through dealing with the funeral (I also had to fight for that day off) and when I was hospitalized for intestinal blockage. 3 days after getting released from the hospital, my manager said I wasn’t a good fit for the company. My only rebuttal was, “What about Oreo? Can I permanently adopt Oreo?” She agreed to talk to the lead vet.

Hard times continued to knock me down

I couldn’t find a job, I wasn’t grieving adequately, my sobriety and life were hanging in the balance. So I decided to check myself into inpatient psychiatric treatment. There was a bed waiting for me, I had made arrangements for my pets, and was heading to the Crisis Stabilization Unit when I got a text from the manager that said I could adopt Oreo. So I stopped by on the way to sign the adoption papers.

To a sane person, this would seem ridiculous. I can’t even take care of myself and my normal pets, and I’m going into a psych ward because I can’t handle life, but I want to be solely responsible for this ugly zombie cat?
After learning coping tools I needed to deal with what life throws at me and getting properly medicated, I returned home 8 days later. Life softened its punches: I got a job, I got a new place, and I had a strong support group. Oreo maintained her role as “the cat in my face.” We made it work. Together.

As a senior cat with special needs, I treated the situation as a hospice case

I just wanted her to be loved and happy for her last few months. She celebrated my thirtieth birthday with me in October, then Thanksgiving and Christmas. She even enjoyed the outdoors with me in the spring and summer.

This past July in 2018, I started letting her out more frequently without parental supervision. She had a collar with her name tag that read SPECIAL NEEDS. One night she didn’t come home. The next morning, I spoke with my neighbor about her and asked if that he was to spot her to put her in the front door while I’m at work. I came home to an Oreo cookie greeting me in the window.

That was a huge relief. But she wasn’t the same. She was dehydrated, wouldn’t eat, wouldn’t relax, and cried constantly. I rushed her to the hospital where they gave her fluids, fed her gruel, and gave her pain medicine.

She stayed for three days.

On Wednesday, July 18, 2018, I decided to have her put down.

I spent some time with her before alerting the staff I was ready. She had been restless in my arms during the visit. They took her back, and gave her a sedative, and returned her to me to fall asleep in my arms. At this point, I am confident she was aware it was her time and she approved.

She stopped wiggling and purred. When she was completely asleep, the doctor came in to perform the lasting sleep cycle. I held my hand on her chest and felt her purr until all the life, and pain and struggle left her body. I took her home and my neighbor and I worked together to bury her in his back yard where he had buried 7 other cats from his 45 years of homeownership.

I am bleeding this ink to say that I came into her life to give her a small amount of happiness at the end of her life, but she stayed so long in my life to save mine.

There are times that I have felt I could have been a better parent, but in the end, we needed each other.

4 thoughts on “How a special needs, ugly zombie cat helped me heal”

  1. Pets have helped me through the rough spots in my life, too. You were a true angel for Oreo, giving her a loving home, comfy bed and companionship in her last moments. Your story has really touched me. God bless you!

  2. God bless you and your loving, compassionate heart. So glad you were both there for each other.
    I’m here if you need to talk, any time, night and day.
    Sending love and (((hugs))).

  3. Andrea , as I have told you before…. I’m so very proud of you for your COMPASSION . Kindness holds the key to true joy in this life. And I’m so very proud of you. Mom ❤

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