Gracie, Grady, Gru

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Gracie was 12 years old when I first met her in the shelter. She was left there with Oprah, her 17-year-old sister when their previous owner passed away. Gracie was a shy girl who often hid in the corner and clung to Oprah. About 7 weeks after arriving at the shelter, Oprah’s systems started to fail, and workers had to help Oprah cross the Rainbow Bridge. They took Gracie with them so the sisters could share one last moment together and Gracie wouldn’t be alone.

Oprah’s passing devastated Gracie. She became even more withdrawn, shy, and quiet, although she did seem to take comfort in the other cats around her. Her timid personality, unfortunately, made her unlikely to be adopted. Most prospective adopters weren’t willing to give her a chance.

Photo: Justin C

Here’s where I enter the story:

This was my first time I’d considered adopting a cat. I grew up with dogs and have loved animals since I was a kid, but I didn’t really know what type of pet I was looking for – or if I even had the capacity to care for an animal. But as an apartment dweller, the idea of adopting a cat began to appeal, especially as I did more research – they seemed to be such intelligent, layered creatures. One day, on a whim, I went to the shelter.

I entered the adoption room where they housed the older cats. This shelter had wisely structured the rooms in a way that forced would-be adopters to walk past the older, less adoptable cats first. I knew that if I were to adopt a cat, I wanted one who was less likely to be adopted, but the shelter’s layout was still impressive.

Upon entering the room, I was greeted by friendly, adorable cats, ranging from one to 17 years of age. Like everyone else, I was enamored with the very friendly ones, but they weren’t the ones I wanted to give a home. After giving the friendly cats some love, I looked around the room, and that’s when I saw Gracie. Thin as a rail, shy, depressed, and hiding in a corner.

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Photo: Justin C

I walked over and sat down; Gracie got up and walked away. There was another cat, Missy (whom shelter workers had fondly nicknamed Hissy) sleeping nearby in a cuddle bed. She allowed me to give her a few pets before hissing at me when I got too friendly for her taste. So, I respected what Missy was telling me and went looking for Gracie, who had moved to another corner of the room.

I asked the shelter manager about Gracie, and she shared the cat’s sad story, which – on top of losing her sister and previous owner – now included an array of health problems. She was losing weight, had gunky eyes, and staff thought it might be cancer. They told me it was unlikely Gracie would ever be adopted for these reasons. “No, she will definitely be adopted,” I said. “Are there any other cats she’s friendly with who are having trouble getting adopted, too?” The shelter manager pointed to Missy.

I adopted both Gracie and Missy a few days later. When I first brought Gracie home, and then to the vet, the doctor said she probably had cancer and only 6-12 months to live. Nor did they recommend treating a 13-year-old cat. So I took Gracie back to my apartment and made it my mission to provide her with the most comfortable, loving home possible.

Gracie blossomed into an incredibly friendly, loving, and gentle cat whose snuggles and purrs became the highlight of my day. She was certainly sick, but I did my best to make sure she lived a comfortable, loved, and very spoiled life for however long she had left. The vet gave her just 6-12 months to live, but Gracie held on for four wonderful years.

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Photo: Justin C

A few weeks ago, Gracie started peeing outside the litter box and in different places around the apartment. I took her to the vet, but they said nothing seemed out of the ordinary. I tried different things to help guide her toward the litter box (and even changed the litter to find something more comfortable on her old paws) but nothing seemed to help. Gracie’s behavior was strange, but I comforted myself by recalling the vet didn’t think it was serious.

This past Thursday, however, I noticed that Gracie was starting to walk a little funny. Her back legs seemed to be getting weaker. She barely touched her food that day and was acting clingier than usual. If I went somewhere to do my work and wasn’t right by her, she would meow, calling for me, and wouldn’t stop until she was in my lap. Gracie had become a very loving lap cat – but she didn’t usually call out for me when I’m working.

Photo: Justin C

On Friday morning, she was sleeping soundly in her bed. When I wake up, she usually comes out from wherever she is to greet me and say good morning — but that morning she stayed in bed and I didn’t want to wake her if she wasn’t feeling well. By the time lunch rolls around, Gracie is usually in the kitchen waiting for her snack, but today she didn’t bother.

By now, I was beginning to fear the end was probably near. I even called my parents to come over to see her and say goodbye. My dad, who originally went to school to become a vet, confirmed what I suspected/feared – the end was likely near.

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I spent 30 minutes trying to give Gracie all her favorite foods — even foods she had always wanted to eat, but I didn’t give her, like pizza. Finally, I opened a can of tuna, which was enticing enough for her to crawl out of bed and eat a few bites. That’s when I saw how much trouble she had moving, and it suddenly hit me. For the first time in 4 years, I started to cry.

Once Gracie was out of bed, she wanted to be up on the couch with me, in my lap. She wobbled over the best she could and meowed for me to pick her up. She slept on my lap for a while, then moved to the blanket next to me — always making sure a part of her was touching me at all times.

As time passed, I saw Gracie was becoming weaker and less responsive. By 7 pm, she tried to get up and walk over to my lap but collapsed halfway there. I knew the end was near, so I picked Gracie up, wrapped her in her favorite blanket, and put her on my lap, making sure she was positioned where she could see me.

Photo: Justin C

To say those last few hours were hard on me would be an understatement. It ripped my heart out knowing the end was near, and there was nothing I could do to help her. Luckily, Gracie wasn’t in pain and she was able to remain in her safe, loving environment as she traveled towards the Rainbow Bridge. At around 10:30 that night, Gracie took her last breath, wrapped in my arms.

A piece of my heart crossed the Rainbow Bridge with Gracie that night. Missy and I will miss her terribly. I can only hope she knew just how much she was loved.

Goodbye, my little Gray. Until we meet again.

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