Saying Goodbyes to Zee – The Legacy of an Extraordinary Cat

When Zee first arrived at our house on November 12, 2005, he was a tiny, fuzzy brown tabby 9-week-old Maine Coon kitten that I gave Dan as a housewarming gift when he moved in with me. He joined then furmates, Bandit (a dog), and cats Kit, Jazz, and Harley, all long since angels. How he would change our lives could not have been predicted at the time, but he quickly stole our hearts and it was evident early on he was a very special cat.

Naturally, we were obsessed with him. Kittens have a way of doing that and we wanted to smother our lil’ guy in hugs and kisses and have him cuddle in our laps. But he was too busy then, instigating rabbit kick fights with Jazz (twice his size) and his insistent involvement in helping in all aspects of a home renovation we were doing, as only a curious and fearless kitten can do. Sounds of jackhammers, drills, saws, and more bothered him not a wit, and he had little time to placate his doting humans. But we took it in stride, after all, we had a lifetime ahead with him.

Zee’s curiosity during our home improvement had no boundaries.

And we did have a lifetime until the day we didn’t. The day we had to give the greatest gift of all, letting go and saying goodbyes to a cat whose mark on our hearts was deeply and indelibly etched. The day was Friday, March 18, a day we’ll never forget because it was one of the most painful, bittersweet, and poignant days Dan and I have ever gone through. Many days have transpired since that day – long, aimless, agonizing days, but I have not shared the news until now. Part of it is simply because if I don’t write about it, maybe it wasn’t true. But mostly, because I wasn’t ready to open the raw and emotional floodgates of grief that would bring me down an excruciatingly painful memory lane. Ironic perhaps, considering I wrote a book on the grieving process after Jazz passed: Purr Prints of the Heart – A Cat’s Tale of Life, Death, and Beyond, and founded Rainbow Bridge Remembrance Day on August 28 as a consequence of him and all other pets loved and lost, but a loss is always difficult, even if you understand the mechanics of grieving.

But it is true, and it did happen. I know this because of the profound emptiness in my heart. We still have seven precious furbabies with us, but right now seven is a lonely number. Zee is everywhere. At every turn, he is there, the memory of him imprinted on the fabric of everything around us. He is gone, but his impression carries on with a life of its own so real I can still see, smell, and touch it.

Faded in the background, but always there. I can still see, feel, and touch him in my mind.

His empty food dish, a vessel of his last meal. Medication bottles, creams, vitamin supplements, and more, sitting on the counter, no longer needed to serve a purpose. His favorite plush toys, laying lonely on the floor. His smell and indent on the couch, the bed in the guest bedroom, and so much more. I still see him on the bathroom counter where he liked to drink his water, and on the kitchen floor, waiting to be fed or brushed. My office, Dan’s office, our cars because of frequent trips to the vet, and on and on and on.

It was not a surprise, yet somehow it was. We knew in December 2020 our remaining time with Zee was a borrowed gift. We had brought him to the vet for an emergency visit when we noticed he was lethargic, eating less, and drooling. He was initially diagnosed with diabetes, with them finding an exceedingly high level of glucose in his urine. But after a couple of days of monitoring his glucose levels, it was determined he was not diabetic but had a hyperthyroid and we began a regiment of a special diet, vitamin supplements, and clindamycin drops for the drooling (with possible periodontal work down the road) and methimazole tablets twice a day for the thyroid.

Bringing Zee in for an emergency checkup in December 2020.

The drooling stopped and he started to gain some weight. He had a spring in his step that we hadn’t seen in ages, and we settled into a happy and comfortable life with him. His days of bringing nearly a dozen plush toys to our bed at night had stopped, as well as the frequency he would sleep with us in our bed, but he also had long since become that cuddly lap cat we yearned for and was a loving, social, gregarious, intelligent, and chatty cat. He would frequently come and visit Dan and me throughout the day, as we both work remotely and when he wasn’t with us, he was surrounded by his beloved girls – mama cat, Zoey, and daughters, Mia and Peanut, who couldn’t get enough of him.

Zee with Peanut, Zoey, and Mia after his December 2020 vet visit.

Every milestone was a blessing. Making it through Christmas 2020. His birthday, in September of 2021. Then another Christmas. And then New Year, 2022. But the New Year brought more changes. His drooling came back, and he was eating less, so we brought him to the vet for a checkup. At this point, with Zee nearly 17, and with health issues, Dan and I already had already decided in our minds. We promised to take care of him, make him as comfortable as possible, and enjoy all our days with him we were blessed to have, but not to put him through a litany of tests and diagnoses.

Christmas 2021. I did not know at the time it would be his last Christmas.

Working remotely has been a blessing – Zee with me in January 2022 keeping me company next to my computer.

This was predicated on our shared end-of-life experience with Jazz in 2013. Although certainly not intentional at the time – letting go is just so, so difficult when it comes to something you love – but we realized in hindsight that the massive effort we undertook to keep Jazz with us, was probably causing him undue stress and pain. My Herculean efforts to prolong his life – force-feeding him with a syringe, bringing him to the vet for nonstop visits, medications, and so much more over the course of a couple of months had caused him to withdraw from me and it broke my heart. It wasn’t until I came to grips with the fact he was dying and that I had to let him go, that he was given the peace and dignity he deserved. We did not want to put Zee through that, realizing sometimes it’s kinder to let a pet go sooner, rather than hold on too late, even at the expense of the emotional pain it will cause you.

But we also did not feel we were at that point – that pact was still elusively floating about, but it wasn’t real. The vet began her examination and while poking about in Zee’s mouth, a rotten tooth fell out! This could explain the drooling and lack of appetite and he was prescribed an antibiotic to deter any spread of infection. They took bloodwork, too, with the conclusion we needed to increase his methimazole dosage. The results also showed the onset of kidney failure, with the prognosis his time with us was limited – maybe another year if we were blessed. If there was anything else, the only way to know would be with a barrage of tests, x-rays, ultrasounds, and more.

A favorite image from 2011 – how could we allow something we loved so much to suffer? We owed it to our beautiful boy to give him the gift of dignity.

The last thing we wanted was for Zee to be in pain, but we were not going to put him through the tests, and we brought him home. And he also had good news during his exam – his heart was strong and his eyes clear. And with his infected tooth gone, he was in much better spirits. I bought some stinky Fancy Feast cat food and a probiotic to stimulate his appetite and it worked, and it seemed our little Zee was back.

And he was. But he also wasn’t. Especially as everything was so deceiving. Sometimes he would eat less, but then he’d have an appetite again. Sometimes he would hibernate in the guest bedroom for his daily naps, then we’d find him back on the couch, snuggling with Zoey and Mia during the day, and with Dan and me at night. Sometimes he’d even come into bed with us at night like he used to.

Zee seemed to be back on top of the world again after his exam in January.

And then life became upside down. I got very sick in February with a prolonged migraine, fever, vomiting, loss of appetite, and sore throat that landed me at an emergency clinic, the pain was so severe. To this day, I’m not fully recovered, and then a few weeks ago, out of nowhere, Kizmet started sneezing, had chest congestion, and stopped eating. We immediately brought him to the vet – he had an upper respiratory infection, and he was given an antibiotic, an appetite-stimulating cream to put in his ears, as well as instructions to nebulize him twice a day, 10 minutes at a time, with a saline solution.

At that point, it was already too late to stop the train. Zoey caught the virus, then Zee, and eventually all of them. I was a wreck – it was already a special diet for Zee, Jazmine, and Mia, feeding them 3-times a day and corralling them into separate rooms to make sure each was eating their proper food. And the medications – Zee, Kizmet, Rolz, Shadow, Jazmine, and Mia were relatively easy, but Zoey and Peanut were a bloody nightmare (for Dan and me) to manage. Then there was nebulizer – each of them had to be done, twice a day, and Zee had also long-since been unable to properly groom himself, so I was combing him after every meal to keep him clean and mat-free care, even gently bathing him on occasion, so care was around the clock.

I was also obsessively washing towels, bedding, and food and water dishes and cleaning litter boxes to prevent germs from spreading further. During this, Zee stopped eating one morning and I immediately dropped everything and went to the grocery store, frantic, to buy him anything to spark his appetite – baby food, special canned cat food, turkey lunch meat, etc. He ate a tiny bit, but I knew it wasn’t enough and by now, already frazzled, and exhausted, I was in desperate, panic mode. His drooling became worse and that evening, we saw him pawing at his jaw when trying to eat, so we scheduled an emergency trip to the vet for the next day, which was Wednesday, March 16. It’s one thing to not want to subject your beloved senior pet to a litany of tests, but it’s another to allow them to suffer, so we had to know if there was anything we could do to help him.

Before I move on, I must let it be known we love our vet and their staff. They’ve been so kind to us over the years and when they saw Zee, I know how hard it was for them to break the news to us – they said out loud what I feared to think but was embedded in the back of my mind – Zee had bone cancer and there was nothing that could be done. They explained even had we found out during his exam in January, the prognosis would be the same. The only difference is we would have subjected him to an onslaught of treatments that more than likely would have compromised the bond we had with him, only to give him a few extra months if that.

Dan and I broke into tears. We knew what had to be done, but it wasn’t going to be that day. It couldn’t be. Despite not being surprised, as it was in the back of both our minds, it was still shocking, and we needed to process the reality. We asked if we could bring him home. We needed to say goodbyes on our terms if we could. The vet was very kind and gentle – she gave Zee acupuncture and fluids, showing us how to administrate fluids to Zee at home, too. She also prescribed pain medication for him, and basically told us to go home and love him, but that we could not prolong the goodbyes for too long, or it would be painful for him.

We didn’t know how long we had – it could be a day, a couple of days, a week, or more. And picking a time and day is an incomprehensible amount of responsibility when it comes to something you love, especially when your mind is in a surreal, blur of sadness, denial, and shock. Life can often be misleading, and cruel, too, playing tricks with your mind. Zee came home and was ravenous! The pain medication seemed to make it easier for him to eat and he went from bowl to bowl, gobbling food up.

He had difficulty standing, but Zee is gobbling up his food here.

He also drank lots of water, used the litter box, and went outside along with our other cats for their nightly backyard adventure, supervised by us in a fenced-in area. Was he better? Did we have more time? Please, please, please let it be so. But no. His back legs had suddenly started to give, making it difficult for him to stand and walk. But maybe it was the medication. Our minds were whirling in confusion. Tomorrow would tell more and right now; it was a minute-by-minute situation.

We gave him another dose of his pain medication which knocked him out and he slept on the couch that night. I stayed with him, and he got up during the night and I had to help him to the litter box. Thursday morning, he ate breakfast with the others like he always did, but I had to help hold him up, as his legs would give. But his little face. That look he gave me. It was still him. He still had a routine and he still wanted to be a part of things. How could we let go?

It was after dinner, again, watching him eat like a trooper, but he had to be held up. Walking and standing was so hard for him and getting to the litterbox was difficult. We knew we had to give him his dignity. Tonight would be our last night with him and Dan would make the appointment with the vet in the morning. We spent every remaining moment, letting him know how much we loved him. His pain medication kept him soundly napping for hours at a stretch and I, again, spent the night on the couch with him. He was napping on the top of the cushions when I fell asleep, and when I woke early in the morning, he had found his way to me, sleeping in the crook of my belly.

He was so still I nearly thought he was gone, but I saw the brief up and down movement of his frail body, letting me know he was still with us. I never wanted to say goodbyes, but I had privately hoped he could have passed in his sleep, rather than having the excruciating burden of being the one to let him go. I stayed with him for a couple of hours in silence, Kizmet with us, petting Zee and telling him how much we loved him and what an amazing cat he was. I told him he would be free from pain soon, and that he would always be in our hearts.

It was not easy, and it was bittersweet, but Friday the 18th was our gift to Zee, a cat who had brought us immeasurable joy, smiles, and loyalty every day. One last beautiful day devoted to him. He ate breakfast as best he could, he used the litterbox, and he slept most of the day on the couch, surrounded by his fur family. We checked on him constantly, but for the most part, the day was quiet and peaceful, other than the loud heaviness in our hearts. Several times, we wavered, questioning if it was the right time, but we had to stay strong or we would never have the courage to let him go. The appointment was for 4:30 p.m., a time I will never forget. Later in the day, he woke up and we gave him a snack so that he had something in his stomach before we gave him one last dose of pain medication.

Mia spent all of Friday napping beside her papa, Zee.

He then went to the backdoor like he had done for nearly most of his life and we took him outside, something we normally didn’t do this time of day. But it was his day, and anything he wanted was his. It was glorious out – bright and sunny – birds chirping and flowers in stunning bloom. He would have to stop and rest on occasion, the outing exhausting him, but he went to his favorite spots and chewed on some papyrus plants, sniffed the flowers, and lay down among the foliage soaking in the warmth of the sun. The quiet beauty of the moment will forever be etched in my mind and much as it hurt to know it would never happen again, it was such a lovely moment for him. One of happiness and dignity.

Holding Zee for the last time, outside near his beloved patch of papyrus grass.

Unable to stop time, we brought him in and had the others say goodbyes. Rather than a carrier, too unbearable to bring home empty, we brought Zee to the vet in a towel. As he always did, he loved the car ride, looking out the window like a curious puppy. We were the last appointment and the vet already had everything set up, with the office empty except for us and a couple of staff members. We asked one last time – grasping for a Hail Mary – were we doing the right thing? He was eating. He was alert. It was Zee. But the vet gently, but firmly, let us know this was the kindest thing we could do and that he was shutting down. He was Zee, but not really.

Dan held Zee in his lap. I held on to Dan and touched Zee but could not look. My pain and screams were primal, the agony unbearable, but it was ultimately our gift to him, for everything he was to us, and then, just like that, it was over. Not forever over, because he will always be with us. His life is legendary and never could I have imagined when he first came into our lives how profoundly they would change because of him. The love story he shared not only with Dan and me but with Zoey, the mother of his four kittens. And with those kittens, my road to this blog, becoming an advocate for so many cat-related issues, writing my first book, inspired by him and Zoey – The Chronicles of Zee & Zoey – A Journey of the Extraordinary Ordinary, and then two more books.

Zee and Zoey were a true love story.

The book that will forever immortalize Zee – The Chronicles of Zee & Zoey – A Journey of the Extraordinarily Ordinary

I’ve made countless friends because of Zee and gone on to have countless memories I never in a million years would have thought possible. And Zee, oh my, what a cat. Our kids would joke that despite some of his more naughty incidents, like knocking candlesticks off our mantel or a bottle of grenadine onto the flooring, smashing into smithereens, Zee could do no wrong, as all we would do is laugh and say, “Oh well, that’s Zee!

And it was Zee. From his gregarious chatter to his obsession with watching mice on videos and bringing stuffed toys to Dan and me, his love of sitting in boxes or empty paper bags or playing “run and seek,” to him becoming a devoted lap cat and so much more, for those that knew him, he was beloved, naughty, or otherwise. He was never a beggar for food like some of our other cats, but was always in the middle of whatever we were doing, especially loving all those that would come to visit over the years, insisting on sitting on their laps (much to their surprise), or on the table when we were sharing a family meal or playing board games.

Zee was always, literally in the middle of everything!

For those that knew him through my blogging and social media, he was also beloved as I would share pictures of him or stories of his antics. He leaves his beautiful daughters, Peanut and Mia, as well as his sons Rolz and Zeuss Cat, and his soulmate, Zoey, as well as catmates Kizmet, Jazmine, and Shadow who will all miss him. Dan and me – our hearts will never be the same – but would we give up what we had with him to avoid the pain? No, never. Zee was one of a kind and he will never be forgotten.

Zee, our “big goof” as Dan would fondly call him.

Zee shared some space with Rolz, Peanut, Jazz, Mia, and Zoey.

Even a couple of months ago when I was babysitting my grandson, Zee wanted to be a part of everything, as witnessed by him sitting in the toy box.

Zee is on the counter with his kids – Mia, Peanut, and Rolz.

Zee and Kizmet look like they are brothers!

I started going to blogging/writing conferences in 2011 and Zee always loved the swag I’d bring home!

One of our favorite Zee moments – waking up in the morning to see what gifts he’d leave in our bedroom for us.

A beautiful and stoic moment was captured on the deck last year.

Zee loved this paper bag tunnel from Dezi & Roo!

There can never be too many cats on a bed – Zee chilling with Kizmet, Mia, and Rolz.

Dan and Zee shared an incredible bond and they were always together.

If Dan wasn’t around, Zee would wait for him in his chair!

This was taken back in 2020 when I really began to understand the gift of time and perspective with Zee.

Zee had brought this heart and dropped it at my computer one day while I was at work, as he missed me. Zee, your heart will always be with me.

I love you, Zee. So much more than you could ever know. Gone, but never forgotten.

hearts

Zee’s final picture. A last tribute to a legendary cat.

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  1. I am so sorry. I am in floods of tears after reading your beautiful tribute to Zee. It has brought back so many memories and I know exactly how you feel. My love to you and Dan.

  2. Pam says:

    What a totally perfect and beautiful tribute to a truly legendary cat but more than that – your precious boy. I can only say I’m so sorry Zee is physically gone but I already know he is forever there. In every corner, with every toy, on every piece of furniture and in your hearts. They are with us for such a SHORT time but bring us more love than we can even express. But you HAVE expressed it and I send you the most I can give – a virtual hug of understanding of the pain you have right now. Zee is a forever boy….just as my Angel Sammy was…….

    Love, Pam

  3. Ingrid King says:

    Oh Deb. My heart is breaking for you and Dan. I’m sending so much love to you as you mourn your beautiful boy.

  4. Sharon says:

    Oh my! My heart breaks for you and Dan. Giving our fur babies their dignity and ending their pain is so hard. Thank you for sharing with us. Big hugs to you all.

  5. What a beautiful tribute to Zee. It’s always so hard to let them go.

  6. Jan, Angel-Milo and Alfie says:

    Deb, I’m so sorry. This post speaks of a wonderful life, surrounded by love, and a gentle dignified end. I know how much it hurts. Hugs. X

  7. Brian Frum says:

    I’m so, so sorry to hear about your dear Zee, it’s never easy and we do understand. Such a special tribute to a loving and special soul. Hugs from all of us.

  8. Forty Paws says:

    i am so sorry to hear about Zee’s crossing over. He is with friends and loved ones now, pain free. Hugs and purrs and purrayers from all of us at Forty Paws.

  9. Oh Deb, I am so very sorry for the loss of Zee. I know the pain you feel. You want to do everything you can but deep down you know it won’t be enough and that painful final decision must be made. My heart breaks for you. But I hope all the wonderful memories you have of your handsome Zee helps you through your pain and your tears will turn to smiles. Many hugs and much love. ~Sue

  10. Sending all our love and sympathy to you and Dan and your feline family as a clowder of my household have gathered around me as I read Zee’s story. It’s the end of an era. The end of the path you walk together takes more twists and turns, hills and falls, and roots and rocks trip you, but our felines seem to have perfect vision while we stumble. Walking the end of the path together as dusk falls has always seemed more difficult for me than them, and moving out of the darkness after they’ve left. It’s only later that you realize you’ve done exactly what they needed. He carries you with him, so find that piece of you that feels the freedom and light. I hope your physical illness eases away too.

  11. Phyllis Sloan says:

    I’m so sorry for the loss of Zee. He was sweet and beautiful I loved being able to be around him in the early years of he’s life. That was a beautiful tribute to his life. I hope we will be with our fur babies in another life. The pain is real. My heart and prayers are with you and Dan.

    • Deb says:

      You were a part of his life, Phyllis, and I’m so glad you have memories of him, too. Thank you for your kindness, and for your prayers.

  12. Robin says:

    Such a beautiful memorial to Zee! I’m so sorry for your loss. That is so incredibly difficult to go through. Zee knew how loved he is and that he would be loved forever. Praying for you and sending lots of hugs your way.

  13. I’m so very, very sorry, my friend. Such sad news to hear, but…. But like you said, Zee gave you a lifetime of love and you gave him the same. He knew he was loved. Loved to the moon and back, over and over again. And he will continue to be loved for he will reside in your heart FOREVER. PURRS

  14. Your beautiful tribute to Zee was so moving that I had to read it in three installments because I was crying so hard for all of you that I had to keep getting up to get more Kleenex. it is such a gift you have Deb to be able to express the love and loss you feel for this wonderful fur ball and I so loved the part about Zee being nestled with you one last time. And his kitten hood when he was “too busy for humans!” Thank you for sharing this sweet (although bittersweet the last two years) journey with us and may peace and love, your other kitties and your amazing memories of his adult and kitten self be with you today!!! Hugs, Carol, Mom of Peaches and Paprika (quick! more Kleenex…)

    • Deb says:

      Oh, Carol, I’m sorry for all the tears, but I do appreciate knowing the tribute was moving and beautiful. Thank you for your lovely comments and kind words.

  15. Leah says:

    Deb I am so sorry you have lost Zee, my heart breaks for you and Dan. Your tribute is beautiful and meaningful, and brought tears. I’ve lived through those times with our own kitties of the past and I know how difficult it is. I wish you peace and comfort in treasured memories.

    • Deb says:

      Thank you, Leah. Even though it was difficult for me to write, I felt I had to honor him in some way. Thank you for your kindness.

  16. Saying I’m sorry seems so inadequate. Thank you for sharing tales of your beloved boy with so many of us. He’ll always be in our hearts as well as yours and Dan’s. Sending you lots of love.

    • Deb says:

      Thank you Cats Herd You. I know it might seem inadequate, and I often feel the same for others in times like this, but it’s not. All the love and support Zee is receiving is comforting in so many ways.

  17. Patricia A Holland says:

    I can hardly see thru my tears after reading this, I am so sorry for your loss, I went thru the same thing 8 years ago and the pain never goes away. I am sending angel hugs to You, Dan and beautiful Zee.

  18. So sorry for the loss of your beloved Zee. All of your fur family is forever loved. Run free at the bridge sweet one.

  19. jmuhj says:

    Sweet Zee! It is the end of an era. So much of what you wrote resonates with me, in many ways and for different times and beloved cats.
    Fly free, whole, healthy, and forever Loved, precious Zee! Watch over your loved ones here on earth until reunited in due time. Rest now, beloved, in Perfect Love.
    *May sweet memories bring comfort in time. And may you know that he is always with you now, and that you WILL meet again.*

  20. Kitties Blue says:

    Dear Deb and Dan,

    Please accept Tom’s and my condolences as you grieve the loss of Zee. When we bring these special fur children into our lives, we know the time will come to say, “good-bye” long before we are ready. You gave Zee a wonderful life and in turn he filled your hearts with his love. I know the pain you are suffering now, and I also know you would never have given up the opportunity to share your love with this wonderful cat. Sending warm hugs to you both.

    • Deb says:

      Janet and Tom – thank you so much for your condolences, and you are so right, despite any pain, having him in our life outweighed it all.