The tribute is written by Linda Berzok.
Almost 18 years of Joy & Magic
Tucson, Arizona—Rommie, The Miracle Cat, died on March 24 at the Casas Adobes Pet Clinic after a long period of decline resulting from kidney failure. She went to sleep for the final time peacefully in the company of her adoptive parents, Linda and Bob, while lying wrapped in a towel on Bob’s lap.
Born in the wild in Westchester County, N. Y. in May 1993, Rommie and her “identical twin brother” were rescued by a senior citizen and delivered to Forgotten Felines, a cat adoption agency. Linda and Bob, who married that June, went to the adoption clinic two months later and Linda picked Rommie because she was so beautiful–a tiny, long-haired black and white tabby with a plume-like tail–and because the kitten was so terribly frightened and vulnerable (clear signs of being born outside and not handled during the critical first month of life). One vet described her as having “haunted eyes.” Who knows what they had seen? “I knew she would need a lot of nurturing to help her gain confidence,” Linda said.
Linda and Bob took her home to Stamford, Conn. and began the long process of trying to encourage the semi-feral three month-old kitten to trust them. “It took years for us to teach her that petting was pleasurable and even longer before she would jump up on my lap,” said Bob. She remained mostly timid and stand-offish with other humans and never tolerated dogs or other cats.
Rommie’s early life was relatively uneventful, although she had a bizarre appetite for things like matzo, tortilla chips, Indian food, pizza, stuffed cabbage in tomato sauce and was once seen swallowing a piece of strawberry!
Rommie got to visit the Berzok cabin in the Adirondacks when she was very young. Here Linda and Bob would leave the door to the screened porch open so she could get up at dawn, sit there and watch the whole natural world wake up.
When Linda and Bob bought their home in the Berkshires, Rommie rejoiced in the outdoors. Usually, she stayed close to the house and generally came back when called, albeit sometimes reluctantly after dusk.
This began the period of Rommie testing the theory that cats have nine lives. One Christmas, she dove off the living room loft toward a 6 foot decorated tree because she was so terrified of Linda’s wielding a noisy vacuum too close for her comfort. Although she may have thought one of the limbs would hold her, she crashed through the tree sending decorations flying in all directions, and landed on her chin, knocking out several teeth. Then she beat a hasty retreat under the bed in the guest room overnight. Thrice more in the course of her life, she would slip off the loft “cat walk,” 16 feet off the ground, and land without injury.
There were also physical problems. Rommie was given to excessive throwing up from the time she was a kitten. Although her parents repeatedly took her to various vets looking for an answer and put her on various special diets, no vet was ever were really sure what accounted for her ultra-sensitive stomach.
In May 2006, Linda and Bob observed she was eating like a maniac but losing weight—down to 5 pounds from her all-time high of 8. The vet diagnosed thyroid disease and Bob took her for a radiation treatment only available several hours away in Auburn, Mass. She bounced back.
Once Linda and Bob began to commute annually from New York State to Tucson, Rommie pulled her most dramatic caper. Arriving in Louisville, Ky., for the night, Rommie who was fed up with the travel, jumped ship (car) and took off. After several days of searching, calling and trying to lure her back even with a roast chicken, Linda and Bob went on to Tucson distraught to gather more resources. They ran an ad with photo in the Louisville Courier-Journal Lost and Found and got leads to the groups Alley Cat Advocates and Feral Felines, who routinely trapped strays. When the ad elicited calls with sightings (they proved to be false), Bob headed back to Louisville to make sure all bases had been covered. After nearly a week of searching neighborhoods morning-to-night and posting hundreds of flyers, Bob, who was about to give up, was directed to a person in the area. Vicki Litton, a volunteer who on her day off was specifically searching for Rommie, had heard a cat crying from a culvert about 100 feet from the hotel. Four hours later, with the help of a half dozen people, the cat did indeed turn out to be Rommie. During her 16 days back in the wild, Rommie had lost a pound and a half and was dehydrated, filthy and covered with mats. But, she suffered no permanent damage and was featured in an article in the Louisville Courier-Journal.
Years later, in Tucson, there was another crisis when Rommie’s vomiting went completely out of control, occurring many times a day. Linda went online and was able to diagnose that Rommie had irritable bowel syndrome (IBS). She began a new hypoallergenic diet, antacids morning and evening and also an antibiotic at night. This helped her incredibly and her health and weight improved.
Linda and Bob began to think she was invincible and would live to 21, but she was slowing down, going deaf and showing other signs of aging. This past summer in Stephentown, she suffered a very painful urinary tract infection, treated with two shots of antibiotics, and the vet confirmed that her kidneys had shrunk (a common occurrence in older cats). During the fall and winter, she became increasingly lethargic and stopped grooming herself. In March, she began to have some episodes of incontinence. Something else was wrong.
Linda and Bob took her to the Tucson senior vet on March 14 who confirmed she was dehydrated, had lost a pound since her last exam, both due to severe kidney dysfunction, and that she had as little as a week to live. On Thursday, March 24, she stopped eating and Linda and Bob took her back to the vet again that morning. She had lost another 7 ounces and was anemic. We brought her home for private good-byes, a walk outside, being held, petting and one last perch in the sun on the windowsill. From that morning, right through the time she died in the late afternoon, at an age which in human terms would be 87, she never shut her haunted eyes again.
A Few of Her Favorite Things: Barbecuing with her Daddy in Stephentown; Tres Leches Cake; Muffins in our bed on Sunday mornings; Lying in the sun; Sitting on windowsills; Bird watching; Standing in front of a screen door with the breezes wafting through her fur; Times outside in Stephentown—bounding through the grass, sitting on the top step of our rail ties surveying the entire landscape; Rolling over and over on command; Lying on her Daddy’s chest in bed and communing with him; Sampling her Mom’s culinary delights just when guests were due to arrive for dinner.
Her Least Favorite Things: Any other animals and most other humans except her Mommy and Daddy, and a recently developed friendship with Gennie at Creature Comforts “Sleep-Away Camp;” Visits to Dr. Doom—the name we gave to every vet; Motel Rooms; Car rides over twisty-turny roads; Being left alone. Travels A 10-Day Car Trip to the Gaspe Peninsula, Canada; A separate trip to Toronto where she got loose from the hotel room and, according to the manager, “saw most of the first floor;” 10 cross-country car trips between Stephentown and Tucson; 7 airline flights between Stephentown and Tucson and 1 from Louisville to Tucson; The Cabin in the Adirondacks.
Rommie taught everyone to believe in miracles and that cats are angels in fur.