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Gizmo the cat in a linen basket.

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The cat that broke things

How can it be so hard to say goodbye to a cat that caused so much trouble?

One of Gizmo’s favorite hobbies was showing up places where he was not expected, such as this laundry basket in 2009.
| Neil Steinberg/Sun-Times

Gizmo was a naughty cat. And demanding. He liked to drink at night from the faucet in our bathroom. But insisted that one of us open the tap, set to a precise trickle, while he watched, at night. That last part was vital. We couldn’t just set the trickle before bed and go to sleep. He’d wake us anyway.

Gizmo was a regal cat. He would regularly summon us downstairs to give him food. Even when his bowl already had food in it. I would troop after him in the middle of the night, knowing the bowl was already full. I would lean over, groaning, lift the bowl of kibble, and give it a ceremonial shake. Then Gizmo would deign to eat. Maybe. Sometimes he would just sniff and turn away. This went on for a decade. At least.

Gizmo was a punitive cat. Ignore him and there would be consequences. If one of us didn’t appear in the bathroom in what he considered a timely fashion, Gizmo would begin knocking things into the sink: cups, toothbrush stands, shaving cream cans. Anything that would make a loud, booming noise.

Gizmo was a destructive cat. Refuse to conduct the food bowl ceremony, and he would leap upon the hutch and nudge valuables — cups, saucers, a handmade ceramic Scott Frankenberger pie plate I had commissioned as a present for my wife’s birthday — off the shelves. Had I accidentally dropped that pie plate I would have been mocked forever after. But Gizmo’s act of deliberate vandalism was immediately forgiven. “A sweet cat,” my wife said.

Gizmo, the Steinberg cat.
Gizmo toward the end.
Edie Steinberg

Gizmo was a sensual cat. He enjoyed frequent and vigorous carnal relations with the stuffed tiger my younger son had won in Las Vegas. Gizmo liked to rendezvous with the object of his affections on the landing outside our bedroom door, letting out a piercing yowl that sounded like a cat being torn in half. I tried to ignore it, best I could.

Gizmo was a loyal cat. He slept at the foot of our bed, on my wife’s side, next to our other cat, Natasha. They would groom each other.

Gizmo was a beloved cat. He was not only loving, at least to that tiger, and Natasha, and my wife and sons, but loved. The more wrong he did, the more my family adored him, and in recent months, as his end approached, everyone warmly recounted his various misdeeds. The goldfish bowl he knocked off my younger son’s dresser. The time he contrived to get himself stuck inside a sofa. How he got atop the refrigerator.

Gizmo was an unwell cat. Not just lately. He had a sensitive stomach. I could not guess the number of times I woke up to the sound of him retching on the rug in our bedroom, or on the wood floor. Or both. Hundreds. Maybe a thousand. The cat lived to be 17.

Gizmo was a dying cat. For years. The latest bout of kidney disease took the cat from over 11 pounds to under 7. To pet him was like running your hand over a skeleton covered in fur. His eyes were large and sad. My wife started taking him to the vet every Saturday for fluid injections.

Gizmo was a somber cat. He parked himself on my wife’s chest Friday night and she spoke to him and scritched him for a long time. He stood, swaying slightly. I was smart enough to say nothing. But my wife had been talking more and more about not wanting him suffer. During the last fluid infusion, the vet said something very helpful to us.

“You might want to say goodbye to him on a good day.”

Saturday was a good day. The sun was shining. Gizmo ate a little something in the morning. Both boys were home, and each of us found time to stroke him and say words. Then the four of us drove to the Northbrook Animal Clinic. My wife held Gizmo in a blanket. We brought a beautiful hat box with the stuffed tiger inside. The staff at the clinic could not have been gentler. I will draw the veil here, except for one moment, when all four of our hands — mine, my wife’s, the boys’ — were on Gizmo’s coat at the same time, caressing him, saying our goodbyes. I’ll remember that.

Gizmo was a naughty cat. But we’ll miss him nonetheless.

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