Petra came to be my cat through what always seemed to be divine intervention. She was found as a days-old kitten abandoned by her mother on my family’s farm in 2014. I had actually been hoping and planning to get a dog, but when this tiny crying baby kitty needed a guardian, I decided to step up and take her to live with me in Brooklyn. I remember when I was bottle feeding her (she came to us with her eyes shut) I kept doing math around how long cats live like, “Wow, this little thing might end up being my buddy until I’m 40. I think this was half commitment phobia, half not wanting to admit to myself how fragile Petra was. So creating this future scenario was my way of pushing those anxieties away.
Petra thrived and grew into a petite adult cat (I always attributed that to missing nutrients from her cat mom). She imprinted on me as her mother and became like the dog I’d always wanted (but… cooler).
In the summer of 2017, I was browsing through Instagram and made eye contact with a female orange tabby and I instantly fell in love. She was living as a foster with a friend of mine who is an animal welfare advocate in Philly. She had been abandoned by her past owners in a condemned home in North Philly. She was so severely malnourished that she weighed a shocking 3 pounds when she was brought to the shelter and was being nursed back to health by my friend. After a few more photo and video exchanges, my boyfriend and I decided she belonged in our family and trekked down to Philly to bring her back home to Brooklyn. We named her Maxine after a favorite character in a children’s book.
Although it was love at first sight for Maxine and me, Petra and Maxine begged to differ. We kept them in separate rooms for a few weeks to help define territory, but even today they do not feel super comfortable with one another in close quarters.
Last winter, we noticed our formerly petite Petra was packing on pounds at an alarming rate. After trying some diets, we brought her to the vet. Her blood work and urine samples revealed that she was diabetic. I was initially really rattled by this news, but after reading lots of cat forums I was convinced she could heal with dedicated care. We religiously administered her insulin twice a day and brought her in for blood sugar check-ups once a week.
After about a month of this, we noticed a small tear on her skin that looked like a scrape. Her vet wasn’t concerned by it and prescribed a topical burn cream. When several more appeared, we began googling and learned about a rare condition in cats called Cushing’s disease, complete with photos of injuries that looked a lot like Petra’s. I refused to believe that this could be her issue, but booked her an appointment at Manhattan Cat Specialists. They were able to confirm through testing that she had a hormone imbalance, and an ultrasound revealed the cause—a tumor on her right adrenal gland. Although we were told the only true cure for this is surgery, we needed to help Petra’s skin grow stronger so that she could heal after surgery. This requires a daily dose of a hormone suppressant alongside her insulin. To prevent further injury to her paper thin skin, we started dressing her in a shirt and bought her a soft, collapsible cone.
Petra’s daily care has become a bit of a ritual and has definitely required some lifestyle changes on our behalf to ensure her doses are given consistently. It has been an emotionally overwhelming experience for me, but Petra has remained the brave and resilient kitty we’ve known since she could fit in the palm of our hands. Despite their differences, Maxine has been a comfort to and an advocate for Petra during this long healing process. We are hopeful that Petra will be deemed strong enough for surgery next month and that I will have my little buddy well into my 40s.
Bridgett Balliett is a vintage seller and aspiring metalsmith living in Brooklyn.