I adopted Cosmo and Gizmo in 2007 when they were 3 months old from a New York City shelter. My mom and I had found a beautiful middle-aged snowshoe kitty (Toby) in a construction site the year before and thought he would be more active if we got him some kitten siblings. Initially Toby wasn’t thrilled about his new brothers, but my mom had a wonderful three-cat household for several years. The boys, as I call them, were tiny when we got them – only 3 pounds. They are now very big boys at 20 and 16 pounds. Gizmo is a buff tabby, while Cosmo is an orange tabby. They have the same cinnamon swirl markings on their sides though. Toby passed away a few years ago, but Cosmo, Gizmo, and I think about him often.
In 2009, I brought Toby, Gizmo, and Cosmo down to Florida to live with me during my senior year in college. On December 19th, 2009, I woke up with neck pain, and was paralyzed from the chest down by the end of the day. I was diagnosed with a rare autoimmune disorder called transverse myelitis. Only around 1400 people in the United States are diagnosed with it each year.
While I was in the hospital, I would look at photos and watch videos of the boys. I was obviously dealing with a lot at the time, both physically and emotionally, and the videos brought me so much joy, but also reminded me of how much I missed them. My rehabilitation hospital was pet friendly, so Toby came to visit a few times. I very much looked forward to my animal therapy.
After an almost 3-month stay in the hospital without my cats, I was so excited to come home to them, but I quickly realized that they were absolutely terrified of my wheelchair. It was heartbreaking. They soon got used to it though, and now they’re totally unfazed by it, which is great because I am still a quadriplegic and use a wheelchair to get around. They are so unfazed by it that I always have to look before I roll around to make sure I don’t roll over a tail! The boys love sleeping in my chair and love that I always have a lap available to them. I often have to kick one of them out of my chair in the morning and they look at me in horror like “this is mine, why do you need it?”
When I came home from the hospital, I had physical therapists come to my house until I found an outpatient physical therapy center near me. I remember one of the first times the therapists were at my house I was in my bed working on various strengthening exercises, and Gizmo was clearly very concerned about what was happening. He came into my room and jumped on the bed, sniffed the therapists, and thoroughly investigated what was going on. Once he was satisfied that I was safe, he left, but came back every few minutes to check on me. It was so cute.
Cosmo loves hanging out on my bed, so I sometimes use him to help me roll over. When I’m flat on my back I am like a turtle—without something to grab onto to roll over, I can get stuck that way. One morning after multiple attempts of going from my back to my side, I was incredibly frustrated, but Cosmo came over, very concerned, and wanted to see what was happening. I pet him and then reached under his belly to pull myself over. He saved the day! I have done that multiple times since, and he enjoys it because it means he gets lots of pets and kisses when I’m no longer flat on my back.
Gizmo is the more outgoing cat. He’s incredibly smart and food motivated. I have to hide their treats in the fridge because Gizmo will find a way to open the bag and eat them all. He is also a lap cat. Gizmo will spend almost all day on my lap if he can. He likes sitting on other people’s laps, but only if their lap has a pillow on it. Cosmo is much more easygoing and doesn’t like to sit on laps but will do anything for pets. He does a “dolphin dive” to reach your hand for pets if you put it above his head. He has the loudest purr and is always ready to be loved. He has had a few health scares including a urinary blockage, and once he accidentally ate an ibuprofen (which is incredibly dangerous!) but was a giant sweetheart even during those stressful vet visits.
I work from home, so I very much appreciate having the boys with me as my cat coworkers. I imagine the work-from-home life would be very lonely without them. Even though that often involves having someone sleeping on my desk and trying to walk on my keyboard, I don’t know what I would do without my giant 12-year-old gingermuffins.
GG deFiebre was born and raised in New York City. For work, she leads the research and education programs for a patient advocacy organization and is also a public health Ph.D. student.