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As my fingers disappeared into a swath of her warm, peach-grey fur, I made up my mind. I was going to be her home. Ten minutes was all it took to find her in PAWS Cat City. Ten minutes was all it took to know that I would love her for the rest of her lifetime.

My little Gem. My five-pound, foot-long cat with a face permanently imprinted with a snaggle-toothed smile of satisfaction. Her eyes vary from affectionate slits to oversized circles that would rival a Muppet’s gaze. I know how to look past her sometimes-sour expression and see the loving, protective creature that she is. I nursed her back to health with grain-free organic kibble that I chopped by hand because the full-sized pieces fell out of her tiny mouth, and her fur turned a rich brown and black with my care.

I’d only known her for a month when she was diagnosed with cancer: there was a malignant tumor in her left ear. My world stopped. My heart broke. The tumor had not metastasized, and the surgeons were confident they could get it all in one go. I was determined to save her despite the $3,000 price tag; I’d been putting away money since I was 14, and a half-empty savings account had nothing on the fear of losing her forever. She had lived long enough, neglected and ignored, in the eight years she spent hoarded in a trailer. It was time for her to be healed.

I booked her surgery and didn’t look back.

She was anesthetized and numbed so she wouldn’t feel the extraction of her tumor during the surgery. It also paralyzed her left eye for about three days, so I kept her eyes wet with medicated drops that I gave to her every three hours. I transformed my room into a “kitty hospital,” pulling my mattress onto the floor so
she wouldn’t have to jump, and moved her litter box right next to it. For the next two weeks, I occasionally felt her cone knocking me on the head as I slept, and I drifted off every night knowing I did the right thing.

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She stepped forward on her four little paws for me, in her own time, and in her own way, she showed that she cared for me, too.

When the neighbor who lived 10 feet down my hallway confessed to stalking me for months—an admission that included him telling me which outfits he liked watching my body move in—she provided the comfort of her tiny body on my stomach when a panic attack took two days’ worth of sleep. When I returned home exhausted from the resulting eight-hour stay in the emergency room, she sat with me downstairs as we listened for his dog, the only way I could determine if it was safe for me to leave. When the dog was home, he was inside; when the dog’s bark echoed in the hallway, he was right outside. Her eyes and ears wouldn’t leave their target—my apartment door—for hours.

I know that I am the center of her world every time she greets me when I get home, every time she follows me from room to room. I promised to keep her safe. And she’s done the same for me. To Gem: I love you more than you’ll ever know, and in your eyes, I see the same.

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