We had many talks about how she feels about her predicament. She was also very forthcoming with her prognosis: here are the breaks. She has Uterine Cancer. It has now been deemed terminal and has become aggressive enough to spread to her lungs.
I hesitated to interview; I didn’t want to make her uncomfortable or get into the weeds about anything too personal. But she insisted that she wanted to do something to help while she still could. Feeling a deeper connection to animals, she has always tried to raise money for rescue efforts, animal care for families in need, you name it.
I’m writing this article in honor of someone I deem a Zen Master who has devoted a part of herself to honoring pets and what they mean to their people. Kazuyo is a Japanese woman I met early in my PETS Clinic career. She instantly understood my energy, not only because of my inclination toward Japanese and Asian culture through Zen and Buddhist faith but also through my philosophy toward animals. She has always expressed her compassion through loyalty and drive, a very Japanese mindset I related to instantly.
Inspired by her sister Miki’s relationship with animals growing up, Kazuyo always felt loyalty to all animals. The sisters felt shunned in their community because of a local scandal involving their father. They also grew up in an abusive home. While Kaz never had human children, she devoted her motherhood to her cats.
Hence, her official title: “Haha Neko” 母猫 (Cat Mother),” I call her Auntie Kaz.
Kaz told me about Miki’s first rescue dog named Kojiro. He was a dachshund.
“Kojiro was almost killed by his breeder because he [couldn’t sell him].” Kaz told me.
Her sister paid the breeder and took Kojiro home to a house of cats. Kaz said, “Kojiro grew up with cats and even believed he was one.” She relayed a story of Kojiro trying to jump up a cat tower like his feline siblings, but when Miki assisted him, he quickly realized he feared heights.
Talk about a “cat-astrophy,” or maybe a “dog-stential crisis?”
Neglect and abuse are often part of an animal’s experience because communities do not have any ordinances protecting animals from their “owners.” Like so many others, Kaz grew up in a town that made no moves against animal abusers because it was simply not a priority for their local or regional government.
“Animal abusers don’t go to jail,” she said.
“My Japanese friends and sisters are trying to get Pokémon trading cards. If I could sell [them for] good money, PETS can use the money for our fur friends. I want you to know they are not toys; they are healers. They show us love,” she said.
“When my sister won [in gambling], she sent me lots of Japanese food and donated money to a shelter. She said when we get unexpected money [we] have to use it for something good! Because this luck is a gift from GOD,” she continued.
Whatever you believe spiritually, who you are to your pets describes something about you that is almost instinctual and objective. It is what we philosophy folk call “Capital ‘T’ Truth.” Not to be an extremist, but I would prefer the stereotype of a “Cat Lady” or “Dog Crazy” over someone who neglects or abuses animals.
Animal welfare is never easy. PETS Clinic’s mission is, in part, to always work with people, wherever they fall on the financial scale, who are trying to care for their pets with dignity. And thus, Kaz has always been on board with us.
When she asked if I could help, I first thought of writing an article and connecting it to our biggest fundraiser each year: Texoma Gives. Kazuyo thought it was a good idea. More people would see her story, and this would increase her impact.
“Yesterday, [the] Cancer Doctor told me my tumor was almost rugby ball size. I understood, as I lost 60 lbs after surgery,” she told me.
She has become very sick. Her options look bleak. Though I want to remain positive since there are still many variables to consider, she means this now as her finale, her final magnum opus.
Writing the beginning of this article took far less time than writing this ending. Between Kaz and I, the stories were enjoyable, even though they visited tough times in her life. They are inspirational. Her stories speak to the far reach of her vision. She is still hoping and planning for the time after she passes.
Treatment will now be palliative. Feeling helpless is the worst when it comes to someone you love. It hurts to know Kazuyo is in limbo with no natural way for me to help her. The only way I could was to listen and share as she expressed the most genuine part of herself. I assure her that her life’s work for animal welfare is remarkable and will remain an inspiration after she is gone.
During the time I have known Kazuyo, she has served as a beacon for my family and myself. Over long conversations, she has expressed her feelings about what it means to be a good father. She shines with pride when discussing my progress as a father. We discussed my daughter’s plans for a “Cat’s Café,” for rescue kitties (like the ones in Japan). She instantly began to send Japanese sweet potato recipes for the café. That’s just who Kaz is and who she’ll continue to be.
For people who congratulate me on the things I do, I like to say I’m just a mosaic of my experiences. I genuinely believe that. All the interactions I’ve had with many different beautiful people make me who I am. Kaz makes up a lot of those puzzle pieces for me. I hope that this small tribute will make a significant impact on her legacy.
How we greet and depart with honor,
To you, Kazuyo.