Monday, July 15, 2013

Call me crazy

"The greatness of a nation and its moral progress
can be judged by the way its animals are treated. "

            I am not a crazy cat lady, but I am crazy about my cats.  That said, with the exception of some very tasteful paintings in my office and a darling cross-stitch picture my mother made for me many Christmases ago, you won't find cat kitsch in my house.
            I'm not that kind of cat lover.
            Surprisingly, when I was a kid, I was terrified of them.  Growing up with Schnauzers, there wasn't room for a furry feline in our family.  When I was ten, I wore a woolen skirt to a birthday party of one of my friends.  Sitting in her living room, I arched my own back as a big, orange cat casually walked across my lap.  Hands on my shoulders, I refused to touch it and demanded my mother wash the skirt before I would wear it again.
            "It's wool, Kate," she said, shaking her head.  "It needs to be dry cleaned and it's not dirty."
            "It is," I insisted.
            "It is not," she replied.
            Mom won.  The skirt did not go to the cleaner's. 
            And yet, I won too, as it hung abandoned in my closet.
            I never wore it again.

            It's still amazing to me that, thirty-odd years later, I'm like Snow White, but in place of the seven dwarves, I've had seven cats...but not all at the same time.  I recently adopted ten-week-old Aditi (rhymes with "sweetie" and means "Mother of the Sun" as she was born on the day of a solar eclipse).  My little sprite has a lot of spunk and loves to play with Forest, her older cat sibling.  Due to his gentle, accepting nature, Forest quickly became her surrogate mother, protector, playmate and all around "go to guy."  Aditi's boundless energy is amazing as she darts through the house, chasing toys and getting into mischief.  There's no sleeping through the night with her nocturnal naughtiness.  Still, this will only last a few more months and we'll all settle into a "new normal." 
            But last week was anything but normal.
            Forest caught something from our new little one and by Thursday was so sick, he had to be hospitalized.  Kady Flowers and the techs at Spring Meadows Animal Hospital were incredibly kind and careful as Forest had his blood tested, X-rays completed and prepared for an overnight stay.  They couldn't get a reading on one of the tests and Kady thought he might have swallowed a toy or piece of string, but to me, his illness felt all too familiar.
            When Forest was a baby, I had been a foster volunteer for abandoned kittens who passed around a parasitic virus that he eventually caught as well.  At only twelve weeks, Forest had to be hospitalized and put on IV fluids.  The vets couldn't decide if it was an infection or if he needed exploratory surgery.  I agonized over the decision to have them operate.  Not only would the expense be immense, I didn't want him to have an unnecessary procedure.
            My heart was already broken as less than a week previous, I had to make the difficult choice to have Carley, my red tabby, euthanized due to kidney failure.  As the vet gave her the injection, I held her in my arms and thought about the other two cats I had been with at the time of their deaths.  I've learned it doesn't get just gets more familiar.
            I wasn't ready to let go of little Forest as well, so I gave the emergency vet authorization to do the surgery so I could be sure we did everything possible for him. 
            "He's scheduled to go at 10:30," the vet told me.  "I'll call you when we're done and let you know how he did."
            I stayed awake with my cell phone nearby until midnight and then, exhausted and overwhelmed, tried to get some sleep.  An hour later, I suddenly woke up and checked the phone.  No one had called, so I dialed the vet's number with shaky fingers.
            The vet tech answered and when I asked how Forest was doing, she replied, "We've been running late and he was up next, but seems to be doing better.  He's playing with his IV line and is walking around his cage."
            "That's great news!"
            She asked if I wanted them to do the surgery anyway and I said, "No...let him stay on the fluids overnight and we'll see how he does in the morning."
            As it turned out, he was fine.  The infection was clearing and despite needing to be on antibiotics for a while, you'd never know little Forest had been sick.

            Last Friday when Kady was working toward a diagnosis and suggested he spend the night, I drove back to the hospital and sat with Forest for a while.  He smelled of urine and bile as he was nervous and had relieved himself outside of the litter pan and although the techs cleaned him up as best as they could, a bath was not imminent.  My sweet little stinky boy sat quietly in my arms (a sure sign he wasn't feeling well as Forest is a cuddler, not a lap cat). 
            Except for a mystery kitten wrapped in a blanket next to Forest's cage, the convalescent area was empty.  Kady gently removed the kitten from the blanket and I was horrified by what I saw.  He was black and looked to be the same age as Aditi, with the exact same markings.  His jaw had been broken and was slightly bloody.  While Kady splinted one of his paws, he lay like a limp rag as one of the techs held him.
            "I'm sorry I didn't warn you about this kitten," Kady said.  "He was hit by a car and whoever hit him used a dustpan to shovel him out of the road and fling him onto the grass.   But he came in growling and he's got some spunk."
            My face registered the horror of wondering how anyone could do that to a small helpless animal.  "Who found him?"
            "A rep from Planned Pethood saw it happen and immediately called us."
            "Thank God," I sighed, gently petting Forest's head.  "Do you think it will survive?"
            "I'm not sure about the internal injuries, but we'll see how he does overnight."
            An hour later, I left Forest in the hopes that, just like before, the IV would work its magic.  And unlike before, I wouldn't have to say good-bye to a cat simultaneous to adopting a new kitten. 
            The next morning Kady called and laughingly said that Forest was ready to come home.  In the middle of the night, he had knocked over his litter pan and water dish, escaped from his second tier digs, pulled out his IV and went exploring.  The tech said she found him hiding in a closet.
            "He must have learned that from Naughty Jhoti," I smiled, relieved and lighthearted.  "When can I get him?"
            Later that morning, Kady had gone home to rest and Dr. Brent was working.  He had been with me when Carley died and had taken care of Forest a couple of years previous when he had a fever.  We chatted about Forest's antics the night before and I apologized for any damage he might have done.
            "It was nothing...anything that was broken can be replaced," Brent smiled.  "Forest can't."
            As I waited for the techs to bring him out, I noticed the little black kitten was being taken home by a Planned Pethood volunteer.
            "Oh, that one is all vinegar," one of the techs smiled. 
            "I'm kinda glad," I replied.  "He'll need it to survive what happened to him."

            Ghandi's words ring true to me, now more than ever.  For the past twenty-five years, I have cared for my pets in ways both mundane and profound.  I made sacrifices when my oldest cat had diabetes and needed insulin shots at twelve hour intervals for over three years.  When I moved to California, I needed to leave two of my cats behind in the care of a good friend until I could make the transition more permanent.  I was told eight months later that my cats would not be welcome in the community where I worked although others could dump their cats by the side of the road and they would taken in and cared for.  I looked long and hard at the community's politics and decided I would rather move back to Toledo in order to take responsibility for my animals' care than remain in a place that had an unspoken rule:  "It's better to ask forgiveness than permission." 
            No one needs permission to be loving or compassionate, only the desire to do so.  Call me crazy, but I believe that the way each of us treats any living thing is a direct reflection of the care and respect we have for ourselves.  And in caring for those who are the smallest creatures in our world, perhaps we reveal a bit more about how we have been treated...or have always wanted to be.
           It's an incredible responsibility to care for those who cannot speak with words, but whose language of love goes straight to the heart.   Forest knows this intrinsically.  I'm so very thankful he's mine and I get the pleasure of watching him embody this blessing for Aditi.  By example, he will be her best teacher.
           Forest is Ghandi in a cat suit...and then some.
Forest....home and healthy again...and of course,
watching over Aditi