Previously, in Ghost Story – Prologue – I mentioned that I have seen my share of death – even inside this house I currently live in.
The commonality, though, is that everyone – human, furred, or feathered – were all either really old or really sick. Death was sad, but not a surprise.
There’s only ever been one exception.
One small, grey exception.
Sometimes God, or the Universe, means for certain people to be in your life and if you don’t get it at first, keeps throwing you together again and again until you finally “get it.”
That was the case with me and my friend “Lucinda”. Tall, blonde, so pretty she looks photoshopped … with a huge heart and an endearing klutziness. We originally met working in Hell, but we sat at opposite sides of the building and my job was too demanding for me to socialize much. Eventually, we both made it out of Hell but became Facebook friends – and that’s when our friendship took off, cemented by humor and a profound love of animals.
And one day Lucinda posted a picture of probably the ugliest, scrawniest kitten I had ever seen.
I saw that picture, and all I knew was that I had never wanted anything so much in my entire life.
I’ll let Lucinda tell the beginning of the story. By that time, she was a school teacher.
A six week old kitten was thrown from a car window into the path of some elementary school students walking to school. In an ideal world, his happily-ever-after would have started there, surrounded by adoring young children oohing and aahing at the cute little kitten and wanting to take him to safety. Perhaps to their teacher, perhaps to their home.
That wasn’t to be. As Lucinda explains,
“An emotionally disturbed middle school girl grabbed him, right in front of the smaller kids, and punted him like a football! That didn’t satisfy her sick humor, so she punted him again. And again. A little tiny grey kitten. He flew through the air and landed on top of a chain-link fence where he hung suspended by his mouth…until his lip tore and he plunged six feet to the concrete sidewalk below. The elementary school students witnessed all of it and were crying and screaming for her to stop but she laughed and walked away.”
Not knowing what else to do, the children ran to pretty Miss Lucinda’s classroom, knowing her love of animals.
“I got another teacher to cover my classroom and told the principal I had an emergency. Racing out to the fence and wooded area, I searched high and low but couldn’t find him or see him. I spent an hour of school time frantically calling and going through bushes in a, let’s say, “shady” area. Distraught, I slowly returned to class as I knew I was inconveniencing a strict teacher that was helping cover for me. Honestly didn’t care in that moment if I was fired.
“I wanted to find that kitten.”
Lucinda called the middle school resource officer and reported what she knew. Once she gave the abuser’s name, the officer explained a long history of issues. The girl was a known troublemaker, a middle school bully – even one time tossing chemicals on another middle school student during science lab, burning and scarring that young girl’s skin. The officer wasn’t at all surprised she would punt a tiny kitten around like a football.
Lucinda completed an affidavit and was told she could be subpoenaed for court. When Lucinda went back to class, the officer searched for the little grey kitten. One and a half hours later, no luck.
Lucinda continues: “I couldn’t eat lunch and was obsessed with the thought of that little grey kitten. I was also becoming afraid of retaliation from the young girl as police approached her at school. She was suspended.”
(The girl later had a court hearing. Lucinda didn’t have to attend since she was a teacher at the school; also for the safety of the minor witnesses who first brought the grey kitten to Lucinda’s attention.)
“At afternoon duty, I had to walk by that same area, and asked the kids to help call for the kitty. But the Assistant Principal wasn’t a fan of me having them look and we had to move along. As soon as my workday ended, I hopped in my car and drove to the other side of that area, parked and walked and walked through bushes and briers. Crying, and thinking I just HAVE to find him! About 75 yards from the incident I heard the lightest of meows, a cry for help. My adrenaline was pumping! It wasn’t the safest area, but I didn’t care. I heard him! Now to find him! As I got closer, I burst into tears, he was a bloody mess. But I picked him up and held him close to me and he meowed a thank you, I think. He had a fighting will about him, and I was determined to help! Off to the vet!”
The closest vet declined to help, saying he was “a lost cause” and should be “put down.”
Fortunately for me – and Tiger – Lucinda ignored him and rushed another 20 minutes to her personal vet. He wasn’t available but she met with a huge cat lover vet. She wasn’t very optimistic but said she was willing to try!
“They gave me an estimate for the surgery and said he would need to recover somewhere indoors. I had an FIV cat in one room, and two weenie dogs in another – plus a jackass of a husband – so I knew I couldn’t keep him at my place. I signed permission to pay for surgery, kissed him, and left to pick up my child across town from after-school childcare. From there, I went on a huge mission to find a temporary foster willing to take him on post surgery. Luckily, Ana (a lady I once worked with at a property management company) stepped up to help me with “sweet baby.” She could only give me a few days so I paid to keep him at the vet for observation the maximum amount of days allowable post surgery and then Ana and I picked him up. He looked amazing, comparatively speaking. Clean, sewn, and tired with an itty bitty cone. The vet went over feeding options because of his plastic surgery to restore his lips, jaw, and gum tissue. Ana stayed up around the clock initially to help with his nutrients and medical necessities as he had ear, eye, and respiratory infections with nutritional deficiencies on top of the injuries sustained from his abuse.
“I, on the other hand, went on the hunt for a new home for him while teaching, pet sitting, and being Mom! My daughter Belle and I were determined!!! If he could survive all of this, we could find him a home! Belle visited him those next three days wanting to keep him, but there was no way it would be “allowed” in my then so-called-marriage.
“And Belle held him in her lap all the way to PetsMart, loving on him and talking to him, before delivering him to his new Mom. She was about six years old then. I asked her to be brave in handing him over and to show me how to do it without crying. She was so strong in that good-bye moment that later I asked her HOW, and she replied, “I felt like we delivered him to the perfect person to love him to a better life, and she’s really sweet and pretty” … and tears quietly streamed down my cheeks, she was right. Age six.”
Lucinda further shares, “The kid made up her mind at age 6 that you were like a princess … Snow White. I can see that too. Dark hair, big bright eyes, and a furry zoo. I would imagine you looked like Snow White lovingly taking Tiger into your arms (probably wondering how you were gonna pull it off with A!) but SHE didn’t know that!!!
“We did it! The kids, the strict teacher, the principal warning against getting involved, the vet, the staff, Ana, me, Belle, and ultimately y-o-u. WE SAVED HIM!”
And here I take over the story from Lucinda and her beautiful brainy daughter Belle.
So, I saw the picture that awakened this fierce NEED in me. And, I conversed with Lucinda on Facebook and found she wanted to not only find a good home for him, but also ideally a home a distance away in case the disturbed little girl or her hooligan family wanted to take “revenge” on him for the court hearing. Lucinda wanted to get him into the kitten witness protection program, so to speak. And so I drove out to Rock Hill and we did a kitten handoff in a PetsMart parking lot.
I brought the kitten home, put him in a cage (I don’t normally crate pets, I think it’s cruel, but in this case it was for his safety), and then went off to bowl with my partner and his coworkers at a work function. Later, we came home.
“What’s THAT?” he demanded, coming to a dead stop in the bedroom, staring at the tiny grey kitten in the cage.
“What’s what?” I said innocently, as if kittens with cones turned up all the time in our bedroom.
“IN THE CAGE! WHAT is that THING in the CAGE?”
“Oh, that?” I lightly laughed what I hoped was a casual, reassuring laugh. “Oh, it’s just a kitten I’m fostering.”
“Well, you had better just be fostering it! We already have two dogs and one cat! We don’t need any more! Fleas! Fur! Smell! Expense! Blahdeblahblah dobedobah mhawhawhawaha …” I have to admit, I stopped listening. If I had learned anything about this guy, it is that he is full of Punjabi bluster and noise – especially noise – but he has a heart of gold. (He has to, to put up with me.) Give him a week around this tiny grey kitten with a cone, and he would be a total foster fail.
It actually didn’t take a week before everyone in the house fell in love with him. This was a cat like no other. Despite everything that had happened to him, he was outgoing, friendly, “freakishly loving.”
Scruffy, my Jack Russell Terrier mix, fell in love first. I was most worried about him. He had literally scared the sh*t out of my Charlie Cat and had a showdown with Prince Harry. How would he react to a kitten?
Apparently like this.
Scruffy and Tiger became best friends.
Prince Harry was suspicious at first, but soon came around, and spent hours grooming his new little brother.
And when we added Baby Maggie Firsee into the mix, she also became a devoted Tiger fan. Tiger was so loving and good-natured, he even let her “nurse.”
And my man? Well, I gave him the honor of naming this kitten, and he chose “Tiger” after a dog he’d had in India. (Lucinda said the name Tiger suited him; he had the fighting spirit of a warrior!) It soon became a familiar sight to see A walking around with “his boys” (Scruffy and Tiger) in his arms, or the three of them cuddled together on the couch, watching TV.
And then one morning …
Tiger didn’t wake me up (by flopping his body on top of mine and purring and “kneading”).
And he didn’t join in the wild melee for breakfast.
He didn’t come when I called.
I was frantic. I thought perhaps I’d let him outside (he did have a bit of a sneaky side) when I rolled the trash around late night.
Finally I found him in a tub of dirty laundry. I scooped him up and fed him some breakfast. He ate it all, although he seemed lackluster.
I came home at lunch and he seemed a little worse.
In the evening, he seemed actually ill. “Ok, Buddy,” I told him, “you are going to the vet FIRST THING IN THE AM.”
First thing in the AM I checked on him, then took 10 minutes to put on my clothes and do enough basic grooming I wouldn’t scare small children.
And when I checked on him again, ready to put him into the carrier …
He was dead.
I took Tiger’s lifeless body to the vet for private cremation. I don’t know how I managed to drive that morning; I was just doing what needed to be done for my “sweet baby.” I really cannot recommend Matthews Animal Clinic enough … everyone was so sweet to me, especially this one front desk worker with red hair. I do not remember her name, but I do remember how sweet she was to me and how she hugged me as I finally broke down and started to cry. Thank you, you beautiful red-haired angel, whoever you are.
Dr. Ann Meadows was phenomenal as well. I asked to speak a vet, to try to figure out WHAT happened. Tiger appeared to have thrown up or drooled before he died. I’d also had a poodle with seizures, so I wondered if maybe Tiger had seizures due to all his head injuries as a kitten. But after asking many questions, Dr. Meadows thought that he most likely died of HCM. She told me HCM was hard to diagnose and was often asymptomatic.
Hypertrophic cardiomyopathy (HCM) is the most commonly diagnosed cardiac disease in cats. Caused by thickening of the ventricle walls (the primary “pump” muscle of the heart), HCM is diagnosed in cats as young as 4 months old and as old as 16 years old, but typically effects middle-aged (5-6-7-8) male cats. Sometimes, there are symptoms. Often, there are no symptoms or the symptoms are subtle. HCM causes the formation of blood clots in the heart. These clots can travel through the bloodstream to obstruct flow in other parts of the body (thromboembolism). The effect of the clot depends on its location, although in cats with HCM, clots usually result in blockage of blood flow to the hind limbs, causing acute hind limb pain or, in extreme cases, hind limb paralysis. (For more info, PLEASE visit Cornell University.)
I investigated HCM, and realized there were a lot of subtle signs I did not see (and who would, unless you were looking for them)?
Dr. Meadows insisted that was not my fault; even if I had recognized the signs there was very little I could have done. Even bringing him to the vet as soon as I found him hiding in the laundry basket would most likely not have changed things.
The Signs ...
About a month beforehand, Tiger was in pain, especially around his hind legs. I thought he might have taken a bad jump and hurt his back; when I took him to the vet she diagnosed a small urinary infection plus prescribed some back pain meds for what we assumed was a “bad jump.” It was actually most likely a thromboembolism.
He never fully recovered. His peculiar little stiff-legged gait (which both my partner and I put down to the abuse he’d suffered as a kitten) became more pronounced.
He was very cautious jumping (I assumed that was natural after a back injury). Later, looking back, I could see how his much older sibling Prince Harry was a much stronger jumper, and more robust in general, than Tiger. Looking back, I could see that Tiger hadn’t been jumping to his favorite high spots on bookshelves and the top of the refrigerator for at least a year.
And, Tiger had lost weight. This was deceptive though, as he was a chubby cat and losing weight actually made him look healthier. Had he become thin, I would have worried; but he remained soft and smooshy.
Even him being “freakishly loving” could have been partially attributed to HCM – he may not have had enough strength and energy to want to do more than just love and be loved all the time.
Whatever. I was devastated.
I loved this cat more than I had ever loved most other people or beasts, and I had expected him to be around for a long time.
It was so ironic that this cat with figuratively the biggest heart, had literally the weakest.
I tried to comfort myself with the thought I’d given him almost six happy years, when at one point it was unlikely he’d live past six weeks.
The thought wasn’t comforting, though.
I loved Tiger so fiercely, I wasn’t ready to let go of him.
And … apparently … he wasn’t ready to leave.
To be continued …