August 2, 2011

A Remembrance of Pets Past

I've been reading the utterly fascinating The Philosopher and the Wolf today, and though I'll be reviewing it tomorrow, one of its themes is downright Proustian: Animals are at our mercy in the civilized world.


One day while driving to the library in graduate school, I came upon an injured bird in the middle of an intersection in a residential neighborhood. Though I'm not a bird person, I felt I needed to save this poor little creature. After it was gathered up gently in a jacket, I drove to our nearby vet, and with tears streaming down my face, handed him the bird as though it were some sort of chalice, and begged him to save it.

The vet knew the bird didn't stand a chance, but he gave it a valiant effort anyway. My day at the library doing research shot to hell, I drove home instead, and shared my story with my husband, who could see how shaken I was by the experience. It's been nearly 30 years, but I tear up even now when thinking about that fallen bird.

A couple of years later, I visited my family in Los Angeles, and met my sister's new dog Joshua, some sort of miniature Samoyed. I loved this beautiful dog, and the feeling was mutual, so much so that by the time I left L.A. a few days later, it had taken a protective stance toward people moving too quickly in my direction. I think some sort of strange animal imprinting had taken place because Joshua never bonded with either my sister or her first husband and they eventually returned him to the breeder.

Joshua was one of many "off" animals in my life. Though I'd grown up a dog person, my husband and I had only owned cats. Our first, the first of many strays, was Praline, although I called her Kitty. Not very original, I know, but she was my first cat after a lifetime of dog ownership. I used to open the door and call, "Kitty, come home to mama," and she did. But only for me, and if she'd gotten stuck on the roof, extra coaxing was involved. When we moved from Dallas to L.A. at the end of the year, we had to leave Kitty behind with my eventual brother-in-law, Jack. I don't know what happened at this point, only that when we moved back to Dallas a year later, Kitty was Miss Strin (my maiden name), and the opposite of the sweet, loving pet I'd known.

We came back to Dallas with Raindrop, the first of our true rescue cats. Incredibly loving, playful, and snuggly, she was the first "she's not really like a cat" cat we owned. She suffered some major medical issues. Indeed, she may have been the first cat to have interferon treatments after a case of exposure nearly destroyed her little immune system. The shots worked, and she lived a very long and happy life.

We'd only been back in Dallas for a couple of years when we adopted Satchel, an injured, jet black stray. Satchel had a remarkable sweet tooth—he once ate an apple pie sitting on the counter. Raindrop really didn't know what to make of such a scaredy cat, but our vet actually called me after Satchel had been with us several months, and told me the story of a man who'd lost his cat and was desolate. Our vet knew we already had a cat, and asked if we'd let this grieving man adopt Satchel. After meeting up and taking his measure, we agreed, and gave Satchel over into his care.

Next up was Boo Boo, a cat who'd been abused. When my husband brought him home, his feet were burned, and though we needed another cat like a hole in the head, we nurtured him back to health, and gave him the love he needed and deserved. Boo Boo was the scardiest cat ever, and while I was pregnant with Rachael, and maternal hormones raged within me, his liver failed. The vet warned us that Boo Boo was on his last legs, but I was having none of it. If he wanted to eat a teaspoon of food at three a.m., I gave it to him. I sat with him, loved him, and willed him back to life, and his liver regenerated. The vet called it a miracle.

Right before my pregnancy with Rachael, I had a miscarriage, and during my recovery two stray cats appeared in the atrium outside my bedroom. I felt these cats had been given over to my protection—a baby had been taken away, but these were two new lives I needed to save—yet as we already had two cats, I was in no position to keep them. I did, however, feed them and coax them into accepting my touch, so that after awhile, I was able to hold them. At which point I took them to my vet, told him my story, and he agreed to take them in and find them homes. And he did.

On Mother's Day when Rachael was six, we woke up to a swimming pool of baby ducks. They were amazingly quick in the water, and Rachael and I needed to don our swimsuits to catch them. Chlorine isn't good for baby ducks, so animal control took them after we nabbed each one. It was an exhilarating experience, and the officer vowed the ducklings would be taken to Samuell Farm, a city-owned farm open for urban school-children to commune with "nature." I can only hope she did because to contemplate anything else, particularly on Mother's Day, was, is, and will always be abhorrent.

A year later Raindrop finally died...she was into her 20s by then...and we went to adopt a new cat. Our new vet had an animal rescue within her practice, and an entire litter to choose from. Bob (you know, Bob The Cat), was the sweetest of the group, and after he came home with us, his little paws rarely hit the ground because Rachael and her friends carried him so much. It turns out Bob had IBD, which meant a shortened life as a result of cancer, but also because of the lifetime of steroids he had to take on a daily basis. They made him eat like mad, and gave him a mild case of the jitters, so that he became a scaredy cat around anyone he didn't know. He wasn't with his mother long enough to know how to "knead the dough" (cat owners, you no doubt know what I mean), but he loved to be carried and cradled in my arms like a baby, on his back, and to have his belly or ears rubbed. He was the most handsome of cats and very nurturing, with that instinct some animals have to provide comfort and succor. Whenever one of us was sick, he knew, and in his own way, tried to nurse us back to health by sitting vigil on the bed. Bob loved a good nap with his mom...there will never be another Bob.

Perhaps a year after Bob moved in, Boo Boo died. Although my husband said, "No more cats," one day while Rachael and I were at the mall, the ASPCA's Christmas Adoption campaign was in full swing. Rachael found Baby, my heart melted, and Harold capitulated. Though tiny in stature, Baby has always been the princess of the house. She's the healthiest cat we've ever owned, but unfortunately, the loudest as well. She goes into a state of mourning every time Rachael leaves for school, and it's obvious she still misses Bob, her big brother. She comes when called, and like all our cats, she's very un-catlike. I say that with some pride because I can't stand aloof cats. None would dare live in our house.

It's funny...every time we've lost a cat, even with another one at home, I've felt the sole-deep urge for a new one. Bob changed all that. Baby remains young and healthy, with many years ahead of her. She'll be the last of our cats, but I feel we've done the job we were meant to do.


No comments: