“Kitty Baby.” It wasn’t supposed to be a name, just something to call her until we figured it out. But I’m sure most of you know how that goes and, after while, she just couldn’t be called anything else.
I found her late one afternoon as I turned into Wendy’s for a quick bite. She was hanging out at the trashcans eating French fries (fast food would continue to be a favorite her whole life). I have always been a sucker for cats and dogs so I couldn’t help stopping to talk to her and see if I could get her to come. We made eye contact and a little sizzle of connection zipped between us. She rolled over onto her back with a bit of a tease on her face. She wanted to come to me but was unsure. No one at Wendy’s knew anything about her but when I inquired at the bank next door, a lady said she had fed her intermittently for about six months and she seemed to want to make contact with people.
I left the parking lot determined to catch her. The weather had been unusually cold and was forecasted to drop to 17 degrees that night, with freezing rain. We had been experiencing record low temperatures for several days and nights and I wondered how much longer she could take it. I made my way to the local animal shelter, secured a trap, and headed home to give Jamie the good news. He was less than thrilled, but amenable. We baited the trap with anchovies and tuna and left her alone. A half-an-hour later she was protesting loudly, with fish breath, from the confines of the cage. She was officially ours.
I was 5 months pregnant with our now 17-year-old daughter and Kitty was wild as a March hare once she was confined. Jamie had built a large convalescence cage for a former cat and that became Kitty’s home. Each day he admonished me to stay away from her until he could tame her. I was very careful but I couldn’t stay away. I spent time with her and talked to her. I brought treats. Within a week she began to rub against the cage and flip over onto her back. I knew any threat that may have existed was gone. I reached into the cage and petted her. Warm response. I leaned over and ran my hand under her belly, giving her a little lift up. No protests. Soon I dropped her into my arms. She nuzzled my face, purred, and became mine. I left the garage and headed into the house with her in my arms. Jamie thought I was nuts and immediately envisioned toxoplasmosis and rabies. The baby and I were never in danger. In fact, nothing could have been farther from the truth.
Kitty seemed to know I was expecting and doted on me. She was especially fascinated with my burgeoning belly and would spend hours draped over it. She would stare at the movements underneath and send her purring vibrations directly to Miss Hannah. We three spent many contented evenings snuggled up together.
Once the baby arrived, Kitty took over. She diligently watched out for her. Wherever I would lay Hannah down, Kitty was immediately nearby. When Hannah nursed, Kitty would drape herself over my shoulders and around the back of my neck, gazing down at her. Occasionally she would get down and give her head a good washing so she would not only be fed, but clean. One time as I sat in the rocker with my nursing bra on, Kitty walked up, took a look at Hannah on one side and decided the other side ought to be put to use as well. She opened her mouth wide, gently latched on, then looked up at me as if to say, “What’s so great about a mouthful of cotton?” She decided it wouldn’t work for her. I couldn’t have agreed more.
When my son was born four years later the treatment was the same. Each time the babies learned to crawl she shadowed them. If they went into the playpen, so did she. If they pulled out fists of fur….all in a days work. She knew they were baby “things” and afforded them every exception. She never slept near their faces but I would occasionally find her snuggled in a crib at their feet. She watched baths and hung out close by. She endured the dress-up of fashion shows, bit parts as the “baby” actor in plays, and dutifully accepted being pushed around in strollers and mini-shopping carts.
She never bit, hissed at, or scolded a child. The only time she got her tail in a knot was if we had been gone for a few days. When we would return she would snub us for a bit, and then absolve us. That changed, one time, with an extended absence. The kids and I had been traveling for three weeks and Jamie was the only one home. When we finally returned, Kitty was beside herself with joy, meowing loudly. Suddenly she disappeared and ran out the pet door. I forgot about it with the unpacking and didn’t give it another thought until I flopped down on the couch exhausted. In a few minutes I heard the telltale sound of yowling that cats make when they have prey in their mouths. Kitty was just below me. I looked down as she looked up and our eyes locked. We both regarded the dead gopher she had laid at my feet. Her most prized prey was my welcome home gift. And she’d even thought to skin it for me. What a gal.
Then there was the night she came in injured, with a terrible abscess. I thought it was a bite but actually came to find out years later it would be a chronic condition she developed many times. She had a fever and needed immediate treatment, and the vet was closed. Having grown up around critters, horses, kids, etc. I wasn’t squeamish and had some limited medical training. I shaved her down, got out a scalpel from my ditch medicine bag, treated the area with betadine, and, after donning gloves, employed ten-year-old Hannah as my assistant – she’s tough as nails. There was no anesthesia so we made every effort to be as gentle as could be managed. Kitty was in so much pain she seemed to be relieved at any treatment and lay as quietly as she could. She never tried to bite either one of us though the procedures would sometimes take two hours to complete. We would drain and clean the affected area, and debride the necrotic tissue. I would do Internet searches for what antibiotic would be effective and then go on the hunt for left over meds the kids hadn’t been able to take. (Remember, we don’t do meds well in our family so those were always plentiful.) Invariably, I would have what was called for, measure it out by tiny amounts on a grain scale, and treat accordingly. She recovered beautifully each time and only needed a trip to the vet for it once or twice.
And there was no mistake: as much as she loved the kids it was because she saw us as co-parents. She belonged to me and it was me she slept with and sought out for love and assurance. We had a sixth-sense connection. Those don’t come along with just any animal but if you’ve experienced it, you know what I mean. That made it doubly hard as her health began to deteriorate. She looked to me for comfort but dreaded the meds I had to dole out to help her and would often avoid me. I began to know the decision was coming. I just didn’t know it would happen so suddenly, all at once, in a day.
We laid her to rest here. It was terribly hard to part with her beautifully soft fur and gentle little body. But we will always keep the love we shared so earnestly through the years. She brought me great comfort during times of sadness or crisis and there were many during the years. And she offered abundant love and true friendship on a daily basis. I hope I’m half the patient, loving, friend my cat was. I will continue to learn from her legacy. Good-bye, my dear little friend. I will sorely miss you.