The Hard Stuff
Seventeen years ago, a young mama cat took shelter in a woodchuck hole in our neighbor’s back yard. This little stray would bring her two tiny kittens under the fence into our yard and let them play underneath the lilacs.
We watched them for a few days, long enough to realize she was indeed a stray, and started to put food under the trees for her and her babies. It took weeks of sitting perfectly still in the middle of the yard for her to trust us and finally approach.
Her boys came with her. One was brave and came running toward us full speed despite her warning calls. He was purring loudly and very interested in us and what we were doing. The other kitten a black long- haired boy with a tiny white speck on his chest, was more reserved. He hung back behind his mom and wouldn’t let us touch him.
A few days after we gained mama’s trust, the weatherman called for severe storms. We knew the hole they were living in was not sufficient shelter. So we set out s cage with food in it and prayed we would be able to get all three of them at once. Our fear was that the tiny timid black kitten would take off if he got startled by the closing trap and he wasn’t safely inside.
Good fortune was on our side. After a every tense moments as mama and the brave kitten scarfed down the food in the cage and the timid kitten hesitated outside the door, we finally had all three in the cage. My husband and I carried the cage into the house and into a room we could close off to separate our visitors from our other fur babies.
I can honestly say it never crossed my mind to find any one of these strays another home. From the first day, they would pile on top of each other to sleep just purr. There was no way we would dream of separating them
So Shaina and her two boys, Lil Scamp and Shadow, became a part of family.
There were challenges to be sure. Scamp was diagnosed with diabetes at age four. We had to give him insulin injections twice daily, as well as other medications that he came to require for other conditions that developed as he aged. We learned to do insulin curves by drawing blood from a prick in his ear. And through it all, he was a trooper. He actually would come find us at 7am and 7pm for his shots!
A few years ago, Shaina was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer, and we threw everything we could at it short of chemo. She was 15 and we couldn’t see putting her through that. But we gave her palliative support – pancreatic enzymes and B-12 shots, feeding her with a syringe when it got towards the end.
In the middle of Shaina’s decline, Lil Scamp’s little body started to shut down. We lost him suddenly despite his years of illness.
Shaina went a month later.
We were devastated. To lose two babies in close succession left a hole in our home that was palpable. We worried about Shadow. We didn’t know how long he would survive without his kitty family.
A year later, he was diagnosed with possible pancreatic lymphoma based on severely wonky lab work. The ultrasound came back normal. Given his advanced age, and his ability to retreat into the dropped ceiling tiles whenever we had to harass him with meds and road trips to the vet, we opted to not treat the cancer and simply love him until he told us he was ready to go.
He had two happy years. He continued to drop close to half his body weight, but he was social. He came out twice a day for meals and treats and hung out with us every night. He was loved by us and by his little siblings. He was loved especially by his little sister Rosalita, who would come running to love him whenever he walked through our house crying forlornly and looking for his mama and brother.
Today, we had to let our special little man go. It is never an easy decision. That fine line between selfishly wanting to keep him near, and not wanting to let him suffer for even a moment is very faint indeed. We held him as he slipped away. And I haven’t stopped crying since.
There are those who won’t allow the love of a pet into their lives because of days like this. But I will tell you a secret. I wouldn’t change a thing. If I had known 17 years ago how heartbroken I would feel when that special little cat family left my life, I would still bring them into my home and heart.
I know without a doubt that they are together now, lounging in the best sunbeam in a meadow just past the rainbow bridge.
Thank you, Shadow, aka Baby Bear, aka Little Fang, for being such a gentle soul and for trusting and loving us.