My Home Is a Halfway House for Pets -- Part One: The Cats
Sometimes I think that my home should be called “The halfway house where broken souls are mended, all species welcomed.” I say that with a certain degree of tongue-in-cheekiness, but also very seriously. We’ve never had any animal come into our home by design. They’ve all landed on our doorstep by accident, it seems. Or perhaps, divine providence.
Silver, the big Tortoiseshell/Calico, wound up in our home by happenstance. My daughter wanted a kitten for her birthday one year. She’d shown enough responsibility that I agreed. On the way to the kitten area at an adoption fair at the local humane society, this ball of fur launched itself out of a dark corner of the cage I was passing, and I found myself with a dark paw attached to my jacket. I looked into the sweetest face I’d ever seen and I swear, something clicked.
Silver was three months old and a rescue from a very bad situation on a local farm. The adoption counselors seemed to be doing their best to talk me out of taking Silver, but I was very persistent. She hid under my daughter’s bed for the first week she was in our home. My daughter, in all her nine-year-old wisdom, shrugged and remarked, “Mom, her soul hurts her. She’ll come out when she figures out we’re going to put her back together again.” Fast-forward several years and you’d never realize that the loud, mouthy, affectionate cat that now follows me all over the house is the same young cat I first brought home.
Precious was the next broken soul to arrive. Found in the snow behind our apartment building by my daughter, her eyes not even open, my first thought when I saw her curled in the palm of my husband’s hand was, “Oh, bloody hell and damn. If I don’t save her, they’re going to be devastated.” She was skin and bones and seemed to be in bad shape. It was a late Friday night and a call to my vet’s emergency number got me a “We’re not open until 10 a.m. tomorrow. You’ve done this before, Myra. Keep her alive for the next 12 hours and we’ll see you then, unless you want to go to the emergency clinic downtown.” I didn’t, because they’d put her down, citing expense.
So off I went to Walmart for kitten formula. I spent the next 12 hours nursing Precious and praying she didn’t die, because I didn’t want to deal with a grief-stricken 10-year-old and a grief-stricken husband who had already become attached.
And Precious wanted to live. That much was obvious by the way she immediately learned how to lap up formula from a saucer. She refused the kitten bottle and the eyedropper, so in desperation, I decided to see if she’d take it from the saucer with help. She did. Taking it a step further, I decided to see what she’d do if I placed her in a tiny box of cat litter. She hesitated for only a moment, then went to work, trying to go potty. She couldn’t have been even three weeks old, yet her survival instinct was strong.
She cried constantly, though, to the point I had to keep her up close to my chest. Our black Lab, Bear, adopted her on the spot, and when I had to set her down to go fix her formula, he’d lay his great head down on the couch cushion next to her, barely touching her. If she cried, he’d gently nose her, as if to say “I’m right here,” and she’d stop. He insisted on bathing her after every feeding and every potty break.
When we arrived at the vet’s office the next morning, I was exhausted. Our vet examined the tiny creature that had taken over my life for the past 14 hours and had the audacity to grin at me and say, “Congratulations. It’s a precious little girl.” A day later, her eyes opened and I landed in the hospital with a sudden illness. My husband was left to care for Precious, and she bonded completely with him during that time.
When I came home, I noticed Precious seemed to be deathly terrified of being picked up, but it wasn’t because she didn’t want to be touched; it was because the height scared her. It took her a long time to climb and jump up on things like a normal cat. She wouldn’t do it unless Bear did it first. She didn’t like strangers, didn’t like sudden movements from anyone, and loud voices made her extremely defensive. Our theory was that a resident of our apartment complex may have thrown her from a balcony. We came to that theory when a resident was evicted and found to have 12 adult cats, several kittens, and the bodies of dead kittens in the room that would have been next to their balcony. The resident’s husband was abusive and it was later discovered he would hurt the animals to hurt his wife.
That Precious survived is a bit of a miracle, we think. Today, she’s my husband’s cat and he taught her to sit up, just like a dog. And she played a very large role in helping to heal another broken soul that came into our home years later.
About the author: Myra Dawn Elwell is in her 40s, addicted to coffee, and is the head of a very unique household.