Of All The Ways To Lose A Cat



In Column One in the L.A. Times, Kim Murphy wrote about recently finding her nearly-dead cat hidden in a window seat nine weeks after going missing. Mostly a happy ending, although the cat may be left with long-term neurological damage.
Kim prefaces Bess’ story with a telling of the unfortunate ends her other cats have met: TWO cats at different times fell to their deaths from balconies. One was hit by a bus. Another survived being run through the dryer. At one point, the Animal Welfare Society in London would not approve her application to adopt a cat, ostensibly because she lived on a bus route. (Read the Column for the context.)
Which brings us to Bess:

Bess disappeared Sept. 28.

We were having a barbecue that night, with lots of loud music and friends and kids and a rambunctious dog. The next morning, when no one could find Bess, we feared the worst.

…We printed up posters and tacked them around the neighborhood. We knocked on doors, walked up and down streets calling her name, placed her toys and my daughter’s nightgown in the yard to entice her with familiar smells.

Eventually, even the children admitted she wasn’t coming home.

On Nov. 30 … we had another blowout party. I made chicken tacos, my neighbor’s boyfriend made pitchers of margaritas; we built a fire on the deck and smoked cigars under the stars. Afterward, I stood in the kitchen doing dishes while my friend Kris and her daughter, Sophie, talked in the living room.

There was something in Kris’ voice when she called my name that felt like walking into a freezer. “What?” I asked.

“Kim,” she said again. “Come here.”

I walked slowly into the living room. Then I heard it: a low, weak, persistent “meow” coming from inside the window seat, a bench with a hinged door, that Kris and Sophie had opened up.

A small part of me celebrated before I even got across the room. The rest of me melted in horror. It had been nearly nine weeks since Bess disappeared, probably sneaking into the open window seat when no one was watching. Nine weeks locked in a box, without food and water, or even much air. What was left? What was meowing?

As a war correspondent, I have been trained to put my emotions aside in times of danger, assess the situation and act quickly. This I tried to do. I scooped up the tiny bundle of ragtag fur that was Bess — leaking a clear, viscous fluid — and carried her to the kitchen. I grabbed the turkey baster, filled it with water and tried to inject it into her mouth, which was gaping and unresponsive except for the weak howl that came out every few seconds.

I grabbed the phone and called my brother, who is a veterinarian in Bremerton, about half an hour away. He gave me directions to the nearest emergency clinic. Wrapping Bess in a large towel, I climbed into Kris’ car and we sped off.

I spent all that night at Bess’ side as the doctor and technicians pumped an IV sugar solution into her veins and offered her a small plate of food. Like a mad creature, Bess lunged and bit everything in sight, including my finger, and nearly broke her teeth on the spoon as I helped push the food toward her mouth.

She weighed just 4.7 pounds. Her blood was heavy with salt. As morning dawned, she began having seizures — a signal of possible brain damage from the dehydration or a phenomenon known as “refeeding syndrome,” a potentially fatal metabolic crisis seen in the survivors of World War II concentration camps that can occur when victims of starvation are fed too quickly.

For the next few days, we visited Bess every evening. She was blind. She could barely raise her head, which was oddly bowed toward the ground in a classic sign of thiamine and potassium deficiency. She continued to have what the doctors chillingly described as “neurological events.”

Slowly, however, she got better. After four days, when the vet bills were approaching $3,000, we brought her home. [Read the whole column here.]

So, I finished reading this, was feeling all warm and fuzzy and happy that Bess was okay, and then I started thinking that the Animal Welfare Society in London might have been wise not to allow Kim to adopt a cat. Just like humans who love kids but have no parental skills, Kim may be a cat lover, but it sounds like she comes up a little short in the caregiving department when it comes to cats. (Not one, but TWO of her cats fell to their deaths from balconies?)

Let’s see… loud party with a rambunctious dog. How about checking all the hidey places in the house where a terrified cat might go for refuge, including (am I the only one who thinks this is a no-brainer?) — the window seat.

What do you think? A series of unfortunate events for a jinxed cat lover, or someone who seriously needs to learn how to properly care for and protect her feline charges?