When my husband and I first started bottle-feeding motherless kittens, we raised a sweet little orphan named Maynard. One morning I received a call from Lewisville Animal Services. One of the officers had picked up an abandoned litter of newborn kittens in the middle of a cow pasture. Could I take them?
Could I? Newborn? At the time, there were only two foster homes in the area for bottle babies. I knew the other foster mom was up to her ears in little whiskers. If I didn’t take them, animal control would have to euthanize them. I agreed and headed straight for the animal shelter.
I arrived at the same time as the animal control officer. I wound my way past the pathetic cats reaching for me and the dogs barking for attention to the loading dock. There the officer stood with a small cardboard box. He pulled the flap up. There in a huddle lay three tiny kittens.
“I need some help.” The officer handed me a pair of vicious-looking scissors that could have been purchased during the Roosevelt administration.
A closer inspection of the kittens revealed their true age. Their umbilical cords were still attached to the placenta ÔÇª and they were covered in cow poop. Poor little things. What a rough start. I cut the cords and placed them in a clean carrier.
At home I warmed them up and set up a nursery, then got them cleaned up. Two of the kittens were brown tabbies, with adorable little tiger stripes. The third was clad in a formal tuxedo — he even had a coat with a white bow tie and gloves and a pair of white boots with a white goatee. Baby Boomers may remember the character Maynard G. Krebbs from the 1960s sitcom Dobie Gillis. Maynard, Dobie’s sidekick, was a a beatnik played by Bob Denver of Gilligan’s Island fame. He had a goatee, and he spoke in exaggerated hip slang.
Our little kitten had a Krebbs-style goatee, big copper eyes, a huge head — and a tremendous problem. We learned when he was six weeks old that he was hydrocephalic. Active and happy, we decided against our veterinarian’s recommendation to euthanize him and treated him homeopathically. He responded to the treatment and did very well. Every night he jumped up on the bed, walked across the mattress and lay down on my ankles. I always thought it couldn’t be comfortable sleeping on my ankle bones, but he claimed that spot as his special space.
At Thanksgiving we went out of town for a couple of weeks. The pressure against Maynard’s brain suddenly started to build. I found myself on the phone giving my best friend, Debbie, permission to put him to sleep. What-ifs plagued me. While surviving eight months is nothing short of a miracle for a hydrocephic cat, I still dwelled on the impossibility that Maynard might still be alive if I’d stayed home. If only I could have told Debbie where to find the medicine. If, if, if ÔÇª I didn’t even get to say goodbye.
At home, despite the comforting presence of our other cats, I found a huge hole in my soul.
About two weeks after we had returned home, I had just climbed into bed, but I hadn’t settled in yet. Suddenly, I felt the familiar sensation of a cat jumping up on the bed, the paws padding across the mattress and flopping down on my feet. While cats jump on the bed all the time, this one settled into Maynard’s special corner. Enough light seeped through the curtains that I could see that there was nothing on the bed, cat or otherwise. I felt the weight but nothing or no one was down there.
Prior to Maynard return, I knew that ghosts didn’t exist. At that moment, with Maynard’s six pounds pressing against my feet, I realized my folly. Sometimes they do. I felt at peace and forgiven. I didn’t dare move for fear of shattering the moment. I wanted to cherish it. I prayed it wouldn’t end. Eventually, I slipped off to sleep.
In the morning, the weight against my feet had vanished. It has not returned, but for a few minutes I had Maynard back.
I didn’t mention Maynard’s return to my husband, or anyone else for that matter, for more than a year. I knew people would think I should be committed to a mental hospital.
Author, adventuress, and cat-rescuer Dusty Rainbolt is vice president of the Cat Writers Association. Her books include 2007’s Ghost Cats: Human Encounters with Feline Spirits.
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