When Shelley returned home after two weeks away, she was confronted by a loud and needy cat. Lucy let her know, in strident tones, how much she had missed her and how devastatingly hungry she had been. She went on and on about it, while Shelley busied herself with unpacking and reacquainting herself with her very own kitchen, sofa, and bed. Just when she thought she would settle down for real, the neighbor called to say they had an emergency and could Shelley help.
It turned out a very young kitten, black and white just like Lucy, had wandered onto their doorstep. Highly allergic, they could not let it in their house and the poor thing appeared way too young to be outside fending for itself amongst the hawks and possums, and well, maybe Shelley could take it in. Shelley sighed, unable to think clearly amid the sharp mewling of the lost little waif, and took charge.
As far as Lucy was concerned, inviting this flea-bitten critter into her environs was an absolute no go. Insult to injury. And so Shelley set up a kitten holding pen in one of her outbuildings, out of earshot, and wandered back into the house hoping for a good night’s sleep.
The next morning, Amy and I met at Shelley’s house at 7:30 for our first Tuesday walk in weeks, excited to see our friend and hear all about her trip. We all had plenty of new news to report, so it wasn’t until about three miles in that Shelley got around to telling us about her little problem.
Amy thought about it for a minute and ventured that maybe this wayward critter would make a good birthday present for her mom. Shelley’s face brightened. Meanwhile, I was flooded with the memory of a similar situation involving a frightened motherless kitten.
Kihei, Maui May, 2001
We stared, unbelieving, at the tiny blur of a kitten running towards us, scraggly little tail pointed straight up, kicking up puffs of dust on the hot Maui side street. She cried as loud as she could with her small sharp voice, and ran until she reached Shaun’s legs. Hooking her needle-thin claws into his skin, she continued upwards towards his friendly face. Shaun reached down and disconnected her from a thigh, and Bob and I leaned in for a closer look.
Her right eye was swollen shut, and her head dwarfed the attached bag of bones. We looked at Shaun, stunned and on his way to helplessly smitten. He had recently lost his cat and vowed not to take in another animal, something we had sworn not to do some five years earlier. Knowing we had a better chance of keeping that promise, we volunteered to take the kitten and find it a home. Relieved, Shaun fixed us up with a litter box and bowls and we stopped at the grocery store for canned cat food on the way back upcountry.
It was obvious she was going to lose that eye, so we named her Lefty. I bathed her in the sink, watched the water turn pink, then took her to a spot in our sunny garden wrapped in a towel, and with a fine-toothed comb combed out the fleas. It took three baths before the water ran clear, and the pile of fleas on our lawn probably weighed more than Lefty did. We fed her and watched her sleep.
We built a cardboard castle in the kitchen to contain her. Leftie was the first one up in the morning and let us know she was lonely with her shrill little voice. She liked to climb up our legs and curl up on Bob’s chest when he napped.
Lefty was soon sturdy enough for a trip to the vet’s where we arranged for them to remove her ruined eye, de-worm, vaccinate and whatever else she needed, and find her a home. They didn’t think prospective parents would appreciate our sense of humor, so they renamed her Lucky. As in “lucky she ran into you,” they explained. As we left the clinic, we were relieved, but sad. We knew we had done the right thing for all concerned. But it had been nice sharing our little home with this tiny animal and we knew we would probably never see her again.
A month or so later, we received a card in the mail from Lucky’s new owners. In it, they thanked us for rescuing her and making it possible for them to adopt her. They wrote that she was a perky little thing and was adapting spectacularly to her new life. I read the note twice and had to put it down when my vision got bleary.
Back to Moncure, North Carolina August 2018
Shelley, Amy, and I finished our five mile walk, ending up where we began, as always, at Shelley’s house. “Would you like to see the kitten?” she asked. Amy got her phone from the car so she could send some pictures to her sister, and we trotted to the shed behind Shelley. We heard the little fella about fifty feet out, chirping like a demented bird with every bit of his lungs. Shelley picked him up and passed him around. The poor thing had the same needle-sharp claws I remember from Lucky, the same matted coat and emaciated body.
Amy snapped a couple of pictures and left, and although I was tempted to stick around and give the tiny tyke a bath, I drove off to run some errands. A few hours later, Shelley let me know that Amy had returned with a cat carrier. A minute later, Amy told me she’d brought the cat home, dunked him, fed him, and he was sleeping on her lap. Her daughter was smitten and they were tossing around names. Later her mother got to meet the little guy and got him over to the vet who de-wormed him saying that the rescue couldn’t have waited much longer or the worms would have finished him off.
This may sound like a little story, but it felt like a big one to me. First off, every neighborhood needs a Shelley, a “fixer” – someone they can call when they run into a problem. Second, there is the serendipity of this rescue. The neighbors find a cat, Shelley shoulders the burden, Amy takes him off her hands, and her mother is happy. Finally, there’s this: while our weekly walks may seem like non-essential self-indulgence, it’s not. Getting together with friends on a regular basis creates a synergy that strengthens neighborhoods. Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram are not enough. We need real face time, with real people, to solve little problems, and make real things happen.