The First Heartbreaker
It was a lovely spring day when I first realized how inhumane and cruel humans could be, and when I learned that I could love unconditionally and intensely.
I was living with Janet and her two sons that May the year before we were married. Elric was attending grade school, and walked home the six blocks every day. On this particular day, he was stopped at the curb by a man riding in a distressed pick-up truck and asked if he wanted a kitten. Of course, like any child, Elric said yes. What he was handed was one of the most frightening things I have ever seen in my life.
Elric rushed home and told his mother and I what had happened, and then let us see the kitten. He was an orange tabby with dull brown eyes and suffering from extreme malnutrition and neglect. His left hind leg had been broken and healed incorrectly, and his gums were so pale that they were white. He was dehydrated and covered with fleas.
Our veterinarian was only two blocks from the apartment where we lived, so we wrapped the kitten up in a towel and ran to the office. Dr. Kutsch was available immediately and examined the kitten. While the examination took place, the Animal Control officer was called and sent to the area where the truck was last seen to look for the men responsible. The kitten was a mess; he weighed only six ounces and was approximately ten weeks old. From the condition of the leg injury, the doctor presumed that someone had stepped on him shortly after his birth. He also thought that the kitten had been taken from his mother about three days ago. In his estimate, there was no way that the kitten would survive without suffering permanent injury, and he offered to euthanize him.
My wife and I are soft touches, and extremely unrealistic. We decided that we would take the kitten home, hand feed him and treat his injuries. Dr. Kutsch told us that we would be putting the kitten through too much pain and advised us not to do so. We decided we had to try.
When we got the kitten home, we went to work immediately. First, we fed the kitten from a bottle with formula that was recommended to us by the doctor, and continued to feed him every two hours. The kitten was kept warm by placing him on a heating pad covered by layers of towels, or by letting Fuzzbutt baby-sit (a habit that endeared him to the mothers we encountered). We gave him small amounts of vegetable oil in his formula to keep him regular.
It was Damien, the oldest son, who named him Maverick for reasons that are forgotten today. Maverick ruled our schedules for the first month he was with us; gradually, he got stronger and began to respond to the treatment. He started to walk around the bedroom that served as his sick bay, clumsily at first and then with increased strength. His left hind leg, broken and badly healed, became less of a deterrent to him as time passed. He began to use a liter box, something he had not been trained to do by his mother. Maverick drank formula from a bowl, and then moved on to eating soft foods. He gained no less than an ounce a day for the first month.
Six weeks to the day from his arrival to our house, we took him back to see Dr. Kutsch. Maverick weighed in at just less than five pounds, his gums and teeth were healthy and his general health good. By then, he was eating solid food. Dr. Kutsch drew blood and reported to us later that the results were good. His hind leg was no longer hampered his ability to walk, and he had begun to show great affection to us and the other four cats in our home. Dr. Kutsch was amazed at the results of our work; he almost didn't believe it was the same cat. Since he was wrong about Maverick's ability to survive, and since he is a soft touch himself, he didn't charge us for the office visit.
The next few months and years were highly rewarding. Maverick was a very active and social animal. You would never have known that he'd almost died a few short weeks after his birth from the abuse inflicted on him by humans. He was more out-going that any other cat in the house. He loved to sit in the window and chatter at the birds, or to stretch out in the warmth of a sunbeam. He may have been a late bloomer, but he worked fiercely to catch up with the other cats in the house.
A scant two days before taking him in to get neutered on the four month anniversary of his arrival at The Cat House, he impregnated Baby, a female who came to us pregnant and had just finished nursing her first liter (and who was due to be spayed the following week). He proved to be a loving and attentive father, spending time with Baby during and after the birth, and playing with the three kittens after they grew up.
Maverick lived for five long and productive years with us before he began to vomit after eating, and would sometimes vomit blood. A visit to Dr. Kutsch verified our worst fears: Maverick suffered from a herniated stomach. Dr. Kutsch told us that the injury was probably related to the gross neglect Maverick had suffered as a kitten, and that there was no way for us to have predicted his illness. After a painful discussion among the children, the doctor and ourselves, it was decided to end Maverick's suffering by giving him a dignified and painless release from life. He was the first cat that I had ever had put to sleep.
We buried him under an elm tree in our yard, and placed a large limestone rock over him to serve as a marker. Maverick's memory lives on with us in the body of his son, Colombo. He was a great teacher, an irrepressible spirit, and his impact on us was profound. We were glad to have had the opportunity to know and love him, even though he broke my heart by dying when he should have lived.
Brian Baker is a writer and animal rights proponent. He has been published locally and nationally, most notably in Chicken Soup for the Cat Lover's Soul. Currently, Baker spends his time working with a local organization (www.safehavenforpets.org) that not only operates a shelter for animals but also does extensive work with feral cats. To exchange correspondence with the author, write to email@example.com or firstname.lastname@example.org