In Loving Memory of My Best Friend: Tinker Toy
Ok, so this is her story, not mine, but I'm the one left
behind hurting. She's the one in the cold ground that I hear crying for
me in the middle of the night.
See, it all started nine and a half years ago like this. A beautiful May morning and a lady getting her oil changed. She saw a blob on the ground that moved. Just a little blob but it intrigued her so she scooped it up in a tissue and went across the street to the Vet's office where I worked as office manager. The tech cleaned it up, the cord and placenta were still attached, and told her it was a little kitten. He said it looked like it had been put together by a five year old with a Tinker Toy set. No two legs were the same color, both ears were different - she wasn't a calico or a tabby. She was both! The lady said she didn't want it, just wanted to know what it was.
The Doctor was in on it by that time and said "Well, folks, what do we want to do with it? Anyone want to wake up every two hours to feed it 24 hours a day?" We all said we didn't want it to die, it had survived despite the odds so far. So, living alone and not having many responsibilities, I volunteered. "Just until we find a home for her" I said. The Doctor said that it might not come to that, she probably wouldn't survive anyway. Might as well try.....
So, after an examination, the Doctor pronounced her in reasonably good health - for a preemie. We made her a small box with a heating pad, then a receiving blanket. A client had made a yarn animal that was soft and fluffy and warm. We put her on that and then into her new home. Then heated up some KMR, (kitten milk replacement), dipped a small cloth strip in it and tried to see if she would suckle it. She sure did! We moved up to an eye dropper and she gobbled it down one tiny drop at a time. Doctor said that now we needed to make her void and eliminate. How do you do that I asked. Simple, he said. Just like her mother does. How's that? Stimulate her genitals. What??? Warm witch hazel on a cotton ball stroked across her stomach. She was no bigger than a man's thumb and didn't weigh enough to register on a postal scale! I kept checking on her every five minutes. Doctor said she really didn't need that much care, but she got her two hour feeding right on time through out the day.
That evening, I took the box with it's little package home. And so began the first night. Set the alarm for two hours. Wake up, zap the KMR 1/2 second in the micro, test it, pick the tiny thing up, hold it close in my palm to keep it warm and start feeding with a nurser. Put her back down to sleep and crawl back into bed myself, with her box right next to me on the bedside table. And on throughout the night.
We made it! She was still alive and kicking on the ride in to work the next morning. Everyone was surprised, but pleased. I just called her the Baby and kept peeking in and picking her up all day long. I would hold her in my hand, keep her warm and feed her in between my duties at work. She really took to it. She couldn't see or hear, purr or even walk. Wow, was she helpless! But you could tell by the way she snuggled into your palm that she was happy. But I wasn't going to get attached! Nooo, not me!.
After about 10 days of near sleepless nights, really full work hours, and long wonderful weekends holding her, her ears started to open. I began talking to her. Simple words, like to a child. She would nuzzle around her box on unsteady legs and crawl her way to my voice. She knew that meant food and warmth. When her left eye opened it was celebration day at work. Then her right eye. The baby could see and hear now and was starting to actually walk, although on very unsteady legs. The feedings kept up every two hours, 24/7, but were very enjoyable. I began to carry her around on my left shoulder, cupping her with my left hand while I worked. She was awake now more than she slept. That went for nights too. I had to switch her from her natural nighttime instincts to a more daytime schedule. That meant keeping her awake more in the daytime. She did just fine.
Celebration Day - One Eye Open!!
Soon she was scratching at the sides of her box, asking to be let out. I cut two vertical slits two inches apart to make a ramp she could climb up and down on her own. At first she would simply stand at the opening and stare at me. Working away, I would feel her stare, turn around, put down my hand and she would crawl into it and it was "up elevator" to my shoulder. From there she could watch everything that went on. When she started getting restless, I would put her down in a secure place and let her wander. Soon there were no secure places to keep her. She would be all over the reception area if I would let her.
Tinker Toy's House
We had to keep her away from all other animals. Living in an animal hospital during the day exposed her to any and all diseases. She had no natural immunities, never having suckled from a mother. She couldn't be inoculated because she was much too young and small. So every time I handled another animal I had to go wash, then put a clean towel on my shoulder for her. By this time Baby just wouldn't do. So she became Tinker Toy. Just what she looked like. Nothing matched. Only her eyes were the same. A beautiful dark yellow that could just stare at you until you figured out what she meant. I called her Toy. Tinker sounded too much like Stinker, and that she wasn't! She never meowed, only stared. I could feel that stare from any room in the clinic. She had mastered mind control!
Celebration Day again. Toy was now four weeks old and could eat a warm mixture of KMR and canned kitten food. She could also have the first of many inoculations. I bravely held her while the tech gave her the first shot. Oh, she didn't like that. She suffered it, turned her head to me and glared at me. How dare I put her through such indignity. But more was to come. Living inside, she had no way to remove the dander so it was now bath time. I couldn't do it. Kim, a tech, had to bathe her and clip her nails. Did I ever get some looks when that was all over! Kim had plenty of scratches to show for it too. Our Tinker Toy was no docile little wimp. And she had found her voice! Loud and clear. When she was all dressed up in a bow and fluffed up she sat on the counter and pleaded with me by making little noises. Mew, mew, mew. Short and quiet, it was a call of distress.
We showed her off to everyone that came in. They thought she was so adorable, but she just wouldn't go to anyone. If they went to pick her up she would let out those little mews and stare at me and wiggle away. She never went so far as to scratch anyone or bite, but she let them know she didn't want any part of them. Needless to say, that turned off any expectant adopter. When she passed six weeks and could eat solid food on her own, it was clear - she only wanted one owner. And I didn't want anyone else to touch her. She was mine and I was hers.
And so started a life together. More shots, rides to and from work, days spent teaching her how to play and watching her scamper around under everyone's feet. Somehow she never got stepped on, but by two months I had to start leaving her at home during the day. That really hurt. Both of us. In just eight weeks we had gotten into a routine, now it was broken. I would hurry home to find her by the window waiting for me. Play time. Snuggle time, then sleep time. She showed her affection for me by laying her little head on the back or side of my hand. She filled my empty hours, but she had nothing to do during the day. She became frustrated and would just pace back and forth in front of the door, wanting to get out of the apartment. I knew that an outside cat had few chances for survival and I wasn't going to put her to that disadvantage. An inside cat only. She stopped eating. She tore the apartment to shreds. She wanted OUT. I made my mistake by taking her out. Her feet touched grass for the first time and yes, cat's faces do have expressions. This one was one of surprise! Then we graduated to actual dirt. She rolled and rolled, played and dug. But I wouldn't let her out without me.
That only lasted another month. I would open the door and she was gone, running and scampering to her play area. She would look back to see if I was there, then run on. The area was fairly safe, so soon I rigged the sliding glass door to stay open a few inches so she could come and go. Doctor said that some cats just couldn't be kept caged inside. It was much safer for them, but some just had to get free. She was one of those. She developed her own routine and 'rounds'. When I came home she was now waiting by my parking place for me. She would lead me for a long walk to all of the places she had been that day. She would stop at a tree, turn and look at me as if to say something, then go on to a bush or rock and do the same thing. I never actually understood her, but it was easy to see that she was trying to tell me something! Then we would go back home and get our dinners. Doctor said that since she was obviously going to be my cat, he would cover all expenses through spaying, but from then on, the vet bills would be mine. I quickly agreed.
At six months, that day finally came. Doctor kindly said that I could have the morning off so I wouldn't be right there for the operation, but I bravely said I could handle it. I was as anxious as a real mother. I could barely concentrate on my job as the minutes ticked by. Then the tech came and said that she was out of surgery and was waking up. Doctor said that normally with a kitten that small (she was only 3.5 lbs) he would keep her overnight, but he was sure that she would be ok if I took her home. It was better that way he said, otherwise he knew I would stay at the clinic all night! And I probably would have.
About two years went by. I transferred to another clinic, but Doctor was still her only vet. (he was also the only doctor that could handle that little tiger!) He even put W on her file, meaning watch out, she'll bite. She had reached her full weight of 5 pounds and could be five pounds of terror when she wanted to. I came home one evening, she met me as usual, took me out for our walk and then wanted to stay out. Our rule was that she could come and go for the daylight hours, but she had to stay in or be with me for the nighttime. Well, I let her out. She didn't come home. I didn't sleep that night, just kept going outside and calling her. She always came when I called her - even though she often made it known that she didn't like being summoned. She didn't this time. I had to go to work the next morning, but I assured myself that she was just being a "teenager" and showing her independence and would be home as usual when I returned. She wasn't. I walked the streets with a friend looking under bushes for her little dead body and calling and calling. No Toy. Anywhere. The next day was Saturday. I went with her picture to the Humane Society, put up posters, offered rewards. My friend and I went door to door with her picture. Many people had seen her in the past, but not in the last few days. By Saturday night I was cried out. My heart was broken. Where was she? Was she crying for me? Did she need my help? I knew deep in my heart that she hadn't run away. She would be home if she could.
Sunday morning, at 6am, after three sleepless nights, I heard that little mew, mew, mew. The distress call. My Toy was there needing me. She crawled onto the patio using only her two front paws. I ran out, checked her over, sobbing the entire time, and found a problem with her left leg. I gently carried her inside, fixed her some food and water and called Doctor. He was very glad to hear that she had been found and said he would meet me at the clinic immediately. Not giving her any more time to eat, I scooped her up and sped her to the clinic. "Don't worry sweetheart, Mommy will make it all better. It's ok, we'll fix whatever it is." She laid her little head on my hand and rested. We took x-rays and found a bullet from a .22 lodged near her left hip bone. Doctor deadened the area and removed the slug. He said it looked as if it had been in there for a day or two. It had taken that long for her to crawl her way home. Someone had shot my little one!. Thank goodness it was from a distance or it would have killed her. She had crawled herself home. Home where she knew she would be safe. Home where love was. I decided it was time to move.
I found a very nice apartment not far from my new job. This one had a fenced in patio and loads of play areas. Beautiful trees, cleared grounds and lots of birds, squirrels and lizards for her to play with. She adapted immediately. She would be laying atop the wooden privacy fence waiting for me to come home. Then we had new rounds to walk. New people to meet. Toy didn't know danger, even after that horrifying incident! She would walk into anyone's open door, car or apartment, look around, then on to the next place to explore. Once I got a phone call from a neighbor. "Karel, you'd better come and get your cat." Huh? The neighbor was calling from the grocery store. Toy had gotten into her car, and she had shooed her out, started up the car and left for the store. When she got there she got out of the car and was startled to see Toy unhook her claws from the convertible top and calmly jump down. Toy had ridden two miles on the top of that car!
One evening Toy wasn't there to meet me. Knowing her as well as I did, I started to call for her. I went to every closed door in the complex and called her name. Finally, from the maintenance room, I heard faintly that little mew, mew, mew. The manager was not too pleased to have to open it up for me. But Toy was very happy to be free again. Did that teach her? No. Things like that happened at least twice a year. She was a free spirit and demanded her right to anywhere and everywhere. If she couldn't do exactly what she wanted to do, she would stop eating and actually make herself sick. Many a night I spent under a tree trying to coax her down, not knowing how on earth she got up there. Yet she always came out the winner. And she always knew I'd fix it somehow.
In nine years Toy used up eight of her nine lives. By her ninth birthday, she was beginning to settle down. We celebrated with the usual "cake" made out of her favorite tuna topped with little treats. She had that every year on her day. Somehow she knew that day was special as soon as she smelled the tuna. Then we were off. She would wait in the car while I shopped, go to the Laundromat with me, drive over to Mom's and just anywhere I went, she would go. That girl could read my mind. I just wished that I could read hers as well. We tried though. If ever there was ESP between animal and human this was it.
In October of her ninth year she started to cough. Thinking furballs, I fed her catlax. She still coughed. I treated her for an upper respiratory infection. The coughing got better, but she seemed to be breathing harder than usual. She didn't run as much, or be as quick to play. She's getting old I thought. Gee, she's as old as me now. I guess we're both slowing down. Toy slowed down further and her breathing became more labored. Doctor had moved to Missouri by that time and when the treatments by other vets didn't work, I called him. He said to try Primatine, that maybe she had developed asthma. It worked only a little. We then tried Prednisone with the Primatine. She perked up some, but her breathing got steadily worse. One morning she began to turn blue. I called my friend, sobbing, and she said she would meet me at the local vet's office. It was a 35 minute ride and I could hardly see to drive I was crying so hard. Please Toy, hang on. Please, please, please. Whatever it is, we'll fix it. Mommy will take care of you. We'll make it all better. She assured me that she understood by laying her little head against my hand. They were waiting for her when we ran in, me holding her close and sobbing. I had to let go of her so they could take her to x-ray. It was like taking part of me away....cutting me into pieces. I didn't hear a sound from her in the other room. Usually she would be snarling and hissing at everyone who tried to touch her. I knew that the silence was bad. Very bad. But it would be ok. She always made it ok. She's got a good ten years to go. She'll be ok.
The doctor came out and told me that I had better look at the x-rays. Where two clear lungs should have been were two black blobs. The doctor said that a fungus had apparently invaded her lungs and she was in serious distress. In shock I asked the doctor what could be done. Nothing. Nothing. I turned and walked back to the examining room where she was waiting for me. She gave me three faint little mew, mew, mews. I knew this time what she was telling me. It wasn't going to be ok.
I said those horrible words to the doctor. Please put her down. I did that. I said those words. I said them about my baby, my sidekick, my companion, my friend. The doctor said yes, it's the right thing to do. Oh, my god, how can I stand this. I held her while the tech readied the needle and held out her right paw for the doctor to slip the injection in. Toy held her head to my hand, just as she had done to show her affection for all those years. The needle went in and Toy went limp in my arms.
She was gone. Gone. I wrapped her little body in her blanket, sobbing, and carried her out to the car, put her in my lap and started to drive. My friend had called my mom to let her know that I was on my way. How I made those forty or so miles through city traffic to the place I grew up I'll never know, but I did. I gently laid her on the ground and went to get the shovel. I had to dig her grave myself. It was something I had to do. I tore that ground up and dug a hole halfway to china. My mom stood there, passing me tissues while I furiously dug. I know she felt for me and also for Toy. Mom knew I had to do this. I held her little body close for the last time, sitting on the ground rocking back and forth. The words to the Door's song The End came to me. This was the end my little friend. I laid her gently into the ground and started piling that awful dirt on top of her. When it came to packing down the earth, Mom stopped me and said she would take it from there. I walked away from her grave, got in the car and drove home.
Home? This is home? Cold, lonely, empty without her. I thought there would be more time together! I'm angry. I didn't know it would hurt this bad. No, not this bad, not like a vise squeezing my heart. Guilt. Oh, oh, the guilt.....Should I have waited? Should I have done that horrible thing sooner? Where did that fungus come from? Something I brought home? Why did I ever let her go outside the first time? Had she suffered because of me? I thought we would have more time together!! I'm not prepared, I'm not ready. You're too young to die. I thought we would have more time together........
Yes, another little one will find me - some day. Another cat or maybe a dog. Toy was neither. She wasn't an animal, she was my other half, part of me. I know she's safe and out of pain, no more distress. She is at the Rainbow Bridge waiting for me and while she's waiting she's playing in the sun, making her rounds and waiting to show them to me. But I am empty....nothing but pain in my soul. My sunshine is gone. I have beautiful pictures and memories, but they are cold, empty. And so I write this, hoping to purge the pain. It doesn't work, months later, it doesn't work.
And still I hear those little sounds at night.......mew, mew, mew.
To see more pictures of Tinker Toy, visit her online photo album at Webshots.
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