366 Days of Gratitude and Good Things: Day 11

Wow. Don’t tell me I’ve run out of topics after only 10 days. Can’t be. The world is much much bigger than that.

On the other hand, this is really the first day where absolutely nothing has popped up and waved and said, “ME! Write about ME today!”

Sit back a minute. Think. Let my mind drift a bit, maybe this, no, not feelin’ that topic today, okay maybe this, yes, more like it, but not quite, and then one of the cats…

That’s it. Their vet.

At the time I was losing the house, I had fourteen cats. Yes, I know, “crazy cat lady territory there, pardner, thought you had more sense,” yada yada yada. The truth is that I was so far down the rabbit hole of my own problems, I couldn’t see much of anything else.

You see, I already had four cats, a perfectly reasonable number (or so it felt then, and still feels today): Q, the Elder Beast, my Viking Longcat (so christened by Steve because when Q stretched out to his full length, he looked about four feet long nose to tail, twenty-two pounds or so of absolute gray-tabby love; Bastet, a tortoiseshell who showed up on my front porch one day, obviously either a nursing mother or a momcat whose kittens were just weaned, or else it’s unlikely she’d have left them long enough to sit and let me pet her while she scarfed down as much kitty kibble as she could; Waffle, all or at least part Maine Coon based on the quantity of fur, four or five years old when she showed up as if being in my back yard was the most logical place in the world for her, named Waffle because I waffled about whether or not to take her in…until the first heavy rain of the season; and Scooter, who had sat under a car across the street and nearly half a block down and HOWLED until I found her and managed to tempt her out of the car’s undercarriage with some canned food — and who was apparently not quite weaned, because first tried to nurse on the back of my hand, then the palm, then my inner arm, until finally she nestled on my shoulder and nursed on my neck.

Kitten hickeys. Okay, not really, but not that she didn’t try. And all the time I had her, she would every now and then settle on my chest and nurse on my neck.

So that was the status quo until I started feeding another stray in about April of 2008, a pastel calico (gray with patches of cream and ginger, rather than white with black and orange) with a ginger blaze over one eye and a half-white face like a Phantom of the Opera mask. And she had moved in under my house with a litter of kittens, two of whom disappeared and three of whom I caught with the perfectly rational intention of socializing them to the point they were adoptable.

Unfortunately, they didn’t want to socialize with anyone but me, and in the meantime Momcat Phantom got pregnant again and it would have been more expensive to have her spayed at that point, not to mention more dangerous for her, so I didn’t take her in and there was another litter, and I managed to get everyone moved into the garage before the bad weather hit, thinking that would preclude additional kittens. And it would have, if Phantom hadn’t manage to streak past me on Inauguration Day 2009.

She was only gone 24 hours, but that was long enough. And again, by the time I realized it (“should have assumed it”, yeah, bite me), I was afraid trying to catch her would backfire and scare Second Litter o’ Kittens past being able to socialize them, and so I moved them into the house and let Phantom have the garage to herself (spent much time with her every day of course) and then Litter the Third and obvious, obvious post-birth problems for Phantom and got her and all the newborns to the vet, lost her…

Six newborn kittens, orphaned. I left them at the vet’s, one of the techs taking them home every night to give them their every-two-hour feedings, and when I took them home, I was so stressed about taking care of them I got maybe 4 hours of sleep out of 65, almost no food, ended up dehydrated (me, not the kittens)… The vet said I could bring them back in if I needed to be gone for more than a few hours and they’d feed them for me, so I did, having plans the Saturday after I took them home.

One of the kittens, one of the three runts, died that day. I could see she wasn’t doing well when I was putting them into the carrier, drove as fast as I could to the vet’s and alerted them, they said they’d do what they could…but when I got where I was going, I called to check on her and she had died. Another of the runts died the next week, but the third hung on despite looking more like a bedraggled rat than a kitten, and the other three were strong and healthy.

I, of course, was so afraid that I’d done something wrong, I didn’t feel safe taking them home again, so they boarded at the vet’s until they were all on solid food.

Which was the beginning of owing my veterinarian more than $10,000 dollars. Before it got that high, when it was only boarding the kittens, and then the Great Upper-Respiratory Debacle of 2009 — 9 cats of varying ages in the hospital, plus the itty-bitties for a few days, and one of the vets said he was glad most of them were responding to treatment because they’d used all their IV pumps for the ones that weren’t, and the surgery to remove an antibiotic injection site injury from one of them, and then in 2010 Waffle developed a UTI, and Q developed hypoparathyroid disease (weeks in and out of the hospital before it was clear his quality of life was…well, crap, and it wasn’t fair to him to keep putting him through treatments that could never solve the problem)…when it was only these things on my tab and I was filing for bankruptcy because, of course, the rest of my life was crumbling, I told the vet that as a point of principle, I wasn’t including my debt to him in my filing; said I didn’t know how long it would take, but I’d pay him for everything.

And he believed me, because I’d been taking my pets there since before my mom died, and it was the two of us taking our pets in to the new vet.

Fast forward through 2011, and I’m scrambling to find homes for at least some of the cats because I was going to be able to rent a room from a friend of a friend and fourteen cats simply wasn’t going to work. Lost the house, made the move — moving the cats in the dead of night in order to avoid nosy neighbors and setting of the landlord’s radar — and still looked for homes for them, or most of them. I could keep four, friend of friend said, and if you don’t think that was the pet owner’s version of Sophie’s choice, you’d be wrong wrong wrongity wrong wrong.

No, of course I didn’t blame friend of friend. I was being given absolutely as much slack as it was possible to grant at that time, and I appreciated the hell out of it. Still do. Large heap of gratitude to you, friend of friend who is now my friend as well, if you read this — thank you, so very much.

Anyway, looking for homes, other friends polling their friends on my kitties’ behalf, I called every rescue organization I could find. One friend from the job at the company that folded without warning in late summer of 2011 put me in touch with one of her friends, who was able to adopt Waffle and one of the cats from Litter the Third. And I had decided which four I’d keep: the three from the litter Phantom had moved into the crawlspace under the house, since they were the least socialized and therefore least likely to be adoptable, and the last surviving runt of Phantom’s last litter, who’s a pastel calico like her momcat.

Yes, this means I was giving up cats I’d had for several years. I couldn’t find any rescue group to take any of the remaining 8, and so I had to surrender them to the local humane society.

It very nearly broke me. These wee creatures had trusted me; for some, I had rescued them and for others, mine was the only home they’d ever known. And when three of the ones I’d surrendered were put down because one of the vets decided they weren’t socialized enough to be adoptable — after giving them barely a week to make the transition from free run of a house to free run of a large room to tiny little cages and complete strangers…

I don’t think I’ll ever get over the guilt. I did the best I could with what I had, but…yeah…rather broken. Bit not good.

And then, because the universe occasionally has a fucking macabre sense of humor, I lost the room and became homeless. And my last four cats, Garbo and Minerva and Houdini and Poppet, went back to my vet’s.

He let me board them for a bit over six months. Which is what drove the debt into the five-figure range, even with him giving me every single price break he could. It was no picnic for anyone, the cats living in cages and me visiting (while I still had a car), afraid to cross paths with the vet lest he tell me I had to move my cats because I had nowhere else to take them and knowing they were there and safe was about the only thing that kept me sane, some days.

But we all made it through, and in 2012 I got the job I have now, and was able to get my cats back, and after I passed my probation I set up automatic payments to the vet, every two weeks like clockwork. I still don’t know how long it will take to repay him, but I will.

Because he saved my cats for me.

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5 Comments

Filed under 366 Days, cats, gratitude, homelessness

5 responses to “366 Days of Gratitude and Good Things: Day 11

  1. Kim

    Aye… This Vet-man must be a saint. And his office staff as well. I remember when you were going through this. Made me sad, too. Love you, Syd.

  2. Most days my cats save me. I’ve only had 7 at the most and eventually got down to 4 and then Izzy came along. When Fuzzy and Mimi died (they were the last of my So Cal kitties) I knew to take in anymore would be not fair to the cats….I’m old and no one wants my cats. Then Emma started having seizures and cat life changed. Now, because Izzy hates Emma and Guido they switch parts of the house every other day, Izzy is behind baby gates at some point every day…and I tell all 3 of them my worries and cry only when I am with them….and they never tell anyone what I have said. You are really a wonderful kitty mom, Syd.

  3. jp

    You not only did your best with what you had, you went above and beyond and I was so happy when we got to the part where you got your cats back. Now that is a happy ending. Oh, and the kitty hickeys sound adorable,

  4. you did your best..no one can ask foe more..kitty hickeys..love that.

  5. Syd

    Thank you, friends. {{{hugs}}}

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