Note to those who have never known the love of an animal: substitute the image of a child in poverty for every mention of a kitten in the following.
Turtleback, who was found dead a week or two ago, shown here as a five week old kitten playing with his mother’s tail, had three siblings. Two girls and his brother Whitefoot.
Turtleback was interactive and very interested in humans, but did not let a human touch him. Once when he was lying close by, watching Whitefoot brush me with his tail, I put my hand close to him and he raised a soft paw, his claws retracted, and gently but firmly swatted my hand away. I thought this a very noble gesture on his part, since he had a fist full of claws as sharp as hypodermic syringes in that paw. I’ve never known a kitten to show this kind of restraint. It was touching and spoke well of his character.
His brother Whitefoot was that rare feral kitten who loves to be petted by humans. He was the dominant kitten of the litter, much bigger than the rest, and he was the most friendly. He was always ready to play, to roll over to have his belly scratched, he’d rub his face happily against Sekhnet and me, even if he didn’t want food. As a tiny kitten he was already adept at the tail caress. Naturally his affectionate nature endeared him to us. Turtleback often sat close by, clearly interested, but not yet ready to try this tenderness with another species.
Because these kittens depend on us for food, greet us happily when we bring their food, because they live in the garden and sit close by Sekhnet, watching her as she works, because they are beautiful, mysterious, playful little creatures seemingly doomed to live very short lives, it is easy to grow attached to them. We try our best not to, since they rarely live beyond five or six months and we can do little to get them adopted as pets. It is hardest to keep this detached view in the case of a kitten like Whitefoot, who so clearly wants our affection and so freely gives us his. He was born wanting to be a pet, ready to make the deal of his love for kindness, safety and a full cat’s life.
Those are Sekhnet’s legs and garden shoes. She captioned this recent photo “Handsome 4 1/2 month old cool cat seeking contact…” He is lying, as familiar cats often do, partially using a human as a pillow. One white foot is stretched out making contact with the human’s other leg.
Think now for a moment, not of a doomed kitten wanting love, but of a tiny human child doomed to die because people rich enough to prevent her misery cannot be bothered to look at her tiny hopeful face and do what any of them would want done for them. In defense of the world of self-serving competitive “winners”, that poor baby’s face is one tiny hopeful face among billions, after all.
A woman spraying organic insecticide on Sekhnet’s fruit trees was the one who called to tell us Turtleback was dead. She was very upset to find his little corpse and contacted her friend, a cat rescue person, about getting the other kittens adopted, or at the very least, spayed, neutered and given shots against the major diseases that kill cats who live outside. Her friend came by a few days later and gave us instructions. She would trap the kittens and take them to the vet.
On the appointed day she reported two captured: Whitefoot and his father, a strange, sharklike looking cat with wide shoulders and a massive head. His coat is mostly white, but he has a few large, ill-placed spots that do nothing for his looks. Sekhnet calls him Spot and chased him from her garden for a long time, until she saw him and Mother Kitten nuzzling one day and realized he was the father of all these kittens. He comes by once in a while for a feed, but is very wary, as any feral cat that grows to adulthood should be. Sekhnet noted that he has enormous balls. For all we know he rules a large area and has as many offspring as Genghis Khan.
Spot and Whitefoot were at the vet’s, their operations done. The woman was coming back soon to try to trap the females. The next day she reported that Spot was fine, eating well and almost ready to be released back to his former domain. I did some reading on cats and learned that his status would probably be very quickly challenged by a male cat with balls. Spot, castrated, would lose status and the aggressiveness necessary to defend his turf. Nature is cruel that way, or, at the very least, indifferent.
Whitefoot was not coming out of the anesthesia, we were told. They were keeping a close eye on him. The woman meanwhile dropped Spot off. He hasn’t been seen since. The two remaining sisters were suddenly staying much closer to Sekhnet. The bold little female who looks like Whitefoot, and faces off Mama Kitten when her mother gets aggressive, was now rubbing against Sekhnet and letting herself be petted. There are a few adorable little phone videos of this loving exchange.
Whitefoot, meanwhile, reportedly came groggily out of his comatose state and was showing affection to the people attending him. They all saw this handsome little feral had all the qualities to be quickly adopted as a pet. He was dehydrated, they gave him an IV. He was trying to eat a little but didn’t have much appetite (which made Sekhnet cry because he always ate with gusto, more like a dog than a cat in his eating habits). The cat rescue woman was beside herself with worry over Whitefoot and every detailed report from the vet she sent Sekhnet released a new wave of sorrow. The details were all horrifying.
It was possibly an error in the amount of anesthesia given the small kitten. Nobody at the vet’s was close to admitting a mistake could have been made. We don’t admit such things here in the USA, USA! An apology is an admission of liability here. It’s a tic, really, since no legal action can be brought against a veterinarian for accidentally killing a patient. The remedy at law, for the loss of a cat, is another cat of equal or greater value. The value of a soul? A trifle with which the law does not concern itself. Something I immediately realize is necessary to the speedy administration of justice, most of which revolves around actual, quantifiable economic harm.
The cat rescuer, a religious woman who takes a very different view of the value of each tiny soul, was inconsolable about the critical state her actions had seemingly put Whitefoot into. I am, for better and worse, a man– meaning I have been trained since my earliest days to show how little I give a shit about emotionally difficult things that I can’t control, while somehow not being a monster (if possible). I’d skim these long, agonized texts from the cat rescuer that Sekhnet would forward and I realized Whitefoot was a goner, no matter how you sliced it. It made me very sad, but my job was to console the inconsolable Sekhnet.
Over the next few days, Whitefoot in critical condition, in a cage, on life support, the texts and veterinary theories kept coming. Decreased liver function, increased bilirubin, a possible heart issue. The woman had already spent close to a thousand dollars on medical tests and life-saving treatments for Whitefoot. She had him “ambuvetted” to her own veterinarian, who held out some hope for the little cat’s survival.
It is worth noting here again that 95% of Mama Kitten’s more than twenty kittens do not survive beyond six months. We are going to have Mama Kitten “fixed” as soon as this latest newborn has been weaned.
A few more days, Whitefoot listless, enlarged heart, decreased lung capacity, only 25%, further tests. In the end the question was whether it was worth keeping him alive if he was suffering with no hope of recovering to lead a decent cat life. This was not a question, really, but the cat rescue woman was desperately trying not to give up hope.
Turtleback looking on as his little sister attacks Whitefoot, who does not take the attack lying down.
The vet and the cat rescue woman decided there was no hope for Whitefoot, and so, after almost a week trying to save him, they gave him a quick, peaceful death yesterday afternoon. The cat rescue woman arranged for a private cremation, so that the one ounce box of ashes would contain only the mortal remains of Whitefoot. She wanted to know if we wanted the ashes. She was praying over him and was prepared to bury the ashes in her own yard. We are sure she’ll give him a proper burial.
Sekhnet cried. I was very sad, but this news yesterday was not really news, and so my only tears are the metaphorical ones here, writing this poignant post. Poignant only to those who know the caress of a cat’s tail.
Sekhnet’s caption: The sweet, energetic 4 and a half month old semi stray who wrapped his little body around my leg seeking affection; now a stiff baby corpse and me, a terribly sad human…
This morning, as an exhausted Sekhnet slept late (she drove for hours yesterday on less than two hours’ sleep) , I went down to feed the kittens. Mama Kitten jumped up on to the rusty metal table where we petted each other a little and I gave her some food. The two girls had some food. The little one who looks like Whitefoot, who had always been wary of me, was suddenly rubbing against my legs. I sat down and she came over to be petted. I obliged her.
As I came back inside to finish this piece I heard the cries of a hawk and went downstairs to… I don’t know what. From the hawk’s point of view, he has his own problems, eating being one of the main ones. For all I know his cries were hunger pangs. My new friend popped out from her hiding place into the open and started toward me. I shooed her away. Go hide, I told her. Might as well have told her to stop being so delicious.