When I was a teenager, my aunt had a friend who could not say no to a cat. She took in old ones and young ones, exotic ones and feral ones. The cats clearly owned the house, sitting on the dining room table and the kitchen counters, preventing the humans from preparing meals in their own house; which explained all of the take-out menus. These were well fed cats, some over twenty pounds. But then there was Katie; she was the anomaly. Katie was a small, ill behaved, underfed specimen with no social skills, who lived under the bed in the guest room and was terrified of humans and animals alike.
My aunt’s friend was going away for a few days and, while she could leave out food and litter boxes for the sociable cats, and have a neighbor come in to check on them, Katie needed special care. So I was called into service.
Mom and I brought Katie home in a cat carrier and brought her to my bedroom and closed the door so that our dog, Dina, couldn’t come in. Dina was a forty-five pound black Lab mix and I’m pretty sure Katie was more of a danger to her than the other way around. Dina didn’t like the arrangement at all, because my room was her room. But I felt a responsibility to Katie, not to traumatize her any further. Who knew what her early life had been like to make her so frightened and angry?
I had a platform bed pushed into the corner of my room and immediately Katie found the L shaped tunnel it made against the wall, and scurried inside. I placed her litter box at one end and her food and water bowls at the other end. If I dared to reach my hand in, she’d hiss at me from the darkness. She came out to pee and eat and drink when I was sleeping or out of the room, and the rest of the time I just heard her, licking her paws, scratching the carpet, and mumbling to herself.
I made a point of taking Dina out for long walks to compensate for not letting her into my room. And on our walks, I tried to brainstorm ways to reach Katie. I pictured myself as a cat whisperer, solving all of her problems in the four days she would stay with me, and going on to become a Vet, or a therapist, or Mother Theresa. Dina just hoped the long walks would continue after the interloper left.
Katie was very hard to like. First of all, she was a cat, and I am allergic to cats. I don’t think I knew that before I agreed to cat sit, but maybe I did and I just felt too guilty to say no. My eyes water and I feel itchy all over, on my arms and lips and in my throat. I get nauseous and itchy just seeing cats on TV.
Maybe, given more time, Katie would have learned to trust me, but four days was not enough to make a dent. I was relieved when she left, and I felt guilty for that too.
A few years later, my aunt and I volunteered at the local animal shelter, and we were sent to the cat apartments to help socialize them. I saw it as a chance to make up for my failure with Katie. There were three or four cats in each apartment and they had beds and hammocks and scratching posts and climbing towers. But they weren’t sure about humans and my job was to go from group to group and sit with them for a while and let them get used to me.
I had learned more about neurotic animals by then, and I didn’t take it personally when the cats stayed back or stared at me for five minutes straight, waiting for me to impress them.
Then came kitten season and suddenly there were three or four litters in crates in the front room of the shelter, where visitors could see and adopt them right away. I was overwhelmed by all of them, and by the fact that, if not for some kind stranger, they would all have been left on the streets, to die, or to become like Katie.
I sat there, feeding the smallest kitten with a medicine dropper and I felt like I could barely breathe from grief, from responsibility, from anxiety that the problem was too big to ever be solved, especially by me, or by anything I could do.
The little kitten climbed up my sweater and the head of the volunteers told me she probably wouldn’t survive twenty four hours, despite my ministrations. I felt sick and itchy and ready to climb out of my skin and I wanted to believe it was just my allergies, as the kitten scratched my face, asking for my full attention.
All I could do was give her food and kisses, and hope.
Happy Mother’s day to all of the dog and cat (and piggy) mommies and all of the mommies of little humans, and especially to my own Mommy!
Happy Mother’s Day to you too and all mom’s of the wold. Thanks for a wonderful story – I was totally riveted.
Remember, it is said that dogs have masters and cats have staff.
One of my dogs, Cricket, would scoff at the idea of any human being her master. She would write me out a to do list every day, if she could find an app for that.
I forgot to tell you something the last time I replied to one of your stories. If I did replied to one of your stories. In my dotage, I’m not quite sure. Hell, I’m not quite sure if I even got outta bed this morning. This could all be an hallucination. Anyway, you are a very fine writer.
Thank you very much. If this is a hallucination, then I’m enjoying it.
Realising that certain problems are way too big for us to solve is a very uncomfortable feeling especially if you are someone like me who likes to solve big problems.
I enjoyed your post very much. There was a lot of you in there and I’m grateful for the insight.
Thank you. The hard part for me is finding the line between accepting that there are problems I can’t solve, and feeling hopeless about not being able to solve them. Writing about them seems to help be stay above the line.
awesome post Rachel awesome post and happy Mother’s day to you as well
Happy mother’s day! And thank you!
Reblogged this on Linda's New Garden & Wildlife Journey and commented:
Wonderful post! I never grew up with cats because my Mom pretends she’s allergic. She’s not really allergic like you. I’ve seen a child who was that way with swollen watering eyes, etc. That’s really allergic. I now own 5 cats and 3 we rescued from outside all from the same Mama who is too feral to catch and we happily help a lot of this apartment complex take care of its strays.
My new neighbors have cats and one of them just came up to me and claimed my leg. There’s something very sweet about the way they claim with that rub of the head.
What a wonderful, touching story. You did the best you could and that is what counts. It is not your fault you are allergic to cats. I felt your heart as I read. Happy Mother’s Day to you too. Hugs and nose kisses from me and my sweeties
Thank you, I just love those nose kisses!
Great post. I love dogs and cats. When I was a teenager my mum’s friend gave me a Siamese cat and his name was Yo-Yo. In my early twenties I rescued a kitten just outside the office where I worked. At that time I had a German Spitz named Mylo and the kitten’s name was Horlicks 🙂 Happy Mother’s Day!
Happy Mother’s day to you too!
St. Francis or AA or somebody offered this prayer: God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.
I’ve always thought that was oversimplified.
For those of us who care deeply about the things we cannot change, we struggle with guilt for your aun’ts Katie and all of the Katies in the world.
Bless you for trying. Happy Mother’s Day!
Thank you! Happy Mother’s day to you too!
Ok, so what happened to the baby kitten in the shelter??
Are you sure you want to know?The kitten was so small that her organs hadn’t developed enough to survive. My aunt’s friend took her home to nurse her, and she died within twenty four hours. She was a sweet little one and she would have stayed around if she could have. It’s a sad story.
I really enjoyed your story.
What a beautiful post. I feel a very lucky doggie and little human Mum to have received such a heart-warming message, thank you. As a fellow cat-allergy sufferer, I am so impressed with the lengths you went to, to offer some comfort to those less fortunate felines in the world. Perhaps Katie is to be thanked for creating this need in you to offer your kindness to others. : ))xx
I think you’re right. I still remember Katie so vividly and think of her so often that she’s become a part of who i am. Thank you.
Hope you had a very special Mother’s Day with your two and four legged family members.
Thank you! Happy belated mother’s day!
I admire your dedication to the cats considering your allergies. I think cats are lovely but I am too allergic to them to even think about holding them as you did. I tolerate a cat around our place but I can’t touch her or allow her inside near me for more than a few minutes.
I take so much allergy medication already that I can’t tell if it’s the cats, or the pollen on the cats, that’s getting to me now.
One has this awful sense of failure when despite all care a little creature doesn’t make it. I had it again recently with a little bird.
As a child I was badly athsmatic but we always had a special cat as my only ‘sibling’. I was diagnosed as allergic to cats, dogs and horses. I persisted in associating with my ‘brother’, though, and then got given a dog and we have had both cats and dogs ever since. Later, my daughters influenced me to get involved with horses – a lot! Fortunately, I simply grew out of the allergies.
Growing out of allergies would be wonderful. I wonder if my co-op board would okay a horse in the apartment. Cricket would love that.
Maybe a very small horse? 🙂
I am not, to my knowledge allergic to any animals, which I suppose is good. Although I have never had an “up close and personal” with a Bengal Tiger’ but then, it’s just a big cat. I like the colouring on some cats but I am really not a cat person. Lovely story. Enjoyed reading it.
Thank you. No Bengal tigers for me either. Little orange and white cats are scary enough.
Great story…and nice of you take care of Katie…really, she’s no different than some people I know….:-)
That’s true! But it’s harder to get those humans to fit under the bed.