Article and photographs by PCG’s first guest writer, Cat Tastrophe!
I had two cats of my own at the time, (two males named Winston and Whisper) both diagnosed positive for Corona Virus (an incurable disease) and destined to die in a year or less. My heart was already shattered at the news and slowly losing a loved one may hurt even more than unexpectedly losing someone. I was an indoor/outdoor cat person at the time because I had been told by my vet that contagion to other cats can only come from bites. My cats were lovers, not fighters. I also liked the idea of my boys having the freedom to climb trees, explore, catch mice, chase the grass as the wind blows, and every other exciting thing outdoors has to offer.
One day, the pregnant stray did not show up and I knew she must have had her kittens. Several days went by and finally she showed up for food, starving and skinny. I looked many many times for the kittens, to no avail. About a month and a half later: I saw her with a kitten, only one. I could only get within 20 feet, but as I cooed to her, he looked up from suckling and actually smiled at me! This was in the summer in Phoenix, AZ and I believe all her other kittens had died of heatstroke. It is not unusual for summer temperatures to average from 100f – 120f for months and months on end. I continued to feed her and the others. None of the cats ever let me get close enough to touch, though.
Winston and Whisper had befriended almost all of the strays, and were even seen playing “chase the leaf” together on several occasions. My boys were very nurturing and gentle. They never played with the kitten though, the mother was guarding him very cautiously. I think it’s only natural for a mother cat to ward off males from her litter anyway, even neutered ones. She and I had built up enough trust that I could sit by the food bowl about three feet away, and watch her eat. If I tried to touch her, she ran several feet away and slowly moved back towards the bowl to eat again as either hunger or courage overtook her. I stopped trying to pet her as it seemed to only cause her fear. I was never closer to her kitten than about 20 feet away, he had already learned ‘fear of humans’.
One day, she meowed loudly at my door, something she had never done before. I went out and she led me to a very tall Cedar tree in the back of the complex, where her only kitten was wedged in the fork so far up I could barely see him. He was too scared to come down. I went to get several things I could pile up to climb on and reach this kitten to rescue him. (I didn’t have a ladder and neither did anyone else.) I ended up tottering precariously on an old chair piled up with large plastic planting pots and a few milk crates, and climbing several branches to reach him.
As I gently plucked him from the tree, I discovered that he was very dehydrated. He was terrified at being touched and held by a human, but he was too lethargic to hardly move. Winston and Whisper were at my feet and were giving me the “let’s adopt him” message. His mother just looked at me pleading for help. Getting back down safely with a sick stray kitten was no easy job either. I took that kitten in, adopted him, and proceeded to bring him to health. People still don’t believe me, but as I rescued him from the tree, I heard a sound in the wind from that tree. The closest I can come to copying it verbally is DhTengah Mitt (Denga Mitt), which is what I named that kitten.
I contacted some wonderful people that taught me what TNR (trap, neuter, release) is. They paid for this mother and her kitten to be fixed, in exchange for re-releasing her in my neighborhood and continuing to feed her. This way she won’t continually have litters that die, become homeless/strays, or take away her food, water, and strength. I tried to keep her and adopt her at this point as well, but she was extremely unwilling to try: even with the trust we had built together up to this point.
DhTengah Mitt came and went via a cat door at will with Winston and Whisper. For the first few months he was uncertain of his freedom or the stability or security of a “home”. He actually came inside and “checked in” about every hour, and would meow at me several times letting me know he still wanted to live there and be family. He would jump into my lap and rub his cheek against my cheek repeatedly and purr. Naturally, my heart just melted. His mother watched me and the boys for about three months, until I guess she was satisfied that her kitten was safe and cared for.
Winston, Whisper, and DhTengah Mitt got along as if they were all siblings. Winston was an expert leader and taught Mitt everything he knew. Whisper taught him all about looking for mischief and the fun and security of play, and even taught him “Bring” (basically ‘fetch’, Whisper was born with this talent). DhTengah had even claimed a personal favorite toy for “Bring”, a white puffy ball. We all went through quite a bit together that following year. Mitt learned what security and trust were. I was the first human to touch him, and I could guarantee that no human would abuse him. Sadly, we also had to say goodbye to first Winston and then Whisper. That was a hard time for us both. Neither one of us liked a one-cat household. Nor the deafening silence it brought.
Several months later, we adopted a kitten off of Craigslist: after we had moved. We named him Tonka Toy, he was a yellow male. He had been given his shots before he even entered the house. DhTengah Mitt had also received all of his shots. I couldn’t emotionally afford another loss like that, neither could Mitt. It was love at first sight for both DhTengah and myself as Tonka came into our family without so much as even a single hiss. We all grew into a very close family and DhTengah Mitt was using the skills Winston had taught him in raising Tonka. Tonka Toy was irreplacable in our hearts, and he took up most of the space there as well.
One life-wrenching day, Tonka Toy had been caught and eaten right outside our back door (on a golf course) by either a coyote or a wolf. DhTengah Mitt had seen the whole thing and run so fiercely for his life that he couldn’t walk for three days afterwards. I had found him underneath the neighbor’s porch; he couldn’t even make it home. We had been such a close family and Tonka had meant so much to both of us that we both grieved heavily for about three months, and even into depression. Both of us still miss him and always will.
That’s when I changed to my “inside only” policy. DhTengah had many disagreements about this, but I know he remembers seeing what happened to Tonka and doesn’t fight too hard on being kept indoors. He had loved three cats in this family and lost three cats in this family so far, I knew that neither one of us could handle any more loss.
We have added slowly eight more cats to the family, making DhTengah Mitt the Pride Leader of a nine cat family. He has taken the excellent leadership and protect-with-love skills from Winston, the open-hearted innocence of play from Whisper, and the strong bonds of trust and love from Tonka Toy, and woven them into his own unique extremely tender gentle leadership. It is his heart and his nurturing ways that he enforces among his pride, making the result a family of many different ages and breeds that all act as if they were littermates. Everyone is fixed, fully shot and tested, and indoor only as our best defense against losing another family member.
That was almost three years ago. He still rubs his cheek against my cheek and purrs, but it’s as I awake and he is sleeping with his head on my pillow. He is the first thing I see each morning. He still plays “Bring” with his same original ball, only now he actually initiates a game by bringing his ball to me first. We have been through a lot already together in such a short time. He has learned there is no danger in his family of ‘re-homing’ or other stupid human inhumanities. He has learned that no matter how sick he is, I will get him to a vet and healed. He has learned the freedom in expressing his personality and the self value in communicating with a human.
I call him My Valuable Gift because I believe that his mother And Mother Nature gave him to me, and he just keeps getting more valuable every day.
And he is most definitely a gift that keeps on giving.