Friday, January 2, 2015

Maka the Cat: A Short Tail

"Mom, can you come out here, please?", the call came from my son out in the yard where I'd instructed him to cut the grass in pre-New Year's Eve neighborhood festivities preparation. 

"What's up, Sonny?", I replied at the front door.

"Can you help grab the kitten, the one that we heard crying last night?".

We had heard the cries of what we assumed were hungry and possibly abandoned or stray kittens the evening before and I hurried out to where he stood near our mailbox. There it was, tiny and curled up behind the base of the telephone pole in our yard. I picked up the tiny white fur ball, covered in grass clippings, and it meowed softly.

"Is the kitten dead?", asked the neighbor, "we saw it running around this morning."

"No, it's alive, we'll take it to the Humane Society", I responded as I carried the kitty to the patio to clean it up.

It continued to cry as I wiped it down and called to Sonny to grab some milk and a can of tuna. I held it up at eye-level to observe the tiny thing. It had a white body, with gray markings around its head and eyes, a gray tail, and one gray spot on the back of its neck. I had never been a cat person, I had actually hated cats growing up because they would cry like babies under my bedroom window at night, which scared the hell out of me, and because they used our yard like a giant kitty-litter box.  In my adulthood, as I became a dog lover, it softened my stance on cats as I begrudgingly accepted that there were cat lovers in the world who felt the same way I did about my dogs.

It was at this moment that the kitty looked directly into my eyes with its great big gray eyes as if to say, "Hey, I'm not that bad. I just want a chance to live."  Hmmm, maybe I'd been hanging out with and talking to my dogs for way too many years.  Nevertheless, when the little one started to eat and drink heartily, I thought to myself that it must be a fighter, a hungry one at that.  Being the social media creature that I was, I snapped a shot of her baby-grays and posted it on FB to ask if anyone wanted her. I received a number of "how cutes" and "keep its" and was warned that the Humane Society would put any kitten that weighed under two pounds to sleep. I also received a recommendation to call the kitten "Maka", for its eyes, or short for "Makahiki", in light of the pending new year.  I balked at the thought of naming it, firmly believing that you only named things that you planned to keep, call to you, and include in your family.

We wrapped the kitty up and headed to the Humane Society.  Upon our arrival, and after weighing it, we were told that it only weighed 12 ounces and that they would put her down. "You're going to kill it?", I asked incredulously.  "Most kittens don't make it without their mom when they're this young and this small, so yes", said Joe, the chipper animal worker. "If you'd like to foster it until it grows, we'll give you some things."

"Ummm. . .I'm not sure, my husband won't like this. . .", I mumbled as he handed my son a cat carrier and me a bag of food and kitty litter. "Yeah, we get to keep the cat!", said Sonny. "Wait, wait, we're not keeping a cat, we're maybe fostering at best...I need to think about this!", I told him.

"Here's some instructions," said Joe, flipping the kitty over and saying, "she just needs to gain 12 more ounces and be socialized before we can put her up for adoption. "But. . .but, I don't know anything about raising a kitten, how long will it take?", I sputtered.  "Maybe 2-4 weeks, the more she plays, the more she eats, the more she gains weight, good luck." And that was that. As I left the building, I couldn't shake the feeling that I was somehow conned into this by my sudden cat enthusiast of a son, the over-encouraging Joe, and the little kitty who was now nestled in the pink carrier at the back of the car.

The next several hours involved washing the foster kitty with Dawn, trying to pick off obvious fleas so my dogs wouldn't get infested and figuring out where it would make its 'home' for the time being. Fosi started with, "keep it outside", then "maybe bring it into the office, too cold outside" and finally, "it might be scared of the fireworks tonight, just keep it in the carrier in our bedroom". Uh huh, suckers, all of them.

My sister-in-law, the queen of cat lovers, upon hearing of the feline visitor, descended upon my home in record time, insisting that it be called Maka or Maka Girl (after reading the FB post, oh great), despite my insisting that it was just 'kitty' or 'cat' and refusing to give it a name. "I would take her if my building allowed pets, but now I can visit her here!", she gushed. Another one bites the dust.
She cooed over it in French and watched it stumble around the office carpet, attempting to crawl on me. "She thinks you're her mother!", she exclaimed. "She's comfortable on you and her head follows you whenever you talk." Uh, that's because I was the first one to feed it, mistake #1.

"Cats are easy to raise, Delia, they take care of themselves. Look, she's not even afraid of Snoop! That's a good sign." I shook my head, how did this happen? It was a guest, however, and a helpless creature, and so it was cleaned and fed and carried and made comfortable. I awoke at 3am to check on it and there it was, staring at me from it's carrier, meowing softly. When I reached for it, a sound that I'd never heard before seemed to emanate from its entire body. It reminded me of the low hum of an idling car engine and my first thought was it was having major digestive issues. After a while, as it clung to me, I realized that it was purring. That sound continued on whenever I picked it up or came into the room and took it out of the carrier. Wow, maybe it liked me.

When the kitten walked, it hopped on three legs because it appeared that its back left leg was either broken or lame.  Over the next few hours, the little one stumbled after the first hesitant, then curious, then playful Snoop. And Snoop nudged it with his nose, licked it and scratched the bedding around it, seemingly in an effort to make a bed for it. How odd, I thought Snoop would hate it, but he was intrigued by it and hung by the carrier when she slept in it. Mele, my 13-year-old pit bull, sniffed and licked the kitten's ears and rolled over, uninterested, as if kittens found their way into her sleeping space all the time.

On day two, I thought it a good idea to buy a couple toys, you know, just so it could play with it, expend energy, build an appetite, eat, gain weight, get closer to adoption.  But throughout day two she became more lethargic, wasn't interested in the toys or Snoop, threw up after eating and drinking and just wanted to sleep.  As the evening approached and I wasn't able to interest her in food or play, she started to mew, slowly and softly. When laid on my chest, she crawled up to my neck to rest. She became increasingly weaker and couldn't sit up on her own and I worried that she might be dying. My sister-in-law echoed my sentiments and recommended I hold her against my skin for comfort.  I resolved to take her to the vet the next day, should she last the night. I received a kind text from a friend, offering her a loving home and encouraged the little one to fight to stay alive, that it was wanted in a loving family.

But as the little one took a turn for the worse, I knew what was imminent and for a host of reasons, some of which I still don't quite understand, I bawled.  And I did what I thought a mommy should do, I stuck her in my shirt against my chest so she could hear my heartbeat and covered us with a blanket and said a little prayer and talked to her.

"Maka Girl, you're such a good, good girl. You're a survivor, you're brave and sweet and do you know that others want you in their home? But if you'd like, you can be a part of our home and our family." I envisioned, for a brief moment, coming home to Snoop barking at the window, Mele lounging in the patio and Maka Girl greeting us at the door, purring and rubbing against our legs.  A home where human, feline and canine co-existed in harmony and where I would say things like, "Where's the kitty?", and, "I'm a mom to one human kid, three canine kids and one feline kid."

Maka Girl mewed, low and soft, then long and mournfully. She put her two paws on my chest and I held her up and looked in her eyes. "It's ok, you can go if you want to, baby. Mommy's here. I'll ask Ma'a to meet you on the other side." I know he never liked cats but if the lamb and the lion can lie together in God's kingdom, then surely a naughty pit bull from Kalihi can care for a tiny stray kitten who came to live with our family for a short while.  I kissed her on the nose, told her I loved her, continued to stroke her and held her against my chest as she mewed, took a couple straggly breaths, one tiny last mew and then she was gone. 

I cried and asked Fosi, "Why, why did this happen?". "What was the point of her coming and living with us for only 48 hours and dying in my arms?". I needed a reason, I needed this to mean something. And why was I taking it so hard? I was reminded of being in the sacred space of others who shared their last breath while I was in their presence. My mom, my best friend, Feala, my doggie, Ma'a. I cried for all of them and for Maka Girl, who chose me to become her stubborn, surrogate mom for just a moment on this earth, who maybe just needed to feel loved before she moved on to the next level of existence. I think this tiny creature of God, only twelve ounces, came to teach me that love comes in all shapes and forms and that it can last a day and touch you for a lifetime. I think she came to teach me to open up my mind and heart to new experiences, to put aside long-held prejudices and beliefs that can prevent me from happiness and growth. Am I a cat person now? Maybe. But I know one thing, I am a changed person.  Because I loved and was loved by a little angel who became and always will be a member of my family.

Thank you, Maka Girl. See you on the other side.

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