By Candace Key
The question was only slightly less jarring since I was standing in the parking lot of a pet supply store. I turned to see an agitated young man who had just exited the store throw up his hands in frustration. He had wandered the store, desperately asking if anyone could take the cat he had pulled from the traffic twice and chased up a tree.
“I’m sorry, I’m only visiting here and I have no way to keep a cat.”
He was beside himself in the one hundred degree heat and clearly at his wit’s end. The only choices he saw were to leave the cat in the parking lot, drop it in the field beyond the mall, or take it to a park and once again make the rounds hoping someone would take the cat off his hands.
I told him he couldn’t do that, he’d done a good deed and he couldn’t abandon the cat now. His wife and daughter were waiting for him at Chuck E. Cheese, their apartment wouldn’t allow them to have a cat and Animal Control was overwhelmed that evening and couldn’t respond until the morning, at the earliest. We discussed the inhumane options he proposed and I heard myself say I’d take it. My sister, who had by now retrieved her dog from the kennel at the store barked, “What!?”, eyes wide open. “What are you going to do? Where would it stay? You’re only going to be here a couple of days!” All valid concerns, but what was crystal clear to me was that at that moment I was the cat’s only option and I wasn’t going to abandon it.
“Where is it?”
“Under the seat in the car.”
A small, terrified kitten lay as far back under the seat as it could get, ears flattened to 180 degrees. The guy tried to pull it out and it slunk deeper into the floor of the car. I cautioned a careful approach so he wouldn’t get bitten, but we seemed to be at an impasse, the cat would not easily be removed. As my sister watched in horror I went into the store for a can of food, cut a cup I had in the car and filled it with water, then suggested the rescuer crack the windows, park in the shade and have dinner with his family while I found a box and made a plan. Numbers and names were exchanged.
I was peppered with questions from my sister, who always likes to have clear cut answers. I had none. All I knew was that this had become my problem to solve and I would figure it out, step by step.
We had driven 4 hours from St. Louis and took some time to unload the car, settle her dog back into the apartment and make a plan. In the mail room was a box, a good sized box. OK. I would need kitty litter, a litter pan, more food, gloves in case of bites. This was all easily accessible, but would Trevor call, or would he think it was all just too much trouble and dump the kitten after all?
The answer came soon after we had settled in. He was done with his dinner and did I have a box? We met up with Trevor and with great relief saw that the kitten had eaten and drunk some water – and not pooped in the car. We got him out from under the seat this time with little effort, no attempt to bite, just hissing and cries of distress. Into the box and hugs all around. I would let Trevor know how it all worked out. The kitten was christened “Trevor” in his honor. Dinner, finally and quickly.
“Does Mary know?” I’m staying with Mary, a high school friend, and of course she didn’t know. I called and she was delighted to hear I would be there soon, but I had a favor to ask, the biggest favor I think I have ever asked anyone. Could I bring a little feline friend for the night – I had a box, and a litter box? Mary didn’t miss a beat. Sure, and she had a crate. Mary’s a dog person. A truer friend I doubt I have ever had.
Meanwhile, the kitten had escaped the box in the car. I watched it disappear beyond the accelerator pedal and up into the console. I couldn’t reach it and it was extremely hot up there. I tried to wait him out, leaving him alone for a while and sneaking back hoping to surprise him eating or using the box, but he stayed put until I eventually had to drive to Mary’s with him wedged in there somewhere. He started making distressed noises as I made my way the 10 minutes to our lodging. Was I frying the little guy? Would his paws be burnt, or worse? I drove slowly, as if it would keep the heat down and with relief turned into Mary and Scott’s leafy green, but still very hot and humid, driveway. As I did the unmistakable smell of cat poop, from a cat with intestinal distress, reached my nostrils. As Mary greeted us the aroma assaulted her too and we could both only laugh. This rescue really wasn’t going so well.
The kitten wouldn’t budge, as hot as it must have been. With borrowed screw driver I took off the console panels as much as possible, but couldn’t even see the kitten. Once again, windows cracked, litter box prominent, food and water out, we left him alone while I moved my things to the guest room and had a bourbon on the rocks. It was still miserably hot and humid and I had to try one more time to get the kitten into the house where we had set up the crate with towels. I was able to sneak up on him this time, catching him crouched in the litter box. Finally we had him where we wanted him, safe and cool with food, water and bathroom facilities.
Finally the day was drawing to a close and I could relax, after the drive, after the rescue, after the second rescue, after finding our oasis at Mary’s. I couldn’t leave well enough alone though. I felt pretty safe handling the kitten now and took him out of the crate as I shared the story with my husband back in California. Trevor sat quietly in my lap as I talked and I stroked him softly, his head buried in my other hand, terrified. Slowly he seemed to calm and there was a rumble in his throat, then a soft purr, and then a louder one. I cried.
But he was a tricky one, lulling me into complacency, slipping out of my fingers and quickly finding the back of a very heavy cabinet where he was intent on staying. I gave up, he would sleep there. I would fervently pray that all his pooping was over for the night, knowing full well there are limits to even the best friendships.
Apparently the events of the day had exhausted Trevor since I heard not a peep nor a whimper from him all night. His food, water and litter box had not been touched during the night and I could only hope he was still alive under the heavy chest. Slowly, I moved the chest back enough that I could reach in to retrieve him. By now I felt sure he wouldn’t freak out and bite me, and obligingly he put up little resistance to my careful extraction. Within seconds of soothing assurances and ear scritching his head was tucked into my hand and he was purring loudly in what I imagined was great relief at finally feeling safe. The bond was complete. He was my little guy and I knew I was committed to doing everything humanly possible to make the rest of his life as joyful as his little soul deserved.
There were two places I knew to call about taking him in for care and eventual adoption. The place my sister had gotten her cats had a closed voicemail box and I later saw on the website they were more than full and unlikely to help, however the call to the Humane Society of Southwest Missouri offered much more hope. Miraculously the Intake Director answered the phone on my first call and she didn’t hesitate to offer an appointment to take Trevor in. A time of day was discussed for surrendering him, but I found myself stalling, not ready to relinquish my little charge. Wouldn’t another day and night in a quiet, air conditioned home with lots of attention be better than a cold cage at the shelter? I knew because of the ticks and ear mites I’d noticed that I couldn’t delay the inevitable for long, but another day? . . . it worked for us both. We had a plan. It would be the best possible outcome for our little guy, right? As soon as I hung up I wondered. How could I be sure they would screen applicants properly and find Trevor the best possible home? Maybe there were better shelters. Maybe the former classmates I was having lunch
with the next day would have helpful ideas. Maybe one of them would want him. Mary gave me one of her incredulous raised eye brow looks that suggested I was truly delusional.
Meanwhile there were errands to run with my sister and visiting. She came to meet Trevor and agreed he was adorable, and that I was crazy for getting involved. I had carefully planned our time together so that I would have at least an hour to play with Trevor and possibly get a nap before meeting with her for dinner and an open air musical in the evening. I was dead tired, but Trevor had captured my heart. The nap didn’t happen, but a full body love fest did. He purred loudly as I held him near and poured as much love as I could into that little body. By now he was braver, running around the bedroom, climbing on chairs, hiding a bit, but always letting me know where he was and never being far from my grasp. He was reluctant to go back in the crate and I was heartsick to leave him.
Five hours later, a rapidly swelling bee sting on my finger, and 3 hours in an open air tent at about 95o and I was at Mary’s again. I couldn’t get Trevor out of the crate fast enough. More loving, more scritching, more belly rubs. We were truly in love.
A peaceful night, play time in the morning and a visit with my sister. Lunch with the high school friends, but no one who took my pleas to adopt Trevor seriously. One, however, passed along more names of shelters and I snuck away from the luncheon to call them. Both were full, beyond full. It was July and kitten dumping season in SW Missouri, but the calls helped me realize I already had the best option for Trevor. Mary and I raced home just in time to prepare ourselves and Trevor for the trip across town to the Humane Society. Mary talked a lot. It was a good thing because I would have sobbed the whole way if she hadn’t distracted me. Trevor was calm, or perhaps silently fearful, but it eased my heart not to have him crying.
The Humane Society of Southwest Missouri is clean, modern and seems well run. There are separate entrances for dogs and cats and the Intake area private and intimate. The space and Karen the Intake Director immediately put me at ease.
I provided all the information needed; my contacts, and what little I knew of Trevor’s origins. She told me that where he was found was a known dumping ground for cats and kittens. Thoughts of the rest of Trevor’s family surfaced and made my heart race. Had any of them been as lucky as him?
A new crate was brought for him with clean towels. He most likely had worms and parasites which caused the diarrhea and he would get treatment for the ticks and ear mites. A foster home would be arranged for him because he was just 5 weeks old, not old or strong enough to have been out on his own, and not healthy enough for adoption. He would be in good hands. They knew what they were doing and were kind and compassionate people. I held him one last time, sending him off to a
new life with all the love I could gather. He would need it, with many challenges ahead, and by the way, could I get someone to give me updates on his health and status? (Which they did!)
As I type, my own little girl sits beside me, a rescue as well who probably went through a similar experience and knew a few lives before finding herself at a terrific shelter in the Bay Area. She would have been indomitable too, full of life and curiosity and loving of people, play and food. Oh the food! I am so grateful to all those who got my Gracie to a safe place so I could find her. My time with Trevor was payback, but it will never be enough. We all just have to keep paying it forward. I don’t know how I was able to say “I’ll take him” to Trevor, the guy in the parking lot, but it seemed like the only response possible. Maybe, now in my 70’s, I’m still learning how to open my heart.
Author’s note: Mistakes were made during this rescue. Some were unavoidable given the circumstances, and some the author acknowledges were just blunders. She knows better now.
By Candace Key