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Thursday, December 16, 2010

Zooey's Tale

One of the most amazing and wonderful memories of childhood was watching a cat have kittens.  It's a learning opportunity no child should miss, and ranks right up there with memories of sending notes to Santa up the chimney on cold, winter nights or chasing the fogging machine on sultry summer days when white noise drowned out all other sounds except for our childish squeals and laughter.

So when my daughter was in the third grade, I decided it was time for her to experience the excitement of seeing kittens being born.  Only one problem:  both my cats had been spayed.  I had worked at an animal shelter in high school, and remembered that unless I took the pregnant mother cats home, they were put to sleep as a matter of course.  I think at one time I had more than 16 cats at home.  I would bring them all back to the shelter to be put up for adoption when the kittens reached about six weeks of age.

With that in mind, I called the shelter in California where we were living and told them that if they would call me the next time someone brought in a pregnant cat, I'd see to it that all the kittens would find homes and that I would keep the mother cat.

The very next day they called.  I went down to the shelter and found the most beautiful, long-haired, polydactyl-pawed, pastel calico kitty I've ever seen.  They said she was probably about two years old.  She was sweet as could be, and her feet were so huge they looked like snow shoes.

"Wow!  She's gorgeous," I remember saying.  "Who brought her in?  Where'd she come from?"

"A man from Castaic," the attendant said.  "He didn't say anything else."

They were so glad someone was taking a pregnant cat, they didn't even charge me the usual fee for adopting her.  We named her Zooey and brought her home.  Three weeks later, we all watched as she gave birth to five little polydactyl kittens, one of which we kept and named Oreo.

Zooey was a love of the first order.  Except for those feet and a bony little bump halfway down her tail, she was perfect.

After the kittens were weaned and adopted out, we had her spayed.  She was fat and fine and happy with us.

That was...gosh....15 years ago?  We lost Oreo last summer, but Zooey's still with us.  That would make her about 17 years old now.  Lately she's gotten painfully thin and her coat seems to have lost its luster.  A couple of weeks ago, I found bloody diarrhea in the litter pan and took her in.  Irritable bowel syndrome, the vet informed me, and gave me some medicine for it.  She's also got a pretty severe case of arthritis in her hips, which -- like mine -- seems to flare up in rainy weather.

Then I felt a suspcious bump on her back, not encapsulated like a cyst but with fingers that shot off in different directions.  So back to the vet we went.  She had surgery to remove the lump yesterday.

"Oh, yeah," I told the vet, remembering the little bony protruberance on her tail.  "She's got this bump about halfway down her tail.  Been there forever.  As long as you've got her sedated, why don't you check and see what it is."

I figured it was a birth defect.  Any cat with that many toes could easily have a defect someplace else.  But it seemed like maybe it was a bit bigger lately.

So yesterday the vet called to tell me Zooey was out of surgery and doing fine.  Turns out it was just some kind of fatty tumor that I shouldn't be too concerned about.

"But you know that bump on her tail?" he added.


"It was a BB."

A BB!!! As in BB gun.  Someone had shot that beautiful cat back in California all those many years ago.  Although she's been fine all this time and with no apparent pain from it, I was furious.  I just don't understand people.  I wondered anew at the man from Castaic who brought her in and had had her for two years, only to give her away when she got pregnant.

The only photo I can lay my hands on at the moment is a photo of Zooey after she'd been clipped for the first time.  It doesn't do her justice.  She was a magnificent-looking feline.  I'm so glad she's okay.  And so sad she had such a rough start in life.

Please remember your local, state and national shelters and humane societies this holiday season.