Listen for the Purr
Sitting here watching a movie and I look around the room at the sleeping animals that surround me. Loved animals. There’s Abbe and Aoufe: two sweet doggies on one couch. Snuggling like always, so close together. The kittens sharing a sunbeam. Henry, king of the flowered chair and Frankie on his favorite window sill.
You arrived in our lives late one October afternoon, dumped in the front yard by a well-meaning friend of a friend who knew I would help once I met you. It was after 5pm and I was looking forward to a quiet evening when a car pulled erratically into my driveway, lurching to a stop. The driver, (the friend of the friend) got out, dropped a cat carrier on the lawn and frantically started telling me your story: You’d been roaming her neighborhood for over a year being fed by her and her neighbors but recently you appeared injured and seemed to be very sick. She told me it looked like you’d gotten caught in something and that your tail was very infected. She said she was certain you were going to die. She couldn’t take you in and she begged me to help. Inwardly I groaned, I didn’t need this right now….
Maddie had, by now, joined me outside and was curious to see you. I thought I’d better look first. I peeked in the carrier and my breath literally caught in my throat. Oh sweetie, you were the most dirty sad looking cat I’d ever seen. Your pads were worn down, bloody and raw, your face crusted with…well, I don’t know what but whatever it was, it was in your eyes and nose and matted in what fur was left on your face, your eyes were dull, there was very little life in them. You were skinny, so malnourished and had no hair down half your back. But the worst part was your tail. You had a rotting ball of skin and fur at the end of your tail. There was dried blood and skin mixed in and it smelled so awful, it looked beyond infected. Your actual tail was only bone and I literally gagged at the sight and smell of you. Maddie, not to be held back, got down and looked in, too. She gasped when she saw you and I questioned whether this was a good idea to let her meet you. It was so clear you were just too sick and would not make it.
But the strangest thing happened when she bent down to talk to you, the strongest raspiest purr came from inside that grimy cat carrier. You were purring? You had been homeless for who knows how long, were hungry, hurt and had a myriad of infected areas on your body, ones that HAD to hurt, you could barely lift your head….but instead of shrinking from Maddie, baring your teeth or hissing, you leaned into her hand ready to accept her love and you purred.
You had me. I was going to do what it took to help you get better.
My vet was already closed and, since I didn’t know any other vets in the area, I just called every one of them until someone said I could bring you in. I put you in the car and off we went.
When I was about 8, our cat was attacked by the neighbor’s dogs and, as Mom was leaving for the vet, she gently explained Sweet Pea might not come home, her injuries were very severe. She let me say goodbye and that left an impression on me. Thankfully our Sweat Pea did come home but I’ve always remembered that my mother, during a very stressful time, bent down to help me understand and to respect my feelings. I did the same, softly telling Maddie you might be too sick to be helped and that, while it would be so so sad if you died, you had us and we were going to do whatever we could – even if that meant helping you to cross over the Rainbow Bridge peacefully and without any pain. She seemed to understand. My Maddie is a spit fire, but, like me, like her Grandmother – she runs very deep, cares very much. I knew I’d made the right choice to allow her to share this with me, to be a part of your journey. As we drove the 30 minutes to the vet who we hoped would be your savior, she asked many thoughtful questions. I love her mind and I did my best to answer her questions with honesty and compassion, though I felt inadequate trying to explain to a 6 year old how anyone could have treated you so poorly, let you become so skinny, so sick.
Then….”If he lives, can we keep him?” I guess that was inevitable. I couldn’t even think about that, it seemed impossible you’d live but her spirit let her believe you would. My sweet girl was rooting for you – you had a cheerleader.
When we arrived at the vet’s office, the kindest women I’d met in a long time gently took you out of the carrier. Her intake of breath confirmed that it wasn’t good, it didn’t look promising for you, pretty boy. As she was lifting your mangled tail and checking your injuries, again, you purred. She looked at me and we smiled. What a beautiful purr from such a destroyed body. That purr reminded us you were more than your injuries, more than what met the eye and you deserved to be given a chance. She asked me if I wanted her to treat you and, though I didn’t know how I would ever pay for it, I told her to do what it took. Maddie and I kissed you good bye and headed home without you.
On that drive back, I started feeling angry at the woman who had dropped you into my lap, making you my problem. How dare she do that to us, bring that chaos into our lives. I worried what it would cost to help you, even if the help didn’t save your life, worried how it would hurt Maddie to lose you even though she’d only just met you. But that little heart in the backseat was filled with happier thoughts. Was planning your life with us, telling me how Abbe and Henry would love you, was already naming you. You were to be Frankie after Anne Frank – the current literary obsession at our house. You might not live, weren’t even home with us but you had a name, were already loved, a member of our family. I let go of my anger and realized that woman had given us a gift, even if it was to help you be safe and warm through your last days, it was still a gift. I realized what it must have taken to bring you to me, to ask for my help. I apologized to her in my head and thanked her for trusting me with you.
The vet called the next day. Surprisingly, you were free of all disease but gangrene had set in to your tail and it would have to be amputated. You had been skinned with a serrated knife, someone had meant to hurt you, and your skin issues would take a while to heal. You would need intravenous nutrition and fluids. lots of medicine and sleep and it would still be several days before we knew if you’d recover. She said you were a favorite in the office, you purred whenever you had a visitor -even when you were still too weak to sit up – you purred with your eyes closed, letting everyone know a very good boy was doing his best to heal.
A forever week later, you were ready to go home. You were a miracle kitty and everyone who knew you was so glad you’d made it! Being malnourished for so long had left you with mild cognitive damage and your balance and gait would be slightly off while you adjusted to having no tail, but no one here cared – you were coming home and we were thrilled. The vet and her staff were so moved by your journey, they graciously wrote off over $1200 of your bill and thanked me for allowing them to be a part of your story.
My mom always says “They know.” meaning rescued animals know they’ve been rescued. She believes they understand. I agree, all our babies are a rescue of some kind and they do all seem so happy, I believe they know they have had a second chance. I watch them play with a new toy, run in the yard, eat their special snacks and sleep snuggled with me and my children and I think of what their other path may have been, how different it could have gone and I am thankful to give this path to them. But Frankie, though I know you know how loved you are, what you also need to know is that you have rescued us, too, taught us so much.
A year and a half later, you’re a fat, cherished tail-less boy who loves nothing more than to watch the birds and cars out the window. You like to find quiet places, always just outside the fray, but always near by. Your purr is part of our chorus, the one that makes us a family. Strong and still raspy, its a daily reminder not to make quick judgements, get angry when an unexpected problem arises, not to write someone off based on their outward appearance, and most importantly, not to give up when it would appear there is no hope.
You taught my children to listen for the purr, that every living creature has one if you’re willing to listen.
Thank you, Frankie. We hear you.
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