19: The Nine Lives of Smokey

19: The Nine Lives of Smokey

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: The Cat Did What?

The Nine Lives of Smokey

Patience and perseverance have a magical effect before which difficulties disappear and obstacles vanish.

~John Quincy Adams

I decided it was time for my young son to have his first pet. So for his third birthday, I brought home an eight-week-old kitten who was a fluff ball of long gray hair. My son immediately decided we should name him Smokey, the color of his fuzzy coat.

Two notable things happened by the time Smokey reached six months of age. First, he settled into a pattern of sleeping on my pillow right next to my head every night. Second, his gray kitten fluff fell out and his coat became sleek and jet black, no gray to be seen. The name Smokey no longer seemed fitting, but that’s who he was, so the name stayed.

If Smokey could have talked, he would have told you he lived a perfect life for the next two years. That is until my new husband entered our lives. Mark was not a cat person. A cat sleeping between us on the pillow was not acceptable to him. Smokey eventually lost the battle and began to sleep elsewhere in the house.

When Smokey was five years old, we moved to a new city and rented a nice little house with a big back yard for our two children and two cats. We moved in on a Sunday and managed to unpack just enough to sleep there for the night. Monday morning, my husband left to start his new job. I quickly loaded my two kids into the car and set out to run errands, the first of which was to get the electricity turned on in the house. After about two and a half hours, the kids had reached their limit and we headed back to our new home.

As I turned into the quaint neighborhood, barricades blocked the street, the entire cul-de-sac filled with fire trucks and police cars. To my horror a column of black smoke was billowing from the house we had just rented. I jumped out of the car and raced toward the house, only to be stopped short by a police office.

“That’s my house!” I exclaimed. “What happened?”

“It appears that there was an electrical problem in the kitchen, ma’am. The fire is almost out, but there is still a lot of smoke. You need to stay back.”

“My cats. I had two cats in there. Do you know where they are? Are they okay?” Tears rolled down my face.

“Let me find a firefighter for you. Stay where you are.”

I stood there in shock until a somewhat grimy firefighter exited the residence and followed the officer over to where I stood. “We found your cats huddled in a bedroom as far from the fire as they could get, they were unconscious but breathing. We transported them to the nearest vet. Here’s the address. We aren’t going to be able to let you in for a while, until we know it’s safe. Why don’t you go check on your pets?”

At the veterinarian office, a very kindly older doctor informed us that only one cat, the black one, had survived. They weren’t equipped to handle such a severe case, so they had transported Smokey to a nearby veterinary school hospital, where he could receive the care he needed.

The enormous institutional building that was the vet hospital was a very different atmosphere from the small friendly clinic. We waited for what seemed like hours for a vet tech to come talk to us.

“Your cat is in very serious condition. He hasn’t regained consciousness and his lungs have been damaged by smoke. If he survives the next twenty-four hours, we will see where we are then.”

We trudged back to our car, the hope sucked out of us.

The following morning, I received a call from the hospital. “Smokey is awake but he doesn’t respond. We believe he is brain dead. In addition, his back legs are permanently paralyzed. There is really nothing more we can do for him, except to put him out of his misery. You will need to come in and sign the paperwork so we can euthanize him.”

Too overwhelmed by everything I had been through the past couple of days, I just couldn’t face telling them to kill my beloved Smokey. My husband volunteered to go for me, taking along a large shoebox to bring back his body so we could give him a decent burial.

When Mark walked back into the house, shoebox in hand, I hid my face in my hands and dissolved into tears.

“Look at me,” Mark said. “He’s not dead.”

“What?” I muttered raising my head.

“I told them I needed to say goodbye to him. When I walked in the room, he saw me and tried to pull himself up the side of the plastic cage to get to me. He can’t be brain dead because he knew me! So I brought him home.”

I reached my hand in the box to touch the head of my little buddy. He was burning up with fever and looked beseechingly at me with pain-filled eyes.

“Did they send some medicine for him?”

“No, they said he was going to die. But I just had to give him a chance.”

Determination took over. I had a goal and I was not just going to sit there and watch my cat die. I had seen a small country vet’s office less than a mile from where we were temporarily staying. We loaded Smokey back in the car.

“Well, I can’t give you any guarantees, but we sure will try to get him better,” the vet said. He sent us home with liquid amoxicillin and an eyedropper with instructions to get some of the antibiotic and fluids into Smokey’s mouth every couple of hours.

My belief in cats having nine lives was affirmed in the next few days. We watched Smokey gain strength every day as he began to take in milk and his fever subsided. By the end of the week, he was able to lick canned cat food off our fingers.

Much to my surprise, my husband made getting our cat well his first priority. Smokey regained his cherished place on my bed pillow, and Mark spent hours every day rubbing his hind legs to help them regain strength. By the end of two weeks, Smokey began dragging himself from the bed to his litter box using his front paws. My cat was definitely not brain dead.

In the weeks and months that followed, Smokey’s hind legs once again started functioning. He could run and play in the house and back yard, like any normal cat. The only visible sign of his trauma was a tremor that he would have for the remainder of his life.

Smokey, the cat who survived the smoke, taught all of us a lesson in perseverance and overcoming life’s obstacles.

~Jill Haymaker

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