60: Healing Hands

60: Healing Hands

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

Healing Hands

If you would know a man, observe how he treats a cat.

~Robert Heinlein

The wipers beat against the driving rain, echoing the thump of my heart. I slowed as a wall of water splashed over the roof of my Jeep as it hit a deep puddle. I was trying to hurry and drive safely at the same time, which was only sort of working.

My husband had called me at work just as I was packing things up and preparing to shut down my computer. The stray pregnant cat that had been hanging around our property had given birth in the cold spring rain on an open hillside. Four of the kittens were alive; two didn’t make it. He was in such a panic that the remaining kittens would die if not kept dry that he grabbed the four surviving ones and put them in a towel-lined laundry basket with a milk jug full of hot water. This move escalated the crisis because he couldn’t catch their mother.

I told him I would be right home and bolted from the office to make the thirty-six-mile drive home. We had to catch the mother, a feral stray, so the kittens could nurse. I understood why he moved the newborn kittens inside, but I wasn’t sure it was the best decision. The mother would have moved them, I reasoned, as my Jeep splashed through another enormous puddle.

On my way home, I met my husband at our veterinarian’s office to purchase kitten formula, bottles and a catch and release cage. In the event we couldn’t catch the mother, at least we could feed the kittens.

By the time I pulled into my driveway, the rain had slowed. I dashed inside to inspect the four orange kittens huddled around the warm jug. The vet had recommended this to my husband. The kittens would snuggle against it when they were cold and they would move away from it when they became too hot.

I threw on an old coat and went outside to try to catch the mother. The cold rain soaked all the way to my bones and I knew she had to be as miserable and scared as I was. We baited the cage with tuna, hoping the aroma would lure her. We found one of the lifeless kittens in a dry spot under the pine trees, but the mother cat kept running away.

After half an hour of pursuing her, I went inside to try to mix formula and get the bottles to work. The kittens had been born three hours ago and needed to eat. The bottles were just as frustrating to figure out as was trying to catch the mother.

We followed the directions and poked needle-sized holes in the nipples, but could not get the formula to drip out. We tried to make the hole wider using a thumbtack. I held one tender little orange kitten that refused to eat. I dribbled formula on its lips hoping it would lick it and give me a chance to slip the nipple into its mouth, but no luck.

I placed the kitten back in the basket and leaned against the wall. We couldn’t do this. We couldn’t feed the kittens or catch their mother. If the kittens weren’t returned to her, they were all going to die. I decided that releasing them was their best chance.

Back upstairs my husband was peering out the window. The mother cat was standing on our covered porch with one of her limp kittens. We both stepped outside and she ran, leaving behind the tiny soaked mass of fur. My heart ached.

“Get rid of it,” I told my husband, the harsh words surprising even me. I was done. We had managed to rescue thirteen felines in the eight years we had lived here. We lost this time.

He bent down and scooped up the kitten that was smaller than his hand. Peering closely at it, we took in its tiny whiskers, itty-bitty paws, folded ears and closed eyes. I reached out and touched the cold little body, swallowing hard against the lump in my throat.

“Get rid of it,” I whispered.

My husband, still mesmerized by the kitten, placed his other hand on top of it. When he moved his hand the kitten’s paw flexed.

“Did you see that? It’s alive,” he said and placed his hand on top again for a minute, then removed it. The paw moved every time he did this. I wasn’t convinced, but looking into my husband’s eyes I saw a man who was going to fight for this kitten’s life.

The urgent race was back on! We dashed into the house and wrapped the kitten in a kitchen towel. I threw my adult cat’s buckwheat bed warmer in the microwave. Once heated we placed the kitten on the bed warmer and the kitchen towel on top.

My husband instructed me to keep rubbing the kitten in a circular motion to get its blood circulating. He went back to preparing bottles. He remembered seeing on Animal Planet that if kittens are born too quickly, the mother doesn’t have time to lick all of them to get their blood circulating.

I rubbed and rubbed, still not convinced we could save this little guy. Every now and then his paw would flex. As I rubbed, my thoughts drifted back to the mother cat outside. She was in a state. She was soaked and had given birth and her babies were swiftly taken away. Despite all that, she trusted us because she brought this baby to us.

The kitten moved its mouth.

“It’s alive!” I nearly jumped out of my chair. My husband rushed to my side and took over kitten revival duties.

He covered the kitten with his hands. Pretty quickly, it was impossible to tell the kitten had ever been lifeless. It was very much awake and hungry.

I had given up, written the kitten off. But my husband never lost hope. With determination and a heart full of love for that tiny kitten, he used his healing hands to restore life. I didn’t need another reason to love him, but there it was.

My spirits lifted. We could do this — we could catch the mother cat and we did.

I fell into bed that night exhausted. Mom and babies were reunited and sleeping soundly in the laundry basket. And it turned out my husband’s decision to rescue them was the best decision after all.

~Valerie D. Benko

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