Wednesday, March 16, 2011
I meant to have a photo here of the very first cat I ever adopted. Unfortunately my printer/scanner/fax seems to feel that being out of ink is good enough reason not to scan electronically. Last I knew, scanning didn't require ink. That, my friends, is how the "Oh my God, it's only $99" printer/scanner companies keep themselves in business.
$27 ink cartridges.
I adopted my first "own cat," Rastus, during my post-graduate year in high school. Yes, you can take post-grad sessions in high school. My friends had all gone off to college. I'd stayed behind for a boyfriend, fool that I was. I got a job--miracle!--at Four Winds Animal Hospital. I had a apartment, HBO, and $60 bucks a week. I worked nights, and during the day, with nothing much to do, I took business classes at the high school--a two mile walk from the clinic. The vice-principal didn't much know what to do with me. They let me roam the halls and come in late. I had no homeroom and no study halls. I took typing, shorthand, and choir.
Working at the hospital, my apartment was sometimes designated as a place for homeless cats to stay. At the time, I was hosting Bernadette, a cat that had belonged to a fired staff member. I wanted, however, a black kitten to replace my family cat, Thomas. I would regularly visit the Chenango County SPCA, which at that time was in Polkville, about a mile from the school. I would walk over after school to check out the kittens. They had plenty of black female kittens. But no black male kittens like Tommy.
One day, I walked over from the school at midday. Once again, there were no black kittens, but there were plenty of other kittens to play with. I opened a cage with a mom cat and a pile of peachy gray kittens. They all came tumbling out, and I frantically pushed them back. One, a fuzzy gray tiger, refused to detach from my sweater.
And so, I had a kitten.
I still have the receipt. "$3. Gray Kitten." It was 1980. I won't share the name of the person in my family who nicknamed by black family cat "Thomas Rastus." The nickname was racist, and I had NO CLUE. I named my little gray kitten Rastus, after my old cat Tommy, and for at least five years I had no idea why people gave me odd looks when I introduced them to my gray tiger cat. I believe I had graduated from college before someone made a racist comment using that name, and the light went on.
Rastus lived with me at the animal hospital and followed me around as I cleaned the clinic. After I went to college, he stayed at the hospital during the college semester, and came with me in the summer. I sent money to Dr. Briggs for boarding him, and at Christmas he gave it all back to me. Rastus grew fatter and fatter in the care of my replacement, to a point of no return. He slimmed down some when he was in my care, but nothing was going to shrink that huge swagbelly back down to normal.
My senior year in college, I had an apartment on campus. I smuggled Rastus in. My roommate Leslie also adopted a kitten, and we had a wonderful year together.
It was after I graduated and took a position as an ACO with the Tompkins County SPCA that Rastus's long-suffering role as a foster dad began. The first month of my job I adopted a kitten, Bramble. She pestered Rastus so awfully that I adopted a second kitten, Spot, to keep her company.
My first rescue was a week-old kitten. A woman had found the kitten in the yard, and she had no money for KMR. I knew if I took the kitten to the SPCA, he would be euthanized, so I kept him to raise him to adoption age. I stopped at the pet store to pick up a can of KMR and emptied my wallet. It was $13. I made $125 a week. The next day I took my guitar to Ithaca Guitar Works and sold it to pay for more. When he was eight weeks old I took him into the SPCA and went out on the road to work so I wouldn't see who adopted him. What if they weren't "good enough?" It's not like I would have a say in the matter. I still have the little note, on a tiny sheet of memo paper, that the adopters left me, thanking me for saving his life.
I can't remember the name of that kitten. He was the last kitten I took to the SPCA. From then on, I found homes for them myself.
Rastus ministered to the kitten while we had him. He washed him. He slept with him. He smacked him. He suffered being crawled over. And so it began with a steady progression of kittens. Rastus didn't much like them, but he put up with them because I asked him to.
My photo album is full of photos of Rastus with kitten after kitten, from the early years when his fur was glossy, to his older years when it was dull. He helped me with at least fifty feral kittens rescued from Ithaca College when I began working there in 1988.
Rastus's passing from cancer is a story in itself, and a painful one, ending in the suicide (a half-year afterward) of the veterinarian who did not want to put him down---a woman who could not stand that she could not save every pet in her care.
When the house was quiet with his loss, I sat and thought about the seventeen years we had been together. I was no longer the person I had been when he stuck to my sweater like a burr. And now I am no longer the person I was back when Rastus died.
I measure the progression of myself in the lifespan of cats.
Now there is Ivan. Ivan, a kitten I rescued in a rainstorm on Bald Hill Road, who bit me and won himself a ten-day quarantine and a place in my home forever. He is himself starting to go dull in his fur at age twelve. In my historical heart, Ivan is Rastus. And after Ivan passes (hopefully many years from now) there will be another cat, who will also mesh in my memory into that first special friend I adopted from the Chenango County SPCA so very long ago.
The Chenango County SPCA as I knew it was bulldozed for highway improvements. They are now the Chenango SPCA. They now have a beautiful shelter and a gracious big cat room with a huge cat tree that is a map of Chenango County (you must visit it one day, if you have not). The Tompkins County SPCA now no longer euthanizes one-week-old kittens. Times change. We all learn. We all suffer. We all grow.
Time moves on. But the soul of an adopted or rescued pet remains a living memory. Sadly, their lives are shorter than ours. But there will always be another, and another, and there will always be love.