The topic of my most recent article for IDAHO Magazine is Storm, a blind foundling I plucked from the ditch during my morning walk. Storm was incredibly tiny when I found her and despite being gravely ill, she rallied and survived. She even managed to overcome blindness. But, what is really remarkable about this tale is that neither the veterinarian nor I killed her.
To explain that last sentence, I need to back up a few years.
In college, I acquired a persnickety part-Siamese cat, whom I dubbed Stinky. Stinky was my companion for 19 years. The end of his life was marked by a fit or seizure, which left him frail. It had been a good, long life and it was time to put him down. Though I was loathed to do it, I called several veterinarians, each of whom refused to schedule euthanasia without an exam. They insisted that with proper care, Stinky might rally and live another year or two.
At that time, a friend of mine was hemorrhaging $700 a month on dialysis for her 16 year old cat. She was miserable. The cat was miserable. Quality of life for both of them had diminished greatly. Owing to the enormity of the vet bills, food had become a luxury she was seldom able to afford. She ended up wallowing in a hole of debt that she later spent years repaying.
Being a pragmatic Idaho girl, I was not about to bankrupt myself over a 19 year old cat, no matter how beloved. Not one to shy from hard decisions, I reasoned that the kindest solution was to end Stinky’s suffering via a peaceful death, wrapped in a loving person’s arms. Unfortunately, the veterinarians did not agree. Stinky languished at home and died two days later.
The whole experience soured me on veterinarians for many years to come. After burying Stinky, I resolved, no more cats. Then a feral mama cat showed up and started popping out litters under my juniper. I trapped the cats and transported them to Kootenai Humane Society because their spay and neuter clinic accepts all cats, regardless of which county they originate from. Afterwards, the horde of furry menaces were released to their fate. Unfortunately, one little tabby decided to change her wild ways and insisted she was my cat, whether I wanted her or not. Eventually, she settled into a semi-domestic lifestyle.
And so, I was devastated when Tabby stumbled home with a broken leg three years later. Frantic, I called area veterinarians for a quote. The cost was expected to run about $3,500 for the initial visit and surgery. Additional costs would follow during recovery.
I simply couldn’t afford that.
In my job with the U.S. Census Bureau, I meet people (and there are a lot of them in rural Idaho) whose entire homes are valued at less than the $3,500 I was quoted for my cat’s broken leg. We lived in a nation were 40% of the population couldn’t afford a $400 emergency, and that was BEFORE the pandemic. There is little reason left to wonder why so many animals are abandoned each year. Veterinary care is cost prohibitive.
Unable to bear seeing Tabby suffer, I asked about euthanasia. Again, the vets refused discuss euthanasia until after an exam, x-rays, and analysis of possible treatment options. That meant I was required to spend anywhere from $500 to $700 at their clinics before they would even consider euthanasia.
It looked like I would have to kill Tabby myself. Then I recalled the Feral Cat Fiasco article I had written years earlier. During the course of writing that article, I learned that Veterinary clinics outside Latah County are MUCH cheaper. I ended up taking Tabby to Benewah Vet in Saint Maries. The exam, x-rays, and setting the leg cost about $350. Not only was the price right, but the conversation I overheard in the waiting room assured me I had made a wise decision.
A woman entered the clinic cuddling a tiny black kitten, nearly frozen to death. It was not her cat, but a foundling she decided to bring to the vet. The vet took the little mite in back for an exam and to warm it.
Upon returning to the waiting room, the vet said, “The kitten is not responding to food or warmth. Sometimes mama cats abandon kittens when there’s something wrong with them. It’s like they know the kitten won’t survive.”
The woman insisted there was nothing visibly wrong with the kitten. That it was just cold, hypothermic.
The vet shook her head.
This vet wouldn’t mince words or offer false hope. Nor would she bankrupt her clients over a hopeless case. And this brings me back to Storm.
When I found Storm that fateful September day, I didn’t know if I had inadvertently acquired another cat or if I had simply brought her home so she could die with a full belly. I fed her with a syringe, feeling a little like the Dread Pirate Roberts from The Princess Bride. “Good night, sleep well, I’ll most likely kill you in the morning,” echoed through my mind.
When I brought Storm to the vet, I knew she might counsel euthanasia. I’m still not entirely sure why she didn’t. And with that, Storm had become mine forever and for always.
As Storm’s story unfurled on social media, Diane Worthey recommend I read Homer’s Odyssey by Gwen Cooper, a memoir about life with a blind cat. The story is a delightful tale of love, luck, and misfortune. Unlike Storm, whose sight has partially recovered, Homer’s infection was so severe that his eyes had to be removed, resulting in permanent blindness. It’s a good read for anyone who is a sucker for a heart-warming tale and an educational read for those nay-sayers who think blindness is too much of a malady for a cat to overcome.
Today, Storm happily chases Tabby through the house. Weighing just four pounds, she is a petite demon who delights in shredding the brittle copper leaves that cartwheel through the yard. And she insists on wriggling inside my sweaters for a nap every time I sit down to write.
Diane has encouraged me to join the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators and turn Storm’s tale into a children’s book. Maybe someday I will. Right now, I have that pesky novel to finish.
In the meantime, you can read more about Storm by purchasing a copy of IDAHO Magazine at: 2020-12, December 2020 (Pinehurst) | IDAHO magazine
For more information on blindness in cats visit the Blind Cat Rescue and Sanctuary at: www.blindcatrescue.com