When we chose Sheba over 285 other cats at Cat Welfare, it was our own welfare we had in mind. Though it was true that Sheba played a part in the choice, standing up on her pillar and stretching to look at me through the glass walls of the quiet room every time I came in, just as if to ask, "Are you my woman?" I felt sorry for the little cat who was afraid of other cats, whose previous owner had abandoned her at a veterinary hospital. I wondered what had become of that woman. Maybe she was hit by a car, maybe she died, maybe her mother got sick and she flew home to be with her, and couldn't get her wits about her enough to make arrangements for the cat. Anything could have happened.
Your heart goes out to all the cats in that perennially overcrowded no-kill shelter, the ones who wind about your ankle, the ones who are too tired or discouraged or ill to even look up. There is a certain crowd that seems to enjoy the place, hang out together, run around looking for trouble, just like high school. But, just like high school, everyone else is marking time, looking for a way out.
The only record on Sheba showed that she was brought in five months previous, and had been spayed and had her shots. Someone, one of the volunteers I think, told us she was three years old, but we can't track down any records with her date of birth. We believed she was three until we'd had her at home for a week or two and took her to the vet to get her claws trimmed. (Having front claws had not been in her favor.) The vet did a blood draw and called the next day with the bad news: her kidney function is very low. This is a familiar story to cat people; many cats die of kidney failure. Our Sherlock had. We knew his age, seventeen.
Sheba was also chosen for her looks. Shallow as that may seem, a cat is a thing of beauty, an adornment in a house. Sheba was a sort of clouded black tiger, with an expressively marked face, and shadows of auburn beneath her striping. And she had personality. And furthermore, she seemed to yearn toward me, to want to be adopted by us, even though she could hardly be touched, and certainly not picked up. (We never got to pet her until she'd been home for a while.) Her figure we didn't know about, because we saw her only in the tiny quiet room, where she wove in and out of pillars, but mostly just lay there. When we got her home and she was walking about we could see that she is paunchy, with the low belly of an older cat, and carries an extra pound or two.
So we had another cat who might be close to death. I began saying that this was The Wynding Drive Cat Hospice, a joke of sorts, but there seemed to be something sweet about it, that we could give a helpless animal a good end-of-life.
Sheba began weaving into our daily lives in a very satisfactory way. She has gradually taken in more of this nice, big territory - the screened porch, the basement (carpeted steps!) and the garage. She has learned to eat her special kidney diet, though not without protest. She has learned when treats are given, three times a day, and tested a great many other possibilities. She has developed two tricks, or say, aspects of her performance piece around these treats - Running Cat and Magical Floating Cat. She has dedicated certain venues where she naps at specific times of day. At night, she lies on the bed, at my feet, where the heated mattress pad confers a lovely warmth. Would that we could all end up in a hospice that offers so many creature comforts!
It was not our first priority to generously give an orphan cat a home, though we knew we did want a shelter cat. We did it for ourselves. We wanted a cat in the house, we needed relief from the echoing emptiness after Sherlock died. We have ended up with a cat who will probably not be with us as long as he was - I think she is actually eight or nine years old.
Her happiness here is plain to see. She goes out in the garage and stretches to claw at the doormat. In my study, I am surprised to see her thread her way through the colored pencils on my art table and jump neatly up on the file cabinet to watch from the high window, just like Sherlock did. I'm in the process of clearing a place for her on a really high shelf in the closet; she has indicated that she would like to try that.
It is very hard to do any good in this world, have you noticed? You give someone a carefully chosen gift, and it falls flat. You try to help someone out and it turns out to be impossible. But with an animal there is never any question. Sheba is not as demonstrative as some, but she has an expansive purr, and a chirrup and chuckle that demands serious petfest at odd times. She feels safe enough now to try some questionable things, like jumping up on the kitchen table. Gradually her coat has gotten shinier, and she has less dandruff. She sleeps more soundly, not jumping up alarmed at the smallest sound. So, if we never accomplish anything else in this world, we have made one small animal happier. But in the end, it is impossible to say whether she benefits most or whether we do, who gives, the giver or the grateful recipient.