SILVER, THE MIRACLE CAT
Silver's beginnings were fragile at best. Dolly, the old mother cat, who had been with John’s family since before our marriage, had somehow miscalculated the time of delivery, producing a litter of new kittens on the coldest day of the year. And if that wasn’t bad enough, the best shelter she could find was under the haystack!
It was 32 degrees below zero that bitter January morning when John went to the haystack for bales to feed the cattle. There, in a hole underneath the bales, he found the Dolly, her body frozen almost solid but underneath her she had been trying to shield five newborn kittens. Four of them were dead, from the cold undoubtedly, but one tiny silver grey mite was still moving. John tucked the wet bundle inside his shirt to keep it warm and hurried back across the large yard to the house, presenting me with the most pitiful little creature I had ever laid eyes on. It couldn’t have been more than two hours old.
Maybe Dolly had been too old, maybe too ill and certainly her judgment was terrible, but oh, what a dreadful way to go! (The girls had named her “Dolly” because they had used her as a doll, carrying her around from the moment they had learned to waddle. They had trained Mitzy, Dolly’s daughter and other kittens that same procedure and the cats all accepted it without protest which surprised me at first but then, seeing success at work, I just let it carry on.) Anyway, seeing this little kitten so helpless now, made us all remember Dolly and her patient and docile nature.
The kids and I all choked back sobs, both for poor Dolly as well as this pathetic little legacy she had left behind. What was to become of it? Well one thing was for sure, if Dolly had given her life for this poor baby, we certainly owed it to her to try and save it.
I took an old basin, filled it with warm water and did what Dolly would have done had she been able. I washed that poor little tyke off, then dried it with a warm towel. Next, I had to find a way to feed it, but how? The miniature mouth was almost invisible in the tiny head that was barely the size of my thumb. Yet this thing was alive and if I could find a way to get some nourishment into that tiny body, it might have a good chance of surviving. My mind frantically jumped from one possible solution to another, discarding them one by one as impractical, impossible or just plain ludicrous!
Then I got an inspiration. The girls had dolls. The dolls had accessories. Among those accessories was a little plastic bottle with a miniature nipple that screwed onto the bottle. If I made a needlepoint hole in that tiny nipple and filled the bottle with warm milk, I might be able to get the kitten to suck on the milk. Even if that failed, I could squirt the milk into its mouth and it would have to swallow. Encouraged by these possibilities, I set about to put the idea to work and three fascinated kids watched anxiously.
I warmed up a small amount of milk, then using a funnel; I filled the wee bottle and gently pushed the miniature nipple into the tiny mouth. Nothing. I wiggled it around trying to arouse some response from the kitten. Nothing! I squeezed the soft plastic bottle in an effort to get some milk into its mouth. Major mistake! The soft plastic threads of the bottle slipped, popping the nipple off, drenching both that kitten and me with the warm milk.
Back to the basin, another bath and another drying operation. Then I refilled the bottle, and, securing the nipple with several strips of sticky tape, I tried again. Eventually, by squirting milk into the tiny mouth, the kitten began to swallow and then suck on the tiny nipple. Ah! success at last! Relieved, I let it suck until, sated, it fell asleep in the palm of my hand.
It had taken about a third of the tiny bottle, and it had taken it willingly. It was going to survive, I was almost sure of it now. The kids and I all felt elated. “Silver”, as we decided to call her, was going to be a baby with new and different challenges, but we knew it would be a rewarding experience.
Silver fed from that tiny bottle for over three weeks, willingly and eagerly sucking on the tiny nipple. I found that after a short spurt of sucking she would stop. I stroked her belly gently with my finger and a tiny gurgling burp sounded from her throat. I was both amused and intrigued. I guess the mother burps them when she licks them but I had never known that kittens, like human babies, burp! After a burp, she would start sucking again.
Silver grew quickly. The kids eagerly waited for her eyes to open but it was the tenth day before they finally did. By this time she was crawling blindly out of the small cushioned basket that had been her home since that fateful day when she had come into the house half frozen.
Now that she could see and was starting to make daily sojourns into the room, I decided it was time to toilet train her. I got some sawdust from the woodpile, warmed and dried it in the oven and put it in a box. Then I put her in the box. She seemed to know instinctively what to do there and we never had to clean her sleeping basket, or her, again after that day.
She learned to drink milk from a dish. Besides that, each time we sat down to a meal, we always dropped tiny morsels of goodies into her dish so that eventually she learned to expect it. She ate what we ate no matter what it was, perhaps she just didn't know any different. She never had raw meat because we never ate it but she never refused any tidbit we gave, even if it was a vegetable or fruit that the kids would sometimes put on her plate to test her.
She no longer slept in the sleeping basket, preferring instead to sleep on the bed beside me. I didn't let her in the kids’ rooms at night, fearing that in their sleep they may roll over and accidentally smother her. In the mornings, she was our alarm clock. She would nuzzle our faces with her nose, tickling us with those whiskers of hers, and if that failed to get us up, she would start licking our face. That rough little tongue of hers always did the trick. This was fine on weekdays when we needed to get up early, but it was a real nuisance on Saturdays when we wished to sleep in.
Her sawdust box was cleared out of the way and hidden underneath the stairs and each week she got a fresh box of clean, oven-dried sawdust. She was meticulously clean, preening herself after each meal, washing each paw repeatedly and then using it to wash her face. Then, she'd lie down and purr loudly in contentment.
The girls played with her constantly. Even Mitzy, Silver’s older sister, was given some reprieve and a chance to freely roam afield because Silver occupied so much of the girls’ playtime. She was now their baby and they would wrap her up in the old baby blanket, carrying the tightly wrapped bundle around for hours. She never resisted. I suppose she never knew that a cat's life could, or should, be different.
One evening we had homemade pizza for supper that I threw together just out of leftover ingredients. The topping consisted of homemade tomato paste, lots of mozzarella cheese, and minced fried chicken doused with onion. Silver sat dutifully beside her dish waiting. I told the kids she wouldn't like it, that tomato paste was not regular cat fare, but they gave her some anyway. She ate it. "If it's good for you" she seemed to say, "then it has to be good for me".
It was late and the kids were in bed, and John, too, retired soon after. I was still working in the kitchen and Silver was sleeping on the couch in the living room waiting for me. As I worked busily at my chores, my heart suddenly stopped at the sound of a blood curdling yowl that emanated from the living room. I looked up to see Silver rounding the corner from the living room to the dining room, her feet sliding out from under her on the slippery waxed tiles as she dashed madly around the next corner to the kitchen and around the next corner heading pellmell for the sawdust box. Just short of the box she lost it.
The pizza had not agreed with her digestive system after all and she had desperately tried to reach the sandbox before it erupted from her throat. She had missed it by five inches. Had the floor not been that slippery, had there been one less corner to turn, had she realized sooner how sick she was, - but she had given it her most valiant effort. I could hardly fault her as she stood there forlornly looking at the mess she had made.
Silver never went outdoors at all that first winter, but late in the spring, when the snow and ice were gone, we started letting her outside when the weather was warm. She enjoyed the outdoors but hated cold. Then, at the beginning of June, a freak snow storm dumped about five inches of fluffy white snow on the ground. Her first encounter with snow was incredibly funny and unforgettable.
We let her out and she walked hesitantly on the cleared sidewalk looking at this white stuff all around her. Then she stepped off the walk into the snow. Immediately, her foot sank into the soft white fluff. Startled, she leaped up and back onto the sidewalk, staring at the white surface in front of her that really wasn't a surface after all. After a moment, she decided to try again. Gingerly, she touched the snow with her paw, then pulled it back and shook it. She licked her paw and then sat back on her haunches scrutinizing the whiteness in front of her, not quite sure what to do next. Inside the house we watched her consternation through the windows and laughed uproariously at her bewilderment.
Silver never did spend too much time outdoors, especially if it was cold. She preferred to sleep on the warm bed with us, year round. She knew nothing of hunting and probably would have just as soon run from a mouse as after it. She got all her nourishment thrown to her off the table but she never made any attempt to go get it herself. She didn’t even associate with the other cats. She had bonded with humans from the start and didn’t know anything else.
In the fall, Silver prowled around outdoors but always sought out any warm spot she could find if she could not get into the house. This search for heat became her death knell before she was even three years old. One day, John had driven in from somewhere and after stopping the car, had some chores to attend to before going out again. Silver got underneath the car and, feeling the heat of the engine, crawled somewhere inside where it was warm. When John got back into the car and started the motor, poor Silver never stood a chance. A loud banging came from under the hood - not even a yowl. When John opened the hood to investigate, Silver's mangled body was wedged between the fan and the belt.
We could not contain our sobs when we saw what had happened. That poor baby that had survived such adversities in her first few days of her life, had never even learned to be a real cat. She had given us total love and devotion and she had had so much more to give. The kids and I felt her loss most because she had been such a big part of our lives. We missed her terribly, but this was now just another chapter in our book of memories.