Today I had to make the difficult decision to have Ziggy put to sleep. He had been unwell for a week and in distress for the last day. It was time to accept emotionally what I already knew intellecually – that my time with Ziggy was at an end. I am sure that when he danced across The Rainbow Bridge that Augie, my precious British Bull Terrier who died in 2007 was waitng for him. This is Ziggy’s unlikely story – I wrote it in 2004.
On Labour Day week-end 1999 I was doing some end-of-summer clean-up and pruning in my garden. It was a delicious, warm day and I was happy to have the week-end off and to be outdoors. Augie was snoozing in the sunshine and I sat down beside him and scratched his ears. He looked at me, as only a dog can, stretched and licked my hand. All was well in his world.
I was just about to go inside when I heard a whimpering sound in the yew bushes at the end of the garden. I went over to the patio to investigate and found a young mother cat lying in the dirt with six newborn kittens. As soon as I appeared she bolted, dove under the back gate and disappeared. The kittens had just been born and were totally helpless. I recalled seeing the mother on my front porch on a few occasions earlier in the year, but she had always seemed terrified of people so I’d never tried to coax her closer.
I had no ideas what to do with the kittens so I called my vet to ask for his advice. He told me put them in a box with a clean towel and to leave them in the garden. He said that the mother’s maternal instincts would outweigh her fear and that she would return. So the babies went into a cardboard box. I put some milk in a bowl beside the box and my garden umbrella over it to keep the kittens out of the direct sunshine. I took Augie into the house, did a few more chores, then had some lunch. A couple of hours later I crept out to check and sure enough the mother had returned. The kittens were snuggled against her and she was sound asleep. Most of the milk was gone. As I looked at her I realized that she was hardly more than a kitten herself. Her fur was dull and she was a tiny creature, definitely a stray. I thought how cruel nature can be and how brave she was – there with six babies, hungry and frightened and doing her best.
I left her there and went off to see a movie with my friend Nancee. During the afternoon, it clouded over and started to rain. I stopped at the corner store on the way home to buy some cat food and then checked on the little family. I put out some more milk and cat cookies and went to bed. In the morning I went to the garden. The mother was gone and two of the kittens were dead. I think she may have slept on them inadvertently and smothered them. I buried them in my front garden under the white flox. The remaining four kittens were crying for food and warmth. The mother had come back by late afternoon. I put more food out for her. She was still very frightened of me and she seemed distracted – climbing in and out of the box and not letting the kittens feed properly.
That night it rained – but not a soft late summer shower. The rain was torrential – slicing onto the ground and forming pools on the patio. I could hardly see the little shelter I had built for the cats. By morning the force of the weather had lessened a bit, but it was still miserable. I opened the kitchen door and heard the most plaintiff yammer imaginable coming from the yard. The mother cat was gone, two more of the kittens were dead. She must have taken one with her. The remaining grey kitten had his little legs stretched out in front of him in an attempt to keep his face out of the water that had collected inside the box. He was shrieking his protest at the unfairness of life. I scooped him up out of the remains of the sodden cardboard box and took him inside. I buried the two dead kittens and came back in to see what I could do for this last baby. He looked like a drowned mouse – tiny, helpless, feeble, blind and hungry. This time I called the Humane Society. They suggested an eye dropper and a powdered formula to mix with warm water, but cautioned me that a 3 day old kitten without its mother would never live. I made a bed for him in a blue re-cycling box and headed off for the Humane Society.
Back home again, I mixed up the formula and put the tip of the eye dropper up to the kitten’s mouth,. He fought to turn his head away and uttered the saddest, most mournful cries I’ve ever heard. I had to pry open his little jaws and let beads of formula drop into his mouth. I had no idea how much to give him, so I finished half of the eye dropper and covered him up in his bed. I didn’t expect him to live, but he surprised me. He was crying in his box in the morning so I fed him again. By noon I noticed that his little tummy was as hard as a rock. I checked his bed and realized that he hadn’t been able to pee. From somewhere deep in my memory, I recalled seeing a National Geographic special about newborn lion cubs. Their mothers have to lick their genitals to teach them to pee – so I put the kitten in the palm of one hand and rubbed his genitals with a little dab of hand cream. An instant steam of warm urine arched into the air. After three more days he was off and running – successful bathroom parade by himself every day.
I didn’t give him a name because in my heart I didn’t really expect him to live. Even though he was a week old and eating well, I still thought that I would wake up one morning and his little body would be cold. He drank from an eyedropper for about 3 weeks and then graduated to a doll’s baby bottle. I named him Ziggy when he was three months old. My friend Martin was convinced that he would have psychological problems because he was a bottle fed kitten. At four months he climbed out of the blue box in the den and took over the house. Augie and Ziggy have become fast friends. An unlikely duo – they are affectionately known in my house as “The Alphabet Boys”.
Ziggy’s whole world consists of my house, Augie and me. Yet he is every bit a cat. He stretches, plays, prowls, meows, jumps and climbs just like any of his brethren. I’m convinced that he was sent to me for a reason. He has taught me a thing or two about overcoming adversity. That little creature’s will to live was so sublime, a thing of beauty to behold. Ziggy is four now and he has grown into a beautiful grey cat – part Persian, part alley cat. His eyes are amber and his nose and the pads of his feet are grey. He is contrary and cranky and at times a little streak of misery but he loves me totally. He pats my face to wake me up in the morning and accompanies me to my bedroom at night time, where he makes sure that I’m settled before going downstairs to his bed in the den.
I am grateful for Ziggy every day and continually amazed at the beautiful bond that exists between humans and animals. I used to think I was just a “dog person” – but Ziggy has expanded my consciousness and opened my eyes to the delightful wonder of puddies!