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Condolences for life's strays

By Mary Margaret Horan
Published February 4, 2007


The heavy, early morning thunderstorm set a somber mood for the day. My respect for lightning kept me off the treadmill, but I stayed in my exercise clothes as a promise to myself for later. I was going to check on the morning's news when the phone rang. It was my neighbor, Janice, a lovely young mother who lived across the street.

"I'm in front of your house," she said. "Could you come out? Someone's hit a cat."

I hung up and dashed out the door. Janice, dressed for work, one foot still in a cast from a recent fall, met me with an umbrella. "It's over there in the middle of the street," she said. "I had just pulled up to the stop sign and someone driving by either threw it out or hit it."

I'm legally blind, and at first I couldn't see the cat. As Janice led me toward the intersection, she said how glad she was that I was home, that though she had dogs, she knew nothing about cats, had never dealt with an injured animal. We'd always had cats in my family, and I hoped I knew enough to help this one.

"Oh, it's a baby," I exclaimed as we came upon its small form. I stooped to inspect it. With my limited vision and the rain, I couldn't tell if it was a dark calico or tiger, but it was beautifully colored and young, perhaps 3 months or less. And it was still, very still. Neither of us could see any wounds or blood.

"It may be alive," said Janice. "I saw its tail move just before you came out. I think it's a stray. What can we do?"

"We need to get it out of the street," I said. "Then maybe we can tell how badly it's hurt and decide what to do. I'll go get a towel to pick it up."

Janice had been holding the umbrella over us and the kitten as best she could. She handed it to me saying, "I've got some plastic bags right in the garage," and started hobbling back to her house in the rain.

I was touched by her good heart and consideration of me, her older neighbor, but I couldn't let her go without the umbrella. "I'm in exercise clothes," I said. "You need to stay dry for work." She reluctantly accepted and came back the few steps for the umbrella.

While she was gone, I stood by the kitten to keep other cars from running over it. I stopped some children on their way to school and a driver who turned onto this street to ask if they knew where the kitten belonged, but no one recognized it.

When Janice returned with the plastic bags, I took a deep breath and bent down, hoping I wouldn't hurt the kitten when I picked it up. But when I lifted it I felt no movement.

"I think it's dead," said Janice. "Should we put it in the garbage?" she asked, but I heard doubt in her voice, as though she hoped for a better suggestion.

"No, not that. Mike can bury it in the back yard when he gets home," I said, hoping my husband wouldn't mind digging a deep hole at the end of his workday. "We've got lots of pets buried there."

I told her how glad I was she'd stopped to help the kitten and she thanked me for coming out. We hugged, and Janice went on to work.

I took the kitten into my house, passing my dog at the front door and my cat lounging on the bed, and I felt sad for this little one. I took it into the garage, found a cardboard box that I could close with handle-holes on the sides. I laid the bag containing the kitten inside, leaving the bag open so the kitten, on the outside chance it was still alive, wouldn't suffocate. I then closed the box and left it on top of the washing machine, safe from the dog.

Mike confirmed its death when he got home from work that evening, and also its status in the neighborhood cat population.

"It's covered with fleas," he said, "and really thin, probably a stray. Pretty little thing, though." He got the shovel and headed out the back door. I followed him with the kitten.

Troubling thoughts

All day the kitten had occupied my thoughts. I couldn't get my mind off how hard life must be when you're young, alone and unwanted. I suspected Janice felt troubled also, even in the busyness of her workday.

I thought about all the strays my now-grown children had brought home over the years, and then about two friends standing in the rain on a city street, watching over an injured kitten, trying to help in what turned out to be its last moments of life.

* * *

That night, I learned on the evening news that the bodies of two babies had been found that day. One was a newborn left in a garbage bin in Lakeland by someone who drove away in a white truck. The decomposed remains of the other, also a newborn, were found in a Tampa alley.

Mary Margaret Horan lives in St. Petersburg.

[Last modified February 3, 2007, 20:11:14]

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