Moonshadow Spring 1998
I could tell you that he came into my life with the roar of a lion and the beauty of Adonis, but if I did, that would be a lie. He was a very small, very ragged looking little kitten with black fur tinged white at the base so that when it was ruffled, he looked almost silver. His little body was so weak he staggered when he walked. However, all of this paled once you looked at his tiny face and saw the eye, twice its normal size and white with infection.
We had been out of town for a few days; my neighbors taking care of the four felines who shared our home. When I called to check on them, I was told they were fine and that there was a fifth cat in our midst. My neighbor had found a stray and was taking it to the Animal Shelter. I asked them to wait until I got home. After taming one feral cat and nursing one shelter kitten through an upper respiratory infection, I considered myself knowledgeable on the subject of feline rescue. I wanted a couple of days to feed the animal and give him a fighting chance before he went in for adoption. My thought was he would have a better opportunity of finding a good home if he looked well cared for.
From the moment I saw the little face peeking out of the storage room, I knew he had a hard road ahead of him. The eye would keep most people from wanting him if it didn’t kill him all together. My heart went out to him and something happened between us. Though I tried to deny it, I knew deep down that we would never be far apart, the little silver kitten and I.
It took me a day to gain his confidence so that he’d let me pick him up. The second I heard the little purr and felt his tiny heart beating against my palm, the eye became almost invisible to me. I only recognized a small fragile life, a helpless child with no one else in the world but me. And I wouldn’t let him down.
My decision was to take him to the vet and get him checked out before I took him to the shelter. The fear I couldn’t get out of my head was that he might be completely unadoptable. If that were the case, he would be put down. I wanted to know he had no chance of finding a home before I allowed that to happen.
I almost didn’t find him that morning and at first, felt a tinge of relief, knowing I wouldn’t have to make any decision at all. Then my tender heart took over and I worried about what might happen to him out on his own. I was ready to search the neighborhood when the soft scratches came from inside the shed. The tiny body staggered out, heading for the food that had been left out for him.
As if aware of the fact that the next few minutes could change the course of his life, the kitten balked at the idea of being picked up, even though the day before he had been more than eager to be cuddled and loved. It took a while to round him up and he mewed pitifully at me from inside the carrier, making me feel like a traitor for even considering the trip. There was nothing I could offer him in way of comfort other than a stream of soft, reassuring words and a gentle brushes of my finger against his cheek through the bars of the pet taxi.
With four other cats, my vet was quite used to me dragging in straggled felines, though none of mine had ever come to her in such a shameful condition. After a cursory examination, she admitted that a shelter adoption was unlikely, even though our shelter tried very hard to find owners for all pets. The eye was a drawback and required individualized care the staff couldn’t provide. And even with the proper care, there were no guarantees the eye could be saved. He had a fifty/fifty chance.
With my mind calculating the bill I was looking at, I requested a feline leukemia test on the kitten. I figured if he were negative, I’d take him in until I could get him well enough for adoption. If the test were positive, I would hold him while she put him down. He had known so much pain, so little of the kindness of humans, that if his life had to end so soon, it would end in the arms of someone who loved him.
While the two of us paced the tiny examining room, the kitten and I, I wondered what my reaction would be when the results came back. Part of me would be relieved if he was put down and it was over. Part of me would never recover from it, not after holding him so close, feeling that soft little nose nuzzle my cheek, those little claws clinging to me desperately. If he died, my heart would break.
I’m not sure who was more relieved when the test came back negative – me, the vet, or the assistants who had been milling around nervously. He was negative. One hurdle cleared. Another one to jump. We would give him oral and topic antibiotics, double-team his system in hopes of knocking out the infection. Every day we could do get through without losing the eye improved his chances.
As we were checking out and paperwork was being filled out, I watched the assistant put down his name as Cat. I remembered when my cousin was born with health problems and we had all believed she would die. The nurses had insisted that my aunt name her, give her an identity. She had survived her ordeal. And in my mind, naming the kitten would help him get through his. He was Shadow, for two reasons. One, he was only a shadow of a kitten, a terrified little being who ran from everything and everybody. And second, the song Moonshadow kept running through my mind. The line “and if I ever lose my eyes” wouldn’t go away. The beauty and the optimistic outlook found in the words were a message of hope. My Shadow needed a theme song and so he got one.
Taking him home, I wondered how my family would react. The other cats had come to us whole, not in broken bodies with so many strikes against them. What would my kids say? My husband? How would the other cats respond? And how would I deal with it if they all refused him sanctuary?
My first ally at home was my 10-year-old son. The eye was more of a curiosity to him than a negative. Studying it very carefully, he asked several questions, some of which I had no answer to, like would the kitten die. With a loving stroke of the silver fur, my son immediately offered to help with giving the medicine to Shadow, more concerned with the kitten’s well-being than the grossness of his looks or the possibility of watching him die.
My second and third ally were the two youngest cats, both shelter kittens who had been raised together. They took Shadow in like a little brother, cleaning him, protecting him from my still feral female who guarded her territory with an iron hand. But she soon came around, watching us closely when we medicated Shadow, growling at us if he cried out or squirmed too much.
My husband and my 14-year-old were a little harder to convince. It was the eye that turned them away. Not that I could blame them. It was a rather hideous sight. But the amount of love that came from that small, broken body was amazing and I knew that if I could ever get them to feel it, he would win their hearts just as he was quickly winning everyone else’s.
The deal from the beginning was that he could stay until he was better. I never tried to convince them to let him stay. I was more than willing to let him go to a good home when one was found. And I was determined to find one.
He slept most of the time in my lap and when he wasn’t asleep, he was never far from me, quickly becoming my Shadow in more than name.
Eating as if every meal was his last, he gulped down bowl after bowl of food until his little tummy bulged and he purred contently as he cleaned himself and curled up to nap.
By the middle of the first week with us, my oldest son was coming around, picking Shadow up to inspect the eye and see how much progress was being made. My husband would let the kitten curl up next to him on the couch but was still hesitant to touch him. I wished that I could make them see what they were missing, but there was no way to do that. Shadow wouldn’t be with us long enough for them to see how truly sweet he was.
At the end of the first week, I found someone who would take him in, sore eye and all. A cat-lover like me, whose heart was touched by the story of my little Shadow and wanted to give him a safe harbor. So I turned it over to my family, giving them the opportunity to send him away, which I was willing to do to such an avid feline fanatic. The three of them voted while I stood by and watched. It was unanimous. Shadow stayed.
Now, as I write this, I look down at the grown cat lying in floor not far from me. Almost a year has passed since I took him into my heart and my home. The family no longer thinks twice about the eye any more. It’s simply part of who Shadow is. As I remind everyone from time to time, without the eye, he would have gone to the shelter and someone else would be getting all the love Shadow gives so freely.
We’ve had some setbacks, but we’ve made it through the first year on a combination of luck, love, skill, and sheer determination. Where medicine stopped, the power of a caring, secure environment took over. Not only has he had that type of setting at home, but also from our vet and the clinic staff who have watched and cheered every step of the way, giving Shadow and me the support and comfort we needed when times were hard and uncertain.
The eye, though by no means normal, now smaller than normal size and mostly covered by the protective third eyelid, is no longer in immediate danger. I still worry when he plays too hard with his “big brothers,” but they seem to know his weakness and carefully avoid his head as much as they can.
As much as I love the others, Shadow will always be my favorite. The bond that started between us that first day has only grown stronger with time. He and I have walked through fire together and have come out, not unsinged, but much wiser and much stronger for our travels.
Would I do it again? In a heartbeat…and a purr.
Update – In the fall of 2001, Shadow began to have trouble breathing. Upon taking him to the vet, we learned a gland had ruptured and his lungs were full of fluid. He only had 5% lung capacity. Though it could be repaired, the recovery process was long and chances were, it would simply rupture again. The decision was extremely difficult, but in order to prevent him from suffering, we put him to sleep.
Shadow was my baby and my constant companion. At his passing, I realized that as frail as he always was, he took center stage with the others because of his bond to me. The power struggle went on for quite a while until everyone settled into a new rank within the group.
Like Charlotte, not a day goes by that I don’t miss him. He life was much too short and traumatic, and I hope his time with me proved to him that humans are worth loving. He certainly proved to me that beauty was more than skin deep.
I miss you, Moonshadow…