Friday, July 16, 2010

Tears of Shared Compassion

Yesterday, on the way to the vet.

When I called the vet's office yesterday, at the specified time, to make sure both cats made it out of the surgery and were doing alright, the vet tech, a kind soul detected behind the voice, told me both were coming out of the anesthetic normally.  She then went on to say that the 'older' female  - the one we have been calling Grandma -  has to be six or seven years old, and by the shape of her uterus appeared to have been having kittens since the time she was of that certain age.   This explained why, while she had been inside, she is the only one who has gone from feral, to wanting nothing more than to be spoken to and petted. The vet-tech said, "She is just plain weary."  My heart broke. 

Grandma today.

Today, after arriving home, both crawled from the cages directly into prepared cat carriers with clean cat clothes.   I waited an hour to make sure they were alright to leave for a while, then left to return the borrowed cages.  Incredibly enough I didn't lose my way on the least important trip of them all.  Grandma's daughter had started wandering around their room, while Grandma rested, so I thought it safe to leave.

Unfortunately, later I would have to make an emergency call to the vet hospital.

Unlike a call I took at work once. An elderly woman was screaming for an ambulance, while being extremely evasive concerning who it was for. She just kept screaming, "I don't know what's wrong with him, he JUST KEELED OVER."  I sent the ambulance right along, along with the info they had an hysterical relative on their hands as well, at which point they requested an engine for extra manpower. Three for the 'patient', three guys for the hysterical relative. When the bus arrived on the scene I heard nothing on the radio for a minute. A really long time considering someone had allegedly keeled over, and shouldn't I be notifying the hospital of a possible code or something?  I requested a status check.  What I got was, "We'll land-line ya."   OK.  Apparently the elderly woman's ancient German Shepherd had died right in front of her eyes. She knew of no other way to get help immediately. She had no car, hadn't driven in decades.  Her husband was twenty years dead, her dog was all she had.  While I was being informed of this by the EMT via land-line, I was listening to the background noises of not only firefighters consoling the poor woman, but a strange combination of things like, "Hold it right there,"   "OK a bit to the left,"  "Hold on I need another hand here." I had to ask ,"Hey what is going on there anyway?"  

This was an important question due to the fact that I was tying up and ambulance and a fire truck with their operators, we only had two full-time ambulances to use before we were forced to call for mutual aid from nearby towns, all of which were volunteer departments.  This may not sound like a big deal, but it is in a city where unrelated incidents seem to happen in quick succession.  If someone breaks their leg, then ten minutes later some poor soul has a heart attack, twenty minutes before an auto-accident, we were up the creek.  Hence the 'dump (at the hospital) and run' routine. 

The EMT went on to inform me that it was the woman's dog that had keeled over, the woman was old and on the verge of a heart attack and they could not simply leave her in the house with the dead dog, who was extremely overweight...  They had loaded the dog on the stretcher and were attempting to maneuver the body down the stairs from the woman's bedroom.  It was taking three  EMTs on the downhill heavy end.
"If you need us we're ready to run."

It was one of the many times that my heart swelled with gratitude for those guys. Despite rules strictly forbidding anything of this nature, their compassion overwhelmed the fear of a supervisor's complaint.

It's not often I turn out to be the recipient of comparable compassion.  I'm the one that gets the call when desperate help is needed, when the one asking is so overwhelmed all they can do is call someone for help.  Like my Dad. The strong silent type.  Only when it was determined my mother had so many strokes in the course of nine or so hours her EEG was a flat line, he called me.  I had never heard him so broken and beaten. He was sobbing. It was hard to make out what he was saying until I heard clearly, "They want me to unplug her."
He just couldn't do it. After over 45 years of a beautiful marriage, he couldn't let go, despite my mother's wishes. I had to tell the doctor to do it.

Its seems, the older I get, the more deeply I am affected by the compassion of others.   Especially strangers.

After dropping off the Have-A-Heart cages, I still had time to swing through Wal-Mart and pick up (what else) cat food and litter.  One can never have enough in this house these days, and it was nearly right on the way home. From home it is eighteen miles.  After loading two 34 pound double boxes into the cart, I noticed the price on the 14 pound boxes. Wait a minute. Two weeks ago it was less expensive to buy the double boxes, now it was actually over ten dollars cheaper to get four of the 14 pound boxes. 

While my brain was on overdrive doing the calculations I sensed a body next to me.  Muttering.  I turned to face an elderly lady who looked directly at me and said, "Ya know, last week these cans were thirty-seven cents each. Today they are fifty cents. I'd like to speak to Raoul from the commercials and let him know he's rolling up, not back.

I explained that was exactly why I was unloading the 34 pound boxes back onto the shelf, and reloading four 14 pound boxes.  At this point he daughter, who was probably in her forties, came rolling around the corner, joining in our discussion of Raoul needing a reality check.  They told me of the four rescues they own.  Naturally, due to the sheer amount of cat stuff in my carriage the conversation turned to my animals, at which point I explained my goal  of having all the feral farm cats fixed to save them from a tortuous life of living and breeding. 

This woman and her daughter were stunned and I noticed the daughter was welling up.  She swallowed hard and said, "You are doing good work, so few care about animals these days, as a tear rolled down her cheek, while next to me her mother was sniffling and trying to fish  Kleenex out of her purse.  Well that did it. I felt my throat constrict. I was welling up too.  The woman's mother frantically passed out tissues.  Each in our own minds thinking of the abused and abandoned animals we can't help. We stood and talked  for a while longer, they asked what vet hospital was doing such good work (Thank you H.O.P.E Clinic for caring), in case they needed the information for themselves or others, and we parted.

It seems like such a little thing, but it's not. It was a really big thing, not because someone had acknowledged what I am doing, but because I have received confirmation there are others out there who care just as much, if not more, about animals as I do.  One doesn't run into these types often, but you know when you do because the conversation always focuses on animals.  I continued to well up on the way home.  Just plain thanking the powers that be, the woman and her daughter, and the vet hospital that charges forty-five dollars for feral cats, all shots and flea treatment included, with a tattoo and and ear notch for ID purposes. 

My mother had done the same thing near the end of her life.  My parents were living behind a woman who had un-neutered cats that kept breeding.  My mother would make an appointment with her vet, sneak out early in the morning, nab a cat, and whisk it off to the vets to be fixed.  She would keep each one in the house until they were safely over their surgery, at which point she would release and catch another one.  She did this with thirty-six cats.  That belonged to someone else.  Just because. 

When I arrived home I checked on my victims of surgery, and went out to the pond to see if I could get a picture of Fred, the enormous bull frog (as usual, bull frog Olympics, perfect swan dive into the water before I am ready).

When I came back in I discovered Grandma had vomited.  It's a bit hot in the entryway so I moved her into the spare bedroom with her food, water and private bath (A.K.A. litter box), turned on the A/C, and raced to call the vet.  Though now friendly, she isn't having any of me checking her gums to make sure they are pink (indication of no internal bleeding). The vet informed me the only alternative is to race her back to the city,  put her "under" again, and she is too old for this.

I'll be spending the rest of the evening trying to look down Grandma's throat.  Wish me luck.


  1. That scene with everybody crying into their kleenex... oh my but that was me today, talking at the gym with my friends about the unexpected death of Phoenix, an eaglet ready to fledge. We were all crying. Man, it hurts to love them, but what's the alternative??

    Prayers and best wishes for Grandma's return to health.

  2. Poor Grandma! I hope the vomiting is just the effect of anaesthetic wearing off?

    We have five cats at the moment; three have come from someone near us who won't get her cats fixed, and the other two were strays. I think what your mother did was wonderful.


  3. It's remarkable what we will do for our little four-legged friends. When my daughter was living in Japan, a stray cat adopted her. She resisted at first, but then she discovered that they don't have animal shelters in Japan - you can guess what happens to unwanted animals there. That put the pressure on my daughter who then brought the little Japanese cat into her home. When she came back to the US, she brought the little Neko home with her. She had to get special shots and documents from the Japanese vet before he could be admitted into the country, but it was done.

    The little Japanese cat lived here only a few months when a neighbor shot and killed him with a pellet gun. There are no words to describe how we all felt.

  4. Thanks for sharing a story about first responders who went above and beyond the call of duty to do the right thing.

  5. Robert, a simply horrifying and heartbreaking story. I am reading this as I wonder where Dead-Beat-Dad is. We heard shot-gun blasts a couple fields away two evenings ago, where the cat hunts, and have not seen him since. I am hoping he has not befallen poor Neko's fate. I do plan however, on driving out the farm road in a hurry the next time I hear someone back there with a shot gun. Gaud help thr ignorant soul if he happens to be standing in the road with the darn gun while I am racing out there to see who is shooting...

    SlamDunk, more to follow where that came from. It was actually more fun being a dispatcher than a cop! (though not as lucrative when it came to construction jobs...)