Fostering neonatal kittens isn’t for the faint of heart. One mid-April day in 1999 I answered a phone call from Lewisville Animal Services. Did I have any plans for the next six to eight weeks? A farmer discovered three newborn kittens in the middle of his cow pasture. Despite a lengthy search, neither the farmer nor the animal control officer could locate the mother. When could I pick up the kittens?
At the time there were only two foster families in my area who had both the time and the ability to raise bottle babies. I knew Humane Society of Lewisville founder, Mary Hill, was up to her ears in kitten whiskers. If I couldn’t take them animal control would put them to sleep as soon as the officer arrived at the shelter. Before I could say, “What was I thinking?” I pulled into the shelter parking lot.
The animal control officer (ACO) and I arrived at the shelter at about the same time. I wound my way to the loading dock past the rows of pathetic cats reaching for me, and the dogs barking for attention. There stood the ACO holding a small cardboard box. He pulled the flap up. Inside huddled three tiny kittens. They were so small I could hold all three of them in one hand.
“I need some help.” The officer handed me a pair of vicious-looking antique scissors that hasn’t been sharpened since the Woodrow Wilson administration.
A closer inspection of the kittens revealed their true age. Their umbilical cords were still soft and attached to the fresh placenta. They were only a few hours old. Their mother hadn’t even taken the time to free them from their placentas…and they were covered in cow poop. What a rough way to start a life! I cut the cords, swaddled them in a baby blanket and placed them in a carrier.
At home I warmed them up, and set up a nursery, then cleaned the stinky brown goop off of them with warm water and a bagful of cotton balls. Once I’d freed them from their stinky coating, I discovered two of the kittens were brown tabbies, with adorable little gray tiger stripes. The other kitten wore a formal tuxedo jacket; his markings even included a little a white bow tie and gloves and a pair of white spats. Baby boomers may remember the character Maynard G. Krebs from the sixties television sitcom, The Many Loves of Dobie Gillis. Bob Denver, best known in his title role on Gilligan’s Island, played Maynard and had a stereotypical beatnik goatee at the bottom of his chin. Our little tuxedo kitten also sported a Maynard Krebs-style goatee, along with big copper eyes, and a huge head.
Six weeks later, we knew there Maynard had a problem because the other kittens ran for the hills when the “evil” vacuum cleaner emerged from the closet. Maynard, not only wanted to watch it move back and forth, he wanted to hitch a ride.
His lack of fear tipped us off that he was totally deaf. We didn’t care whether he could hear or not. But when the vet confirmed our suspicions, she also slammed us with a second diagnosis: our adorable six-week-old charge had a buildup of fluid on his brain; Maynard was hydrocephalic, a medical term for water on the brain. According to the vet, he wouldn’t live more than a few more weeks. She recommended we euthanize him immediately.
For now climbed the drapes and tackled his brothers, so we decided against euthanasia, and instead we treated him homeopathically. He responded to the cypripedium treatment. All his symptoms but the deafness improved. He proved to become a happy, healthy and even a clever kitten another seven months. Every night he jumped up on the bed, walked across the mattress and lay down on my ankles. I always thought it couldn’t be comfortable sleeping on my ankle bones, but he claimed that spot as his special space.
That Thanksgiving my husband and I visited out-of-town family, as was our tradition. Fearing a downturn while we traveled I asked my best friend, Debbie Waller, to care for Maynard.
On Thanksgiving Eve, my fear became a reality. Debbie called from the vet’s office. The fluid and pressure had suddenly started to build pressure against his brain. It was time. As if living in a nightmare, I heard myself give Debbie permission to put him to sleep. I didn’t even get to say goodbye.cephalic cat, I still dwelled on the possibility that Maynard might still be alive if only I’d stayed home. If only I could have told Debbie where to find the medicine. If, if, if…
A visit from a ghost cat
A few weeks after we’re returned home, I was still sad, but I had moved on. A new litter of neonates slept peacefully in my bathroom.
One night, about two weeks after we returned home, I had climbed into bed, but hadn’t settled in yet. I lay wide awake in bed. Suddenly, I felt the distinct sensation of a cat jumping onto the bed, the footsteps of little paws padding across the mattress, followed by the pressure of a small cat laying down atop my ankles. While cats jump on the bed all the time, this one claimed Maynard’s special corner. Enough moonlight seeped through the curtains to let me make out shapes. I looked, expecting to see another cat lounging down at my feet, but despite the fact that I felt weight against my legs, I could see there were no cats on the bed.
What I was experiencing was impossible. Yet for the first time in weeks I smiled. I dared not move for fear, not fear of the ghost of a dead kitten, but from the fear the sensation would vanish. Eventually, I slipped off to sleep and in the morning the weight against my feet had vanished. It would never return, but for one brief happy moment I had Maynard back. He had dropped by to tell me goodbye.
Prior to Maynard’s return, I believed people who had experienced ghost encounters had done a bit too much recreational in the 1970s. At that moment, with his six pounds pressing against my ankles, I knew I was wrong. I felt at peace and forgiven.
It was an entire year before I mentioned Maynard’s return to my husband, or anyone else for that matter. But I knew Maynard had given me a wonderful gift. I just wished he’d visit me again sometime.
Want more real cat ghost stories. Check out Ghost Cats: Human Encounters with Feline Spirits at Amazon.com. Kindle is now available. Paperback will be out in a few days.
Do you have an animal ghost story? Tell me about it in the comments below.