Monday, November 10, 2014

Oliver's Tale

He was tiny. He was different. He was intriguing.

I first caught a glimpse of him while taking a short break from signing copies of my book "Purr Therapy" at the Santa Clarita, CA Catoberfest celebration of cats and the cat rescue organization Forgotten Angels.

He was a little black kitten, significantly separated from the other Forgotten Angels adoptable kittens and cats. The organization, after all, considered him a long-shot for adoption.

   First glimpse: Playing in his litter box at Catoberfest in Santa Clarita, CA

He was black, not a popular color for rescue cats. But his differences from the others were much more significant than color. This little kitten had only three legs, a large hernia and a near tragic back story: he was thrown into a trash can, simply discarded, soon after birth. If not for a passerby who heard his cries coming from a curb-side trash can, he certainly would not have survived. 

Unable to imagine a greater evil than discarding a defenseless newborn kitten into the trash, rescue volunteers assumed that he was born without his right rear leg. But somewhat later, a veterinarian pointed out the bone protruding from the short stump and said that it looked like someone had cut off his leg in a senseless act of cruelty.

For someone with such a traumatic beginning, this little kitten -- named Herbie (the love bug) by rescuers -- was amazingly cheerful, outgoing and loving. He responded warmly to people, purring as soon as anyone looked at him, cuddling closely with anyone willing to hold him. I couldn't believe how this little animal loved people -- despite everything someone had done to him so early in life.


                  Playing with a Forgotten Angels volunteer at Catoberfest

I watched as he rolled and played joyously in his litter box, while the Forgotten Angels volunteer sitting by his cage kept trying to re-direct him to a toy filled little bed on the other side of the cage. "Playing in the litterbox!" she scolded. "You have enough strikes against you already, sweetheart! Can't you just sit nicely in your little bed and look pretty?"

But he dashed around, exuberant, full of life, showing off, spilling litter with every move. 

As I headed back to my book-signing area, I hoped and prayed that someone would adopt him before my next break.

But no one did. Plenty of people stopped to look at him and to read his heart-rending story posted atop his cage. But no one wanted a kitten who was crippled and who needed three surgeries in the near future.

I sent Bob an email about this captivating little cat. He wrote back that he felt haunted by the story of this poor little guy and wondered if we might think of offering him a forever home.

I set my phone down and started talking with people about "Purr Therapy" and listening to their stories of the cats they loved -- and the ones they had loved and lost. Dr. Tracy McFarland, my all time favorite vet who rescued our beloved, late Timmy and Gus when they were tiny kittens sixteen years ago and entrusted them to us, joined me at the signing, autographing copies of the book (which is dedicated to her) for many at Catoberfest who were patients and who considered Dr. Tracy by far the greater celebrity present.

"My husband and I are emailing each other about Herbie," I whispered. She smiled and put her arm around me. 

"He's a wonderful kitten, very, very special," she said. "And he couldn't go to a better home. Are you really going to take him home to Arizona with you?"

Bob and I discussed the logistics via email. I had to come back to Santa Clarita the next weekend for another Barnes and Noble signing. I had planned to fly by myself....but we took a deep collective breath and I changed my plans. Bob and I drove back four days later and, after the signing was finished, we traveled to the high desert town of Palmdale to pick up this new addition to our family.

He was with a bunch of other cats at a local PetSmart, snuggled with his little friend Kirby, a beautiful gray and white kitten who had become his special buddy in his foster home. Bob and I paused, torn, at the enclosure. Should we take them both? That would make five cats. It seemed to be tipping the balance into crazy cat collecting.

"Oh, my God, Kirby is so cute!" Bob said, looking through the glass. "But he's so beautiful and so perfect, someone will adopt him soon for sure. Poor little Herbie doesn't have the same chance...."

Vicki, a Forgotten Angels volunteer, looked a little tearful as she held our new kitten. "It's so hard to say goodbye to this one," she said. "He is such a love but we're so thrilled he has a home."

                         Saying "Goodbye" to Vicki -- and then off to Arizona!                        

We put Herbie in a carrier and took him to our car where a fully-equipped kennel with bed, food and water and a litter box, awaited him for the nine-hour journey.

The long car trip has never been such a pleasure. Though he cried briefly, the kitten soon relaxed and rejoiced, purring loudly and cuddling in my arms and then Bob's as we took turns driving. The miles flew by.

Somewhere before the Arizona border, Bob decided that Herbie was too close to Hammie, the name of our youngest adult cat. He likes to have a distinct name for each cat so that they will come (usually) when called. We decided to name this one Oliver or Ollie. 

Everything was set -- or so we thought. Previous kitten introductions have been easy, thanks to the sweetness of our alpha cat Gus, who has embraced every kitten coming into the house and mandated quick acceptance by the others. But Gus had died at age 16 this summer and our three surviving cats have spent the months since both grieving his loss and jockeying for position in the household. Bringing a handicapped kitten into the mix didn't improve anyone's mood. 

         Ollie is undaunted by his limitations - a missing leg and a large hernia

To our surprise, our testy young female cat SweetPea was the first to befriend Oliver after his obligatory several sequestered days, the mutual sniffing under the door and the growlings of various intensities. Ollie was delighted to have a friend, albeit one with definite mood swings. When she tired of his playing, she would bop him on the head. He would roll over, purring and simply wait for her irritation to pass.

                                                              SweetPea and Oliver

But Maggie and Hammie were less easily convinced that Oliver was a welcome addition to the family.

Maggie, weary of kittens and wanting to live in peace and quiet, took up residence in the linen closet, glaring out through a crack in the door. 

Hammie, our pampered and adored baby, had a more extreme reaction: hiding in dark corners, running from the kitten, wailing loudly when visitors paid more attention to Oliver than to him, refusing to let me touch him if I had just held the kitten, throwing up prodigiously all over my laptop computer, jumping up and ripping the Sunday New York Times from my hands, shredding the paper and nipping me. He started to limp (suspiciously similar to Oliver's gait), stopped eating and crawled under the bed for hours at a time. We rushed him to his vet who could find absolutely nothing wrong with him and no reason he should be limping, though she ran a battery of tests. We started calling the episode "Hammie's $455 Hissy Fit."

Then gradually, the tensions eased. Maggie napped on the bed with Ollie nearby. 

                                                            Maggie and Ollie

Hammie stopped growling and started to play. When I woke up in the middle of the night recently, I was stunned to see all four cats cuddled at the end of the bed -- and Hammie and Ollie were sleeping entwined with each other.

                                                Oliver and Hamish (Hammie)

Through it all, Ollie has adjusted joyfully to his new home, his wonderfully optimistic, easy-going temperament serving both him and us well. When he was rejected by another cat, he would simply back down and play by himself or seek cuddling from us. If you look at him, if you touch him, he purrs. He happily welcomes visitors to our home. And we wonder if we have another potential therapy cat in this sweet kitten who lives with such joy, exuberance and love.
                                             Helping Bob with his stretches

                                                  Such a loving kitten!
                                                 Secure in his forever home

However he grows up, he is ours and we are his. We'll manage his expensive surgeries to repair his large umbilical hernia and to remove the stump of his right rear leg with the exposed bone. We're weathering the high drama of cat introductions that seems to be winding down. And we have fallen hopelessly in love with a little kitten whose spirit could not be crushed by human cruelty.

Someone's trash has become our latest treasure.


  1. What a happy outcome for such a special little cat. It's amazing how animals can be treated cruelly and yet still have so much love to give to humans. It breaks my heart!

  2. You and Bob are my heroes. That Ollie is one lucky cat. His story broke my heart but you mended it when you took him home. If you hadn't, I was planning a long trip. Thank you for being you. .

  3. What a great story, Kathy... AND Ollie is so lucky to be in your home. I'm sure that you and hubby are LUCKY also... Ollie may have some problems --but he's adorable. CONGRATS.


  4. Oh, Kathy, how wonderful for all of you!

  5. That beautiful post brought tears to my eyes, Kathy. I knew almost from the beginning that this gorgeous kitten would end up with you and Bob. i would have done the same.

  6. Thank you Cynthia, Patti, Betsy, Broad and Perpetua! We feel very lucky to have this special little kitten, but the real praise should go to Forgotten Angels Cat Rescue volunteers -- and all the animal rescue organizations and their volunteers - - who nurtured Ollie and loved him from the time he was found in the trash can. Much of his love and trust of people came from their wonderful care of him in the weeks before he was big enough to be adopted.

  7. Kathy, I am so, so glad that your signing brought you to that spot on that day and that Ollie was there and not left behind, already putting the expectation of failure upon him. He's beautiful -- that last photo is just magical, gazing at us all with that, "Hey, Cute is just the least of my qualities! I'm Sweet, too!"

    I'm so glad to hear the other "kids" are getting their acts together and letting Ollie join the clan. I thought they might but I was pretty worried about Hammie.

    I can't tell you the joy that this post, this deed, this love, brings to me.

  8. What a lovely piece, Kathy. Purrfect for a Monday morning. :-)


  9. Ah, so cute! He is going to continue to make your life very interesting!

  10. Hi Kathy, I think I remember seeing your little Oliver at the last Catoberfest. I have been a client of Dr. Tracy's for as long as I remember. I also have a cat named Oliver. He was dumped off in my neighborhood and to this day, I say...someone else's dump off is now my treasure and I thank whoever dumped him off because he's such a loving cat. Within the last 2 months, 3 of my cats have passed. Two, Zachary and Lexa were 21 years old. The 3rd, Lily, was a feral cat who lived in my house, safe and well fed, for 15 years. Unfortunately she never domesticated and would only accept minimal care, but I console myself with the fact that she had a better life indoors than she would have, had she been let go to roam. I hope you come to the next Catoberfest where we might just have a little celebration for Zachary and Lexa. I will be off work in June for the summer and I will be looking to add another cat to my household. I have two now, Oliver who is 8 and Callie who is 16. They are both missing their friends and I hope that a new sweetheart will brighten the lives of all of us. I know that your Oliver was waiting for you and I'm hoping there's a loving one out there waiting for me. Thanks so much for sharing your lovely story. Sincerely, Marla Kapit P.S. It says anonymous because it was just the easiest way to post.

  11. Hi, Marla: Thanks so much for your kind comments. I'm so sorry for your recent losses. While no cat ever replaces another, welcoming a new one into your life can be wonderful. I wasn't looking to adopt another cat at Catoberfest but my heart went out to little Herbie, whom we renamed Oliver or Ollie. As it turned out. he needed quite a lot of surgery this winter -- a hernia repair, neutering and the removal of the stump of his missing leg. I wrote another post about him and his ordeal on February 27, 2015. He is growing fast and completely recovered now. And he is a great cuddling and lap cat -- qualities I had missed very much after the death of my 16-year-old Gus -- the brother of therapy cat Timmy, the subject of my "Purr Therapy" book -- last June. I never imagined that the little crippled black kitten would be such a blessing...just wanted to give him a loving home. But he gives us so much love in return. I hope you find a really wonderful new cat or kitten this summer! And, yes, Dr. Tracy is the absolute best! We miss her so much since moving to Arizona!