Just under a week ago, a tiny friendly calico cat was waiting for me outside our sliding glass dour when I attempted to wonder into my backyard to do some chores. She was so skinny I could see her hip bones under her fur, and she walked with an odd wobble. Chores were forgotten when she ran figure eights around my legs purring like crazy and tried to insist- with every loop – on pushing me back inside.
After lapping up a full bowl of water, she seemed slightly steadier on her feet. A friend and I purchased some pet food and a disposable litter box. so she could spend the night in our solarium.
Due to my allergies, I knew we couldn’t keep her, but our hope was that either the owner will show up or we could treat her and so she’d become a sweet and friendly kitty for someone who would be willing to adopt.
My friend put the cat’s picture on the Gainesville Pet Finder Facebook page. We put up posters throughout our neighborhood. No one responded.
The next day I took her to the vet to see if she had a chip. No chip was found. What was found was that she had a small collection of common ailments, not surprising for outdoor or neglected cats. She received treatments for each, and I was sent home with a bag of medications and instructions.
We’ve started calling her ‘Pixel’ for the pixilation of colors in her varied length, flea-damaged fur. Once her hair grows out, now the fleas and other ailments are treated, we expect that she will become a beautiful long-haired calico.
The next day, when I took her back to the vet for another round of shots, I learned that Pixel’s story may not have the fairy tale happy ending we were hoping for. The vet took another look at her mouth and discovered that there’s pus above her upper jaw on one side where her teeth are in bad shape. The vet thinks there’s a possibility it might be cancer.
So… Fred and I are paying for some rather expensive oral surgery for Pixel next week to find out. Best case: its probably not cancer, in which case the vet will do an on-the-spot teeth extraction and she’ll have the opportunity to heal and become a healthy cat again. Worse case: she’ll need hospice care. If you hear the sound ‘cha-ching’ ringing somewhere in the back of your mind you’re probably not far off.
We had to ask ourselves some difficult questions: Jesus tells us to love our neighbors. Does that include unexpectedly expensive stray cats? For ourselves, we tentatively answered ‘yes’. But we understand that not everyone would answer this question the same way.
The cat now has a new collar and a new tag which proudly declares her name is ‘Pixel’ and which clanks lightly against her likewise-new rabies tag. Twice a day I put ear drops in her ears and feed her an antibiotic.
Over the past week she’s begun to play with her toys, her vocalizations has grown stronger and she’s gained a bit of weight. Her damaged fur is fluffing up and some of it sticking up in irregular spiky tuffs.
Frequently I wonder what we’re doing– giving so much attention to a little cat we didn’t know existed just a few days ago and who we know we cannot keep. Folly, certainly. Maybe in the future we’ll be able to look back to find out whether taking in this stray temporarily was a good decision or not.
If taking in a stray cat is ‘compassion in miniature’, then many of the same practical and theological issues also come into play – also in miniature. Does the person want to be helped? (in the case of this cat who refuses to leave our house, so we think the answer is ‘yes!’) Is what you have to offer a good match for what is needed? (ah… maybe not? because we can’t keep her, but maybe short-term we can do something?) Is your offer to help co-dependent? Is it patronizing? Will it be effective? What is the cost? So you make your decision, as best you can, in an eyeball-to-eyeball raw encounter with the one you are helping.
You act…. and then you wait… feeling a bit like a fool… wondering if what you did really made a difference, yet hoping beyond hope that your gift contributes to another person’s life.
People who read Christian blogs like to hear about the success stories, about miracles, about warm feelings. Everything tied up with a bow and with a cat toy attached. Yet in the Christian walk we spend most of our time in this awkward space ‘between the no-longer and the not-yet.’ We really don’t know if what we do will be effective or have meaning. And if we feel foolish sometimes? Well, Paul calls us ‘fools for Christ’ (1 Corinthians 4:10).
As for Pixel? How will her story end? The story doesn’t yet have an ending, and the ending might be a sad one. For now we’re caught between suspecting ourselves slightly ridiculous, and the weirdly gratifying purrs of a tiny, no-longer-half-starved cat.
Whatever happens tomorrow, today she’s a contented kitty. That in itself is enough.