As you may have guessed from the title, this is not a happy post. At first, I didn’t want to talk about it at all, but now I feel the need to write about it – almost as an act of closure.
Earlier this month, I described how I found the local cat hangout, near the beach among the Japanese graveyards. Well, my Facebook and Instagram friends will know that a few days ago, I found an adorable kitten there – not truly alone, since there were the other usual cats around, but without an obvious mother or siblings nearby. Ultimately, I brought her home and gave her a bath, food, Frontline for parasites, and as many cuddles as I felt was safe given her unknown health condition. She was an affectionate and bone-thin little thing with fluffy fur but gooey eyes – sweet and social, yet uncertain and nervous in my apartment. I even let her meet Annie (albeit from a safe distance that precluded any physical contact.) Chuck returned home from his trip, and after discussing the situation, we agreed to return her to the shrines the next morning to grow up with the other wild cats (and hopefully Mama Cat), cleaned and fed and with regular visits. As I’ve mentioned before, we are not yet free to keep a kitten, much less a feral one that wasn’t fully litter trained (I had several unhealthy looking poops to clean up the next morning…)
She seemed excited to be back at the shrines the next day. She recognized the other cats and pranced around in the sunshine. Without fail, I had brought tuna with me, and fed her and the other kitties like normal. Then, she approached Thomas (the male alpha cat), who promptly swatted her down with a force that made both Chuck and I cringe. My eyes watered as the other cats looked at her with recognition, but not fondness. Maybe this was just the natural order of things… putting a kitten in her place? I prayed that Mama would emerge and find her soon. Chuck and I forced ourselves to walk away, while the cats finished their nibbles. We agreed to check on her the next day, and if she was still alone and didn’t seem any better off, we’d take her back home and commit to keeping her – whatever it took.
We did return the next day and eventually found her lying between two graves… barely conscious, eyes sealed shut with goo. Dismayed and feeling horridly guilty, I Googled for a local Japanese vet while Chuck drove home for supplies. I wet a large leaf and wiped her eyes clear, and managed to get her to drink some water. She could barely hold her head up, and was even bonier than the previous day. I perched her on a shrine to examine her more closely, reached back around to grab something, and she promptly fell off… hard. I hated myself for adding to her pain, but she barely seemed to notice as I gingerly got her comfortable again…
Upon Chuck’s return, I wrapped her in a towel and cradled her as we drove to the vet, periodically checking her breathing. I fully expected her to die in my arms by the time we finished the 35 minute drive, but she didn’t. The clinic was amazing, and there was even a translator. They checked her temperature, which was low, and fed her before hooking her up to an IV. They determined she was only 4 weeks old, and explained that sometimes a mother will abandon a kitten she believes to be ill. They also said a kitten this young must be fed every hour. I immediately started to fret about the rich tuna I had fed her (not every hour), as well as the Frontline dose I’d given her that was intended for kittens 8 weeks and older… twice her age and probably more than twice her weight. Fresh guilt filled my heart.
“Will she make it?” I asked the translator. It is possible, was the answer. They will do the best they can. Chuck and I agreed to take full responsibility for her and adopt her. I filled out the paperwork and momentarily paused at the space for her name before filling in “Habu Lily” – my Japanese equivalent for “Tiger Lily.” I watched as she was pumped with nutrients and fell fast asleep. We were told to check back the next day, to see if she was ready for release. I started to relax knowing she was in expert hands. Maybe I would be bringing home a kitten after all!
About 4 hours later, I missed a call from the vet. My gut sank, as I assumed it couldn’t be good news. They called back moments later and told me that she had stopped breathing. Despite having prepared myself for that possibility, my heart broke, and I burst into tears. I couldn’t help but think that it was my fault, or that I had contributed to her hasty downfall by making the wrong decisions and not knowing what I was doing. Every step of the way, I thought I was helping her and doing the right thing – for her, for Annie, and for us – but now she was dead, and there was nothing more I could do for her. Knowing how much she had suffered in the 24 hours before hand made me even more morose. She was so sweet and so innocent. All I could do was cry and cry, and speculate as to what exactly killed her and how perhaps there could have been a better outcome if I had done a few things differently.
Chuck was an absolute gem during the whole ordeal. He never once made me feel like I was overreacting for a kitten I’d known for only a couple of days. He had been looking forward to adding her to our family and shared in the trauma of the experience with me, but he said not to blame myself and not to waste energy over “what if’s”, pointing out that she was sick and malnourished already. After all, we had to keep Annie’s well being in mind, too. Even though I couldn’t accept all of his rationale, his comfort and support were amazing. We drove to the vet the next morning to finalize the bill, and they offered to let me see her one last time. My tears came anew and I hastily said no, of course not – but I changed my mind on the way home and asked Chuck to take me back. It sounds morbid, but I am glad that the last time I saw her wasn’t in the misery of suffering and sickness. She was not alive, but she was not in pain anymore either. She was at peace.
The Japanese are so respectful of their dead – even homeless animals. They handed me a brochure (that I couldn’t read) and explained the cremation and funeral services for deceased animals, adding that there would be a group service for her and others that evening. There was the option for a private ceremony too, if I wanted one. That made me cry all over again. It was so touching they would do that for her. I am so happy that in her death, she has love and recognition… and a name. Love was all she wanted. From me, from Chuck, from the other cats…from anyone who would give it. And as it turns out, Nature can be rather loveless sometimes.
I’m not sure when I will have the heart to return to the shrines, but I hope I can, as it has brought me so much joy to visit (though I am not sure I can look at some of those bully cats the same way again.) I’m also not sure I deserve another opportunity to save a kitten, given that I got my chance and royally f*cked it up. But I like to think I learned a lot from this experience and know better what to do if I ever do find myself in a situation like this again (bring it to the vet immediately and not take care of medications and feeding myself, especially if it’s that little.) I now know what 4 weeks looks like.
In the meantime, I imagine I will eventually recover. Annie’s been getting more squeezes and snuggles than usual (much to her chagrin), but it helps make up for the fact that Habu Lily is not here to do it herself (as a kitten, she desired that very much.) I know she must be in a better place, getting all the affection she could ever want, from cats and humans alike. That’s my hope anyway.
Rest in Peace, Habu Lily