I can't believe it's been a full year since we acquired McLovin. I know I filled you in shortly after we rescued him and I let you know when we decided to keep him (even though you knew already). One year later, McLovin is such a joy and so big and healthy I marvel at him after remembering the beginning. Since that was such a stressful and hectic time, I don't think I ever really conveyed to you what a heap of a mess he was. For awhile I honestly didn't think he was going to make it.
I remember so clearly the night I first met McLovin. It was mid-July and we were in a particularly rainy spell. The kitties weren't regularly coming out for feedings and on that night I was feeding at a later time after working late. The food from that morning was still sitting out and soaked through to the point of becoming a soup. I went back there and he was sitting all by himself eating. My first thought was "shit, how many are there and who can I talk into taking them?" I was puzzled because he seemed about 12 weeks (yes, I got that good at it) and I had never not seen kittens before around aged 4 to 5 weeks. How could he have escaped my attention? So my second thought was perhaps he was dumped. I was hoping he was dumped because that would mean he was not scared of people and I'd have a much easier time getting him into foster. No one I knew of at the time would even consider take a 12 week old feral. So I slowly approached him and saw the classic signs of feral kittens. He watched me closely with ears reared all the way back and ran away just as I got within arm's reach. And not only that, he hopped away, dragging his front foreleg. Double shit. I also knew from experience that leg dragging is about the worst sign you can see in an injured animal. Functional injured legs - twists, sprains - the animal limps or lifts it above the ground. Dragging means a break, a dislocation or paralysis. I freaked out and called a friend who sent her boyfriend over with a net. We tried for two hours in the pouring rain to lure him out and catch him but didn't see him again.
For three more days I looked for him at regular feeding times and anytime in between. I'd wake up at 6:30 in the morning and right away go look. On my way home from work. Late at night. One night I woke up around 2 am and couldn't get back to sleep so I went out and looked. I asked all the maintenance men if they had seen him and they told me the same thing, yeah they'd seen him but not for a few days. I was distraught, certain a raccoon had gotten at him. Or he'd been hit by a car. Or worse, had wandered far from the colony and was starving to death.
That weekend, Dean had booked a night for us right by Tropicana field so we could enjoy the game and the after concert without driving the hour home as my birthday present. Being the patient, wonderful husband he is, he gave me the out so I could stay home and obsess over the kitten, which was what I had wanted to do. But my friend encouraged me to go. She and her boyfriend had Saturday free and were going to sit outside and wait for him. "If he's still out there, we'll get him," she promised me.
That night at the game, which in itself was one of the best games I've ever been to, I got a text message from her that simply said, "Got him!" I was thrilled. I had no idea what came next and for the moment I didn't care. But I did know I was going to do everything I could to find him the perfect home, even if it was ours.
Since he wasn't in obvious pain, we decided that rather than taking him to the emergency vet that night or even the next day (Sunday) she'd keep him in a holding cage in her house and I'd take him to the vet associated with one of the local rescue groups. They had offered to pick up the medical expenses if we dealt with the foster and adoption on our end. I remember on Monday morning I got up early to take him in. I was encouraged by how he behaved. Again, typical of feral kittens, he shied away from my outstretched hand, but let me grab him out of his cage when he saw there was no place else to go. I gently wrapped him in a towel and put him in my lap. He began purring immediately.
He was totally disgusting. Mud and probably poop all over that limp little paw that had been dragged all over God knows where. Mud on his face. I could see the fleas jumping on him and the dark paste in his ears that was certainly mites. But of course it was that leg I was worried about, though it didn't really seem to bother him.
I brought him all the way across town to the special vet and was completely terrified. The nurses of course snuggled him gently (despite his filthy appearance) and took his blood to test for FIV and feline leukemia. The doctor came in and started examining him, his ears, his teeth, his heart beat and finally his leg. He moved it around in its socket (it wasn't dislocated) and verified all the tendons were in place and said he couldn't find a break. Then he took the kitten's little paw between his thumb and forefinger and squeezed as hard as could. Then he murmured to the nurse, "no sensory response." He told me it was likely nerve damage but couldn't be sure. What he didn't know was if the problem was in his leg or in his head. That freaked me the hell out and I almost began to cry. He left the room with the nurse for a few minutes and I sat there just looking at the poor pathetic kitten purring in my lap. I imagined him having some awful degenerative disease and needing to decide to euthanize him immediately or watch him progressively get worse. Then the nurse came back in took him from me and put him on the floor. She said she wanted to see how he moved and if he could walk in a straight line. I thought he did okay, but I was still badly shaken.
Next the doctor came in and said he was satisfied that the injury was localized and due to trauma, not disease. But we were still waiting on the blood tests. In the meantime, the nurses had taken several "samples" from him and the doctor informed me that he had 5 types of stomach parasites, ear mites, fleas and an infected cut in his mouth. He said he didn't want to give him his first set of shots until after he had done a course of antibiotics. After about another eternity of anxiety, the blood tests came back negative so he was ready to go home.
Because of the deal they had with the rescue group, I had to go to them for the medicine. I went to the rescue lady's house and she had a look at the kitten. She gave him his first dose of de-wormer and gave me enough for him and my other three kitties to have three months worth of doses (giving Wrigley de-wormed is NOT a fun experience, by the way). She also gave me flea medicine, antibiotics, pro-biotics (to promote stomach health while on the antibiotics) and Pepto-Bismol to counter the diarrhea he'd get from the antibiotics. She also suggested that before I apply the flea medicine I should try giving him a bath. The baby shampoo would wash off most of the adult fleas, it would clean up his muddy paw and it might "stun" him into socializing a little easier. But she warned me socializing him would be tough and at 12 weeks he could go either way. She said there was a small market for people who wanted to adopt special needs pets but being feral wasn't going to help his case.
This is where you came in. After he had been nursed back to health, bathed, doted upon and taken into the fold with our other kitties, "Ray" felt like part of the family.
Here's what I never confessed to you: After a couple of weeks of hard work getting him patched up, my same friend who trapped him said that she had a friend who might be interested in adopting him. She had recently adopted another tuxedo kitten and was looking for a playmate for him and since she worked with animals, the little bit of leftover feral tendencies wouldn't bother her a bit. This sent me into an absolute tizzy because I realized at that point I just couldn't give him up. She said she would ask her friend about taking him after the weekend.
That weekend, I didn't tell Dean that I had potentially found a home for Ray. But after weeks of beating around the bush I asked him outright if he thought we could give him up at this point. He could see in my face that I didn't think I could and I didn't think he could either. And then he told me something I'll never forget, one of the best things he has ever told me. He said, "These past couple years I've seen you do a lot of things I never thought you could do. When you brought the first kitten into this house I thought we were doomed. But you did what was best for it and for us and you gave it up. And you did it so many times without ever putting me in the position to tell you no. I know this is almost over and I know you love this kitten. He's your reward for all you've done for those cats." I started crying and hugging him I was so happy. And then he said, "All I ask is that we change his name from Ray to McLovin." Well, all his records are still in the name Ray, because it is admittedly a little strange. But I thought it was a fair trade off.
The next day I emailed my friend and told her we were keeping Ray, her friend couldn't have him. I never told Dean that someone might have been interested. It turns out this friend was a vet tech at the clinic that ended up doing his amputation. Seeing the feral tuxedo kitten with the bum arm, she asked if this was the kitten she had heard about from our mutual friend. I confirmed and we had a good laugh over it. She spent two days with him while he was in recovery before I came and got him. When I picked him up, she made a point to send him off and told me, "You know, I definitely would have taken him."
You all followed his amputation and recovery and know that it stressed me out. Every step of the way with him I have talked myself into the certainty that he won't make it. That I'll have my heart broken. Even now I know his one year checkup is coming up and I am a little more anxious about taking him in (after we move and settle) than I would be for the rest. But for the most part, after his surgery, his healing, and his maturation into a big (!) healthy, happy adult cat I have learned to accept that I have myself a survivor.