Whenever things get tough and I start to feel sorry for myself, I like to think of our cat Willie. He has suffered greatly since the day he was born and has many handicaps, yet he’s the happiest, most contently creature I know.
Willie was bitten by his mama shortly after his birth, a tragic mistake that should have taken the little kitty’s life. His head was nearly severed, along with the muscles, tendons and ligaments that controlled his ability to blink, swallow and extend his limbs.
When we thought he wouldn’t make it, we called him Gash, for obvious reasons. After nursing him back to health with a syringe and baby formula, we decided we better rename him, so we decided on Willis. As in Bruce Willis, because if the little guy was going to die, he was going to die hard.
Saving his life was a labor of love. For weeks he had to be fed every few hours. Since he couldn’t swallow, we used a syringe to trickle warmed formula down his throat. We weighed him in a coffee filter atop an electronic postage scale, making sure he was gaining weight and feeding him more if he wasn’t. I still remember the day that he decided he would feed himself — he wrestled with me to get the syringe out of his mouth. That was the last day Willie needed help with eating.
As he grew and became more active, his limitations became obvious to us.
- His eyes were round instead of almond shaped, and the bottom lid closed upwards, rather than the upper lid closing downward when he blinked.
- His back legs are much weaker than his front legs. His paws point outwards, the opposite of a pigeon-toed position for a person. Not sure what that means in cats, but it wasn’t normal.
- He is probably blind or has very poor vision in his right eye.
- To make up for the vision problems, his hearing is super sensitive.
- He can’t jump, which turns out to be a good thing as far as our furniture is concerned.
- His hind quarter area is overly sensitive. In fact, you could only really pet him near his head without him getting uncomfortable.
- Most importantly, he couldn’t poop in the cat box. He could pee in the box, but that was it. Instead, he pooped outside the box or next to the commodes in our bathrooms.
We tried to keep him around his siblings as much as possible so that he would learn to do normal cat things, but Willie preferred hanging out around our dog Pookie, a male Border Collie cross. Pookie sensed that Willie wasn’t getting much mothering from his mama, so his maternal instinct kicked in and he tended to the kitten and showed him the ropes around the house.
Ever since, Willie has thought he was a dog. When a stranger rings our doorbell, Willie is the first one there to check out the potential intruder. When my daughter was playing inside a large moving box, Willie, thinking the box was eating her, attacked the box, trying to save her. (Also caught her leg by accident and gave her a nasty scratch — the screams could be heard for blocks and blocks.) If we have repairmen or delivery men around the house, he stays right by their sides as they work on repairs, bringing appliances into the house, setting up alarm systems, etc.
Willie has always trusted us implicitly — he knows we will take care of him and never let anything harm him. That might be part of why he thinks he is invincible. When we moved into our current home, we found the place had fleas and poor Willie was soon covered with them. Not a good thing for a cat who’s allergic to fleas. As we waited for medication to take effect, he let me gently comb him all over and pull up as many fleas as I could. He also let me give him a sponge bath on a cushy pillow; the medicated soap helped reduce the itching and swelling.
Willie is 11 years old now and still going strong, still very independent. Through it all, Willie has never balked at a challenge, capitalized on his handicaps, or tried to get extra attention from us. In fact, Willie thinks he’s quite normal. More than normal, really. He’s super cat, ready to take on danger at a moment’s notice. If any being had a reason to feel sorry for itself, it would be Willie, and yet he knows he’s the luckiest cat on the planet and is completely content with life as he knows it. There’s a life lesson there somewhere, and yes, I get the message.Update: Willie passed away on December 26, 2010, at eleven and a half years old. He slipped away while in my arms, knowing to the very end just how much he was loved.