"Bear - I need you to come with the car and pick me up - I found a kitten," was the first time I knew about Kuji. Max, my husband had taken a walk in a park nearby our house and noticed something on the side of the road. It was a small fur ball, so small it was the size of the pine cones that it was next too. "I thought it was dead and said a prayer over it and then the kitten put up it's little head and started to squeak - please bring something to put it in," he asked. I found a shoe box, put a clean towel in it and a piece of fabric as a makeshift crib. A helpless feline infant was abandoned and of course we would help - even though it would have been easy to walk on by as one person did while we were getting her into the car - but that was not God's plan. "I've never seen an animal this small," Daniel, our son, remarked as we drove the short distance home. We got her inside and tried to see if she would take water with a small eye dropper. She was so new to the world that her eyes were not quite open, but her vocal cords worked great and she was squeaking up a storm. Since she was so small, I checked the internet for guidance. She was at best 10 days to two weeks old which is a tough age when most kittens do better with their birth mothers for at least six weeks. The kids kept asking what was going to happen and if we were going to keep her. "I really just want to take it a week at at time," I said. "Kittens this age need their mothers and something must have happened or maybe she was just a abandoned but whatever might have happened before, God trusts us to take care of her now." We assumed she was a girl but it's pretty hairy down there - so was hard to tell.
Max donned some surgical gloves and tried to get her to drink a bit. We called an animal hospital to see if they would take her but found out that they don't take kittens that age that have been abandoned but I got some good advice on what to get her. Me and the kids went to Pet Superstore to get kitten formula, bottles and some special kitten wipes. The kids still kept asking if we would keep her and again my answer was that she was so little we had to get her to that six week point to really know for sure. I told myself not to get too close because there was a chance she would not make it but put on a positive face for the kids. We got home with the powdered formula and she took some of it but going from mother's milk to a bottle even for a human baby is hard - but eventually we found our stride. She would drink a teaspoon at a time and that seemed like a huge milestone. Max posted photos of her on his Facebook page but I didn't. I was too afraid something bad would happen to take that chance.
I got up in the middle of the night to check on her and see if she would take some formula. I thought my days of late night feedings were over but this little one needed the help. There I was in the bathroom holding her tight and hoping she would take a few drops of formula. I wondered how long she had been out there and if she would have died if we hadn't found her on the pavement on a scorching Atlanta day. Max wanted to call her Kuji which means "Nine Powers" and it seemed fitting - she had the power to get the side of the road. I thought about how her guardians angels had guided Max to find her and bring her here as I sat in the stillness of the night with the white noise of the AC and the warmth of her little body up against mine. "Don't get too close, there is a chance she won't make it," my brain kept telling me, but in my heart I was already falling in love. My kids were getting older and didn't need me as much and this little being needed as much help as she could get. I felt needed. That Monday, Amber had a cold so she was able to stay home with Kuji but she was not taking formula and Amber was getting stressed. Max came home after 4:00 p.m. and got her to pee which really made me smile as I listened to her progress at work - she's had a number one now just a number 2 and I'd be totally happy. Ah, parenthood - you worry about gross stuff like that. I got home and we went to the pet store to get the cans of formula which she might like better. It worked, she drank it and then would retire to her shoe box with a Body Comfort warm pad and fresh towels. She's squeak in the middle of the night when she wanted to be fed and it was like taking care of an infant all over again.
It was three days after we got her that I mentioned Kuji on Facebook - many of our friends knew about her through Max's Facebook postings, encouraging us and giving advice which we appreciated. That Tuesday, she drained her morning bottle and then promptly peed on me. Oddly enough that made me happy since it meant that her body was functioning well. Her eyes were now fully wide open and it was like she couldn't wait to see everything she could in her little world. I felt like she was starting to get healthier on her way to being a permanent member of our household. She was crawling out of the shoe box and needed the tall sides of a laundry basket to keep her out of harm's way. Our two other adults cats, Sonny and Vanilly didn't know what to make of her - they just kept their distance. They never hissed or growled. Vanilly would try to touch her and get about an inch away and then would back away when she squeaked. Sonny would get up on the couch and look down at her crib and keep an eye on her. She went to the vet's five days after we got her. She was robust and all over the place. The vet was impressed at how well she was doing and give us a vaccination schedule since they really couldn't to much for her until she was six weeks old. She got a clean bill of health and now I cast my concerns aside could really love on that little girl because it seemed like she would be with us for a while.
At the end of the work week, I had promised to do a teen retreat with my Unitarian Church and spend the night at the retreat. I hated being away from the family and little Kuji but she was doing so well and the rest of the family needed to bond with her too. Many of the people at the retreat asked me how she was doing and I had the photos that Max was posting on Facebook to show them. I just felt so happy that she was doing well and that she was our little miracle. I sat there thinking of her even as the teens at the workshop tried to figure their own spiritual path - some believing, some not and some complaining that we were talking about God too much at church because they'd rather just come here to hang out with their friends. You gotta love Unitarians - talking about the importance of church and raging against the machine at the same time. I left the retreat that Saturday afternoon happy to be back at home with the family and the animals that I loved. I held Kuji against my chest and fed her - Max told me that she really responded to me more than anyone else in the family and that made me smile. I loved the feeling of her little body against my chest. She was squeaking, and walking around and telling everyone about it. I let her fall asleep on Amber's chest and it felt like after a little less than a week we were finding our equilibrium with the new kitten. I let her sleep in the laundry basket with Amber and Daniel who were camped out on beds in the living room after her midnight feeding. When she fussed in the middle of the night - they brought her to me and I was happy to fed her and kiss her - everything seemed very normal.
The next morning I went in to see how she was doing. She opened her eyes and looked very contented. She was purring now and it just seemed like things were progressing as they needed to. But a few hours later, I noticed that her head seemed misshapen - I touched the top and it was soft. Worse, she was not talking or squeaking - she was just very quiet but active. Her walking had gone from very sprite-like to sideways and she was falling down. Something had happened and I asked if anyone had dropped her on her head, but no one had. She wanted to sleep more and I would check on her while I was finishing my blog - ironically - we had gotten her a week before just as I had finished another blog. I could feel in the pit of my stomach that this was bad, but how could she have developed this in less than 12 hours? Later that day, an abscess formed on her head and began to drain. I put warm washcloths on it to help and antibiotic cream but she started to get weaker. She would still take a bottle which was encouraging but her walking was very unsteady. Worse, my work week was filled with Board Meetings, rehearsals and an open house that I had to be at. That Monday before work, I got her to take about a tablespoon of formula and she peed and was walking - albeit unsteadily. I got her cleaned up put in fresh linens, made sure her heating pads were warm and talked to her sweetly with tears running down my face before I went to work. Daniel would see how sad I was and told me she would be okay as he hugged me out the door. I would call Amber in the afternoon after she got home from school to find out how she was doing and Max would give me an update when he got home. The guilt of not being there was huge - but I was in a new job and taking time off for a sick kitten didn't seem like a good reason to miss work. She was not much better or taking much formula that night and the next day she was getting weaker. It all seemed so harsh - I mean we found her for a reason. We were supposed to have her for a long time - not just a week - why was God doing this to us? So I would try to feed her multiple times from 5:30 a.m. to 9:00 a.m. when I left hoping she would rally. Max was posting updates on Facebook and the response was always so kind - so many people were praying and pulling for her.
I had to work late for a Board meeting that Tuesday and got home around 8:30 p.m. I held her tight and she'd take a little formula - again perking up when she heard or saw me. That night Max and I were holding her and crying. I tried to make sense of it all - she was so healthy just a few days ago and now it was clear that it was only a matter of time. I asked him if her being with us was just a transit to another life and that she needed to experience unconditional love in this life - even if it was for a short time so that she could take that into her next one. He nodded and said that had to have been it and that the real tragedy would have been if she had died on the side of the road without ever knowing how much she could be loved. Intellectually I knew that and it should have filled me with joy to know that we had helped her but sitting there holding this little life that was ebbing away, it was hard to get my heart to heed that lesson because it was breaking in two. We let the kids know that Kuji might not make it and that miracles might happen and she might rally but that it didn't look good. Daniel just said that he just didn't want to think that way and she would be fine - that's my son the optimist. We made sure he got a chance to hold her and try to feed her.
The next morning, which was a Wednesday, I got up and Kuji was getting weaker and weaker. I Facebooked that she was not looking good and got some very sweet responses from people who had gone through the same thing and wanted to let us know that we were doing everything we could and to be gentle with each other. I again kissed her and put her out in the living room before I went to work so that if she did pass, the other cats would be nearby and she wouldn't be alone. Vanilly would rub against the laundry basket and Sonny would lay on the top of the couch looking down on her and making sure she was okay. I would go into the bathroom at work and cry so that no one would know what was wrong. It wasn't that they would not have been sympathetic but I just didn't want the flood gates opening every time someone asked how the kitten was. I got home that night and held her and she put her little paws up to me. I got her to take a little more formula before the actors came over for rehearsal. It was a small group - just Mike and Becca. Amber brought her out and they got a chance to see our little kitten who was so weak and fragile. Doing improv helped me - because it seemed like I had spent so much of the week crying it was nice to laugh for a change. Vanilly kept jumping into scenes which was funny. I think he needed the attention since we had all been so focused on the little one. At the end of the rehearsal, Max brought Kuji down to the garage while he was painting. Later, Mike, Becca, Max and I talked about her and that she might get better but I was not holding out much hope, she could not even lift her neck at this point. I took her upstairs and tried to get her to take a little water which she seemed able to do - I just wanted her hydrated and maybe things might get better.
On Thursday morning I was surprised that she was still with us. I made sure the kids got a chance to hold her and hug her because I was not sure if she would be here when they got home. My prayer was that she would not pass before they got home. I got ready for work and yet another afterwork event. I kissed her and sang "This Little Light of Mine" to her. I made sure she was warm and clean and put her crib in the sunbeam on the couch. Vanilly and Sonny were nearby now acting as guardians. I left again, not sure if I would see her alive and wanting so badly to stay and wishing this had happened while I still unemployed so that I could take care of her the way I was able to take care of our cat Skittles before he died back in November. Waiting to call Amber was so hard - and when she answered she was crying and I was crying. Kuji was still alive but barely. I wanted to go home but was too afraid to ask to leave and at least there were people home with her. Max came home to the sight of both kids sobbing. He tried to give Kuji some water and brought her up to our bedroom so she could be near him. I had to go an open house and called before I left - he told me she was still with us and I thought that she might wait until I came home to leave. I went to the open house which actually made me feel a little better and called around 8:00 p.m. to see how she was doing. Max told me to come home and didn't say much else. When I walked in the door, Amber was on her computer and things seemed normal so maybe I was still in time. Max appeared at the top of the stairs and just shook his head. "She's gone?" I said choking back tears that I was sure I had completely expended. "At about 6:00 p.m., I didn't want to tell you while you were driving, but she's still upstairs if you want to see her." I tore up the stairs and saw my little Kuji who looked she was sleeping but she was no more. Max told me that when he told the kids she was gone, their first instinct was to hug each other. So we sat around and cried and held her for one last time. I then handed her to Max who had a spot in the garden picked out under a rose bush on the other side where Skittles was buried. Me and kids held hands and sang "This Little Light of Mine" one last time to her.
We let our friends on Facebook know that Kuji was gone and the response blew my mind. People who I hadn't heard from in long time expressed their condolences. That's the thing about human nature - there is something about a helpless sick animal infant that brings out the sympathetic feelings in even the toughest person. Max and I got loads of well wishes and it really did help to know that so many people were caught up in the Kuji story and prayed for a happy ending and now they shared our sorrow.
I made it a point to tell the kids that even though our hearts were broken it was important that Kuji was with us for the short time that she was. If we had known how sad this ending was when we first met her, we would still do it all over again, because you can't turn your back on helping the helpless whether they are animal or human. The easy thing would have been to walk on by and hope that someone else would take care of it but that's not us and it never will be. It's still so fresh and I know that time heals all wounds. It's been a hard weekend and we tried to do some fun things this weekend like bowling, going to the food truck park in Atlanta and river tubing just to try to keep our spirits up. I gave away the laundry basket with some donated clothes that Kuji slept in not to forget her but just looking at it made me just too sad. So now you know about the abandoned little kitten that might have died nameless and loveless and thought that no one cared. But we cared, we loved and yes - we lost. I kept thinking of that verse from the bible, Matthew 25:31- "For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in ...Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these, you did for me." My prayer for her now is that she will love as deeply in the next life as she was loved in this one. She was our little miracle with the big heart.