I almost gasped as the cat stuck his head out around the wheel of my son’s motorcycle. This animal wasn’t supposed to be here. Not this close! The old cat meowed then ran to my feet and waited for a response. Instinctively, I backed away. This wasn’t right. Everyone knows that uncharacteristic behavior from a wild animal is a sign of rabies. The elderly cat had skirted the edge of our yard and avoided human contact for over four years. You could call him. He wouldn’t come. A sideways glance would send him running into the woods. He hated humans. Why was he standing at my feet? Cocking his head to the side the cat looked up into my face and meowed again as if to say, “Hi. It’s me. I’ve come home.” He rubbed against my leg and I rubbed my eyes. I had fallen asleep the night before in the real world and it appeared that I had awaken in the Twilight Zone.
“A rabid animal will not drink,” I quoted to myself as I stepped backwards towards the door. Milk seemed to be the answer. If he drank the milk I could relax, but if he began to froth at the mouth like something from the Exorcist, I could…
“I could what?” I asked myself. ” Shoot him? Me, shoot a cat? I don’t think so.”
“Milk first,” I decided “Panic later.”
The cat waited patiently as I slipped into the house and got him something to drink. I placed the bowl in front of him, but rather than lap at the milk, the hungry, old cat checked out my offering, then looked up as me as though he were asking permission.
“This looks pretty good,” he seemed to say. “Are you sure you don’t want it?”
“Drink, Kitty,” I coaxed, and the cat lowered his head and obeyed.
People who know of him have often said that the elderly Gent, as we call him, came to me that day asking for help. I can see their reasoning. When Gent came to us, his health was failing. Life in the wild had not been kind. His broken nose is the first thing that greets you when he lunges onto your lap. As he snuggles close, you will immediately notice his raspy breathing. When you first caress his long, soft fur, your fingers will recoil as they trail across with his crushed ribcage. These were merely the beginning of the old cat’s problems. His sides were missing huge patches of fur and splotched with chemical burns. His fur was full of nits and he was crawling with lice. Deer ticks circled his neck like a collar, and he had the absolutely worse case of fleas I have seen in my entire life. But this too was only the beginning. His ears were blackened with mites, tape worm segments were clinging to his privates, and he was vomiting round worms. And finally (yes, these really do exist.) his urinary tract was infested with worms. The poor cat was passing things that looked like baby night crawlers. I suppose if I tried really hard I could make myself believe that Gent came to us that morning looking for help, but I think I would always doubt. You see, I believe the old cat is a miracle.
He came to me the morning after I buried Puff. I had no desire to face that pain again, so I had staunchly determined that I didn’t want another cat, but often times what we want and what we need are entirely different things. I needed Gent. I just didn’t know it. In the months to follow my family would have to face the loss of two more pets, the failing health of my parents, and too many other problems to list without becoming severely depressed. Through it all, Gent has been like a gift from God. This old wildcat gave up his life in the out of doors and moved flawlessly into our home. He is not neutered. We would never consider having him put under anesthesia. Yet he does not spray. Within a day’s time he stepped from the role of wildcat into that of therapy cat. Yes, we have provided him with medical care, but the care he has given us is so much more.
Calm and attentive, Gent has an uncanny ability to detect feelings and to decipher needs. He knows when someone is sick. He knows when someone is hurting, and he knows when someone needs to feel special. He saw Grenny through the deaths of Kitsten and her brother, faithfully staying by her side until she was ready to face the world on her own. When my elderly parents came to live with us, he took it upon himself to welcome them and provide activity to keep their minds and hearts alive. His fur has been cried upon, his ears have listened to plans, failures and heartaches. He glues himself to the sides of those who are sick and spends hours upon the laps of those who are depressed. The list goes on and on. This old cat has made us his purpose in life.
I have no idea how long we will be able to keep Gent. He is a very old cat. His lungs are bad. His heart beats too fast. His kidneys are almost shot, but we will keep him as long as we can, and I will face the pain when the time comes. because this old cat is our gift from God, and he is worth it.