C.W. Gusewell


A feline friend finds new courage

Tip, the Brooklyn tabby, has not had an easy life.

Her early, homeless years were spent on the noisy and perilous streets of New York’s most populous borough.

How she managed to survive – where she slept, what she ate – cannot be known. It’s quite likely she passed the years from kittenhood to adulthood without ever feeling the touch of a caring hand.

But then, by improbable accident, she wound up a member of our family.

Our New York daughter, Jennie, has a fourth-floor apartment in the Williamsburg neighborhood, and one weekend, while she was away with friends, some workmen were making repairs in the building.

They noticed a wandering stray in one of the hallways, and inquiring of other residents, they learned that Jennie kept cats. She had four, in fact. So, assuming it was one of hers, they got a key from the manager and put the interloper in her quarters.

It wasn’t until several days after her return that she noticed her pet population had increased. Out from its hiding place behind the stove marched a cat with white feet and a white tip on her tail. None of the others had white markings. So our daughter did what seemed to her reasonable. On her next visit, at Thanksgiving, she brought Tip home to us.

Their trip together through security at LaGuardia Airport was, I gather, an adventure.

The cat had to be removed from the carrier so the container could be inspected. As an adult feral, with no previous experience of being handled, if she’d gotten loose in a crowded air terminal, that would have been the end of the story. Mercifully, though, she managed to get re-crated and flew home to join our family.

In the beginning she was not an especially rewarding boarder. We installed her in a small room off the kitchen – her private quarters – with food, water and a litter box of her own.

That was at least nine years ago, maybe 10.

For the first weeks she shrank back in terror at anyone’s approach. After several months I could touch her. After a year she would allow herself to be stroked. Another two years and, if I found her napping and off guard, I could pick her up and hold her, though she wasn’t altogether comfortable with that.

And finally she found the courage to actually approach and solicit petting.

Through this process I came to understand in a powerful way how the lack of contact and affection in early years can deform the nature of any sentient creature, human or otherwise. And now, at an age likely somewhere between 12 and 15, Tip faces a challenge of a different kind.

One recent week her appetite began to fail. Then for three days she refused food altogether. Blood tests at a veterinary clinic yielded a diagnosis of chronic kidney distress – a spontaneous ailment that commonly afflicts cats and unfortunately is often fatal.

The only hope of slowing and possibly reversing the progress of the disease requires daily infusions of subcutaneous fluid and the administration of oral and injected medications. Our daughter in Kansas City, Anne, has managed this successfully with two of her own cats, and her skills have been indispensable in the treatment of Tip.

At first Tip resisted the treatments and fled immediately afterward to safety under a bureau two rooms away.

But Tip is a wise little creature and seems, after two weeks, to understand that our purpose isn’t to torment but to help her. And she has returned to her behavior before this crisis. Her appetite is robust again. And today, when I entered her quarters, she walked directly to me and lifted her head to be scratched behind her ears.

They give so much, these small furred family members, and they ask so very little. We’re not yet out of the woods, and nothing is guaranteed. But we can hope that on her next trip to the vet, the test numbers will support our impression of her gains.