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December 03, 2007

A Lovely Tribute to a Special Kitty



   To anyone who might have noticed her furtive movements between the bags of mulch, she was just another cat.  Just another unwanted cat. When the time came to give birth to her litter of unwanted
kittens, she was an unwanted cat that somehow found her way into a Home Depot garden supplies section.
   That's where I met Jill three years ago, after a boss in the store told someone to get rid of her kittens. They had become a nuisance, emerging on spindly legs to explore their world. A young employee began passing out the tiny, blue-eyed newborns to customers, some of whom happened to volunteer for the same Naples animal-rescue group that I do: Friends of Gummi.
   We were doing adoptions next-door at PetsMart that day when the volunteers came in with the kittens and told the story. I asked if they'd seen the mother cat, and they had. They led me back to the spot where she'd been and there she still sat, patiently waiting for her babies to come back.
   The store management refused to allow me to set a trap inside the store, where the mama kitty 
waited, so I went back with just a carrier and some smelly canned food. Because she was so hungry, I was able to lure her from her hiding place simply by setting an opened can on the concrete floor.
   When the cat became preoccupied with the unexpected wealth of food, I leaned over quickly
to scruff her by the back of the neck and stuff her into the carrier. It was not without
bloodshed -- the blood all mine -- but I won the battle despite her valiant attempts to maim me with
her teeth and claws.
   I returned to PetsMart with my prize, to the congratulations and admiration of others like me, who find an unwanted cat and her unwanted kittens worth saving. Worth a little bloodshed. I reunited the stray with her little family and took them all home to give mama a chance to raise her babies. She was a good mother, also raising as her own an orphaned kitten that was turned over to Friends of Gummi that same day.
   Jill was named for the female character on the "Home Improvement" sitcom; some of her kittens were named for the show's kids. They grew up to find good homes through  Friends of Gummi. Meanwhile, we got Jill spayed and I fostered her, hoping she might become socialized enough to find a home, too.
   It never happened. She remained shy, merely tolerating me but always adoring my other cats -- two older females and three younger males. The boys loved her back with all their hearts; the girls, not so much.
   Jill, meanwhile, blossomed on regular, nutritious meals and a safe environment. Before my eyes she was transformed from a scruffy, nondescript alley cat into a gorgeous, golden tortoiseshell Maine coon-mix. Her golden eyes were complemented by medium-length fur, with curling tufts emerging from her ears, a pure white bib and four white paws. She would swish her huge, bushy plume of a tail to express her moods and opinions.
   Eventually, in her own way, Jill told me her story. A few months after her rescue, I accepted a job at The Miami Herald and was preparing to move from Naples to Miami. As the boxes piled up, Jill grew increasingly despondent. It became apparent that she was acquainted with the concept of moving, and while for me it meant a prestigious job and exciting new city, to Jill it meant losing her home.
   When moving day arrived and the boxes went on the truck, the six cats went into carriers and we drove across Alligator Alley to begin our new life in Miami. When we arrived at the new house, Jill seemed astonished to discover that she had moved along with the furniture and other belongings, and with all the other cats.
   That night, for the first time, she slept on my bed.
   In the years that followed, Jill grew less wary of me. She would let me pet her at an arm's length and at times invited my attention. We had a feeding ritual during which I would ask, "Who's my pretty, pretty girl?" and in reply she would preen and prance, swishing that big tail around in what seemed like a little dance.
   I once saw her jump onto the bathroom vanity, where she appeared to admire herself in
the mirror and perform what I'd come to think of as her "pretty, pretty girl'' dance -- with no prompting from me.
   She was never shy when it came to meals. I'd divide two cans of wet food into the six identical bowls lined up on the counter. Jill and the boys often were too impatient to wait for me to set the dishes on the floor, and they would jump up to watch me dish out the food. Petey was always the first in line, then Buddy, then Jill.
   But she wasn't always inclined to wait her turn. She didn't try to push Petey or Buddy aside, though -- no, Jill was much too clever for that. Instead, she would reach a paw into one of their dishes, then swiftly slide it over in front of herself. Unfortunately, I waited too long to capture that move on video.
   Jill died on Nov. 17, having spent her last six days tethered to tubes and taking powerful antibiotics by injection, fighting for her life. I had gotten home the previous Monday to find her lying lethargicly on my bed, and realized that the mere fact I could pick her up and put her in a carrier without any resistance did not bode well.
   But she was no longer a cat that nobody wanted. The vet tried hard to save her life for me. Jill was my pretty, pretty girl and a member of our family. We miss her very much.
   Pam Sansbury is a copy editor at The Miami Herald and a volunteer for Friends of Gummi. She lives in Homestead.


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