By Michal McDowell
A kitten came into this world about 18 years ago. She was found in the gutter of the street alone and wet. The lucky kitty was brought to a local vet/animal shelter that was a few doors down from the dentist office where I worked.
Sometimes after work I would go to the shelter to snuggle and play with kittens and cats waiting to be adopted. One day there was a new litter of kittens that had been brought in. They were given names after characters from Peter Pan. Added to this crew of pirates and lost boys was the tiniest of kittens I’d ever seen. She had the funniest coloring, sort of a salmon pink and gray. I asked to hold her. She was very snuggly and loving. On her belly were gray tabby stripes which is why, though she was not of the Peter Pan litter, they gave her the name of Smee.
As I pet her I found that she had a kinked tail and a deformed paw. More like deformed claw, I guess. On one paw was a claw that grew out wide and then would curl under so the sharp part was going into the pad of her paw. I suppose these malformations and her tiny size may have been the cause of her abandonment.
Every time I’d visit, Smee was there mewing. I’d hold her and she’d snuggle and purr like crazy. It didn’t take long for me to bring the little orphan home.
We already had a cat named Sinclair. Sinclair was a maternal sort and loved Smee immediately! They would sleep snuggled together and Sinclair would bring grasshoppers in from outside to teach Smee how to hunt. Smee did not care to go outside. She’d get to the doorway but would not step out of our little apartment. Maybe it was because she had bad memories of the outside or maybe it was because she was only a little bigger than a soda can, she just never went outside.
My husband and I were ready to get a house and fill it with little people and so we moved out of our apartment to a house. Sinclair liked having a yard. Smee liked sitting in the bay windowsills.
Then our first born came along. The cats were curious about the baby but mostly stayed away. Sinclair brought in live grasshoppers and birds to teach the baby how to hunt.
Two years later we had another little boy and then the next 6 years brought 3 moves about the country until we settled in the Rocky Mountains of Colorado. There was wailing and gnashing of teeth by my husband and the cats during each of these moves. I got the car with the children. Haha!
The move to Colorado brought the biggest changes in our lives. Higher altitude, new terrain, new friends, new school and, a new family member: our dog Drake. Part of Drake’s training was how to make nice with the cats.
Sinclair did not feel a maternal connection to Drake. One day she went outside. I anticipated a live bug or bird for Drake’s hunting lesson but instead she never returned. I feared the worse and the days turned into weeks and then months. One day I was headed out of our neighborhood and I saw a cat in the yard of my elderly neighbor’s home. I stopped to get a better look. The cat was, without a doubt, Sinclair! She didn’t get lost or die. No! She moved away! It was a better fit for her. She lived with the dear old lady another 3 years and then died in her sleep.
Sinclair’s divorce on the family was taken most harshly by Smee. She’d never really been happy after our first move and became more bitter with each new child we had. Smee moved as far from the family as she could without stepping outside of the house and took up residence on the top of the refrigerator.
If the children were not home and the dogs (we got another one) were outside, she would climb down and patter about the house. She’d sit in my lap while I was reading a book.
Her face took on a permanent expression of disappointment and general resentment. She would descend her perch only to use the litter box in the laundry room but then she even quit doing that. She’d climb from the fridge to the top of the neighboring shelf and pee. My husband was furious! He had to dismantle the built-in shelving in order to thoroughly clean them.
After peeing on the shelf for the third time, my husband decided that she had to live in the laundry room. We kept her in there over a weekend with the door closed. Of course, we came in and fed her and gave her fresh water. I tried to pet her but she’d always bite me. Eventually, Smee took to her new home and would sleep in the laundry basket on the pile of dirty clothes.
It soon became evident that the reason Smee may have not come down to use the litter box was because she couldn’t. Her self-imposed isolation at the top of the fridge seriously limited her mobility to the point that she could no longer jump down or up. Even when she crawled out of the laundry basket, I noticed that her movement was delicate. A vet exam showed no illness, just aging. Her fur was gettting matted, she had a couple of bad teeth that we had pulled but otherwise she was healthy.
Then one day Smee came up the stairs while the whole family was home. She was startled when she saw us all and took off running to the safety of the laundry room. Surprise “Smeetings” started to become, well…less surprising. Sometimes she’d even come up into the kitchen when the dogs were there. So shocked she seemed to be to see the dogs! The dogs were curious but not really interested until… Smee would hiss and then the chase was ON!
More strange behavior was seen of Smee. She started going outside. At first it was a timid step out on to the back patio. Then a whole three feet out from the door to roll in a sunny spot. One beautiful day we had the doors open while we were cleaning. Smee went out and laid on the front step!
This was the day that we realized that she had absolutely no hearing anymore. With her back to us we’d call her, “Smee-na-meena-mee!” Not even an ear twitch. We figured she was just being “Smeevil” and ignoring us but as the day went on and she slept through vacuuming and kids hollering, turkeysgobbling, and dogs running around behind her, we started to realize that this was what was causing Smee’s new found courage!
No longer hearing the footsteps of children, house guests, or dogs; Smee kept finding herself in places and with people and things she normally would avoid. The more frequently it happened the more she started to realize that there never was anything to fear to begin with. She found out that the world, and those in it, weren’t so bad after all.
Since she’s moving about the house, she’s getting more exercise. She’ll play with ribbons and hop up into bed with my husband and I. She now sleeps with us regularly (which is not always lovely, to be honest) and purrs her affection loudly. One night, recently, I woke up to her wet nose touching mine. She then laid with her haunches on my chest and her throat on my ear and purrrrrred herself to sleep.
She still is not one to enjoy being picked up and hugged. She’s not very fond of the youngest boy but there’s been some love for Buddy. I guess being man sized means he’s now forgiven for being born. She tolerates the dogs and they pretty much ignore her unless she hisses and then it’s a stampede of critters through the house.
Lately, I’ve been considering Smee’s life change. At the age of 18 (the equivalent of an 88 year-old human) she’s gone from an isolated space with a limited point of view to being active, tolerant, and brave all because she lost her hearing.
What would happen if we stopped listening to the voice of fear? What would happen if we got to know those who are different from us? What would happen if we let go of the grudges we’ve held?
Smee is still a cantankerous old biddy but she’s really living her life now at a whole other level! She experiences more every day and by releasing some of that bitterness and fear she’s finding that there is a lot of life to experience and love to receive.