It is hard to believe that anyone would want to abandon an animal. It is hard to believe that maybe maternal instinct sometimes does not click in the animal kingdom. We are inundated with animal welfare media, whether it is the gut-wrenching ASPCA commercials, the posts on Facebook on lost animals, the news articles online about animal cruelty offenders actually going to jail (HURRAY!), and let us not forget the puppy mills and illegal trades. Of course—if you are like me—if you had the means, you would be going out there and rescuing every animal that has had such misfortune. But while the reality of living and financial needs keeps you from turning your tiny studio apartment from becoming a mini sanctuary for animals, sometimes your heartstrings will pull taut until you feel that they will absolutely snap and you will melt into a puddle of goo that says "GIVE ME, I WILL LOVE YOU!"
That was what happened to me.
Almost three years ago, I was just your average lady doing average lady things. I was working full-time in a pet store, I was getting ready to FINALLY go back to college and get my bachelors degree, and I was living la vida lame-o in a tiny apartment in Albany, New York. So on this hot August morning, I was scrolling my Facebook, agonizing over the fact I would have to get up and go to work soon and that I would be attending college and on the path to my then current dream that was just getting my Bachelors. Anyway, as I scrolled, I came across a co-worker of mine who had posted pictures of a tiny, dirty, pretty flea-infested little munchkin of sorts. Upon closer inspection, this tiny, dirty little munchkin actually turned out to be a little grey tabby female kitten (HEART STRINGS BEGIN TUGGING!). It was a pet store; lots of people try to have us take their animals they do not want anymore and just abandon. The gentleman who found her, anyway, said it was a prime spot for people just to abandon animals they did not want. Of course, I did not think much of it. Little did I know.
So later that day, I went in for my shift. I saw the co-worker, and after initial greetings, I casually asked how the little kitten was. Her response? "She's doing great! Do you want her?"
Me: "Sure!" (HEART STRINGS SNAP)
What did I just do?
Now, I was not dumb. Growing up I had cats, but let's face it, when you are living with mom, dad, and brother the care gets divided up somewhat. This was my first time when all responsibility fell on me. I do not think I actually thought it through. I mean, could she have been sick? Could the fleas on her make my little hole in Albany a flea resort with all expenses paid? What if, god forbid, she died in my care? My mind was racing all day with thoughts of caring for this little bundle, but there was one thing I was certain of.
I was taking her, no matter what.
My lunch break consisted of buying everything I would need for her. Again, I was so glad I had some cat experience.
FINALLY, my shift ended and my co-worker came by to pick me up (I took the bus, but this was an exception, obviously). The kitten was hiding inside a carrier with not even a peep. We pulled up to my apartment, and after some quick talk, it was just me and the kitten. When I finally got her and everything in, the moment of glory arrived where I could take her out of the carrier.
And was I in for a surprise, because she was TINY!!! She was so small she could fit in my boyfriend's (now fiancé's) hand. This was not your average weaned-from-mama eight week kitten—this was a baby.
A baby that had fleas crawling on her.
INTO THE TUB WE WENT. This was actually her third bath of the day, as the gentleman who found her (such a wonderful guy) and my co-worker had bathed and fed her, but still, all my years of working in the pet store had taught me, fleas are like mutants; tiny mutants who can withstand even the harshest of treatments sometimes. Basically, it can take forever to get them off, but I was determined. If you are unfamiliar with flea treatments with animals under eight weeks of age, the tip has always been to use diluted blue dish soap. For some reason, this stuff can suffocate the fleas and does add a nice sheen and softness to the coat.
Bad for fleas, but not enjoyable for an animal whose entire ancestry has been an aversion to water. I would learn that when she got bigger, but thankfully for now, with her being so tiny, it was not hard to control her. After drying her off (I loved making her into a little kitty burrito with a hand towel) I then tried to get her to eat and see if I could get her to go the bathroom. I realized I was with her being so small, I would have to learn the art of syringe feeding. Thankfully my co-worker gave me all the tools (syringe and kitten milk) I needed to do so. But would she eat?
Yes, yes she would; but I knew I was going to have to do this all night. Woo hoo.
And through all the chaos of getting her situated, another thought hit me. My Star Wars loving co-worker had named her Leia—or rather, called her Princess Leila—but I found myself saying "Leela," "Leela." For those who might not be aware, I am a geek; a happy little fanfic writing, documentary obsessed, will-watch-most-anything-by-Matt-Groening geek. The name Leela came up from the television series Futurama. Leela is a strong character, a bit opinionated, but can kick your butt, and is tough as nails, but sweet when she needs to be. I decided then on that this little fuzz ball who was now nestled in the little box I had crafted would be named Leela. However, in honor of my co-worker who found her, I changed the spelling to Leila.
Okay, she now had a name, was clean, fed, and had a little place to sleep. Time for me to hit the hay until my phone alarm woke me for her next feeding.
Now, one would think Leila would be the one keeping me up that night. Well she was, but was not. See, I was a nervous wreck and wide awake. Of course I was worried. Was she breathing? Did she need to use the litter box? (I did put her in to familiarize her with it, but not realizing how young she was, I learned I may have to help her with that step). But no, she was fine; sleeping all peaceful and cozy.
Needless to say, I was awake when the alarm went off.
After getting a few hours of restless sleep finally, I awoke to find her all cute and cozy. Time for breakfast and then right after, call the vet.
Again, I am not stupid. Regardless of how cute and cuddly and probably costly she was, I was not about to skip getting her looked at by a veterinarian. That is advice for anyone who rescues an animal in the same manner I did; take them to the vet. I was prepared to go a week on Ramen noodles if that meant she was getting the best care possible. Besides, what if there was an underlying illness of injury she had?
And of course that worried me a little when Leila had a little accident while I was on the phone with the vet, unfortunately not in the litter box, but thankfully on a towel I was able to grab. The vet said because she was drinking the kitten milk, that was not uncommon. Vet appointment was then set for the following day.
But the real agonizing part? Today was not my day off. I had to go into work, leaving Leila all alone.
I knew I could not call off because they knew the reason why, and unfortunately, having a new pet (unless it was an emergency), even with today's new Family Leave pay, does not give you good enough reason. Plus, Family Leave does not cover new pets. Babies yes, pets no. So unfair!!
So for eight hours, Leila was on her own while I was at work, completely and utterly freaked out. At the end of the night, I begged a co-worker to give me a ride home instead of me taking the bus because I wanted to make sure Leila was okay. Thankfully, my co-worker obliged. When I charged into the apartment, she came right over to me and I was able to breathe a sigh of relief.
After our initial feed, probably bath, and cuddle, I FINALLY was able to get some sleep.
The next day, I put Leila in the little cardboard carrier I had gotten for her and grabbed a city bus to the vet's office that was maybe twenty-twenty five minutes away (you got a discount if you worked at my pet store). On the bus, I kept switching seats to make both she and I more comfortable. She started meowing, but for the most part no one could really hear her. When we arrived for our appointment and checked in, I took Leila out of her carrier to give her some air and cuddles. A vet tech saw me and asked if she could show Leila to the other doctors and staff. Of course I obliged. After all, who could resist such a little kitten? The staff was in awe.
Of course, nine times out of ten, when you go to a vet's office there is bound to be a dog or two that just wants to say hi! When I got Leila back and continued waiting for our turn, a sweet, happy dog came over to say hi. And that is when Leila learned she did not like dogs and promptly hissed at him.
Oh, no we didn't!
Now, I do not coddle. As adorable she was, I was already certain I was not going to be one of those pet owners who believed their animal is a perfect angel and could do no wrong. After Leila got nasty with Mr. Doggy, did she go back in her carrier with a scolding.
Thankfully, we were finally called in. Again, cue the squeals of cuteness from the vets. The doctor checked her out and while she seemed a bit dehydrated, was no worse for wear.
But prepare for the stunner. The vet hazarded a guess that Leila was actually three to four weeks old!
Now, I knew she was tiny, but seriously that young!? While I figured she was a baby, I was thinking maybe six weeks, but three to four?
My heart began to ache. How could anyone just abandon this tiny little baby in the middle of summer on the hot sidewalk? Whether it was her mama or a human, I just could not fathom the thought of leaving a living creature out there to suffer.
I had already made the promise that I would take care of her and love her forever, but now it was etched on both my heart and soul. Leila was mine and she would get all the love and care she could ever desire. Even if it meant I had to sacrifice some of my needs for her, I would do it without a thought.
That was my vow from there on out.
And I stuck to that vow. Even as she grew and became more adventurous and curious. She would get into trouble by chewing my homework (and I thought only dogs did that..wrong!), running around the apartment like a nut, drinking out of the toilet (again, dogs are not alone in this), knocking stuff off my counters (including a cup of water that was over my head), trying to eat off my plate (while I was holding it myself), having a fit when I clipped her nails, basically anything she could do to get me to stop being so darn serious and focus on her (except for the nail clipping part). Imagine being woken up out of a dead sleep at three AM by cries or the sound of heavy plastic dragging on wood because it is time to play, or for mommy to turn on the feather spin toy! That was always fun the night before a test.
And now, here we are almost three years later, and it has been quite a road. In that time, Leila developed an allergy to dry food and has to eat primarily wet and seems to still have a sensitive tummy. We moved into an apartment with my boyfriend where Leila would find herself a big sister less than a month later, when we adopted Jax—a then eight-week-old tuxedo kitten who would drive her crazy. I graduated college and received my Bachelor of Arts degree in sociology.
In all this time Leila, has become more serious, and what we call Emo Cat. No more hugs or carrying, but will let her be pet and sleep on mommy or soon-to-be daddy because boyfriend proposed on Christmas Day, 2017. She has this regal air about her, but she is not above hunting or chasing or meowing for mommy or soon-to-be daddy to play with her.
It still worries me that Leila lost that affection she seemed to have for me, but I am constantly reminded by my fiancé and my mom that we do not know what Leila had gone through before I took her in. It is something we have to remember for all pets we rescue. We only know their back story from a second or third party. We do not know the true length of trauma they suffered. Contrary to some people (mainly jerks), animals are smart and have good memories. I remember the numerous dogs who would come into my pet store on their guard, even years after being rescued, because they were haunted by the memories of their past. Even if Leila was not traumatized by humans, she was still separated from her mother. Could her mother have died? Could she have left Leila? Considering her appearance when first discovered, it was clear she had been on her own for a while and had not had the mama cat/baby cat bonding.
So many questions, not enough answers.
But one thing is still certain: Leila is mine and even if she gets grouchier with age, I will never regret having her in my life. Most importantly, I will never, ever stop loving her.