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I always imagined I would be surrounded by many creatures when I was young. My grandparents were close friends with the head of the local nature center, which gave me a unique set of early memories. One of my most vivid was a hot fall evening in the mid-90s. The head of the nature center was taking a collection of snakes, a cougar, and a small, docile black bear cub back to the nature center in Tennessee after an educational program. The bear cub was hungry and tired of being locked in the moving truck, so they decided to stop by my grandparent's house nestled in the North Georgia mountains for a rest. A photograph of me tentatively petting the bear cub still hangs on my fridge today. It sparked a love in me for all creatures and a desire to have them in my life.
I battled, cried, pleaded, and bargained for the chance to prove I could care for my own furry friend, but my father's debilitating allergies prevented any chance I had to welcome a pet into my home and heart. My college dormitory presented a new, interesting opportunity to try and sneak a few little secrets into my small living space. I attempted to keep rabbits, ferrets, rats, a near-death kitten, and a small Pomeranian before every one was inevitably found by my Resident Assistant. Luckily, each critter found a loving forever home. Even the small, malnourished, and flea-ridden kitten was nursed back to health with hourly bottle feedings and given to a kind family who still updates me on how she is doing today. But after many failed attempts, I gave up my hopes of sneaking in a little friend to keep me company.
My graduation from college in 2015 opened up a whole new world of opportunities. After a month-long trip to visit my family in the Czech Republic, I came home to North Georgia to a new job and my first ever non-dormitory apartment. I had decided that my love for animals could wait. There was no need to rush into getting a new pet and would focus on my new career.
Within a week, I received a call from a friend telling me they had found an unusually small, hurt blue kitten. They told me they could not keep it and would leave it alone if I didn’t agree to take it. The kitten was smaller than any I had ever seen and had a large wound along his shoulder blade. I agreed to foster the baby until he was well enough to find a forever home and took him to my little apartment. He was terrified, tired, and hungry. Unable to muster the energy to run away, he allowed me to pick him up and move him into the bathroom. I mixed together kitten formula and wet cat food and made a makeshift bed, litter box, and some water and left him alone to calm down. That night he cried so loudly and incessantly that he made me genuinely question my decision to take on a new creature project. I finally gave up and opened the door. He ran out and immediately hid under the couch where he remained for almost a week coming out only to pee on my carpet and eat. I assumed cats all came with the instinct to potty in a litterbox. To my surprise, some kittens need to be taught.
Slowly, the little kitten started to realize I meant no harm and would occasionally venture up on my chair while I sat quietly knitting or staring mindlessly at my cell phone. He began to let me pet him, on his terms of course, and would sit at my feet and trill at me when he wanted something (usually, it was a treat). He even let me play with him using the many toys I had purchased to attempt to lure him out from under the couch, as long as I didn’t make any sudden movements. If I moved too quickly or made a loud noise by acciendent, he immediately retreated under the couch.
After the first week, he began to stand next to my bed and cry when I tucked myself in to go to sleep. He didn’t like to be picked up, but against his protests I would lift him up in the bed with me. Unfortunately, he would need to do his cat business or investigate a noise many times throughout the night and would cry relentlessly until I picked him back up so he could cuddle up with me once again. After a few nights of relentless and frustrating attempts at sleep I realized that while he was too small to get on the bed, he was just big enough to reach the couch. I removed the back cushions of the sofa and started peacefully sleeping with my small kitten curled up on my pillow.
I took little kitten, who I was now calling Louie after the comedian Louie CK, to a vet friend of my stepmother. The wound on Louie’s shoulder had healed nicely and he was beginning to gain a small amount of weight. Even with the little cough that he had developed I imagined it would be a quick in and out. Once at the vets office the doctor took Louie to the back for a total check-up and came back in a rush. He asked me, “You know this kitten has a heart murmur, right? His lungs seem to have some fluid trapped in them.” I was shocked, and asked how I would have been able to tell. He said the heart murmur was so severe he could feel the murmur with his hand. “A grade six or six heart murmur and an oversized heart,” he explained, “could give him six months or he could grow out of it and live a long happy life.” The doctor was kind enough to escort me to another vet's office after hours where they had a sophisticated ultrasound machine. He did a total view of Louie’s heart and confirmed what he had told me. A small shot at a long life. An optional surgery could improve the condition, but it was 50/50 whether it would help or not. To make it worse, the surgery was almost $2000.
The idea that my newly friendly little kitten, my first real pet, may only have six months with me weighed down on my heart so heavily that I could hardly speak. The vet gave me a heart medication to relieve the pressure on Louie’s extra large heart and hopefully keep him going as long as possible. I loaded Louie up into my car and made it about a mile down the road before I started sobbing.
I was able to collect myself long enough to get home, unload Louie to his safe space under the couch, and retreat to the porch to cry again. I felt robbed that the first creature I had taken into my life after so many failed attempts had been given such dismal odds. The vet's uncertainty about the span of Louie’s life played on a loop in my mind.
That night I decided that I could make Louie’s life as happy and as full of love as possible no matter what his odds may be. I set an alarm on my cellphone for every day at 9 PM to remind me to give Louie his medication, curled up on the couch with my little ball of blue fluff, and drifted to sleep.
Nearly three years later, my 9 PM alarm still goes off every night. I plan vacations, evenings, and work schedules around my Louie and his special needs. But curling up every night to a little trill-meow and a ball of blue fur makes every single evening worth every second.