Saturday, January 26, 2008

The cat who broke his leg

It was Memorial Weekend, 2003. Max showed up in a tree. I had hosted the family picnic and family members had just left. I heard a cat cry. I tracked the noise down to a tree in the backyard. A kitten was stuck in the tree, too scared to climb or jump down. I rescued the frightened animal and put it on the ground.

He was a beautiful kitten, perhaps the prettiest cat I had ever seen. An orange tabby with longish hair and a long fluffy tail. He had a mane like a lion and was probably only three or four months old. His fur was soft and shiny and he looked more like a lost house pet than a stray cat. I wondered how anyone could discard such a beautiful animal. Perhaps, he had strayed too far from home and was lost. I never knew. He didn't have a collar and no one came looking for him.

MaxAt this point in the year, my little farm had already been "invaded" by several stray cats. A queen decided to have kittens in my garage. I fed her so she could nourish her litter, but while I was able to tame her four kittens, she remained wild and unreachable.

As soon as they were old enough, I found a home for the kittens (one had mysteriously disappeared), but wound up taking the mother to the Humane Society. Better she be put to sleep than live the life of a stray and keep bringing kittens into the world that would probably remain homeless and worse yet, be abused or hit by a car.

Another cat took up residence in the hoop house. I named "him" Barney because he lived in the barn. Later, I found out that "he" was a girl, and probably a neutered one since he/she never had kittens of her own or attracted any male visitors.

Barney was never a problem, so I let her stay. I fed her and she never ventured too far from the hoop house. The sheep accepted her and let her share their space and water. She was always afraid of me, though she seemed to enjoy the few times I caught her and combed her matted fur. She was probably treated poorly in another part of her life. I found her dead in 2006. I never knew how old she was. I was sad to lose her.

After being rescued from the tree, Max followed me around, meowing as he walked. He would arch his back and rub against my legs. He was friendly and needy for attention. He wanted me to pick him up. I did. It soon became apparent that Max didn't have a home and wasn't going anywhere. He started sharing Barney's food, but Max wasn't content to stay in the hoop house. So, I started bringing Max into the house at night. He'd lay with me on the couch while I watched television or read a book. He had a personality that could make a cat-lover out of anyone. I thought of the Kenny Chesney song, "you had me from hello." Max did. Still does.

Max taking a strollIn reality, I had wanted to get another cat, an orange tabby, much like Max. But everytime I found one, usually on someone's farm, the owners would not relinquish it. It seems the orange cats always had the most personality. Of course, I already knew that, which is why I wanted one.

But I had a problem. I already had an orange tabby, a fat house cat named Rex. While Rex was a very good natured feline, it wasn't a surprise that he didn't like the intrusion of this young male cat, even one as sweet as Max. Thus, Max spent most of his time outside. Rex was the inside cat. Max was the outside cat. Barney was the barn cat. That's the way it was, the way it needed to be.

Everything changed after I had Max for five or six months. One day, upon returning home from work, I found Max on the garage floor in excruciating pain. I had no idea what had happened to him, only that he was in pain and needed to go to the vet.

He spent a painful night in the house. I was unable to comfort him or alleviate his pain. Eventually, he found a secluded place to be until I could take him to the vet the next morning. Rex seemed to understand the difficult situation and spent the night curled up on my bed.

Max had a broken right leg and needed surgery. The surgery was going to cost over $300. I call it the $500 leg because while Max was at the vet for surgery, he also needed shots and medicine for a runny eye. The total bill was over $500. Some of my family members thought I was crazy to spend $500 on a cat that didn't even live in the house. Little did they know, I would have paid a lot more. Cats like Max don't come around very often. He wasn't just a cat. He was special. He was put in that tree for a reason.

They put pins in Max's leg. Several pins because it was a bad break. Max was a good patient and awoke from the surgery hungry. When I brought him home, I put him in a dog crate to recuperate. In the house, of course. Rex kept a watchful eye on him, but seemed to understand the need for the intrusion. But, Max couldn't stay in the crate forever and with his bad leg I didn't want him going outside. Thus, Max became a house cat, after spending the rest of his recuperation on the couch. He hasn't spent a night outside since.

Max surveying his domainEventually, the fur grew back on Max's leg. He was able to jump and play. Since the pins in Max's leg were never removed, his right leg is straight. He can't bend it. When Max walks, he kicks the leg out. It looks like he's goose-stepping. When he goes up stairs, he puts the leg out like a propeller. When he takes a bath, he shoots the right leg straight up into the air. He slides around on the laminated floors. It's funny to watch him run. It's not pretty. He's not as quick and agile as other cats, but he gets along very well with his disability.

Rex never accepted truly Max. They never fought, like male cats often do, but Max would often antagonize the much older Rex. In particular, he used to go up to Rex and wrap both paws around him as if he were hugging him. Rex didn't like someone invading his personal space. Sometimes, they would tumble around the floor in a ball. As Rex got older, his tolerence for Max grew, but I always intervened if I thought Max was bothering Rex. Both cats jockeyed for position on the bed at night. Sometimes, they also had to compete with my dog Sly who weighed over 80 lbs. and took up a lot of space. Sometimes, I wonder where I slept.

Rex died tragically during cancer surgery in 2005. He was 14. When Rex got sick, Max mostly left him alone. Max is now the cat of the house. Instead of antagonizing Rex, he plays with my dog, Zak. Nine times out of ten, it is Max who initiates the play. It is so much fun to watch them play. They never hurt each other and they seem to relish each other's company. Max gets along fine with my big guardian dog McComb. He enjoys life on a farm. The sheep still marvel at him with his striking looks and long, bushy tail.

Max and Zak playingI love Max's personability. He typifies why I love cats so much. Cats are so loving. They seem to know when you need their soft touch or the warmth of their sleeping body. They give a home a warm, cozy feeling. But they have two personalities, and I enjoy the mischievous part of their personalities almost as much as their warm, cuddly side. They are curious, independent, playful, ornery, and tricky. Max is all of these things and more.

Not long ago, I had Max in for his annual vaccinations. I asked the vet what he thought caused the injury to Max's leg. According to his notes, it was probably crushing injury. The vet thought Max was likely hit by a car.

I think about the life Max now has. He's allowed to go outside, though he has a curfew (darkness) and spends all of his nights in the house. He usually sleeps on my bed at night. He has full run of the house. He gets all the food he wants, canned food on the weekends, and treats frequently. I see to his every need and do almost everything he asks. Sometimes, I wonder if he didn't plan it all, endure pain for a day because he knew there would be a big payoff at the end. Only Max knows.

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