Written by Jenni Hunter and Lize Müller – co-founders of Feral Cat Assist Heidelberg
Professional photography by Cindy Allen Photography
The morning of the 3rd of July started like any other Gauteng winter’s day: a bit chilly and with a normal working day stretching ahead.
It didn’t continue like any other normal winter’s day! At about 9am I received a call from a pensioner at our local old age home. She explained that she had a kitten that looked “quite sick” and “seemed to be covered in oil”. She asked us to come and get the baby, because the old age home doesn’t allow pets, and she didn’t have money or transport to the vet. I reluctantly agreed.
Just as I was about to leave, however, she called again to tell me that the kitten had escaped and run away. I thought that we could perhaps set a trap and that we may be able to catch the baby that way. Secretly, I also told myself that the baby couldn’t be as badly off as she’d described, since “it” was clearly well enough to plot, plan and execute a nifty and successful surprise departure.
Well, by the time we’d located the baby – some six hours later – I couldn’t believe my eyes; something was seriously wrong. This kitten smelled horrendous, all her fur was matted, stuck together and filthy. She was clearly uncomfortable and kept shifting in her cat carrier as we made our way to the vet.
Once on the examining table, her matted hair was shaved away and the extent of her injuries became apparent. The open wounds on her back had become infected, and fly eggs had hatched in her fur, literally eating her alive. It seems that she might have been taking refuge from the cold in a car engine, as the wounds seemed consistent with a fan belt injury, but we’ll never know for sure, and Little Bit is the only one who knows her full story.
All we knew was that she’d been in this state for some time and wouldn’t have been able to last much longer. At times like this, tough decisions must be taken, but – as she patiently endured the painful process of cleaning her wounds and treating her, with only the softest little cries and trusting eyes – we just knew… this Little Bit wanted to live.
“Take her home, give her small, frequent feeds, keep the wounds clean, and ensure that she’s warm and comfortable – the next 24 hours will be touch and go.” These were the vet’s words. With a heavy heart, we prepared ourselves for the worst.
Little Bit, however, had other ideas. As soon as she arrived in her foster home, she began to perk up. It was rather like watching a newly hatched butterfly spreading its wings. She adored her “toothbrush” groomings, ate every morsel in her bowl, turned her little face up to the warm winter sun, and relished her cosy bed. Indeed, she spent most of those first few days with only the tips of her ears, and (perhaps) a paw visible from the folds of her fluffy blanket. And when she used her litter box for the first time on day three, we dared to hope that all would be well and that Little Bit had beaten the odds.
Within a week her kitten nature resurfaced as she switched from survival mode to kitten mode. Soon she was wobbling around her little pen (it’s a good thing she didn’t have a mirror handy, because her reflection would have shocked the little remaining fur that was left right off her skinny little frame!).
But, just as we all began to relax and celebrate this tenacious little madam’s survival, things took a turn. Two weeks later, Little Bit began to experience lameness in one of her back legs, and within 24 hours she couldn’t use her back legs at all. The speed of her decline was alarming, and we rushed her off to the vet in a panic.
Our vet carefully examined her, and the diagnosis was made – Saddle Thrombosis. She was admitted, and we were left reeling. How could this happen when she’d come so far?
We quickly learned that Saddle Thrombosis occurs when a blood clot breaks loose and lodges in the arteries that supply the back legs with blood. The pulse in her back legs was weak, her toes were cool to the touch, and she was rapidly losing feeling in her back legs. This is a dangerous condition, because the clot (or any other that might occur) can easily move to the brain or lungs and prove fatal.
Little Bit spent 12 days at the vet. She was being carefully monitored, kept on kitty bed rest, and treated with medication to thin her blood (amongst other things). Through everything, Little Bit patiently endured. She never complained – just waited with trusting eyes. Waited for this to pass. Waited for the silver lining, the light at the end of the tunnel. Because Little Bit wasn’t giving up, she wasn’t letting it get her down. She never felt sorry for herself. She never questioned her lot in life, never complained, and never stopped trusting.
Fast forward to today, and Little Bit is still with us – she beat the odds and no more clots occurred. She’s come home from the vet and moved on to her forever home (with careful instructions from our vet regarding her care). The most challenging part about caring for Little Bit is that she just doesn’t realise that she’s supposed to be taking it easy. Indeed, her inability to take it easy has landed her back at the vet once already.
If Little Bit’s little legs don’t want to work, she carries on without them – in fact, she forgets about them completely. We are, however, optimistic that Little Bit will remember that she’s a four-legged feline and that her little back legs will get back in the game. Her doctor says it’ll be a long road to recovering full use of them, but this Little Bit of cat is on that road, and she isn’t looking back.
When cats like Little Bit come along, they remind us that we, as rescuers, are sometimes the rescued. She reminded us that self-pity gets us nowhere. She reminded us that life is worth living – even when it’s hard. She reminded us that, no matter what happens to us, there are people out there who care. She reminded us to keep trusting in the bigger picture. And she reminded us that we don’t have to be perfect to be whole.
Marelize Human, Little Bit’s owner, shares…
I’m an avid follower of the Feral Cat Assist Facebook page, and, as a cat lover, I often feel a tug at my heart when I read the touching and often heartbreaking stories behind the feral cats and kittens they encounter and rescue.
When I saw the post of Little Bit’s rescue and the photo of a little fluffy face jumped out from the page, I had to share her story with the other two feline fans in our family, my husband, Gerhard, the Persian cat aficionado, and my son, Dawid, a lover of all animals and creepy crawlies.
Little Bit’s tale struck a chord with Gerhard and affected him more deeply than I initially thought, and three days later she was still on his mind. It came as no surprise when he said we should bring her home because he felt that she needed him and he needed her. What better reason can there be to adopt an animal?
Two weeks later, following her worrying hospitalisation, we collected our Little Bit. It was as if it had always been her home; even our Mr Magoo and Meisiekind, our Persian furries, were over the moon with the fluffy new arrival!
She’s a wonderfully friendly and busy little spark of soul, and it fills us with wonder and admiration to watch her grow stronger and improve with each passing day; a petite and delicate girl with such determination and the courage to never give up and make the best of every second of life.
Little Bit has filled our home with even more love; she’s a daily inspiration, and when you look at her, you once again realise that she doesn’t feel sorry for herself or imagine herself unable to do anything she sets her mind to.
A tiny, handicapped kitten is teaching us that no challenge is too great, and no matter who or what you are, if you have the heart of a lion, you can overcome anything and make your own dreams come true.