“I only need one sock,
I only need one shoe.
I’ve got the one-legged
Hokey Pokey blues” *
It’s been a year now. I think it’s time to say goodbye. But first, I need to tell the story.
I was managing a small garden shop and needed a cat to keep the mice away and to provide some company during the slow winter months. I decided to go to the local humane society and see what I could find.
I entered the adoptable feline room and began to peer into the cages, sizing up each kitten and cat as a potential mouse killer. A little girl and her mother were also in the room, determining which small handful of kitten fur was the most suitable. I was half-way through the perusal when I heard the girl say “Who would want a cat with only three legs?” in a voice that relayed her disgust with a life form that was less than perfect.
“I would” I heard myself say as I walked to the cage that held the undesirable feline. I peeked around the child and saw a most unsettling sight. A shaved, dehydrated Franken-cat came to the door of the cage and began to purr. He was a young adult, and weighed a little more than 4 pounds. He had 25 or 30 stitches on his shoulder where his right arm should be and his mouth was swollen and he was drooling blood. The shock of seeing how damaged he was churned my stomach. I thought I might faint, and I had spent years as an EMT and had seen much worse damage inflicted on human bodies, but as I stared, I realized this cat was still purring. He rubbed up against the cage and opened his mouth but no sound came out.
“He can’t meow”, the society worker who just entered the room told me. “He was caught in a fox trap and was apparently there for weeks. During the time he was trapped, he tried to chew through the trap, and ended up breaking his teeth. He must have meowed so long he lost his voice, too. They brought a vet with them when they went to get him out of the trap, ‘cause they were going to put him down, ‘cause cats never learn to walk on a stump and he was bad, real bad, but the vet said the cat started to purr when they got him out of the trap, and he just couldn’t put that cat down. So the vet did the surgery, and they brought him here.”
“Can I have him?” I heard myself say, and so began my journey with Lefty. As it turned out, some of Lefty’s surgery bills were paid for by an injured animal charity that I had helped raise money for the year before. After a few weeks, the stitches came out and he began to travel with me to work in the garden shop. He would greet the customers, and even trot awkwardly out to greet some of them, spiraling around their feet. As the weeks dragged into months, Lefty began to develop quite a following. Many customers would make special trips into the store to see the cat, and he began to acquire a handsome treasure of cat treats and toys. During the Mother’s Day weekend, a traditionally busy time of year for garden shops, the store was packed with customers. An elderly woman in a wheel chair from a local nursing home was being pushed around the store by her family. Lefty saw the woman in the wheel chair, hopped over to her, and jumped in the woman’s lap. She continued to pet him as they shopped around the grounds. Some time later, they came back near the cash register and I heard the male traveling with them say, “Mom, you haven’t picked out a Mother’s Day present yet.”
She replied, “I already have it,” as she leaned down and nuzzled Lefty. “I so missed my kitty and this little cat just knew it. You don’t have to buy me a thing, I just got the best present in the world.” More than one customer wiped away a tear that Mother’s Day.
Lefty was great with the customers, and continued to develop a following. During the filming of a Wednesday morning TV spot about wildlife friendly plantings, Lefty jumped up in the middle of the plantings, and began rubbing up against the plant pots. The cameraman began to focus on the cat, and not the plants, and soon the newscaster was asking questions about Lefty, and not the plants. He made such an impression on the TV crew that they filmed a segment about him for the evening news!
After his television debut, the human society asked if Lefty could help with a interview about the charity that helped him. It was a radio interview, but I agreed to take my mute cat with me for the radio announcer to see. During the interview, Lefty sat on my lap and purred, and for the finale, the announcer asked Lefty if he had anything to add. Lefty reached up to the microphone, pulled it down to his level and meowed raspily. We couldn’t have asked for a better response.
Lefty also visited the local veteran’s home. On one occasion, an amputee held Lefty in his lap and said, “You give me hope buddy, you’re a gimp with a job.” After that visit, Lefty and I retreated to the car, where I sat and sobbed like a baby. He touched so many people.
Lefty was great with children as well as adults. He visited the preschool program a number of times at the museum where I later worked. I would bring Lefty out into the room where the kids were sitting, and he would bound up to them and tolerate all their not so gentle patting. Once, I asked the kids what made Lefty different from other cats, and they announced in unison, “HE’S YELLOW!” Lefty made all of us forget that he was different.
Through the years, Lefty made quite a name for himself. He has been on television, radio, done promotional advertising, and even had a song written on his behalf. He’s done museum work, 4-H meetings and charity work. Most humans don’t have that kind of resume!
About a year and half ago, Lefty began to lose weight and breathing was harder for him. We visited our local vet who recommended a specialist. During the visits at the MedVet hospital, Lefty would always purr and be friendly, no matter what procedure was being performed on him. Even as his health declined, he faced it with a feline smile. The assistants would smile when he came in, and they would ask if he could stay with them, instead of the waiting room. The vet even remarked, “I’ve known thousands of cats in my practice, and he might just be my favorite. He is one of the best cats ever.”
The vets initially said that he might last a week, or even a month, but Lefty improved and surprised all of us for many months. One day last October, I sat down with Lefty and told him that it was okay for him to go, that he didn’t need to hold on for us any longer. I told him to look for my grandmother, that she would provide a great lap for him, and that she loved cats. He purred as I petted him, and I cried and he nudged me as if to say that he understood. I went to work, and rec’d a call a few hours later that he had passed. Lefty entered and left my life with a purr and a nudge, and I am thankful for the many years we were together. He will be missed by many. When we all get to heaven, we’ll be looking for the ginger colored tom cat with three legs. If he’s not there, I don’t want to go.
* Lefty's Hokey Pokey Blues
, written by yours truly and available on Itunes.