Sunday, May 19, 2024
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Rescue Story: Remembering Kennedy

black cat
One of Kennedy’s last photos.

Those bristly whiskers and gaunt face, copper eyes with a cataract, bent legs, stiff spine, who could forget any of Kennedy’s battle scars? But mostly, who could forget the part that was just him: happy, full of love and friendship, despite his pain and his past as you clearly see in his eyes? Even with a parade of foster kittens through there after he left and six years’ time, when the light turns a certain way in the quiet of a summer morning on the floor in that room, I remember him. Likely I always will.

Having been found with seizures in the street on a hot June afternoon, picked up by Margo and Tarra and taken the the vet, then brought here, Kennedy didn’t need a time to adjust or learn to trust again. He looked at me with that same trusting expression from the first time to the last. And as he recovered and gained strength, a special glow filled those copper eyes. No experience would stop him from believing in love, that unconditional love that is the special gift of our animal companions.

“My friend in Kennedy Twp. called me. Sick cat laying on her road. It got up and walked real slow up neighbor’s driveway and plopped back down. Now just laying there. I am at work and can not go help. Should she call animal control or what can I tell her. Can anyone from group go have a look?”

In the ensuing conversation in our Facebook group she mentioned she was at work and her friend was crying because the cat was apparently having a seizure but it seemed to have survived. No one who read it could bear the thought of a cat suffering like that. Tarra and Margo, members of the rescue group, agreed to meet there, and found him. He meowed, walked toward them and ate the food they offered. A friendly cat obviously in bad shape, they packed him into a carrier and took him to the vet for a checkup and tests. No chip, negative for FIV/FeLV, but positive for a mass near his heart. They named him Kennedy for the community in which he was found.

black cat
Kennedy waiting for his appointment.

Every cat rescued has to have a plan, so a foster home was needed for him. When they posted the photo I saw a black cat who appeared elderly and was in need of a quiet place for rest and healing, or perhaps hospice care. I had taken care of several elderly hospice fosters in the years prior, and lived with my own cats as they grew from senior to geriatric. I knew I was probably uniquely qualified among other fosters at that time to handle elderly cats and hospice care, so I told Margo that if no one else could foster, he could hang out in my bathroom, and to just stop here on the way back from the vet. And so she did.

He should just rest and eat and be observed, the next 24 hours would determine what would happen with him. Jelly Bean came right down, walked over to the carrier and got on top, looking in the holes, then sat on top and purred, doing a little kitty meditation, turning around from us, crouching, blinking eyes and purring sonorously. He’s greeted each new cat this way, no contact, but close enough to give purr energy. We went upstairs and I settled him into the bathroom.

black cat
Kennedy in his carrier with Jelly Bean on top.

Kennedy’s right eye was completely cataracted and enlarged from glaucoma, his left was normal but with limited vision judging by his pupil. After a little bit of “recovery” food and hydration, quiet and rest and he could lift his head and look at me. Though his face appeared old, especially with his bristly whiskers, his body did not. His fur was soft and shiny, his skin sound and elastic and his body his fairly muscular even though he was very thin.

black cat
The first night here.

He had his first seizure about an hour later as I heard a commotion in the bathroom and heard a cat land on the floor and paws coming down the steps—Bean. Glad that I’d earned my Pet First Aid Certification, I knew what to do while watching him writhe on the floor, kicking his hind legs and cycling his front paws and panting, which was to keep my hands off of him and toss a towel over him for warmth. He managed to stuff the towel into his own face, so I pulled on the corner of it and worked it out of his paws. About a minute later the activity ceased and he howled four or five times and laid on his side, panting, slowly getting himself upright as his respiration returned to normal. He had let loose of his urine in the process and it was all over the floor and all over him. I wiped up the floor, wiped him down, cleaned everything up and got him new food. About 15 minutes later he was very hungry.

He had another seizure that night and two the next day, morning and afternoon, and each time was the same, and he was very hungry afterward. But between them he was getting stronger, walking better, and he was very curious, investigating the little bathroom in all the areas he could reach without climbing or jumping, or crawling into a tight spot. I heard some sneezing and coughing and, worried, found him investigating the furnace vent.

I didn’t know then but that was the last seizure he would have in this set, and for weeks. Each day he was stronger, curled up sleeping instead of just lying down, walked toward the door, talking, to greet me when I came in, rubbed against my legs, purred. As the week wore on, his right side gained strength equal to his left. He was still stiff and wobbly when he first stood up, but didn’t t have a weaker side. He gained a pound by his first vet visit.

Then he started sleeping in his litterbox under the sink, often a universal sign with cats that something is very seriously wrong. But I observed his behavior a bit longer and when he got up to eat I switched his litterbox with a box lid under the sink. He took to it right away and later used the litterbox where his bed had been. He just wanted to sleep in the corner under the sink, where he felt very safe, so I put a fleece bed in the box lid and that was a very happy place for him.

black cat curled in bed
Much more comfortable with the fleecy bed inside.

The more he filled his belly the happier he was. He seemed to have turned a corner with the seizures as he got nourishment and hydration so it was likely they were caused by dehydration. I got the feeling he was pretty happy to be alive.

He stopped drooling, stopped dropping food from his mouth so I didn’t have to wipe his chin regularly, and showed a clear preference for fresh water, enjoying the little fountain someone had sent to me for my fosters. He wasn’t interested in toys but did like catnip, walked around rubbing his face on everything and purring, radiating happiness. What he liked best was just to interact with me, to be petted and fussed over. He slept deeply between meals and visits, curled in his box.

With the hot weather of July a two-week quarantine had passed so I placed a baby gate in the doorway and left the door open so air would circulate and he could come to the gate and watch us. Mimi and the kids would sit outside the open door, curl up and sleep on the floor, go over to the gate every so often. Kennedy had an answer for that—he would step over and poke his paw through the mesh of the baby gate and poke, occasionally a quiet hiss from one side or the other.

I remember long, quiet summer afternoons as I worked upstairs in the studio, of seeing five black cats arranged on the floor of the landing and studio, and poking my head around the doorframe to look at Kennedy sleeping in his bed under the sink, and sometimes sitting at the baby gate and waiting to see if anything was happening.

black cat
Pow! Right in the kisser!

I enjoyed spoiling him a little, choosing little cans of pate for him and thinking how happy he would be with them, thinking how he nearly died of neglect just a few weeks before, and though he had an end-of-life condition and his time was finite he was unconcerned about his near-death experience and looked forward to every day, and the food, and the affection. Later, I’m sending happy anticipation to him as I show him the little can, let him rub his face on it and purr, then open the can, mix in his probiotic and some filtered water as he slowly walks a stiff figure “8” around my shins, bumping his head against my calf and purring some more.

cat paws and foot
Kennedy walks around and around my legs.

I set it down in front of him. He immediately begins to eat, twitching his tail twice, emanating happiness. This in turn makes me emanate happiness. Perhaps he’s only eating it because he knows it will make me happy, and that will make him happy. Or perhaps it is because he is happy to feel special and loved, as likely he once was before finding himself ill and outdoors alone. Or perhaps he is aware his time is limited and he doesn’t want to waste any of it being unhappy. Perhaps it is all of the above. We fill the small bathroom with happy feelings.

He was not awake too often, but when he was, he was fully engaged. He looked at me bright-eyed every time, got up and greeted me and made his little “hmmph!” noises, slowly circled my legs and anticipated pets from his nose to his tail so he could stiffly put his tail in the air, and scritches on his head while he squinted and made smiley faces. And when any or all of the Five came to the baby gate, he would strut over with a “hmmph!” and poke one front paw and then the other through the mesh, often surprising the cat on the other side with a poke in the face, and that made him happy too. When he had eaten a bit and within minutes of when I left the room, he was back in his fleece bed in the box lid, having a little face wash, then relaxed and flat out sleeping on his side.

Dr. Michelle stopped regularly and gave him acupuncture treatments to help with his many conditions. When he’d been with us a month and hadn’t shown signs of carrying any contagious viral illnesses, had negative FeLV/FIV test when rescued and showed no new symptoms, it was time to give him some freedom. His appetite was fading just slightly and new places to discover might perk him up.

black cat with acupuncture needles
I held and comforted Kennedy while Dr. Michelle applied the needles (photo by Dr. Michelle Elgersma,

A day when I had the bathroom door open with the baby gate in place, Kennedy actually meowed for me to come upstairs and looked so forlorn that I decided it was time he got a little exercise. I blocked off my bedroom to limit the space, and the landing so he couldn’t get to the stairs, but he was free to come into my studio. Which he immediately did, exploring every spot he could get his nose into. Thereafter it was his favorite activity, starting with exploration, then poking his fur brothers, who gathered round and pretended to harass him as brother cats will do, but they were all great buddies, as if he’d been with them all along.

two black cats
Up close and personal.

He was at his best at that point, but was still very stiff with levels of badly-healed injuries. His spine was pretty inflexible—he really couldn’t even turn his head very easily, let alone bend his spine in any direction. Along with the cataracted eye, which appeared to be the result of an injury, his front legs were pretty stiff and oddly placed. His left leg was clearly bent a bit, and sometimes it looked as if he was walking on just his toes, and his claws stuck out at odd angles. His hips had the most stiffness and his hind legs didn’t seem to have much muscle. He really couldn’t do more than walk forward.

More than once when he joined me in the studio he returned to find his foster brothers occupying his room. Giuseppe liked the corner in Kennedy’s bed but Mr. Sunshine always tried to just get past him and often ended up leaping over him. Bean would look for food and be charming, three brave boys just trying to get out of trouble. Kennedy would last about 15 minutes at any activity, then he was back in his box in the corner, curled up asleep.

sketch of black cat
“Kennedy”, white and black charcoal on gray toned paper, 5″ x 8″ © Bernadette E. Kazmarski

I did a charcoal sketch of him as one of my daily sketches, and auctioned it off to help pay for his care. He continued quietly doing well. Even still, his appetite would fail a bit and he slowly began to lose the weight he’d gained, had difficulty staying hydrated, then he’d rally. I began palliative care for him with fluids, a few medications and alternative treatments to help with pain and discomfort, and then he actually took a turn for the better for weeks after more reiki, acupuncture and an herbal remedy. One morning in the bathroom where Kennedy would sit and watch me then walk figure 8s around my ankles, I turned around and instead of seeing the one black cat I’d expected I saw two. And so his status of brother was complete. He was definitely one of the boys.

I turned around and saw two black cats.

At the beginning of August, about seven weeks after he’d arrived, I was preparing the household breakfast in the kitchen on a Sunday morning when I saw a black cat nosing around in the corner. A storm was coming so it was quite dark in the room. Giuseppe will sometimes do this when he hears a noise in that corner where I think mice may still reside in the basement, but calling his name got no response, and then he turned and he was…Kennedy! In the kitchen! What the—?! In all the time he’d been here he’d never even considered climbing over the baby gate, or he could easily have done so. I opened the door to his room but left the baby gate in place each day, and I wasn’t even certain he was able to climb over it.

He went cruising off toward the living room/office, I fed breakfast and went to explore. I found him at the top of the steps. I had been so concerned about those steps in all his wanderings because he seemed so unsteady. But he quickly climbed back over the baby gate and went off to explore again and made a day of it, looking out all the doors and windows, going freely up and down the stairs.

Watching the rain.

The sweetest thing was Sunday evening when I’d been working in my studio for hours and went to lie down on my bed to rest my back for a while. He followed me in there, as he followed me everywhere, and looked at me with that round-eyed stare from the floor, then came over and jumped up on the bed. My bed is a high bed, an antique reproduction, taller than standard, so that feat of jumping up was no small accomplishment. Then he found me and walked around on me as he’d never been able to before, and that made him really happy.

But the best part was next. Giuseppe was on the bed and he and I had been having a little session. He had stepped back when Kennedy jumped up and watched. Giuseppe has a good bit of ego happening, and that’s why I call him my opera star, the male diva, and he doesn’t like to share me sometimes even with his siblings. But he had been deferent to Kennedy and the two had hissed at each other but Giuseppealso seemed to pursue a relationship with Kennedy.

Kennedy saw Giuseppe, stepped down off of me and walked over to him, then bowed his head down, and Giuseppe gave him a few licks on the forehead, then a few more. Then Kennedy licked him and the two had a little grooming session for some seconds. Soon enough Kennedy was off to more exploring since he’d never been on the bed before. I gave Giuseppe lots of praise and pets for that, and he was very receptive. They are just as important in my role as a rescuer as me.

Looking out in the street.

The next day, Monday, he spent exploring again, then later as I worked at my computer downstairs, he kept coming to me at my desk and meowing, then going back upstairs. He wanted that time upstairs in the studio, and maybe another nap on the bed. I thought it was a new phase of healing, but early that evening he began to have seizures again. I took him to the emergency hospital and they held him overnight to look for a cause and see if we could adequately medicate him, but the seizures returned and would not stop. They gave me medications to keep the seizures under control and him pain-free, and I brought him home to have my veterinarian come to put him to sleep surrounded by his adopted brothers and sisters.

He was tired and didn’t have the energy to join us in the studio that day, but Giuseppe went in the bathroom with him, and the others wandered in and out. The next morning they did not come upstairs as they usually would, even when I opened one last can of food for him, but they were all gathered in the kitchen as I prepared for my veterinarian to arrive for his last appointment, and stayed all through the entire process, quiet and attentive. You can read about that in “Do They Feel?” My veterinarian gave him a thorough physical exam after the sedative and discovered the painful remains of traumatic injuries healed likely more than a year before, and also guessed his age as an early senior cat, in the seven to 10-year range—the same range as Mimi’s children were. No wonder he’d fit right in.

I was never more happy to provide a cat in need with the quiet loving place for his last weeks, and had no idea I was also providing a family for him for that time too. Hospice care can be emotionally draining, but loving Kennedy was energizing for me. His spirit stayed with me and inspired me to start fostering regularly again after I’d sworn off it after losing Cookie and Kelly. In came the parade of feral kittens to be socialized, beginning with Basil, then Bella, and on from there.

The full design.
The full design.

I had been trying to get this photo of this expression from practically the beginning of his time here. It was his last day, I had only hours. He was difficult to photograph because he didn’t stop moving, and always walked toward me when I looked at him. I had to get him where the light fell across his face, difficult especially in the bathroom where he was. I ended up stepping into the tub so he couldn’t walk any closer to me and actually had to stop moving forward, as a bonus the light was falling across his face from the window and reflecting off the tub, and I finally got the photo I always wanted to remember, unintentionally but fittingly a little softly focused. Later I made the photo into a sympathy card just for special rescues like him.

Even with a parade of foster kittens through there after he left and six years’ time, when the light turns a certain way in the quiet of a summer morning on the floor in that room, I remember him. Likely I always will.

Gifts featuring cats you know! Visit Portraits of Animals


The Sympathy Card

A sympathy card for rescuers featuring Kennedy.
A sympathy card for rescuers featuring Kennedy.

Truly unforgettable. Read more.


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