A Tiny Lump of Fur (or How Animal Welfare Workers Are Really Miracle Workers)

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Inspired and written and the request of Sue Marue and all the wonderful people at the Ark Cat Sanctuary.  Sue – you are a tireless hero in the cause of animal welfare; you truly blow me away with your talent and dedication.  Everyone at Ark is beyond amazing.  You guys rock!!!  

A Tiny Lump of Fur

I know that she looks like a cat… don’t worry, I see it too.

She looks like a cat, because she is a cat and in the photo you see, she is doing something very cat-like. 

Betina loved shoes… she loved getting inside people’s shoes… not just family members, but guests too – she was an equal opportunity, shoe sniffer. The inside of purses was another favorite pastime. She absolutely loved playing ball – if you rolled it to her, she would actually hit it back, and she loved to hold our hands with her tiny paws. 

Even full grown, Betina never grew into a very large cat. She was petite and small boned with the softest/featheriest fur and the lightest touch with her paws. 

The 1st time I met Betina, was at a vet’s office here in my home town. This office was located across from the railroad tracks and right-off one of the busiest highways that runs right through town. Speed limit is 55 – 75 miles per hour.  Commuters use it to get to Los Angeles County and back for work.  

Apparently, about a block or so from the vet’s office, just on the side of the highway that was near the railroad tracks, someone noticed a tiny black lump on the ground that didn’t blend-in with the rocks and debris. On closer investigation they realized the tiny lump was a mass of fur and blood that was still and barely breathing.  They scooped-it-up and took it directly to the vet’s office.  

It took awhile to figure it out because the animal was mangled and in bad shape… they eventually figured-out, this tiny thing was a kitten. They guessed it had been hit by a car and ended-up on the side of the road until someone noticed it and got help.  

Life saving measures were taken to save this tiny kitten. Each day, the vet and staff did what they could… this kittens’ life was thready and not really improving the way they’d hoped. Many nights before closing the office, the decision was made to euthanize the kitten first thing in the morning.  The next morning would arrive but often, the staff would intentionally be late or the vet would cancel the morning schedule.  Truth be told, everyone had become attached to this kitten. They were working hard to save her, she was working hard to live and no one had the heart to end her life. What they needed to figure out is why she wasn’t improving more steadily. 

On one of the days this kittens’ life was spared, someone noticed a lump on her tiny little chest. The vet discovered that her lower lip had been torn from her mouth and that is what was laying on her chest. There it was… the missing piece of the puzzle to help this kitten survive.  The vet made the decision to further invest in the life of this kitten by calling in a vet specializing in micro-surgery. The kitten’s lip was surgically reattached to the correct place and guess what?  This tiny kitten began to improve in a more substantial way.  Everyone was overjoyed. Their hard work, smart thinking, resources and dedication to life was paying off.  Eventually, she was well enough to be spayed and once she healed, she was given the run of the vet’s office.  They named her Skittles because she was regularly running in circles or skittle-ing around some corner.   

On the opposite side of town, while teaching at the community college, my spouse and I had made the decision to adopt a kitten. I’d been looking in all the usual places but just hadn’t found the right fit for us.  I wanted a girl with long hair and a friendly/playful personality.  Actually, there was something I was looking for in the face of the kitten that would become a member of our family and I just hadn’t seen it yet. 

One day, I thought to ask a room full of students (all adults, mind you) if they knew of any kittens up for adoption.  A student from the back of the room said, “Call the Vet Group on the highway – they usually have some kittens there.”  So the next day I called them and much to my surprise… they interviewed me to make sure I was going to make a legit parent. I was a little offended but the woman on the phone was insistent that the one kitten they had was very special and needed the right type of  parent. I guess I passed muster and we set an appointment for all of us to meet. 

In the meantime, I’d gone back to class and reported all this to the student who’d recommended this vet’s office. Then she was blown-away by the fact they interviewed me and said she would call them and recommend me as a parent… which she did.  

I will never forget the 1st time I saw that beautiful, furry face. I’d never met a tortie before, didn’t even know what it was… but there she was and I saw “it”… I saw what I’d been looking for… I’d just met the next kitten who would live in our home. 

The vet and staff took the time to explain the journey they had all just survived – how special Skittles was to them and how hard she’d fought to live. They showed me the clear thread attaching her lower lip to her jaw bone. They explained that as she grew, it would become less obvious, but that it would always be there. They told me the whole story of her life to date… the story I wrote in the previous paragraphs. And as they spoke, I could see and feel the love and affection for this little kitten – it shone in their eyes and through their words. I was so touched and understood their caution and their need to investigate anyone who wanted to adopt her. 

Betina came home.  She was intelligent, playful, affectionate, curious, destructive, fast moving, hyper-active and loved people. She never met a cup coffee she didn’t want to drink or a piece of wrapped peppermint candy she didn’t want to play with. Apparently, these were both readily available at the vet’s office – coffee cups in the trash can and peppermints on the counter for customers. 

This little ball of feathery-fluff brought us great joy and a frequent use of the broom and dust pan as she broke more glass items that any cat I’ve ever known. 

One year after Betina came home, my husband and I became parents to beautiful 4 1/2 year old boy who had never in his life seen a domesticated cat.  When our lives began as a family, he wasn’t good to her… he didn’t know how to be.  For a period of time we needed to protect them from each other until our son began to understand Betina was not only safe, she wanted to play with him. And play they did. Those two became thick as thieves. 

Betina never missed one of my son’s bedtimes or story times.  They’d play ball together daily. When my son was being bathed, Betina watched him from the counter or the toilet seat. When my son was sleeping, she was either on his bed or standing guard at his bedroom door, sometimes all night. She would nuzzle him when he cried or when he wanted to watch tv, she would sit and hold-paws with him. She would come meow at me when he was getting into trouble and she would sit and nuzzle my face when I would come to my wit’s end. 

So, as you can see, Betina was more than the family cat – she was our family. 

When caring humans 1st met our Betina, she was a lump of fur that was more dead than alive.  She lived, through the help and intervention of many human hands and hearts to become an essential part of our home and our family. She became a therapeutic cat for our son and a dear companion to me. I can honestly say, that even though she looks like a cat and is a cat… this little lump of fur was my family, my friend and part of all of our hearts. 

I’ve written this piece in dedication and honor to all of you living and working to save the life of one tiny lump of fur… because that tiny thing may one day grow into someone’s beloved friend who just happens to look like a cat.