Newsletter - Animal Writes © sm
12 December 1999 Issue

Releasing Thunder
by Michelle Rivera - [email protected]

In a sleepy little town on the west coast of Florida, two cat-loving artists have a chance meeting that forever changed the life of a tiny Himalayan named Thunder. The encounter took place at an arts & crafts fair, where the artists are as diverse as their colorful wares.

One of the artists is a Rubenesque, happy soul, named for the county in Ireland from which her ancestors hailed; Kerry. She wore layers of colorful, animal-print garments and floppy hats with paw prints and animal-friendly messages painted on them. This day, she was wearing a sea-green visor with stenciled gold kitties, the words "love me, love my cat" carefully painted cross the headband. Her tightly-permed blonde hair looked as though it would escape the confines of the headband, if only it could.

As she went about the business of setting up her 10' X 10' booth, Kerry moved to the rhythm of Tina Turners' music coming from the CD player. An animal artist, her artwork celebrates the nature and being of all animals, but especially cats. As she carefully arranged her display, another vender sat watching. Taking note of the feline-inspired artwork, the woman approached.

Elsie was a lonely old woman. A gaunt, wizening, chain-smoker, she looked every minute of her 86 years. Her crafts consisted of crocheted and knitted articles of clothing and home decor. They included the obligatory tissue box cover, the dolls with the dresses to cover toilet paper rolls, crocheted coasters, crocheted Christmas bells, scarves, a sweater or two, and such. Admittedly, she didn't do very well in the Florida fairs and flea markets, but she had no family and so it was the company of the other venders, and the conversation of browsers that she craved most. Seeing that Kerry appeared to be quite friendly, AND a cat person, Elsie wandered across the aisle and struck up a conversation.

Kerry continued her display set-up while listening to Elsie chat about the fairs to which she has been, how bad business is lately, that sort of thing. She mentioned the cat-related artwork, and the two began to discuss their mutual love of cats. Mentioning her love of all cats, Kerry shared that she was especially partial to the extraordinarily beautiful Himalayan. Elsie's eyes lit up, and she proudly announced that it just so happened she possessed such a cat. As Elsie talked about her precious "Thunder", Kerry listened for clues as to how this funny little woman could afford such an expensive cat. When Elsie invited Kerry to visit, she took the elderly woman up on her offer. Kerry thought that the woman seemed strange, but finding that they lived relatively close to each other, she made arrangements to visit the very next day.

Upon arriving at the old woman’s mobile home, Kerry was appalled at the pungency emanating from the tiny, clutter-filled trailer. The odor was a fusion of dirty kitty litter, mildew, stale cigarette smoke, and something more. Not wanting to venture inside, Kerry hesitated in shock at the squalor around her. In short order, she was invited to “have a peek” at the kitty. To her horror, she saw that the cat was housed in a bird cage! Elsie, obviously suffering from some type of dementia, had become confused as to the difference in the care of a parakeet versus a cat. Inside the relatively large, but vertical bird cage, was an emaciated, sickly, depressed and tattered “Thunder”. Kerry immediately liberated Thunder from his cage, and turned to the woman, who was still smiling proudly. She hadn’t a clue that something was terribly wrong.

Thunder, now quivering in Kerry's arms, had a dull, tangled coat that was covered in the litter in which he was forced to lay. He purred very quietly, but his head hung loosely, and his body was limp. Not wanting to alienate Elsie, Kerry told her what a beautiful kitty he was, but that maybe he was outgrowing his cage, and should be allowed his freedom. Elsie explained that Thunder was terrified of storms, (hence his name), and the cage seemed to calm him. She fretted that she couldn't possibly let him lose, or he may run to escape the storm sounds outside the trailer, and she may never find him. Trying to quell the rising panic, Kerry whispered that she knew of a way to desensitize Thunder, and that if Elsie would allow it, she'd work on his phobia and take good care of him. She promised that Elsie could visit him any time she wanted and it was agreed. With Thunder securely in her arms, Kerry raced out of the trailer and into her car before Elsie could change her mind.

Feeling a curious mixture of anger, anxiety and relief, Kerry headed for her veterinarians' office. Thunder was promptly admitted for IV fluids and observation. He lay quietly on the examining table while loving hands shaved his mangled coat, and patiently combed the fur around his face and ears.

He purred quietly as he was gently bathed and wrapped in a heated towel, held firmly so as to be kept warm and dry. He ate voraciously of the rich, nutrient-laden food he was offered, and he slept peacefully upon a heating pad. When he awoke, he was much livelier and, still hungry, wolfed down yet another can of tasty vitamin-enriched fare. After a few days, he was strong enough to be neutered and sent home. There was no way of knowing how long Thunder was forced to live in a bird cage, or how he survived, but it was obvious he was sincerely and exceptionally grateful for having been "sprung".

Kerry paid for Thunder's medical bills and brought him into her loving family. He quickly made friends with Gump, the Maine Coon cat who had eaten a lizard, sustained neurological damage and was surrendered to an animal shelter; Fabio, the "Hemingway" cat who appeared on the doorstep at the age of 6 weeks, and Jacuzzi, the timid, ASPCA cat who spends her days hiding from everyone, her nights cuddling with her family. Storms no longer frighten Thunder. He is tenderly held and reassured until the scary noises stop. He is a loving, affectionate cat who thrives on warm cuddles and showers of kisses. In saving a precious life, Kerry finally has the Himalayan she always wanted.

Authors' note: This is a true story. As sad as this story is, the woman referred to as "Elsie" was not prosecuted for animal abuse because under Florida's anti-cruelty statute, the criminal act must be intentional. It was determined that Elsie could not form the intent to hurt Thunder. Social Services is aware of Elsie's propensity to keep cats in cages, and have promised to keep a watchful eye on her so that it won't happen again.

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