By Sonia Molinar
This is a follow up to a story published on July 26 of last year (http://www.northtabor.org/2013/07/26/the-saga-of-senor-home-now-after-35-days-missing/).
When I first wrote about my cat Señor Julio six months ago, the future of our life together was very much uncertain. After being hit by a car and hiding out for 35 days, his injuries were many: his back left leg and foot were fractured and had healed splayed out, with his toe ending up on top of his paw, and the “elbow” of his front left paw was fractured and dislocated. His front left “wrist” had a transverse fracture, he had the beginnings of a collapsed lung, a complete fracture of the first digit in his paw, and was missing a few toes. He also had multiple contusions, signs of sepsis (blood poisoning) and a wound on his paw that just would not heal. After several rounds of antibiotics his front paw was still very swollen and the wound was festering. Amputation was not a safe option, and even testing to find the source of the problem would have been too hard on his system. And to add insult to injury, he had to wear his Elizabethan collar full time to prevent him from licking the stubborn wound. I had decided to try one more round of antibiotics as a last ditch effort to stabilize his condition. His vet, Dr. Tello, was going on vacation for three weeks, and we would reevaluate his case upon his return.
Señor seemed to respond almost immediately to the new antibiotics. His leg looked less swollen after just a few days. He got grumpier about wearing the collar. He started sitting more frequently in front of the door, although when I opened it for him to look outside it didn’t take two seconds for him to hightail it back to the back of the house. Nevertheless, I took these all as good signs that he might be beginning to get back to his old self.
About a week later we had the good fortune of having a photo shoot with the talented animal photographer Carolyn Waissman (http://imagesbycbw.zenfolio.com). She opened all the mini blinds in the living room in order to let in the natural light. I was unsure how Señor would react to this, or rather I worried he would not like it at all…and he didn’t. I had to hold on to him firmly to keep him from jumping down and running to the back of the house. In all the photos his eyes are huge and it’s obvious that all he wanted to do was get to a spot where he could not see the outside world.
For weeks Señor seemed lethargic and still very scared of everything. He spent most of his days under the bed in my pajama box. Although I was seeing signs of improvement in other areas, I thought maybe this was going to be the “new normal”; after all, he is a ten year-old cat who’s been through a terrible, traumatic incident.
But another good sign was that he was hungry and kept steadily gaining weight. Originally at 16 pounds when he went missing, when he made it home he was a starved 8.5 pounds, his collar hanging around his neck like an embroidery hoop. Just a month after his return, he was back up to 11.6 pounds, and I thought he seemed to still be growing.
One evening he seemed really interested in going outside. It was one of those gorgeous Portland summer evenings where the temperature is just right and you can hear a breeze moving through the trees. He had been sitting at the screen door for some time, sniffing the night air and concentrating intently. I decided to try an experiment: I picked him up, took him outside and sat gently down on the porch with him in my lap. I had barely sat down when a car drove by. Señor started clawing desperately at me to try to get back to the door. Once inside he jumped down and hobbled at top speed to the safety of the back rooms. Okay, too soon.
August 7th we had our recheck with Dr. Tello. He was thrilled with Señor’s progress and after doing a few tests told me we could take off the collar and bandage on his paw. I had to put silver sulfa dioxide on the little that was left of his wound twice daily, but besides that, we would just come back for a final follow up appointment in two months.
I started to catch Señor peeking around the edges of the blinds, but if I raised them even a little, he would run away. It was like when you watch a scary movie by covering your face with your hands and just peeking through your fingers; he still just couldn’t bear to look.
One night Señor ventured out to the front room when I had friends over for dinner, and sat at the window, his old post, something he had not done since his return. My friend raised the blinds, and to my surprise Señor did not run away, but stayed put for quite some time, observing the neighborhood doings. Then he flopped down, belly up, on the carpet next to the table; he was back in his happy place.
In the past, Señor had never been responsive to toys; my friend used to say if it didn’t have a heartbeat, he wasn’t interested. But something about his time indoors changed that. He started playing. I bought peacock feathers, catnip “sausages” and fluffy balls. To my amazement, he really seemed to like them. And I noticed that he used his “bad” paw as much as his good one. One night I heard him making a racket in the front room. I went to investigate and found Señor hunting a millipede under the dining table. I put the creepy crawly out of its misery unceremoniously with a shoe before he could finish it off, but even though I’m not sure if millipedes have a heartbeat, I could see the thrill of the hunt in Señor’s big, green eyes.
By the third week of August, I had resumed leaving the blinds open, and Señor could be found looking out the front windows on a regular basis. His tail flicked and his eyes widened with intensity even if there was nothing happening outside. Was he remembering days gone by, or plotting future adventures, I wondered?
I also moved his litter box and food back to the front of the house to their old spots. The house was starting to look like it used to.
One night at the end of August, I came home from an evening out, and Señor sat waiting at the door. I opened the screen door as I had been doing for the last month, expecting him to run to the back of the house, AND HE WENT OUT. He just disappeared into the night. I was in shock and a bundle of nerves, but he came back within a half hour, cool as a cucumber as if to say “No big deal”.
But this did not mark a return to his previous outdoor life; his forays out were brief, and he confined himself to the driveway area. And he was still very much content to be indoors.
September 6th was a big milestone: Señor not only went out, but he stayed out overnight. I tried to coax him back inside by shaking a container of kibble, and even tried hitting the side of the tuna can with a fork, but got no response. When I got up early the next morning and found him waiting outside the door, I almost cried with relief. He simply came in and demanded breakfast, just like old times.
I could see he was getting bolder. One mid-September evening he ventured out to the sidewalk and observed the street life, passing cars and all. He poked around the yard, sniffing this weed and that, and chewed vigorously on some grass. Then he hopped up to his old catbird seat, a concrete brick wall with bushes next to the driveway, and took a leisurely lay of the land before coming back inside and heading straight for the front windows to see what was going on. Señor was back. Soon after, he started crossing the street again, and hanging out at another of his old stations under the neighbor’s hedge.
He also began to walk a lot more confidently. Initially, after the bandage came off, his leg seemed to pain him more and he was noticeably weak. He would play for a bit, and then have to take a break. After a few weeks, I saw he didn’t limp as such. Despite the deformity of his left front paw, he didn’t have a pronounced limp. In fact, when he ran, you couldn’t even tell he was hurt.
At this point he started asking to go out after breakfast every morning. He stopped using the litter box entirely. But by the time I was ready to leave for work he’d be at the door waiting to come in.
As he got stronger, Señor demanded more and more challenging play. He would get on the piano bench when we played with the feather, as if the floor was too easy. A friend recommended giving him a hair tie, and he went nuts for it, burying it under the area rug and then fishing it back out. Then he was thrilled with a plastic ring off a milk jug. To my delight, instead of settling into a senior lifestyle, he seemed to be going through some kind of second kittenhood.
October 9th he had his two month follow up appointment with Dr. Tello, who hardly recognized him. He said his first thought when he saw him was “Who let this panther into the office?” Señor was up to close to 13 pounds, his fur coat was glossy and sleek, and Dr. Tello was amazed at how well his wounds had healed. He said his musculature was completely even, despite the left side being so injured, and that he didn’t have an ounce of fat on him. Although the X rays showed that everything seemed to be continuing to heal, as a precaution I had them sent to a specialist who would be able to detect any bone infection. Thank goodness, everything checked out.
Since then, our life has been pretty normal. Señor seems like he must be back up to close to his fighting weight; he’s at least 14 pounds. He’s also resumed his old drooling ways when he’s very relaxed and happy; he did not drool for months after his incident and I honestly thought he must have sustained permanent damage to his drool glands, or whatever they are. But now the bedtime drill is I try to read a few pages of my book, and he inserts himself in between. Then I scratch him on the chin and then he drools and purrs himself silly while I try to keep myself dry.
He’s also more vocal than before. He’s always been a quiet cat, besides when I’m dishing up breakfast or dinner. But lately he seems to look me in the eye and ask me specific questions, like, “When are you getting off the computer and coming to bed?” or “Hey, why are you getting up when I’m clearly very comfortable on your lap?”
He does move less stealthily; his little club paw makes a thunk, thunk, thunk-ing sound, not unlike a human walking with a cane. But he’s definitely reclaimed his previous joie de vivre. They say that curiosity killed the cat, but I think in Señor’s case it’s the opposite: it was the very nature of his inquisitiveness that pulled him out of his traumatized state. That, and frequent treatments by his personal reiki master and shaman Karen Savva Wood: http://www.karensavva-wood.com.
And maybe just a little bit of spoiling by his incredibly grateful owner.
So the next time you find yourself walking down NE 52nd Avenue, you may be greeted by a big black cat whose left legs are a little cattywampus. Please take a moment to give him a rub and tell him you’re glad he’s still on duty.
A note from the author: It all just seems like a bad dream…until I look at my credit card bills! Not that he’s not worth every penny, but I am launching a fundraiser to help offset some of the vet bills. I’m offering T shirts with a beautiful rendering of Señor Julio by the talented and charming Chilean painter Miguel Angel Flores, who himself is still struggling with the consequences of falling off a roof onto a concrete driveway two years ago, http://senorjulio.bigcartel.com/
You may contact Miguel Angel at email@example.com regarding pet portraits, or any other art endeavor.
One more credit: photographer D. Scott Ryan (his professional name) of eyepiphany. His email is: firstname.lastname@example.org and his flickr link is: http://www.flickr.com/photos/eyepiphany/
I will also gratefully accept donations of any amount via PayPal: https://www.paypal.com/ My account is email@example.com.
Any monies raised over $1,800 will be happily donated to Dove Lewis Animal Hospital. Bless them.