Tuesday, December 21, 2010

#33 The Gift of my Cat, Topper

     James Herriot was a country vet in England. Most adult readers are familiar with his famous All Creatures Great and Small.  He also wrote The Christmas Kitten (featured to the left of this post) for children. I thought of it when I was writing below about my own cat, Topper.


     Now about my cat, Topper...

                                                         My Gift

     I had wanted a cat for several years. Retirement from twenty-one years of teaching left me with an unfulfilled need to nurture somebody or something. My husband soon grew impatient with my need to "mother" him, but was determined not to bring a cat into our home either. "How can we travel?" he asked. "A cat isn’t likely to travel well. Cats aren’t like dogs in that way."

     I thought I saw a glimmer of hope. "So how about a small dog then?" I asked.

     He just shook his head. At that point I even gave up on surprising him with a full cat carrier and an enthusiastic "Guess what I found!"

     Instead, I enlisted the support of various friends and relatives. They all sided with me of course, and caused him to become even stronger in defense of his position against the "cat lovers of the world".

     Then, on the morning of December 14, 2008, we were drinking our morning coffee. He turned from his page in the newspaper and asked, "How many days is it now until Christmas?"

     I was puzzled. "I don’t know for sure," I replied. "Probably about ten."

     "Well," he said with a smile, "you’d better start looking for your cat, then."

     "You are serious?" I asked with car keys in my hand and one foot already out the door.

     "Just go," he laughed.

     When I started the car, I paused for a moment. It felt like a miracle. He had changed his mind so suddenly. I said a prayer of thanks just in case it was the result of divine intervention. Then while I was already in the middle of a prayer anyway, I decided to submit a petition for a specific type of cat. That was when I realized that He Who hears all prayers would probably already know what kind we should have. So I said simply, "Please help me to find a special cat."

     The Campus of Compassion is at the base of Phoenix’s South Mountain. It is a branch of the Arizona Humane Society, and Topper was the first cat I saw there. He had been a stray. His fur was matted and he was terrified, but he cuddled against me when I held him.

     He was a two-year-old male, a black and white long hair, and the sign over his kennel read "Max". I was told that he was given that name only five days earlier, and so my husband and I changed it to Topper. Topper is the name of a silk opera hat like the magical one worn by Frosty the Snowman. Topper’s formal black and white coloring also had a tuxedo look to it.

     The gentle cat slowly got used to his new home and family. His favorite toy was a feather on a fishing pole. We decided he should be an inside cat except for outings in the screened-in back porch where he could watch birds in the back yard.

     It soon became obvious that he had some health problems, and our vet treated him for parasites (probably from some ugly survival days in the streets before he was turned into the Humane Society), and asthma.

     The asthma attacks required some serious medication, and the first time I was afraid he wouldn’t come out of it at all. He stopped eating and drinking and hid under our bed. His cough sounded like a seal barking, and he struggled to breathe. Finally when he had been under the bed for twenty-four hours, I dragged him out and squirted water into his mouth. I hated it, and so did he. He went back under the bed, and I had a good cry before I fell asleep on the couch in front of the television.

     The next morning he walked out and meowed for something to eat. He had completely recovered.

     We are managing the attacks better now, and they are less frequent. However, if we didn’t have such a wonderful pet sitter, we might not feel that we could leave him to travel.

     Jade is nearly eighteen, a young entrepreneur who drives and has a blossoming pet sitting business. She comes over each day when we are gone, feeds him, cleans his litter box, brushes and plays with him. She has a natural love of animals and after years with her own breathing treatments, I know that I can trust her judgement if Topper should have asthma problems while we are away.

     My husband is fond of Topper too, though Topper has made it clear that he is my cat.  He is definitely a joyful addition to our family.

     But that isn’t why he was the answer to my prayer for a "special cat". I know that it was because I needed Topper and he needed me, and He who hears all prayers was the only One who could have brought us together at just that right time.

     Topper was a Christmas gift, and real gifts are sometimes like that. 

Topper in his favorite napping place, a shallow bowl on the coffee table.

Topper loves to hide under gift wrap.
More gift wrap...
Topper with a Christmas Bear

Topper with a red ornament

     It might seem that Topper is a spoiled cat, but he is also a very good one, and we love him.

     Next week...the first post will be an introduction to Pomegranate for parents, grandparents, teachers and librarians.  It will include a summary of the story.

     The second post will be for student readers and will give you a chance to "look at the book" called Pomegranate.

     Have a warm and wonderful Christmas.  Give something nice to those you care about, and remember to honor the "first Christmas Gift".