May 12, 2010

A day for our family member of the feline variety

As most of you know, Wazzu is a special part of our family and has brought an incredible amount of joy to our lives. She's made it a little easier being away from our family and friends in Washington and California. But our furry family member didn't come to us in the most ideal of situations.

Flash back to 2005. I had just taken a full-time job at the Tri-City Herald and moved into my first apartment without roommates, so naturally I wanted a little company. Enter Pepper. I found the black, short-haired kitten at the Humane Society in Kennewick. She was so tiny and cute in the cage by herself. She seemed nice when I held her. Sold. I had found, what I thought, was a nice kitty. A perfect addition to our new family [Bruce, who was living and working in Kent during this time, and I had only been dating a few months at this point].

Little did I know she was ferrel. Funny how places neglect to include pertinent information like that. I later found out the Humane Society workers discovered Pepper and her brothers and sisters outside in a box by the building. Not one to give up, I figured she would calm down after getting spayed. Unfortunately, that didn't happen. She would attack for no reason even though she was given plenty of love, food and a peaceful environment. One night, I picked her up to take her to bed and she clawed my left arm slasher-movie style. It wasn't fun. At this point, I was resigned to the fact that no matter how well we treated her, she was who she was.

November 2006 rolls around, and we're making the move to California for my new job at the Fresno Bee. The car was packed. Bruce in the driver's seat. Me co-piloting. Pepper in the backseat in her carrier. We stopped in Eugene, Ore. for lunch with a friend, and I figured Pepper would be OK out of her carrier for the rest of the ride. And she was until we arrived in Fresno later that night at 2 in the a.m. We pull into the parking lot of a hotel right off Highway 99 and Bruce gets out to see if there's any vacancy. No luck. So we drive to another place down the street. Bruce gets out of the car again then it's all kind of a blur. From what I remember, Pepper shoots out of the car, freaks out and hits the glass front door of the hotel. That was the last time we saw her.

We searched for a few hours, completely exhausted from the 14-hour trip we had just made from Washington. We left food and toys outside, hoping she'd find her way back, which she never did. We went door-to-door in the neighborhood, but nobody had seen her. A few days passed and we moved to a more centrally-located hotel, but would still go back to the original one to look for our lost kitty. Then something crazy happened. The hotel manager asked us to quit trespassing on the grounds AKA looking for Pepper. He said we were making the guests nervous. Rage, sadness, hopelessness took over. We were stunned. This man who was standing at the glass front door Pepper banged into and witnessed our grief was asking us to leave? Some people I'll never understand. 

Soon the time split between searching for Pepper and a new place shifted to settling in at the new job and apartment. I focused on my new life, but still drove by the neighborhood where Pepper had vanished since it was on my way home from work. 

A few days passed. We stopped looking. It broke my heart despite all the trouble we went through with her. I pictured her cold, scared and worse. But then I thought, "you know what? Pepper is a tough girl. If any kitty can handle the streets, she can." She was spayed and still ferrel. I'm not trying to justify losing a cat, but in these circumstances, she was equipped to survive. I still believe she's running a gang along 99.

We figured it was time for us to adopt again, especially before Bruce returned to Washington. We headed over to the Central California chapter of the SPCA. I was determined not to make the same mistake I had with Pepper, so Bruce and I spent a good chunk of time getting a feel for the kittens. There was a black one who resembled Pepper screaming his head off in the cage. Years later, Bruce tells me, for some reason, he thought I'd want that one. Silly boy. 

Then it happened. I saw this tiny girl holding a gray ball of fur, and I knew that was our kitten. I held my breath, hoping, praying the rug rat would put our potential newest addition down. And she did. I immediately scooped her up and called Bruce over. And then uncertainty took over. Was she cute enough? What if she was ferrel? She looked fine, but I'd been deceived by appearances before. Bruce assured me she was the one [which he still kids me about to this day]. I didn't know. So we put her on hold. Yes, layaway for kittens. Twenty-four hours to think about it. 

We returned the next day and made it official. Gray fur ball was ours. But she had to be spayed and treated for ear mites before she could come home with us. A week later, I [Bruce had gone back to Washington] picked her up from the SPCA. The girl handed her to me and mumbled something about if she experiences cold symptoms to bring her back. I, for some reason, didn't put two-and-two together. I was stoked gray fur ball finally was ours. During the course of the next few days, gray fur ball, who we affectionately named Wazzu after our alma mater, began exhibiting cold-like symptoms. She wasn't eating because of the congestion. Her eyes were runny. She was sneezy. I called the SPCA on a Friday and they proceeded to tell me a case of Kennel Cough was going around their facility. Now it made sense. Why couldn't the vet tech have just told me about the Kennel Cough? Why did I let my excitement overshadow my duty to ask the important questions?

I asked if I could bring her in to get checked out like the vet tech had said, and the woman proceeded to tell me they were closing for the weekend and that I should take her to a vet. After calling around, no vets were able to take new appointments since it was Friday and they weren't open on weekends. One recommended I take Wazzu to an emergency vet place. 

Why did this keep happening? Lost cat. Alone in a new city. Stress of a new job. Boyfriend 800 miles away. Sick kitten. It was overwhelming to say the least.

Wazzu and I arrived at the emergency vet hospital, and the wait began. Appointments were on a first-come, first-served basis, but if there were more urgent emergency situations, your turn was pushed back. There were some nice ladies in the waiting room who had family in Washington, so I was comforted talking with them. 

Then the unthinkable happened. A family rushed through the doors with what looked like a badly-injured dog. They were top priority. A few more hours passed, and it was finally our turn. We entered the room and I explained Wazzu's symptoms to the tech. Then the doctor arrived. He was a nice man with kind eyes and a Hawaiian shirt under his lab coat. I explained the situation to him and the tears started to fall. I lost it. The past few weeks had been pretty trying. Next thing I knew, he was crying, too. He had just finished putting the dog brought in by the family down. The father had backed over the family pet. It put things in perspective a bit. My kitten was still here. She could be saved. The doctor said it was a good thing I brought her in when I did because she had a respiratory infection from the Kennel Cough and was close to pneumonia. He gave me medicine and said she should feel better in a few days, which she did.

And she has grown into such an amazing cat. I know that sounds cheesy, but everything we wanted from Pepper -- affection, love, personality, obedience, companionship -- Wazzu has given us.

So every few Wednesdays, I'll post pictures of her for a series titled, "Wazzu Wednesdays." I hope you'll enjoy the images as they are constant, tangible reminders of how incredibly blessed we are that she was brought into our lives. The path we took to her was anything but easy, but it was meant to be.

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