Staff was on a short holiday trip, so we are a little late with our blog. Today we have a guest post by our old twitter friend Lidia. She had (and has) a lot of cats, so we start with a adopted cat named Scricciola.
Here we go. I am @LidiaPhilema on Twitter. In almost 30 years my son and I have rescued several cats, some from tragic situations. The cat I am going to tell you about is SCRICCIOLA, who became the fourth addition to my feline family nearly 23 years ago.
Thanks for your attention and friendship. I am mothertongue italian, so – please – forgive me my Italenglish!
Gratitude is not a feline prerogative. At least, not at once. This fact is well known by the thumb of my right hand and, having reached the fine total of eight cats at home over the years and with 30 years of feline experience behind me, by yours truly, too. But way back in 1992, when the cats roaming my house numbered ‘only’ three, I was ignorant of the fact. In any case, it depends on the cat. If they are particularly lively young cats, and still lack confidence, it is better not to expect gestures of affectionate gratitude. A cat is a different animal to a dog: it takes a long time before they place their trust in friend human, perhaps years, during which the human friend must not make mistakes. The test is long and difficult, but the final prize is very rewarding: you are promoted to the rank of “felino ad honorem”, something which (provided you don’t make mistakes) will last a whole lifetime.
all my cats at the time
So, back we go to 1992. One spring day, it was time for the annual vaccination of my three cats. Carried in two different transporters (one single and the other double-sized) we headed for the surgery of “our vet”: Diki, Philema, Paperino and I. One by one they were examined despite their protests, attempted escapes, sudden shyness, hissing and tremors of repressed rage. One miaow, though, rang out louder than the cries of my menagerie. It was coming from a room off the surgery, where the vet was examining the ears and checking the teeth of my cats. The miaow was strident, vibrato, almost a cry for help.
“Who is that howling in there?” I asked at one stage. The vet answered: “That’s Scricciola. We operated on her yesterday!” A moment of silence, then my curiosity got the better of me: “Operated for what?” And that, that simple and apparently innocuous question, is where it all started. Because, after the vet’s answer, of course I was no longer the same.
photo of Scricciola
“We had to put a plate in her paw and suture her palate. She was brought in more dead than alive but she’s out of danger now. Some people should be locked up!” The explanation only increased my curiosity and I pestered the vet with a volley of questions. Then I found out that in a certain block of flats the caretaker, in an attempt to get rid of the stray cats living in the garden, occasionally grabbed one and literally flung it off the top floor of the block in question. The building is tall, and most of the animals died. The caretaker believed she had done her duty: she had “cleaned up”, and for sure somebody – in that block of flats – would have said to her “well done! You keep the garden cleaner than anyone!” But not everyone was prey to such cynicism. So, somebody grumbled, “that’s no way to get rid of the block cats. What the heck, enough of this barbarism!” When Scricciola was thrown off the roof, that same “somebody” found her and rescued her, then brought her immediately to the vet and paid the cost of her operation. But the person did not adopt her. Meanwhile, though, they reported the caretaker hoping to see the ‘diligent’ coward go through some suffering of her own.
“So it’s just a kitten, all on its own?”, I asked the doctor, having listened to Scricciola’s tale. “Can I go and look at it?” “Certainly!”, answered the vet. “But don’t get too close!”
The sight that met me filled my heart with sadness. Scricciola was tiny, no more than a couple of months old, the colour of her fur not what you’d call attractive, a dishevelled and dull mousy-grey, and she had a long, mangy tail. The kitten was in a cage, forced into an unnatural position, belly and jaw pressed firmly to the floor. A bubble of blood and snot swelled and shrank at one nostril to the rhythm of her breathing. Her front paws were splayed straight out from her sides. They were sticking out of the transporter through two holes drilled into its two sides. A complicated tangle of elastic bands, bandages and straps was holding the poor animal in that pitiful and obviously uncomfortable position. She looked like a laboratory animal, undergoing some unspeakable torture.
Horror rose within me. “But why does she have to stay like that?” I asked the vet who, meanwhile, was handling one of my fat little fellows, with shiny fur and long whiskers. “That paw can’t be moved. The bone was fractured in several places and it has to heal. That’s why we put the plate in her. She’s a bionic cat!” And how does this bionic kitten eat? I asked. The vet tells me that she doesn’t eat, she is surviving thanks to the drip.
pic of my flowers
The check-up was over for Diki, Philema and Paperino. As I paid, I came to the realization that I had arrived with three cats that day, but I was soon going to have four. “OK if I drop by tomorrow to see Scricciola?” I asked from the doorway. The veterinarian smiled: “but you already have three cats! Think about it. Scricciola is a cat that is bound to have a load of problems. I don’t know if she’ll walk again, or even eat! When she was brought in, her face was all caved in, actually there wasn’t much of it left at all. We had to reconstruct her nasal septum. Do you want to adopt her?” I am confused. “I don’t know, but can I come and see her tomorrow?”.
Scricciola & toys
Next day, and the following, and the day after that, and every day for two or three weeks, I went to visit Scricciola. She looked at me and hissed, she didn’t want me to come close and I respected her wishes. I spoke to her in a quiet voice and I didn’t touch her; I crouched down to her level and told her that when she left the surgery, there would be a home waiting for her. Of course, she’d have to deal with three other cats that were twice her size, but – dear Scricciola, I said to her – if you managed to survive the fall from that height, surviving a trio of house cats will be a piece of cake. You’re a female and, mark my words, we females are strong. And we will help you, my son Stefano and I. Chin up! Hang in there and you’ll soon see the doors of paradise opening for you.
Finally, the day dawned when I could take Scricciola home with me. The vet gave me a list of dates for a series of check-ups, and once we were home I introduced the kitten into her new environment. Not at all reassured by the fact that she knew me (she had seen me every day for at least three weeks), she scurried off into the bathroom, limping noticeably, and slipped into the narrow opening behind the bidet. From there, she stared at me with wide, terror-filled eyes. And now, pay attention! I am about to make an error of judgement.
Scricciola at my home
I expected gratitude from the kitten, that she would show some trust and confidence in me. After all, I had spent time with her, I had respected her pain and shared it with her, I had encouraged her, spoken to her, expressing love and comfort using only my eyes, I had got her used to my face, my smell, and the sound of my voice. She knew that nothing bad would come from me. But whereas on the human calendar, three weeks might be enough to gain the trust of any unknown human patient, on the feline calendar, three weeks is nothing. For Scricciola, less than nothing.
As though seeing me for the first time, she hissed angrily at me, grinding her teeth and flattening her ears back against her head, with the most threatening appearance her little kitten face could conjure up. I paid little heed to this and moved my hand close to pet her and try to bring her out of that uncomfortable place she had chosen. I was sure that I was her friend, but Scricciola hadn’t yet promoted me to the ranks of felino ad honorem and was not prepared to show me her gratitude just yet. Such egoism on my part! And what a formidable lesson I was about to receive! She seized my right hand with canines sharper than razorblades and bit down with all her might. I didn’t want to scare her more than she already was and I tried to detach her from my thumb, which had begun to bleed copiously. But Scricciola’s fangs dug deeper, and she had no intention of letting go.
But Scricciola’s fangs dug deeper, and she had no intention of letting go. In fact, she let herself be lifted right off the ground, continuing to bite with all the strength her jaws could muster – which was quite a lot for a cat. They’d fixed her face up well. Those jaws were working a treat. Scricciola had a textbook bite.
Scricciola at my home
Then, only when she decided, she let go. Quick as a flash, she darted back into her hiding place, and I examined my hand and thought it best to go to hospital. There they gave me three stitches and a tetanus shot. That was the price I paid for my recklessness, for expecting trust from a cat that couldn’t give it after having been treated the way it had by a human, at least not so soon.
For the next five years, Scricciola kept to herself: she never so much as let herself be touched, she ate after the others had finished, and kept out of sight most of the time. Her paw healed quite quickly (by chasing her, my cats had performed a kind of physiotherapy on her), but she never jumped and the high-up surfaces in the house remained the exclusive realm of the first three to arrive. When I had more or less accepted the idea that I had three cats and a four-legged ghost, she showed up one evening and timidly jumped onto the sofa beside me (the sofa was the highest point she could reach with her damaged paw) then she started rubbing against me, wanting to be petted. I was moved almost to tears.
Scricciola at my home
Scricciola, the mousey-grey cat, promoted me, even if it took her five long years. I could touch her paw and her face. I did it very delicately. She closed her eyes and purred contentedly. I couldn’t have got rid of her then, even if I wanted to. And the caretaker? She was reported to the police for cruelty to animals. The courage displayed by my kitten and her will to survive helped to keep goodness knows how many other cats free from harm.
And now Scricciola is #OTRB. She lived with us for 14 long, love-filled years, with her two odd front paws (one muscular and the other skinny); she underwent another operation on her palate and yet another on her paw (the bionic one), but she was always active and lively, chubby, playful and curious. In a word: happy.
I am @LidiaPhilema. Thanks for accompanying me for a part of my life with my cats and with Scricciola.
(copyright all pics in this blogpost by @LidiaPhilema ,
all photos here used with her permission, please respect this! )