It was towards the end of February 2020. A lovely sunny day but the wind felt icy.
I was walking the street where my workshop is, on my way to our little Harbor-Bar to have a coffee. It’s always a nice break, a tiny social thing and of course I also enjoy a bit of sunshine on the terrace with my back to the wind and the hoodie up.
But today was different. I found a tiny little black kitten on top of a discarded freezer, laying in the sunshine with limited protection from the cold wind. There used to be two babies, their mum and some aunties in this corner, but strange enough she was on her own. I went over there. This time she didn’t run away. To the contrary, she was laying there completely apathetic, skin and bones, and too weak to lift her tiny head.
Yes, I admit it, I’ve got a very soft spot there. I had to fend for myself being nearly 3 years old when my sister was born and my parents fighting for her survival. And I had nursed a tiny kitten which was left behind by his mum, eyes still closed, when I was five. The vet didn’t give him a chance when I went there with my bicycle – ahem, actually my mum’s bicycle, standing on the pedals and gripping the handle-bar as I didn’t have my own, but he survived and even went to school with me.
Well, what should I say? Hell broke loose inside me and I called the vet. No, sorry, we haven’t got a vet here in Nazaré on Fridays, but the office in Alcobaça is open, even over lunchtime.
Alright. I dug out Max’s transport-box, a little cushion inside for comfort of the little one, and off we went to Alcobaça, a village about 17 K to the ESE (for non-sailors: this is in the direction of East South East from where I am. N would be North, W is West) from here.
She was cool about it, no complaining, nothing. Only her little paw would come out from time to time and I would offer my thumb and index finger to comfort her.
The vet in Alcobaça was a first for me, and I only had a rough idea where this might be. I suspected the street with the shop for oil-filters and stuff and the shop with the professional electrical supplies, but couldn’t find a hint anywhere. Box in hand I walked into the shop with the electro-stuff and the guy came with me to show me where it is. Turns out he adores cats :-D!
Just a few minutes of waiting and it was us. Verdict: she’s got a very bad cold, the throat is inflamed so she can’t eat and is down to 755 grams. The eyes are weeping and the left one is nearly shut, but the vet is confident that it’s not too late yet. A girl, a bit less than 2 months old.
“What’s her name?” – Oh, I don’t know, I just found her on the street, I have to ask the owner.
She got an antibiotic- and an anti-inflammatory-shot and then came Doctor’s orders: she’s got to stay inside and warm, have antibiotics with a syringe into her mouth twice a day and eye-drops also twice a day.
When I came back her owner was there. I asked him about her name but she hasn’t got one, just “cat” like all the other ones he’s got. He was able to catch the sibling of her, so, about an hour later I was back at the vet. He turned out to be a little boy, also with a cold but in much better condition than her.
Together with her owner and his son we tried what we could, but they didn’t have heating inside their workshop and the little one didn’t really manage to recover.
4 days later on my way to have a coffee, same game again. She was laying on the discarded freezer in the sun with a cold wind blowing, nearly lifeless.
What should I say? I took her in my arms and carried her over to Tonga, our home. Placed her next to the radiator on a cushion. A place she wouldn’t leave for the next days, nearly crawling into it, but anything giving a bit of warmth was just more than fine.
And now what?
Food, she needs to eat to get strong again, she needs food! I went to the vet-office here in Nazaré and got us some special recovery-food with heaps of vitamins and even ready to be used with a syringe. We made it work somehow, but none of us liked it.
Mr. Max was extremely unhappy about the whole situation, although I went for walks with him and gave him a lot of extra-attention. But it wasn’t enough. He had me on his own for more than 4 years and there was no way he wanted this to change. So, he stopped eating to make his point absolutely clear.
Hang on a minute. Max adores chicken like probably most cats, so what if I get him something special? Unloading the car coming back from shopping he was guarding the bag with the chicken with his dear life, and the moment I started to take it apart and prepare it for him to eat he got really excited about it.
This didn’t escape the notice of our little girl. What? There must be something very special going on, I need to have a look! Suddenly she found the strength to get up and even got hold of the first chunk, very much to the annoyance of poor Mr. Max who went off mumbling, grumbling and brooding.
He was so upset that it wasn’t until the next day that he had any of the chicken. The good thing was that from this moment on I didn’t have to feed the little girl with the syringe any more, which was awesome for both of us!
Now, all this food in the little girl had to go somewhere and it didn’t want to come out. Remembering Nicola, the tiny kitten I found when I was 5, I started massaging her tummy. Bit by bit things started working. Only, never in her life had she seen a litter-box. The place where she grew up in got washed down with a hose every day, there was no need for any special behavior.
The awesome thing with cats is, that they have a natural tendency to be clean. This little one was no exception and the learning-curve was steep. Turns out it just isn’t enough to be inside the litter-box fighting to get rid of it when it’s landing next to the box on the floor. There was absolutely no need for me to say something, she was terribly upset about herself and time and time again tried her very best to get it right. Which turned into some really messy situations and heaps of laughter. It didn’t take long and she got it right.
The first time I noticed that there is a chance for Max to get on with her was, when he reached over to cover her mess in the litter-box to stop the smell. And to make sure she’ll get it right she even started to sleep in her litter-box.
Meanwhile a week had gone by, we were meant to turn up at the vet for a check. It looked like she was recovering well and we also gave her treatment against intestinal parasites just in case, antibiotic-treatment and eye-drops had to continue.
“What’s her name?” I got asked again. Hm, and now what? What would suit her best? And suddenly I hear myself saying “Liza”. With “S” or with “Z”? With “Z”.
At least for as long as recovery would take she had to stay with us. So, I explained everything to Mr. Max. He still didn’t like it at all. He would keep a great distance from her, behaving as if she was a very dangerous person wherever their paths would cross, and whenever there was a chance he would hit her. But he started eating again.
Max moved out of his favorite sleeping-place – which is my bed, especially curled up in my arm – and found himself a new place: on top of my pile of hand-knitted sweaters made from Icelandic wool. He adored the wool the moment it arrived, he was completely fascinated when I knitted them and he just couldn’t stay away when I left them laying around somewhere. In his opinion the pile of sweaters was probably the second-best option.
Meanwhile little Liza started to recover and got more and more active and agile every day. Every corner on Tonga got meticulously inspected, hiding-places discovered in case Max should chase her around, and then she managed to get up into bed – which started to become her favorite place, be it day or night.
Two weeks over, time to see the vet again. Liza noticed instantly that we were heading in a different direction when we left the port (we were going to the vet in Nazaré for a change as they were open this day) so a tiny voice came from the box. Once all explained she was happy with it. Corona-Virus meant we were not allowed to go inside, the vet would take the box, check her and bring her back to me. We were allowed to stop with the antibiotics she had to get with the syringe which was great, but we needed to go on with the eye-drops. At that stage I wasn’t sure if we might manage to rescue her eye, but the vet was of the opinion we are having a chance even if it’s only a very small chance. We should come back in 3 weeks time.
I thought it would be great for Liza to spend as much time on deck as possible when the weather is sunny, especially as I have this kind of tent up for shelter. So, whenever this happened I would take all her gear on deck, litter-box, food, water and the transport-case with one of my fluffy jackets wrapped around as a hiding-place. And of course some lines to play with.
Then came the day when she mastered the companion-way ladder. Down I mean, coz up still doesn’t work. She wouldn’t want me to carry her down any more, she had to show me proud like hell. And from that moment on she wouldn’t stay on deck but go back into the boat. Not sure what to think about this development, but maybe it’s only temporary.
And her eye … I really started to worry, would have loved to hear a second opinion or have the vet here check again, maybe the treatment wasn’t good enough or maybe I wasn’t doing it good enough. But with this virus the vet – like anyone else – tried to keep visitors to the absolute minimum. Understandable. Luck would have it that my next-door neighbors’ brother in law (who is also part-owner of the boat and whom I’ve met) is a vet. Via WhatsApp pictures crossed Europe. He assured me that it’s going good, that she’s making great progress and no need to worry, she’ll be fine. Keep on going with the eye-drops!
Things with Max slowly started changing.
The first breakthrough I noticed was when tiny Liza started chasing a Tomcat out of our cabin one evening. Tonga is partly open and some cats from the neighborhood manage the ladder and would like to come in to get some food. Originally Max and I had made a deal with Yoshi, the huge black and white Tomcat of a friend of mine who, when my friend died, found himself suddenly homeless. Recently Yoshi had found a new home and wouldn’t be here regularly.
And things changed a lot 4 days ago. Suddenly the temperatures dropped quite a bit, combined with strong winds. The pile of sweaters Max was sleeping on was sheltered from the wind, but the cold was still creeping in. In the middle of the night Max left his place and came back to bed, and that’s where he is sleeping since. He is still chasing Liza, but I’ve got a feeling it’s more like playing than being really nasty and Liza started playing with him. Plus: they can both eat next to each other now and started playing together with a paper-ball.
And you know what? A few minutes ago I got green light from our vet in the distance: Liza’s eye has completely recovered, we can stop with the eye-drops, yippppeeeeeeeehhhhh!!!!! Thank you Jacques, it is absolutely wonderful what you did for us!
I’ve just told Max and he’s as happy as I am. Now of course the big question: can she stay with us? A loudly smiling Max was the answer and I take this as a yes, of course she can stay with us – welcome aboard Liza!!!