Sugarboots

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I had spent most of the day Saturday, trimming branches. By the time I finished sawing, pruning and chopping, I was way too tired to pick up the 20 or so huge piles of sticks that lay all over our acre and a half yard, waiting for the second of the three little pigs to start a subdivision. Instead, I vegetated all night, allowing my joints to stiffen, and giving me the stilted walk of someone twice my age.

The next morning, I started dragging branches, two, three and four at a time, back to the weeds behind our yard. It had rained all night, so both the ground and all the branches were soaking wet. After a few minutes of work, so was I. For about an hour, I developed blisters from my cheap leather work gloves – you know the kind that always seem to have sharp edges where the pieces of leather were stitched together, inside the fingers.

Anyway, on one trip past our garage, I heard an animal crying, “Ow! Ow! Ow!” from somewhere near the garage. I had ignored the sound for the past hour, thinking it was one of several neighborhood catbirds, but the fact that the sound seemed to be coming from right behind our garage got my attention. I dropped the branches I had been dragging and went to investigate.

As I got closer, the crying got louder and faster, making me think that a catbird was going to suddenly pop out of our woodpile and fly past me. “Ow! Ow!! OW!! OW!!!!” I followed the sound to the left side of the woodpile, right against the back wall of the garage. It didn’t move, but continued to grow louder and more insistent. It was way too loud to be a catbird.

I’m the kind of guy who has always enjoyed nature in its “tranquil, beautiful and serene” manifestations. I really haven’t had any experience with the “hurt, angry, dying animal in the woodpile, wanting-to-kill-anyone-who-comes-near” side of nature, so it was with a lot of trepidation that I started carefully lifting pieces of wood from the woodpile where the crying sounded the loudest. At that moment, I was grateful for the cheap leather work gloves that could mean the difference between helping a hurt animal and losing several fingers to a hurt animal.

“OW! OW! OW! OW!”

When I removed a piece of wood that had been laying on its side, leaning against the back wall of the garage, I found the source of the noise. “OW! OW! OW!”
A tiny, newborn furry, black animal lay crying, still wet from the overnight rain, with its tiny eyes closed.

“OW! OW! OW!”

It was only about four inches long from its nose to the base of its tail. “OW! OW! OW!” Its tiny black pingpong-ball head had no ears, only tiny buds where ears would eventually develop.

“OW! OW! OW!”

What was it? A skunk? A rabbit? A weasel? A racoon?

“OW! OW! OW!”

Maybe one of those moles that leave their dirt mounds all over our yard?

“OW! OW! OW!”

Whatever it was, it was blind and totally helpless.

“OW! OW! OW!”

If it was some horrible non-suburban animal, would I have the heart to hit it with a shovel or drown it or something? “OW! OW! OW!” I quickly made the executive decision that my wife would know what it was, since she grew up in the country.

“OW! OW! OW!”

I carefully, carefully reached for the tiny orphan of the storm and held it with both gloved hands, away from my body. “OW! OW! OW!” Then I carefully ran back to the house stood outside our dining room’s sliding glass door. “Honey!!! Come here quick! What do you think this is?!!” “OW! OW! OW!” The suddenness of my frantic call caused our little dog, Mini, to come running, barking excitedly. A few seconds later, my wife came running out from the living room.

“OW! OW! OW!”

Standing just outside, I held the little black thing out to her gaze.

“That’s a kitten! Where did you find it?!”

“OW! OW! OW!”

“It was in the woodpile!”

“I heard it crying last night, but I thought it was a catbird!”

“Well, I heard it crying this morning and found it!”

“Were there any other kittens with it?”

“No, it was all alone.”

“The poor little thing must be really hungry.”

“What do you think we should do?”

“Well, let’s go get some formula or something for it!”

“OW! OW! OW!”

As we petted it, it began to purr in between its cries. Its purr, however, was simply a series of evenly spaced “ticks” instead of a constant sound.

“Tick. Tick. Tick. OW! OW! Tick. Tick. OW! OW! OW!”

So, we drove to a nearby Petco store, my wife holding and comforting the little one while I drove. We bought a tiny plastic bottle and a can of kitten formula, while the kitten cried the whole time. It took us about three hours to teach it to nurse from the bottle, but it finally got the hang of it. Maybe that’s why its mother abandoned it – because it kept crying but didn’t know how to nurse. I made it a little kitty incubator in a pet travel carrier, using a heating pad and some towels.

The next day, I took it to work and let it sleep in its incubator in my office. Twice, it woke up crying, and I fed it a warm bottle as my coworkers marveled at how small it was.

After work, I took it to our veterenarian. The vet determined that it was a male kitten, only about six days old, since its eyes were just starting to open. It weighed five ounces, a little more than the meat in a Quarter Pounder.

We bottle-fed the kitten every few hours for the next several weeks. Any time it was awake it cried and was hungry. It cried the whole time it was being fed. In between feedings, it slept silently. At first our cat, Pookie, would sniff the kitten while it was being fed, and growl way down deep in her throat.

“Just give me a chance to kill it for you, Bob.”

“That’s OK, Pookie. This is a little kitty, like you. Do you remember when you were a tiny kitten and we had to teach you how to drink out of a bowl?”

I really wanted to keep the kitten whose life I had saved, but my wife grew concerned that it might disrupt the pet harmony in our home, since Pookie appeared to hate it. So, my wife sent email announcements to everyone she knew, asking if anyone wanted the little kitten. She even told them that we would feed and care for the kitten until it was old enough for them to take it. No one wanted it, so we kept taking care of it, taking it back to the vet to get all its shots and get a complete physical.

Four weeks after its initial vet visit, it was an extremely-healthy 3 1/2 pounds, or almost 11 times its original weight. Its eyes were fully open. Its ears had popped out of its head and were functioning perfectly. So were its tiny, needle-sharp, fingernail-clipping-sized claws.

In the meantime, three days after I had found it, and as I was feeding the little kitten, Pookie came very close to it, as I had seen her do several times. This time, however, she slowly, carefully, put her nose right up against the top of the kitten’s head. I tensed, preparing myself to snatch away the tiny thing if she tried to bite its head off. Instead, her tongue cautiously crept out of her mouth and gave the little head one tiny lick. I called my wife to come and see as Pookie licked the kitten again. Very cautiously, I placed the kitten on the floor, to see what Pookie would do.

She immediately started cleaning the tiny thing, licking its face with the little black smudge on its nose, then its head and legs, then rolling it over and licking the rest of it, including its tiny pink toes. She had adopted the little orphan as her own son.

At that point, I knew that we would end up eventually keeping it, but I knew that my wife didn’t know for sure yet.

I built an open-topped cardboard play area and attached it to his incubator so that Pookie could visit him while we were at work without us having to worry that he would get hurt being loose in the house. Often times, while the kitten slept in the dark warmth of his incubator, Pookie would sit in his cardboard play area and talk to him (“bbbrroop, bbbrroop”) to try to wake him up so she could be with him. Whenever he woke up, she’d be there to clean and cuddle him.

About a week later, my wife decided that we should name it. I agreed. After all, I thought, how’s she gonna give it away after she’s named it? After kicking several names around for a few days, we officially named him “Petey Sweetie Sugarboots”.

Three days later, my wife agreed that we should keep him.

Ever since that day that she licked his head for the first time, Pookie has been a gentle and patient mother, cleaning him constantly, and teaching him how to run and wrestle, how to announce his presence (“bbbrroop!”) whenever he enters a room, how to run up and down the stairs to the family room, how to “hunt” and then fetch a paper ball whenever we throw it, how to bathe himself, and how to do many other necessary kitty duties. Mini has wrestled with Petey a couple of times, but she’s still a little cautious around him, probably because of his extremely high energy level. I think, in her eyes, he’s a mischievous little brother.

As of this writing, Petey’s four months old. He’s almost a foot long, and his tail is almost another foot long. His coat is smooth, sleek and shiny. He loves to cuddle with us, with Pookie, with visitors — in fact with anyone who wants to hold him. His favorite sleeping position is to be on his back in our arms, like a human baby. His favorite relaxing position is to stretch out full length flat on his stomach on the floor, with his front legs folded under his chest and his back legs extended behind him, his back feet sticking out sideways from his body. For fun, he likes to watch the computer-animated Saturday morning TV show, “Beast Wars,” I guess because it has a lot of action and movement. He also likes to take a paper ball and drop it into one of my shoes, then dig it out, bat it around a little, and then drop it back in again.

Several times, I’ve gone to work with a lump in my shoe, only to discover later, with a smile, one of Petey’s paper balls. We love him very much, and we’re very glad that he’s part of our family.

By the way, we chose the name “Petey” for our little woodpile kitty because, somehow, he just looks like a “Petey” to us. “Sweetie” came from the fact that, at some point after the first few weeks, he had totally stopped crying and had begun purring loudly every time he was talked to or touched. He still starts purring as soon as he’s touched — even if it’s Mini nosing him while he’s sleeping to try to get him to start wrestling. We chose “Sugarboots” because he has four white legs and a white stomach and chest, making it look like he stepped in powdered sugar. And the “boots” part of his last name has a double meaning – BOOTS is an acronym for “Baby Orphan Of The Storm.”

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