HOLLENBECK: Don't count the skinnies out; there are some that are 'magnificent'

When I referred to them as a group, it was by the moniker "The Magnificent Seven."
This wasn't a band of American gunmen hired to protect a small agricultural village in Mexico from a group of marauding Mexican bandits. Indeed they bore no resemblance to Yul Brynner, Steve McQueen, Charles Bronson, James Coburn, Robert Vaughn, Brad Dexter, and Horst Buchholz, who portrayed the mighty seven in the movie that was actually a western-style remake based on Akira Kurosawa's 1954 Japanese film "Seven Samurai."
Nope. This was the feline version, but they were indeed magnificent.
They came in a bunch as two batches of cousins from a local cemetery, where they came perilously close to succumbing to a potentially lethal respiratory disease. They needed nurturing โ€” medically and every other way.
The seven had been born to sister cats, apparently around the same time, because the two mothers would stretch out on the ground side by side and the nursing kittens would go back and forth between mother and aunt, aunt and mother, and so on.
The mamma cats were doing a fine job of nurturing their young until a nasty bug attacked the tiny ones that had little to no immunity. They got sick. Really sick.
Even the best mother cats can't hitch a ride to the veterinary clinic and get the care needed for their babies, so it was Lynda to the rescue. This meant daily care and protection from the elements. It involved syringe feeding and regular medication. It was a full-time, 24-7 job that I took on.
My spouse was, for lack of a better word, shall we say "overwhelmed," when I brought home the whole batch.
He was fully indoctrinated into Lynda's rescue efforts, but never in such quantity.
He looked at them, shook his head and said, "Seven kittens? Really seven? SEVEN?"
Periodically, when the conversation would be about anything but kittens, his expression would turn quizzical and he'd say, "Seven? I just never heard of anyone taking in seven kittens all at the same time."
He's a good man. It took training, but we persevered.
Even though it was touch-and-go for a time with a couple of the kitties, we were able to turn the situation around and all recovered. They were beautiful, affectionate kittens who thrived with loving care.
All were to be adopted so they got temporary names.
Those names became: Jasper, Houdini, Blanche, Little Girl, Gracie, Calvin and Golde (spelled as such because of my fondness for the character by that name in "Fiddler On the Roof.")
Golde actually was adopted, but it was short-lived. Two days later, the kitten was back at our house and he never left.
And, yes, it sounds weird to refer to a male cat by that feminine tag, but remember, it was only intended to be temporary and was done because of the kitten's rich coat color. The name just stuck, as did the cat.
A voracious appetite did nothing to counteract a forever skinny frame for Golde. At best, he might have been described as thin. He was one of the sweetest, lovingest (that may not be a legitimate word, but nothing else conveys quite the same meaning) cats we've ever had.
And he could purr with the best of them. Even in his last days when the lithe body had withered to skeletal state, he still purred, he jumped, he ate, he cuddled, he loved.
He was a perfect example of the will to live. I was ready to give up on him a month before his demise, because there was so little left of him. But the cat thought otherwise.
After being lethargic for a couple of days, he suddenly was back at the food table and fully into events of the household. He received all the veterinary help that was available and continued to eat regularly until his final day.
You know when you give your heart to an animal that you're setting yourself up for a future heartbreak. It's an inevitable fact of life. The only uncertain factor is the date.
Pets give us so much in their lives, but even when they get the full load, it's short.
For Golde it was slightly less than 13 years. He was fully entrenched into our hearts and then broke them when the end came.
And in case you believe animals aren't aware of the passing of one of their own, I can counter with proof otherwise โ€” many times โ€” but especially so with Golde.
Before he was buried, I wrapped him in a towel and lay him on the living room floor for a brief time. One by one, his feline and canine friends checked him out. One of the cats bathed him for a while. And Boomer, a large, beautiful cat that often tests my patience because he is what I'll call feisty, cuddled with him in much the way that mother cats do with their offspring.
It was a triple-tissue moment for me. I won't forget it.
We buried Golde near the grave of Dolly, the cocker spaniel that was his buddy for many years. I hope they're frolicking together now at the Rainbow Bridge.

Lynda Hollenbeck is senior editor of The Saline Courier.