HOLLENBECK: Life lessons from one of God’s gentlest creatures

While a lot of attention today will be given to celebrating mothers — and rightfully so since this is, after all, Mother’s Day — another celebration that takes place every year is coming to a close. It, too, deserves special notice.
This is the annual Be Kind to Animals Week, which, in my opinion, should be an ongoing, everyday thing that everyone practices, though I know that’s not reality. Still, it’s nice to set aside a special time to focus on those in our midst that can’t speak for themselves but must depend on human compassion to have any sort of life at all.
In doing so, I will share the story of Visitor.
This is the name I gave to what many commonly refer to as “a stray,” but in this case, it was a champagne-colored tabby cat with a cauliflower ear and a funny eye. “Funny” because of its glassed-over condition caused either by injury or illness some time before and which left him if not blind, at least visually impaired to some degree.
It was in the midst of the final snow that covered Saline County and a lot of the state that I first encountered Visitor. He was just outside my front porch, apparently looking for something to eat. That’s not a difficult quest at our residence because we provide sustenance for any furry or feathered thing that’s hungry and willing to share. (And the animals of the world, at least on Carson Drive, indeed do eat from the same tray if allowed to do so at their own pace.)
Anyway, the temperatures were dropping rapidly and the cat appeared to need more than just another meal. I couldn’t turn him away, so I took him in, though I isolated him for fear that one obviously on his own for a time might have contracted one of those deadly feline diseases that could be passed on to my own cats.
The name Visitor seemed appropriate because he just appeared to be stopping by to say hello and partake of refreshments. He might have been willing to go on his way, but I couldn’t risk his vulnerability to the elements.
Long story short: A veterinary examination confirmed my worst fears that the lack of human attention Visitor had received had left its mark. He tested FIV positive, which, according to the veterinary advice I received, meant he shouldn’t co-mingle with the Hollenbeck cats.
In some instances, many would have chosen the euthanasia route at that juncture, but I couldn’t. I had looked into those soulful eyes, including the murky one, and I had met a soul that touched my heart.
I sought aid through various contacts among animal advocates and, just when I thought there would be no one, voila! There was help that provided a kinder, gentler world for Visitor.
At least for a while.
Linda Huck, a local advocate who responded to my pleas for help, was acquainted with an Oklahoma City woman who has given homes to FIV-positive cats with some success. She contacted Cheryl Elliott with Forever Friends Humane Society, who agreed to take Visitor.
Linda even transported the cat to Cheryl while providing transport for other cats being taken in by others who devote much of their lives to helping animals.
I’ve never been more grateful to know that this sweet, sweet cat would be able to have a loving home for whatever time he had left.
Cheryl, with whom I’ve developed an email friendship, kept me up to date with the cat’s progress. He did well for a while, then problems developed. His appetite waned and he began losing weight. Although veterinary treatment was given, he began to fight a terminal condition: kidney failure.
After a time, Cheryl allowed a friend, Shawnna Pierro, with more available time, to take him into her home where he would receive constant attention. Shawnna, incidentally, oversees a senior and special needs cat sanctuary, which could not have been more appropriate for Visitor.
Pictures were sent to me at intervals to keep me up to date.
Eventually, the inevitable occurred and Visitor succumbed to the kidney disorder. But death came in as gentle way as possible — while being held in Shawnna’s arms.
Cheryl sent me photos of Visitor’s burial spot, which is marked with two stones. One is inscribed with this message: “Those we have held in our arms for a little while, we hold in our hearts forever.”
Truer words could never be said for me or these women who are testaments of caring and who came into my life because of a gentle feline soul.
I am blessed.
An appropriate Scripture tells us that “whatsover you have done to the least of these ... you have done to me ... “ Visitor was among the least and the lost, but he was loved for the last few months of life.
I think Charles Dickens would forgive me for paraphrasing an oft-quoted line from one of his best-loved works: “God bless the animals and those who care for them, everyone.”

Lynda Hollenbeck is associate editor of The Saline Courier.