Saturday, September 8, 2012


Story and drawing by Sasha Thurmond

TWO DAYS BEFORE my 59th birthday,  I noticed that my cat " Black Beauty" was  staying stretched out  on her side, and intermitently meowing loudly. I had to pick her up onto my bed where she loved to share a pillow with me while we slept She was long and sleek, and utterly black, including her eye lashes, whiskers, nose, and lips.   She had already lived longer than her "cat's nine lives", and had an amazing history of recovering from being nearly dead.

She became " My Cat " fifteen years ago during a deafening thunder and lightning storm, raging madly  that it owned  this night. My two cats and I huddled together in my bed, while my horses could be heard whinnying their fright on the intercom system in my barn, from which I could monitor their activity, and condition.  When the storm seemed to be passing, there was a loud banging on my front door. I dashed downstairs to see what it was all about.  I quickly swung the door open, and was surprised to see two of the little girls who lived on the farm across from mine. They were soaking wet, blood spatered all over their shirts, and they clutched  something black and bloody against their chests. I was horrified, not knowing what it was. They both were chattering at the same time saying something like" their Dad was going to shoot it to put it out of it's misery." That was how he dealt with suffering animals that appeared too far gone to be saved, or would be too costly to do so.. They told me it was a kitten they had found in the woods, right before the storm started. It was a tiny, pure black kitten, bleeding from all four paws,  and its mouth. It's lower lip was mangled, and was attached only by a thread. They pleaded for me to take it, to save it's life. Of course I did, and they happily ran back home to give the good news to their Father. I think he too was relieved that he didn't have to shoot it.
I started being it's veterinarian as best as I could. The bottoms of all four paws were raw, so I began with them. After carefully cleaning the kitty's paws with betadine, I wrapped each  paw in gauze, and taped it together making a nice, soft boot. The mouth was more of a problem. I only could dab it with cold water to stop the blood flow, then warm water and disinfectant .Then I applied neosporin which is always a wonderful healing salve. After all that, the tiny black mess looked like nothing really discernable, but it quickly fell asleep when I tucked it into it's temporary, cardboard box bed. When my husband arrived home, I showed him our latest charge. It was so ugly, that he said it's name would be "Black Beauty". "Not too original," I thought....However, it fit,  and it was a girl. In the morning, I bought " Beauty" to our Veterinarien  After examining her, he concluded that it looked like it had been tortured.

It was a female cat, and was born too close to Halloween. He informed me that animal shelters, and some pet stores, never sold all black cats in the month of October because many superstitious, and devil worshiping cults would get an all black cat and torture it, then usually kill it in some satanic rite. Well, " Black Beauty" survived, and after a very rough beginning, she blossomed into one of the sweetest cats I have ever had. She never grew very big, and remained very fragile with a small, chiseled head, and emerald, almond shaped eyes....the ones that alien's are often depicted with. Her coat was soft as a rabbit's,, and she would rather be petted, than fed. I know she knew that we had saved her, and she never grew tired of expressing her gratitude on a daily basis.  My other two cat's, A big, fluffy, gray Maine Coon Cat named " Razzy," and a calico cat named " Sprint," readily took to "Black Beauty" They began looking after her, and licking her clean.

All three of my cats were indoor animals.My first two I acquired when I lived in a condo. They were both abandoned kittens. When I moved to my farm, cars flew up and down the road, and there were a lot of coyotes, and other wild predators there. So, all three cats remained indoor cats.  One of Beauty's favorite spots to camp was on top of my computer.She liked the warmth the computer generated, and she staked her claim of it. Whenever the computer frustrated me too much, which it often did, I would take time out to stroke and scratch Beauty in all her favorite spots. She became my computer buddy, and defused my cyberspace woes.

About two years later, Black Beauty stopped eating and was losing weight rapidly. I brought her to my Vet. After blood work was done on her , they discovered that her red blood cell count was extremely low,  She had a serious form of anemia, and her prognosis was dim,  The Vet was unsure of what to do next. He knew of a new drug on the market, but it was very expensive. My husband said to try it, whatever the cost. It's name was Oxyglobin, and it infused a large amount of oxygen into her blood stream. It cost several thousand dollars, but it did the trick, and to our relief, saved Black Beauty's life. About two years later, we had to administer the oxyglobin again, As before, it worked like a charm. She never needed another dose of it. I later heard from my Vet. that oxyglobin, Black Beauty's " miracle drug", had been taken off the market. It was very expensive, and the majority of pet owners chose not to use it.

I will never understand this. For certain, these same people would use this to save their own children. Why not their "animal children" ?  My husband died in 2002. He was on his way to an auction in Maryland. We had an antique and collectibles store in Connecticut. He stopped for dinner along the way, and had to cross the highway to get to the restaurant. It was dark and rainy, and a car hit him. He died instantly.

My mother lived in an in-laws apartment attached to our house, and she had recently had a stroke. She is also an animal lover (as was my Dad) and at that point, she had four cats. They were all indoor/outdoor cats, and they could come and go as they pleased. The problem was that my Mother was out of control when it came to the feeding issue. She liked to put big, whopping plates of cat food, and left overs out on her porch to feed all the wild cats, dogs, opossums, raccoons, foxes, squirrels, birds, rats, weasels, my free range chickens and guinea hens, you name it.... she would feed it.One day, even a turtle showed up for vittles. The hare must have told him about it. He had to travel far to get there, but he seemed to think it was well worth the effort. My appeals to my mother to stop doing this fell on deaf ears. When she put plates of food on top of her convertible, neighborhood dogs would come from far and near, and jump right on top of her roof, and devoured the goodies there. The situation was way out of control. It took us 2 years to sell my farm and decide where to live next .The farm was too big and expensive for us to maintain without my husband. We also had four horses.Finally, we decided on our move. My Mother would go to California to live with my younger sister and her family, and I would venture off on my own to live in South Carolina.

Aiken, SC was a town which sprung out of the horse business and sport.Everybody has horses.My three cats, and one of my Mother's strays moved south with me. I couldn't afford to keep all four horses, and I was heart broken that I would only be able to take one with me. I chose the one we had since she was a baby, and I had done all the work in training her.Her name was Tigere', and she is now 17 years old, and looks and performs just wonderfully. Hopefully she won't have a bad injury, and I will be able to ride her well into her twenties before she has to be retired from riding.

When I first arrived in my new home, one of my cats somehow got outside while I was moving things into my house. and I never saw him again. Emotionally, it was a difficult move for me to be doing all alone, but I did it, and hoped for the best. Losing my first cat of my four, a Maine Coon Cat," Razzy", tore up my heart .At first, I cried an awful lot about things. The move was so overwhelming, I had to leave my husband's and my "dream Farm", but I had to persevere, no time to cry much, there was too much to do, and all my pets counted on me. I am proud to say that I did a good job of it. I live very remote in the woods, but there are horse farms all around me. I adopted a stray puppy from a litter of pups my neighbor's found and rescued. People abandon pets all the time around where I live. in Windsor.because it is mostly woods and horse farms. It is very sad, and a big problem. A lot of them starve to death, are killed and eaten by feral animals, get run over, and are caught and euthanized.

Time went by, and I've now lived here for 8 years. I took in another stray puppy as a companion to my first dog, and everybody was happy. Three years ago, my first dog developed a tumour the size of a soft ball. it was internal, and was attached to his stomach, and it had  also spread throughout his intestines. I thought that his lethargy was due to the severely hot summer we had been having.Unfortunately, and to my distress, he  had to be put down. His name was" Shyvor", and he was a collie mix.No one wanted him because he very shy and cowered in a corner with his paws covering his eyes. He turned out to be the friendliest of all, and was even too friendly to everybody. I had concern that someone would take him if he roamed too far.

Next," Dotstray" ( who i named after my mother)  had kidney failure, and she also had to be put down. I still live alone, and the vets know that I am very fractious when it comes to my pets.They allow me a long time to be alone with them, before they return to the room. Then I always hold which ever pet needs to go, and talk to them when the vet injects them. It is difficult to do this, but I don't want them to suffer.I try to be brave, so I stave off my tears untill my pet has passed on. I don't want to abandon them, I want to comfort them until the end.. 
After my first dog," Shyvor" passed, my second dog, "Tuxedo", had no one to play with. A stray boxer, pit bull mix showed up at my back door. She was under one year old, and was in heat. Her ribs protruded, and I knew divine providence sent her to be a companion to "Tuxedo." She has a short tail which never stops wagging, and she has this boxer trait where she can turn into a circle with her nose touching her tail while she wiggles like jello.She is a medium sized dog. and is very powerful and muscular.

The first time I put her in my kennel with "Tuxedo"she squatted down low, and sprang effortlessly over the 6 foot fencing.She did this again when I tried it a second time, and then I had to put a top on the kennel. But before I got around to doing this, I had to go somewhere, so I put her in a crate inside my house. When I returned, she was out of the crate, but the wire door was still shut. It was unlatched, so somehow she did that and the door shut behind her. Thus, I named her "Houdini." She had also chewed up toys, and moldings, and curtains, and anything she could find, including the garbage can that she had emptied out all over the floor.I had not expected such havoc Obviously,.she was terrified to be left all alone.
" Black Beauty" was wary of the dogs. She didn't have to deal with any up in Connecticut because we had none. Whenever my dogs tried to get to know her, she hissed and swatted them with her sharp claws.Whereas " Sprint" and" Dotstray" were not ruffled by them one bit. Dotstray became an indoor/outdoor cat." Black Beauty ventured out onto the porch a couple of times, and even down onto the grass, and the shed beyond, but something scared her, and she felt safer living inside. "Sprint" only sniffed around the porch one time until she saw my horse, and then whizzed back inside to be solely an indoor cat.  Two years ago,one of Black Beauty's eyes became sealed shut.I took her to the Vet's who discovered that she had an ulcerated eye which was very painful and required surgery. All efforts failed to keep her eyelashes from curling in upon her eyes, and finally the Vets called an eye specialist who told them what to do over the phone.  If this attempt to save her eye failed, the last recourse would be to remove it. But eureka !!!, the final attempt worked, and Beauty had full vision again.  This all wound up costing several thousand dollars to accomplish.

One year later, the other eye had to have the same operation. Beauty's eye' s anatomy were such that they were predisposed to this happening. Her second eye was fixed, but a small scar remained in the center of her eye. She was once again a happy camper. Most people thought I was crazy to spend so much money to save my cat's eyes, but to me it was vital, whatever the cost. Time ticked along, and my menagerie was all healthy.I had to stay well also, who else would take care of them ?
A few days ago, my boyfriend spotted a rat behind the microwave. when he saw it's nose stick out, he said that a mouse was in my kitchen, but then hollered that it was a rat! It shot across the counter and dove behind a cabinet door. We quickly nailed the door shut, and barricaded the other doors shut. . That was a first in the 8 years I have lived here. I loathe rats and vermin, and made such a commotion that my boyfriend sped to town to buy some rat traps, and rat poison. Meanwhile, I discovered signs of a rat under my bathroom tub. We set 2 traps, and held back from putting out the poison bait. The next morning, to my geat relief the rat was killed by one of the spring release traps. That is when I put some of the poison trays strategicly positioned in several places in case there were anymore dasterdly rats, or God forbid, a family of them. The poison traps were all in places where none of my cats or dogs could get at them. An hour later was when Black Beauty started bleating. I worried that she might have gotten into the rat poisoning in some mysterious way, and if so, I was to blame.

I called my Vet, told them about Black Beauty and that I thought she may have been poisoned. They told me to come in right away. After examining Black Beauty in another room, they returned and told me that Beauty had passed a blood clot which paralyzed her hind end, and there was no circulation there, and it was very painful. It was just something that can happen and is similar to a heart attack. The vet had a 10 year old dog that had the same thing happen to him It definitely was not from rat poisoning. I was relieved that I had not inadvertently been the one who killed Beauty, though this was small consolation. The only humane thing to do was to put Black Beauty down The Vet said that in people years, Beauty was 99 years old. She had a long and happy life, after a very torturous beginning.
As usual, I was allowed a long time to be alone with Beauty, and then I held her during the procedure. Of course I cried afterward, but I had called my boyfriend so that he was there with me when it happened. We then brought Beauty home in a box, and I gently laid her in her favorite blanket, which I placed in the box. and also put in her diamond collar with her name tag on it. We buried her very deep in a spot where I had buried Shyvor, and Dotstray. I spoke some loving words to Black Beauty, and will plant some more flowers on the grave site of all three of my pets.. I have an antique, cast iron cross there already,  It is comforting for me to have them home on the farm with me.The older I get, the more I understand the expression that " Life is short."
I have been unmotivated these past few days, I am still grieving, just like I always do when losing a dear pet of mine, or a friend of mine, or a parent, or the loss of my husband . . . but I do bounce back after a bit of quiet time lapses, and life goes on, for a while longer . . . until it doesn't. I would like there to be some sort  of place for people and their pets to reunite.Call it heaven or whatever . . . but it is all so uncertain . . . I have no concrete ideas about a "here after" . . . but, as I think to myself, as Fox Mulder said in the X-Files, "The truth is out there. . . ."

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Sasha Thurmond is an artist and writer who lives in Aiken, South Carolina. She is a graduate of Cornell University's MFA program where she majored in Fine Art and was a student of Steve Poleskie