Welcome to the third installment of our ongoing series of Calvin & Susie Blogs on “Being a Dog Parent” or “Being a Cat Parent”. In this series we’ll share how we, the Calvin & Susie family, learned how to care for our pets. We’ve made some missteps along the way, and we’re still learning, but as people who are passionate about animals, we want to share the good stuff we’ve learned so far.
By Brenda Kwon
Within a few days after Miss Peanut came home with me, I knew I’d made a mistake.
She was a scraggly orange kitten with a funny walk and an empty eye socket. When I met her, she’d made a beeline for me and head-bumped me forcefully, purring loudly. They say that animals choose us, and in this case, it was definitely true.
Just two months earlier, Patch — my animal soulmate and a rescue from the base of Diamond Head – had passed from liver cancer rather suddenly. The stillness that took the place of his constant presence and his chirping, breathy meows left me in pain that was so much greater than I’d anticipated. I put pictures of him everywhere and wore a locket holding some of his beautiful black fur. Still, my heart remained shattered. Thankfully, my other rescue cat Mila was there to comfort me. She took to tucking me in at night, uncharacteristically lying next to me as I cried, staying until I fell asleep. In the morning, I would see her imprint on my comforter. It was now she who followed me everywhere I went. She missed him too.
I knew that eventually I’d open my home to another rescue cat, but at just one month out, I hadn’t even begun to heal emotionally or financially from Patch’s loss. Imagine my confusion when something started prodding me to look into adoptions. I resisted as much as I could, but I couldn’t help feeling that Patch was pushing me to help another cat who needed a home.
That’s how I met Miss Peanut.
I hadn’t intended to adopt her. I’d originally contacted her foster mom about a beautiful black male cat who’d been abandoned by a military family. I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t drawn to him because of his resemblance to Patch—despite what some might say, black cats do not look alike. There was something wise and strong, kind and caring in his eyes. I’d brought salmon snacks and toys to entice him, but he couldn’t have cared less about my being there. Hovering timidly around the edges of the room, however, was Miss Peanut.
Her foster mom had found her mewing hungrily in the rain one night near Waikele. At just under a year old, she was pregnant and showed signs of abuse. Both back legs had been broken and, having healed incorrectly, caused her to wobble as she walked.
Shortly after being taken in, she gave birth to three kittens. A neighborhood dog mauled one in an attempt to play. Of the other two kittens, one was quickly adopted; the second stayed with her until it too was given to a new family. Miss Peanut and this remaining kitten had bonded so deeply that, while being separated, both of them clawed and yowled. With the loss of her last kitten, Miss Peanut lapsed into a deep depression, listless and refusing to eat. When I met her, she had just started to recover.
It was clear she loved being in her new home with me. Still, the transition was far from smooth. First, she wouldn’t use her litterbox. I tried all the tricks: changing litters, using different boxes, rewarding her, every piece of advice I’d read. None of it worked. She carried a lot of trauma, and additionally, was anxious because of Mila’s presence even though they were in separate rooms. Then there were the health issues. After a visit to VERC and VCA, not only did the doctors and I feel she should have her missing eye closed up—the empty socket often became irritated and inflamed by fur and other debris that made its way there — the vets told me that she had severe dental disease, making eating incredibly painful for her. And, as with many cats, the infection could be fatal. I had no qualms about helping her medically, but treating her was going to cost several thousand dollars that I didn’t have. But wasn’t that why we had loans and credit cards?
One night at around 3:00 a.m. when I recognized the sound of Miss Peanut yet again relieving herself on my carpet, I gave up. Despite my best efforts, I felt overwhelmed with how much time, care, and money she was going to need. I just didn’t think I could do it. Desperate and still grieving deeply over Patch, I contacted Miss Peanut’s foster mom and asked to bring her back. I insisted on paying for the surgeries regardless because this little kitten who had suffered so much in so little time deserved it.
What I didn’t realize was that she had already hooked her tiny little claws into my heart. After learning that I would be taking her back to a home that housed seventeen other cats, where she was at the proverbial bottom of the totem pole, I couldn’t fathom returning her to a situation where she’d feel stress and competition. I resolved to keep her — problems and all – until her surgery and recovery were over.
The surgeries went well, and when I got the call that she was ready to come home, I drove reluctantly to get her. The break from stress had been such a relief, and I wasn’t looking forward to having it start up again with post-surgery care in addition. But then something happened. I saw Miss Peanut, half of her face shaved, her mouth swollen, and her eye stitched with black sutures. She wobbled over and shoved her head playfully into my hand. She looked like a complete mess, yet was so happy to see me. I started laughing uncontrollably. How such a small cat could survive so much and still be so loving and trusting was humbling if not baffling.
And so I decided right then to love her with everything I had. The pain over Patch’s loss became a fierce instinct to protect this little kitten who had so much love to give that nothing — abuse, loss, depression, physical pain — could keep it in. Over time, with continual coaxing and encouragement, she got used to her litter box. Because she was feeling better, her appetite increased and she started putting on weight. Her coat turned from sparse and rough to fluffy and soft. And she always, always wanted to play.
From the very start, “Miss Peanut” never seemed fitting for her. She would need a new name, and after a lot of thinking and observing, it came to me. In Sanskrit, “madhu” means “sweet”; in Spanish, “madre” is “mother”. I began calling her “Maddie”. And she responded nearly immediately.
I miss Patch every day and his pictures are still everywhere. But as all animal parents can sense, I can tell he’s happy that one of his kind has a forever home. What I didn’t expect, though, was that he’d be equally thrilled knowing that I’d be with a cat who would remind me every day of how much I too could love — of how much she brought out the sweet mother in me.
Brenda Kwon is a writer, spoken word artist, English professor, musician, and yoga teacher in Honolulu. A recipient of the Elliott Cades Award, she has been published both nationally and internationally. Her most recent book, The Sum of Breathing, earned Honorable Mention in the Ka Palapala Po`okela category for literature. She is currently owned by three rescue cats, Mila, Maddie, and Basie.
Purchase Brenda’s book here, through Bamboo Ridge Press, and support Hawai‘i literature and arts!
Featured image courtesy of Brenda Kwon. “Maddie”.