Thirty year-old flashback: it’s April 1983, just before my 18th birthday, and I get a call from Jerry, a dramatic friend from the Houston Leather scene concerned about his partner’s erratic behavior. Dan had had flu-like symptoms for a couple of days that escalated overnight to include a severe headache and confusion. As an experienced brain surgery patient I was obviously qualified to suggest a diagnosis. Instead, I growled “Something could be eating his brain! Call for an ambulance, and I’ll meet you at Methodist Hospital.”
An hour later, despite struggling with inflamed lymph nodes and glands myself, I was consoling a frantic Jerry in the emergency room waiting area when the doctor emerged to speak with Dan’s “roommate.” His first question, “Does he have cats at home?”
“Are they strictly housecats?”
Four hours later Dan was in a room, sedated and hooked up to two IV bags. Jerry and I could see him after donning sterile masks and gloves. A large biohazard placard hung by the door to the room. Standing in front of the door, the nurse explained that the doc suspected toxoplasmosis, and Dan was receiving treatment for toxo although the diagnosis was not yet definitive. She continued grimly “His immune system must be severely damaged for toxoplasmosis to develop.”
Jerry fainted. I sat by Dan’s bed until Jerry appeared again. When Jerry returned home, he set the cats loose in their neighborhood with no identification whatsoever.
Dan rallied against toxo but passed six months later in the throes of pneumocystis pneumonia. Heartbroken, Jerry succumbed to Kaposi’s sarcoma a year later. His sister cringed upon hearing how the cats had been treated.
This memory was jarred loose last month by planning to tend to feral cats nesting in my backyard. My one neighbor had been feeding the cats for a few months. They patrolled her yard every day, but the red-and-white tom and the tuxedo female favored shelter beneath my utility shed. The female had appeared pregnant in the fall, but attempts to trap her failed. Now, her belly was loose and sagging, but no kittens had ever been seen. I wanted to stop the cycle of pregnancy and kittens born with little chance of survival, as well as to confirm that the cats were otherwise healthy.
So, one Saturday morning, having booked two slots for neutering and shots at the Washington Humane Society’s feral cat clinic the following day, I baited two box traps near the shed with canned anchovies. Within an hour I had a captive kitty! One problem -- this one was 12 weeks old at most.
I brought the caged kitten inside and posted a picture of him on Facebook. Within an hour, a friend called -- no, he didn’t message me on Facebook !-- with concern about toxoplasmosis. I calmly reminded him that my immune system wasn’t weak and, besides, I had no intention of keeping him. The trap stayed covered by a towel in the warmth of the laundry room until morning when I placed it in my car for transport to the clinic. The kitten remained curled up in a corner the entire time, emitting an occasion low meow.
Afternoon came, and I picked up a groggy kitten from the clinic. He needed to be kept indoors in the cage to recover for a day or two, and the clinic staff said he had no sign of existing infections and that he had been “an angel” while being prepped for care. The caged kitten went back into the laundry room with a low heating pad, food, and water. When I checked on him, he would attempt to stand and flop to the side while making progress in my direction. He meowed for a half hour after I left the room.
Snow came the day of planned release. I couldn’t release him back into the wild, not when he seemed so ready for a human family and not around a father that could fatally wound him. With the help of my ex, Marius was litter box trained in one week and mostly socialized in two. Four weeks after being plucked from the wild, he’s a happy young housecat.
This morning I was able to trap Marius’ father --- he was pissed!---and in the morning he’ll go to the clinic. While he’s beyond hope of being domesticated, whenever I see him or Marius, I’ll always be reminded of Jerry and Dan.