Educating Dewdrop

Educating Dewdrop

She was the smallest of three kittens, but Dewdrop made the biggest impression. Just a bit of grey fluff, a dust bunny with satellite dish eyes, but she was already a problem child. At three weeks of age, Dewdrop and her two sisters were orphaned after their mother was hit by a car. The shelter that picked them up had to move them along after one of their cats developed a respiratory infection. The kittens had already been exposed.

"Be prepared," the director warned me. "Rhinotracheitis can kill kittens." My allergies made a long term relationship unrealistic, so my plan was to nurse the kittens back to health until the shelter's next adoption day.

The snag in the plan reared its ugly head with a sneeze. One minute Dewdrop was sitting up sniffling, the next she was lying across her saucer, panting. I rushed her to the vet who discovered that her two pound frame was under attack from all directions. Not only did she have an infection, but she also had a heart murmur and a potassium deficiency. She had neurological damage as well, which explained her wobbly walk. According to the vet, her mother had been incubating a virus that damaged the smallest of the babies. "She's a complete mess," he concluded.

Perhaps it's the special education teacher in me, but I worried that no one else could love and understand her. I sent her sisters to adoption day, but couldn't part with Dewdrop. Equipped with an air filter to mediate our relationship, I set about educating my special needs baby.

She would miss some of her jumps, trip over her tail and fall off the bed in the middle of the night. I called her name so many times to warn her of impending danger that she became 'Didi' for expediency. My clumsy cat would need lots of support and stimulation to close the gap with her peers, and I was determined to scout out the right resources.

I shopped the way any mum of a potential high-achiever does - for vitamins, supplements and educational toys, not for silly pompoms or rattles. Puzzles were good. I settled on a ladybug encased in a wire ball, a bird that popped out of a hollow tree and a remote control mouse. I even hid toys in boots and under blankets to stimulate problem-solving skills.

Didi studied the ball a few seconds, then yanked the bug out and trotted away carrying it in her teeth, tail held high. She smacked the bird so hard it flew off its spring, and she looked very disappointed when I couldn't figure out how to fix it. The mouse held her interest for a while, until she realized that she could outrun it. In the end, I was the one whose problem-solving skills were being challenged.
Not only did she dig toys out of shoes, but she even flipped open the lid of her toy box and helped herself to a bag of catnip. I came home to find the narcotic strewn across the floor and my baby lying belly-up, her eyes glazed. She waved one limp paw at me in vague recognition.

Penetrating the forbidden became an engrossing occupation for Didi. It wasn't long before she learned to hook her paw under cupboard doors and pull outward to let herself in. Whenever I stayed out later than she was accustomed to, I would come home to an apartment that looked burglarized. Shopping bags, laundry and stationery would be scattered everywhere, but Didi was always perched on the sofa, her silver paws tucked primly under her chest, her face radiating serenity.

I tried installing hooks on the cupboard doors, but she just flicked them open and sauntered away. The point, after all, was not that she needed anything from the cupboard. It was simply to psyche me out. I probably should have signed myself up for cognitive training before adopting her.

Maybe it was the strain of trying to keep up with her that made me take up yoga. In any case, I discovered that she is as compassionate as she is clever. The first time I stretched out on the floor to take deep, cleansing breaths, she charged at me lopsidedly and stood over my body swaying, looking intently at my mouth. She probably thought I was the one with a heart condition.

Didi reads people like a map, zeroing in on a direct route to their hearts. She avoids tense, angry people but has infinite patience for seniors and tail-grabbing babies. Her ability to feel when people need company is uncanny.

There is a lady who sits in our community garden with her head dropped in her hands like a lily on a broken stem. She never looks up at anyone who talks to her, except at her grandchildren, who come to the park to take her home. Didi, however, is on a mission and will not be deterred. Wearing her little harness, with me following discretely behind, she pads over tipsily and raises her pond green eyes to the woman's hands. Only then does the lady look up and brighten. I feel like the clumsy one and Didi becomes the picture of quiet grace. Perhaps Didi's faltering steps have touched the woman, showing her that even a damaged vessel can draw pleasure from life.

The vets said that Didi would never be big and that her heart would always be weak. They were wrong. Her heart is big and strong enough to absorb someone else's pain.

True story by Linda Handiak

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Linda Handiak
True Story?: