Meet Ashki. My friend John and I found him on the side of the road on our way home from the dog park. He stumbled and fell over. He was quite literally near death. His entire skeleton was visible. His head, as you can see, was the largest part of his body. He was absolutely emaciated.
My mind was racing but my training took over. I was ready for any of the numerous reactions that a sick animal might have when approached. I had some emergency medical supplies in my trunk which I grabbed immediately before dashing across the street, then slowing as I neared the area where Ashki had collapsed. As I got close he tried to take a few steps away. I put out my hand and greeted him with a soothing voice from a safe distance. He turned around and slumped toward me, attempting what appeared to be his best shot at a meow. I got closer and as I did he struggled to get closer to me. When I reached him his exhausted little head fell into my hands. My heart shattered all over the edge of the field I was crouched in. My dog, Annie was in my car still, going crazy. I tied her up in back as best I could and handed the wrapped up little cat to John with instructions to him to guard it with his life and instructions to Annie to LAY DOWN and LEAVE IT!
Luckily we were only about 3 minutes from the nearest vet I knew so we raced straight there. I rushed Ashki (still nameless at the time) through the front door and begged the vet to see him. Everyone gasped when I unveiled the sick little cat. The prognosis wasn’t good. They couldn’t do much without a lot of expensive tests which I couldn’t afford so they sent me to the local shelter. I was wary, but I went anyway and had a vet tech friend meet me there. I had to wait for the shelter to open for about half an hour. First rule of emergency care with an animal in Ashki’s condition…hydrate first before food. I tried to get him to take some water. No go. Not a surprise. The surprise, he was climbing all over me and purring and acting like any cat who’s human had been away on a long trip. I couldn’t figure out how this little skeleton was moving at all! After some serious scratching and tummy rubbin’ he finally took the water…practically dove in actually. He wasn’t not thirsty; it was simply that in that moment his need for affection outweighed his need for hydration (in his mind anyway…any doctor would certainly have disagreed!)
The folks at the shelter took one look at him and said they would just put him down. So we left. We figured we’d do supportive care for a few days, see if we could get some weight on him, and if he responded, get him in for testing. He deserved that much of a chance at least. One thing was clear: this cat was a fighter, and if he could survive he would make an incredible companion for some lucky family.
After three days of eating and drinking like a champ, Ashki got a well deserved trip to the vet thanks to my kind-hearted vet tech friend who footed the bill. I got the call early that afternoon. Ashki tested positive for feline leukemia. UHG. I knew it was a strong possibility. I had already been on my way to the vet’s office when I got the call. I spent the whole afternoon with him. He played; he slept; he climbed all over me. It was another afternoon for Ashki. No resentment for what he’d been through, no fear for what lay ahead.
Here’s what really amazes me. This cat was someone’s pet at one point. He was neutered. He CRAVED affection. He was alone along a stretch of road with few houses. He was so emaciated that his condition had been deteriorating for a significant amount of time. There are any number of possible ways he could have ended up on the side of the road that day. Perhaps his family moved and left him behind. Perhaps his owner died. Maybe his humans simply didn’t know what to do with the ailing cat and took the cowardly way out and drove down the long, quiet stretch of road and tossed him out the window. I’ll never know. But somehow, he was failed by his humans. Yet when faced with the next human to cross his path, he had only affection to give. There were no signs of fear or aggression. He lived only in the moment. There was no trace of the betrayals of his past. If only we could all live so presently.
Ashki faced every moment that I knew him with courage and affection. To watch him, you’d think he was completely unaware of how sick he was. His last days were as comfortable as possible. He had a warm, comfortable place to sleep, plenty of food, water and affection. He passed peacefully surrounded by people who cared, with his head cradled in my hands, his favorite way to sleep. What more can any of us ask for really? For those of us who face pain or illness, let us face it bravely, live for each moment, and share genuine affection with our loved ones without taking a moment for granted. It’s not about the crappy hand we’ve been dealt or what better place we’re going to get to next. There are good things to be found in every day that we live. There are no guarantees of any future. All we have is NOW. Mary Gelpi of Fibromy-Awesome had some pretty profound words to say about living presently in her recent post entitled Leggo My Ego. I highly recommend checking it out!
Ashki’s name means “affection” in kiswahili. From the first moment he stumbled into my hands it was clear, Ashki was the living embodiment of affection. He was a treasure and a gift and I am honored to have been a part of his story and to be able to share it with you.