A columnist of heart and mind

A columnist of heart and mind
Interviewing the animals at Children's Fairyland in Oakland. L-R: Bobo the sheep, Gideon the miniature donkey, me, Tumbleweed Tommy the miniature donkey, Juan the alpaca, Coco the pony

Monday, April 19, 2010

Little bodies, big hearts

(Below: Oliver 11 days after his rescue. Right: Chocolate Bunny today.)

Choco the kitten was only three weeks old when he was rescued from LaPreda Thomas' house in Oakland last July. His right eye had been gouged out with an ice pick. The vet who treated him said this injury is rare because of the shape of a cat's head.
"You usually see it only when there's been a lot of trauma, such as getting hit by a car."
And the harm went beyond the physical damage.
"His gaze was an empty stare," says Merry Bates, president of Island Cat Resources and Adoption, which teamed with Oakland Animal Services to rescue Choco and six other cats and kittens from the house. "When held in your arms, he was still, as though he was trying to be 'good' and hoping for the best."
Another 3-week-old kitten, a sweet orange Tabby named Oliver, had two broken legs, pneumonia and severe malnutrition.
"He was near death for several weeks," says Bates. "X-rays found kitty litter in his stomach, which meant he had been eating it to fend off starvation."
Thomas was arrested and pleaded no contest to two counts of felony animal abuse. She'll come up for sentencing June 1. But I was wondering: How are the kittens doing?
Oliver was adopted by Art and Terrie Kurrasch of Alameda.
"When they first took the casts off, his legs were too weak to stand, no matter how desperately he tried," says Terrie. "Even today, he can't jump up to high places. But he compensates by using pieces of furniture to get where he wants to be."
Oliver has turned into a little bundle of energy whose favorite game is playing fetch.
"He loves it when I toss one of his toys over the railing from our bedroom on the second floor. He'll race down the steps and get it and then race back upstairs and drop it on the bed so I'll throw it over the railing again."
Meanwhile, Choco was adopted by Leslie and Louie Hernandez of San Leandro, who changed his name to Chocolate Bunny. And he has completely changed the dynamics of the Hernandez household.
"Before he came, we had a male cat named McCargar, who was feuding with our three females - Oso, Priscilla and Elvis," Leslie says.
"The first thing he did was walk up to McCargar and start grooming him, and McCargar started grooming him back. Then he went to work on the girls. Now everybody loves everybody. He literally neutralized the animosity that we had been living with for a year and a half."
Leslie's theory is that Chocolate Bunny learned his empathy and compassion for other cats from listening to the screams of the other kittens being tortured.
There are many heroes to this story, especially Bates and her fellow volunteers at ICRA, who alerted the cops to the problem, donated the thousands of dollars for the kittens' medical expenses, and placed them in new homes.
ICRA's big fund-raiser of the year is a silent auction at 7 p.m. on May 1 at the Elks Lodge in Alameda. You can find out details or donate at www.icraeastbay.org or 510-869-2584.
But the biggest heroes are the kittens themselves, who are teaching us priceless lessons in resilience and learning to trust again.
We may have it over them intellectually; but morally, they are our superiors in every way.