Henry came very close to dying before I ever even met him. In fact, if a neighbor had had the least bit of compassion, he might have been dead. But because his suffering wasn’t worth anything to her, he became my problem — and he ultimately became a great source of joy for me.
It was sometime in 1992, and I hadn’t been living where I live now for very long. I didn’t know many of the neighbors yet, but I knew a number of the neighborhood kids. As I was coming back from a walk, one of the little girls came running up with a breathless story about a kitten under a porch who needed help. Here’s the story that I pieced together from talking to various people who were involved.
A woman who lived on the street found a tiny kitten who was injured, apparently after a dog attacked him. She took the kitten to a nearby vet clinic, where she found out that his right rear leg was shattered into a number of pieces. The clinic recommended putting him to sleep as the most humane option. The woman agreed, but then found out she would have to pay for it. She refused. So she brought the little lump of life and fur back home — and left him outside to fend for himself … and to die.
I would have never known about the kitten if Merritt — the neighbor child — hadn’t told me, because he was hiding under a porch, quietly shaking with shock as he slowly waited for what would have been sure death. It was night when I pulled him out from under the porch. I’d never called my vet at home, but decided this was an emergency worth making an exception for. He explained how to take care of the kitten immediately and said to meet him at his clinic first thing in the morning.
The x-rays confirmed that the kitten’s leg was indeed shattered badly. I’ll never know how it happened. The vet said that standard operating procedure called for trying to put pins into the broken bones, but that there was another old solution we could try first that might or might not work. He bound the kitten’s bones in place and then pulled the leg up to his little body — binding it tight so that the leg couldn’t move. He said that the kitten was young enough — and growing fast enough — that the bones might grow back together. He sent the kitten home with me, with instructions not to let him run around and do much for six weeks.
If you know anything about kittens, you know it was impossible to follow that instruction. By the time he recovered his strength, he ran around the house on three legs just as fast as a normal kitten ran on four. He was nothing but a ball of excited energy. He didn’t seem to know anything was wrong. He wanted to play all the time — at least when he wasn’t purring in my lap. When the binding came off weeks later, the little leg was growing — with everything in place. He walked normally for the rest of his life. You couldn’t feel or see anything wrong with the leg. It was a totally unexpected ending to a tragic story.
He lived without a name for awhile, because I couldn’t figure out just what fit this amazing little fellow. Then I decided that his tragic story with an unexpected ending seemed like something from a short story by William Sydney Porter, who wrote under the pen name of O. Henry. So he was named Henry in the writer’s honor.
(I don’t know what became of the woman who dumped Henry. She moved out shortly after this happened. Other than talking with her to confirm the facts of the story, I never spoke to her.)
Henry had two defining characteristics. One was the wild fur that caused someone to once say he looked like a screech owl. The second is that he wanted more “lap time” than any cat I’ve ever been around. He would frequently come sit at the computer while I worked and just stare at me until I would quit working long enough to let him get into my lap and settle in for a nap. I can’t count the times that he purred himself to sleep in my lap.
A couple of years ago, he started having thyroid problems in his old age. He lost more than half of his body weight and I almost lost him a couple of times, but the thyroid medication helped me keep him alive until this past October. After 18 very happy and loving years with me, Henry died on Oct. 15. The picture to the right was just seven days before he died.
I still miss this little cat who had such a big heart.