My wife and I were in the garage the other night looking for something when we heard a high-pitched and very distressed meow from what was obviously a kitten. Either that or a very distressed adult cat with a high-pitched voice. No, this was definitely a kitten.
So we start tearing the garage apart to try and find the kitty and eventually figured out the sound was coming from the side of the garage, which is a 30-inch wide space between the garage and the block wall separating my house from the neighbor’s house.
That might sound innocent enough, but the dreaded “side of the garage” in my house is—like many houses—the place where unused lumber, wrought iron, tree stumps and anything else too big for my trash can go to live out their lives. In other words, a forbidding place that is very comfortable for snakes, scorpions and black widow spiders to live, but very uncomfortable for most other life forms, in particular kittens.
And fat bald-headed guys.
It was 10 p.m. and very dark and I couldn’t find a flashlight, so there was no way I was going into Side of Garageland in the dark, so I flagged down a policeman that happened to be driving by. He called for backup (just kidding—he couldn’t find his flashlight. Could we put out a APB on Dennis Shrewsbury’s flashlight?) and officers Torres and Baldenegro responded to the scene.
This, my friends, is what I love about small town life.
So the two officers are pointing flashlights down the side of the garage and we can all hear the poor kitty meowing but nobody really wants to enter that place. We all look at each other and then rookie officer Maria Torres just jumps the fence and rushes headlong into the fray. After some intense searching, Officer Torres moved a piece of wrought iron and peeled back a 15-foot long section of metal fencing and there was the kitty, meowing for all he was worth.
The kitty was clearly a newborn (he still had a six-inch piece of umbilical cord attached and his eyes were not yet opened) and we all just sort of looked at each other.
Now at this point officer Baldenegro thought we intended to turn the kitty over to his custody and he was already trying to figure out what the heck he was going to do with it until the animal shelter opened in ten hours.
“That cat’s going to die,” he said flatly, clearly a veteran of numerous kitten and probably even a few adult cat encounters.
My wife took the little guy and we thanked the officers for their help, fully intending to save this brave little cat that seemingly fate had brought into our hands.
Now it should be noted that we are not “animal people.” We’ve tried in the past and it just hasn’t worked out. For the past several years our only pet has been a ceramic cocker spaniel we call Felipe Esparza.
He’s a good dog and requires only minimal care, so we keep him around. Doesn’t shed. Never barks. He does occasionally drop ceramic pellets on the floor if we forget to set him outside, but otherwise a very good dog.
But seeing this little cat and knowing what he went through, we decided we were going to adopt him, nurse him back to health and make him a part of the family.
We went straight to the Internet to research what to feed newborn kittens and quickly discovered the warm milk we were trying to feed him would not suffice. You’re supposed to use a special cat milk replacement formula that is fed via a little cat baby bottle. Where would we find such a thing at 10:45 p.m. on a Sunday night?
Yup, I called Walmart and found out they were open until 11:00 p.m., raced over there to get a baby bottle and some kitten milk, if such a thing could be found in Parker, Arizona.
So I’m standing there in the baby section looking obviously confused when a young girl from Walmart says, “Can I help you find something?”
I explain the baby kitty situation and her eyes light up.
“Come with me, sir!” she says, explaining that she’s a cat person and knows exactly what I need. Turns out it was in the pet section. Go figure.
So we fed him every two hours that first night and the little guy was a scrapper. His distressed meows turned to simple “I’m hungry” meows and by the second night he was sleeping peacefully in between feedings.
We were getting pretty attached to him and we were even talking about what to name him. I liked Wally Torres, in honor of officer Torres and Walmart, the two things that saved his life, but we also thought Lucky, Scrappy or Toughy would be good choices.
At 2:00 a.m. the next night my wife woke me up to tell me what officer Baldenegro had already told me the night before. The little guy had died in his sleep.
I’m not sure why it hit me so hard. Partly because I thought he was doing so well and partly because I just felt so bad for his short, painful life, but hit me it did. It was worse than the ending of An Officer and a Gentleman, Forrest Gump and Saving Private Ryan combined, which are the only movies that ever made me cry.
So rest in peace, little Wally Torres, and I hope we made you comfortable in your final hours.
Randy Hartless is a columnist, regular contributor on KLPZ 1380am and Director of Programs at PAACE.