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IT'S A MIRACLE!

Follow-up to "Paying It Forward"

By Gary Michael Smith

"It's a miracle!" This was cried out by my next door neighbor, Raul, as he witnessed Elton's new trick. "Watch this," I told Raul and his wife, Soco, as they were backing out of their driveway. I reached down and started petting Elton. He rubbed his forehead, temples, eyes, nose, chin, and cheeks against my palm and fingers. I didn't have to do much more than hold my hand in one position.

Elton

black and white cat
I'm Friendly Now

And it was a miracle of sorts. Elton had been feral for the better part of 2 years after Hurricane Katrina. But Brenda and I fed and watered him consistently and always tried to make him feel welcome in our cat sanctuary of a backyard. Still, he kept his distance -- until feeding time. But I was relentless in trying to make friends, attempting to pet him or at the very least just touch him while I was putting his food down.

Sometime in April I actually touched his back. It was light contact, barely noticeable, but Elton jumped and bolted away. Then, a week or so later I did it again, and while I could see his skin crawling, he moved away slowly this time and only out of reach. But, he didn't run away -- probably wondering what I was doing and why. The third time was the charm. I put his favorite canned food down on the deck, and as he dove in I touched his back again. And again, I could see his skin twitching, but he didn't run away this time. He kept eating, and I kept petting.

cat on deck
My New Home

Today, Elton is a different cat. He rarely leaves our backyard, and waits for us for his two-to-three-time daily meals. He lays at my feet every morning as I read the paper on the deck, sometimes rubbing against me, sometimes just laying next to the Adirondack chair or at my toes. And sometimes, after we pet him, he'll even take a swipe at us when we try to walk away as if to say, "Hey, where ya going? We're not done here yet!" Indeed, the only bad part about petting Elton now is when you stop. He'll even chase you around the yard, trying to cut you off so you can't go back into the house.

cat by feet
I like hanging around you!

And he often tries to come inside the house with us. We can't let him in yet because after I trapped him months ago and took him to a vet for a checkup, the doctor revealed that Elton has a particularly bad case of Bartonella virus. This not only makes his eyes water but also affects his gums so much so that he's lost most of his teeth. He and I play now and then, and he gums my fingers as I wrestle with him using my hand.

Brenda and I are considering adopting him, but the treatments for the highly contagious virus, called "cat scratch fever" when contracted in humans, is quite expensive at $70 for the cumbersome "horse pill" capsules that have to be shoved down the throat twice daily for several weeks (I don't trust that he'll eat food laced with the medication), or $250 for two weekly shots. We definitely can't let him in to be exposed to Emory and Hambone until he's cured of the virus. So for now, he's "the outside boy" until we can figure out what to do. We know about the recent study that outside cats live on average 6-7 years, with inside-only cats surviving as long as 13+ years. Two of our previous cats, Sylvester and Beet both lived past 21 years because we never let them out.

In any event, we're currently giving what we hope is the best life he could want right now: much love and affection, plenty of food and fresh water, and a safe environment -- as long as he stays inside our fenced yard, which he doesn't always. But we all do what we can and hope for the best.

elton eyes open
Doing Our Best

Elton
I don't run away any more

Gary Michael Smith is a writer in New Orleans. He can be reached at ChatgrisPress@ChatgrisPress.com.