Felinus Domesticus

Felinus Domesticus

This is a true story.

Mostly.

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I graduated from college during the recession that followed in the wake of the dot-com bubble implosion. The economic squeeze had started to abate, but it hadn’t completely released its grip. Even if work was hard to come by, I still had rent to pay, so I sucked it up and took a menial position at an animal hospital.

As kennel attendant, I was at the bottom rung. I was the third-most-educated person on staff behind the two veterinarians who practiced there, working part-time for only a few quarters above minimum wage. It was dirty, smelly, thankless work. I frequently had the closing shift, meaning I’d have to stay behind to clean up and wipe everything down long after everyone else had left.

Sometimes I’d sneak my laundry in and use the washing machine instead of paying for the coin-op one at my apartment complex. I felt zero guilt about it, I just counted it as a minimal perk for having to regularly work weekends and holidays. The animals weren’t going to feed and medicate themselves, after all.

That was how I came to be working there one Thanksgiving Day. It was only four-thirty in the afternoon, but it may as well have been midnight outside. This far north, the autumn sun sets early, and the pouring rain made it darker still. I was finishing the last of my tasks and looking forward to heading down to my parents’ place for what remained of the holiday when there came a frenzied knocking at the front door.

Coming out from the back, I found one of the animal control officers from the municipal shelter standing outside, holding a sodden cardboard box. Our hospital handled the spays and neuters for the animals being adopted out, so she was a familiar face. As part of our relationship with the shelter, we posted a weekly flyer in our lobby advertising animals that were available for adoption. This was, in fact, their last-ditch effort to place animals that were nearing the end of the shelter’s ability to care for them.

I let the officer in out of the rain, and she immediately launched into a frantic story. The box contained a cat and her litter of kittens, she explained, all of them infected with ringworm. The shelter didn’t want to bother with the expense and hassle of treating them, so they had been slated for disposal. Instead of euthanizing them, though, she had falsified the records and smuggled them out.

Now she stood before me, dripping wet, holding a box full of mewling cries, begging me to help her.

I had no authority to make the call, but I did it anyway.

#

Ringworm isn’t that hard to treat in people. You apply an antifungal compound a couple times a day for a few weeks, you don’t touch it, and it clears right up.

Now explain that to a cat.

We set the kittens and their mother up in our “isolation room,” which was really just a closet with a pair of kennels in it. The mother went in one, the kittens in another. They were there for quite a while, mostly because they kept reinfecting themselves just by doing the things that cats do.

No one who works with animals can resist assigning names to the ones who lack them. The mother came to be called Our Mother of Perpetual Residence–Mama Kitty, for short–and the kittens were dubbed Smelly, Stinky, Stenchy, Noxious, Malodorous, and Bob.

They all smelled bad, and we ran out of synonyms.

Treatment involved regularly scrubbing down their kennels and daily baths using a special shampoo. This task fell upon me, both in my status as the bottom of the totem pole and as the one who had taken them in to begin with. Anyone who has ever had to bathe a cat can tell you it’s usually not a pleasant experience for either party involved. Mama Kitty took it like a champ, however, and the kittens were even cuter when they were all soaked and more helpless looking than ever. Mostly, they all just seemed glad to get out of their kennels and receive anything resembling affection.

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