Library Kitten Activates the Force of Community

by Raye Ward

A true story of how four women,  two husbands, a veterinarian, a nonprofit, a fire station, an abandoned mama cat, and a homeless man beat the odds and made a lot of people (and a kitten) happy.

I will never forget how helpless I felt when I saw those tiny black-and-white legs sticking out from under a generator at the North Village Library.  Less than three inches from tail to toes,the tiny pink pads of the right leg were turned so they faced slightly upward. The left leg was jammed into a large metal gear.  Reaching into the enclosure that surrounded the equipment and the trapped kitten, I could just touch his right leg. It moved. 

Do firemen have better things to do than rescue kittens? 

The month that followed taught me a great deal about our neighborhood.  I know – a kitten, such a small thing, and there are hundreds out there. But that day, the kitten was as big to me as if it had been an injured child. 

I didn’t know what to do or where to turn. First, I talked to a service representative  from a nearby car dealership. He catapulted over the eight-foot wall and tried to pull the kitten out. It cried and Miguel stopped, “I don’t want to hurt it.”  I finally called 911. Moments later, Engine 8 edged its way down the drive and out tumbled those heroes. They leaped over the wall and lifted the AC generator off the kitten, then gently picked up the partially paralyzed kitten and put him in the carrier suggesting that he be taken to the vet.

It was tiny, with legs that folded the wrong way.

“Are you going to take it to the vet?,” the fireman asked. 

I put the kitten in its crate in my bathtub  and called Wells Branch Pet and Bird, a vet clinic I remembered was sometimes open when no one else was. They gave me the day’s last appointment. Dr. Carpino was covering the holiday when I brought the kitten in at 6:00 pm. Examining the kitten, she pulled no punches. It wasn’t able to urinate on its own. It’s back legs were weak and paralyzed. There was the spectre of disease. It would, in her words, need a great deal of nursing care. Were we willing to do this?  Was euthanasia a consideration?

Over the course of the afternoon, Carla Penny, Orfa Davis, Caroline Reynolds, and I formed a kitten SWAT team.  Pulling a medical scholarship out her hat, Carla told us the kitten’s vet bills would be covered up to $500 by her nonprofit, Friends of the Austin Animal Center.  Caroline and her husband Joe volunteered to foster the kitten. But we still didn’t know what it would take.

We agreed to move forward, and Dr. Carpino scheduled time for us to bring the kitten back in for a week’s stay.  Caroline, always up for a challenge, was willing and ready to apply the physical therapy  techniques Dr. Carpino showed us, and Orfa signed up to relieve Caroline several times a week, as well as supplying toys and special food.  The two of them drove the kitten back and forth for vet visits. The first challenge: placing a warm cotton ball on his tiny bladder to teach him to urinate on his own. 

“He can stand on his own!”

Miraculously, two weeks down the road, the kitten could stand on its own. Three weeks on,  Dr. Carpino and Dr. Wadhwani at Wells Branch Pet and Bird cheered and danced a jig. Caroline called to report the kitten was climbing into the “big boy” litter box. It was time to look for a home.  I made a flyer, a Facebook page and began the outreach process.  Carla reminded us that the Austin Animal Center could place the kitten, but there were already had 300 homeless kittens and 200 cats to place.  Enter the Allandale neighborhood discussion group.  

Allandale-neighborhood-austin [Email address: Allandale-neighborhood-austin #AT# groups.io - replace #AT# with @ ]

I sent out one appeal, then another at a time when those pandemic pets were appearing non-essential. But who would have thought that Anne Province would see the post, recognize the kitten as similar to one recently lost by dear friends, and forward it to Vicki Totten and Stan Irving in Rockport. At the end of June, we sent the kitten, known then as Skittles, off to his new home in Rockport.  Skittles is now called Cap’nGus for his new seafaring life – his parents are also sailors.

And that’s not all

Back at the library, two other key figures in our saga were waiting for their time. Twigs, a year-old tuxedo cat and mother to Skittles, had stayed close to her one surviving kitten throughout his ordeal under the generator. She had watched as the fireman lifted him and as I loaded him into my car. In her young life, she had already been abandoned to starvation and fear, and I wondered what was going through her kitty-brain. Then there is a homeless veteran who has watched over the project, spending his days reading in front of the library as he battles his own challenges.

Recently, mama cat Twiggs was also rescued and Caroline & Joe Reynolds have given her a home.

Big and small successes: “I’m proud of you.” 

One of Caroline and Joe Reynolds’ favorite sayings is, “You have got to take action.”  Leslie Currens, who is allergic to cats, volunteered at the outset to help feed Twigs, and returned after taking care of family obligations to pitch in and encourage. Carla Penny provided consulting and took care of the bulk of the medical expenses through Friends of the Austin Animal Center. Wells Branch Pet and Bird provided infinite kindness and care above and beyond the bill,  and the critical encouragement that only medical professionals can give. And those firemen, wow! 

Austin is changing so fast it’s hard to say what our city is or will become.  Skittles and Twigs remind me of the importance of holding on to the essence of what a neighborhood is, that network of relationships, sometimes with strangers, that reminds us why we live here.  Thank you, Allandale!