December 4, 2013: The Miracle of Shadow

~by Susi Pittman

You never know what a hurricane might bring you! Wind, rain, flood, destruction, inconvenience, tornado, power outages, broken vacation plans, debt, remodeling, rebuilding and numerous more tangible and intangible experiences too lengthy to list. But, how about a cat”? A little black kitten about five months old to be exact.

It was a balmy July morning in north-central Florida when I noticed a small black kitten hiding in the hedge until I passed by. Then he shot out heading around the lake to an old maintenance shack. He would show up on a regular basis, always alone after I started leaving food out for him. He and I gradually were seeing each other eyeball-to-eyeball from a 3-foot distance, which to me was great headway.

The summer of 2004 was uneventful. All of June and July had been delightful, hot, humid, breezy and fun-filled days for those of us who loved the outdoors.  Then late August arrived with a penchant to over-ride any good that had been garnered from the glory of the months before.

First up, category 4 hurricane Charley, which ripped the town of Port Charlotte to threads with its 145 mph sustained winds. The storm passed by us causing moderate to severe wind damages and beach erosion. I was concerned about the kitten before the storms arrival, as he had disappeared. Following the passage of storm number one out of what would be four huge hurricanes for the state of Florida, there was still no kitten. Day three after the storms passage, my skinny little friend showed up for a long waited for meal. I was elated.

The next couple of weeks, the kitten continued to move closer and closer to me and my hopes were I could lay a hand on him within the week. Enter storm number 2, another hurricane category 4 named Frances. By this time, I had named my little friend Shadow because of his desire to be ever so careful and most times staying hidden in the shaded, shadows of the foliage. Again, Shadow had disappeared before the storm. Following the storm, it was the fourth day that Shadow arrived at the back hedge and waited to be fed. Once again, he had beaten the odds and survived the storm.

The joy and respite of reunion was short lived, as quick on the heels of Frances came category 5 Ivan…a meteorological nightmare, and category 3, Jeanne, both delivering a one-two punch in powerful succession.

Shadow had left and did not return. It appeared that Shadow was gone for good. My heart was broken.

My husband and I were working in our back yard, cleaning the debris and re-screening parts of lost enclosure, when an ever so faint “mew” was heard. In the deepening evening light, I could barely make out a small silhouette on the shore of the lake, it was Shadow. I knelt down and called his name and he moved slowly towards me, stopping a few feet away. He looked weathered and tired, but, thank God, uninjured.

It was a miracle he had survived the vicious winds and flying debris.

Finally, the hurricanes left Florida alone and Shadow and I were able to develop a close bond, leading to his finally coming into my loving arms and a loving home.

And they lived happily ever after? Oh no, there’s a little more to this miracle than an army of hurricanes.

All of my pets are spayed and neutered and I took Shadow to my veterinarians to have him taken care of. After arriving at the clinic, I could tell that the vet-technician who took the crate from me was new, so I stressed to her that Shadow was a feral cat, only recently taken in by me and that he was not to be removed from the crate before doctor had a chance to see him, because he would certainly bite out of fear. I left Shadow and returned home.

An hour later, I received a call from the clinic that the technician had tried to take him out of the crate and he HAD bitten her. They were having Shadow picked up by Animal Control and taken to the county shelter for a two week quarantine. I-could-not-believe-it!

Suffice to say that times like these try my soul.

I wasn’t allowed to see Shadow for the first week, though I called each day to check on him. By the second week, I gained permission to actually visit him in the quarantine room. As the shelter personnel walked me back, she stated, “We can’t get near your cat, he is way too wild and we aren’t sure that perhaps you might want to consider some alternatives here.”

I was shocked. My words to her were, “Give me five minutes with him, I will show you the real Shadow.”

We arrived at the quarantine room which held four steel cages, one had a duck in it, quacking its little head off and the other held a pile of newspapers in a mound with no visible sign of a cat inside. I called in a quiet voice, “Shadow.” Slowly from underneath the mound of newspapers, emerged a small black head with piercing green eyes, the saddest eyes I have ever seen. “Kitty boy…Shadow,” I said again. He moved from the newspaper mound over to the bars and placed his head into my cupped hand. I wanted to weep.

The shelter assistant exclaimed, “Oh my God, I can’t believe it!”

She then moved to shut the door to the quarantine room and said, “Look, I’m not supposed to do this, but, do you think he will let you hold him, I will wait over here.” I told her, “Yes, he will and thank you.”

I opened the steel door and took him in my arms and he buried his head into the crook of my arm. We were together again.

The shelter assistant said, “Oh my gosh, he really knows you. I’m telling ya, I wouldn’t have believed it, unless I had seen it with my own eyes. That cat was vicious and wild and threatening. Why, he is a baby in your arms. It’s just flat out amazing.”

I was able to gain Shadow’s release earlier than expected, following his clean bill of health for rabies. In a gesture of thanks to the shelter personnel, I made a return trip to the shelter in December with a truck load of blankets and food for the animals. I was just so grateful that they hadn’t done away with Shadow before I had a chance to show them the real cat.

Today, Shadow is 10 years old and is perhaps one of the most loving cats I have ever owned. He plays with the grandkids and welcomes the “kitty newcomers” that arrive at our home. Shadow is a gift, a heavenly reminder to me that Jesus loves me and continues to bless my days with the “good” that he continues to set forth on the good earth.

Susi Pittman is founder of and Owner-President of Twin Oaks Publishing; she is author of Animals in Heaven? Catholics Want to Know!; an advocate for the Florida Catholic Conference; a member of the St. Joseph’s Catholic Council of Women in Jacksonville, Florida; an Associate of the Sisters of St. Joseph, St. Augustine;a member of the Florida Publishers Association, Independent Book Publishers Association, the National Association of Professional Women, the ASPCA, the Humane Society of the United States and the National Audubon society.

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