Note: Kim and her husband Reg have been among MaxFund's most dedicated cat volunteers. Kim shares the beautiful, sad, and inspiring story of their journey together, with the hope that you may be moved to foster a MaxFund cat...who may become your angel.
Eight years ago, my husband, Reg, and I started volunteering at MaxFund. We quickly realized there was a huge need for people to interact with the cats, and we had two dogs at home. So we decided to get our kitty lovin from the MaxFund cats. One of our dogs would have hurt a cat, so there was never any temptation to bring any home. However, after watching so many cats languish at the shelter and often die, we decided to foster after our dog passed away. Our hearts were called to save the lives of as many cats as we could and to give them a loving hospice home when they had little time left to live. We didn’t expect anything in return and we didn’t know the important role these cats would play in our journey together.
Over 6 years, we fostered 15 cats. Of those, nine died with us, two got adopted into their forever homes and three were adopted by us and are still living. I won’t detail every one of those cats but I will discuss the ones that became an important part of our journey. Jeanie was an elderly, skinny, matted cat who was given one week to live at the shelter in 2008. We brought her home, and she became extremely attached to my husband. In fact, she lived with us for 3 ½ years before she passed away. In 2008, we also got Rita. Rita had lived at the shelter for many years. She was a shy kitty so never got attention at MaxFund and was constantly passed over for more social cats. Rita had finally gotten into a foster home but had gotten out of the house for six weeks. My husband and I—along with other volunteers—searched the neighborhood and placed flyers. Rita was eventually found and it was decided this was not a good home for her. My husband insisted we keep Rita so she wouldn’t have to go back to the shelter, where she had already spent too many years. We hadn’t planned on keeping Rita, but she melded beautifully into our household and with our other cats.
In 2009, we decided to foster Taylor. Taylor had been at MaxFund for many years, and you could see the light going out of his eyes. We decided to bring him home to find hope until he found a forever home. He also got sick and stopped eating, which necessitated a feeding tube. For many weeks, we fed him 4x per day through his feeding tube and nursed him back to health. In 2011, Little B got so depressed and stressed at the shelter that she stopped eating. She, too, needed a feeding tube and a loving home. Because we had successfully dealt with Taylor’s feedings, we knew we were the perfect people to nurse Little B back to health. After all, we felt like pros with feeding tubes.
In June 2011, our lives changed forever. My husband was diagnosed with a rare form of thyroid cancer. As part of his treatment, he would need to get daily radiation to his thyroid area. This ultimately made it where he could not swallow or even talk. The doctors suggested he would have to get a feeding tube in order to be able to eat and drink. While this news may have frightened other people, we were not frightened. Taylor and Little B had prepared us for a feeding tube. We knew how to use them and clean them. We were pros already. In fact, when the doctor told us Reg would need a feeding tube, we burst out laughing as we imagined me chasing him around with a syringe full of vegetables! I had always thought we were such wonderful people for saving Taylor and Little B and putting up with 4x/day feedings. But it’s the other way around—they prepared us!
During Reg’s treatment, I joked that Jeanie became Reg’s nursemaid. She sat on his lap constantly and showered him with love. Toward the end of treatment, we would have to practically drag her away from him so he could sleep. On December 28, Reg had a PET scan, and we got the results back on December 30. His scan showed he was clean, and there was no sign of cancer! The next day, Jeanie passed away. I often said that my husband got two PET scans; he got a medical scan by a big machine, and Jeanie scanned him. When she knew he was clean, she knew she could leave. Her passing was very sad for us, as she had done so much for my husband. We were so grateful to her. We thought we had selflessly saved her from dying alone in the shelter. But she became his angel.
In 2012, we got another foster cat, Boo. Reg also continued to get very close to Rita. She became his “little girl.” Unfortunately, in October 2012, the cancer returned. By March 2013, it had spread to his spine, and he was in constant pain. In May and June, my husband underwent six surgeries to remove the cancer and deal with resulting blood clots, and we spent a little over two weeks in the hospital. During that time, we kept Rita’s picture by his hospital bed, so he would have something to make him smile. When we returned home from the hospital the first time, he immediately looked for Rita.
By July 2013, his cancer had returned and caused him to become paralyzed in his leg. He started chemotherapy and radiation again, and he was no longer able to walk. This meant he spent a lot of time resting. Rita and Boo were constantly sitting on him and providing him with company. Rita would often groom Reg’s head, especially on days that had been rough, such as chemo days. She was “his girl” and she knew it. She took her job of caring for him very seriously. While I would run around trying to deal with medicines, doctors, and nutrition, Rita and Boo would sit on Reg and shower him with love.
This was an extremely stressful time for us. His paralysis alone made it stressful. Underlying that, of course, was the fear of what the cancer was doing and the implications. Thankfully, the cats would still run around and do funny things. They would play and make us laugh. I was so thankful to the cats during this time, as most days they would make me smile despite my fears and stress.
In November, my husband’s journey came to an end. My husband’s mom had noticed that the cats had been particularly affectionate with him for a few days. They barely left his side. On November 19, I knew my husband was dying, because Boo was insistent that he be able to sit on Reg. I had feared Boo—who is a large cat—was hurting Reg and when I tried to take Boo off of him, Boo became very upset and insistent. Taylor also snuggled on Reg’s lap. As I watched this, I thought, “Oh my god. He is dying.” Probably 20 minutes later, Reg took his last breath. I cannot thank the cats enough for their insistence on being there. Reg had feared he would die alone. Instead, I held one hand and stroked his head, his mom held his other hand, and Boo and Taylor sat on him sending him loving energy as he departed this world. My husband died surrounded by love. Afterwards, as I rested my head on his body, Rita joined me and sat on him, and we sobbed together.
I have lost my best friend and husband. I miss him so much it is painful. Every single day I cry and don’t know how I will get through the days. But I am not alone. I am so thankful to the cats. When I come home, they run to the door to greet me. It makes me feel loved and it makes it where I’m not coming home to an empty house. As I sit on the couch and cry, Taylor will snuggle up next to my lap and look at me with such love and concern. Most nights, Rita and Boo sit in my lap at the same time or alternate. They sleep with me so I am not alone. They run around the house and do silly things, which makes me laugh.
I had thought my husband and I fostered cats to help them. I had thought we were selfless people for taking on some hard cases and for nursing many of them back to life. I had thought we were saving them. But it turns out…they were saving us!
I encourage you to foster, especially cats who may be dying or languishing at MaxFund. You may not realize it, but they are angels in disguise.