|~ MELI ~ July to November, 2012|
On Sunday I dug a grave and buried a friend.
She was no more than a baby, and she was ill, but that didn’t stop her from dispensing more acceptance and affection than most of us have a clue on how to give. I named her Meli, meaning “honey” in Greek, because of her sweetness.
It was last week while gathering oranges in our garden that I noticed the brown tabby kitten out of the corner of my eye, lying in a sunny spot on the back patio. Surprisingly loud purring greeted me on approach. How could such a tiny thing produce so much noise?
She tried to get up and come to me, but her emaciated body was weak, hunched, and stiff. She lay down again.
Not sure if she’d bite or scratch, I grabbed a towel off the drying line, dropped it over her, and eased her into a dog kennel on the veranda. She never struggled—just kept purring.
The vet couldn’t see us immediately, so we made an appointment for the evening.
|The first time I saw her|
During the next hour the kitten perked up. She set up quite a ruckus of meowing. I fed her a bit and placed her back in the kennel with a cushion, a bowl of water, and a makeshift litter box consisting of a plastic pan and a few shovelfuls of dirt. As she settled down for a nap, the purring intensified. Maybe she wasn’t so ill after all.
|Lots of meowing|
The miserable question on my mind was whether or not to use the vet’s appointment to have the little girl euthanized. Practically everyone on this Greek island who cares about animals is already severely overwhelmed with rescues and fosters—me included. The local shelter, Animal Rescue Kefalonia (ARK) is beyond capacity, struggling valiantly just to maintain those they already have.
I don’t even live here on the Greek island of Kefalonia—just came to try to salvage our dilapidated old family home. But add that to my “real” work, which is writing articles about animal issues, along with rescuing/fostering several critters while I’m here, and it amounts to being away from my husband and our own pack of rescued pooches back home in California for way too long.
Right now I’m already fostering one severely ill dog—Agapi, who suffers from a deadly illness called Leishmaniasis—and that is absorbing a great deal of time. As soon as I saw the kitten, I asked myself how I’d be able to manage schedule-wise and money-wise to care for yet another patient.
|Agapi has Leishmaniasis, causing - among other things - lesions on legs and around eyes|
Friends Julia and Keith, who are far more overwhelmed with needy animals than I am, nevertheless kindly offered to foster Meli for a while, depending on what the vet said. The two of them are working so hard to save dogs, cats, donkeys, and other creatures of Kefalonia that I hated to ask them to take in one more, but it was reassuring to have that as a safety net if it turned out I really couldn’t handle caring for the kitten myself.
Melted my heart
In the hours before our vet appointment I got pretty worried. Meli went through several episodes of vomiting and diarrhea.
|Meli after vomiting|
But after visiting the vet, here’s what I emailed to Julia:
“Well, I drove to the vet’s office fully intending to request euthanasia for the kitten because she seemed so ill, and because I'm feeling totally overwhelmed and exhausted and didn't want to just fob this problem off onto you and Keith.
“But the vet opened the door of the kitty carrier and Meli proceeded to purr and mew and cuddle and follow the vet around the room and be the sweetest little creature I have ever seen. Not the least bit scared or nervous, and incredibly affectionate.
“So all my resolve flew out the window."
|Getting a thorough exam|
“The vet said Meli just has a super bad case of worms," I continued in my email to Julia. "She gave her a pill for the worms, an ampule for fleas, and gave me a prescription for an antibiotic for the diarrhea.
“Also she's terribly underweight. The vet says she’s at 800 grams, and should be about double that. I’ll go into town to get her a special diet food that helps cats with diarrhea.
“Oh and she really is only a baby—four and a half months old!
“I'm too tired to think about what to with her long-term but just wanted to update you for now. Thank you so much for caring.”
Not 24 hours after I sent that email, Meli passed away.
Who’s to blame?
Maybe some day when it’s not still so raw, I’ll describe more of what happened. For now, I keep asking myself a question: who’s to blame for this innocent’s death?
First, I blame myself. It’s been decades since I rescued a kitten. Normally I do adult dogs. So even though I followed all the vet’s instructions, I feel that on Meli’s last day I missed some important clues, and should have taken stronger and swifter action. It’s true that I was desperately tired. But I wish I’d pushed past that and done some better, clearer thinking. Maybe that would have saved her.
Second, I blame the person who dumped her over our garden wall. Her friendliness and fearlessness meant that she must have belonged to somebody—this was no feral kitten. Why didn’t her owner get her treated for the worms? It would have been so simple, with just one cheap little pill.
And whether it was her owner who brought her here or it was someone who found her on the street, in either case I wish they’d had the decency to drop her into our garden before her illness got so severe.
Then, why not ring my doorbell to ask for help? At least that way there could be some semblance of order and a plan. As it was, I had to scramble to gather the supplies and prepare to care for a sick kitten, while at the same time caring for a sick dog. Plus who knows how long she had malingered in our yard alone before I spotted her?
There’s another finger of blame pointing at the owner(s) of Meli’s mother and father for failing to get them spayed/neutered. Yes, these days a severe economic crisis holds Greece in its grip. Many people no longer have much disposable income, and some have virtually no income at all. But by now nearly everyone must have heard that there are two animal rescue groups on the island, Animal Rescue Kefalonia (ARK) and Kefalonia Animal Trust (KATs). The latter sometimes offers free or low-cost spay/neuter services. How about reaching out to them for help?
|Kefalonia Animal Trust (KATs) uses donations to provide free or low-cost spay/neuter|
Speaking of the economic crisis, many argue that while that’s raging, the government doesn’t have time or money to bother with animal issues. But by law now they have to. New legislation here in Greece, enacted last spring, requires municipalities to make humane plans to deal with stray animal populations, including spay/neuter, veterinary care, feeding programs, then returning them to the streets. (I’m not crazy about that last part, but the rest of it would be great.)
The real culprit
The biggest portion of the blame for the grievous and untimely death of this kitten belongs not to the government, nor to her previous owners, nor to whoever dumped her, nor to me. It’s hidden deep in a place that’s hard to reach, and hard to change.
Meli would still be alive today—she would still be the open-hearted, cheerful, purring little beauty who I had the privilege of knowing all too briefly; she would still be inquisitive and clever and making me laugh—if not for the one thing that’s as sneaky and sinister as cancer.
|Meli asking to be held, just a few hours before her passing|
That cancerous thing is this: kittens don’t matter. Nor do puppies. Nor cats nor dogs. Nor goats nor chickens nor cheetahs nor fish.
All are either disposable or edible, one way or the other. Easy come, easy go. A zillion more where that one came from.
Ultimately, that’s who dunnit. That's the senselessly violent, insatiably sadistic, criminally insane serial killer.
That’s who murdered my Meli.
Sweet angel, you are deeply missed. Your passing ripped me apart, but then strengthened my resolve for the struggle on behalf of all the others. You will not be forgotten.
To donate or to volunteer on behalf of animals in Kefalonia, contact Animal Rescue Kefalonia (ARK) and Kefalonia Animal Trust (KATs).
Read Melissa Beamish's excellent blog about her round-the-world trip volunteering in animal shelters, including a month at Kefalonia's ARK.
ALL PHOTOS AND TEXT BY KATERINA LORENZATOS MAKRIS unless otherwise noted