Scholar by Day, Beggar By Night

Sorry, this post is out-of-sequence.  I have been remiss in finishing several blog posts.

It was my first “dogless” evening walk after I had finally accepted the fact that I could not continue to manage three growing dogs in my apartment on my own.  They were fine at home, but taking walks had become a nightmare of jockeying back and forth, good-humored, or not-so-goo humored squabbling, and a lot of pulling from dogs now able to easily pull me over.   30″ walks for each dog, 3 x a day worked well, but now that I was actually working, I just didn’t have 4.5 hours per day to spare, no matter how good  the adventure had proved to be for my overall health.  15 pounds lighter, sleeping heavily, waking in good mood, my experience had confirmed all the research on how dogs help people to live longer and better.   Still, without my beloved trainer, vet, and doorman in Nepal, it had gotten to be  too much for an old woman.  So they had gone to stay at the only dog sanctuary in the entire country, one that had blossomed from eight dogs when I first took a rescue there to over thirty.

The cat was sitting patiently outside the supermarket, next to a street stand that sells, in addition to cotton can, something hot and steaming from out of covered silver containers.   Happy to be able to be of use to an animal again, I whipped out the bag of cat food that I was always carry with me when I go out in my back pack, from its place nestled next to a bag of dog food, and offered it to him.    A fluffy orange and white fellow, about six or seven months he looked, he welcomed a snack.   I had no intention of keeping him, I already had two, one booked to go to the U.S. in January, another in June, and he appeared to be just another of the numerous relatively healthy cats that roam the streets living off handouts.   I stood and waited.

He finished, I picked up the bag and went in to make my purchases.  When I came out, he was still there, milling about in the middle of the sidewalk, midst many passing feet, as if uncertain about where to go next.   I offered the bag of food again, this time on the grass-covered verge between the sidewalk and curb, and sat down with him while he ate.  That was when I made my fatal mistake — I pet him.

He was literally nothing but bone under his fluffy coat which,  upon closer look, was somewhat grimy and gray in the areas that would have been white in a healthy cat who had been getting enough to eat.  My heart sank.  What could I do?   I couldn’t take him.  Back and forth my thoughts hysterically obsessed:  Well, maybe I could get him fattened up and neutered and then release him?  Could I do this before January or would my friend who was going to look after the other kitten whom I had brought back from the brink of death with love and a mixture of two antibiotics, under the guidance of my vet in the U.S. because my vet here appeared to be useless with cats.  But then what?  Could I get him out in June?  Would the airlines let me put a cat in the hold along with the dog whom I had already booked?   What could I do?

He finished his second course and then, much to my amazement, he climbed into my lap and went to sleep.  He hardly weighed anything, just a whisper of fur snoozing on my lap as if he belonged there.  I sat, like a deer caught in the headlights of a car, stunned into immobility at the thought of yet another another animal living at the edge of death wanted my help.

Out of the crowd of passing legs, two came towards me, a man bent down, said something, and then pressed 10 somoni into my palm and turned and walked away.   There were four shining pieces of silver, 3 3-somoni coins, one 1-somoni coin, valued together at a little over ten cents, but a generous offering indeed judging from the little piles of dingy brown dirham coins that I usually saw sitting in front of beggars outside the mall.   Startled, I assumed that he had seen me take pity on the cat and was offering something in gratitude for my actions.  Any maybe he was, but I wasn’t until much later that I realized that he had to have thought I was someone who needed  10 somoni to feed my cat to have given it to me in the first place.

This was the second time I have been mistaken for a poor wanderer in need of assistance in Asia.  The first time, which I blogged about earlier, was when I was sitting on the stoop of another store front waiting while the old dog whom I was feeding finished her meal so that I could tuck her back under her beat-up old army jacket, supplied by the store owner, to finish out the chilly night on her own.    That person asked me if I needed help.  This one hadn’t asked, and I realized in hindsight that even if I had had my wits about me enough to realize what was going on when he handed me his coins, I wouldn’t have done anything any differently.  Why embarrass someone who is trying to do a good thing?   Of course, I placed the the shining silver coins on the rug of a true homeless man the following day, where they happily twinkled in the sunlight in bright contrast to the tiny dirham coins that speckled the mat.

Salim sat folded in half without complaint in the crook of my elbow when I took him home. No struggle.  A soft bit of fur barely noticeable to any passers by.   When I got home, I placed him on the heated floor of my bathroom, where my previous staving guest had seemed happy to stay while she adjusted to her new surroundings a month earlier.   He was having none of it, and his howls brought me back to the door.

Do you want to leave?   You don’t have to stay…  But you can’t make a lot of noise.

I took him back downstairs and back outside and set him down on the ground. I turned to go back up to my apartment.  At the first landing, I looked back, and there he was, on his way up behind me.  Not  the attitude of any stray cat I’d ever rescued in the states.  They’d have been gone in a flash.   He returned to the apartment, walked back into the bathroom and waited.  He was apparently home.   I wondered which ancestor from which previous lifetime he was.  He reminded me of malaika, the white emaciated dog who had also come up three flights of stairs on her own when invited, a few weeks before (subject of a posting done for my mighty.cause crowd funding campaign).

It was not until a day or two later, after the vet had come, dewormed him and given him his first vaccination, and pronounced him “a nice cat”, that I realized he was in trouble.   His skeletal condition wasn’t just from lack of food; he was not eating voraciously as the previously starving cat had done.  And he was not grooming; a key characteristic of a sick cat. He was lethargic although he always got up to follow me wherever I went.  I told him that if his wasting was due to an illness, he would be safe here until he passed on.  I fretted, was there anything I could do?  Perhaps this was normal  after starving for weeks, perhaps he had an unknown infection, perhaps he had cancer?

I decided to give him Clavamed, the local trademark for Clavamox, a form of amoxicillin used with cats, and which I still had a store owing to having used it with the kitten when she got a respiratory infection.   It seemed to help.  When I saw him drinking, I kicked myself — of course, he was also dehydrated!   I mentally berated my vet who, despite meaning well, is really not that great an animal doctor.  I longed for my vet’s office in Vermont, where I knew my vet would have immediately whipped out a bag of saline solution and rehydrated him in a flash.  Oral rehydration is not nearly as effective but it was all we had available to us.   The next day he started grooming himself.   He was out-of-the woods and would eventually make a full recovery, only to suffer the indignity of losing his manhood and causing me, in part, to lose my housing — and his.   The man who had given us the ten somoni was indeed correct, we were homeless in Dushanbe, I just didn’t know it yet.