The story of Lefty’s injuries, strife, rescue, and life after tragedy is no more unique or special than the stories of so many other cats you have heard about. In fact, his is an all too common tale. But Lefty was special to me, to us, to this family. He helped shape me into the person I am today and contributed to all that I have done for cats since meeting him, so to me, his is a special tale worth sharing.
I was two months and three days into my dream job as a vet tech at a cat-only veterinary practice when Lefty showed up. The place was no stranger to hardships, throwaways, and lost souls. As someone who immersed myself in horrific animal suffering for most of my teenage life, I was surprised that any of it phased me. But reading about the horrors of factory farming in a book is different than living the horrors every day. Seeing the broken and unwanted come through our doors, day after day, truly makes you question humanity and your role in it.
One of our clients worked in real estate and knew the doctor who owned the clinic. She came in on a hot Thursday afternoon in July, looking a bit frantic. While she was showing a house, she had noticed a cat in the ditch out front. The animal, who had presumably been hit by a car, was injured. He had a broken leg and couldn’t walk. As the client tried to approach the hurt cat, a neighbor came out and said, “Oh yeah, he has been there for about two weeks. We’ve been feeding him.”
“They’ve been feeding him?!” I thought. WTF?
The owner of the practice dropped everything and went into rescue mode. When these situations came up, it was like there was a phone booth in her office where she could change into her superhero cape. It was one of her most redeeming qualities. She was a nightmare to work for, but when it came to animals, she did the right thing. With towels, a net, and euthanasia solution, she and the real estate agent left.
“What a shitty way to die,” I thought. “Smacked by a car, left to rot in a ditch where people brought food but did nothing else to help, then caught in a net and euthanized after surviving so much.” He was likely feral, which meant he had no experience with humans. His injuries and likely infection were far beyond repair. It was the right thing to do. But I hated it. I hated it.
When they got back to the clinic, it was late. Almost everyone had gone, but I stayed. They rushed into the surgery prep area along with the other doctor on staff. I am not sure what prompted her to try to save this little guy — other than that she tried to save every animal. I think the fact that she was able to get him with towels and her hands without using the net contributed to his being saved instead of euthanized. He was in terrible shape. Regardless, when she unwrapped the towel, I was in love!
When I first saw him — oh, the smell! There was quite an odor. The cat’s left foot was as flat and round as a dollar pancake or coaster, just squished. His whole leg was pulverized. We took x-rays. The x-ray showed completely shattered, pulverized bone. The finest surgeon with all of the pins and screws in the world would not have been able to fix that leg.
Some might call what happened next appreciation, and that might have been part of it. It might also have been shock, fear, or delirium. I don’t really care what we call it, but that freaking cat purred and head-butted through the rads, through the blood draw, through the oral deworming medication. At that point, we were making room on the schedule for an amputation and setting up a cage for him. Euthanizing, we were not!
I turned to the practice owner and said, “Thank you. This is what I have always wanted to do. This is why I wanted to work here.”
Her reply: “What do you want to name him?”
“Lefty!” I said, without hesitation. We were about to amputate his left leg, so I found some humor in the name, and so did everyone else. Anyone who spends their days dealing with despair and tragedy will tell you how important humor is. So Lefty it was!
He was scheduled for surgery Monday morning. It seems terrible to think he had to live through the weekend with that leg, but honestly, Lefty taught me the first of many lessons on how unphased animals can be by their injuries — and also the magic of Buprenorphine. He spent the weekend as high as a kite on pain meds while we focused on getting some good nutrition in him and the fleas off of him. It was after all, July in Georgia, and we love our parasites down here.
Lefty’s left leg amputation went off without a hitch. Another lesson I learned from Lefty (there were many) was that animals could not care less when you lop off a limb. Usually, the limb is causing them pain and impeding their movement, so they’re happy to get rid of it. They do not have to live with the societal stigmas that humans do, so they don’t care if they look funny and they don’t worry about being laughed at or made fun of. They just live. I also learned that for cats, three legs are all they need. The fourth leg is extra.
Forty-five minutes after waking up from anesthesia, that cat bolted right past me as I was trying to put food, water, and litter into his cage. He tore around the treatment room. Now, many years into the profession, I know that was not a huge deal, but to green olé me — just two months into the job — this cat was truly amazing. And he was. He was Lefty after all!
In the months that followed, I took it upon myself to truly socialize him and make him like people so he could become adoptable. He was sweet, but the more we got to know him, the more we saw how skittish and unsocialized he really was. (Little did I know that once I took on such a task, I could certainly never adopt him out.)
I spent much of my days working with Lefty in a pouch strapped to my chest — a cat papoose. Lunch was a special time for us. Because I worked such a long day, I got a two-hour lunch break. I would go into the surgical room where Lefty liked to spend his days and sleep with him on a comforter on the floor. We cuddled and “socialized.” He would smash the side of his face, which he couldn’t groom because of his missing leg, into my chin to scratch his gooey, runny eye (also the result of being hit by a car). It was so gross and so awesome and I loved it so much.
Lefty was fast as a whip. Once he became more outgoing, we allowed him to have free run of the place. I loved the sound of his run as he flew around the clinic: a fast badump, badump, badump. He annoyed the x-ray service guy by “helping” to fill the chemicals. Fittingly, he always found the “L” marker and batted it around, never the “R.” I’ll admit that I snagged that “L” when I left the job. We had two… who was going to care? Lefty needed it for his scrapbook! It’s funny that after all of his injuries, he spent so much of his time in the surgery and x-ray rooms.
I met Lefty in July 1999 and by December, he was home with me for Christmas. He was a solid black domestic shorthair tripod. People are not exactly beating down doors to adopt cats like Leftypants. Besides, I had a really hard time saving and rehabilitating animals and then adopting them out to what I learned was one irresponsible pet owner after another. For cats I got attached to or had a hand in helping, I decided that no one else was good enough to raise them. When I started the job in May 1999, I had five cats. The addition of Lefty in December 1999 made 14 (if I am remembering correctly). Saving the world, one cat at a time. That still hasn’t changed.
I did everything wrong when I brought him home. I was so excited, and he was so easygoing, I thought, “What the hell?” and just opened the carrier door. Off he went, straight to the squishiest, most comfy thing in the room: the couch. He jumped right up on it and stayed there for years to come. He deserved a sofa and bed. They all do. I couldn’t let him live life in the clinic with all of its hard surfaces. He needed the comforts of a home.
He was a tripod but he still enjoyed vertical space, climbing the treehouse, running around the cat runs in the ceiling of the screen porch. He got along with all of the other cats and dogs; he was kind of like Switzerland in that way. He foraged and truly embraced his new home. You could feel his appreciation and gratitude. He and I were always very close. We had a thing, from day one.
So how did he end up being called “Leftypants”? Shortly before he came along, I had adopted Mammas and her four kittens, including one little tortie who we named Wiccas. When Wiccas was tiny, she had a little flame of tortie-ness up her nose (that’s how she got her name… “wick” like a candle) and was mostly black with some little tortie pants, so we called her “tortie pants.” When I met Lefty, the “pants” part just stuck and the nickname was born. I would scream it all over the practice and later the house and Lefty would come running. Later, he would simply be referred to as “Pants.”
One of the things I most love to share about Pants is how much he LOVED being vacuumed and blow-dried. Being a front-leg amputee can get a little messy; sometimes, especially as an old man, he would face plant in the litter box. Whether he’d done that or not, he got bathed about twice a year for his whole life because he just needed the help. He hated the bath but loved the blow dry. He would purr and purr and stretch out his little legs and spread his toes. It was so cute! He loved being vacuumed even better than being blow dried because he didn’t have to endure the bath beforehand. You could vacuum any part of Lefty, even his chin, head, and ears. He couldn’t get enough, and in his younger years, he would literally chase me from room to room as I vacuumed.
It was probably a good thing that he ended up being the pet of a vet tech. He was a bit of a mess. He had eosinophilic granulomas under his tongue that resulted in multiple biopsies and the removal of a portion of his tongue. He had hideous Stomatitis and ended up having all of his teeth extracted by age 11. (In hindsight, I should have done that even sooner.) He had a peculiar year-long fungal infection that caused a hole to blow open in the side of his neck. Dye studies, cytology, and three biopsies left us treating the fungal infection for three months before the wound finally closed. We fixed him yet again.
Then came his senior years. I did my very best to help make sure old age didn’t slow him down, but that’s when I learned that the fourth leg is not extra. When a cat is really old, it’s very helpful if they have all of their limbs.
I started preventative care early. By age eight, he was getting glucosamine and chondroitin supplements followed by Omega 3s. I later added antioxidants and acupuncture. Further down the road, we added injectable glucosamine, steroids, and pain meds. He had kidney disease and heart disease, but we managed it all.
Lefty was still foraging for his own dry food until just a few months before he left us. We built ramps to give him the independence to get onto the sofas and furniture on his own. We created a sidewalk of bathmats through our house during his last year of life to make it easier for him to navigate the hardwood floors. We brought him handfuls of food 100 times a day, knowing that foraging alone was not enough. He never liked canned food. We hydrated and bathed him (he still loved that blow dryer) and tried to help him maintain as much dignity as possible, all while still holding on because it did not seem like he was ready to go. He would tell us. A few times, I thought he was trying to leave us, but he would rally and bounce back, so we kept maintaining. I truly thought I would just have to call it one day, that the time would come when I was not able to watch him struggle any longer, that I would just have to let him go eventually. While we kept him clean and fed and as pain-free as possible, it hurt to watch him struggle, but he was so persistent. He tried so hard, how could I take that away?
One day, I left town for an obligation. If I had thought he would not have made it until I came back, I would never have gone. Anyone who knows me, knows that. I thought he was going to keep hanging on until I decided for both of us. All of his most recent rechecks had shown nothing but stability or improvement, so I left feeling confident that I would see him again. I didn’t even say goodbye. It was more of a “see you later, Pants!” Then my worst nightmare came true. The cat I had had the longest to date, the one who had been with me from the time he was nine months old until he was 17 years old left me, and I wasn’t there to see him off, to say goodbye, or to help ease him away. Instead, I was miles away on a trip that I will forever regret. I cannot go back, but I will always wonder how things might have been different.
I will always remember his little toothless, gummy scream when we brought him handfuls of kibble. The way he would inch toward us reaching for us until we got down to his level because he didn’t have the oomph to actually get up. The way he only liked to play with the stick part of the Feline Flyer and could not care less about the toy itself. He was a funny cat who gave us so many memories.
Lefty was one of the toughest cats I have ever known, so broken yet so resilient. He is why I do what I do, why I strive so hard, why I always try… because you just never know. You have to give these animals a chance because their ability to heal, overcome, forgive, and trust is beyond remarkable.
Do, do, do, do… PANTS! You will always be my little super hero, with your cape flying behind you, buddy.