Willow’s tale of rescue is, quite frankly, one of the stupidest things I have ever done in my life. It could’ve gotten me kidnapped, murdered or who knows what. One Saturday morning I was the first to arrive at the practice to open it up. I was in the back and heard a knock at the door. I came up front to meet a strange man. I opened up and asked how I could help him, and he said he worked at the Johnson Ferry Baptist church across the street as a maintenance man, and they found a bunch of kittens. He said they got loose in the church and in the church parking lot, but he caught one. He said it was in the back of his van and acting CRAZY! I tried to ask how big the cat was, etc. but only got unhelpful answers. I promptly went to the back, grabbed a cat carrier, towels and my Bite Buster sleeves and figured I would catch this little bugger myself.
Little bugger she was. Very little. Wee in fact! The man opens the back of his WINDOWLESS, solid white, serial killer van with NOT A THING inside it except Willow, clinging to the grate that divided the back of the van from the driver’s area. What do I do? Oh, I jump right in without even thinking and then yell at the guy to “Shut the door!!” behind me, ya know, like he was not doing it fast enough and we wouldn’t want her to escape! Hindsight. So, he closed me in said windowless van, and I secured said vicious, CRAZY kitten (barely one pound, pouring green boogers from her eyes and nose), got her in a carrier, knocked, and he let me out. Thankfully, he let me out! In that instant I realized what an unsafe and stupid thing I just did without a soul in sight to know what had happened. But, got the kitten and the rest is history!
I had no intention of keeping her of course. We set traps and tried to help the church capture the rest of the kittens. We tried for over a week with zero luck. That very same week we had a good Samaritan take in a small grey and white kitten. He was the only one left of his family. They had all been living in a sewer pipe in a subdivision and animal control had been called to catch them all, the little grey and white one was too elusive, and they were not successful in capturing him. The complete opposite of Willow who was the only one caught in her group.
I brought Willow home each night to foster until she could be reunited with her siblings. Have I mentioned that we have never successfully fostered anything, ever? Still failing! Hanging onto her for a few days turned into a manic mission to catch the rest of her litter so I could just keep the whole family! Afterall, gotta follow my own advice, I couldn’t bring a single kitten in here with a household of adults and seniors. After a week of completely falling in love with her, and being unsuccessful in trapping the remaining babies, we decided to adopt that elusive grey and white kitten as her new sibling. This, as you may have guessed, became Soren.
They were fast friends in a matter of minutes, they both desperately needed each other after all. Kittens break all the rules and can often just be plunked together with some supervision and breaks and within days, they’re buddies. This could not have been truer with Schwills and Ren and what sweet pair they made!
Mammas’ switch flipped and she went right into “Mamma-mode”, it was remarkable. She would groom, nurture, cuddle and smack and bite them too! All the things they needed. Our “justification” at the time for this adoption was well, obviously the rescue story, I had to keep her after risking my life, but Hitch needed friends. All of his friends and wrestle companions had died. He was so much younger than all of our other cats, so we thought Soren could grow up to be his new bestie, and we were right, but at that moment in time, would you have guessed that Hitch was the MOST fussed up and put out by the babies?! We were blown away, nothing but hissing and spitting at their door. He was NOT the welcoming committee we had anticipated, but at least we had Mother to assist us!
They did integrate beautifully. These were the first babies I had the chance to raise since I had learned so much more about cats. They were clicker trained starting at just a few months of age, they were introduced to foraging from day one, leash and harness training-check! Cat stroller-check! We were going to do this right! I took them with me to work every day so they would learn that cat carriers and car rides are not scary and so they could get handled by multiple people. In fact, in that week before Soren joined us, I even kept Willow in my purse and took her to a doctor’s appointment! She napped the whole time, no one had a clue I had a 1.5 pound bundle of scrumptiousness in my bag!
These two became inseparable lights of our lives and Hitch warmed up to them beautifully, eventually, once he got over the fact that he was no longer the baby! I would say they became a gang of three!
I don’t even know what to say, Willow had so much freakin’ personality and was a super star! Best clicker trained cat ever, she was riding a skateboard at just a few months of age! She was gorgeous and a supermodel social media star, she LOVED to forage and was excellent at it. One of her cutest traits was her super cute squeak, she chirped more than meowed, and she would give “air butts” from across the room!! She could be six feet away from you sitting on the kitchen table, you’d say her name and she would head butt nothing at all! Just the air! Or she would headbutt you or an object but just b-a-r-e-l-y touch it, an air-butt!
She was also a mighty hunter and a bit “Lassie-like” (“Timmy, er, uh, my gecko fell down the well!”). She would catch these damn geckos and bring them into the house from the catios. On more than one occasion, her prey got away from her. She would COME GET US TO HELP!!!!! No lie, it was amazing. One situation I can recall very distinctly, a gecko was stuck up under the master bathroom vanity. I start walking up the stairs and she comes running out of the bathroom chirping at me, spinning in circles, the fur on the base of her tail all puffed up (this happened when she was very excited) tail whipping from side to side (she expressed a lot of words wither tail) and she led me to the bathroom, one specific corner and sure enough there was her prey. Much to Willow’s dismay, said gecko was saved rather than pulled back out onto the bloodletting field. She did the same thing when one went under the washer dryer! Except this time, we had a guest, so I have a witness who saw that she “asked” us for help. Same thing, chirping, puffy tail, spinning in circles trying to take me over to where she needed me to “get something for her.” Absolutely remarkable.
My biggest regret was hiring a cleaning service when Willow and Soren were about 6-8 months old. I had never done this before and will never do so again. She completely changed and became super wary of guests, nose phobic and overall, just very skittish from this moment forward. I was always home to supervise so no one was nasty to her, but the noise and multiple people coming into the home just those few times changed her forever.
Then a few years later along comes Finn and Tonka. Things were fine until they were not. I have many photos and videos of the introductions going well, I even have video of Willow backing Tonka up on a cat condo and putting him in his place, but at some point, those tables turned, and he forever wanted to hunt her. It was a devasting change I had to cope with, we tried and tried for years to integrate him. Short version, if you are bold and brave and like to play rough, he is fine with you. If you are shy, timid, and easily charged and terrorized then he is a bully. No combination of medication has been able to change this in him, but by this stage we were committed to everyone, and this is why we now have “Willow’s Place” an upstairs catio daddy built just for her! Two cat wheels, one upstairs and one down, because she needed all of her favorite amenities, and she ended up spending the bulk of her days upstairs so we did all we could to ensure she had access to her favorite things in addition to time sharing and rotating cats around the house.
One of the last tricks I was working on with her shortly before we lost her was to teach her to jump through my arms in the shape of a hoop. She was the first cat I had ever taught to do this, and she did so perfectly and beautifully for the very first time the morning of the day she died. I never had the chance to capture this on camera. Very sad indeed.
July 19th, 2021 was like any normal day. Willow would come flying downstairs, hop on her skateboard and ride it until she hit some carpet or a chair leg to stop its roll and then take her morning meds! This morning, however, we practiced our new trick, jump through my arms in a hoop. Best to do these things in the early morning hours when the house was quiet, she was less distracted and wary of life. We did our thing and I left. When I came home that evening I was sitting in the driveway for a bit talking on the phone with a client and answering their cat questions. Little did I know what was happening inside and little did I know if I had just come inside sooner….
Jake more often than not does evening chores, canned food dinner, scoops the litter, does evening meds. He had done all of those things. I went upstairs to use the bathroom after my hellacious commute home to find Willow collapsed on her side in a puddle of urine on the floor. She was warm, right next to her food bowl, she had just eaten some of her dinner, took about 3 steps and died. I did chest compressions, tried to give her CPR, and was frantic. If I had just come inside sooner…I’ll never stop regretting that, not ever. Only just a few minutes and I may have been there if nothing else to hold her as she passed. Willow was only seven years old. She had not even made it to her first senior vet visit. She had no signs or symptoms of anything at all so one can only guess it was the silent killer, heart disease. Needless to say, we were devastated, and still are. I miss her every day, she was so special and so full of personality. She was one of my very bestest girls, trained by Mammas, and now she will not be here to pass the torch to the next generation. I also just hate that her life was so stifled by the addition of Tonka. So many regrets with this one. Some of them all you can think of is how you could have done better.
And it all started with a potentially life-threatening rescue on my part. And I would do it again without a second thought!
We miss you so much Schwillow!