A Tale of Good and Evil
by Lillian G. Leslie
In my weekly schedule, Sunday is a day packed with tasks and chores from before dawn until evening. Every Sunday I jump into action, believing I can make time and finish before the 6 oíclock news, and every Sunday evening I wonder where I went wrong as I finally stop working in time to eat and fall into bed. One Sunday last summer when I was heaving an exhausted sigh of relief that the dayís duties were finally completed, Alice notified me that sheíd taken an emergency call from a woman who said there was an injured cat in the yard next door.
For safety reasons, Alice needed a second person to go with her into the city neighborhood where, on a hot summer evening, one cannot predict what kind of reception might be waiting for someone arriving to help an animal. I switched off the exhaustion mode and exchanged it for the emergency rescue mindframe. After donning my alley clothes I met Alice and we drove to investigate an uncertain situation.
We found the pace without too much difficulty. People were waiting for us in their backyard and they pointed to the porch in the yard next door. Alice took an opened can of food with her as she walked through the overgrown weeds leading to the porch. She knelt down to get a look underneath, and in the midst of an overpowering smell of urine and who-knows-what-else, she saw the young cat lying in a repugnant mixture of filth and debris. He could not move freely but, smelling the scent of fresh food, he dragged himself to the can which Alice put close to her. As the cat moved to the food, Alice picked him up and carried him to the care where I was keeping watch.
Alice had in her arms a young, orange cat whose blackened tail dangled limply and whose ears and face wore thick patches of black crust. His body fur was wet and dirty and also showed areas of black. Iíve been doing this work long enough to read, with some accuracy, the look in a catís face. Homeless cats do a good job of masking their fear or apprehension -- this is part of their survival mechanism. But years and years of experience have seasoned my ability to sense what they try to hide. In this case, though he had every good reason to feel terrified at what new torment would happen next, this young boy offered no trace of a screaming fear within. He looked, as much as an animal who is in enormous pain can look, as if he were at ease being carried in a personís arms.
I had the carrier door open and ready when Alice got to the car. Once inside the carrier, our boy lost interest in food; instead he rested in the soft folds of the towel as if he were relieved that he didnít have to struggle anymore. In later conversations I had with Alice, she told me that, as she walked with Phoenix through the weeds of the yard where he would certainly have died, she could feel the vibrations of his purring.
Alice delivered Phoenix to our exceptional friend, Jeanie Willis, who took him straight to the veterinarian. The initial prognosis was grim. His tail was broken as were bones in his legs, some of his ribs were fractured, and internal injury was certain but the extent of it was not. And, there were the charred black areas over his body where he had been set on fire.
This trusting, gentle soul endured hideous cruelty at the hands of wicked, evil human beings, yet he was not afraid of us. He trusted us, still I have seen this over and again, more times than I want to remember when animals who should bear a grudge of fear and loathing toward people choose instead to go on believing that we will be good to them. This is the reason they are targets for torture. I am disgusted and ashamed to belong to the only species on earth who tortures other living beings, and this for fun. When the fight in them is gone, the victims are discarded because the fun is gone. If they arenít tortured to death, they are left (as Phoenix was) to drag themselves to some patch of ground offering any slight shelter where they wait to draw their last painful breath. As often as I have seen the hideous cruelties my own kind inflicts on other beings, gentle and trusting, I remain vulnerable to the same effect every single time -- a seething anger and bitterness grabs me and shakes me to the core.
Everyone at the veterinary clinic fell in love with little Phoenix, whose dignity amidst suffering and indomitable spirit were irresistible to all. His days were regimented with medical procedures, none of them pleasant -- burn victims experience high-level pain even when they are not undergoing treatment. The vet cautioned Jeanie that Phoenix might be permanently incontinent due to his injuries, otherwise he was guardedly optimistic.
As is the case with every animal Jeanie takes from us, she called with frequent updates. With Phoenix, however, I detected a special joy in Jeanieís voice as she relayed his progress each day. Jeanie adores all the animals we give her to foster until their adoption; every one is the prettiest, most wonderful creature on earth according to a person whose heart is good as gold and better. Even so, Phoenix was different. I didnít realize Jeanie had decided early on that when he was well enough to leave the hospital, Phoenix would become part of her own family. Jeanieís husband, Geoff, was agreeable. I wondered how many husbands would happily receive into their home a young cat with an existing (and possibly permanent) medical condition such as incontinence, but Jeanie and Geoff are a breed apart and deserve our highest praise.
Two weeks passed and one morningís progress report was not as bright as usual. Phoenix was not eating as ravenously as before, but this alone was not cause for alarm. After all, the youngster had been to Hell and back; a setback now and then was to be expected. However, his waning appetite didnít correct itself, and out dear boy ate less and less. Then one morning Jeanie called, crying Phoenix was gone. The technician who checked on him in the mornings when she arrived at work told Jeanie that he died during the night. Everyone at the clinic was saddened by his loss; without trying, he carved a special place in every human heart privileged to know him.
Jeanie was stunned and devastated. For weeks after, the mere mention of his name in conversation brought back the heavy waves of sadness, and she would politely change the subject. She counted on giving Phoenix a new life in which massive daily doses of love and attention would soften the physical reminders of his past suffering. Finally he would be safe and loved and home. Finally he would receive a blessing in return for the forgiveness he offered us, members of the species who viciously tortured him.
My own hurt for his loss is compounded by the fact that he died alone. I can only hope he went to sleep that night and left without knowing and without fear. All of us touched by this sweet, gentle boy wanted to give him something in return for what he gave us -- an undeserved forgiveness for the unspeakable things our kind had done to him. We wanted to earn his forgiveness yet he gave it freely and without reserve. Though denied him all the days of his life here on earth, surely goodness and mercy will follow him now and he will fear no evil.
by Jeanie Willis
Even now, months later, it is hard for me to write about Phoenix. He was the first kitten I have ever taken from Alley Animals who had been tortured. It was very hard for me to look at him as I drove to the vet hospital. The burn wounds were covered with maggots; he was just covered with them, but his eyes were bright and focused on me as I drove. I put him in my lap and prayed he would make it to the hospital.
In his short life, Phoenix experienced the worst and best that humans have to offer. His pain must have been indescribable yet all I ever heard him do was purr. His stay at the vet hospital was filled with love. Everyone, the entire staff, doted on him. He was constantly being carried around, purring. IN fact, all he had to do was stick a paw through the bars of the cage door, it was opened and he was in someoneís arms. Oh how he loved the extra attention!
But the damage had been done and all the medical help could not save him. I was incredibly sad when they called me with the news of his passing. He was going to live with me and I planned on making his life as comfortable and happy as possible. But I never had the chance.
He is the reason Alley Animals is on the streets six nights a week. He will always be remembered as a little lost soul who had so much trust in people even though he had been tortured.!