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Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Stroke Changes Everything, Including the Cat


This is the story of Ripley, who transformed from a furry miscreant to become the world's best therapy cat.

Ripley came to us via Cham Le, our neighbor across street. Cham Le is an interesting person in her own right, she fled from Vietnam on one of those last air lifts after the war. In Vietnam, she was quite wealthy, she owned a tavern--"Good business, American GI" she tells me with a wink, but she arrived in America penniless with her daughter (my age) and son (who has Downs Syndrome). She worked as a hotel maid for many years, saving her money and ultimately investing in real estate and now owns several apartment buildings. Last year, Cham Le heard that our 14-year-old cat, Prozac, had passed away (Yes, that was her name, so called because she made me happy) and Cham Le showed up on our doorstep carrying a little white furry bundle of joy. "Diane, you need new baby, no?" she said thrusting the two month old kitten into my hands. And what a kitten it was: pure white with brown ears and brown tail and stunning round blue eyes. That kitten was cute as a button, but alas, it was not Ripley, but Ripley's sister. (That kitten would later be adopted by another neighbor who named her "Buttons", because she really was, like I said, cute-as-a-button.) So, I held Ripley's darling little sister in my arms, my heart melting, as I explained to Cham Le that I was really not ready for a new kitten and besides, if we decided to get another cat, we wanted to get a male, only for the reason that our other cat, Zenith, is female and we thought she might get along better with a male.

"Oh, I have boy-cat. Come and see," Cham Le assured me. It turned out, Cham Lee had three kittens. She had adopted a stray cat who she found in the alley and turned out, it was pregnant.  A few days later, after Bob and I talked it over, we decided to go over to Cham Le's and check out her "boy-cat".
Ripley, 2 months old, March 2010
(yeah, I know, the date is wrong on the camera)

Cham Le showed us the kittens. The two females were adorable. Then, there was Ripley. He had a weird black blotch on his nose and white cheeks and a little thing like a tear drop by his left eye. And his eyes---his blue eyes were a bit freakish: slightly crossed and eerily human-looking. And I remember thinking, "oh no, we have to take the goofy-looking one if we want a male."

We almost said no. We almost left without him. But Cham Le said, "If you don't take, I don't know what to do. Might have to throw him out."
Well, that cinched it for me. Poor little thing! Though I could tell Bob was still having doubts until Cham Le offered us a guarantee: "You don't like, bring him back, OK?"

With that, Ripley made the trip across the street to his new home with us.

Ripley, doing "the polar bear", with Boomer
From the beginning, Ripley was "different". Immensely shy, clumsy and clueless. It took him a full two months to learn his name and I remember thinking, my god, not only is he goofy-looking but he's a bit stupid, too. And he didn't "meow",  he "peeped".  I mean really, the first time Ripley opened his mouth and squeaked "peep, peep" up at me, I nearly fell over backward. He didn't sound at all like a cat, more like a baby bird with laryngitis. Then, there's that weird "polar bear" dance he does.

And Ripley is a thief. Do Not leave your wristwatch on the night stand. It will not be there in the morning. Ditto--your glasses or car keys. Do not leave your purse open on the table, because Ripley will be in it and the next thing you know, your money is missing. I have personally seen Ripley with dollar bills clutched in his teeth as he sprints across the room.

And believe me, there were more than a few days I thought about taking Cham Le up on her "guarantee". Especially the day that Ripley pissed on the couch. And the day he tore up the kitchen rug. Bob, especially, did not care for Ripley, saying "that cat doesn't like me" or "there's something wrong with that cat." And it was true, for Ripley and Bob never really did hit it off.

Ripley grew up. Or I should say, first he grew long. At six months, he looked more like a furry white snake with legs than a cat. But he also grew a distinctive raccoon mask across his face, perhaps to match his bandit personality. Now, at a year old, his coat has changed colors and he really is a handsome lad. And I've seen his two "sisters" and, amazingly, he's much better looking than they are--truly he was the ugly duckling of the litter and has finally come into his own. He was almost 7 months old when Bob went into the hospital for surgery and subsequently had a stroke. Three months later, Bob would come home and both he and Ripley would be quite changed.

Those last days at the hospital, I knew Bob was looking forward to coming home to me and our pets, but most especially to seeing Zenith, our Siamese. One of the first clear sentences that Bob spoke to me was "I miss you and Zenith, too." So, I was looking forward to a happy homecoming for Bob and our pets. Boomer did not let me down, and covered Bob with kisses the minute I rolled his wheelchair in the back door. Zenith, on the other hand, fled. At four years old, she was freaked out by the changes in her "Dad". And then there was Ripley. I didn't expect much from Ripley, but what happened utterly amazed and astounded me.

Bob & Ripley: Nap Time
I don't know what came over Ripley. Was it the fact that he was now older and wiser? Or did Ripley sense some new purpose in his life? Whatever it was, Ripley quickly sized up the situation: the hospital bed, the wheelchair and Bob, and Ripley knew what he needed to do. Immediately, he jumped up on the hospital bed. And he's been Bob's constant companion ever since--sleeping with him every single night, keeping him company during the day and making Bob very very happy. And I know that Ripley is helping in Bob's recovery, for some days, when Bob is in a lot of pain, Ripley is the only one who can make Bob smile.

And now when I count our blessings, you can bet that Ripley is darn close to the top of that list. I am glad that we took home that "goofy-looking" kitten---even if he still is a thief. That last week of home health care, Ripley went into the nurse's handbag and took off with her stethoscope. I had to chase him around the house to get it back.


DAD said...


Nikki said...

Cute picture of Ripley- oh, by the way, I told Grandpa he was shouting, hehe!

Jenn said...

Aren't animals amazing? Ripley - an old soul! I enjoyed your yarn about his uniqueness and beauty! It's wonderful the joy he brings to Bob. : )