by Fran Maristch

As I sat down at my computer one October morning to get my day started, I checked my e-mail as I normally do. But, what I would find would change my life over the next year. It was an e-mail from one of my best friends, Pam. She had been running her one-woman rescue called Saved Whiskers for quite a few years, and she was sending me photos of one of her recent rescues.

"Take a look at this guy", she said in her note, as she described how he had been found behind an office building, declawed, obviously abandoned, and barely existing for quite some time. As I looked at the photos, I looked into the eyes of a cat with a broken spirit, barely clinging to life. How he had made it this long, who knows. He grabbed my soul right from the start.

Winston as he was found

Pam, who was an experienced veterinary tech, quickly assessed his situation. He was extremely thin, covered with ticks, and obviously very sickly, rescued probably just in the nick of time. She administered fluids, spent hours removing every last tick, and gave him a much needed meal and a bath. She named him Winston. He was probably around 10 years old.

Not feeling goodThe next day, when Pam returned from work, she found him clinging to life. Poor sick babyIt was as though he had decided to die in this nice warm and loving place he had been taken to. She e-mailed me right away and told me of her harrowing experience finding him, rushing him to emergency.

The doctors didn't hold out much hope for him. I could feel the tears running down my face as I read the news. No, this just can't happen! This poor guy waited for so long to be found, and now he was going to die. "Please keep me posted", I told her.

The next day, he was coming back, responding to fluids and medication. But, in the meantime, as blood work had been done, it was discovered he had kidney disease. Our poor Winston was terminal. Pam would try to get him adopted, but he would stay in foster care at her house in the meantime. There was no doubt in my mind that he needed to be with me and my family. If he was going to die, I wanted him to spend whatever days he had left on this earth in our home, with us, being loved by us. Me, my son, and my husband discussed it. We didn't know how long Winston would live, but could we do this? We all agreed this was what we wanted to do.

"What does it involve?", I asked Pam. Fluids every other day, and lots of love. Well, the love part was easy. No effort at all there. But, the fluids? Would I ever be able to do it? Pam came over to give us a lesson in fluid therapy. She was overjoyed that Winston was going to live with us.

For days, Winston lingered quietly in my spare room like a zombie. At first, I would close the door at night, afraid he would fall down steps or become the target of my much younger and stronger feline pranksters. During the day, even though the door was open, he would just lay there, silent. He would eat, he would go to the bathroom, and go back to his bed. I questioned myself time and time again. Was I being fair to him? Was he in pain or uncomfortable? Am I doing the right thing keeping him here? He was so frail, so thin. I was even afraid to pick him up at times for fear I would hurt him. I was afraid, if he went on this way too much longer, a decision would have to be made. I would have to do the right thing.

One evening, after his fluids, he leaped from my arms and ran off. We couldn't find him anywhere. Finally, I looked in my bedroom, and there he was, curled Hoggin the pillowsupon my bed as though it was his usual resting spot. That was the turning point in Winston's life. Over the course of the next months, he became an active member of the family, eating with the rest of my gang, laying with us, watching out the window at the birds and squirrels. He was living the life of a cat!

His weight went from 4 pounds to almost 9 pounds! He was an amazing cat! He went from this zombie-like, sickly guy to a persnickety old fellow, carving his way into our hearts. I remember one night, as I lay in bed, he jumped up unexpectedly. He fell fast asleep on my stomach. I can remember thinking how wonderful it felt to see him so content, so happy to be with us, and we absolutely loved this boy right back!

He eventually started resisting his fluids. It was useless to torture him, hold him down. He had made his own decision, and we had to respect it. One October morning, I awoke to find him slumped over in his bed. I knew the time had come. I had promised Winston from the first day he arrived that I would not let him wait when I knew it was time. I had to honor my promise. The cat who was given only a few weeks to live by the doctor had lived almost a year to the day of his rescue -- and he lived it to the fullest.

Beloved Family MemberAs he curled in my arms on the examining room table and the vet administered the injection, Winston looked at me with such loving eyes as if to say thank you. In turn, I thanked Winston back for reinforcing my belief in the power of love and animals. He is a true example of how important love can be to a pet and the unconditional love they give in return. We continue to think fondly of Winston every day, the silly things he did that made us smile, and how we all helped him live out the rest of his life the way a pet should live -- in happiness and contentment. He was a true champion!

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