An object lesson in pet care

Welcome to the world of Skyra, a grey tomcat that has occupied a prominent place in my life for the past decade.

He arrived without warning; a little gray kitten was picked up by one of my former students from a crack house in the neighborhood where he lived. The young boy cuddled the kitten but had yet to share his new pet with Mom. That his mother did not know about the acquisition set up warning signals, since children bearing pets often elicit a fast “No animals in this house” rule from parents caught off guard. Skyra did not come without a pedigree, which my student related when he told me about his mother and grandmother, Skyra the First and the Second, described as small friendly gray tabbies. The kitten’s sex was not uncovered until the first visit to the vet but by that time the name had stuck, the little boy having dubbed him Skyra the Third.

Now my heart goes out to all children wanting a pet yet I remain cautious as foundlings are often rejected by unknowing parents and put out on the street. My student had allergies and a short attention span. It was likely that soon tiring of the kitten, it would soon be a member of the feral cat-land that our school’s neighborhood had become. The area was home to colonies of homeless cats and likewise dogs being trained to kill. More than once, right in front of the school door, I would find a battered pit bull puppy that had been used as bait in a fight and was left on the streets to die or a colony of kittens scavenging and trying to keep warm in the blistering cold.

After providing money for cat food, a litter box, toys, and calling a veterinarian to check him out; we wrapped the kitten in a blanket, leaving the boy to walk home and tell Mom. Sure enough before the bell rang the next morning in came my student saying that his mother would not let him keep the kitten. He was going to let it go free or bring it back to the crack house.

Well, that did not happen and from that moment Skyra became the school cat. One problem among many was that the school was closed on the weekends, meaning there was no ready care for the kitten. It was soon determined that the safest home for our charge was my office and there he was housed. A young mobile veterinarian arrived to examine the kitten and found him in excellent health. Easing my fears she told me that even with weekends alone the kitty was better off in the school with food and water than left to its own resources.

Skyra the kitten had found a home among a group of children and provided what an object lesson in pet care. Some of our students were pretty rough and tumble with animals whose previous encounters mainly revolved around chasing them with stones or much worse. I always had to keep my eyes on them, lest the kitten be terrorized. Most kids were kind and gentle, and one in particular, a handicapped child boy born with minimal brain damage, was a fabulous kitty caretaker. He held, nurtured and spoiled our kitty and I credit this young man entirely with making the wild kitten into a jewel of a cat.

For over a year, I came in on the holidays and during the summer to make sure that the kitten had enough food and water and was comfortable. Things were going smoothly for our kitty until I received word that the school funding was going to be cut. What to do with Skyra became my obsession. I was fearful about taking her home to my two dogs, one of which was a feisty Jack Russell Terrier that gnarled and snarled whenever a feline was near.

We contacted friends and family to find a home for Skyra and within weeks he had a new home. They came in and looked at the cat saying that it was the friendliest of animals and sure to be a wonderful addition to the family. With sorrow and relief on the part of his caregivers, Skyra went off to his new home. The story does not end there, though. Several months later the phone rang: the family was returning Skyra, who had not worked out to be the ideal pet they were seeking, hissing at the children. The next day he came back to school with his claws gone and cowering. The friendly kitty had become a fearful hesitant cat. The children were amazed that he would run off as soon as they came near.

Skyra was one of the last to leave when we closed the doors to the school for the last time. I put the carrier in my car and headed towards Pennsylvania and an uncertain future as the owner of two dogs and a cat. For several months Skyra lived upstairs and the dogs down until they got used to his smell and slowly my animals began to chart out their own territory. Skyra had not lost his fear of people and another move did not make things easier. At our new home he lived almost exclusively in the attic away from chaos. Time past, years passed, we were all older. Then this fall it happened:

Skyra began to come downstairs and explore, often sitting on the highest place in his kingdom. Students petted him without his scampering off. How long it would take to heal a wound could not be predicted all those years ago when he first arrived but Skyra was finally at peace.