When I was 10, Dad gathered us around the dining room table, placed a large cardboard box in the center of it, and announced that he had some good news. He had found a stray kitten on his way home from work. I have never been a cat person, but my sister, who loved them, reached for the box.
“Now hold on,” Dad said, pulling the box toward him. “I found this kitten staggering around in a puddle. We are not going to keep it, but it’s going to stay with us until I can take it to the vet tomorrow.”
Now we were all intrigued. We quietly watched as Dad opened the box, reached in with both hands, gently lifted the kitten out and placed it on the table. Our excited faces were transformed into horrified grimaces. We silently surveyed the kitten as it struggled to take a few steps. The first thing I noticed was how matted its fur was. Tufts were missing, revealing open sores that were beginning to ooze and scab over. One ear was mangled, as if it had been bitten off by another animal. One eye was completely matted shut and the other one darted around trying to make sense of the four of us staring at it.
At this point, Mom entered the room, and leaned over me to see what we were looking at and shrieked, “Vincent! Why is that thing on my dining room table? It’s disgusting! Kids, don’t touch it.”
As we continued to watch the kitten fumble around on the table, I noticed that it kept walking into the cardboard box.
“I’m pretty sure it’s blind,” Dad said as he nudged it to walk in the other direction.
“Here kitty kitty,” my sister called to it. “Come here kitty.”
The kitten continued to fumble aimlessly in circles.
“And I’m pretty sure it’s deaf,” Dad added.
“Alright kids. That’s enough.” Mom intervened for our safety. “Vincent. I don’t know why you brought that disgusting thing home.”
I have to admit, I was pretty horrified. It was the most pathetic looking animal I had ever seen and I didn’t even want to think about what kinds of infections or parasites it had. Dad placed the kitten back in the box, and I was relieved to not have to look at it anymore.
Mom was convinced the kitten was flea infested and insisted that my dad put it in the garage. Nobody objected.
That night, while I was waiting for sleep to come, I thought about that poor blind, deaf, ratty looking kitten staggering around in a cardboard box in the dark. Surely it must be hungry, if not, at the very least, lonely and scared. The only solace I found that night was in knowing that a cardboard box in a warm garage was better than a puddle out in the cold.
The next morning, my parents left for work and we got ready for school. We kids were uneasy about leaving the kitten alone in the dark garage all day. A few minutes before we set out to walk to school, we decided that the least we could do was give the kitten something to eat. I went to the cupboard, pulled out a large cereal bowl, and filled it with milk. The four of us put the bowl of milk in the corner of the box, wished the kitten a good day, and left for school. All day long, I was comforted by the idea of the kitten in its cozy box with a stomach full of fresh milk.
The walk home that afternoon took less time than usual because we ran most of the way. “I want to say goodbye before Dad takes it to the vet,” my sister had said. We were all eager to check up on the kitten one last time.
When we got home, we unlocked the door, dropped our book bags in the middle of the hallway and made our way to the garage. My sister ran to the cardboard box and peered inside. Instantly the excitement drained from her face. Her eyes filled with tears as she looked at me. Without saying a word, she walked right past me back into the house.
My brothers looked next. They too instantly became silent. Suddenly I found myself filled with dread. I didn’t want to look. I already knew. The kitten didn’t make it. It had been sick and weak. The vet was probably going to have to put it down anyway. At least it died knowing that it was cared for right? I slowly stepped up to the box and looked inside.
Nothing could have prepared me for what happened next. The poor deaf, blind, vermin filled kitten had somehow managed to slip and fall into the giant cereal bowl filled with milk and drowned. Guilt punched me in the chest like a fist. I had spent the whole day, consoled by the fact that we were saving this kitten. We had rescued it from the scary outside world, given it a warm box to keep it safe, and were going to get it the help it needed. Instead, we killed it.
Needless to say, it was a long time before Dad brought home any more strays.