Ciara often drives along the road between Knockananna and Tinahealy in County Wicklow. It is a typical Irish country road, with small hills and bends to negotiate. In recent years, it has become busier with commuter traffic from Dublin. Last week, as Ciara rounded a corner, she noticed a large silver 4×4 vehicle driving towards her on the opposite side of the road. She saw the driver throw something out of his window, and it landed in the road directly in the path of her own car, thirty yards ahead of her. At first she presumed it was a small bag of rubbish, but as she approached, she noticed that the small object was moving. She braked heavily, skidding to a halt just in time to avoid hitting the object. It was only then that she realised that the “rubbish” was in fact a small kitten, now lying sprawled and badly injured on the road in front of her.
Ciara immediately felt utterly outraged. How could a fellow human treat an innocent living creature in this way? She felt like turning around and pursuing the vehicle, in the hope of getting a registration number so that the driver could be made to face the consequences of his cruelty. But even as she thought this, the kitten in front of her was struggling to stand up, and if she left it there, it would be unlikely to survive. The next car on the road would be certain to finish it off.
She rushed over to the little animal, and carefully lifted it up. It was a small tabby kitten, no more than five or six weeks of age. It was not old enough to fend for itself, and it must have been taken from its mother in the previous twenty four hours. The kitten gazed up at her with frightened eyes, and Ciara did her best to reassure it as she carried it back to her car. She made a nest for it from a jersey on the passenger seat, and it seemed to settle there comfortably as she drove to the nearest veterinary clinic for emergency treatment.
The initial assessment by the vet was not encouraging. The kitten had serious injuries to her hind quarters. She could not stand up on her back legs at all, and she was cold and weak. She was in obvious pain, and the first priority was to warm her up and give her plenty of pain relief. At this stage, the various options for further treatment were discussed. An extensive work-up was going to be needed, with sedation, x-rays and perhaps an operation. In the circumstances, many people would make a decision not to proceed any further. The kitten had already suffered a lot, and perhaps it would be kindest to carry out gentle euthanasia, to at least allow the creature to end its life peacefully and painlessly.
Even after only knowing the kitten for half an hour, Ciara had become emotionally involved with her new little friend. The kitten had been lucky enough to land in front of Ciara just in time to have its life saved, and she felt that it would be a betrayal to allow things to stop now. She asked the vet to do everything possible to save its life.
The kitten was admitted to the veterinary clinic, and the initial focus was to stabilize her after the trauma. She was bottle fed with kitten milk, and she was kept in a special warm kennel surrounded by plenty of soft bedding. By the following morning, she was a much happier kitten. She was bright, alert and much more comfortable. The only remaining problem was that she still could not stand up at all on her hind legs. She was now strong enough to undergo some investigative procedures, so she was sedated, and a series of x-ray pictures were taken. The xrays confirmed what the vet had feared. There was a fracture affecting the thigh bone of her back right leg. Ideally, this should be repaired using intricate surgery with metal implants. The cost could run into many hundreds of euro.
Ciara was again faced with a difficult decision. How far should she go with the little kitten, now christened “Kitty”. She asked if there was any other possibility than the expensive operation. The vet explained that there were two other options. Ciara immediately said “no” to the first choice, which again was euthanasia. But the second option seemed like a possibility. It would not be unreasonable to treat the kitten with the simplest of treatment: doing nothing, or as the vet preferred to call it, “masterly inactivity”.
In nature, broken bones often heal without the help of orthopaedic surgeons. The alignment of naturally healed bones is rarely perfect, but animals can adapt well to limbs that are crooked or slightly shorter. In Kitty’s case, youth was on her side. Young bones can heal rapidly, and young animals adapt quickly to cope with mild disability.
It was agreed that Ciara would take the kitten home, continue to feed her with a bottle, and to keep her in an enclosed space for the next month. A large cardboard box lined with towels and sheets would be perfect.
One week on, Kitty is doing exceptionally well. She is a very friendly kitten, purring and pressing her head against visitor’s hands whenever anybody visits her in her box. Ciara had originally planned to find her a home when she had made a full recovery, but as time goes on, she is beginning to wonder. Perhaps there is space for a cat in her life, after all.
- Cruelty to kittens is depressingly common in Ireland
- It is up to caring individuals to do their best for rescued animals like Kitty
- ometimes nursing and simple kindness is the best treatment, even when serious injuries are involved