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Observations: Values in the lost and found

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image She was once just an abstract tale of woe that was easy enough to ignore. But now her name is Abby. Mitch Traphagen Photo

I have no desire to be known as the “Cat Guy of Tampa Bay.”

By MITCH TRAPHAGEN

How much value is in a life?  I began asking myself that question just over a week ago when a tiny kitten entered my own life. My wife and I were visiting my Mom in Minnesota when my sister came in talking about a crying kitten that people had seen in the bushes out front of the building.

Now it’s one thing to hear a sad tale, but as much as I enjoy being a romantic, I’m also a realist. I know that innocent kittens die every single day and that their sad stories are a dime a dozen. In the case of this sad story, I thought it odd that there were no other cats around and I wondered how a lone kitten could have ended up in the bushes. But then I stopped thinking about it.

A few hours later, my older sister walked into my Mom’s apartment with a tiny bundle of fur in her hands. She said the kitten needed to see a vet in the morning. Now, suddenly, the sad tale of a lost, crying kitten took on a new form. It was no longer just an abstract thought; it was real life in the form of a kitten so small that picking her up felt like picking up air. Her tiny eyes were crusted over so badly that she could barely open them. I knew that it could not have been more than a few weeks since she had been born.

To make matters worse, my sisters were staying in my Mom’s apartment while my wife and I were staying in her house just a few miles away. That meant we were taking the kitten with us that night. We had no idea if she even knew what cat food was so we ended up buying the supplies necessary to bottle-feed her. Holding her in my hand, and I only needed one hand, while bottle-feeding her was the first time I had heard her purr.

The next morning, the local vet prescribed some antibiotics and cleaned out our checking account to the greatest degree possible. We began the process of ignoring her little hisses and took to petting her while talking to her. Within a few days, she came flying out of her shell. Today her name is Abby — she is so cute that artists could only dream of drawing a cartoon character as adorable. She is like a miniature, fuzzy stuffed toy that stomps around on her tiny furry paws looking for anything and everything to play with.

What is the value of her life?  We could have simply returned her to the bushes and left her in Minnesota. But I couldn’t do that. Once I had held her, once I had earned her trust and the hissing stopped and playtime began, that was no longer an option. In truth, the moment I saw her, returning her to the bushes was no longer an option.

Just over a week later, on the Fourth of July, I found myself asking that question again. My wife and I had turned into three very busy lanes of traffic on State Road 674 just east of I-75. Shortly before the freeway entrance ramp, I noticed a bump on the road. Given the quantity of wildlife in Florida along with the sheer number of cars on the road, everyone knows that bumps on the road aren’t all that unusual. Untold numbers of squirrels, possums, armadillos and, yes, even dogs and cats are hit by cars all over South Hillsborough. But this bump was different — it was laying in the center of three lanes, and just as we passed at 45 miles per hour it raised a tiny head and began crying. It struck me like a lightning bolt — there was a live kitten in the center lane of a busy highway. My wife pulled off to the side of the road and slammed on the brakes. I ran out of the car and crossed the traffic lanes to the kitten just as the light turned green at Cypress Creek Boulevard, unleashing three lanes jammed with cars. I reached the kitten, mentally bracing myself for the worst, expecting a horrific scene of a mortally injured young life that would require immediate euthanasia.

I’m not sure what amazed me more: the fact that this kitten was alive after lying in the center lane of a busy highway, or the fact that all three lanes of traffic stopped (with the exception of one subhuman driver who was too “important” to stop) when I held out my hand. In stopping, they allowed my wife to back up our car so I could scoop the kitten up and get him out of what had to be his worst nightmare.

Moments later, we pulled into a nearby parking lot and were surprised to see that he was entirely intact. No doubt in deep shock, he was moving very little but seemed relatively okay. We brought him home, isolated him from our other animals in a guest bedroom and made up a little bed and litter box up for him. At first, he made little crying noises as he drifted off while I lightly stroked his head, but after a few hours of rest, although still barely able to keep his eyes open, he started hissing at me. I took that as a good sign.

What is the value of his life?  Yes, I know it was stupid to run out on to a busy highway to save a kitten. Kittens die every day, after all. But I had a feeling that people would stop, I knew that most people are decent and caring and once they recognized the problem, none of the drivers in the dozens of cars would run either me or the kitten over. Given that Florida is probably the most dangerous state in the nation for pedestrians, let alone lunatics who run out onto three lane highways, that I was certain — and right — says something about the people living in South Hillsborough.

Besides, in the end, what were we to do?  We could have driven on, ignored the crying kitten in the middle of the highway and the problem would have gone away by the time we returned home. He would have been killed, almost certainly within minutes. He may be just a kitten, but there is value to his life. I can feel it. I could never have just passed him by. Not if I wanted to sleep at night.

At the same time, finding two distressed kittens in one week was a disturbing trend — I have no desire to be known as the “Cat Guy of Tampa Bay.”

Early the next morning, we carried the new kitten into Fox & Friends Animal Hospital to be checked out. I can’t imagine how horrific it must have been for the little guy to be laying on hot pavement while cars screamed over him. He still wasn’t moving much and may well have been in shock or worse. Dr. Caran Stouffer walked in, picked him up and started asking questions. As he nuzzled her chin, she asked, “Do you want to keep him?  Can I have him?”

His name is Cypress and he’s doing great with his new mom, who also happens to be his doctor. If you were in the long line of cars on State Road 674 that stopped when a lunatic ran out to scoop up a bump on the road, I have no doubt that Cypress is very grateful to you. I know I am. In fact, I greatly value it.

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