Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Man of Faith, Man of Reason

Mixi (mee-shee) Arturo Lopez, a gato callejero, came into my life one evening some three months ago, when I caught him eating an entire raw chicken the family had left on the kitchen table. I was a little freaked out by him at first. What kind of ferocious mini-cat-beast had I encountered, savaging the carcass of that poor departed bird?

I soon discovered that despite his rough exterior, he had a softer side, with urgent cries at my door whenever he wanted some lovin’. For the past three months I’ve been fighting the urge to do more than give him the occasional snuggle. It’s not sustainable, I thought. I’ll be gone in 21 months and he’ll be left here, accustomed to receiving food and moral support at my doorstep. It’d be ridiculous to bring him back to the US with so many homeless animals there.

And besides, I used to comfort myself, he’s totally callejero. He knows how to take care of himself and always has. It’s wrong of me to think of him as my pet.

Nevertheless, Mixi hits me deep down, on the level of a person in need of the feeling of regular love and affection. I realized the weakness of my moral boundaries on Sunday, when he hobbled into my room on three paws, the fourth obviously injured. Despite his troubles, all he wanted to do was hunker down in my lap and purr. I was immediately overwhelmed by the love I feel for him, this tiny ferocious creature who chooses to sit in my lap and snuggle under the covers up against me. And that love quickly turned to worry about what I could do to make him better, and whether it was enough.

After an examination that thoroughly aggravated him, I realized he has some sort of burn or growth on a rear paw which pains him a lot. This was concerning in itself, but yesterday and last night, he did nothing but sleep curled up in a ball on my bed; he wouldn’t purr, just let out the occasional guttural cry. This really worried me. He would never act like this normally.

So take him to the vet an hour away, easy, right? Before he seemed seriously ill, I was questioning whether going to a vet with a street cat made sense in this cultural context, with plenty of people without basic health care... but now that moral qualms have slid away into worry, I'm not even sure I have a way to physically take him.

Today I tried to take him in the morning, but without a carrier to restrain him, he wouldn’t even tolerate the walk to the bus stop. After five minutes he jumped out of the towel-lined cardboard box he'd settled into and sprinted away. I was relieved when we met back up at home and he let me pick him up. I felt bad for having taxed his energy, but also relieved he still had it. Yet I felt so strained by the moment's demands: what to do for him? In a split decision, I had the overwhelming sense he was telling me enough was enough; so I put him down in the covered woodpile, relatively safe from today’s harsh winds and rain, and he snuggled up there. I checked two hours later and he was gone or hidden. I still don’t know where he is.

That’s (as on LOST) where our reason and faith enter, the struggle I’ve been fighting since Sunday. Should I have gotten him to the vet earlier, and at whatever cost? Should I find him and tape him in a box, trap him in a pillowcase, screaming and miserable, and pay a private taxi or beg my host father; if that is the only way to maximize his chances of surviving healthfully? Or is it better to leave him in peace, believe in his own ability to heal, let him to his own instincts to curl up and hide in a good place?

I’m so worried about him. What if last night and this morning’s behavior is a sign of a bad infection or illness in the paw, and he’ll really die without a vet? What if he suffers a lot, alone? Tomorrow I leave at 5 am for the capital, a mandatory dental appointment, and three days of 4th of July celebrations. So that more or less decides it; for now I will have to be a woman of faith. If I’m not, there’s nothing left for me.

Worries aside, I do hope everyone at home has a happy 4th. We'll certainly be celebrating here. Although I'll miss Gramom's potato salad, rumor has it they'll be all manner of United Statesian fare at the party...

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