The Founding of Mewtopia – Misty’s Story
by Linda Sandham
I cannot remember a time when cats were not an important part of my life. As I grew up, I became aware of how badly they are abused by humans. After Misty came to live with us, Mewtopia began to evolve. It has never been a formal organisation nor was it even planned but Mewtopia – as it is now known – is a large, sunny room in my house, set aside as a haven for the cats I rescue and attempt to rehome.
It all began one sunny morning early in December (in South Africa, December is at the height of summer and also at the height of kitten season). I was out in the garden harvesting the early tomatoes when my cell phone rang in my pocket. It was our vet, Nicole. She was distraught. Someone had just brought in a badly abused kitten and she desperately needed a volunteer brave enough and dedicated enough to make an attempt to nurse the little scrap back to health.
I was reluctant at first as we already had eight rescued cats at the time but as Nicole burst into tears and told me Misty’s cruel tale, my heart melted and I was compelled to do my best to save this little scrap who was such a fighter. I just had to give Misty a chance. Nicole knew she should have put Misty to sleep straight away – her chances of survival were so slim - but the little scrap was clinging so desperately to life that she just could not do it.
West Park Cemetery is the largest cemetery in Johannesburg and home to hundreds of feral cats. An anonymous Good Samaritan was attending a funeral there when she caught sight of some gravediggers playing soccer with a small, black scrap of what looked like a rag. To her horror, she realised it was a kitten. Immediately she abandoned her graveside post and rushed to the rescue of the little mite.
Misty was still breathing but she was barely alive. She was rushed off to the vet and Nicole fought desperately to save her. After treating her worst injuries and pumping her full of medication and painkillers there was not much more she could do for Misty and she had to move on and treat her other patients. Misty however needed constant care and this is when Nicole phoned me. My two teen daughters and I leaped into the car and raced off to collect Misty from Nicole.
I was horrified by what I saw and by the daunting task that lay ahead. I cautioned the girls not to get their hopes up too high or to get too attached, as it was unlikely that Misty would make it through the night. This was going to be a huge challenge. She was tiny – no bigger than my cell phone and Nicole estimated her to be three weeks old. Misty’s tiny, fragile little bones were broken in so many places. Her one eye was swollen tightly shut and the other one – streaming constantly - peered warily at me. She was desperately ill with snuffles and I could not risk exposing her to my other cats.
Therefore, Misty was given her own room. We cleared out the sunny, comfortable room at the front of the house, which I had been using as an office. We moved a bed into this room and decided that we would take eight-hour shifts to look after Misty. Between the two girls, and me someone would be with her twenty-four hours a day to nurse her and maintain a vigil.
Christina took the first shift and made herself comfortable on the bed with Misty on her chest. She had to be kept warm even in the heat of a South African summer and the best way to do this was to act as a human hot-water-bottle.
We had to force-feed Misty at least five times a day and several times during the night. She was so weak and sickly that she could only cope with tiny mouthfuls at a time and had to take long rests in between each mouthful. This painstaking process took forever. However, she seemed to understand that we were trying to help her and she did not fight the hard, plastic syringe in her tiny mouth as feral kittens so often do.
I had to take her back to Nicole five to six hours for antibiotic and pain-killing injections and sub-cutaneous fluid therapy. At night, we had to administer these injections ourselves. Her respiratory infection was so bad that we had the nebulizer permanently going in her room. Both eyes were glued tightly shut with dried mucous by the second day and she cried out in agony as we carefully attempted to clean them every two hours and applied anti-viral drops and antibacterial cream.
On one of our visits to Nicole, as she was wiping the little eye, a jet of foul-smelling fluid erupted from under the swollen eyelid. Nicole feared the worst – that the eye had actually burst but we could not know for sure until the swelling subsided.
Misty’s tummy too was swollen out of all proportion. She was a skinny, fragile, little pear-shaped cat with skeletal limbs sticking out and strapped up to promote healing of the bones. Her tiny mouth and throat were covered with sores and lesions and swallowing must have been agony for her.
Despite all her pain and discomfort, Misty clung to life with tenacity. On Christmas day, after nearly three weeks of constant care, Misty rewarded our efforts by being able to feed from a bottle for the first time. She sucked lustily at the soft rubber teat as we offered it to her. Previously she had either rejected it or made feeble attempts but the pain had gotten the better of her and she was too weak to persist.
Her health steadily improved from this point. Her eye infection began to clear up but as soon as her eyes began to open again, we realised that she would be blind in the left eye. Fortunately, she had not lost the eye but the cornea was clouded over and damaged from the injury inflicted by a heartless boot.
Misty began to take an interest in her surroundings. She could not move around much as her bones were still healing but she followed our every movement with her one, healthy, little eye. It twinkled brightly as we jiggled a feather to amuse her.
Eventually the dressings could be taken off her limbs and she took her first shaky little steps. She was very weak and wobbled about unsteadily. She walks with a permanent limp now and cannot easily jump up onto surfaces or climb trees. Clever little thing that she is, within hours of her newfound mobility she staggered off and taught herself how to use the litter tray.
It was time to introduce her to the other feline members of the household. Smudge, our alpha-male was the first one to make his acquaintance. Cheeky little imp that she is, Misty swatted him on the nose as he leaned forward to sniff her. Smudge was quite taken aback by this impudence but did not lash out at her. Cautiously he sniffed her again and this time she rewarded him with a lick on the nose.
One by one, Misty made friends with all the other cats too and we were ready to let her venture out of Mewtopia. For the first time the door was left open and she could roam freely in the rest of the house.
She now rules the roost taking liberties that the other cats would never dream of doing. She claims the best spots for her naps and will not hesitate to nudge one of the other cats out of the way if she wants a turn at the feeding station. She is adored by all – both human and feline – and she gets away with atrocities that would never been tolerated before her arrival.
Misty was the first inmate of Mewtopia and the inspiration for its origin. There have been many inhabitants since, all with their own particular sad tale of abuse and neglect. We have been able to rescue and home so many cats since we started Mewtopia and our own collection has swelled in number to sixteen.
These are the rejects and misfits, which nobody else has wanted, and they have ended up becoming permanent residents in our home, like Misty.
Sadly, Mewtopia has also lost many cats. Despite our best efforts, many have not been as lucky as misty nor as determined to survive and have not made it despite our best efforts. However, I am proud of the difference we have been able to make and as I sit writing this with Misty snoozing comfortably on my lap, her soothing purr resonating in my ears, I would like to encourage all cat-lovers to make a difference in the lives of cats.
If you have one cat, surely you can find space in your heart, home, and budget to adopt a second one. Please have your cat spayed or neutered and adopt from your local shelter. Thousands of cats are killed every day due to our apathy. Just saving one life makes a difference.