Kindness Matters

Heading home from the recycling center, I stopped at the corner, waiting for the light. Something caught my eye in the road. It was a kitten—a tiny one who was having trouble getting his back legs to work—and each time a car passed within inches, he cringed and then lunged closer to the curb. I stared, horrified, thinking any moment now the poor kitten would get hit or run over, and I would be front and center to witness the carnage.

I threw my 4Runner in park, turned on the hazards, and hopped out into the early evening sun. He was close to the corner now, and scrabbling to make it to the curb. I could tell from how he flinched as I knelt close to him that he didn’t really want me to touch him. Luckily, there was enough of a break in the traffic for me to scoop up his feather light little body. I deposited him in the grass on the corner lot. An elderly man strolled toward both of us on the sidewalk, telling me how sweet I was to help. I didn’t know what to do next.

I got back in my car and sent a Marco Polo message to my husband Sterling, explaining what had happened.

“I don’t know what to do! I can’t unsee this little guy trying to get across the street, and I know he’s hungry and thirsty.” I navigated the road and my messages, attempting at red lights when it was safe to search online for cat rescue groups. It was after 6 p.m., and hardly anything would be open. Especially if I were to take him to a veterinarian—if I could find him again!—I’d be stuck paying for the emergency ones.

By the time I got home 15 minutes later, Sterling had gathered a box, a towel, a water dish, some cat food in a plastic Ziploc bag, and a bottle of water. The plan was to rescue the kitten and take him to the Houston SPCA, who had an after-hours ambulance that would be able to pick him up, considering he was possibly injured.

Sterling and I met at the corner where I had originally helped the little guy into the grass. It appeared to be abandoned; there was an auto shop across the street and a gas station and convenience store to the left, but on this lot was just a shuttered building and some overgrown, yellowing vegetation. There was no sign of the kitten upon first glance, but he definitely hadn’t been moving very fast and I’d only been gone for a half hour.

“I think I hear something,” Sterling said, gesturing toward a dry, scraggly bush that looked as if it desperately wanted a drink of water.

I peered underneath it and sure enough, the kitten had found refuge there. He didn’t look comfortable or safe, but he knew at least those monstrous, noisy hunks of metal were no longer whizzing past him. He stared at us with huge eyes and made tiny “mew” sounds.

We sat on our haunches, examining the bush and how to get in there. “He’s got to be hungry, and thirsty—and scared. I think he’s too young to be without his mom,” I fretted, swatting at the bugs in the summer heat.

We tried coax him out with some cat food and water, but the kitten just burrowed further under the bush. Even in his terror, he seemed to sense we were kindred spirits. Finally, Sterling just reached into the bush, scratching his arm in the process, but he was able to grab the tiny body. Safely in the box on a towel, we gave him a little bit of food and water. He took some grateful sips, but was mostly uninterested in the kibbles of cat food. He might need kitten food or maybe even bottle feeding. I worried about what had happened to his mother and his siblings. There had to be more of these little ones around, but because he’d been crossing the street it seemed hopeless to figure where they all might be.

We put him in the front seat of the 4Runner so I could keep an eye on him as I drove, even fastening the seat belt around the box. I called the HSPCA and arranged for the ambulance to come retrieve him as we drove back toward our house. He had stopped mewling; at one point I saw that he had practically passed out with his fuzzy head tucked into the towel and the corner of the box.

At home, we put him in the air-conditioned garage, still snuggled in his box. We didn’t think it would be a good idea to introduce our full-grown (very alpha) cat Batman to a random stray kitten. Every half hour or so, we’d tiptoe into the garage and look inside the box, checking to see if he was okay. He seemed exhausted, curled up in a ball, sleeping deeply. I comforted myself with the thought that he felt relaxed enough to rest.

The ambulance didn’t come to pick him up until 10:30 p.m. At that point, we’d gotten him some kitten food and were planning to put him in our cat’s carrier with a tiny litter box in case we needed to keep him overnight. The kitten stirred when I picked up the box, blinking at me as if to ask where he was going now. Outside, in the glow of the streetlights, the ambulance driver seemed like a sweet teddy bear of a man. I handed him the box, complete with the towel and water dish—I figured the HSPCA needed them more than we did. As the ambulance driver thanked me and I thought, “For what?” I could feel a small pang of something gnawing at me. Maybe I should have kept him. But I didn’t see how, considering we already had Batman.

I walked into the comfort of our brightly lit kitchen and promptly burst into tears. What was wrong with me? I lamented to Sterling. Was this some type of reaction partially delayed or attributed to losing our dog months ago? I worried that the poor little guy wouldn’t make it, or they’d just put him to sleep. What was the point of rescuing him if that was going to be his fate? Sterling gently reminded me of what I’d been saying all night: I had saved him from dying on the road, being hit by a car, being killed by some larger animal, or some other terrifying thing.

“Look at how he was sleeping so peacefully,” he pointed out. “You saved him, and it was so kind of you. You are always kind.”

I shook my head, wiping tears from my eyes. “Naw, I didn’t do anything special. I mean, wouldn’t anyone have saved a kitten? And you helped me,” I added.

“Think about it,” Sterling said. “You stopped the car in a neighborhood where it’s not a great place for a woman to be walking around alone, and you rushed to his aid.”

I widened my eyes as I gazed at him through tears. “Well, I didn’t even think about myself – I just did it.”

Sterling smiled at me. “See?”

I thought perhaps he had a point.