A cat's actions teach a lesson about life

A cat's actions teach a lesson about life

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Aug 01, 2007


Carl A. Osborne
Here is a true story about the value of life. Its profound message rises out of the ashes of a potentially deadly fire, and the heroic efforts of man and animal. As you read it, ask yourself about the value you place on life.

She was just a stray, short-haired, nameless cat with five kittens, trying to make it on the mean streets of New York City. She had set up housekeeping in a dilapidated, abandoned garage, recently subject to a number of fires. She scoured the neighborhood for scraps of garbage to help nourish her growing brood.

All of this changed at 6:06 on the morning of March 29,1996. A fire of suspicious origin quickly engulfed the garage. The cat family's home was in flames. Ladder Company 175 responded and soon had the blaze under control. One fireman, David Giannelli, heard the kittens' cries. He found three of them just outside the building, another three-quarters of the way across the street and the fifth on the sidewalk. The kittens were too young to have escaped on their own.

Giannelli noticed that each kitten's burns were progressively more severe; apparently some waited longer for rescue as the mother carried them to safety one at a time.

The New York Daily News of April 7, 1996, gave this account of what happened next:

Giannelli discovered the mother cat in a nearby vacant lot, unable to walk without pain. The sight filled him with compassion. The cat's eyelids were swollen shut, apparently from intense smoke. The pads of her feet were badly burned. There were second-degree burns on her face, ears and legs.

Giannelli found a cardboard box and gently placed her and the kittens inside. Though she couldn't see them, she touched her offspring one by one with her paw, as if counting them, Giannelli said.

When they arrived at the North Shore Animal League, the prognosis was "guarded" (they could live or die, but at this time the outcome was unpredictable). Medication and intravenous fluids to combat shock were administered to the brave feline, followed by soothing antibiotic creams for her burned skin. She was placed in an oxygen cage to help her breathe.

The entire staff was anxious about the outcome but within 48 hours, the heroine was sitting up. Her swollen eyes opened. There was no damage to the sclera or corneas.

One of the tiny kittens died.

Stop and reflect

Now put yourself in the situation that faced this courageous mother: Despite her natural fear of fire, she entered the smoke-filled, burning building to rescue her crying babies. To go in once to carry out one or two of the kittens would have been incredible. But for her to put her life in jeopardy five times, each time suffering additional burns to her feet, legs, ears, and face, is difficult to imagine. The courageous feline was named Scarlett, because the extensive burns caused her skin to turn red.

What can we learn from this incident? Simply this:

The lives of all living beings, animal and human, are precious. I'm sure you will agree that none of us can create a living being. But we do have the capacity to destroy life – all life on this planet. Each of us who reads and contemplates this story has, in some way, the opportunity and obligation to sustain life. Before our actions directly or indirectly take the life of any creature, we should ask ourselves: What is our motive for doing so?

This essay was adapted from an article titled, "A mother's bonding with her babies," in the journal Awake, Sept. 22, 1996, pages 24 and 25.

Dr. Osborne, a diplomate of the American College of Veterinary Internal Medicine, is professor of medicine in the Department of Small Animal Clinical Sciences, College of Veterinary Medicine, University of Minnesota.