Six cats in a cardboard box


Cedar is our oldest family cat. She was born somewhere in Jacksonville, sometime in April 2003. I don’t know exactly where or when, because she was left at the animal hospital where I worked as an assistant. One evening long after closing, I was mopping the lobby when I noticed a cardboard box sitting right outside the front door. I opened the door and looked, but no one was around. I checked inside the box and didn't see anything at first except for an old dirty blanket. However as my eyes adjusted I saw that underneath was a quiet, skinny, stressed out momma cat with five tiny nursing kittens clinging to her belly. I tried to pet her but she hissed and spit at me.

The kittens still had their eyes closed, so I took the box home to keep them all warm and safe until they were old enough for vaccines and adoption. I gave them all kitten food, deworming medication and combed out their fleas. Momma cat didn't trust me at all, but she ate ravenously and the kittens nursed well.

Because I lived with my parents and wasn’t allowed to have cats, I made a den for them in my closet during the day while I was at work. As the kittens grew older and opened their eyes, they started coming out to explore my room at night. Soon they learned to trust me and started sleeping on my bed at night before returning to the closet in the morning. This continued for two weeks before my mom heard a quiet meowing from the closet one afternoon. Once she got over her shock, she graciously relaxed the house rules temporarily. We named the momma cat Maude, and the kittens (all female) were named Cedar, Abby, Misty May, Suggie, and Runt-Runt.

Maude was a little over 1 year old and solid black. It seemed to be her first litter of kittens. She was half-feral, meaning she would nuzzle your hand or leg lovingly for about 30 seconds before suddenly sinking her teeth and claws into your flesh without warning. I later learned in a behavior class at vet school that she had “petting intolerance” and was probably never socialized to humans as a kitten. She was strong, fast, cunning and tough. Applying her monthly flea medication was an adrenaline-pumping experience. Our dogs all ran away when they saw her. She was a force to be reckoned with.

Maude was vaccinated and spayed after the kittens were weaned. She stayed in our family her whole life and lived to be 14. We loved her even though she sent a few family members, a couple of dogs, and one vet to the ER for antibiotics over the years. She was a good mother to her kittens, and an awesome cat.

Suggie and Misty May had Ragdoll coloration that turned more Siamese as they aged. They were the most beautiful of the five kittens. Suggie was named for her sweetness and Misty May was named after the famous volleyball player. They grew fast and ate a lot, but even as they grew larger they remained submissive to the three smaller kittens. They were the most people-friendly of all the sisters. After they were vaccinated and spayed, my sister in law took Suggie while Misty May went to live with a friend from church. Both lived long and happy lives into their mid-teens. I had to put Suggie to sleep last year and I will never forget her.

Abby, Runt-Runt and Cedar were black and white "tuxedo" kittens and looked nothing like their two Siamese sisters. I learned in veterinary school that a single litter of kittens may have two different sires.

Abby was large and friendly. She was a slow, docile and gentle giant. I suspected she wasn’t too smart, but it’s hard to tell with kittens. We sometimes called her Flabby Abby due to her immense size and appetite. After getting vaccinated and spayed, she went to live in Georgia in 2004.

Runt-Runt was the smallest of the kittens, but also the feistiest. She always ate first when I fed them, and she pushed around the larger kittens at will. She would ambush them, jumping on their backs, latching onto their scruffs, rolling them over and pummeling them with her back feet. She was fearless towards other animals and people, and was an expert climber at an early age. After being vaccinated and spayed she went to live out her days with a friend in Gainesville.

Named for the Cedars of Lebanon, Cedar (top) was like the middle child of bunch. She was neither the biggest nor the smallest. Not the toughest or the sweetest. Not the smartest or the dumbest. She got along well with all the other kittens. She loved to explore and find secret places to hide inside drawers and cabinets. She was skittish around other animals and humans initially, but cuddly and affectionate once she got used to them. Even after all the other kittens were given away, Cedar stayed with us. She developed an appetite for soft fabric, chewing holes in our softest blankets, sweaters and shirts whenever she got the opportunity. She preferred expensive wool sweaters and knit hats, but would gladly chow down on a nice flannel sheet if that was all that was available.

When Cedar was a few years old and I was in vet school, we took her to the University of Florida small animal hospital because she was pulling all of her hair out. I thought she had psychogenic alopecia, a rare condition, so I took her to the animal behaviorist. It actually turned out she has eosinophilic granuloma complex, a common allergic skin condition, and just needed a steroid shot every few months to stay comfortable and happy. This was an early lesson for me in not over-diagnosing, or as my mentor would say “When you hear hoofbeats, look for horses.” “But”, he would add, “don’t forget about the zebras!”

Cedar has now lived with us for the past 15 years, and she likes to lounge on our porch most of the day now. She is slowing down and her kidney values are slightly elevated, but for now she is very happy. She loves sleeping on my daughter's pillow at night. I am so grateful to our friend Lauren Klose with Artistic Aire for the amazing portrait she did of Cedar that now hangs in our Exam Room 2 here at the hospital. Every time I see it it brings back memories of the past 16 years. So much has changed in the world, and many special pets have come and gone, but Cedar hasn't changed. I think that is part of what makes our pets so important to us, is the stability they provide in an uncertain world. No matter what happens in the day, I can always count on Cedar being there when I get home, ready to be scratched behind the ears, and content with things just the way they are. Some of life’s greatest gifts come in cardboard boxes.


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