It’s funny how strongly some memories stay in your mind.
It was a little over 8 years ago, Summer 2001. I was getting ready to go back up to Gainesville for what would end up being a very trying semester. Summer 2001 was still a time of innocence. So much has changed since then.
My mom and I were out shopping. I found some cute dresses on sale at Gap but they were not in my size. We decided the sale was good enough that it was worth driving across town to a different mall to find the dresses. We ended up at University Mall which is up near USF. We found the dresses and were getting ready to leave when I saw the mall pet store.
Now we don’t usually go into pet stores. They make my mom sad and me too for that matter– all those animals who need homes. I don’t know what made us go in there that day. Pet stores don’t usually have cats and we’re total cat people. I walked by the cages and I saw one that was empty, or at least it appeared empty at first. As I was standing there, I glanced into the covered litter box and as I did, a dusty gray cat turned his head around to look me in the eyes. He had the most stunning blue eyes I have ever seen on a cat. He was shockingly beautiful and sad. He was sleeping in a litter box. My mom was every bit as taken aback by his beauty as I was.
I’m not sure what made us ask but we found a woman who worked at the store. His price? $900. This mall remember, is only a couple miles from the university. It is otherwise in a very poor section of town. Not an audience for a $900 cat. The woman scooped him out of the cage. He was huge, or at least, not kitten sized. The woman told us he was 5 months old and because of his age his price had been reduced to $500.
But that was enough. We had to go. $500 for a cat? It was too much. We thanked the woman and left.
But he certainly didn’t leave our minds. Though we said little about him in the following days I couldn’t help but think about the blue eyed cat who’d spent the last 3 months of his life sleeping in a litter box (and as we came to find out later, the first 2 months in a kitty mill).
Over the next couple of weeks he was mentioned here and there, the gorgeous cat at the pet store. A ragdoll. We’d never heard of ragdolls before. I did a little bit of reading on the breed. They are naturally big, that’s why he was so huge already. People wanted tiny kittens, not cats that already looked full grown. Would he ever be adopted?
One Sunday morning after church my mom said, “I can’t stop thinking about that poor kitty.” As it turns out, the government had just recently sent out stimulus checks. Wouldn’t you know ours was for $500. It seemed to be a pretty certain sign. Without another word the decision was made. The only question now was would he still be there. We raced home and called the store?
“Do you still have the ragdoll?”
“We’re on our way.”
As I recall we drove across town pretty quietly. I think we all felt a sense of urgency. Now that we’d decided to get him, what if someone else decided the same and got to him before us? What if after all the time spent in that cage, two people came for him at once.
We burst into the store, our rescue mission nearly complete. I quickly found the woman who we’d spoken to before.
“We’re here for the ragdoll.”
She paused for a moment, with a look of surprise and alarm and then walked over to the cage and gently removed him from the litter box where I guessed he’d spent most of the time since our last visit. She had tears in her eyes. She had become very attached to him but of course realized that he needed a real home.
I remember very little of the purchase process, I just knew how happy and relieved we all were that he was still there and that he was finally coming home.
Dusty didn’t get his name right away. At first we talked about calling him Zach since he was so floppy (typical ragdoll) that he seemed relaxed or like he was “on proZACH”. But that name just didn’t seem to fit. He wasn’t all that relaxed after all, in fact he was pretty afraid of his new environment. His leg muscles had atrophied due to lack of use and it was a couple weeks before he could walk well. He was fearful of his new, much larger surroundings and the old cat Mickey didn’t exactly welcome him home. He hid a large part of that first afternoon home and when he came out from behind the washer and dryer he was covered in fluff and dust. He became Dusty from that point forward.
He was never a lap cat but he dearly loved my brother and I know D. felt the same about him. He always carried a regal air about him, as though he knew just how very beautiful he was. He never snapped, hissed, bit, scratched or otherwise hurt so much as a fly and I’ll never forget bringing Rosie home for the first time and seeing him fall in love with the tiny kitten. I’ll always remember catching the two kitties in the bathtub licking each other on the face, “kissing”.
Last June, Dusty got sick. It was hard to tell he was sick because he was never one to eat much or be very playful. He sat and observed the world as it passed him by. By the time we realized he was sick it was already pretty serious but tests, medication and a tremendous amount of care got him through. We thought we were going to lose him last June but he held on for just a little while longer. Then, over the last month or so, he started developing breathing problems. My mom would race him to the vet’s office, to find that his lungs had filled with fluid. Four separate times, the vet removed several ounces of fluid from off his lungs. My mom and brother tried a least a dozen different therapies but the last and most promising never really got the opportunity to work. His lungs filling with fluid so quickly that he would have needed to be tapped every other day if not more frequently. His pain was quietly ended on Saturday.
Were it not for Dusty, we would not have known about ragdoll cats nor would we have gone on to adopt 4 additional raggies. And during the course of time he was sick, my mom, eternal cat lover and animal activist, managed to adopt 3 additional cats from the vet’s office. So all because of Dusty, 7 more cats found places in our lives. And anyone who says shelter animals need to be rescued never saw what it was like for a sweet and loving cat to be trapped in a cage with no place to rest but his litter box. He was rescued too and I hope we gave him a good life. I hope he knows how much we loved him. Rest in peace sweet Dusty.