Skin and bones, empty stomachs and squinted eyes was what I saw when I peered into the carrier of kittens the couple had brought into the shelter. The five kittens were at the endpoint of starvation and I let the couple know that it was unlikely they would make it to the end of the day. Dubbed the saplings in hopes that they would grow into strong trees, the kittens began the long process of taking on nutrition. One, then two, passed away within the first 12 hours. The remaining three started playing and eating and then, three, another passed. A sweet white female and an energetic chocolate tabby male remained. I was hopeful when the little boy started chatting and running to me with excitement at every feeding. Then, four, he passed. All that remained was one thin sapling. Her bright blue eyes were squinted and dirty, she was lethargic and quiet, but eating. After seven days, her eyes began to clear and her belly started to grow. Then suddenly, she burst out into the room and flew after a ping pong ball. Sapling had arrived.
This was just the beginning of my adventure with Sapling. I introduced solid food and it came back up. Sapling wanted to eat but couldn’t hold anything thicker that baby food down. One piece of kibble would send her into a choking fit. She would cry and tear at her throat, sometimes until she bled. Often, sedation was the only way to calm her. Many of these times I sat on the floor in tears cradling her, wondering if the suffering was too much, counting the seconds until the pain medication started easing her anguish. Then, as quickly as it came on, it would pass and Sapling would be purring and playing.
When Sapling is happy, she is exuberant, full of affectionate and curiosity. She had made it this far, I was determined to give her every chance. At the specialty veterinarian, she was diagnosed with a Persistent Right Aortic Arch and scheduled for surgical repair. During surgery, I ventilated for Sapling and watched as the restricting bands were removed, freeing her esophagus. I saw her strong heart beating in her open chest. Sapling woke up as soon as the anesthesia ended, stood right up. She was ready to start the rest of her life.
At home, Sapling spent one day resting and then resumed being a kitten. Only this time, she could eat without pain. Sapling instantly thrived and soon went home with the couple that fell in love with her.
Today, I cleaned the rooms she had played in. I recalled the tiny, starving kitten that I met 8 weeks before. The joy of her first run and the anguish of her painful struggle. Then I looked at the photo of her beaming in her new home and the comments of all those that became a part of her journey. Her fans, her supporters, her heroes; those that make it possible for a tiny sapling to grow into a strong, vibrant tree.