Yuki’s Story of Courage
Camouflaged by darkness, a small black cat limped out from under a fence into the parking area of an industrial site. The site was also the location of a Trap-Neuter-Return project, organized by Best Friends Animal Society. The homeless and feral cats trapped at this site were bound for FixNation, where the trapped cats would be spayed, neutered, receive rabies and distemper shots and finally eartipped.
The chill of Los Angeles winter nights was setting in. The night before, a Momma cat and her two kittens jumped down from a wall separating the site from an apartment complex. Hungry, all three cats walked into the humane traps that Kristine, the trapper, had baited with food. Kristine left with the three cats she caught, planning to come back the next night to try again; her experience taught her there had to be more cats living at the site.
This evening Kristine had returned, set, and baited a drop trap. She sat in her van to wait from a distance. Then, carefully and deliberately, moving their way gracefully around and through debris left by workers, cats of all colors emerged, this time from under the apartment fence, drawn by the aroma of an unexpected meal coming from the propped up trap, an object they had never seen before. The odd gait of a black cat caught Kristine’s attention. His forward movement was unsteady. As the cat awkwardly maneuvered toward the trap, he shifted his weight away from his left side, favoring his right front leg. Once at the trap, he sat, wearily taking advantage of the available light to assess the object in front of him and the food inside it. With some effort, he pushed himself up and entered the trap.
Inside the trap, the other cats left as soon as the black cat went to the food. Kristine quietly approached the trap and saw that there was no hair on the cat’s left leg. The leg appeared to be seriously injured. She decided to focus her efforts that night on trapping this little black cat. She watched him. He took a few bites from the food bowl and turned away. As he left the trap, the other cats returned, but rejected him again when he tried to join them. He was alone. As trappers know, it’s not unusual for another cat to get in the way of one’s master plan. And tonight was no exception.
A calico cat wended its way around the trap, a trusting cat, a cat that had no idea about drop traps. It stopped before entering the trap all the way; neither in nor out of the trap. Insuring that Kristine couldn’t pull the release rope, this new kitty sat there, at the abyss, looking around, probably thinking. Then it got up, went over to the food, scooped up a bite and exited the trap to chew in peace, elsewhere. The injured cat stayed put. There was a moment of quiet. It was now or never. Kristine yanked the rope. With a resounding crack, the plastic prop flew up sharply against the rebar weights of the trap, then high into the air, with the rope snaking after it. The trap dropped to the ground fast and heavy. All the cats tore into the darkness, leaving the injured black cat behind, inside a place it had never seen before.
After Kristine transferred the black cat to a smaller trap, she lifted the cover to take in the extent of his injury. He had no fur up to his shoulder. His claws were blackened and disfigured as if there were no circulation reaching his paw. She saw one spot on his leg where there was a hole; it was bleeding. As Kristine lowered the trap cover, the little black cat lay down calmly, protecting his injured leg with his body.
Early the next morning, as powerful winds swooped and whirled throughout the Los Angeles basin, Kristine transported the trapped, injured cat to FixNation, where one of the vets on duty, Dr. Snook, examined his paw and leg. The cat no longer had skin on his leg. Dr. Snook saw that the injury had torn the nerves at the upper joint of his left leg, causing the limb to lose function and sensation. Without function and sensation, the black cat began self-mutilating to remove his dead leg.
The choices were either to amputate the leg or humanely euthanize the injured cat. Dr. Snook prepared for surgery.
The surgery to remove the black cat’s injured leg lasted thirty minutes. Some of his nerves had stretched out and had become infected. In addition to nerve damage, he suffered from anemia brought on by a severe flea infestation. Finally, the operation over, Jeana, the Head Vet Tech at FixNation, placed the black cat in a kennel, where she could observe him, and he could recover safely.
When Kristine learned from Dr. Snook that the injured cat would survive, she looked for a name to give him that suited his brave journey, not only through the hostel world homeless cats navigate, but also the experience of removing his own limb, which could no longer support him. Finally, she settled on ‘Yuki’, which means courage in Japanese.
Inside the kennel, Yuki slowly emerged from the anesthesia. When cats regain consciousness after surgery, they struggle unsuccessfully to right themselves, but their balance is off. They often hallucinate. And it was the same for Yuki. But in his case, his attempts to stand were complicated by the absence of his left front leg. However, because of the state of his leg, prior to surgery, Yuki already knew how to function with three good legs. His prognosis was good; provided he didn’t return to the industrial site.
Animals who lose limbs don’t view themselves as amputees. They don’t experience stigma. They feel better when the bad limb is removed. But if Yuki went back to the industrial site, his survival would be compromised because larger animals would perceive his three limbs as weakness, and he could become the target of their predation. If Yuki were to thrive, he would have to be placed in a foster home until he fully recovered, then he could be relocated to a sanctuary. That was the plan. Best Friends Animal Society placed Yuki on the sanctuary waiting list.
In the meantime, there was no foster home available for Yuki. Kristine brought Yuki back to the holding location where the TNR cats stay the nights before and after spay and neuter surgery. She set up an enclosure for him so he could start moving around, but he wouldn’t get up. Kristine sensed Yuki was becoming depressed. She attempted to sooth him, but whenever she carefully drew near, Yuki pulled back, issuing a deep guttural roll, warning her to stay away.
Continuing to care for him, Kristine transferred Yuki to an expanded pen where he could see more of his new environment. She allowed him free access to roam the holding rooms. Yuki learned to trust Kristine. No longer backing away when she reached down to touch him, Yuki eventually let Kristine pick him up, without protest, and hold him.
If Yuki was semi-feral, he is tame, now. He affectionately leans into Kristine’s hand for plenty of head and ear scratches. These days, when Yuki rests in her arms, Kristine detects, as if coming from a distant place deep within his body, the reverberation of contentment.
Although he is in good care with Kristine, Yuki needs a foster home where he can receive attention around the clock. As of now, there is not space for him in a sanctuary. Yuki is still waiting for a home.
- written by Síla ÓGrádaigh