By Gee Temp
September, in Australia, is the start of springtime and, of course, a most productive time when it comes to animal behaviour. One morning, towards the end of September, 1992, I decided to take a trailer-load of rubbish to the local tip (dump) which, in the rural area where I lived, was simply a shallow hole in the ground where refuse was thrown in. The tip was about two miles from the main road and in the midst of fairly dense forest. It was a quiet and serene place, despite the occasional smell of rotting materials and smoke from the small spot fires that helped collapse the mounting debris.
Rubbish tips can be interesting places and quite often I would end up bringing home stuff that others had thrown out, fix it up if necessary and use it. This fine day, after emptying all the junk from my trailer, I began to forage around looking for anything that might be repairable and useful. As I was doing this, another guy drove in and, as he was unloading his rubbish, we began to talk about the valuable materials some folk often tossed away. We chatted for about ten minutes, then he cleaned up and drove away. Suddenly, all was quiet again and I continued strolling around, enjoying the warmth of the morning sun's rays on my back. As I neared a particularly cluttered place a weak, high-pitched but pitiful sound reached my ears and, although unable to ascertain what it could be, I felt an urgency to locate it before anyone else came around dumping rubbish over the place.
Knowing that animal breeding was in full swing, I first thought it might be a small wild animal trapped somewhere or, perhaps, a bird or bat that had fallen from a nest from one of the tall eucalyptus in the forest. As I walked one way and then another the sounds would increase and decrease accordingly until, after much investigation, I discovered that they seemed to be coming from under an old torn mattress in a slight depression, itself half covered with numerous empty cans, bottles and the decomposed remains of a dead sheep.
Slipping down the slight but slimy slope to look around the mattress, the sounds became quite plain and I knew what I was looking for even although they remained unseen. Carefully moving rusty cans, cardboard boxes and other garbage, I removed a large tin can with five living kittens in it and carefully maneuvered my way back to ground level with the precious cargo.
Setting down at my car and trailer, I removed the kittens from their tin prison to warm up under the sun and next to my chest. Three were stark black, one was black with a some white patches and one was a typical tabby of grey, black, and white. I figured they must have been dumped there in the cold early hours of the same morning because wild dingoes, foxes, or other wild cats would surely have found and eaten them had they been left there from the previous night. Their umbilical cords were chewed through no doubt by the mother cat, but still with about an inch of cord attached. They were dirty and smelly from the stale contents of the large can they were in and I guessed they were only about one or two days old.
Odd emotions ran through my mind as I held these tiny little creatures that snuggled so close to me, seeking some sort of parental comfort, warmth, or food. I wondered how callous or stupid someone had to be to think that these newborn kittens might have survived in that hostile environment without milk or warmth. On the other hand, I praised God that He led me to that place, at that time.
Carefully driving home, I wondered how on Earth would I be able to keep the kittens alive. Once home, they were placed in a warm and well protected box and then I wondered what to do next as it was clear that they would not survive long without some desperately needed milk, but I also knew that cow's milk would probably be fatal for them. I phoned some friends until one told me that a special formula could be obtained from a certain place and that I would need a tiny bottle and teat to simulate the mother's supply.
Time was of the essence so I rushed around to obtain the necessary items as it was possible that the kittens had only obtained one or two feedings prior to their abandonment, and their appearance indicated that they would be lucky to survive much longer without immediate sustenance.
By mid afternoon, all was ready for their feeding and each was taken up in great apprehension, the weakest-looking being given first preference. Only two were mewing; the other three, all black, were silent and moving sluggishly.
Alas, it was a difficult process and very little of the life-fluid seemed to be swallowed, and my heart began to sink. The stronger two, however, managed to drink a little so, thinking they had had some nourishment, more of my time was spent with the three weakest ones. All afternoon I persevered with them and, although they managed to absorb a little of the formula, it seemed apparent that their energy was rapidly slipping away. I felt so helpless and, deep down, I suspected that these little ones were not going to "make it." I prayed for them, silly as it seemed at the time, as I bedded them down for the long night for, although the spring days are pleasant, the nights remained cold.
I slept fitfully for the first few hours of the night, getting up to check them until about 2 am before falling into a deep sleep from weariness. I bounced out of bed at 7 am and eagerly checked their condition. I was elated that they were all still alive but they were dreadfully cold and weak. More feeding was attempted but, this time, it was really a lost cause for only one appeared to consume enough that was sufficient for sustenance.
The day wore on with regular feeding attempts and little in the way of results. Another day and night passed.
Early the following morning, I lifted back their bed-covers to find that the weakest three had died during the night. I wept like a fool as I nursed and warmed the remaining two, the black and white and the tabby, both of them easily fitting into the palm of my hand as I pressed them to my chest, near my heart.
The three dead kittens were buried late in the afternoon and covered up in a tearful and despondent farewell. My morbidity would have prevailed but for the remaining two who still needed so much attention if a similar fate for them was to be avoided.
Thankfully, they both seemed to drink a little at each feeding and, thus, my grief for those that were lost was replaced by the urgency of the task still at hand.
Another night drew on and, for the first time, I began to feel some confidence that the remaining kits might survive as they were bedded down. It turned out to be a bitterly cold night, however, and I was shocked to find that the black and white one also died during the night. In my ignorance, I did not realize that the lack of the other three, despite their weakness, had contributed to their total warmth but I did not compensate for the lack on that occasion. I cursed and wept again over my stupidity. That was a very long day, made tolerable only by the concern to save the life of the tiny tabby that remained.
Tabby continued to drink and I purposely made sure that he was constantly warm, either by heating the covers for his bedding or keeping him next to my own body under my sweater. After another week of TLC (tender loving care), he suddenly began to put on a little weight and mewed quite often as strength seemed to fill his tiny, emasculated, frame. To our great delight, it looked like he was going to "make it."
The incredible joy of saving a little life helped a great deal in repressing the sadness that had engulfed me for the preceding ten days. In memory of the awful place where this little kitten was found, I named him "Tippy."
Tippy continued to thrive with each passing day and, at about his third week, his little eyes still unopened, he began to walk (and fall over) on the kitchen carpet.
Sadly, I have forgotten how much later before he opened his eyes, but I remember the moment vividly; my wife and I were lying on the lounge carpet in the early afternoon as Tippy mewed and waddled around between us in his darkness, hearing our voices and feeling our caresses. After about 30 minutes of this, one of his eyes slowly began to open and, about a minute later, so too the other one. It seemed that he could not actually "see" either of us but, no doubt, the impression of daylight was all that mattered as far as his sight was concerned. What a thrill it was! He stopped and blinked at his new experience. Soon he would put real faces to all the tender treatment he had been receiving over the previous few weeks. Our excitement and absolute joy at that moment could not have been more profound than if it had been one of our own children. Truly, it was a blessed event.
Within another week, he could see clearly and plainly related to us as his parents! What an incredible experience!
Tippy rapidly gained weight, strength and prowess as he toddled around as kittens do, investigating everything and getting into mischief.
One day, when Tippy was about eight weeks old, a neighbour visited and asked, "Hey, Gee, does Tippy want a brother?"
"Oh, no", I thought, one is enough.
"It'll probably get hit on the head if no-one takes him" my neighbour said as he observed my hesitation.
Suddenly it seemed like a really good idea having two kittens, about the same age, growing up together!
That afternoon, Tippy had a brother and playmate, "Bluey".
Bluey had almost identical markings as Tippy but was a bright ginger colour. They got on well together but Tippy seemed much more intelligent than Bluey, with the disparity becoming more obvious as they got older.
Except for the sad time of having him (and Bluey) neutered, Tippy enjoyed a wonderful kittenhood! So much time was spent with him that he anticipated many of my moves and responded to my voice, whistling, and some ungainly attempts at "mewing" to him for certain requirements. He was not too spoiled, however, as he received the occasional clip on the ear for naughty behaviour, scratching or vicious fighting. So did Bluey, but Tippy was learning so much more quickly.
As time progressed, Tippy readily responded to various commands and callings, but it was his apparent ability to "speak" and "reply" to words that caught everyone's attention. For instance, by calling his name he would respond with an inquisitive "m"yowp" as much as to say, "Yes Dad?" Mentioning certain foods or drinks brought similar responses, each with a definite tone and volume. His voluntary obedience was astounding and would put many children to shame, sad to say. If he could not open a door or cupboard or something else, he would rush up and "say" something until I followed and assisted in his endeavour. Similar things occurred if he was cold, hot, or uncomfortable.
Now, I fully appreciate that there are many other animal lovers who have "brilliant" companions that follow their owners' bidding as Tippy did but, most probably, these animals are "trained" to do their wonderful works. Tippy did them through comprehension! He could be casually "shown" once or twice and, thereafter, he readily understood what he should do for those particular circumstances. I have had many cats and dogs as companions but none like, or as smart as, Tippy.
Tippy matured into a very good-looking cat, considering that a lot of toms are often broad-faced and tough looking. Although we lived on five acres of bushland that contained numerous species of large and small wildlife, I never knew Tippy to ever attack or make prey of those creatures. Bluey did! Bluey would often bring home a small snake, rabbit, or bird to me and I could only imagine that he ate many others, despite all the training to try and stop him doing those things.
Tippy and I often went for walks together and he rarely left my side. As crazy as it sounds, we also "talked" to each other about that thing over there or this thing over here. We also played hide and seek among the dense bushes that covered about an acre of the property and, needless to say, he always found me whereas I seldom found him. I would usually get down on all fours to try and become as inconspicuous as possible whilst, at the same time, trying to entice Tippy to come out so I could "grab" him. Invariably, Tippy would sneak around my flanks or from behind before jumping on me or somehow scaring the daylights out of me and then running away. Eventually we would get tired and go home and, through mutual understanding and respect, we would each leave the other alone until around mealtime.
What happy days they were. The sun seemed to shine nicer, too, unlike today when, during the same seasons, the heat can be unbearable or the rains are chilled by icy winds - a seeming result of a suffering world, long devoid of love and compassion.
The next six or seven years rolled by so very fast. My sons grew to maturity; my second eldest getting married and moving out. He, too, was very close to Tippy and they communicated exceedingly well. However, against my better judgement, I let Tippy go with my son to their rented home, about 10 miles distant. Well, I still had big, ginger, Bluey who, although affectionate, could not be compared to Tippy, our beloved friend who spoke his mind and preferred to share in the things that humans did.
Every now and then I would get to visit my son and take the opportunity to renew the friendship with Tippy (or "Tipps" he was often called) and they were great times. Tippy would sometimes investigate and castigate me as much as to say, "Where have you been for so long, Daddy?" and we would try to make up for the absence by rolling around the floor and playing games or simply going for walks together.
My son made a few house moves before finding a suitable abode to settle in and Tippy always adapted without any problems. He seemed content wherever his human "relatives" went.
In late April, 2001, during the beautiful season of autumn, my son and his wife had a chance to go away for a month and they arranged for Tippy to be boarded at a cattery a couple of miles out of town. This seemed so unnecessary, I thought, when Tipps could have stayed with me but my son indicated that he did not want to burden me with such things. Anyway, that is what happened and Tippy found himself in the situation of being surrounded by common felines, albeit in a very comfortable and large pen on his own. I visited Tipps every second day and, each time, he greeted me with intense affection and seemed to cry to me not to leave. It did not sit well with me, at all, and after about ten days I decided it would be much better to bring Tippy out of the cattery to stay with us at our property until my son and his wife got back home.
Hardly had these considerations been decided when I received a phone call from the cattery owner:- Could I come over quickly as something was wrong with Tippy! The lady's voice had a tone of urgency about it and my heart leapt around in my chest. In no time flat I was at the cattery and the dear lady led me to Tippy's pen. Tippy was on a large mat on the floor of the pen sitting up, supported by his front legs, but with his rear legs at a strange angle and, seemingly, lifeless. He looked and acted perfectly normal but for the obvious inability to move about. The owner and I briefly went over the possibilities of what might be wrong and eventually concluded that Tippy had been sleeping on a blanket on the upper level of his sleeping area and, during the night or early hours had fallen off, landing on the ground about five feet below. Now we know that cats seldom hurt themselves if they fall from such a height and, yet, Tippy appeared to be unable to move around. We then concluded that he might have collided with the metal bar that formed part of the support structure of his sleeping area and, as a result, injured his back. Tippy did not seem to be in pain as I felt his spine but I was dismayed and fearful to feel that his rear legs were so cold. Carefully wrapping him up in a blanket, I brought him home. It was a Sunday and finding a veterinary surgeon at that time would be most difficult so, making him comfortable, my wife and I kept constant watch over him as the day progressed and, to all appearances, he was in good spirits and in no pain or discomfort. He was, nevertheless, unable to move other than to haul himself along by the strength of his front legs and torso so I confined him to a container to limit his movements. Initially, I thought that he had simply badly bruised and numbed his back from hitting the bar from the fall but, in the back of my mind was the dreadful thought that his back was broken at some point. Could he move with a broken spine, I wondered? Surely that would cause intense pain? It was a long day. That night I woke many times to check him, hoping to see that he might be mobile once again. Alas, the next morning, he still remained lifeless from the hips rearward.
An appointment was made to visit a veterinary at 11 am on the Monday, and Tippy meowed happily as we comforted him in the journey of some 20 miles. He was happy; we were not. An x-ray was taken and I was told the shocking news that Tippy's vertebra was cracked about five links from the tail and that he had no sensation of feeling from that point down. Oh, what to do?! The vet considered that nothing could be done other than to try and keep Tippy immobilized in the hope that the nerves would eventually link, a remote possibility. The vet did not suggest a plaster cast and I felt that another opinion was required. My heart sank as we drove home. I contacted another veterinary and an appointment was made for the morrow. It was another long day of keeping constant watch over our dearly beloved pal and companion and it was becoming apparent that his inactivity was making him morose and weary. Tippy was bedded down for the night, and the brightness he had displayed earlier was disappearing. Again, I checked him many times during the night and was amazed, at about 6 am, that he had managed to lift himself out of his container and was laying on the floor, awake and trying to move around. Was he getting better? No - his face showed all the signs of distress, frustration, and misery. He refused anything to eat or drink and I fitfully stayed with him, planning to remain until it was time to go to the vet at 9 am. Propping myself against the wall, I carefully placed Tippy on my lap and we rested there for the duration. At 8.30 am, Tippy began to look delirious, his head gently rolling from side to side. I went into panic mode and quickly raced to the car, placing him close to me on the passenger seat. We were hardly in motion before Tippy began to convulse. "No, Tippy, Nooo!" I screamed as we sped on, Tippy repeatedly going in and out of consciousness. My beloved friend, companion and baby was dying right before my tear-filled eyes. "Whyyyyy?"
In no time we were at the surgery and I gave a quick and blubbery description of the circumstances to the girl attendant. Understandingly, she said she would get the vet to administer oxygen as soon as possible in the hope that Tippy would be revived enough to be examined properly. She told me to call back at 11 am.
Oh, dear God, a ray of hope, I thought.
As she took Tippy from me, I felt his claws dig tightly into my shoulder and we had to pry them loose before she could take him. He gave a weak and muffled growl as we separated and she took him behind a swinging door.
I drove home in awful sadness, knowing that Tippy's life was in the balance. What was going on, I continually wondered? How could he be so well, despite the damage to his spine, and yet collapse so suddenly; so quickly? What complications had set in? For the next couple of hours I felt in a daze as Tippy's life history, especially his baby years, constantly wound their ways through my mind.
At exactly 11 am, in a very emotional state of mind, I phoned the surgery for some hopeful and good news on Tippy's condition.
"Oh, sir; I'm sorry to tell you that Tippy died soon after you left; we didn't even have time to give him any oxygen!!!"
I felt numb. One of my "children" had died!
If only I could have passed out to avoid the pain that her words conveyed.
In a state too difficult to describe, I despondently went back to collect my Tippy.
He was still wrapped in his blanket. Still soft. Still handsome. He looked beautiful.
Once back home, he was laid out in the lounge room. It took ages for me to get him right; to make him comfortable. I brushed his fur over and over for a long time, hours maybe, until the well of tears had run dry.
We had an oak tree in our gardens that I had planted as an acorn. It was about five years old and still growing majestically. I went there that afternoon and began digging a grave very close to it, knowing that as the tree continued to grow, its roots would touch the spot where Tippy would finally lay. It was in my mind that whenever I would see that tree full grown, in all the mighty majesty that oaks possess, I would remember that Tippy's remains had helped nourish it and that part of its glory came from my loving and lovable little buddy.
I did not sleep much that night and awoke early in the morning of the ninth day of May, 2001. I spent a number of minutes re-brushing Tippy before carrying his now stiff body to its resting place. Removing his collar, I placed it, with his feeding bowl, at one end of his grave and gently, ever so gently, laid Tippy to rest, fully covering his dear little head and frame with the blanket.
Tippy was aged eight years and seven months.
I have since sold that property for something much smaller within the rural town precincts. It is about 12 miles distant from where we were and, whenever we visit friends who still live in the area, we drive past our former home, which is just off the highway, to see how the oak tree is growing. It is nearly twenty years old, now, and really big. I love looking at that tree.
1. Just before my Mother died (also in 2001), she told me a story about how I nearly drowned as an 18 month old. Although she had told me about it before, this time, she mentioned something that had never been previously disclosed to me.
We were living on Flinders Island, a mass of land between Victoria and Tasmania at the southern region of Australia. I had wandered, alone, down to the beach. Our pet dog came rushing to the house door, barking frantically, and dashing back and forth towards the beach. My Mother followed the dog and found me floating, face down, in knee-deep water. Plainly, I survived but she told me, for the first time, that the dog's name was "Tippy." I wondered if she was inventing the name so, one day, I asked my older brother about it. "Yes," he said, "Tippy was his name."
2. About six months after Tippy's death, my wife and I were visiting an elderly lady friend when she said, "I'm trying to get rid of a stray cat that keeps hanging around; would you like it or do you think you'd be able to find it a home for me, please?" We did not really want another cat after what we had just been through so we offered to try and find a home for it. She said, "I'll go and get it then." A few minutes later she returned with - I kid you not - the living image of Tippy! It was almost unbelievable and certainly uncanny! My son and his wife were still grieving over Tippy's loss but, when they saw this kitten, a female about 12 weeks old, it was love at first sight. "Tippy Two" has had a lot of training and, except for the communication aspects, is as intelligent and clever as her namesake. She, too, is beautiful and is now nearly five years old.
3. As for Bluey, well, he is still with us and he will be 14 this year (2006). He and Tippy did not really get on very well together, despite our good intentions. Bluey is a very big cat and was a "mouser" and loved the outdoors whereas Tippy seemed to be above such banal animal antics and preferred being with humans. Bluey has become very lovable in his maturity and we love him dearly, too.
23 September, 1992 - 8 May, 2001
(Written 9th May, 2001)
Thoughtlessly dumped on the scrap-heap of life,
Alone, he survived, midst trial and strife.
The odds were against him but, with love, he had found
The power over weakness and, in health, did abound.
We watched his first steps, (Oh, how shaky they seemed)
And awaited the day till his little eyes beamed.
And what did he see? Why a strange thing, indeed,
"Twas humans his parents - his friends in need.
As he grew and he prospered he gave us such joy,
He was part of our family, our own little "boy."
He partook of our nature as though it was his own,
Not wanting to leave us or be all alone.
Grown up, at last, he adapted to change,
He went here and yon, to homes new and strange.
But never he faltered, his trust always strong.
He "spoke" and he "talked" with us, every day long.
Mischief he tried, wild games he played,
Causing such worry when risks he displayed.
Knocks and abrasions, and hurt to his hips,
But never complaint did betray his sweet lips.
But fate was his watcher, and little we knew,
That our "baby" was destined to seek pastures new.
His calling was swift, it was early in day,
When God in His mercy, called him away.
Oh, Tippy, our treasure, we miss you so much,
No more your dear voice, no more your soft touch.
But though we are parted, your love no more shared,
We know that we'll meet, where your place is prepared.
Dear God, oh, we pray, when you call for us, too,
That we find in your Kingdom the loved ones we knew.
And 'mid all those loved ones we pray without end,
That dear Tippy awaits us, forever-our friend.