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by Blair Highton Daniels
Hank won my heart the first time he stretched those little kitty paws up to my shoulders and nestled his perfectly formed furry head under my chin. He was two weeks old and needed a mother. He deserved love and he needed a parent to embrace and protect him. I promised him over and over again, that we would be together forever and I would make sure he had a wonderful life: full of toys, treats, games, and endless hours of lap love. Eight years later and countless hours of grasshopper- and lizardchasing, Hank and I are as close as a mother and child could possibly be. Hank and his brothers (more fosters did not make it back to their little lockers either) would snuggle up together at the foot of my bed and sleep.
A beloved pet. A woman's life touched by losses that could not be undone. A tiny thread of breath, about to sputter out like a candle in the wind. One woman's refusal to say goodbye and one cat's determination to hang on for dear life.
He was no bigger than the palm of my hand. In fact, he barely filled it when he came to live with me. He was the runt of the litter. Kind of like my brother, the youngest of five children and the only boy. It was an easy choice for his name. He would be named for my brother. Henry. But Henry has variations like Hal, Harry or Hank. That’s it! Hank is his name, like Hank Aaron, the slugger baseball player who broke Babe Ruth’s home run record. Hank would have to be a warrior. I just didn’t know looking at this tiny ball of fur that he would have
to fight for his life quite so valiantly. In April of 2003, my maternal instincts, the need to care and protect, drove me to the North County Humane Society in Oceanside, California. Foster parenting kittens, I thought, would satisfy my desire to care for something completely dependent upon me. I failed as a foster mother, falling madly in love with my first foster kitten and refusing to return him to an 18 by 24 inch locker surrounded by little furry friends waiting for new parents.
Hank at eight weeks
It was a full moon night and the star-studded sky was illuminated, giving a false sense of security. It was time for all cats to come in and rest their nocturnal instincts.
Hank was taking a shortcut under the backyard fence, unaware of a predator following silently behind. The coyote latched onto his left hindlimb as he slipped under the fence, ten feet from my bedroom door.
When I saw the fresh blood smears on my tile floor, I knew that something was terribly wrong. I frantically searched for the victim. Perhaps the cats caught a rabbit, maybe an oversized gopher. Nothing. I couldn’t find anything! The closet. It must be in my closet. “Oh my God”, I screamed as my son, Shawn, dashed into the room. It was Hank. He was curled up in a fetal position, blood oozing from his hind leg saturating the soft white pillow upon which he lay. Wrapped in a warm towel and meowing throughout the ride, Hank cried in pain. Anything but silence, please, just let me know that he is still alive. We arrived at California Veterinary Specialists in Carlsbad, California. They were expecting Hank and took him back for an examination immediately. I begged them to save Hank’s life. How could they possibly know how much this cat meant to me? Hank was in critical condition. He needed x-rays and possibly emergency surgery. The pet hospital needed money. They would not do anything without a sizable down payment. I handed them my credit card. I gazed through tears at the other pet parents, some waiting for medical news, others desperate to find a friend or family member for a loan or a credit card number. They were losing their pets, and nothing could be done without that down payment. The news came quickly. Hank stood a good chance of survival. He was not out of the woods but he would make it through the night in the Critical Care Unit. The surgical team would make a decision in the morning regarding exploratory surgery. “Breathe, Blair,” I told myself as I exhaled. Hank was where he needed to be and would be given the best possible care, provided I stop by the lobby counter to pay the bill for the emergency medical treatment Hank received on the dreaded fullmoon night.$3,470.00. Yes, you read it right. Out came the credit card again. I have been a Marine Corps widow for 26 years. I raised my two sons from diapers to college graduation caps. I worked hard to make a comfortable life for us. We are a family of modest means. I went back to college while working part-time and was able to maintain my home, love, discipline, and protect my sons, and found the energy to volunteer with atrisk youth in the community before accepting a full-time teaching position at our local middle school 13 years ago. I am a mother, a teacher, a nurturer, a lifesaver and Burn Institute Hero. (I pulled an 86-year-old woman out of her burning garage, and gave CPR to a woman on a Royal Caribbean cruise ship.) It was ingrained in my character to do the right thing, no matter the cost. I was raised to muster strength in times of crisis. Yet, as an eight-yearold, I had no control over the
sudden and unexpected death of my mother; nor over the death of my husband ten days before I was to celebrate my 30th birthday. Seasons have come and gone, my sons are adults following their own life paths, and after all these years, my heart still yearns for a chance to say I love you and farewell to my mother and my husband.
With Hank, it was different. I could save him. I could keep my promise that we would be together for a very long time. I didn’t have any alternatives, in my heart, I wasn’t afforded a choice. Even as the surgeon, Dr. Sarit Dhupa, made that dreaded call on September 22nd as Hank underwent major surgery, I wouldn’t let him die. The doctor explained that the surgery was not going as well as expected and that if I wanted them to stop, we could let Hank go. “No, dear God, please, no,” I silently prayed with the phone receiver in my trembling hand.
With impeccable skill, profound knowledge, and sheer determination, Dr. Dhupa saved Hank’s life. Little did he know, he saved me from incredible pain and anguish that afternoon. Healing hands work miracles. And the love of family and friends expedite the process. John, my eldest son, Shawn, his younger brother, and I spent time with Hank every single day. He was always glad to see us. It was incredibly difficult day after day to relinquish him back to the vet assistants.
For obvious reasons, I didn’t spend the night in the hospital with him, but if I could, you can bet I would have. Hank was granted a clean bill of health and released from the hospital on October 3, 2011. He is thriving at home and we are so glad we made the decision to spare no cost to save his life. He made it through this incredibly horrific experience. Yes, he is confined to the great indoors every night as the sun sets after our outdoor play sessions. Our baby is back and thriving!
The Healing Hank Fund at Bank of America Oceanside
Throughout her difficult ordeal, Blair and her sons extended their finances to the point where Blair wiped out her savings account and put additional charges on her son’s credit card. The total amount for Hank’s medical care is: $10,803.59. Family and friends of Blair and her sons have set up the Healing Hank Fund in Blair Daniels’s name at Bank of America, Oceanside California. If you have been touched by this brave and loving woman’s story you are invited to send a contribution to help defray the expenses of saving Hank’s life. Contributions are to be made to Blair H. Daniels Account # 075800000470 Routing Numbers: 122000661 (paper) /
One of many invoices for Hank’ s care, for a total of $10,803.59
121000358 (electronic) / 026009593 (wires)
Blair Highton Daniels was born and grew up in Virginia Beach, Virginia. In 1976, she married
Marine Corps Staff Sergeant John J. Daniels, Jr., who died in 1985. Blair has taught since 2000 in the Oceanside Unified School District, teaching Language Arts and U. S. History. She is the mother of sons John, 28, and Shawn, 26. Blair resides at 3892 Magnolia Drive, Oceanside CA 92058-- joined by her beloved Hank and his feline siblings!
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