By Jeanine Kitchel
When we moved to Mexico in 1997, we took our three month old cat with us, too. His name is Max, he was born on the 4th of July, and we got him from the San Francisco SPCA on Union Square where they’d set up a tent and were trying to unload kittens. There were little charmers in the cage and Max was the most bodacious of the bunch. Even when a two-alarm SF fire truck went raging past, he didn’t back away while I was trying to pet him through the wire. He was the one.
He’s been neutered and had his shots. That was his life story–and what was ours, the SPCA authority asked. Well, we explained, we were leaving for Mexico in a few weeks and wanted to take a cat with us. We were cat lovers and we trusted the SPCA when looking for a kitty.
Ohhh, not so fast, we were told. How could they be sure we’d provide a good life for the cat south of the border? In Mexico!
Wait a minute, was this really happening? Were we being questioned about our capacity to provide a risk-free life for our new kitty by the San Francisco SPCA?
Apparently so. By this time we had over-bonded with newly named Max, and just thinking about him not in our lives was almost unbearable. Paul, my husband, must have done some real talking about then, because in half an hour we were trotting away with Mr. Max.
Oddly though, in looking back over the past 14 years, we came to see that Ms. SPCA may have had a leg to stand on. Max has endured some unbelievable ordeals, many man made. Let me elaborate. He didn’t get the nickname “Milagro Gato” or Miracle Cat from our trusted Cancun vet for nada.
First of all, Quintana Roo in those days was very unsettled and downright wild as far as critters go. It was literally a jungle in much of Puerto Morelos and our house sat a mile out of town. We had very few neighbors back then and the mangroves across the sascab road were full of, well, varmints: gray foxes, crocodiles, boa constrictors, monkeys, and coatamundis. Also to add to the neighborhood combat list — beach dogs and stray cats. Non-neutered cats.
As life rolled along I realized Max was probably the only neutered cat in all of Quintana Roo. All the strays still had
their testosterone. I could tell by the midnight cat fights that woke me; I’d jump out of bed, open the screen door, and clap my hands a few times to curtail the fight. That usually worked and Max would haul his battered buns inside the house to sleep off his late night wake-up call, and to realize he was indeed a stranger in a strange land.
By now of course he was tri-lingual: English, Spanish and Mayan, but somehow his 4th of July birthday must have given him away and every stray seemed to know he was a gringo through and through.
He’d cat around in those early days, and often when we went back to the US I’d hear neighbors say, Max was over, or we saw Max in the mangroves. When we went back to the US for months at a time we left him with caretakers. Basically their only job was to feed him. I received an email from a neighbor that said he’d lost all his hair and he was as skinny as the pink panther so obviously something was amiss.
We’d assumed the simple task of feeding him was taking place but when we returned home we saw a raggedy cat with no fur from his midsection to his tail. The caretakers said he wasn’t eating. After checking his food supply –now Whiskas–what happened to the bags of Science Diet I’d left–I discovered it was moldy. We dragged him to the vet. Malnutrition had caused the hair loss and the ungas. Ung-what? It was a fungus, the vet explained, and if we applied a topical cream it would go away. From then on we asked the neighbor to check in on him while we were gone.
Although Max was usually an outdoor cat who’d use a flapper door for easy in and out privileges, about a year ago he shrank from any open door for a good two days. We were flummoxed because he liked being outside rather than in. A day or so later the gardener found a four-foot boa in the front yard, and we assumed this was Max’s reasoning for avoiding the outdoors. We marveled at what he saw on those dark jungle nights, and how he managed to stay alive. But there was no way he’d stay inside full time. Not his style. Early on he’d cavort inside and out of our gated property throwing caution to the wind as he ran across the street. But a few years ago he started avoiding going out the gate as the road got busier (it’s paved now). He hung back and restricted himself to being inside the high walls. His nine lives must have been knocking. Over the years we saw why our vet called him the milagro gato. When we first took him to see the vet at the tender age of 6, he’d nicknamed him that. Why milagro gato? Why miracle cat? we’d asked. No cat can live in the jungle that long! he’d explained. He’s ‘un milagro.’ And that he is. To this day.
By Jeanine Kitchel