They call them Fur Babies.
I consider myself to be a strong, manly, straight-to-the-point kind of guy … usually. But I have to admit that I’ve embraced the term Fur Babies. It fits. They’re furry, for one and also, they’re my babies. I have four of them right now, three of which live in my house and I consider them a part of the family, not just pets. They’re the reason I’ve settled on pet memorials as my new line of business that I’ll be focusing on heavily over the next few months.
But I’m not going to tell you about the Fur Babies my family currently cares for. I’m going to talk about some of my hairy children from over the past 25 years of mine and my wife’s marriage. Because if you call me crazy about animals, you’d be right to call her completely off her rocker for them. I’m Michael Blackston and this is episode 22 of Funny Messy Life.
I feel like I need to make a disclaimer first. When I started writing out the blog for this episode, I wanted to go a little funny, but also a little warm and fuzzy. I didn’t expect what I ended up with, which is, to me, a tear jerker. So maybe you should think about having some tissues handy, or a sleeve, or a napkin from that pile you keep beside you in the car from all the fast food stops. Because if you’re an animal lover like me, you might need it.
Over the lifespan of our marriage, my wife and I have cared for a whole lot of animals. We’ve had to draw a line because there was a time our hearts were so soft that we’d take in a homeless possum if we thought it needed help. They could have made one of those disgusting Hoarders shows about us at one point, or at least that’s what it felt like.
And to be completely honest here, I have to admit that I was usually the culprit bringing home mangy, flea-ridden, skinny, stinky critters I found on the side of the road. After a while, my wife finally said, Michael, enough with the hippies. If I see one more flower crown or or have to hear yellow submarine one more time, I’m gonna hurt someone. Peace and love, my …… you get the picture. We decided to rescue animals instead. They bathe more.
I was responsible for them, top, though. I have had jobs over the years that put me right in the line of fire when it comes to big ol’ puppy dog eyes or adorable kittens and I’ve brought a bunch of the home.
So let me go to the old mind kennel and pick out a couple or three of our Fur Babies to tell you about. The problem is, I love them all so much, it’s hard to choose.
I’ll start off with one of the most beautiful cats you’ve ever laid eyes on. The Rum Tum Tugger. We just called him Tugger, but if you know anything about Broadway musicals, you’ll recognize the name as the cool cat from the Andrew Lloyd Webber musical, CATS. In fact, we’ve had several animals that we named after characters from Broadway shows. There was Bustopher Jones, Erik, spelled with a K after the first name of the Phantom of the Opera, Old Deuteronomy, which is biblical, I guess, but actually she was an enormous Green Iguana we raised from a baby, who lived for eleven years and was named after - you guessed it - a character from CATS.
Anyway, back to Tugger. I was working as a bill collector. You might remember me talking about how much I hated that job in the last episode - episode 21, but there were a few things I took from that experience that were positives and Tugger was one of them. I literally took him from his home while doing time as an Assistant Manager for World Finance Corporation.
I was doing what we called Chasing. I’m told they’ve made laws against it now, but it was basically going out to someone’s house who was avoiding our nagging, incessant phone calls trying to get them to pay us. I’d knock on their door and confront with something along the lines of, Hey … how’s about you pay me? But when I got to Tugger’s home, I understood why they hadn’t been answering their phone. They’d skipped town and I’d be having to do what we called Skip Tracing. Skip Tracing involves putting on your detective suit - mine comes with a cool plastic badge and writing mit - and tracking them down any way you can so that when you finally catch up to them, you surprise them by showing up at their nephew’s wedding reception and saying, Hey … How’s about you pay me?
They had taken everything not nailed down to the trailer. Well, everything accept one. They left the cat. Not only had they left the cat behind without any food or water, but it had been an inside cat that wasn’t used to hunting for food. How do I know this? Because the poor thing had been declawed.
I was about to leave and give my manager the stinky news that our customer had flown the coop when I heard a sound behind me. I turned and saw this amazing, long haired Himalayan with the biggest, brightest blue eyes coming toward me, crying for help. He was gaunt. He hadn’t eaten for days and he didn’t understand what was going on. All he knew was that the people he thought loved him had left and he wasn’t being fed and he was scared to death. After I made sure that he wouldn’t eat my face if I tried to touch him, I picked him up and I could feel every rib he had. He looked at me with those eyes, cried with that voice, and started to purr because finally, someone was showing him some love.
It was over for me after that. I put him in the car and called my manager to tell him that I was taking the rest of the day off.
The Rum Tum Tugger seemed to fit his look and so we became the proud parents of one of the sweetest, most appreciative felines to ever grace the face of this here earth. Of course there were a few issues that went along with resuming a cat who had been declawed and then set out in the wild to fens for himself, namely the issue that he hated every other animal he came into contact with and would try to eat their face. we had a couple of other cats and no matter what we tried, he would not get along with them. He wanted one thing - to eat their face. Imagine you’re another cat and your caretakers surprise you one day by bringing home a beautiful, show quality zombie bent on your destruction. It’s a love-hate relationship. You want to be friends because the new guy is so beautiful and majestic; so perfect. Unfortunately, the new guy is out for your blood and if you get anywhere near him, he will absolutely try to devour your soul.
Obviously, Tugger got sequestered from the other cats. He really couldn’t do much because he was declawed, but he didn't know that and neither did the other cats? We hated having to close him in, but we couldn’t find a home for him and it was better than leaving him to die. He became our bedroom cat and he seemed just fine that way. He only had one other problem. He would sit inside his letter pan and crap over the side onto the floor. But we loved our Tugger and he lived a happy life for a long while until we came home one night and found he had crossed the rainbow bridge.
My rescue efforts didn’t stop there. On another excursion of trying to find my customers so they would pay their bill, I ran into a tumultuous situation in the middle of the road and made the decision to put my life in danger. Right in the middle of the road was a tiny puppy, only a three or four weeks old, staring down the teeth of a large pit bull. Had I not gotten there when I did, this puppy, also a pit bull, would have become lunch. I didn’t even think about it. I ground my car to a stop in front of them, got out and barreled toward the big, angry pit bull … hungry pit bull? HANGRY pit bull, and yelled the magic sounds my father, and his father, and his father before him used to vanquished unwanted beasts from our midst. The magic words sound like this: Kyanh heyunh. GAWN GIT!
The monster dog ran away because he’d heard the magic words before and knew they sometimes preceded a heavy object flying in his direction. I didn’t have a heavy object, so I was glad my bluff worked. Then I looked down at the cowering, shaking little puppy and realized what must have happened. He was covered from head to foot in mange. He was a sick puppy and I think the mama dog must have booted him from the litter, leaving him pray to whatever got there first. I couldn’t leave him there.
I picked him up and took him home where my wife and I nursed him as well as we could, then took him to the vet.
Demadectic mange was the diagnosis and it could be cured. The littles guy’s skin was so broken, cracked, and bleeding from the infection, than we couldn’t tell what his coloration would be for a while.
We couldn’t keep him inside for long; the landlord wouldn’t have that. Besides, we already had two cats in one part of the house and another one in our bedroom that would certainly have a go at eating his face. So we kept him in until the mange was gone and built him a nice area outside. His fur grew in and he was a stunning, pastel gray and tan color. He wasn’t full pit and he was smaller than I thought he’d be, but he was a prince of a boy. I’ll never forget that face. We named him Gimli, after the dwarf from the Tolkien books because he was shorter, but stocky -powerful, but loveable.
We didn’t see Gimli’s passing. There came a time in our marriage, not long after my son was born, that our lives took a bad turn and we had to move in with my mother for about six months. It was during the financial crash of the early 2000s and we had no choice but to take our babies to a no-kill shelter in hopes of finding better homes. It nearly killed us; my wife especially, and to this day, she can’t talk about it. We tried everything we knew to do in order to place them, but in t he end it was out of our hands and while we hoped to go back and readout them, we were not allowed to do so. I can’t think about it long myself. That was almost fifteen years ago and it still cuts to my heart and twists in there with an overwhelming pain I just can’t describe.
There was only one of our fur babies that came back to us because she was the only one we were able to find a home for.
My dearest Gracie.
I didn’t realize this episode was going to be so hard.
Yep, I was working for the loan company and on my way home from work one afternoon during the five o’clock rush. There were bustling, aggravated drivers all around me and I just wanted to get to the apartment and rest. As I roared down one of the busier sections of my commute on a four lane highway, I noticed a minuscule black dot up ahead. It looked like it had fur, so I figured it was just another victim of the road that would feed the buzzards later. But as I closed in on the furry black dot, I looked down and and its eyes - open, terrified, and definitely alive - met mine and watched me pass. Once again, I didn’t think, but whipped my car around in an illegal U-turn, which nearly caused a pile up, and pulled over to where the tiny black cat was huddled directly on the white line that separated the lanes. She ran when I come near to her and made it across the street to a parking lot before she couldn’t go any further. I noticed the awkward way she sort of flopped when she ran and once I caught up to her, I realized she’d already been hit.
She was just a kitten, all black with bright, yellow-green eyes. She cried and I held her and took her to my car, not sure what to do. She was so small. She fit fully in just one of my hands. When I got home, my wife saw her and decided we were going to take her to the emergency vet in Greenville, SC an hour away. Kayla drove while I held the kitten and I cried my eyes out the whole way there because I knew what they were going to say. They were going to tell us it had been a valiant effort, but she was too far gone. We could already tell that she had no use of her front left leg. That’s what caused the awkward flop when she ran from me.
But it was a miracle. The vet looked her over and came to the conclusion that the leg was all that was wrong with her. On top of that, he said there wasn’t any reason to amputate it because there was clean blood flow and she’d learn to use it to balance, even though she’d never be able to put weight on it. The vet asked if we were going to be responsible for her and we unanimously agreed we would. There was no need to talk about it.
On the way home, we gave her the name that seemed to best fit her. Grace. God had given her grace in that He sent me to her at just the right time and saved her life.
During the financial crisis I mentioned, we were able to place her temporarily with a friend of ours who had a particular love for her and she him. Whenever he would come over for a visit, she would come to him and shower him with affection. He was glad to take her and when we were back on our feet, she came home.
We ended up calling her Gracie, instead of Grace over the years. That kitten I was sure would have to be put down the day I found her, the kitten who eventually reigned as queen of our household, blessed our family for 18 long years. She did so atop three strong legs and one comically stiff one that atrophied and flopped behind her as she ran right along with the rest of them.
My dearest Gracie.
I can’t do this any longer. I could tell you wonderful heart warming stories that Gracie placed herself right in the center of, but my heart wouldn’t be able to take it. She succumbed to feline diabetes in 2018 after a long battle. In the end, she was blind, deaf, and there are days I hate myself for selfishly keeping her with me for so long at the end. I just couldn’t stand the thought of being without her and I still can’t. She was my child. She was my beautiful Gracie.
We honor all of our babies, furry, feathered, or scaly, with their own special ornament on the Christmas tree. We put them up individually as a family and cherish their memories. We don’t have pets around here. We don’t throw them out or put them down just because they get sick. They’re not human, we know that, but they are every bit a part of the family. They’re our children.
I hope you enjoyed this episode of Funny Messy Life. As painful as it can be for me to talk about these things, it’s also nice to remember them. And if you heeded the warning at the start of this about getting your tissues ready, you’ll be just fine in a minute or two. If it didn’t affect you, then you probably have no heart and deserve to have your face eaten by a drop-dead gorgeous Himalayan zombie cat.
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