NACHO – AN ANGEL IN A CAT’S BODY
~This is a tribute to Nacho, one very special A.C.A.T. sanctuary cat who crossed over the rainbow bridge on March 7, 2011~
Having fostered cats for 14 years I was accustomed to the routine: the cat would come to our home, the cage door would open and the kitty would very hesitantly come out and hide. I generally put them in our secluded cat room at first, taking into account if they needed to be isolated for a few days in a cat kennel or if it was ok to let it have the run of the room. He or she would spend at least a day exploring the surroundings and trying to figure out how many other cats were here.
But, this “routine” was not the case with Nacho. He didn’t follow the usual pattern at all. When the cage door opened, out bounced this cute orange and white cat, showing no fear for his new surroundings or for the other cats all enveloping his cage. It was as if he had lived here all his life. Actually, he never showed fear of ANYTHING, which was alarming. He had no instincts to stay away from things that may harm him.
During his first week with us, we noticed that there was something physically different about him, (although this would take several years to be definitively diagnosed by a veterinarian). For example, he didn’t walk like a cat—did not have the smooth, graceful gait and jumping skills that most cats have. Like a kitten, he never learned that it was not ok to bite down hard on a person’s hand. He was also very clumsy and was forever trying to jump on things higher than his capability, or successfully jumping only to land in your plate of food, pull down a coaster with a drink on it, and so on. With Nacho, patience was essential. It took Nacho years to learn how to jump up two feet up to a cat perch and he never could climb the tall scratching posts with cubby holes that we have. We also knew his vision was impaired, but we didn’t know in what ways. This of course affected his ability to successfully jump, and frequently he would stare blankly at one of us as if he could not understand who we were or where he was.
We found out that Nacho was brain damaged at birth because his mom carried a disease called panleukopenia. That’s the medical term for what most people call “distemper.” If a mom has the disease, has been exposed, or is carrying the disease, her kittens can get it in utero. They will most likely be born with various neurological problems because panleukopenia can cause cerebellar hypoplasia, a condition in where the cerebellum fails to achieve normal growth and development.
If they survive, they are affected in various ways—not all cats have the same problems. Nacho’s problems caused him to have stunted growth and limited intellectual development, resembling that of a ten week old kitten. He was very small for a male cat, had a squarish face that resembled that of a Down’s syndrome child, had serious vision problems, couldn’t jump, had trouble learning any words like “no” (but he eventually did!) and was seriously on a mission to kill himself. We had to make sure he wasn’t in the dryer, hadn’t gotten in the refrigerator when we had the door open, did not run out any open doors to the outside, wasn’t near the oven door when it was open, etc.
After a few weeks went by, we realized that it was not in his best interest to be put up for adoption. He just required too much vigilance. Thus, he became an A.C.A.T. sanctuary cat who would live with us.
Nacho had so many endearing qualities that it is difficult to pick just the right ones to give you an understanding of him. When he ran, he didn’t run like a cat, but would wobble around looking like a bulldog because his ribcage was enlarged—it was quite amusing! It took several years for Nacho to learn how to play, but once he finally got the gist of it from the other cats he was a real “playmobile”. His absolute favorite toy was what we called “his baby”. Baby was a large orange toy cat that he would carry around the house dragging under his tummy. He would let out plaintive meows as he did this as if he was trying to find a safe place for “baby”. We had three of them so he could always find one when he wanted to. It was so amusing to watch him carry this toy that was almost half his size, often 30 minutes at a time!!
Just like the school kid who has no friends, Nacho never got close to any of the other cats in our house. There was never a confrontation between him and another cat. It almost seemed that he was invisible to them. But most likely they knew he was different, and no threat, so he was left alone. He didn’t seem to mind and did develop a sort of relationship with our oldest cat; we’d sometimes find them sleeping side by side in a chair.
Nacho was, well, there just really aren’t other words to describe him: he was an angel in a cat’s body. Never have I come across such a loving and special cat!! Every day he showered us with his unconditional love and was the happiest cat I’ve ever known. Each time I looked at him I saw a gold orb over his head. Someone said I was seeing an aura. Whatever it was, it was there from the first day we got him as a foster until the last day of his life. People who didn’t even like cats always liked Nacho and I do believe many of my friends came by to visit just to have the chance to interact with him.
Nacho always had a respiratory ailment and he developed severe asthma later in life. Over a two year period it became increasingly worse and caused his heart to become grossly enlarged because it was trying to compensate for the lack of oxygen he was not getting. Eventually, it would take his life.
He blessed us with his presence for four and a half years. We enjoyed every minute with him (when we weren’t trying to keep him from hurting himself!) and we tried every way to control his diseases. We were devastated when we found out his breathing capacity was very limited and his heart extremely enlarged, and that he could die at any moment. Fortunately we were home with him when his time came and could be there to love him until he no longer was in our midst. Nacho was truly a very special cat, and thanks to A.C.A.T.’s sanctuary program, he had many wonderful years to share with us.
We knew Nacho’s time on earth was limited, but still, it came sooner than we expected or wanted. Nacho may not be in this world but he’ll always be our angel. Now I can close my eyes and see him with the wings he earned here on earth because of his strength and never-ending love and perseverance when he had so many challenges to overcome. And I hope he is healthy, has lots of friends, and romps and jumps just like the other cats. But, still, no matter what, there will never be another Nacho.