Emmitt’s run for glory…and life

Published 12:00 am Thursday, October 23, 2003

Kim and our great-niece Bridget Babb found a starveling cat out in the cornfield a few months back. It was pitiful looking – all skin and bones and looking like it was already shaking paws with death – but somehow Kim and Bridget convinced this wild cat to come to them. They named it Echo because every time one of them would make &uot;meow&uot; noises the cat would respond. Sitting at the edge of the field, they meowed until Echo came to them for some rubbing and, more importantly to the cat, some food.

When I got home that day they were totally wrapped up with the cat. I don’t remember what they were feeding it, but cat food was rather quickly put on the &uot;must get&uot; shopping list. It was a loving little cat from the start, which surprised me because there was no indication that it had ever been a pet. It loved to sidle up next to us and purr, purr, purr right from the start.

I’m not one to anthropomorphize pet behavior, but it sure did seem that Echo was thanking Kim and Bridget for saving her life. That cat would not leave the three steps comprising the main entrance. It literally lived there for more than a month, greeting us with meows and purrs whenever we got home or left the house. No matter what time of day we got home or looked outside, Echo was on the steps. She must have left the steps to use the bathroom, but for that first month we saw no indication that the cat ever ventured off the steps. When we got it a food dish and a water dish of its very own, we put them on the steps because the Echo apparently had no intention of going anywhere else.

I’d always heard that if you feed a stray cat you’ve got a pet, but I didn’t really think it was that simple. Again, I was wrong. Or not. I don’t know if Kim and Bridget found and saved Echo or if Echo found them. Either way, Echo found a home.

Kim and I decided right from the get-go that Echo was an outside cat – a cat that lived in nature and would be at the mercy of nature’s whims. We’d give it the wherewithal to survive, but we weren’t going to be its guardians.

We’d give it food and water and we’d pet it from time to time, but there was no way it was coming inside. We’d just bought new leather living room furniture and I didn’t want some cat coming in there to sharpen its claws. Echo had other ideas – vainly trying to dart inside when the door opened, but for a couple of months Echo didn’t make it more than a foot inside the door.

But that changed in September. We discovered in late July or early August that our adopted pet was pregnant, but were sticking by our guns that it and its kittens would be outside pets. It stayed pregnant for an interminably long time. For a solid month we expected Echo to give birth at any time. It was huge. We spoke with cat people about what signs to look for and were in agreement in late August and early September that Echo was ripe.

Looking back, we should have taken it to the vet then, but it wasn’t supposed to be that kind of pet. The way I looked at it, Echo was a wild cat that would let us pet it in exchange for food and water. Nothing more. Wrong, again.

The day before Isabel came ashore to wreak havoc upon Eastern North Carolina, we finally brought Echo inside, closing her up in the utility room so she couldn’t roam the house; not that she seemed very interested in doing so. She was still very, very pregnant and displayed little curiosity.

Isabel came and went and Echo went back outside, still very pregnant. We didn’t leave her out there very long. Kim and I were concerned about the cat so we brought it back in to have its kittens in the utility room. Last week it finally did, but all was not well.

Echo had a kitten sometime between 8 a.m. and noon on Oct. 8…and didn’t have another kitten all day. We called a vet who said we could either bring it in immediately for examination or just leave it alone for a few hours to see if it would have the rest of the kittens – which were supposed to come out every half hour or so (we have subsequently discovered). Given the option of spending nothing or spending $200, I chose the free route. Wrong once again.

Kim called a different vet the next morning (I had to work) when we found three dead kittens along with the one live kitten and Echo was still very noticeably pregnant. The vet had to operate to save Echo. The two or three kittens still inside Echo were already dead. I didn’t know cats had problems giving birth, but apparently there was something terribly wrong.

Echo’s still recovering from major surgery, but is starting to get her energy back. We had to take her back to the vet because the incision wasn’t healing properly, but she’s much better than she was before, during and after her 24 hours of labor. The vet bill was enormous, but we have our pet back and we have a healthy male kitten.

Kim, Bridget and I agreed the kitten’s name is Emmitt, after the Cowboys’ great running back, Emmitt Smith. It was an appropriate name, we thought, because we wanted a name that represented strength, toughness and endurance since little Emmitt not only survived, but is thriving.

I’ve been a Cowboys fan since the mid-’60s – back when Vince Lombardi’s Green Packers defeated the Cowboys twice for the NFL championship (before there was a Super Bowl). All my friends were rooting for the Packers, so to be contrary I rooted for the Cowboys. I’ve been a fan ever since…coming up on 40 years now. Wow.

Bridget is a new fan. She started rooting for the Cowboys two years ago and stuck with them through two lousy 5-11 seasons, mainly because she liked Emmitt Smith and took my word that they would get better. It’s rare for a young person to have that much loyalty and I’m glad to see the Cowboys doing so well this year (5-1 and in first place, baby!).

Anyway, Emmitt Smith is the greatest running back in the history of professional football. Not the quickest (Barry Sanders), not the most powerful (Jim Brown), and not the fastest (Gayle Sayers), but he is the best because he was quick, powerful, fast, and had the most heart of any player I’ve ever seen. People talk about the grand old days when Butkus and Nitschke played, but Emmitt Smith was every bit as tough as any player from that era and he had the speed, quickness and power required in the modern game. He is the complete player – a great runner, blocker, pass-catcher and a truly good sport; putting the team ahead of himself and never losing his cool on the field.

So Emmitt it is. Now we’ve got two cats. I don’t know what we’re going to do about the furniture. (I had lots of good metaphors about Emmitt’s &uot;run up the middle&uot; to survive childbirth, but thought the imagery might be too graphic for some.)

Postscript: Echo has been fixed. Emmitt will be as soon as he’s old enough. I wish everybody would have their pets spayed or neutered so folks like us wouldn’t have to adopt stray pets and be saddled with enormous vet bills.

Double Postscript: I hope Emmitt Smith retires this season.