Happy 10th Birthday, BELUGA!
July 26, 2012
Beluga is ten years old this summer. He has lived with us for four years. One of the days at the very end of July is his birthday. I have been compiling notes from the six years that I’ve known him, and recording prior events according to the details that several people have given me. He is such a wonderful, amazing companion that I want to write down all of his unique story so I don’t forget any of it. I’ve put all the facts that I know about his early life into the following tale:
THE BEGINNING OF BELUGA’S STORY:
In early 2002 the winter rain failed. Even the saguaros looked shrivelled, and the soil around them split open with rings of crescent-shaped desiccation cracks. By midsummer, wildfires had charred madrone groves and ancient junipers in the mountains, cottonwoods along the river, and oaks in the grassland. Mesquites withered and palo verde roots collapsed into dusty tunnels. It seemed that the air itself might split open. Finally, sullen clouds crawled over the mountains from the south. They drove a heavy whirlwind of dust and reeking ashes along the ground, dragging sheets of savage rain in a shocking half hour of purification that washed the air clean. The second rain was gentle and prolonged. Toads, tortoises, and tarantulas crawled abroad, and somewhere in central Tucson, a feral cat shivered in wet fur, and sought shelter in an anonymous backyard shed. Unseen and safe, she settled into the dry, quiet darkness and gave birth to a tiny black kitten. It is not known what she looked like or whether she had other kittens. That part of the story is lost, along with the little wild mother herself. But we know that she bore one undersized black male shorthair. He was active and strong-willed, and determined to survive.
One morning, someone opened the door and a shaft of light awakened the kitten. His eyes had just opened, and until now they had seen nothing but the dim gloom inside the shed. Curious, he moved toward this new bright thing. But the visitor did not know the mother cat was there, and did not see the crawling kitten. By accident, someone stepped on him. They took him to a veterinarian, expecting to have him euthanized for a serious head injury. Two medical staff from a nearby cat shelter were at the clinic when he was brought in. They waited while the vet examined the tiny one. The vet looked at them.
“Do you want to try?”
One woman, whose name among the shelter cats was She Claims Them, agreed to accept him. The second woman, whose cat-name was She Calls Their Power, wrapped him carefully in a towel and took him home. The injury had caused the top of his head to swell. The shape of the unnatural bulge over his eyes reminded her of the gentle white whale of the Arctic seas, so she named him BELUGA.
This painting is done from the first shelter photo that I took of Beluga in February 2006; later that year I did eight paintings of him for different phases of the moon. All are handground mineral pigments in egg tempera. I kept one and the rest now belong to one of his rescuers and another former staff member from the shelter who helped to take care of him when he was a kitten. This one is the waxing crescent moon.
Beluga still has about one seizure a month, usually on the dark moon but occasionally on the full or quarter moon. Seizures usually happen at night, when he’s sleeping next to me, and last about a minute. Then he usually goes back to sleep. He typically seizes on lunar eclipses and at the peak of major meteor showers; the Leonids in particular are an all-night ordeal, because on that night he is very restless before and after his seizure.
His neurological condition has improved since he’s been here. His coordination and general level of awareness are much better, though they will never be normal. He still can’t jump, climb, or use a litterbox. But he is not mentally retarded and often seems to be more clever and “with it” than our other cats, and he definitely has a sense of humor! He does not show affection in the usual feline ways, but is very loving and enjoys sleeping in my lap, stretched out in his usual trusting fashion with his head on my arm and his paw clutching me.
In addition to his seizure drugs, he’s on medication for asthma and a chronic ear infection; his bald, floppy ears are a side effect of the asthma medicine. Lately his crinkled ears, sad stare, tiny nose, well-defined muzzle, and spiky fur make him look a bit like a black lemur…but he’s still Beluga the Wonder Kitty!