This special feature from The Great Animal Rescue Chase honors a California couple’s devotion to a newborn barn kitten during the height of their personal battle with cancer. They named the kitten Ashton in honor of a young woman who died of the disease, just as the kitten was born. May Ashton and her family feel the love and support of all who read this beautiful story.
By Loran Watkins
For the last three years, we’ve lived in a world of cancer. My husband was diagnosed nine months after we were married, and we went through a gruelling 9 month treatment/surgery protocol before relapsing the next year. Through it all, a friend and former student had a nine-year-old daughter going through a much tougher journey for a very rare and agressive sarcoma. We shared our fears and hopes through online blogs, found and ‘met’ other families through their blogs and now have a whole virtual community of friends and supporters that we have never, and may never, meet who are nonetheless as important to our sanity as our friends next door.
Last March 28, I spent a quiet day working around the house and yard preparing for spring and the upcoming work week. Towards dusk, I suddenly heard tiny but insistent squalling. It was cold and starting to rain, and I ran from the back to the front to the back of the house trying to locate the origin of the noise. Finally, after the calling had stopped for many minutes and then restarted, I focused my attention to a small barn at the front of our property. When the crying started again, I could tell it wasn’t coming from INSIDE the barn but from the roof! A ladder was quickly produced and my husband climbed through a very prickly rose bush to pull out from a pile of leaves and weeds…a tiny day old orange kitty with an umbilical cord still attached.
I fashioned him a nest in a basket.
I immediately put the kitty inside my shirt to warm his chilly body while my husband looked for others. He only found one, and it was dead and half eaten. I ran back to the house and called my vet, told her what I had done and asked if this was the best thing for this little creature. “Absolutely,” she said. I sat and warmed up the kitty while my husband went to the store for kitty formula. I fashioned him a nest in a basket with towels and a light and we started a three hour round-the-clock feeding routine. He wasn’t particularly interested in the bottle that night, so I prayed that he had eaten lately and let him sleep in my hand as I signed on to the computer to check my email.
Her cancer had returned
First email I saw was an update about a young woman named Ashton, a blog that I had followed closely for two years. Hers was the first one I read outside of Ari’s, and just as my family was starting the cancer trip, Ashton was finishing up her treatments and had just been declared NED (no evidence of disease)! It gave me hope that we could some day share that position. She had unfortunately relapsed the year before and a group of friends had put together a fund raising website to be able to send the family to Paris for Christmas before she got very sick. I had immediately donated and a month later had received a thank you note signed by everyone in the family. The last update I had read talked about Ashton and her friends going to the beach for spring break, so I wasn’t expecting anything but happy beach stories and pictures.
I sobbed as I held the sleeping ball of orange fur.
Ashton had died. She had deteriorated quickly, as this cancer can do, and died. I looked at the time of the update and figured she had died about the time the ginger kitty was born, and so I named the kitty Ashton. Through perseverance and a will to live life on their own terms, each had won their battle that day. I sobbed as I held the sleeping ball of orange fur. I pulled out the card that had Ashton’s signature on it and put it next to the kitty when I put him to bed. I knew that the odds of saving this little guy weren’t the best but I hoped that having an angel named Ashton to watch over him would give us an edge.
It did. Today Ashton is a big, goofy boy with the BIGGEST tail I have ever seen! The first picture I took of him the night we rescued him, I put a quarter next to him to give some reference of size. Even at a day old his tail is long. He grew into that tail!
I have never heard him meow, he coos. People who meet him think we named him after Ashton Kutcher, and now we refer to him as Ashton ‘Coocher.’ The surprising side benefit of this little guy is he helped bring my husband back to the real world. Having to feed a kitty every few hours will drag you back to the land of the living like very little else can. His outlook after treatment was poor at best. He was stable physically but shut out the world and stopped talking to anyone, me included. Ashton brought him back to the light, even if just a little. First Jim saved him, then he saved Jim.
He loves everyone… photos you must see!
Ashton now runs around the house and yard with abandon. He doesn’t understand that not everyone is in love with him because he loves EVERYONE. One of our other rescued cats named Stuart can’t stand him, and there have been fights, but Ashton holds his own. He even brought in a feral kitty from outside (c’mon in, they’ll love you and you’ll love it here!) and now he and Max are best buds. I can’t imagine life without him, and every day he reminds me of a beautiful young woman who may not be here physically anymore but will never be forgotten. See more PHOTOS of Ashton and his friends.
Have You Saved an Animal?
Loran Watkins is a participant in The Great Animal Rescue Chase, a worldwide rescue event with the goal of bringing together one million everyday animal lovers to unleash one of the largest rescue operations of all time. Every week, Care2.com features one participant from this event with an amazing story to tell. Next week it could be you. Please share your stories and photos on our website and in the comments below. And if you’re so inclined, please consider a small donation to help our Harmony Fund charity to save other animals in need.
Laura Simpson is the Founder of The Great Animal Rescue Chase and the Harmony Fund international animal rescue charity.
Photo credit: Loran Watkins