Written by Claire Shadbolt
Professional photography by FourPawz Photography
Early in the morning of the 17th of October 2019, I received a voice message from Faustina Gardner of DARG (Domestic Animal Rescue Group), telling me about a little ginger boy of approximately three months of age who was going blind. Faustina was looking for a foster for him, as he was in a room by himself with little stimulation.
Load shedding was kicking in at 10h00, so I wouldn’t be doing any work then, so what else could I do but drive to Hout Bay – with a carrier.
I’d asked Faustina if she thought he’d be okay with other young cats, as I knew he’d come into the house with my four and not go upstairs to the granny flat with the other fosters I’m currently caring for.
I arrived at DARG and went through to this little kitten’s room. There, I found the sweetest, slightly skinny little Ginga Ninja. I sat and played with him for 20 minutes – I could see he had some vision as he followed the wand toys – and we enjoyed some cuddles.
At the office I told them, “He’s coming home with me.” This foster was failing from the start… and I knew hubby would succumb in time, even if Mr Grey was meant to be No.4 and NO MORE! He got his vaccination booster, rabies shot & deworming, plus his microchip, and off we went back home to Parklands.
Once settled in his room, having eaten a big bowl of kitten mousse, I left him for an hour to explore and de-stress from the trip and all this newness. I checked in on him and again a bit later.
Something wasn’t right with this little guy!
I sent Faustina a video of him stumbling about like a drunkard, and she phoned the vet. Five minutes later she called back, but I was already on my way over to the vet. I’ve never “lost” a foster and was not about to start now.
The poor boy had a reaction to the dewormer, and the vet said he must just rest and he’d be fine in the morning – which he was.
And… from that day onwards, he’s been a bundle of energy.
Naming Master Jack Sparrow
Naming Master Jack Sparrow came easily, as he has one functional eye, making him the perfect pirate – and he’s as cute as Johnny Depp! Notably, too, we have a LORD Muggs, SIR Dennis Marmaduke, MR Dorian Grey, so as the youngest he needed to be MASTER... (oh, we also have the Princess, MISSY B, too).
After three days of being kept in his room and no hissing from my lot, I did the next scent swap – I let Master Jack out into the rest of the house and popped everyone else into his room so they could sniff it out thoroughly. All was good, and the next day I let them all meet him. While “The Boys” were all intrigued and welcoming, Missy B kept her usual reserve for a few more days.
Quickly, Master Jack sniffed his way around the whole house, knew his way back to his “safe room” if he felt the need, and found all the best snoozing spots. By this time, I’d established that his good eye had pretty good vision, but the dud eye was 100% blind.
He quickly claimed his favourite feather and bell wand toy, and if ever I can’t find him, I just give it a shake or three and he comes running to me.
Master Jack Sparrow is a ferocious eater – nothing is safe from this Imizamo Yethu, Hout Bay boy who, well, we’ll never know how long he had to fend for himself, as he was found in a dumpster bin, thrown away and not wanted as a “defective kitten”.
Mr Grey was delighted to have a playmate, and, as a tripod, the extra energy expelled in playing chase up and down the house is great for his waistline too. Sir Dennis plays protective “Father” to ensure things don’t get out of hand, whilst Lord Muggs loves to play hide-and-seek with him (hysterical when you’re a 6kg ball of fluff trying to hide behind a small box in the passage). And Missy B has accepted Jack far more easily than she accepted any of the other boys – she even tolerates him snoozing next to her sometimes (she’s a typical Siamese Madam).
After two weeks I felt he knew the house well, and it was time to let him into the 200% secure garden (my cats only go out there when I’m home and they cannot get out). So, initially I popped a harness on him and we explored a bit.
He wasn’t happy with the harness, so after the third day I let him roam free. It was interesting to watch how each day he went another few metres into the area but would come back indoors and go out again, regularly rolling on the ground to spread his scent trail.
Now he’s 100% confident and loves being out there. Grass cutting isn’t our forte, so Mr Grey and Jack have a blast looking for bugs in the long grass.
Master Jack can see the fish moving in the ponds and the birds moving on the YouTube Cat videos they all watch some days. He chases bugs in the house and garden and acts like any “normal” kitten would.
There’s one interesting thing, though – he never bothers to wash his dud eye. To him it’s not there, I believe, and therefore having it totally removed wouldn’t be a “biggie” for him (other than some discomfort as the wound heals).
He hates having his eyes cleaned and eye drops put in, but I’ve got it sussed now – I wrap him in a blanket, nice and secure, and using a newborn wet wipe I start by wiping his forehead, chin and neck. This, I think, feels like a mummy cat washing him, and he starts to purr up a storm. Then I gently work on cleaning his eyes.
Some mornings are worse than others, with the bad eye being stuck closed, but gradually the crusty stuff softens and comes away. After the eye drops, he gets a treat before bouncing off to play again.
From his second visit to the eye specialist it was concluded:
- Eyes are looking a lot better – discharge-wise.
- The “dud” eye must come out, as it’s totally useless and the risk of future infection cannot be ruled out.
- The cataract in his good eye is not too bad, but they have no way of telling if it’ll stay like that for a good long while or if it could deteriorate rapidly.
- The under-formed eyelid in his good eye is causing irritation with his fur poking into the eye. Reconstructive surgery will be highly beneficial to his well-being long term, regardless of what happens to his sight therein.
I truly believe that Master Jack’s surgery will be transformational for him. It’s due to be booked for late January/early February and will be an hour and 20 minute-long operation, so we all want him good and strong and a bit bigger for that.
I’ve popped a collar on him now, because he’ll have to wear a cone for a bit, and I wanted him to get used to at least having something around his neck.
Master Jack is the happiest little guy; he loves life with his new family, playing, eating (you only have to walk into the kitchen and he appears 24/7) or cuddling up with me or his new brothers. Stubborn when in the mood, and sweet as sugar when he wants something. He can be quite happy playing independently if everyone else has been worn out by his energy, and like any toddler, he falls asleep whenever the snooze hits him.
When or if his sight does deteriorate, I know he’s going to cope just fine – his sense of smell and hearing are brilliant, and he’s aware when jumping down from things to just hesitate for two seconds first to be sure it’s okay.
Plus, as a “foster fail”, he’s in an environment he already knows inside and out should the day come that he can no longer see anything.
MASTER JACK SPARROW, YOU SHINE SO BRIGHT – WE’LL KEEP THE DARKNESS AT BAY
Faustina Gardner of DARG adds…
The little boy was dumped, as Claire mentioned, in a rubbish heap. The vets advised we keep him isolated in case there was any chance of cross contamination with our other kittens and cats. It was heartrending to see him pawing at the window as people passed, as he clearly wanted lots of company and friends to play with, given his playful disposition. Along came Claire, who made my dream come true.