LORD LOUIS – Healer of Broken Hearts

14th Jun, 2024

Written by Nikki Harris

Professional photography by Nat Gold ZA 

On the 19th of January 2024, I received a call from the vet that nobody wants to get: my little nine-month-old kitten had been brought in – and she wasn’t in a good way. I went straight through to TAH Rosmead 24-hour vet and saw my Billie girl, who’d been picked up in the early hours of the morning after getting out of the house. Billie had been knocked over and suffered significant head trauma. Her jaw was broken and she’d lose her right eye, but the rest of her body was fine.

They’d thought her to be dead on arrival, but by the time I got there to see her, she’d already shown significant improvement. I sat with her for an hour or so and chatted to the vet, wondering how best to move forward. I’d have given the world for my little Billie girl, but only if I knew it was worth it for her and her quality of life would be nothing short of brilliant. She was still so young and had so much life to live. I needed to know she’d live her years to maximum capacity.

Decision time

I spent the whole of that Friday thinking and thinking about how best to move forward and what decision would be the best to make. I decided to see her through the weekend and, with the vets, monitor her improvement (or lack thereof). Billie did indeed get stronger and showed signs of improving.

By Sunday it was set in my mind: we’d move forward with surgery. This decision was helped along by my reaching out to Paulette Bousfield at PlumPets Animal Shelter and asking for genuine, neutral advice. I needed to speak with someone who didn’t know me, didn’t know Billie, and would give me solid and sound advice from her own experiences and as an animal lover. The feedback I received regarding jaw surgery and cats was that the outcome was almost always positive and that, although the post-operative care could be gruelling, once the six weeks had passed, we’d be well on our way to a happy cat and a happy life.

I liaised with Paulette almost constantly over that weekend, and by the time Monday came around, my decision was made. Billie girl would have her operation and once stable we’d move her from the 24-hour care and across to Dr Duncan Stevens, where she’d be closer to home, and then Dr Duncan would remove her eye. I spoke to the dentistry specialists and we moved forward with the operation that Monday afternoon.

An unexpected meeting

I saw Billie just before she went in for the operation. Like she’d done all weekend every time I went to see her, she flicked her tail whenever I spoke, recognising my voice and hearing her name. I was confident that she was going to be just fine.

En route home, leaving her moments before surgery, I popped in to chat with Dr Duncan, and whilst standing in his consulting room talking to him I saw in a cage on the table, half covered by a blanket; a cat – but not the same black cat I’d seen months before when I had Billie spayed – this was a new one. I made a comment along the lines of, “Ah, this isn’t the black cat – who is this fine feline?” to which Dr Duncan replied: “This is Louis; he’s an old depressed chap looking for adoption.”

I smiled, Louis is my late father’s name and I said this to Dr Duncan, followed by: “I think, if I ever get another cat, it’ll be an older one, who’s done all its exploring and tested its nine lives and is happy to relax on the couch and live out its days in comfort. I can’t quite deal with the stress of being a kitten mom.” Dr Duncan smiled and said: “Yes, sometimes the older cats are more inclined to stay home.”

With that, I smiled and made my way home, thinking nothing more of it, truly believing that my Billie girl would be just fine and preparing myself for the next six weeks of post-operative care.

From elation to devastation

I received a call from the surgeon later that day to let me know that Billie’s surgery was a great success. In fact, after the scan, they were able to see that her breaks in the jaw were fragments, not nearly as bad as they’d anticipated, and with her young age all would knit together in time. They’d removed a shattered tooth and were able to successfully pull the skin from her lower jaw back up and remove the rotten skin. All in all, they were happy and so was I. Billie was coming round from anaesthesia slowly, but everyone was positive. I jumped on the phone to Paulette to let her know the good news and to thank her for being a constant and steady support throughout the weekend.

I went to bed so happy and so relieved. The first night I’d managed an almost sound sleep. I woke at 3AM, only to find I’d had a missed call from Rosmead vet at 12h50AM.

I’ll never forget the feeling. My heart sank. I thought they’d never call at such an hour if all was alright. I returned the call but there was no answer, so I lay awake thinking of all and any option or reason as to why they’d call me, never once allowing myself to think it could be anything negative. They called again at 6AM. My heart pounded in my chest as I answered... and when I did, the gentleman on the other side of the line, with his kind and gentle voice, said: “I’m so sorry, Billie didn’t make it, she didn’t come out of the anaesthetic and went into cardiac arrest between midnight and 1AM.”

I was totally and completely shattered, absolutely broken and couldn’t bring myself to think of moving forward without her. Billie watered the garden with me, cleaned the house with me, greeted me as soon as I came home, watched me leave when I went out, she played with our dogs, loved our other cat, made my kids laugh with her ridiculous little stretches at any and all opportunities that made her walk sideways. Billie was my shadow, and I couldn’t imagine not having her around. I was preparing myself for a lifetime of Billie girl and all I got was seven months.

A ray of hope

As I grappled with the idea of no longer having my Billie girl, I couldn’t erase Louis from my mind. Every time I thought about Billie, Louis popped into my head. It was as though Billie had held on for that weekend for me to connect with Paulette and walk into Duncan’s consulting room and see the big round eyes of Louis staring at me. Then having that brief conversation, bringing Louis, my father’s namesake, into existence. As though Billie knew she wasn’t going to make it but needed me to know of Louis’ existence before her departure; as if she knew that Louis would help me to heal. I’m convinced Billie brought Louis into my life.

The next day I connected with Paulette and told her that I couldn’t get Louis out of my mind. I knew absolutely nothing about him and didn’t even know what colour he was – I could hardly see him under the blanket that day. All I saw was a touch of white and his big round eyes. All I knew was his name, that he was looking for a home, and that he was a depressed old chap placed in the busy comings and goings of Duncan’s consulting rooms, the reason he was eating again and sticking around in this realm.

I needed to know a little bit about Louis’ background with my having four dogs, another cat, and two children. I needed to know that Louis, being an older cat, would manage with the “farmyard” we have at home. Paulette told me that Louis had come from a home with four dogs and that he was one of five cats; there were chickens and children too. His story is a tragic one, but not mine to tell. The fact that Louis’ history was surrounded by animals and children settled my mind completely: Louis needed to come home with us. So I went forward with a home check for the adoption, filled out all the forms, was approved for adoption and was ready to take Louis home by that Friday.

When I went to collect Louis, Duncan stepped out to see me and said how sorry he was for my loss. Paulette appeared, and of course I’d seen her before, though I didn’t realise I had. I gave her a big hug and thanked her for all her encouragement and positivity seeing me through the weekend with Billie. I thanked both of them with tears in my eyes for their kindness and openness to help and take in Billie when the time was right (despite that time never coming) for their care and concern after losing her and for everything in between. They took me into the consulting room and for the first time I got to formally meet Louis – and wow, what a meeting, with him rubbing his head against me, loving all the cuddles and the tickles, and all the while this thunderous purring.

I took Louis home and he spent the first two hours under my bed. Then he came out to explore and, when I lay on my bed, he jumped up to lie on my lap. When the cuddles and the tickles from me were too much for him, he’d gently push my hand away, only to pull it back with a head gesture to continue, and then the head rubs and tickles would carry on.

Lord Louis rules the roost

If we fast forward a few months (he’s been with us since the 26th of January), Lord Louis, as he’s now known, totally rules the roost here. The dogs have a healthy respect for him and Louis looks down on them like lesser mortals.

He hasn’t hissed or smacked them or done anything untoward; they sniff him and our one Husky is convinced Louis will decide to play with him like Billie always did, but Lord Louis is having none of that. He’s far superior and will only grace the dogs with his presence when the time and occasion suit him. Comet, our other cat, has finally accepted that Louis is part of the family and they touch noses and slink up against each other, but they have a healthy respect for each other’s domain.

Lord Louis has slotted into the family as though he’s always been here. He punctuates my day, and when I come home from work, he greets me in the passage, meows and leads me to my room, where he puts his front paws up on my bed, as if making a gesture for me to lie down, which I do without hesitation. A moment of calm within my day, no sooner do I lie down than Lord Louis is on my lap, purring. This happens whenever possible; any time I have a free moment in the day, I’m horizontal on my bed with him, be it for one minute or ten. Lord Louis insists I take a moment to recalibrate – and I don’t argue with him. He comes when I call him and is always ready for a snuggle. At night he sleeps on the couch in our bedroom, but should I wake in the night for whatever reason, when I return to bed I always stroke him first, and as soon as I get comfortable (usually on my side), he jumps onto me and lies on my hip/thigh for a few minutes as if to tuck me in and then goes back to his spot on the couch. Sometimes, if I’m extra lucky, he stays for a while and “spoons”.

For the heartache I felt and continue to feel for my Billie, Lord Louis has entered my world and healed me in ways I didn’t realise I needed. Life is such a funny thing, all the twists and turns, the happiness and the heartache. There are small blessings, small signs and small gestures, everywhere. With the curveballs life has thrown my way, I’ve learnt to pay close attention to the little things.

Louis is one of the “little” things – he’s brought healing into my world, not only for the loss of my Billie but for all the loss in my life. He soothes my heart. He might have been a little sign, but he was one I saw and paid full attention to and he’s brought with him BIG love, and for that there are no words. In moments of darkness, there’s always a glimmer of light; sometimes you have to look a little harder and sometimes you just have to believe – there’s always a dash of Louis in everyone’s story.

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