By Judith Serra
My husband and I were visiting St. John for the fifth time. We love to snorkel, so the beach is a daily destination, and Hawksnest was an early stop.
While at the beach, I walked up the planked boardwalk and a small gray tabby striped kitten emerged from under the boardwalk. He was mewing quite loudly and repeatedly. I noticed immediately how he was just fur and bone. He was a kitten, not more than six weeks old.
Being that I am a true cat lover, my heart went out to this poor little creature that was now running after me down the boardwalk. I returned to our beach blanket and told my husband of the discovery. Since he shares my love for animals he came to see the little creature.
After looking at the kitten, my husband decided to go on a search for cat food and rescue him from starvation. So he left me at the beach, only to return one hour later empty handed. I couldn’t believe it! He couldn’t find any cat food.
“Couldn’t you have brought something? A can of tuna or something?” I felt so saddened to leave the little one behind. All I could think of was the little mews loudly begging me for help.
We left the beach and returned to our rental villa. Neither Phil nor I felt very much like eating dinner. The kitten was foremost on both of our minds. That night it rained and it poured. A tropical depression had moved into the Caribbean and we experienced three days of rain. I could only think of how the poor little kitten was struggling to stay dry under the boardwalk while the downpours and lightening were surrounding him.
The next clear morning I rose and began our usual routine of preparing a lunch for the beach. Phil said, “What are we going to do today?” I replied, “Well, the first thing I am going to do is feed my cat.” “Your cat,” he said. “Yes, my cat,” I answered.
So off we went, our first stop being the rest facility at Hawks-nest. We greeted the kitten with foil dishes of leftover chicken and milk. Surely he was overwhelmed by the feast we brought for him. He began to eat, and in between bites he would “mew, mew, mew” as if to say, “Oh thank you, thank you, thank you.” Phil and I went on our way that day, feeling somewhat better that the kitten had at least one good meal.
At the end of the day, we decided to check back with the little guy and make sure he was ok. He was still there, and so were the empty dishes. As we headed back to the villa, Paul and I talked about trying to find a home for him.
We asked around town and even asked our rental agent. She already had three cats at home. The most heartbreaking part of this story was the fact that it was a kitten. The older feral cats seemed to fend for themselves, but there was something wrong about leaving behind a kitten.
Phil and I decided we had to take action or we just couldn’t live with ourselves. Earlier in the week I picked up a local St. John Tradewinds — something I had never done before. I called the St. John Tradewinds office and asked if they could put me in touch with a lady working to care for the stray animals on the island.
I called her and told her how I got her number and told her about the kitten at Hawksnest. I asked her if she could find a home for it, since it was just a kitten. She shared my concern, but she couldn’t promise me a home for the kitten.
“Why don’t you take him home with you?” she asked. Phil and I knew this was out of the question. We had a seven-year old tom cat named “Caesar” at home, who was very set in his ways, and would never accept another cat into his territory.
I explained our situation and in her willingness to help, she suggested we retrieve the kitten and she’d take the kitten to the animal shelter. “Can we be sure it will be adopted?” I asked. She promised to check on the kitten for a month.
Feeling relieved, we went promptly to rescue the kitten. Once we brought him to the house, we fed him. We put a towel down for him to lay on. He stretched out and fell asleep, seemingly exhausted from his ordeal of living life on the beach.
By this time, Phil and I had become bonded to this frail creature. Although we felt better about his future, we were still feeling unsettled.
“What if we took him home with us?” I asked my husband. “That way, we could be sure to find him a home. If we leave him here, we will never know what happens to him.”
“Well, we would have to see what is involved in taking him back to the states,” Phil replied.
I called our new friend and told her of our change of heart.
“I knew you would take him,” she said. “Here is what you need to do. You need to call the airlines and get him a ticket to carry him on and put him under the seat.
“You will also need to take him to a veterinarian and get him the appropriate shots,” she added. “I will provide you with a carrier that will fit under the set, which you can send back to me.”
“Okay,” I answered.
Immediately our vacation was transformed. Phil and I both felt much more relieved knowing we now controlled the kitten’s future.
The next morning we took the kitten to the vet who was quite amused with the whole story.
“What is the kitten’s name? Your kitten is a boy.”
I said, “How about George?”
As the doctor proceeded to examine the squirmy, boney creature, he proclaimed with a chuckle, “this one is trouble!” (oh if he only knew how right he was!)
We returned home and made arrangements with the airline for George’s ticket and could breathe easy for the rest of the day. That evening, Phil and I decided that the name “George” wasn’t the right fit for the kitten I wanted the name to be unique and have a link to the island.
“How about “Hawkie” since we found him on Hawksnest beach?” Phil agreed.
Thus, Hawkie became his new name.
My fears about passing through customs with an animal were all groundless. The airline agents, fellow passengers, and even the security agent greeted us with smiles saying, “Oh what a cute kitty!” “You found him on the beach!” “Oh, how nice.” They didn’t even check his papers, though I assure you they were all in order. We had a more difficult time taking a coconut bird feeder home on a previous trip than we did taking Hawkie to the states.
As you might have concluded by now, we certainly couldn’t bear to part with the little guy at this point. We were determined to make our two male cat household work, and I knew that would be quite a challenge! I did plenty of research on how to introduce the two animals. We spent a month slowly integrating him into Caesar’s environment.
Our two cats eventually became brothers. Caesar tolerated Hawkie, keeping him in his place most of the time. As for Hawkie, he just liked to torment the daylights out of Caesar. Caesar taught Hawkie many things. Mostly how to be a housecat. Soon afterwards we lost Caesar to cancer. His spirit lives on in our lives and in the little quirky behaviors we see in Hawkie. We have our own little piece of St. John with us all the time. He is a joy in our lives and was truly part of a greater plan the day we found him on the beach.
I tell Hawkie all the time, “You picked the right person to mew to. You’re one lucky cat.”
This true story was mailed to Elaine Campbell in response to the Animal Care Center’s stories of off-island adoptions featured in St. John Tradewinds.
Judith Serra is from Glenshaw, Pennsylvania. To share other off-island adoption stories, please mail them directly to St. John Tradewinds, P.O. Box 1500, St. John 00831 or to Campbell at P. O. Box 1703, St. John 00831.