The Tiki Chronicles
Re-home, Rebound, Re-birth

The story of how my 17-year old cat crossed the entire East Coast, and beat the odds to be here with me today

I arrived in Florida a week before Christmas to start a working student position at an Olympic Dressage barn. On my second day there my boss’s daughters and another working student conspired to move one of the 6 barn cats into our house. His health had been deteriorating for months and this would be a last ditch effort to save him. Technically, working students were forbidden to have pets, but seeing as we were all animal lovers we were more than happy to sneak a cat into our house.

When I first saw Tiki he was stumbling to the barn barely able to move his little legs.  He looked like someone had locked him in a closet with a swarm of moths, and then left him out overnight in a Vermont winter. He was so skinny that you could see his spine under his matted coat, a horrible cough shook his whole body, and he approached the barn looking around like he expected to be attacked from any angle. My boss’s daughter had rescued Tiki seven years earlier when he was hit by a car. Apparently Tiki had been completely feral and did not like people. Thankfully by the time I met him he had mellowed into the most affectionate barn cat of the bunch.

Tiki moved into the working student house and we started administering banana-scented cat medicine twice a day for his cough as well as feeding him a limitless amount of food. He ate heartily, crouching over his heaping bowl of dry food, and eat from top to bottom in one sitting. Then he would drink, turn around to look at us, and meow until we filled it again. Tiki had never had the luxury of eating in peace; apparently he had been bottom rung of all the cats in the barn. A devoted creature of habit; he slept in exactly the same spot on the couch every night, and the same spot on an armchair during the day. When it was bedtime he would shift from his Egyptian cat stance to a curled up ball of orange fur. There he would stay until the next morning when he would get up and eat breakfast with us, meowing and purring with delight as he gobbled down his food.

When my housemate had to go home because of an injury, Tiki completely latched onto me. Over my remaining months we became so attached that I could depend on him to join me at the dining room table—on his own chair of course—for breakfast, lunch and dinner. The other working students that moved into the house all ate breakfast in their rooms, but Tiki and I would sit together in the kitchen and watch the sun rise over the back field every morning. When I too, was injured a few weeks into my stay, Tiki spent the entire day sitting next to me while I iced my back and leg. The next couple of months were spent struggling with pain in my neck and shoulder, to the point that some nights it was all I could do to eat a couple bites of dinner with Tiki sitting next to me. He was the best company I could have hoped for—he was affectionate, calm and utterly devoted. As he went through his daily pattern of oscillating between the couch, the chair, his food bowl and the dinner table, he was always watching me as if to say: “you’re not alone here.” And somehow that made the long days more bearable.

A few weeks before I left I was sitting on the couch sending e-mails. I looked up to see Tiki staring at me from his chair. Every time I glanced his way he would start to purr, a deep chortling sound like an expensive car that hadn’t been tuned up in a while. We played the purr game (I looked away he’d stop, I looked at him he’d start) for a couple of minutes, and I thought to myself: “this is one special cat.” The next day I asked my boss’s daughter if I could bring Tiki home with me. His fur had grown back, his cough was gone, he was practically fat, and we loved each other so dearly that I couldn’t imagine leaving him behind. While she was sad at the idea of losing her favorite barn cat she agreed it was in his best interest. Even my parents acquiesced and said that I could bring him home on the condition that he saw a vet first.

The next week I took a trip to the vet proudly bearing my purring, chubby, glistening orange cat. As the test results started to come back I was horrified; he had a significant heart murmur, cataracts obstructing his vision, tumors in his ears and worst of all, he was positive for FIV. FIV is the feline version of HIV, it is not transmissible to humans or any other species. Tiki had been such a good sport during his appointment; he lay on his back and purred while they drew blood, he didn’t budge an inch as they listened to his heart or looked in his eyes, and he even let them poke around his belly. The vet and her tech both commented that he was surely their easiest patient of the day. I couldn’t wrap my head around how this kind creature could have such a devastating prognosis. I was tearing up while they explained that he would have to be kept away from other cats and that he could live with FIV, but something as minor as a common upper respiratory infection would be fatal. I nodded along, clutching Tiki to my chest and tried to figure out how I would convince my parents to let him come home when we already had two other cats.

On my drive back to the barn I decided that I couldn’t put my family’s cats at that kind of risk, regardless. But leaving Tiki behind wasn’t an option either. The other girls in the house didn’t want to take care of him. My boss’s daughter had cats at her house, her parent’s house and the barn, so he couldn’t live in any of those places. He had nowhere to go.

And so I decided it: Tiki was coming to college!

Francesca Finch Bochner is a Dartmouth alum who fell in love with the Upper Valley and decided to stay in the area after graduation.  She is currently taking a year off before graduate school to train and compete her dressage horse, Tess.  She lives in Strafford with her boyfriend (a veterinarian) and their menagerie of animals