By Leslee W. Kahler

My husband and I had been married for about two years when Nekko came into our lives. I was visiting friends when on the way back to my car I spotted a small black and gray cat stuck in a tree. I climbed the tree part way and managed to coax the cat down towards me, the cat climbed towards me and then jumped to the ground and ran off when a stranger approached to see why I was in a tree. The next time I went to visit my friends I found the same little cat being tormented by three men, who were trying to tie firecrackers to its tail. I yelled for them to stop but I’m a very small woman and not very intimidating, so they just laughed and ignored me. I ran to my friend’s house and got her husband Charles, who is a very, very large man. Charles chased off the men, but we were unable to catch the cat that free of her tormentors had run off.

I told my husband about the small cat and its plight and how it was obviously a stray and in need of a home. My husband and I already had one pet cat and he said if I saw the little cat again it was fine with him if I brought it home. When I went to visit my friends again I came prepared in case I saw the little cat, bringing a cat carrier and a can of tuna. As I was walking to my friend’s house, from the community parking lot, I spotted the little cat. I went to my car and returned with the carrier and the can of tuna. I opened the carrier and then the can while crouching down and talking to the little cat in a friendly voice. I placed the can on the ground and then backed a few feet away and patiently waited. A few minutes later the little cat began eating the tuna, I waited till I saw the cat relax and then crept over to it and picked it up, then quickly popped it into the carrier. The little cat didn’t make a sound of protest. I slipped the can into the carrier and carried it back to my car all the while talking to the cat in a low voice. As soon as I got home I took the cat out of the carrier and gave it a bath, it was covered in grease and mud and I didn’t want to risk it bringing fleas into my house. I quickly discovered that the cat was a female, and rather than being black and gray she was a lovely black and white. The cat began to purr loudly as I washed the filth from her fur, never protesting, never trying to get out of the bath. It was as if she knew I was trying to help her and she wanted to be clean. While I was washing her my husband asked what we should call her, and he began proposing names. He was studying Japanese at the time and suggested we call her Nekko, which is Japanese for cat. I asked the cat if that was all right with her and she seemed to purr louder, so we named her Nekko.

A few days later I took her to the vet for a checkup and to be fixed as well as get her shots. The vet guessed she was about two years old and despite living on the streets was pretty healthy. Nekko soon became a very loving and affectionate cat, she’d greet me at the door whenever I came home from work and always loved to jump up on my lap whenever I watched television.

Several months later we were visiting my father in law at his assisted living senior center and I saw a sign saying the center was starting a pet visiting program. I spoke to the nurse in charge of my father in law and asked if I could bring Nekko for a visit. The nurse said Nekko could come if she was clean and well behaved. I thought of how sweet Nekko was and that my father in law might like a visit with Nekko. I began leash training Nekko, to sit and walk while wearing a body harness and leash, as always she was very calm and willing to please and in a matter of days was sitting and walking while wearing her harness and leash.

I began bringing Nekko with us whenever we went to visit my father in law, and she soon became very popular with the residents at the home. She would walk down the corridor and let strangers pick her up and pat her or sit on their laps if they wished. During one visit my father in law’s nurse brought in a nurse from another floor and introduced her to me. The nurse was a hospice nurse and she had a patient, an elderly lady who they didn’t think would make it through the night. The hospice nurse explained that her patient was all alone, and had no family, that the lady had been asking to see and pet a cat just one more time. The hospice nurse explained that her patient had owned many cats and had to give them all up when she entered the center. The lady had told the nurse that if she could pat a cat just one more time she could die happy. The nurse asked if  I would mind bringing Nekko to the lady’s room and let Nekko stay with the woman. I said of course, and picked up Nekko and followed the hospice nurse to another floor and into the room of a very old and very frail woman, named Martha. Martha looked up as we entered and upon seeing Nekko broke into a smile. I walked up to Martha’s bed and introduced Nekko, then I put Nekko on Martha’s bed and tied the end of the leash to the bed rail. I told Nekko to stay and be a good cat. Nekko immediately walked onto Martha’s chest and knelt down facing Martha. Martha began patting Nekko and talking to her and Nekko began to purr very loudly. I stayed for several minutes to be sure Nekko was behaving and then left to go back to my husband and father in law, with a promise from the hospice nurse that she’d return Nekko to me. Two hours later the nurse still hadn’t returned Nekko and I was wondering how I could politely retrieve Nekko when the hospice nurse appeared holding Nekko and crying, accompanied by my father in law’s nurse and another nurse. The hospice nurse said that Martha had passed a few minutes earlier, but she’d died smiling. The hospice nurse went on to say that she’d left Nekko with Martha while she’d gone to check on other patients, stopping every few minutes to check on them both. The nurse said that every time she stopped by, Nekko was loudly purring and looking into Martha’s face. The nurse had then been tied up with another patient longer than she’d intended and a good thirty minutes had passed before she could return to Martha. When she’d gone back to check on Martha the last time she’d found Nekko sitting up right at the foot of the bed and meowing softly, the nurse had then gone to check Martha and discovered she’d passed.  The hospice nurse said that Nekko was surely a little angel for she’d sat perfectly still and purred nonstop for Martha, making Martha’s last hours on Earth very happy. The nurses then all thanked me for bringing Nekko and said that Nekko was welcome back any time, and that they looked forward to her next visit. Nekko continued to accompany us to the center and brought smiles and laughter to whomever she spent time with.

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