I’ll never forget the time I met Sherbert the kitten. It was late afternoon and Brian and I had driven all day from Tucson, Arizona to reach our boat in San Carlos, Mexico. Our Sprinter van bounced into the marina parking area, which was just a dusty patch of ground adorned with a big green dumpster. This part of Mexico is pretty casual. There are no malls here, just the ocean, friendly Mexicans, and a kitten who needed a family.
We were elated to be here and anxious to see our boat. We opened the van doors to a wall of hot, humid air. We stepped outside and walked toward our boat, and then Sherbert appeared.
She was cute as could be with an orange coat and a furry white chest patch. She was small and painfully skinny, though, and kept her distance. She meowed loudly from a safe perimeter, around ten feet away, as we moved things from the van to the boat.
She must be hungry. What could I feed her? I searched my food supplies from the previous season and found several cans of Costco chicken breast. What kitten wouldn’t love that?
She did love it, especially the broth, yet remained skittish and ran away when I got within a couple feet of her.
My prediction was that Sherbert and I would be cuddling by the end of my 8 day stay and she would turn into a great boat cat. Brian wasn’t sure about that and called Sherbert “semi-feral”.
During the first couple days I would simply set Sherbert’s food a few feet away and sit with her as she ate. On the third day I set the food close to me and sat down on the dock next to our boat. Slowly Sherbert realized she would need to expand her comfort zone if she wanted to eat, so she inched closer.
She began to lap up some chicken broth and I reached out my hand to sneak a quick pet on her back. Instead of running, she stopped and peered at me with a confused expression as I withdrew my hand. I waited a second, and then petted her again in the same manner. She looked at me, eyes alert and watchful. Then, the third time I touched her she actually rose up to meet my hand!
It was an exciting moment, and soon Brian came out to celebrate Sherbert’s first petting by taking some photos of us and enjoying the loving scene taking place on the dock in front of the boat.
I grew to love Sherbert more as she took her first steps onto my lap and later let me pick her up. She came running when I called her name and enjoyed being petted as much as possible. Brian and I would walk to the beach with Sherbert trailing behind us. She played in the sand and we tried to teach her how to hunt crabs.
She would be a wonderful boat cat and I’ve always wanted a cat who would enjoy travelling on the boat with us. But we had plans to fly back to the US for the holidays and there are strict laws about crossing a border with an animal. We wouldn’t be allowed to bring Sherbert until she’d been vaccinated and then cleared a 30 day waiting period. We also plan to sail the South Pacific which is not pet friendly, either. Imported pets are subject to lengthy quarantines.
Sadly, Sherbert couldn’t become part of our family but she was starting to get a little plumper. She was getting pretty friendly, so I hoped someone would want her as a pet. I asked a couple people who walked by and they just laughed. Leaving her at the marina was a heartbreaking idea. One day she would come around looking for us and find only an empty dock, not a big white boat full of love. She would continue to meow at people, but no one would know she was more than just a stray. She had become used to sitting on laps and eating regular meals. I had given her a taste of what it was like to belong with someone, and now I couldn’t take that away from her. What was I going to do?
I started calling and emailing the local animal rescue organizations but none of them were taking cats. One lady I spoke with offered to list Sherbert in a newsletter, which was great, but then a couple quiet days passed with no calls or emails.
Then I got a very exciting phone message from a lady named Gwen. She wanted Sherbert. Her home was a cat sanctuary and it was just a few miles away.
I cried and felt so happy. Sherbert wouldn’t continue to return to an empty dock; instead she would have a better life. Gwen’s call came just in time since we were scheduled to leave the next day.
I prepared a fabric covered box for Sherbert’s transport, and cut several holes in the top. It was easy to get Sherbert into the box, and she was fairly mellow as Brian drove to Gwen’s home while I held her box. She poked her tiny nose out of the holes in the top of the box a couple times, but otherwise settled in for the ride.
When we arrived at Gwen’s house we knew we were in the right place. Several cats lounged luxuriously in front of a tall iron gate. Gwen stood in front of the gate, waving at us. Pink walls and green trees framed the front of the house, high on a hill near the ocean. We entered through the iron gate and then walked in the front door. A gentle rottweiler and a smaller, elderly white dog greeted us, along with three cats. The entry way had high walls painted with a brightly colored jungle scene.
We handed Sherbert’s box to Gwen and she gently lifted the lid, cooed at Sherbert and placed her in a kennel. Sherbert immediately began eating dry cat food from a small dish. I sat down next to her and said goodbye. A friendly cat rubbed against me, welcoming me immediately into the fold.
We walked outside and chatted with Gwen for awhile as cats rubbed against us. Brian enjoyed watching a very acrobatic black cat who jumped skillfully from a tree to a fence to a car and back again.
Gwen said she wants a kitten and may keep Sherbert as a permanent resident in her home. Gwen also sends cats to the US to be adopted and Sherbert may be adopted in the US someday. Either way, Sherbert is in loving, competent hands and is hopefully being petted and fed at this very moment. It was sad we could not keep her but I helped her find a better life, and I can’t remember feeling better about anything.
Gwen was absolutely lovely, a bundle of blonde energy with a thirty year history of helping animals. I still get misty eyed thinking of our conversation about providing dogs and cats with vet care from the back of a car in the desert, Gwen’s battle with cancer, and her desire to be well and travel the world with her daughter.
Bless you, Gwen, and may all your dreams and wishes come true. You deserve it. Meeting you reminded me of the vast amount of good just one person can do in this world.
And thanks for helping someone I love. I’ll never forget it.