The Great Pumpkin

We’d been home from the hospital for two years. My daughter Allie, who needed a heart transplant at age four, was now starting to thrive three years later. Still, she had one complication--Allie couldn’t sleep at night. She was haunted by those frightening nights in the hospital and thought “something bad” might happen while she was asleep. Her worry and lack of rest went on for months.

At that time, Allie had a little fish which she enjoyed watching, but her sister, Danielle and I were concerned that the fish didn’t have much time left. We hated to think how devastated Allie would be to lose her fish. After all Allie had endured, we wanted to make that loss easier.

So Danielle and I headed to the pet shop to surprise Allie with another fish. We walked around the store checking out fish bowls until we arrived in front of the cat cages. There, snuggling with other furry kittens, was the sweetest little boy cat. He seemed to light up when we walked past, meowing to us and pawing on the glass. Danielle looked at me and said, “Mom, let’s just play with the kittens for a minute. They look like they need some attention.”

Danielle knows I love cats, so it was an easy sell. We requested permission to visit with these rescued cats from a local shelter, and Danielle pointed out the kitten she thought looked eager for a visitor. Out of his cage, the little orange tabby purred happily in her arms, nuzzling into her lap. Danielle looked up at me and said, “This cat would be perfect for Allie. He’s so affectionate and sweet. He’s so gentle and soft. We need to get her a cat, not a fish.”

I agreed that a relaxed, affectionate cat like this was rare, and we should discuss it with her dad. It took hours of begging and cajoling, but finally my husband, agreed to accompany Allie, Danielle and me to the pet store where he begrudgingly considered the addition of a new family member.

Allie and this cat were meant to be together. They instantly bonded; the kitten would not remove himself from her lap. He sat there purring delightedly while Allie stroked his soft coat. How can you say no to a girl with a heart transplant? I assure you it isn’t easy. My husband was convinced, and we brought the cat home in a box.

That night, when it was time to sleep, Allie had that panic-stricken look on her face that she usually had before bedtime. We told her she would be fine, “Lie down and rest.” Then, my husband placed the new addition by her side. The kitten commenced to purring contentedly, burying himself against Allie. The relaxation was evident. Her breathing slowed, her eyelids grew heavy, and for the first time in months, my daughter fell quickly asleep with her new friend.

My husband and I watched this for a long time. Both of us grew teary. We felt so much love for that girl and that cat--what a relief to see the two of them sleeping peacefully.

The next morning I hugged my younger daughter Danielle and thanked her. “For what, Mom?” she wondered. I told her how well Allie slept last night and what a good suggestion she made to get her sister a cat instead of a fish. Danielle was quite proud and tried to help Allie choose a name for the cat. The decision was made with much fanfare, as “Pumpkin” was anointed; he joined the family only days before Halloween.

Six years have gone by, and Pumpkin is still a source of great joy for our family. He remains the most laid back fellow. Playful and friendly, he tolerates a lot of babying—including being picked up to endure tremendous amounts of hugging and kissing.

Pumpkin never grows tired of sleeping with his best friend Allie, and she dotes on Pumpkin’s every need. She misses him terribly when we travel. He still makes a difference in her security and ability to stay focused, sitting by her while she works through her homework or swallows a dozen pills each day.

Like an unnamed kitten rescued from a shelter, and a girl who received a new heart, Allie and Pumpkin are enjoying their second chance at life.


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