Story by Madeline Patton
In the months following the death of Dr. Erin Wood’s beloved 16-year-old cat Lita, Wood found comfort in the song “Blackbird” by The Beatles.
“I love that song, and I felt so broken after Lita died; the song lyrics—especially the line ‘Take these broken wings and learn to fly’—had been running through my head,” said Wood, an assistant professor in the Texas A&M University Department of History.
“I love animals, and my animals are my babies; they’re my family here,” Wood said. “After Lita died, I really didn’t know when or if I’d be ready to adopt another cat, or another pet in general. I want to help them all, but I didn’t know if I could go through another loss when I already have three other babies, who I will most likely outlive.”
That changed, however, when she learned about a very sick black kitten, named Xena, that was taken to the Texas A&M College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences’ (CVM) Veterinary Medical Teaching Hospital (VMTH) in late 2019.
Xena was found very close to death, stuck to a rodent glue trap. She was first taken to an animal hospital in Conroe, but when it became clear that she was very sick and needed extensive care, Xena’s foster brought her to the VMTH, where Xena was found to have had severely decreased blood cell counts, hypoglycemia, hypothermia, internal parasites, and severe anemia, in addition to a several other ailments.
Courtney Bellew, founder and director of the New York-based rescue Special Needs Animal Rescue and Rehabilitation (SNARR), responded to a call for help in a Facebook post about the very sick kitten. Although the rescue is typically a dog rescue, she said, “I couldn’t scroll through and ignore the plea for help when I saw what terrible shape she was in.”
With the support of SNARR and the VMTH’s Casey’s Good Samaritan Feline Fund, Xena was able to get the life-saving treatment she desperately needed.
“In addition to supportive care, assorted diagnostics, and some medications and supplements, Xena needed a blood transfusion because she was lacking in red blood cells and had low blood volume,” said Wood, who became involved in Xena’s case after also learning about the kitten on social media.
A blood transfusion turned out to be a difficult process, as Texas A&M’s veterinarians discovered that Xena has a rare feline blood type, Type B.
Since Type B feline blood is not commonly available, the veterinarians decided to give her a transfusion of Type B canine blood. This method comes with some risks, but Xena tolerated the transfusion and was able to receive a feline blood transfusion a few days later.
Shortly after Thanksgiving, Wood decided to foster Xena as a way of honoring her beloved Lita while Xena received treatment and continued on the road to recovery. It didn’t take long, though, for Wood to realize that she wanted to make Xena a permanent member of her family.
Because Wood was giving Xena a shot at a new life and a new home, Wood also wanted to give her a new name and knew exactly what that name should be—“Blackbird,” or “Birdie,” for short.
“When I first saw a picture of her, she looked so broken, and the way her limbs were laid out reminded me of wings,” Wood said. “She was such a fighter and so many people fought with her. The lyrics just seemed so fitting. She did have broken wings, but she is definitely flying now.”
Wood knew she would have to be careful during this time, since she already had a house full of pets still at home, including a 5-year-old dog named Turtle and two other cats, Miles and Trodaí.
When bringing a rescue into a new home, it’s important to integrate them slowly and get them acclimated before introducing them to other pets.
“To help with the adjustment for all of the animals and to allow Birdie to finish physically recovering, I took the integration really seriously,” Wood said.
Now, Birdie has made herself at home and is growing more and more comfortable as time goes on.
“It’s been amazing and beautiful to have seen her go from a sick, recovering little one to such a kitten,” Wood said. “She’s doing wonderfully now; she’s gained weight, has good energy, is physically and mentally active, and almost all of her fur has grown in.
“If you didn’t know her backstory, you’d have no idea that just a few months ago, she was critically ill and so close to death. She easily could not be alive if she wasn’t such a fighter and if so many people had not helped her in a multitude of ways.”
Wood said Birdie is sweet, funny, and curious.
“She loves climbing, running around the house, watching birds out the window, and cuddling up with us,” Wood said.
Birdie has even come around to befriending her canine siblings.
“She really enjoys her siblings,” Wood said. “She plays, or rather tries to play, with them all, including my roughly 55-pound dog. She is super curious and has no fear. She started becoming interested in them as soon as she started feeling better, gained energy, and got to be around them. She kind of forced them all to be her friend.”
While Birdie is not meant to replace Lita, Wood feels as though “she’s a beautiful part of Lita’s legacy.”
“She’s added a new piece of love to my broken heart,” Wood said. “She’s such a special little girl, and I’m so happy and lucky that I get to be the one to give her what I hope will be a wonderful life.”
Casey’s Good Samaritan Feline Fund supports injured or sick cats in dire need of care that are brought to the VMTH by good Samaritans for treatment. To contribute to this fund, click here.
Contact Information: Jennifer Gauntt, Director of CVM Communications, Texas A&M College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Science; email@example.com; 979-862-4216