11/17/01 - 10/9/17
We recently said our last goodbye to a special cat named Mimsy. Sweet Mims, a favorite among staff, was a one-of-a-kind kitty with a heart of gold and eyes that penetrated the soul. Her life was one of adventure with many kitty friends and human friends alike. With heavy hearts, we share a story written by her parents, Jan Smith and Norman Johnson. It's a bittersweet story but one of love and courage. It shows us Mimsy's amazing will to survive and the first of many adventures.
The Cat with Eight Lives
A few weeks ago we got a pet for our pet. Miss Mimsy Brillig, who became our second feline crew member, is a little domestic tortoiseshell spayed female kitty we found at the local shelter and brought home to entertain our 5-year-old neutered black male, Frumious. She is a delightful creature, beautiful, lively, and charming. Her fur is as soft and fluffy as ermine. If we put our hands out toward her she walks right up into them and begins to purr.
Frumi and Mimsy do sometimes chase each other about and that's what they were doing last Sunday around 7am while we were lolling about decadently in our berth. We didn't pay much attention until we heard a scraping sound come through the hull. "Crab trap buoy." we told each other, a common occurrence. We looked around and saw Frumi, but not Miss Mimsy.
Then we heard two strange cries, sounding a lot like a bird. We both shot out of the berth and up on deck. I took a cursory look around and saw nothing in the water except a bird floating 30 yards astern. I figured that if a cat had fallen overboard ripples would still be evident in the calm water. There were none. We went below.
Down below we called to Mimsy but there was no response. Oh, well, she's probably crawled off into some hidey hole for a snooze, we thought. She did that the day after she first came aboard and stayed out of sight for almost 10 hours. We printed up posters with her picture, put one up on the bulletin board, took one to the marina office, queried all the boats in the anchorage, and scoured the shoreline. That evening around 5pm she reappeared, yawning.
Jan continued searching Mimsy’s known hideouts. Then we heard another cry outside. I went up on deck for another look, but still thinking I heard a bird and Mimsy was snoozing somewhere below. What I saw shocked me. About 10 yards behind the boat I saw a little bit of fluffy tail above the water's surface and a bit of wet fur beside it. It looked like a child's waterlogged coonskin cap floating by on the incoming tide.
We carry our dinghy in side davits, lifted by trailer winches. With Jan still in her nightshirt manning the forward winch, I ordered the pawls retracted and the handles released. The dinghy dropped into the water with a roar of the winches, and we immediately followed, unhooking the lifts and getting underway instantly.
As we approached the barely floating clump of fur I was confused as to how fast to go. On the one hand I wanted to get to her as quickly as possible, but I didn't want to make the pickup difficult for Jan; more importantly, I was afraid the bow wave would wash over Mimsy and sink her. So I compromised and approached moderately. It was very difficult.
Jan snatched the lifeless body out of the water perfectly. It didn't even look like a cat, just a blob of wet thing. She held our little girl up by the hind legs, patted her on the back, and sucked the seawater out of her nose and mouth. She was not breathing. Jan did mouth-to-mouth and got a couple of puffs of air in. There was a convulsive sneeze and a faint cry. I was never more grateful to hear a sound in my life. Another cry or two and we were back at the ship. Immediately Jan took Mimsy to an emergency warm shower while I put up the dinghy. The warm water had a reviving effect. Mimsy, as weak as she was, managed a few pitiful moans as Jan washed the cold seawater out of her fur. By the time I got below Jan had our beloved little girl wrapped in a towel on the main berth. She was limp as a dish rag and barely breathing.
Knowing that a four-and-a-half pound body in fifty five degree seawater will loose its heat very quickly, hypothermia was my main concern. At first we raised our shirts and sandwiched her body between us, as we are told to do with a person, but I quickly realized that that would not be enough to make a difference with all her water-soaked fur. So I had Jan fire up her hair dryer and keep it aimed at my hands while I concentrated all my attention on drying and warming our little treasure.
I knew it was important to raise her core temperature as rapidly as possible, so I concentrated my attention on her belly and chest where her fur was the thinnest and the heat from the hair drier would soak into her the easiest. We changed the towel she was lying on frequently and kept it snuggled against her back as we worked on her belly and chest. I began softly talking to her, telling her how wonderful she was and how much we loved her. She seemed to absorb my voice just as she was absorbing the heat from the hair drier. At one point she used all the strength she had to push her nose firmly up against mine. I got the message.
After a while I was able to hold the hair drier myself to allow Jan to get on her phone to seek medical advice. The St Augustine vet emergency "hotline" led to nothing but a full voice mail box. Jan then called her granddaughter Lauren who had worked for a vet and eventually made contact with the only vet Miss Mimsy had ever seen. They both confirmed that we were doing the right thing. We should keep warming her and it might take several hours. If she showed signs of respiratory infection later on we should bring her in, but for now, we should concentrate on drying her and actively warming her with the hair drier.
I focused on keeping her chest and belly warm while making little forays to her throat, head and limbs to dry them too. I found that when I would dry one part of her and move on to another, the first part would be damp again in minutes as the water capillaried out of her dense inner fur, so I kept moving the flow of warm air around chasing the dampness while I opened her fur with my fingers, yet frequently returned to her chest and belly to keep warmth flowing into her little body.
When she started shivering uncontrollably I knew it was a good sign. During hypothermia, shivering is a stage between cold and deathly cold and now our cherished Miss Mimsy was reversing the process, crawling back from the edge of death. But her body was still cool to the touch. I knew I could not stop until she felt very warm as her normal body temperature is several degrees above ours.
Jan and I worked on her for over for two hours with that hair drier (thanks, Trojan Batteries and Trace Inverter) drying her thick winter fur and pumping warmth back into her. Water bubbles came out of her nose as her lungs cleaned themselves. Gradually her shivering became intermittent and then ceased altogether as her life forces grew stronger.
Slowly she regained her strength as we kept the hair drier in constant motion, bathing her in warmth. When she started trying to get away from the noisy machine blowing in her face, I knew she was back among us. I shut off the drier and stuffed her under my undershirt against my bare skin, trapping her there until she had the strength to force her way out. All told, from first snatching her lifeless body out of St Augustine Harbor until she was peacefully sleeping on the berth, it was about four hours.
She stayed on the main berth until the next day, and 24 hours later was moving slowly about the boat. Today, several days later, she is back to her young, exuberant, self and we are enjoying again the antics of our furry friends as they chase each other through the boat, stopping occasionally for an insincere hiss and swat.
We are very lucky that Mimsy had the incredible guts to call out that one last desperate cry for help, even as she was dying.
We are very lucky that she floated, even when not breathing. I can only think that it was air trapped in her thick winter fur that kept her from sinking.
We are very lucky that we knew what she needed and had the facilities to provide it.
We are very lucky we can look at her now, curled up asleep on our berth near Frumi.
I blame myself severely for under-reacting, a fault I have been guilty of in the past, for not stretching out to look closer at the waterline under the stern that first time I went up on deck. I relied on my mistaken notion that I would see ripples in the calm morning water if she had fallen overboard and I was very wrong. We could have grabbed her with a dip net right away.
I will never forget the sight of that little scrap of fur floating away from us, and I will never mistake her cry of distress for a bird again.
We present this report as a lesson, on a small scale, of what could happen to us all.
Norm and Jan
Thursday, February 3, 2005
St Augustine Harbor
A Special Thanks to Jan and Norm for providing us pictures to use throughout our site. Many of the pictures you see are of their other cats, some still with us and some that were waiting for Mimsy across the bridge.