Sheldon was The Cat of Cook Peak. We rescued him from Hart Park in Bakersfield on a hot July evening at dusk. Often we took the scenic route home through the park, hoping to see the peacocks roaming alongside the road. Near the old train bridge, there was an enormous clutter of cats. Among them were raccoons, skunks, and a chihuahua all waiting for the do-gooders who arrived each night to feed them. We parked, got out and watched the show.
Sheldon was a young high tailer, a perky black, and white cat, only a few months old, with a Hitler-style mustache. From the very beginning, he bonded with David, the weakest link, and jumped into his arms. He was a friendly cat, but he had a chronic skin condition, which was probably the reason for his abandonment, but his personality made up for his scraggly appearance. We put him in our truck and drove home, calming his nerves by singing the “Soft Kitty” song from The Big Bang Theory. That’s how he got his name, Sheldon.
Sheldon was a love machine. He over-compensated for being a mangy orphan by rubbing his body all over us and jumping onto our laps for scratches under his chin and lots of petting, which probably felt good with his skin condition. Those first nights he slept near our faces and crawled under the covers by our feet, and we let him. We were all in love.
Sheldon’s first trip to the vet was eye-opening. Dr. Lange took one look at Sheldon and said, “That’s not mange! That cat has chronic ringworm on 75% of his body!” He put on rubber gloves and turned on a black light. While Sheldon purred, he glowed brighter than a 1960s blacklight poster. And so would we a few days later.
Dr. Lange strongly advised euthanizing Sheldon. He did not think we could follow the strict regimen of treatments necessary to save his life. David and I looked at each other. After rescuing Sheldon from Hart Park and giving him a family to love, we were not going to end his life like that. We told Dr. Lange we were prepared to fight for Sheldon. He shook his head and said good luck with that.
It was a grueling 9-week regimen of treatments. Weekly sulfur baths for Sheldon made him stink like rotten eggs, and his white fur turned yellow. We forced anti-fungal pills down his throat twice a day. The rest of the family went to a doctor and were prescribed weeks of anti-fungal medications, both internal and external. Small spots had begun forming into rings, but the itch was bearable at first. But when the swamp cooler broke during a 100-degree spell, every ring on our bodies from head to toe bloomed bright red and itched beyond description.
Sheldon lived his nine weeks in quarantine in the downstairs bathroom inside a wire cage. Twice a day David put on hazmat gear and visited for an hour. With rubber gloves on, he cuddled and played with Sheldon, while the rest of us watched from a safe distance through the window. Meanwhile, Cook Peak was contaminated. Every day we deep cleaned, washed and bleached everything only to wake up the next day and do it all over again. Even the carpet was removed. We put a giant wire cage in the corner of the living room for Hernia Dog. He’d developed spots, too and had to be bathed in sulfur, medicated and quarantined. It took nine weeks of isolation of family and pets to kill the plague of Cook Peak. When it was all over, our experience had brought us closer together as a family. Not only had we gained an exceptional cat, but also earned the respect of our veterinarian.
A young red tabby, about the age of Sheldon, showed up during the fall and wouldn’t leave. Sheldon was strictly an indoor cat at the time, but the two of them were inseparable with only a quarter of an inch of glass between them. We named the newcomer Mr. Leonard and tried to ignore him, but eventually, we invited him in.
I began to photograph Sheldon, capturing his quirky personality and the contrast of his black and white fur. I created a Facebook page about him and wrote posts from his perspective and uploaded my photos. Sheldon became famous overnight. He was Batman. Mr. Leonard was Robin, and life was good in Gotham.
One evening at dusk, Sheldon didn’t come inside when we called. He wasn’t one to go far or stay out late or be apart from Mr. Leonard. I felt sick in my stomach as I searched the property with a flashlight, looking for a body. Coyotes had been at Cook Peak earlier that day, The Bear, too. Once we caught Sheldon and The Bear at the birdbath in the side yard touching noses; Sheldon didn’t flinch. He wasn’t afraid of coyotes either. To him, they were like Hernia Dog and dogs didn’t worry him at all. Sheldon’s disappearance was devastating for all of us. After everything we’d gone through to save his life, Sheldon had disappeared.
Sheldon’s Facebook page still gets likes from around the world. Sometimes I go to his wall and browse through old posts and photos, and it feels like a memorial. Unfortunately, Mr. Leonard is not as photogenic, but he has turned out to be an exceptional indoor cat. He is no Sheldon, but he has filled the void in our hearts and has become The Cat of Cook Peak.
Photos of Sheldon
The Adventures of Sheldon