You’ve heard, perhaps, of Shoeless Joe Jackson.
But I’m going to guess you may not have heard of Toeless Vladimir Doyle.
Technically, his full name is Vladimir Doyle Rosenberg. But let’s keep things on a first-and-middle name basis for now. Vlad’s story is complicated enough.
Young Vladimir was living on the streets of Brooklyn this brutal winter. Streets of any kind are no place for a cat – especially not a Cheez-It-colored angel who literally sings – but January in New York is especially unforgiving. A kind soul found Vlad motionless but alive, with ears and paws that were all kinds of wrong.
Through a providential set of circumstances, Vladimir – funky feet, crispy ears and all – finally made his way to Tabby’s Place. At that point, he wasn’t yet Vladimir. The kind soul who delivered him, when asked the cat’s name, sheepishly smiled and said, “Well, I always wanted a cat named Doyle.”
Doyle. A cute name, if you ask me. But someone (who shall remain anonymous, and whose name may or may not rhyme with Rhonathan), vetoed it in a flash. Rhonathan made two observations. First, a cat in such crummy condition would need a strong and mighty name to survive, and “Doyle” wasn’t cutting it. Second, any cat from Brooklyn has at least the possibility of involvement with the Russian mob.
And so we had Vladimir.
Denise’s trained eyes immediately diagnosed what the rest of us onionheads saw only as “el stinko.” It turns out that this particular case of el stinko was frostbite.
Really, really advanced frostbite.
The next few days with specialist Dr. Fantastic were touch-and-go for the cat with the mighty name and the ever-so-serious eyes. Vlad was horribly emaciated, and blood tests confirmed that he hadn’t eaten since roughly the Nixon administration. When a cat doesn’t eat, he puts himself at risk for hepatic lipidosis, or “fatty liver disease.” As if frostbite wasn’t enough, Vlad added this to his palette of problems. Dr. Fantastic placed a feeding tube, and we all prayed for the best.
Then there were those feet. Vlad’s crunchy little ears were bad enough, blackened at the tips. But a cat can do just fine earless (or, to be politically correct, earfree). Paws are another story. Both of Vlad’s back paws were wracked with frostbite, a wicked black line separating live tissue from cold-wrecked death. Would his paws, or part of them, fall off? If he needed both paws amputated, would he – could he possibly – make it? Dr. Fantastic, Denise, and even Dr. C didn’t know where to begin to guess. Vladimir took us all into uncharted territory.
And so we prayed. And prayed. And Denise, in her effortless, heart-bigger-than-Mongolia way, offered to be Vlad’s own personal hero and foster momma. Each night, the orange lovey went home with Denise; each morning, he came back to Tabby’s Place for anothe peek, another inspection, another round of poking and prodding and tube-feeding and praying.
That’s around the time something became crazy-clear. This was no ordinary cat we were dealing with (as if there is such a thing as an ordinary cat). And if this Brooklyn boy was part of any kind of mob, he was a gangster of love. (Some people call him Maurice, actually.) With a feeding tube deep in his neck and death itself fighting his ears and paws, Vladimir was the cuddliest, loviest, most downright mirthful being ever to fight for life in these hallowed halls.
With each day, fear faded a little more. Vlad’s ear tips fell off, leaving behind healthy, pink, beautiful tissue. His front paws were just fine, likely because he’d nestled them deep under his chest as cats often do (in that classic, apparently-armless, “Venus de Brooklyn” style). The feeding tube stayed in place, but Vlad started eating and eating and eating, and his weight began to climb out of the basement. Denise finally nursed our little Russian Irish Brooklyn Jersey cat back to such strong health that he was able to stay Casa Tabby full time (which simultaneously delighted Denise and wrecked her).
Now a full-time creature of the Community Room, Vlad was in his glory. I’ve never known a cat who chirped quite as much as this guy. It’s almost hard to believe that Vladimir is able to breathe, since he is contantly asking (and it’s clearly a question), “Broooop? Brooooooooooooooop?”
But the chirping’s just a sample of the longer songs. Yes, that’s right: Vladimir sings. Old Russian folk tunes, maybe? (Or Irish drinking songs from the Doyle days?) I’m not musically gifted enough to determine, but this is definitely music: “Broop brooooooop? Brup brup broooop?” (His lyrics are more compelling than Ke$ha’s and Justin Bieber’s combined.)
Just about everyone in 100,000 square miles of Vladimir fell in love in a flash. Well…just about. God gave Vladimir many blessings, but “feline social skills” were not one of them. A typical scene: Vladimir sits next to Ginny’s desk. Enter Gingko, stage left. Gingko walks right up to Vlad and hisses at him, full in the face.
Vlad’s reply? “Broooop?” Translation: “Friend?”
For the rest of us, it was love in the first degree. Vlad could stay, forever, as our staff pet, and that would be just fine.
But there was still the small matter of those feet. The dead tissue on Vlad’s hind paws was now progressing quickly, and it made a horrible tapping sound with each step he took. Dr. Fantastic advised that we wait as long as possible before considering surgery, to see if Vlad’s too-totaled-to-save toes might fall off on their own. But when Vlad took matters into his own teeth, trying to pull off the dead tissue himself (which is as gruesome and B-movieish as it sounds)…well, it was time.
Last Wednesday was an anxious sort of time at Tabby’s Place, as we all awaited word on Vlad’s surgery. Finally the text message came from Jonathan. Vlad sailed through his surgery, and now had exactly as many hind toes as James Earl Jones has non-awesome moments: zero.
So what? Toes are overrated anyway.
And here’s the yummiest part of the story: Vlad is going to be 100%, absolutely, positively just fine. He may protest to the contrary during his daily bandage changes (the one and only time his brooops turn into screams), but this toeless wonder is out of the woods and into full bloom. And if anyone gives him a hard time, Vlad need only show them his cooler-than-cupcakes hind feet. In a stroke of brilliance, Jonathan suggested that we bandage those paws in different colors, Punky-Brewster style.
So he’s Russian, he’s Irish, he’s toeless and he’s rocking the best of the 80s. Most importantly, Vladimir is loved – and, once you’ll meet him, you’ll realize that he is also love. What more is there to say than: broooooooop?