I Love Little Kittens & I Hate Poison Oak

Beauty needs no reward.


I love little kittens and I hate poison oak. Turns out, I ended up with more than cat scratches last weekend. Aidan—my son—and David, a friend, and I had just finished a long day working at our 12 acre organic lemon and avocado grove.

Shoveling tons of dirt into the back of my truck, chain-sawing railroad ties, and stacking retaining wall bricks, we were building an entertainment patio space for our grove artist getaways. What could have been a long hot day had been minimized by a cool, soothing breeze that drifted over the rolling country hills from the Pacific. And so, it was just a long day lifting heavy things with lunch, laughter and a few water breaks.

At the end of the day, after locking our chain-link gate, we drove down the narrow road that borders our property. We quickly came to a halt by a small blue car stopped in the middle of the road. Two Hispanic ladies stood outside the car, peering into the bushes.

“What’s going on?” I wondered out loud to Aidan and David.

Knowing they were blocking the road, one of the ladies looked back at me.

“Que buscas?” I asked, my four-year Spanish degree coming in handy, as it does every time I order my favorite combo plate. If only an Irish meal tasted like Mexican food.

“Gatos,” she replied, pointing into the bushes.

“What’d she say,” Aidan asked.

Right then, we saw a quick flicker of white in the bushes.

“Look! Kittens!”

A smile lit up across Aidan’s face.


We hopped out of the car and zipped over to where the ladies were standing. I squatted down a bit and through the bushes, I could see one white kitten—a very small one—walking across a low tree branch. Too far out of my reach, my eyes skirted to the sound of mewing in the thicket down below. I reached in and pulled out a little calico kitten while Aidan ran to the side of the bush to grab the second. There were three total.

Giggling and laughing, we were all now on a fun cat hunt and we debated whether or not to go for the third one. Lined with thick oak trees and brambles next to a steep embankment, that kitty was pretty deep inside.

“Aw, we gotta keep’em together,” I said.

Big mistake. My feline faux pax of the day.

With brambles filled with needles and slick oak tree leaves covering the steep slope, I slid and scurried my way over to where the kitty was poised on an oak tree branch. It didn’t like me coming near, so it hurried down the branch. As I reached to grab it, it launched off the branch and raced away like a cheetah, disappearing deeper into the brush.

Turning to head back up the slope, my foot snarled in the brambles and I made a very un-cheetah-ish move. Flipping head over heels, I somersaulted down the slope.

Unlike a cat, I didn’t land on my feet, but my butt, thus cushioning the fall.

Laughing at myself, I scrambled up the slope and back to the car, where Aidan and David were waiting with the cats.

“Hey Dad, can we take them home?” Aidan asked as he and David doted on the calico kitties, one in each arm.

David deadpanned, “They’re covered in fleas.”

I knew I had to think long and hard about this one.

Not one, but two kittens?

My wife Krista was gone at a tennis tournament for the weekend and I knew she wouldn’t exactly want two flea-ridden, potentially diseased feral kitties in addition to the big fat cat and golden retriever we already had. And so I thought long and hard about it.

“Sure, why not…”

The kittens were really small and malnourished, probably no more than six weeks old, but none of us were eager to get scratched to death by wild kitties or eaten alive by fleas on the way home. So, we dumped the remaining drinks out of our cooler and placed the mewing fleabags inside.

Hours later, after David had left and Aidan was off to a friend’s Saturday night birthday party, it was just me and the kitties holding a flea-genocide in the garage. When I dosed the first kitty in the water, the black nasty critters went for the dry ground around her furry face. Never seen so many bloodsucking parasites in my life.

Slathered in Dawn dishwashing soap, the poor soaking wet kitten whined and nipped and scratched as I, with tweezers in hand, picked one dead flea after another out of its fur. In case you are wondering, the scientific name for a flea is Siphonaptera, as in siphon blood. If I showed you the picture of the wet-flea-covered kitty on my iPhone, you’d gag. I extracted at least a hundred of those evil wingless leeches from both kitties.

Dripping wet, the kitties were skin and bones with sharp teeth and piercing claws. I don’t know what it was, but they didn’t like being soaking wet nor having their heads run under the kitchen faucet to rinse the soap out. Four flea baths later, a couple formula feedings—they were starving—and I was their new best friend.

The next couple days were fun as these two fluff balls entertained us with crazy kitty antics. They followed me around like I was a Pied Piper and wrestled with each other like a couple MMA fighters. Aidan named them Mochi and Mufasa, pleading for us to keep at least one of them. Krista liked having them around, but she wasn’t ready to make a long-term commitment. Rafiki, our plus-size scaredy cat, growled and hissed at the newcomers in her most unwelcoming way.

When we put the word out that we were looking for new kitten owners, it didn’t take, but twenty-four hours to find them a home. Janae, our oldest daughter, had friends who’d just witnessed their cat whisked away in their backyard by a friendly vegan coyote.

So our temporary kittens, which once were lost, found a new home. Aidan was bummed, but quickly got over it. I thought I was over it too, but as I noticed red bumps begin to swell on my arms and legs, I discovered I was just getting into it. As a furious itch came over my body, I realized that my little adventure into the brush amounted to a poison oak bath.

Kitty revenge.

As I sit here typing this missive, my arms, legs, chest and the right side of my face are one big rashy patchwork. I am a leaking sore. Job was covered with boils, but I’m covered in poison oak. Come to think of it, Job probably ran through poison oak trying to rescue a kitty. That part was left out. What kitty rescue wouldn’t make you a righteous man?

Dang! You try to be a Superhero Kitty Savior and end up getting poison oak. Throwing myself in front of a train to save them would have been far more deadly, but way less itchy. Aidan got away scott-free and I have Calamine lotion all over me, making me look like a death-warmed-over pink chalky ET.

So much for my feeble animal rescue services.

Doing the right thing isn’t all kittens and sweetness. Many times, you will start out with the best of intentions to make this world a more beautiful place and this spinning globe will judo-flip gravity back on your head, turning your inspired dream into a terrible train-wreck. Your best made plans and spontaneous adventures may get you covered in poison oak. Or worse.

Krista and I know several couples, very dear friends of ours, who have adopted children from foreign countries. Plucked from the streets in Russia and South American orphanages, our friends began with the best of intentions to give these children a life of freedom and opportunity by raising them out of poverty. A few years into the adoptions, their dreams disintegrated into one conflict after another with the adopted children. What began with motivations of love, hope and possibility spiraled into what counselors call “a broken adoption.” Seeking to save the lost and marginalized children of the world, our friends honestly had no idea what their love and sacrifice would truly cost.

Aidan and I only brought home a couple kittens for a few days—no huge heroic act there. Kittens are cute, but they won’t shape the next generation. They will grow up and lounge around the house, catch a mouse or two, and never learn how to properly drink from a water bowl.

Our friends are the true heroes who have literally saved lives at the price of their own comfort, security, and peace of mind. Seriously, they could have opted for many European vacations and Caribbean cruises. All this sacrifice with such little fanfare, which makes their giving all the more beautiful. More often than not, beauty and sacrifice are not rewarded. All those ‘Thank you’s’, praise, accolades and appreciation are often absent. What is truly beautiful is beautiful because it is costing someone something.

If you want to make the world a more beautiful place, don’t expect a door prize.

Beauty needs no reward.

This is what I suspect Jesus was getting at when he said, “When you give to the needy, don’t let your left hand know what your right hand is doing.”

Give silently. Extravagantly. Without seeking attention.

There are so many lost and hurting and broken people who need your presence. And generosity. And help.

It’s a sobering reminder as I complain about my poison oak.

Questions: Can you remember a time when your good deed went unrewarded? Name a time when someone made your life more beautiful by making a significant sacrifice.

I’d love your thoughts and comments.

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  • Rebecca

    Try this! http://www.zanfel.com/help. It worked like a dream for me on a couple of occasions. Hopefully, you haven’t been exposed for too long. I think I had the best father-in-law. He was very generous and willing to help my husband and I when we had a financial emergency. After he died, I wondered how we would manage without his advice, and his occasional help. It was then that God revealed to me that although I thought it was my father-in-law, it was really Him that helped us those times. He allowed Herb to be the channel for His blessing in our need.

    • http://www.joeyo.org/ Joey O’Connor

      Rebecca, thanks for sharing the story of your father-in-law. Yes, God does help us and work through those close to us in our lives. He sounds like he was a wonderful man.

      And thank you for your Zanfel recommendation! I just bought some last night and it has helped clear up the poison oak by 50% this morning. The stuff truly is amazing. I tried several products and this is by far the best! Thanks again!

      • Rebecca

        Yes, he was wonderful. I used to call him my Patron Saint of the Arts! He always encouraged me.

        You’re welcome! Zanfel works better than anything out there. Works even better if you can use it immediately.