Compared to all the violence, hate, destruction and suffering that's taking place in our country these days, the life of one little stray kitten seems almost insignificant.

That is, until the life of that one little stray kitten hangs in the balance right before your very eyes.

Monday morning, I went to Church Hill to take some pictures of Volunteer High School's football field (see Tuesday's paper). Heading back into Kingsport, I was eastbound on Stone Drive as I rolled to a stop at the University Boulevard red light.

Out of the corner of my eye I spotted a little gray shape on the left lane pavement beside me.

It was the exact same color as the faded asphalt, lying right in the center of the left lane where the oil stains are. It's a miracle I even noticed it at all. 

It was lying on its belly with its head between both front paws. My first instinct was that a child had lost a little stuffed animal.

You have to make a split-second decision

Then the little feller stuck his little head up, looked me in the eyes and meowed. He has a big mouth, and it opens up wide like an alligator. 

I think he was saying, “Hey buddy. Little help here.”

I was like, “What the crap!!! How'd you get there?”

In a moment like that, there's no time to think. You have to make a split-second decision. Stop and get involved, or continue about your day and try to put it out of your mind.

I can't tell you how many times I've seen a stray animal running along a highway, and obviously it's lost and confused because somebody just dumped it out, but there's nothing I can do. I've got obligations. There’s some place I've got to be. I can't stop and chase down a dog. And if I catch it, then what? Take it to the county commission or school board meeting with me?

One person can't save every lost animal.

The kitten went on high alert

But this situation was so egregious I made my mind up in a split second that, by God, this kitty was going to live.

I turned on my hazard lights and put the SUV in park. This was around noon, and traffic was heavy. There were about four vehicles stopped for the red light behind me, but miraculously nobody rolled up in the left lane.

When I stepped out of my SUV, the kitten went on high alert.

I can only imagine what's going on in his mind: “Gigantic monsters are rolling over me. Then one of the gigantic monsters stops and gives birth to another gigantic monster that starts chasing me.”

When I tried to pick him up, he darted under my SUV, which to him probably seemed like the only viable option. He was pressed up against the passenger side front tire trying to hide from me when I reached for him.

I've got to hand it to the little booger. He's got survival skills. He dodged my hand and jumped up into the wheel well.

After you catch it, then what?

About that time a couple of fellows got out of their vehicles and came to help me. I couldn't reach up into the wheel well. My arm just doesn't bend that way.

Luckily, one of my co-rescuers was a tall, lean guy with long arms, and he was able to reach up into the wheel well and snatch him.

I have an old Honda CRV, and they put little Wheelie — as I later named him — into the back compartment where the hatch is, which I discovered doubles as a good kitty container. I didn’t get their names, but those guys really saved our bacon. Wheelie and I would still be sitting there if not for them.

Then I was left with the aforementioned quandary. After you catch it, then what? My first thought was the Hawkins County Humane Society, because I know and trust those folks.

But they're closed on Monday. Then it occurred to me, the Mount Carmel Animal Hospital where I take my dog Maggie was only about a mile away. So I took little Wheelie there and left him in the capable hands of their staff.

They did an examination on Wheelie and found in him good health, considering what he'd been through. He ate and drank ravenously, and they also gave him medicine for a parasite, as well as an ear mite treatment and flea medicine.

I managed to get HCHS Manager Sandy Behnke on the phone, and Tuesday morning she sent somebody to Mount Carmel to take Wheelie to the shelter in Rogersville, where he'll be placed up for adoption.

An epidemic of kitten dumping

Sandy told me there is currently a big demand for kittens right now, so Wheelie won't have any trouble finding a good home.

All I know is they better find him a REALLY good home. I went to visit Wheelie on Tuesday, and that is an awesome kitten. Friendly. Loves people. Loves attention. And you can see a sparkle in his eye. He’s going to be a smart one.

Unfortunately, there seems to be an epidemic of kitten dumping taking place lately, particularly along big highways.

“We have seen this kitten season that people are dumping kittens everywhere,” Sandy told me Tuesday. “We had two come in two days apart, and both were found in the middle of the road. Cloyette Fletcher found a little one she named Lucky walking down Stanley Valley Road. Lucky's other two siblings were hit by a car.”

Lucky has since been adopted.

Sandy added, “This other one was found on 11-W and Route 66 (in Rogersville) right in the middle of the road. Someone picked up this baby, and its siblings and mamma were also killed on the side of the road.”

And then on May 25, my old friend and former Times News colleague Marci Gore and her husband rescued a kitten walking down the middle of the road on Stone Drive in front of Walmart. Marci told me they have no idea how it survived, but they named it Aslan and it has become a permanent part of their household.

Sandy said another lady found three newborn kittens in a cardboard box in a Dumpster near her home in Mooresburg and brought them to the shelter. A mamma with five babies of her own adopted the three newborns, and all nine of them were taken to a foster home until the kittens are weaned and can be adopted.

An investment in karma

Wheelie’s vet bill cost me $80, but that’s a small price to pay for not having the thought of a flattened kitten on my conscious for the rest of my life. It’s an investment in karma.

If Wheelie finds a good home and has a good, long life with a nice family, it will be money well spent.

As for the blokes who dumped Wheelie, Aslan and the other kittens rescued in Hawkins County, I imagine the Good Lord has already written down some plans for them when they meet — possibly involving a Dumpster and ear mites. I wouldn’t give a plug nickel for their karma right now.