The kitten UNC senior Nina Augustine found with her sister, Sarah, near a Wilmington Wal-Mart parking lot was not allowed in their house — a rule set by their parents.
But the kitten, who was just days old, was in bad shape.
So Augustine and her sister saved up to take her to the vet, who stabilized her.
Soon, their kitten turned into a cat, whose meowing caught the attention of the girls’ mother.
She gave the girls two weeks to get rid of it. But they had already named the cat Reiki.
“Now that she wasn’t having to be hidden in a room when our parents were home, Reiki was out, and sure enough, my mom ended up loving her,” Augustine said.
Things were good.
After leaving to visit their grandparents in India over winter break, the sisters returned to find that something was wrong with Reiki.
“We found her under my couch,” Augustine said. “She was laying on her side. From the way she was laying, it looked as if she may just be relaxing there or something, but I went to reach out and pet her, and she yelped, and she was very very sensitive to touch.”
Augustine said she pulled Reiki toward her before realizing she couldn’t stand on her legs. She knew it was time to go to the vet.
The results were inconclusive at the first clinic, but the sisters were advised to consider putting Reiki down because of the pain. Three days later, they went to another vet, who gave them antibiotics in case Reiki had an infection.
When things still didn’t improve, the girls took Reiki to the N.C. State Veterinary Hospital.
There, the swelling noted by a previous vet was identified as cancer — lymphoma. It was in Reiki’s belly, her mammary area, her liver and, most disturbingly, her blood.
“When it showed up, it kind of showed up everywhere,” Augustine said.
Augustine decided to pursue chemotherapy. After a scare with septic shock, Reiki pulled through. The chemotherapy worked.
“Now, she’s doing fine. She runs around and plays, and she’s really active,” Augustine said. “I feel she’s gotten back to the same girl we knew before this whole ordeal happened.”
Vi Lopez, a senior at UNC and Augustine’s roommate, said she sees the love between Augustine and Reiki.
“Throughout Reiki’s health journey, Nina has just been very attentive and caring in providing the extra love and support and time to Reiki,” she said.
Taylor Bass, a senior biology major from UNC-Wilmington and friend of Augustine, said she can see the love her friend has for her cat.
“She absolutely adores Reiki, and if anything ever happened, it would devastate Nina,” she said.
Augustine remembers that she was not a cat person before she met Reiki — she wanted a dog.
But now, her connection with Reiki is stronger than ever.
“There’s a way that animals express love that can’t really be put into words,” Augustine said.
And plus, maybe Augustine got the best of both worlds. After all, she said Reiki plays fetch.