I had to have one of the outdoor cats I feed put to sleep yesterday. She had an abcess (which I hadn’t noticed, because she is a dark-colored tortoiseshell and I only see most of the cats at night when I feed them) on her neck which had burst and was open, about the size of a quarter (which is very large for a small cat).
I hadn’t seen this cat for months and she reappeared in my yard a little over a week ago with a small, orange kitten. Obviously she’d had kittens, and clearly this one was the only one who survived. I suspect he was about 3 months old, since the feral mama cats who have kittens are very cautious about bringing them out in the open until they get old enough to run away. This kitten was very fast, but he stuck close to her. She brought him with her to eat for a few nights, and both of them seemed to be eating well. He hid in some hostas near the house, and she would settle in very close to where he was hiding. When I came out to feed all the cats she would eat and he followed after I went inside. I began going out about 2 hours after the initial feeding to bring them a plate of canned food, which I placed near her, so she and the kitten could have extra food. This entailed policing some of the other cats who linger in the yard, but after 2 nights she and the kitten knew the drill.
This past Saturday night (the one right before Labor Day) when I called the cats to eat, she came up to me and meowed and rubbed against my leg, which had never happened. She had definitely been hungry and gotten close to me when I brought the food out on previous nights, but had not rubbed up against me before, so I was surprised. I thought perhaps she was extremely hungry, since she was nursing the orange kitten. Although she wasn’t super-feral — she’d begun to be friendly with me last year and allowed me to touch her (she first showed up in my yard, all by herself, as a kitten, a little over a year ago), over the winter I hadn’t had as much contact with her and she had become more distant. Since my landlord won’t allow me to put out shelters for the cats, in the colder months I am unable to stay outside for very long to interact with them, but continue feeding them every night.
On Sunday night she meowed and rubbed my leg again and I thought something might be wrong, but reached down to pet her because I thought maybe she wanted some loving. I felt something on her neck and went back inside, got a flashlight and saw a wound, which didn’t look good. It was at least the size of a quarter, very wet looking and crater-shaped. No vets were open on Monday (Labor Day) and she seemed o.k. otherwise (she was eating and walking/running around), so I decided to monitor her. On Tuesday I got an email from an upstairs neighbor who said he’d seen her and there were maggots in the wound (which I hadn’t noticed). When I looked more closely at the wound on Tuesday night I saw the maggots — the entire wound was writhing with them. It made me almost sick to my stomach — I’ve never seen anything like that. She drank a lot of water but also ate pretty heartily. Later, after all the cats were finished eating, I tried getting her into a carrier, but she fought me and I couldn’t get her inside, and then she got skittish when I tried later to approach her, so decided to try again on Wednesday morning. Didn’t see the kitten Monday or Tuesday night, but assumed he was hiding and I just hadn’t noticed him.
I got up early on Wednesday (I work until midnight, so getting up at 10:30 is early for me) and called in my “kitty, kitty” feeding voice, and she came out from whereever she had been hiding and drank quite a lot of water, but wouldn’t eat. She walked over to a tree and settled at the base, and when I approached her she didn’t move. I was able to pick her up and get her into the carrier with no problem. She didn’t seem to have much energy.
Thankfully, the vet I went to was not busy Wednesday morning and there was no one other than me in the waiting room (with the cat). We didn’t have to wait long, either. After we got into the examining room the vet tech took her out of the carrier (with a towel to protect him in case she tried to scratch or bite, which she didn’t) and looked her over. He pointed out the skin in her ears was yellowish, which meant some sort of liver failure. I asked if that meant the infection was septic and he said probably. The vet came in and recoiled when he saw the wound. The vet immediately asked me if I wanted to have her euthanized. I said no, I wanted to know if he could help her and clean out the wound. He said he could, but there were no guarantees and it would be expensive. I asked how much and he said around $7-800. And then he said she would have to be anesthetized and might not make it.
The vet left the room and the vet tech told me he’d seen cats recover from worse injuries, but not with such a massive infection. He told me he didn’t think she would pull through the anesthetic. I asked he thought putting her down was the best thing to do, and he said yes. I decided to have her euthanized, to the tune of $269.00. Can someone tell me why it costs so much? I couldn’t leave her outside to die. It would have been slow and painful, and she was clearly already in pain. I felt terrible. She was only over a year old, and this is a sad but typical end for feral cats. Injury and death within less than 2 years.
I had to fill out paperwork for the euthanization (and by then I felt like a walking zombie — it was all I could do to keep it together and not start sobbing uncontrollably). I went back into the examination room after paying for the procedure, and was able to stroke her head (which is amazing, since they usually won’t let you touch them, but she her energy was very low, which was why I was able to get her into the carrier earlier) and tell her I was sorry. The vet tech was holding her and her head was showing, but her body was covered by the towel, so I couldn’t see the wound. My face was very close to hers and I looked into her eyes — she looked right into mine and hers seemed tired, but understanding. There was no fear or anxiety, and she seemed to be saying that she accepted what was happening and was ready. I don’t know why it felt that way, but that’s how it seemed to me. I told her I was sorry again, and then said, “But you will feel much better soon,” and left. Of course I cried all the way home, as well as off and on all day. The guilt I feel every time I’ve had to make this decision (to put a cat to sleep) is overwhelming, even when I know it’s the right thing to do. It’s hard and painful to have to make such a decision for any living being.
I couldn’t do very much for her except feed her, since my landlord won’t let me put out shelters. With the help of the neighbor who emailed me, we got all the cats spayed and neutered last summer, but she showed up in the yard after that, so she was not spayed. My guess is she must have gotten into a fight with an intact cat, probably after she had kittens. I imagine she was trying to defend them. Of course there are other cats outside besides the ones I feed and she must have run into one who was aggressive and not fixed. It may seem odd, but I feel very upset every time I lose a backyard cat. I don’t name them unless they’ve been around for years, because it seems like whenever I do and become attached they either die or disappear. She didn’t have a name, but I will remember her. I wish she’d had a better life.
With my schedule, I feed them once a day, at around 12:45 a.m. I feel sad there isn’t even a picture of her, but it’s hard to get a shot of a dark cat at night! She lived in the yard for a while last year after first showing up, but moved on after that and only came around for feedings — I don’t know where she ended up hanging out or sleeping, but it wasn’t in my backyard. Since I never got a photo of her, she will only be remembered in my mind.
I wish I could do more for the feral cats and that’s big reason I want a backyard of my own, to have a place to put a nice shelter/building in which to house the cats. That way I could see them more often, in better light, and they could come in to the building when the weather is bad and I could keep better track of them. Also, if they get hurt I’d notice it much sooner because I’d be seeing them better. Right now I have to feed them under my upstairs neighbor’s SUV, because the across-the-hall-neighbor who moved in two years ago told me to move the food from where I’d been feeding them for 6 years because it was under her kitchen window. She thought her dog was getting fleas from the cats and if I moved the food the dog wouldn’t get fleas. I told her some of the cats hung out in the yard and moving the food wouldn’t help, but she insisted, so instead of being able to see them in the light (there is a light on the wall) and stand near them when they eat (which is about as close as some of the cats will let me come), I now have catch a glimpse of them under my neighbor’s SUV. Not ideal. I have much less contact with the cats since this woman moved in and made me move the food. I detest this neighbor. She blamed her dog’s inability to pee on the fleas and gave me more agita about the fleas in the yard, although I’d already moved the food, but she later discovered her dog had kidney stones (not flea related, of course).
When my husband and I move (we are in the process of looking at houses to find one to buy), I plan to put a building in our backyard for the outdoor/feral cats, and when I trap a cat to have it spayed/neutered, will have a place to hold it overnight while it recovers, which I am unable to do now. I hate it when they get an injury that results in my having to have them euthanized, or they just disappear and I never know what happens. If they had a shelter on my property they’d stick closer and perhaps I could prevent something like this from happening again.
Worse yet, I haven’t seen the orange kitten at all since Sunday night. I think he’s gone. I was so hopeful after seeing him — even though I wasn’t happy she’d had kitten(s) (I assume more than one, and that he was the only one who survived), seeing a new kitten always fills me with happiness and hope. These are small dramas in my backyard that no one else is party to, but for me it’s both a responsibility and a privilege to help these animals that very few other people are even aware of. I hope this little tortoiseshell mama is in kitty heaven with her little orange kitten — if he is indeed gone from this world — and they are frolicking in a sunny meadow, with plenty of food, water, love and shelter. I wish they’d gotten all that in this life, but perhaps they have it now.