When a feral cat captures your heart...
I write this today with a heavy heart and in tribute to my friend OC (Orange Cat).
I am sad to report that OC died yesterday.
The saga of OC started back in June when my neighbors had baby birds in their vent, high on the side of their house. As I tried to get a photo, mama bird would take off, and not only that, but I saw an orange cat wandering alongside the house and I worried about the safety of the baby birds.
To read about the baby birds: http://theinquisitiveeye.zenfolio.com/blog/2014/6/tweeting
In an effort to get a photograph of mama bird feeding her babies, I went into my backyard and into the "secret garden" behind the fence and as I entered, I suddenly saw a flash of orange and it was the orange cat! I'm not sure who scared who more! There was a gap in the fence next to the house and that was his escape route. I say "his" as I did not know the sex of the cat but somehow assumed it was a male.
ORANGE CAT IN THE SECRET GARDEN
Shortly after this incident, I would again see the orange cat in the secret garden but it was obvious he was very frightened of me and would take off when he saw me. I assumed that for a cat to be that frightened of a human, he must be feral. I placed a board between the backyard and the entrance to the secret garden to keep my pug dogs out of his area. He continued to hang around and I felt bad for him and bought a bag of cat food and would go out each morning and evening and give him fresh food and ice water. I would call him... "Here kitty, kitty, kitty"... and I would hear him meow in response. Ever so slowly he would sneak in through the gap in the fence and hide behind the chair or the flower pot and poke his little head out to see what was going on.
Eventually he got braver and would wait for me beneath the chair. He was still frightened but knew I was bringing something good... and we would talk. I would talk softly to him and he would meow and every once-in-a-while he would give a hiss. Well... we can't always agree on everything, you know. He also had a habit of going beneath our deck through a tiny crawl space. It was all quite handy as it was a good place to hide and with a few steps through the broken trellis, he could be in his secret garden where he also felt safe. At night I would go out to say goodnight and would hear him give a gentle meow from under the deck. I knew all was well and I could go to bed.
MOSQUITO ON MY NOSE
And yes, of course he needed a name, so I chose to call him OC for "Orange Cat". Not very inventive, but it worked. I was also able to get a quick photo of him as he peered out from around the chair. It was not until I put the photo on the computer that I realized he had a mosquito on his nose. Poor Baby!
Since I had to take my little pug Mollie Sue to the vet for her annual exam, I spoke with Dr. Clary about OC and if she had heard of Alley Cat Allies who have a trap-neuter-return program for feral cats. Sadly, they are not located in this immediate area. She mentioned a local group in Garland called KittiCo that offer a spay/neuter program for feral cats. They also will give the innoculations and take a nip out of one ear and that way at a glance you can tell the feral cat has been neutered and innoculated. So... this is my plan. I will ask around in the neighborhood just to be sure he does not belong to someone and as OC becomes more accustomed to me and a bit less fearful, I will borrow a trap and take him in and then, after treatment, return him to "the wild" and continue to be his caretaker. Without this intervention, the cat population will only expand causing more issues with feral cats.
WHERE IS OC?
And then we had our trees trimmed in the backyard and the sound of the saws must have frightened poor OC and he disappeared for two days. I worried about him, and called him repeatedly throughout the day. On day #2, I called and heard a meow. I thought he had returned. I was excited! I called again and heard another meow, and then I saw a hand raised above the fence and I heard giggling. The imposter was none other than my daughter! She stopped by to visit and said she could hear me calling the cat from the street.
Sadly, OC is still missing!
Photography has gotten me through some difficult times in my life and why should it be any different now? I had time on my hands and put OC's photo on a milk carton and shared it with my friends both near and far and appreciated their support while I awaited his return.
On day #3, I called and miraculously heard a real feline response and sure enough, here comes OC through the fence but once again hiding behind the big flower pot, and I was so happy to see him and ran to get him food and water!
He seemed to spend a lot of time beneath the deck. I just assumed perhaps it was cooler under there for him... and then I heard a tiny weak meow. That wasn't OC!!! And I heard it again. I leaned over to peek into the narrow space beneath the deck and saw a tiny little kitten and saw OC's tail. That's when I knew that OC was really a girl... and a mother! I was shocked! How could he/she have kept this from me??? So... my best laid plans to trap-neuter-release were for naught! Now what do I do?
THE UNTHINKABLE HAPPENS
It was a couple days after this discovery that OC seemed weak and not herself and was laying in the main part of the garden which is something she did not do. She would try to stand and was wobbly, but then again, it was so hot out and she had just recently given birth. Eventually she got up and retreated to beneath the deck. By the next morning she was again laying in the main part of the garden and she was barely moving and breathing rapidly, and shallowly. I gently stroked her with a broom. She could barely lift her head when I talked to her and there was no meow, no hiss... nothing in response. She looked like she was dying. I called to the kitten beneath the deck and there was no sound from there.
I called the Animal Hospital of Rowlett and spoke with Griselle and shared my story with her, asking if I might bring OC in to be seen. She was so sympathetic on the phone, that I felt I had a friend to help me. She called Brittany, the nurse, to the phone and she too was so kind and supportive and said to bring OC in. The doctors were having a busy day but they would have Dr. Hurley see her ASAP.
I delivered OC in a pet carrier that I had prepared with a piece of plastic, newspapers and then a soft towel for her to lay on and left her there and would await the doctor's call about the plan of care. She seemed a bit more alert when I left her but still extremely lethargic... definitely not herself. Dr. Hurley called and discussed the plan of care... to get bloodwork, a physical exam and perhaps an x-ray. She suspected poisoning, a viral disease, or very possibly a retained fetus in the uterus causing her to be septic. It was going to be expensive and treatment, depending on the cause, would also be very expensive, but I wanted to give OC a reasonable chance to live. After all, I love animals. She said she would call when she had more information so we could discuss the plan of care.
I returned home and pryed up the board of the deck where I thought she might have had the kitten and there I found not one, but three very tiny kittens, smaller than the palm of my hand but all were dead and covered with fireants. It was so sad. No wonder she was no longer retreating to beneath the deck. Now it all made sense.
It was mid-afternoon when I got Dr. Hurley's call and indeed we had a major problem. OC had a retained fetus and she was septic. The outlook was not good to survive this and the stress of a feral cat going through extended as well as expensive treatment with a very questionable outcome was of great concern. I cried as I made my decision as to whether to treat or to euthanize. I couldn't believe all of this was happening. Just a few days ago she was a feisty feral cat and now this.
As a critical care nurse I have cared for human patients with sepsis and was well aware of the seriousness of the diagnosis and the resulting multiple organ failure that is all too common. After much thought about how fearful OC was of human contact and the need for extended treatment, I made the decision to not prolong her suffering. Being that she was already sedated from her exam the doctor assured me that she would go peacefully. I told her to be gentle with OC and she said she would. I could not have asked for a more professional, compassionate and supportive doctor. Brittany, the nurse witnessed my phone consent and I also told her to be gentle with OC. She told me she would talk quietly to her and I told her to tell OC that I loved her.
I hung up the phone and cried some more. It was a difficult decision but I felt it was the right decision to make for OC. And it was all about what was best for OC... the little feral cat that stole my heart. It was hard to let her go. May she rest in peace.
A special thank you to Dr. Hurley, Brittany and Griselle as well as my friends and family for your support during this sad time.
Keywords: Alley Cat Allies, Animal Hospital of Rowlett, Brittany, Dr. Clary, Dr. Hurley, Feral Cat, Griselle, KittiCo, OC, Orange Cat
Your experience with O.C. reminded me of my own similar case. They will be always be with us.
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