|Death: ||May 15, 2006|
At the end, one afternoon at 1:30 he lay sedated on the doctor's table. Cataracts occluded his vision badly in both his eyes. His teeth had all broken off. He had a wound on his throat you could stick your finger in, and it went clear through to his windpipe. His ears were ragged and folded over. He was AIDS positive. I gently rubbed his forehead as the shot was administered to ease the passing of Foldy, the outdoor feral tiger cat I had fed on my deck for the last two years. It was the first time I had been able to touch him, and was maybe the first time any human had touched him with affection. The vet shook his head and estimated Foldy's age as 15 or 16 years.
I remember when I first began feeding him in the winter of 2004. At the time I didn't know who I was feeding. That winter, cat prints had shown up on the snow laying on my back deck. I felt badly for whatever creature was desperate enough to keep searching there after each snow, so I began leaving a dish of food. It was put out each night and gone in the morning.
Finally, come spring, he began showing up in the daytime. Used to indoor cats, I thought "What a bizarre looking cat!" He showed a lot of mileage. His ears were a mess, ragged edges, lumpy and folded over, probably from multiple cat fights or excessive scratching of mites. His fur was thick and a mix of lovely colors, the spots and stripes obscured by tangles and mats. His pale eyes looked funny, and looked at you funny. There was something sincere but vague and scared about his gaze which I would learn later was probably from his inability to see well. Still, he had regal carriage and elegant posture, as well as a lovely plume of a tail. When he sat, he sat tall, with his tail wrapped around his feet neatly. You could guess that Foldy had probably been a magnificent cat in his day.
New to the feral cat game, I called and spoke with a feral cat adoption team, telling them about this older-looking cat. They set me straight right away; this was not a cat suitable for adoption. He'd been outdoors for a long time and would never transition to being a house cat. They advised the kindest thing to do was to feed and shelter him outside. Knowing my area, the rescue group opined that Foldy had probably become too old to hold his own in the feral cat colony in the nearby park, and had been pushed out. I felt badly for this guy, having left whatever life he had once known.
Naturally, there's no telling for sure what that life was. Maybe he was born in the wild, but he could have been born in someone's home, and escaped or been tossed out. He wasn't neutered and had all his claws. If he had indeed been outdoors all his life, that was pretty amazing. The feral support group had told me the average life expectancy of an outdoor cat in our area was only two to three years, ending with starvation, freezing or being hit by a car. While at this time I had no idea what his age was, he was clearly no spring chicken and yet had managed to survive our winters, and hunt or scrounge enough to get along. He wasn't large, but nor was he scrawny, with a large kingly head and an Elizabethan collar of tangled fur at his throat, rather like a lion's mane.
When we first confronted each other, we kept a polite distance. I did not know Foldy's temperament, and he too was not very trusting, always watching me carefully. Not wanting to scare him by towering over him, I would kneel down, lean out the sliding doors and lay down a plate of food. Once I retreated and closed the screen door, Foldy would step up to the plate and eat the whole meal, then disappear into the hedge, and away to heaven knows where to continue his day. This was our routine, and the rules; once the food was laid, I respectfully stayed indoors so as not to spook him by being too close.
It wasn't long until I wanted to give him special treats, as I would my own indoor cats. The first time that occurred to me was one day as he was finishing eating. I went to the kitchen to get some sliced ham but did not know if he'd hang around to be given more food. Then, I broke the rules, and opened the door while he was still there. He bolted a few steps away and looked over his shoulder in horror at me. This wasn't part of our agreement. I spoke nicely to him and he watched me intently as I ripped the ham into small pieces, put it on his plate, and withdrew again. He looked at me carefully, then went to the plate and chowed down.
So ham was his hot button. I tried other goodies too. The crunchy cat treats went uneaten, but he loved almost any thin sliced deli meat. He tried cheese, sour cream, and his favorite was plain yogurt. Knowing these were not nutritionally complete, I offered these in small quantities, and only after he'd had his regular meal. He liked milk too, again just a little, because I did not know if he could digest it well, old as he was, and knowing some cats are lactose intolerant, but he liked it, and seemed all right.
Memory does not tell me in detail how we evolved, but we ended up with a good understanding. He learned that if I said "Wait a second" and showed him my index finger, that I would return with something else for him. Somewhere along the line, we developed a simple game. After finished with his meal, he'd wait on the other side of his dish, and I would toss a piece of ham on it. He'd lean in to eat it, step back, and look back up, and I'd toss another. Thus we began relating with the door open all the time.
I did not want him scared of my hands, so slowly the game was altered. I'd drop the ham but remove my hand more slowly, until finally I could leave my hand close to the plate. Eventually he'd move in and eat, watching my hand, to be sure, but learning my hand did no harm.
Finally I had to know, could he bring himself to eat from my hand? One day I leaned out with the next piece of ham, but did not drop it on the plate, just held it in my fingers and spoke invitingly to him. Poor Foldy kept looking with astonishment into my eyes, and back to my hand with the ham, back and forth, like he couldn't believe I expected him to do this. This wasn't our game, I was supposed to drop it. Bursting with want and frustration, he looked me in the eye and whacked my hand - no claws, but with surprising strength and no meanness. Just a "Hey! Gimme it!" Immediately I felt badly that I had tested him thus for my own curiosity, and I apologized to him, laughed softly and went back to the rules.
After a while, it became clear Foldy really didn't have anywhere pressing to go. He took to sleeping a good part of each day hidden in my back hedge. I devised a little shelter from a storage box with one side cut out which he used a few times in the rain. I folded up old towels and put them in that box, and left one on the wood deck floor too, and he would often lay in the open and enjoy early evenings there, feeling safe on the deck. It made me tenderly wonder if this cat had ever much had the luxury of feeling safe, or knowing where his next meal was coming from. It felt right that he should at least have this in his retirement years.
With the pleasant summer evenings, I too wanted to use my deck from time to time, and Foldy and I reached agreement on that too. It was ok for me to be out there, so long as I did not move quickly or get too close. I could sit out there for long periods of time with him, both of us just relaxing. I don't think he had any other company and I hope he felt the kinship that I did.
After a few days of feeling uneasy but not knowing why, I finally noticed that Foldy smelled a bit foul, and seemed to be moving differently. Because he didn't want me close, I wasn't sure what was off. We then got a lot of rain during the following days and he would show up soaked so it was hard to get a good look at him. Once the rain stopped and he came to visit dry, the problem was visible. He had blood down the front of him from his throat to his chest. He was still hungry and ate well, but clearly whatever had happened was not small. The next day flies were observable on him, those terrible shiny colored flies that you see on decaying matter. The blood on Foldy was not dry, so he was apparently still bleeding.
I knew he could not live with excessive bleeding, nor with flies laying their eggs on him, which would lead to maggots and a continued cycle. Not knowing what to do with a cat that could not be handled, I called the feral rescue group again and told them what had happened. They told me if I could bring Foldy to his office, one of their veterinarians would see Foldy, to determine if anything could be done for him. This vet was a good, experienced man, having spent many years as an SPCA vet in a county facility. He had seen it all, and would know what to do.
The rescue group told me what to do, advising me to get a safe trap and put Foldy's food progressively closer to it, until it was inside and he would move in and set off the trap. I knew this cat probably did not have a lot of time so I did not do the careful, day by day moving of the food. I think it took only two days for Foldy to step inside, and snap, the door closed behind him and he was caught in the wire box. If it is possible to feel simultaneous guilt and relief, I did.
My indoor cats had always watched Foldy outside with benign indifference, interested but not invested. To get Foldy to the car, I had to bring him through the house. My cats solemnly watched and took a second to come look at him before I found a towel to cover the trap, as I had been advised. I had been worried Foldy might get angry or scared, and proceed to howl or scream. The feral team had told me that if Foldy had not had much human contact, odds were good he would not make a sound. Generally only cats who know they can influence human behavior bother to make noise. Probably Foldy was very scared, but he was silent.
I talked softly to him the whole way to the vet's, trying to reassure him. The vet asked me to leave him there, and said he would call. I'm not sure how the vet was able to give him some kind of tranquilizer so he could conduct an examination, but it was done, I got the call, and he indicated things did not look good. Without waiting for the whole explanation, knowing the vet was heading toward an unhappy end, I cut in "I'll be there in five minutes." I wanted to try to advocate for this cat, to steer things away from a possible end. My husband came with me.
As it turned out, Foldy was in the shape that began this memorial. The vet said that with basically no teeth, it was surprising he'd been able to eat enough to keep going. Foldy was close to being blind from his cataracts and that he had gotten around safely was a wonder. The wound was very bad, and the vet pulled back the fur to show me how gaping it was. It made me shudder; it was almost an inch wide, and you could actually see deep inside. Maybe he had been impaled by something, or got caught badly on fencing or been in a particularly vicious fight. On top of this, through years of contact with other ferals, loving and fighting, Foldy had feline AIDS.
I asked all the desperate questions any concerned person would have. He doesn't have contact with other cats now, and posed no danger. Couldn't we treat his wound through surgery, and follow up with antibiotics in his food? The doctor shook his head solemnly. The wound was very bad, and even a young, healthy cat would be unlikely to survive. Giving antibiotics in food was not a solution because it would be hard to guarantee Foldy would get enough, nor could we keep the flies from laying eggs on him. Getting him back to the vet's for follow up would probably be impossible now that he was wise to the trap. He was probably in more than a little pain right now. Plus, even if he could heal, which was highly doubtful, he still had AIDS and would die slowly from that, if not from the festering wound. This cat would have an unkind end no matter how you looked at it.
Foldy lay on he table, his eyes agog, and motionless. It was with great sorrow and wonderment that I gently rubbed his head and ears, our first touch besides the slap he'd once rightfully given me. There have been many times in my life when I have seen someone who made me wonder "What's their story?" but now the question was stronger than ever, for this old cat in front of me. Had he ever had human love? Had he been a regal boy in his prime, with lots of girlfriends and fighting for supremacy? Was he ever a proud colony boss or father? In the rough and tumble world of feral cats in a park, how is it that a cat so apparently tough, and unaccustomed to humans, had become a tender old boy who liked to sit on the deck with me?
In two short years, this boy with a past of probably many colorful, untold stories just flew through my life. Besides his very life, it felt like a potentially rich history was being lost when he left this world. It would be a long time until I could reflect and realize that perhaps the old cats at the park still might remember him and tell his story, whatever it was, about the days when he was well, and strong and king of his little domain. And while I recognize the sadness of wild cats propagating unchecked and leading to many more cats starving, freezing, and ill, I took some small comfort thinking that probably some of Foldy's lineage lived on. For many of his 16 years, he had been well enough to father kittens, surely some were still out in the world.
The next winter, several sets of cat footprints appeared again in the snow on the back deck. I realized some cat must have remembered that food was sometimes there, so I began to put food outside again. The cats came only at night all winter, and most of the spring. Finally at dusk one early spring evening, I was able to see my visitors- two adults, one grey, and one black and white tom with a huge head that I had seen around before. Off to the left, rubbing its head gently on the deck railing was a striped tiger kitten. It was skinny and in its own world; with the other two, but not close to them, just gently rubbing its chin, bent at the waist, tail up and head down, lost in the moment. I would see this trio a few times, and the scenario was the same, the two adults, who didn't seem to be parents by behavior or coloring, and the kitten appearing to be a hanger-on, with them, maybe tagging along, but not interacting with them. She was a lovely kitten, and had Foldy's colors, but those colors are very common so it was far from positive she was related to him. Still, it was an interesting thought.
Eventually this kitten began showing up alone, and then showing up by day, every morning. I'd open the sliding screen to put out food, and she'd be there instantly, as though waiting or sleeping nearby, but she was definitely alone now. It made me wonder if something had happened to her elder escorts who used to come with her, or if they had just done their job, teaching her where the food was and finally withdrawing. I did not want her to become a virtual Foldy, fighting for her share, or ill or in danger of starving or being hit by a car, or, in her case, getting pregnant all the time. She won me over, as I did with her what I used to do with Foldy, lean out the door on my knees, and set down the plate. She never took her eyes off me, would retreat, softly growling, until I moved back inside, then rush forward to polish off the plate in a single sitting.
This is Foldy's memorial, so it's not good to go too far off topic, and I don't know if this kitten was Foldy's granddaughter, or niece, or cousin's child or daughter of an old friend. All I can tell you is that as I write this, she is sitting on a chair by our upstairs front window, waiting for the sound of a kitchen drawer opening, followed by the sound of an opening can. As soon I open that drawer, I will hear the thump of her jumping down off the chair above, hear a second thump when she jumps off the last step of our staircase, and see her a moment later in the kitchen. A cat who has learned that food is never guaranteed always celebrates its appearance. And so one of my present cats, a former woodland sprite, now a house cat, Fiona, will be ready to be served her lunch.
Cremated, Ashes given to family or friend.
Specifically: In my closet, to be buried with me
Created by: sr/ks
Record added: Jun 17, 2009
Find A Grave Memorial# 38444223