We didn’t need another cat. We had a cat. A BIG cat. A 23-pound, Maine Coon-mixed, male cat named Petey. And it was Petey I took to the Senoia Animal Hospital and Pet Resort for his shots. While waiting, I looked around and saw a couple of cats that were evidently there for adoption. “Need another cat?” someone asked. “Nope. Got one,” I replied.
After the shots were completed, I took another stroll by the homeless cats and saw one that looked like a kitten. She was small, just over three pounds, skinny, and pretty forlorn looking. “What’s the story on the kitten?” And there is where the trouble began.
“She’s not a kitten,” one of the technicians said. “She’s an adult but we’re not sure how old. Two or three years probably.” She was tentatively named, “Cider,” because her fur was the color of apple cider.
It seems that a lady was driving on one of the country roads near Senoia and spotted the cat curled up on the side of the road and not moving. She stopped and found the cat was alive but just barely. She had a terrible wound on her left back leg and was so weak she could barely move. She was also near starvation, was emaciated, and weighed in at just over two pounds.
The woman picked her up and took her to the vet. They took her in, cared for her, cleaned her up, stitched up the gash in her leg, boarded her, and fed her the first food that, perhaps, she had tasted in days or even weeks. She was the most pitiful cat I had ever seen. No sane person would take her home. “I’ll think about it,” I said as I collected Petey.
My wife and I talked about it. I wasn’t sure. We had just downsized and moved into a new small house which was traumatic for both Petey and me. Now was not the time to take in a charity case.
Two days later I went back to see her. “What would be involved in taking her home?” someone else asked using my mouth and voice. I was assured that, if it didn’t work out, I could bring her back. So, I took her home.
The Senoia Animal Hospital gave me food, toys, medicine, and, later, her bed. I put her in the carrier. She was so terrified, she threw up and had diarrhea on the seven-mile trip back to the house.
When Petey saw her in the carrier, he stalked over, growled, hissed, and caused another bout of vomiting and diarrhea. We left her in the guest bathroom overnight. We discovered that she was not litter box trained. At all.
Once out of her cage later in the day, when Petey approached, she swiped at him with those small claws in a manner that would make a lioness proud. Petey glared at me and mentally said, “You did this. What have you done to our family?” and would not let me pet his normally very affectionate self the rest of the day.
As the days passed, I concluded that she was probably not abused or deliberately starved but had always been a feral cat. Speculation is that another animal caused her injuries that resulted in her inability to hunt and find food. She was not affectionate, hissed and tried to scratch at being picked up, couldn’t stand to be touched, and seemed to deliberately bypass the litter box.
After being awakened by howling at 0250 one morning and finding the condition of the bathroom unacceptable, I had had enough. She was going back as soon as the vet’s office opened.
By 7 a.m. I had calmed down somewhat and looked at the progress we had made. She and Petey had made peace. In fact, she followed him around like he was some big brother. And he was big — seven times bigger than she was. The diarrhea was still a serious issue. It’s one thing for an animal to have an accident on the carpet and it’s another when that incident involves diarrhea. What to do?
I went back to the vet, Dr. Kelly Alford, and asked advice. She gave me a couple of medications to try. I had never tried to give a feral cat oral medicine. I don’t recommend it. I called the vet and they said to bring her in and they’d show me how to do it, which they did.
Another week passed. I was sitting in a rocking chair on my screened in front porch reading a novel when Baby (that’s the name my wife has given her – “Baby”) jumped up on my lap and curled up and went to sleep. I started thinking about what kind of life she must have led as a very small, solitary cat. As I gently rubbed her I found I could still feel every single rib and vertebra in her body.
She is still emaciated. It’s a wonder she didn’t die several times over and would have died on the side of the road if not for the kindness of a passing lady and the care of a doctor and her staff.
She probably never saw the inside of a house, never had someone to feed her, never experienced the affection of a caring human, and likely always lived with hunger, fear, the elements, and danger.
Conversely, Petey had always been wanted, even from a small kitten. He had been pampered, loved, spoiled, and protected. This poor, ragged, tiny thing on my lap had none of that. She wasn’t beautiful, like some cats are. What would happen to her if we took her back?
We have an archbishop who contends that the mission of the church is to care for “the least, the lost, and the lonely.” And, although I know he was talking about people, the scrap of fur that was finally allowing me to stroke her skinny body certainly was that.
The only way for a feral cat, or a feral human for that matter, to be able to make the transition from living in the wild to having a safe place to live, to learn to trust, to experience relationships, to be affectionate and vulnerable, is to be treated kindly, to be accepted without condition, and to learn to be loved.
When I was a social worker in the 1970s and worked in child protective services, I encountered many children who had lived in fear, were abused, were starved, or were burned, or beaten, or trafficked in sex. I help put away a couple of parents who, through abuse, killed their own child. I don’t know how many children I legally removed from the custody of unfit parents, but it was too many.
This cat reminds me of some of those children. Without someone to care, they’d never have had a chance. Without the lady in the car who stopped, without the staff of the animal hospital, without someone taking her home, this cat didn’t have a chance of survival. Baby is going to get that chance.
She still fights when I pick her up but she no longer bites. She’s eating better and hasn’t vomited in a couple of weeks. She is better, though not perfect, about the litter box, the diarrhea is — well — not as bad, and she is fascinated by the fire in the fireplace. She no longer seems tense all the time but can still be jumpy.
Petey first hated her, then tolerated her, and now seems to like her. The other day they were sleeping in the sun side-by-side. They eat from the same bowl with heads touching and the hissing and growling has ceased.
Dr. Kelly Alford has really been there for us in this situation. She has taken my phone calls, given advice, provided medication, supplied us with what Baby requires, and has offered to do the spaying when the time comes. All at no cost to me, even when I offered to pay. That’s a true animal lover, right there. This little cat had some serious advocates.
We still have a way to go but I am cautiously optimistic. Perhaps, for the first time in her life, Baby, a.k.a. “Cider,” has a home.
[David Epps is the Rector of the Cathedral of Christ the King, Sharpsburg, GA between Newnan and Peachtree City (www.ctk.life). He is the bishop of the Diocese of the Mid-South which consists of Georgia and Tennessee and the Associate Endorser for the Department of the Armed Forces, U. S. Military Chaplains, ICCEC. He may contacted at email@example.com.]