I apologise for the long post, and realise that some people won't read it as a result, but I feel that a bit of background info is needed for perspective.
I've been feeding a stray cat for several months now, but always with the suspicion that his health hasn't been 100%. He was very thin and dishevelled when I first noticed him passing through my garden, but I managed to entice him to start taking food that I provided for him, and eventually he started to look a bit healthier and put on some weight, but only in his front half. His hind quarters always appeared somewhat thinner, and I wondered if he was suffering from hyperthyroidism. He always had a ravenous appetite and his fur seemed a little in need of grooming, and he always appeared nervous.
During the summer, I would sit on my bench in the garden, and if he was there he would jump up and join me. If ever I decided to just sit on the floor, he would gradually work his way onto my lap and occasionally fall asleep there. He was obviously somebody's cat at one time or another and not a true feral. There are several homes specifically designed for old people in my neighbourhood, and I often wondered if his owner had died.
I mixed worming powder in his food on several occasions, and also applied flea drops to his neck regularly.
He always stayed in my garden for 4 or 5 days at a time before disappearing for perhaps 2 or 3 days, and then returned once again for another 4 or 5 days. I cut a 5 inch hole in the side of a plastic crate and placed a sheet of polystyrene in the base along with some dried leaves which I replaced every so often. He seemed to appreciate this and used it regularly.
Approximately two weeks ago, he returned to my garden looking a little thinner (just my imagination perhaps?) and somewhat more untidy than usual. I wondered if he'd just been trapped in a shed or garage for a few days, and I decided to just feed him as normal.
He eventually disappeared for another few days as was usual, before returning and looking even worse. His fur seemed dirtier, and he seemed a bit more lethargic.
Why didn't I take him in? I already have an indoor/outdoor cat, and neither him nor the stray seem to like each other. There hasn't been any fighting as far as I know, but I've seen the occasional spitting at each other. My cat always gives the stray plenty of space, which hasn't been easy for him when you consider that the stray's often been regularly sat at my back door, but he's tolerated it without any apparent problems. I also thought that if the stray was content in my garden and in a familiar neighbourhood (where he's probably lived for many years), then it would be better than having him dragged off to some strange new surroundings by a well intentioned new family as a result of me sending him to a re homing centre.
Anyway, after a few days recently, he did his usual disappearing act, before once again returning three days later, but this time with less of an appetite. He seemed to only eat half of a 100g pouch at a time before giving up. I was concerned and decided to do further research online for local cat welfare groups. I'd previously been put off due to the number of charities that have reported being 'full up', or reports of regular euthanasia, and felt that while he seemed content in my garden, then he was happy. I eventually found a local charity however that said it's euthanasia for the last year was in single figures. Unfortunately, and what's tormenting me, is the fact that I put it off for a couple of days before contacting them.
I get up at 5:30 every morning, and whenever he's in my garden, he'll be waiting for food at that time. The last few days that I saw him he was unusually still asleep in his box until around 6:30 – 7:00 instead of being awake and waiting. The last but one day that I saw him, the entire right side of his face was covered in mucous. The fur was black and sodden. He’d obviously fallen asleep on that side and been drooling all night. I realised that he probably had an abscess and this was the reason for his reduction in appetite. He'd also started to smell bad, presumably from his mouth. He also usually felt warm, but on this occasion was somewhat cooler. I called the charity, but they were unable to give me a date for a possible pick up and was unable to arrange transport myself.
I continued as normal. (I so wish that I hadn't!)
I saw him the next morning, looking even worse but still willing to eat a little. I left for work around 8am and saw that he'd returned to his box, and was fast asleep. Around midday, I had a call from the charity saying they were in the area and could pick him up!
I returned home from work around 3pm but he'd gone (!!!), and I haven't seen him for the past few days. I noticed just a few small blood drops on the edge of his water bowl and in his shelter/box, which I assume is because his abscess (if indeed he has one) had burst.
He's overdue in his return, and I'm distraught with guilt that I should have acted sooner. The charity missed collecting him by just a few hours! I can't have a conversation, watch TV or anything else without constantly feeling that I've let him down or failed him. If only I'd trapped him that morning and put him in the shed!
I'm fearing the worst and can't help but blame myself for not acting sooner. Does anyone have wisdom or experience that can help change my perspective and feelings of guilt?