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Discussion Starter #1
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?
 

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I was very touched by your post. You took care of this cat and he trusted you and found safe haven in your garden. He could have been quite elderly, who knows, and in decline for quite a while. It's hard to know what to do sometimes, but like you, I would not have wanted to bring him in because 1) without being cleared by a vet, he could have something contagious that would have passed to your cat and 2) as you said, he seemed relaxed and at home in the garden. You gave him some happy days, please don't beat yourself up.
 

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Unfortunately the feelings of guilt will probably stick around for a while... because you're human. Nothing anybody says will change that.
All we can tell you is that there are many people who feel exactly like you do and can sympathise because we've been in exactly the same situation.
Cats are very difficult to read when it comes to health. They hide their pain and discomfort very well. In hindsight one can always say "If only I had acted sooner"... but the truth is you didn't know then what you know now. Take comfort in the knowledge that he had a safe haven in your garden and that he managed to teach you something that might help another cat in future. That makes his life worthwhile.
 

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You did what you could with the knowledge you had. You gave him food, water, a safe place to sleep. I hear you about the guilty feelings, I'd be the same. My feral has not yet come this morning for food.... :(

Blessings on your for your kind heart.
 

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Discussion Starter #6
Than you all for your kind words.

I'm still checking every half hour or so just in case he returns. It's taking over my life at the moment. If I'd known it was his last few hours/days (which I assume by his uncharacteristic absence), I would've even taken time off work to set up a heater in my shed and stayed with him. Sounds silly, I know.

It's the not knowing what's happened that's overwhelming me, and the feeling that I could've done more. The reasons that I didn't do more now seem insignificant.. If I knew for certain that he'd finally passed away, at least I'd know that he was no longer suffering.

During his time in my garden, I suspected that he craved company, and I'm now left with the feelings that I should've given him more attention. I can't help but feel that he just hobbled away (I think he had arthritis too), feeling unloved, to spend his last few hours alone under a shrub in pain. I realise that I'm torturing myself with such thoughts, but at the moment they just won't leave me. I knew him. He trusted me. I now see the signs where he was asking for more than just food, but didn't realise at the time. If I could turn the clock back...
 

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You did what you could - it's easy to see things differently with hind-sight. You gave him food, affection and a place to feel safe. The fact that the charity just missed picking him up makes you feel bad but they wouldn't have even tried if it hadn't been for you.
 

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As much as my cats loved me and as strong as our bonds were, there were a few times where they went off to die when their time came.
Animals are different. They just want to find a safe place and pass away.
As people, we think we need to be around them to comfort them, but that is more for us then them.
 

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If you suspect he's taken a turn for the worst, I would go looking beneath sheds/structures, and in any good hiding places. As a child, my indoor/outdoor childhood cat got in bad fights with neighborhood cats once or twice and went missing. Both times, my dad found her deep beneath a shed in a neighbors yard, hiding because she was injured. Cats hide when they're sick by nature because they don't want to be caught my predators when they're weak.

I'm so sorry to hear about this... I hope you can atleast find him for a proper goodbye, so you aren't left wondering (that is the worst feeling). :( Try not to beat yourself up - he knows you cared and considered your garden his home. You made his life happy.
 

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Discussion Starter #10
I've already looked everywhere in my garden, every day, including under and behind everything. Unfortunately I have no idea where he used to go when he left my garden otherwise I'd check there too.


I have pictures of him, but I can't decide whether to delete them because they're obviously upsetting me at the moment. I took some of him when he looked particularly bad to send to the charity that came for him. I wanted them to see his plight, but now I look at them and just think how could I have just left him like that and continued as normal?!


Thank you all once again for your comments. I appreciate them.
 

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Do not delete them, because once they're gone they're gone and you can't get them back. Put them aside and do not look.

You did what you could, the best you could at the time. You did more than anyone else. He knew and appreciated it.

I hope you find him. My feral came home for supper. I am grateful for that.
 

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Discussion Starter #12
Please forgive me if my posts seem self indulgent at this moment in time, but I find that it helps me by telling people that may sympathise with my situation.

I know it's still 'early days' as they say, but I'm finding that instead of time healing, I'm actually feeling worse and even more guilty each day.

This is how I see it (I think that I've already said some of this):

I started noticing a timid cat passing through my garden in early spring this year. He looked very thin and his coat was in need of a little grooming, but beyond that, he seemed okay. Clean and lean, but still with plenty of energy.
I gradually persuaded him that I was a friend by letting him see me place food out for him whenever I saw him in my garden. He always waited until I'd gone indoors and out of sight before approaching to eat.

Fast forward a couple of weeks and I'd gained enough trust for him to approach as I was depositing the food, even trying to eat it before it hit the ground. (I tried placing it on a plate, and then in a bowl, but he always seemed to push it off/out before eating it. Did the plate and bowl obscure his vision perhaps and make him nervous? I don't really know but I fed him on the floor from that moment on).

I cut a 5 inch hole in the end of a disused 'recycle' box (similar to a tote) that was originally used for depositing plastics in for recycling by my local authority. I placed a sheet of polystyrene in the base and threw in a couple of handfulls of dried leaves. I'd noticed how he used to curl up in leaves under a shrub in my garden and thought it would make him feel at home. He appreciated this and used it regularly. He would stay in my garden for a few days before disappearing for a few days, and then returning. I don't know where he went during such absences, but suspected that he never had a true home due to his condition.

As the weather warmed and I began to use the garden more, I would sit on my bench and found that he would jump up and join me, laying alonside me and in contact with my leg. Should I choose to sit on the floor and read, then he would gradually work his way onto my lap in a slow motion fashion and fall asleep (I think he thought that if he did it slowly enough , I wouldn't notice!). He appreciated being stroked, and I had the impression that he was either lost or that his owner had died.

He'd put on some weight by this time, but only at the front end. For some reason his hind quarters always remained unnaturally thin. I mixed worming tablets into his food on several occasions and maintained regular spot treatments for fleas on his neck, but this had no effect regarding his muscle tone to his rear half. Apart from this, he seemed happy and I was reluctant to ask any charity to collect him and place him in strange new surroundings. If I didn't aready have a (indoor/outdoor) cat then I would've adopted him, but my cat didn't really get on with him. He just tolerated him being there, outside. There was the occasional spitting at each other, but they learned to give each other space.

As time went on, the stray would regularly be there in the morning and when I returned from work, waiting for food. Sometimes he would be sat in the rain without seeming to care even though I'd provided him with a shelter! He would stay in my garden for several days at a time, before disappearing for two or three days, and then returning once again. I don't know where he went during his absence, but was pleased that he appeared to not just be relying on me. I'd begun noticing for a while that his fur had started to become a little dirtier than usual, but I put this down to the fact that I suspected he also had arthritis and wasn't as flexible as he once was. I bought him his own brush and tried grooming him in the areas he didin't seem to be able to reach (base of tail etc.). He was patient with my efforts but showed me, without being violent, that he wished me to stop. He would just start being agitated and moved away from me. I persevered, but he was adamant.

We had a relationship throughout the summer where he would regularly be there, pleased to see me and I to see him. I would feed him as much as I fed my own cat, never wishing for him to go without food, and we would regularly sit together in the garden. I now realise that it wasn't just the food that he appeciated, but also the companionship that I provided.
I had no reason to suspect things wouldn't continue this way and our frienship continued.

Fast forward to around two or three weeks ago. The weather had begun to cool off and it was getting permanently damp outside. I worried about him when he disappeared for a few days despite this being his normal behaviour. He returned, but looked somewhat thinner than normal for him, and also a little dirtier. Had he been trapped somewhere in a shed or garage perhaps? I don't really know, but I continued as normal, just feeding him but not showing him quiet as much attention as was usual because the weather was colder and I wasn't using the garden to sit in anymore. I'd also noticed lately that his chin was also dirty, which I assumed at the time was just due to his growing reluctance to groom himself.

Anyway, he disappeared again for another couple of days before returning, looking even more unkempt and thin with a diminished appetite. I was very concerned and revisited the thought which I'd had on numerous occasions about fully adopting him and bringing him indoors, but was once again discouraged by the thought that my own cat didn't appreciate his presence. I was worried that should I adopt this stray, then it would be the final straw and my cat, being an indoor/outdoor cat, would leave home and be in a similar situation as the stray, having no permanent home.

I considered contacting local charities, but had always been put off in the past by stories of euthanasia, or the fact that they often reported being full up. I'd finally found a charity who's euthanasia was in single figures for the past year, but still put it off for a couple of days. Why oh why did I do that!? The last but one day that I saw him, he awoke in his box with the right side of his jaw completely sodden and black (he was a ginger and white cat, not black).

I realised that he'd been drooling all night whilst asleep, and in combination with his reduced appetite suspected a tooth/abscess problem. Was I uncaring not to notice sooner? I called the charity that day and emailed them pictures of his condition. They informed me that they couldn't collect him immediately, but hoped to do so before the weekend (it was Tuesday). I continued feeding him as normal on the Wednesday, by which time his condition had deteriorated even more. He just seemed more pathetic and his sodden facial fur had grown in extent. His meow was more pathetic sounding, but I just put it down to feeling unwell, like when we have a cold or flu. I now realise that I should've listened, but didin't. I just didn't, and now regret it.

Around midday that same day, I received a call from the charity to say that they were in the area and could collect him. I was so pleased, even excited. He was still there that morning when I left. I returned home from work to find him gone, and haven't seen him since. He's long overdue now. Looking more closely that day once he'd gone, I noticed blood on the edge of his water bowl, and also a few drops in his box. He probably had an abscess that burst overnight or that morning. He must've been in such pain! I suspect that he's just wandered off somewhere in pain to die alone and feeling unloved. The charity missed collecting him by only a few hours. Had I known, I would've trapped him, even taking time off work, but I wasn't aware at the time when they would be able to rescue him. That seems so insignificant and shallow of me now. I should've taken him in, if only into my shed.

I feel that I've failed him. I suspected for a while that he was unwell, and the day that I finally called the charity, I knew it for certain. He looked in a terrible state, but I continued as normal. Despite the fact that I was unaware when the charity could give him the care that I believed I was unable to, it shouldn't have stopped me providing him with extra care, setting up something in the shed until they came perhaps, or even spending money on a taxi to take him there myself.

I've reviewed the pictures that I have of him, but only now see how much he deteriorated recently. One of the last photos that I took of him (to show the charity his condition) shows him laid in his box with such a terribly sad face that I feel so guilty for not noticing sooner.

I think he's passed away, and know that I could've made it easier for him if I'd been more observant. This is how I feel right now. I hope that time will alter my perspective.

Don't misunderstand me, I still appreciate all of your comments and kind words. I just want him back. I'm sorry that I didn't just pick him up and bring him safely indoors that morning. I don't think that will ever change.

The thing is...now that I've had time to think about it all... he wasn't just a stray cat that I cared for. He'd become my cat, and I loved him! I realised it too late. But because of circumstances and the slow progress of time, I left him outdoors, stuck in a routine that neither of us were truly happy with. I loved him but didn't allow him indoors. Nothing will change that, and I can't stop tormenting myself.
 

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I think I'll keep them right now but stop looking at them. I'll see how I feel later. Thanks

Are you able or willing to take your feral in? I wouldn't want you to feel the way that I'm feeling right now. I now understand that my feral was more than just a stray cat that I fed and became used to seeing in my garden.
 

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I'm so sorry that you are going through this. I wish I could say something to help. It is so easy to second guess our actions and beat ourselves up over what we think we should have done. I know I've done that to myself too.
I think you did everything you could with the situation that you had and it is clear that you loved your feral boy.
 

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My feral had shown a bit of interest in the house when I left the door open for him to see in. One day I tried to take my feral in, but he really was a feral - or had been away from a house too long. He was absolutely terrified and hid, leaving pools of pee. Not marking, not spraying, but pee of fear. Several pools of it during the few minutes he was in my house, and had moved to several locations trying to find the exit, with cries of terror. When I opened the door and he saw the outdoors he fled. He's never even tried to set foot in the house again. Being indoors "scared the pee-water out of him", as the old saying goes.

Please do not feel that your situation is due to your neglect. There's no telling if the charity could have caught him. My feral will not get near a trap again, he was trapped once and that was enough.

I have had cats that were pets, housecats, tame from kittenhood. When they were ready to go they went. I didn't always know how bad off they were, but in hindsight think I *should* have known. :( They left and did not return. It's their way, the Cat Way. You did not fail him, he did what his kind do. When they are at the end or they're really sick, if they do not die in their sleep they often disappear and it makes us crazy because we did not see clearly enough - and it's not *our* way. We seek help. They vanish.

You did what you were supposed to do: feeding and giving affection and a safe place to sleep. He did what he was supposed to do when he was ill or at the end: he went away. I wish there were a way to assuage your sorrow and leave only the memory of sitting in the summer sunshine with him purring against your leg..
 

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Thank you for your reply.

To be honest, I think my feral cat would've appreciated the indoor life, and that's one of the things that's bothering me. He used to wander in the back door in the morning when I first opened the back door to let my cat out. He'd sit there on the doormat until I walked out with food for him, at which point he'd follow me out.

There would've been no problem catching him for the charity if he was still there when they came. He often let me pick him up and he was definitely someone's cat at one time or another. I could just tell by his behaviour that he wasn't truly feral but just a lost or abandoned little soul craving for a new home. Unfortunately, my home already had a cat that didn't appreciate new arrivals.

I appreciate your insight, and the time you took to reply.

Thank you.
 

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MrTash, your posts are breaking my heart and I wish I lived closer because I would start a search party for your feral. :( Even a body would atleast offer closure. I know the feelings of regret. Take my advice - keep the photos of him in happier times... get rid of the ones when he was declining. A few years ago, my dog was diagnosed with spinal cancer. Long story short... my parents let him go on much too long because they couldn't let go. Looking at the pictures of him toward the end makes me physically ill with regret and it's been 4 years. You won't need those photos, they'll just bring back the guilt as if it were yesterday. But do keep the happy ones.

I know the guilt is eating away at you. Maybe you can try to manifest the guilt into something positive... volunteering at a shelter maybe? Helping a rescue out? I bet eventually, your feral will help guide a new cat to your property...

Lots of hugs... I wish I could take the pain away, because I know that is the worst feeling imaginable... :(

Eldercat brings up a great point... he did what he had to do - cats do this by nature. Even if things had been different, and you had let him into your home and gotten his abscess checked out... there may have still been something wrong internally, and he still could've wandered away and died on his own terms. Some animals may want comfort when they're passing, but the majority want to travel far away and pass away alone in a good hiding place...
 

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Discussion Starter #18
Thanks once again for everyone who found the time to reply. It helps knowing that other people care.

I awoke this morning, like every morning since I last saw him, with the image in my head of him laid in his box looking utterly miserable. It's the first thing in my head every morning, and last thing at night. I don't need to look at the photo again, it's already etched in my mind and tormenting me. I should've seen it for what it was, a plea for help. Of all of the months that we knew each other, that was the one time where he really needed my help more than ever...where he was relying on me...and I failed to listen.

I've spent the last few days in a daze. I've stayed at home, not going out other than to step out of my back door just in case he's returned, but I really know that he won't. I don't know where the days have gone. I'm so glad that I don't have to go into work today. People are beginning to wonder why I'm miserable and holed up, but I could never tell them. They wouldn't understand. The guilt's taking over my life and I'm not functioning properly. I'm hardly eating and can't stop crying.


I miss him terribly.
 

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Eldercat brings up a great point... he did what he had to do - cats do this by nature. Even if things had been different, and you had let him into your home and gotten his abscess checked out... there may have still been something wrong internally, and he still could've wandered away and died on his own terms. Some animals may want comfort when they're passing, but the majority want to travel far away and pass away alone in a good hiding place...
This is exactly right.
You gave great comfort to this cat. There came a point where he didn't want that any more and went away, very likely to his end. But it was on his own terms and it was what he needed to do.

As grieving owners left behind, we just have to process this the best we can.
 

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Discussion Starter #20
I understand what you're all saying, and thank you. I just can't believe that the charity missed him by just a few hours.


My desire for him to receive help in his last few days may well be misplaced. I read something recently (I think it was on catchat.org) where an old cat was given a calming injection at the vets before his/her final injection. Unfortunately the cat reacted badly, biting it's owner and vomiting before passing away.


In hindsight, I think the outcome would've been euthanasia for my stray anyway. Having reviewed the photos that I have of him, I can see that he hadn't improved as much as I'd thought. Yes, he initially put on some weight in his front half and maintained it, but beyond that, he remained feral looking.


He always had a bowel problem, which I suspected may have been compounded by incorrect feeding/eating at wherever he disappeared to when he wasn't at mine. If he was just scavenging or being fed meat scraps and nothing else, then I'm not surprised he always had loose bowels when he returned to mine. It used to start improving and becoming more solid when he was at mine, but he'd then leave for a few days and it would start all over again. It's going to take a while for the bald patches on my lawn to regrow where he used to 'go'! His rear half always stayed thin, and I suspect there was some other underlying problem causing this beyond a bowel ailment.


He was virtually deaf, whether that was just as a result of ear mites or a deeper condition I don't know.


And then he had what I assume was a tooth abscess. He probably had this for a while but hid it. I say this because for a few weeks I'd noticed he was neglecting his grooming but just put this down to the fact that I suspect he also had arthritis and wasn't as flexible any more. He would hobble around after being stationary for too long and only groom for a few seconds before giving up. But maybe it was the grooming that was hurting his abscess and not his arthritis discouraging him?. And then he started getting a dirty chin, which I just assumed was a continuation of his reluctance to groom, but now realise it was probably his abscess causing the first signs of drooling.


When he finally returned to mine for a few last days, he looked much worse. I remember thinking at the time 'poor thing, you're not very well are you?'. I can't believe I did nothing and will never forgive myself. He's long overdue and I hope he's passed away (I know you understand what I mean). I wish that I could've made his last few days more comfortable and easy. In hindsight, he was in such torment. (If anyone's reading this and feeding their first stray/feral, please take note of any new behaviour and don't assume that your first interpretation is the correct one. They hide illness well.)


If only...if only..., but that's a pointless exercise. I'm trying to deal with this in the same way that I deal with death in people. If there's an afterlife, then they're no longer suffering and are in a better place. If there's no afterlife, then they're still no longer suffering because they've passed away. My perceived sympathy is then just my transient inability to cope with someone's absence. That's how I think in good times, but my philosophy means nothing to me whenever I'm confronted with such loss.


I miss him and always will.
 
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