Friday, March 11, 2016

My Boy

I never had a sufficient name for him. No matter I guess.

I gave him a good home.

And still, I suffer. I struggle with what I could have done. What I didn’t do to protect him.

Mr. Gray Tabby was part of a family of feral cats that invaded my mother’s barn about seven years ago. It was too much to handle. We kept finding kittens and would try to find homes but we knew something had to be done. We needed help.

I found a woman, Darlene, with feral cat experience. By March 2010 we trapped them all eventually, more than a dozen cats that had made our home their home.

Part of the trap neuter plan is release, called TNR. When the time came, Darlene said the best place for them was back in the barn.

“It’s their home,” she said simply.

Of course it was. I hadn’t really thought of it that way. But they were a family. They knew and trusted each other.

I protested at first, mainly because around this time I’d been getting deeper into helping my parents who’d begun to have some health issues; I didn’t think I needed the extra stress and responsibility of taking care of a slew of outdoor cats if there was a sanctuary.

There was one, she said, but cautioned: “They may not stay. They’ll want to go home."

That touched me. Deeply. But what really convinced me to keep them was this: If she took them away, it could create the very vacuum they had filled. In other words, I could be allowing for the very problem again I'd just solved, with much stress to myself. To keep them would also allow them to defend their home against any newcomers.

And so, I — a lifelong animal lover — decided to let them stay. It was more work, but I loved them all. And the barn was their home. The yard and the woods, their outdoor space.

There was the gray tabby, Mr. Gray Tabby, with silky cashmere like hair; a big brown male tabby who quickly disappeared; two big fluffy gray males I dubbed Buddha One and Buddha Two though one of those disappeared as well; two small gray fluffy females, both gone, one sweet girl I’d come to adore disappeared in late 2012, the other after I had to put her to sleep when she got horribly sick with parasites three years ago this April; the Siamese female which had been around the longest and which my mom had spayed and called Blondie; another short haired gray and a lanky female brown tabby, both of whom also disappeared eventually; two brown female tabbies, one with white toes, who are still around; and two mature kittens, both tabbies, one female that I still have and one that Darlene kept to try to tame but eventually brought back to the barn and even he disappeared one day.

For the past few years, it’s been a steady family of five. Mr. Gray Tabby, I’ll admit, was my favorite. He had beautiful affectionate green eyes that softened when he greeted me at feeding time; he enjoyed letting me pet and scratch him. Besides the more tame Siamese, Blondie, he was the friendliest.

My time with these cats was the few minutes I fed them and sometimes I’d sit longer and enjoy watching them. Sometimes it was like a meditation, listening to them eat, just sitting silently and being there. 

But that was it. And I suspect they were fine with that. They appreciated their refuge, the heat lamp I put in in the winter, the scratching post they could perch upon, boxes to hide in and cozy pads to sleep on.

When I’d see them outside, they didn’t come up to me too much. They were more attached to each other, as feral cats are.

I accepted that. I even accepted the risk that something could happen to them. Cat fights with other cats that I never saw but were around. Dogs, raccoons. Parasites. Toxins. And always, always, the dreaded dirt road where cars raced faster and faster each year.

I even stopped throwing bread for the birds, which the cats loved to inspect, in the front yard because I didn’t want them getting used to associating food with anywhere near the road.

Every now and then when I'd go to do the daily feed — fresh water, dry food plus two cans of wet food, and sometimes scraps of meat that they gobbled up — I'd notice when one was not around. I never took for granted that they would for sure be back. And I always breathed a sigh of relief when I saw them the next day.

Around February 21 or 22, I didn’t see Mr. Gray Tabby. I worried but hoped he’d be there the next day. He wasn’t. By the third day I knew something was wrong.  

And then it snowed. Maybe he’s under someone’s deck. Maybe they have terrific garbage, I told myself. Maybe he stepped on melting ice before the snow, when the spring was peeking through, and drowned?

I reached out to Darlene, who asked if I’d been calling to him.

I didn’t really see the need because he was so independent. If he could come to me, he’d be coming to the barn. I looked around the barn. I looked for footprints in the snow. Though it seemed fruitless, I looked and called to him a little ways into the woods. I looked under the deck and in the front yard near the road but not along the road.

It seemed like I was looking for a needle in a haystack. I just prayed he’d come home.

Then last Monday, I saw something in the muddy road, the weather warmer after a couple of snowfalls in the previous two weeks. The plows having been down the road at least a couple of days to clear the snow.

It was him.

Strangely, it flickered through my head: maybe it’s a gift to know where he is. Some closure.

At the same time, I felt sick yet numb. No. Please not him.

And why now? Why after six years of being safe. I’d even been making plans to fix things up in the barn, which by now belonged to me. My home. My cats.

My boy.

My boy’s beautiful gray hair and back feet were matted with mud. I didn’t know what else I was looking at. It was only half of his body, some of his inner organs outside now.

I stood in the muddy road, silently hating the cars that passed by as I waited for a chance to put my hands inside a large plastic bag and lift my boy to carry him up to the yard until we could bury him the next day.

What happened? Was he struck by a car? If so I pray he died immediately. No suffering. Please God, no suffering.

Did an animal get him, try to eat him? Was he hit by a car, then preyed on by an animal? I almost wish I’d found him in the woods, attacked by an animal. At least that is nature. I hate the cars.

I'm asking less today but I still want to know: Why?

My boy. Why didn’t you wait for me? I had just gotten so many things settled in my life. I was looking forward to being there more. Seeing you more.

I loved you.

But I tell myself, he was never really mine. I just gave him refuge. I know that was a lot. Maybe for him it was everything. I’m trying not to suffer. I’m trying not to blame myself. 

He had a good life.


I miss my boy.


Unknown said...

I am in tears, reading your very touching and poignant words. I understand and I feel your pain, believe me. You did so much for him – for all of them – but it's never enough, is it? Especially when we know we can't completely protect them, that there's always a risk out there as long as they live an outdoor life. Please try not to torture yourself. He loved you as much as you loved him. And he knew you were there for him. Try to find some peace with this terrible loss. *hugs*

Rach said...

Sorry for your loss Ellen. Lovely words.

Only the Half of It said...

Thank you.

Elizabeth Voss said...

I'm also very sorry for your loss, and your story made me cry. I'm sure Mr. Gray Tabby loved you. And everything you did for him meant so much to him -- as it does to all the feral cats you offer food and shelter too.

Only the Half of It said...

Thanks Liz. I just hurts in a way you can never really fully soothe.

mitymous said...

This is beautifully written, and I am so sorry.

Lori Bender said...

Oh Ellen. I'm so sorry. No words of mine can help ease your pain. Know that you did so much for him and he had a beautiful life.

Only the Half of It said...

As my mother always said, it never gets easier losing a beloved pet.

Susan Pilipchuk said...

Ellen, you never fail to bring out the emotion in me. I'm always drawn in by your stories. Everything else fades away while I'm reading them.

I'm so sorry for the loss of "your boy." It is a loss I'm sure he feels equally. Mr. Gray Tabby certainly knew your kindness and love. It's something so few feral cats ever receive. You were both fortunate for this. That's something no one can take away from you even after he passed.

Karen Pedersen said...

I am absolutely shattered for you and for all you had hoped for, but you did love him and he did know that. That was the very best thing you gave him, he will be with you always.

Unknown said...

This made me cry too. I know all too well the feeling. I care for a feral colony and I'm down to six of the "original" bunch, but I'm back up to ten "regulars" - They are there every night. I've lost a few during the harsh winters, rehomed over fifty friendly ones, but one loss was especially hard. I called him Slinky, for the way he would slink over to the feeding area. He would often wait for me across the street in the parking lot and many times he would be sitting with his paws over the cement bumpers, looking incredibly cute. I don't know where he went at night but he would scoot two blocks away across a two way street. It killed me to watch him carefully cross that street. I would tell him be careful Slinky! There never was the right time to trap him. One night I came around the corner, and there he was, on the grassy berm on the sidewalk. I jumped out of my car and cried hysterically. Slinky! No! No! Slinky! A man even stupid and asked if that was my car and was I alright. He must have been coming to eat and it just happened as he was still a bit warm. I could feel it as I wrapped him in the black garbage bag I had in my car. I couldn't stop crying. And I kept telling him I was sorry. Sorry I failed him. Sorry I never got around to trapping him. It's been almost three years and I still think of him. I see him in the parking lot with his paws over the bumper and I tell him I'm still sorry.

Only the Half of It said...

That is so heart-wrenching!!!! I would be sick myself. I would never forget that. I actually can go right back to the painful grieving of all my animals if I think about it too long. It never goes away. You grieve the loss and the pain and the suffering and get through it but NEVER do you get over it.