A week ago I wrote about Mama Kitty, an 18-year-old feral cat who walked into my house for the first time ever (see previous post). I found her courage so inspiring that I blogged about it as soon as I sat down at the computer. Mama Kitty's story did not end with the single act of courage she displayed last week, however; it continues even today.
After writing about Mama Kitty, I returned home from work to find her missing. Sensing something was wrong, I scanned the yard for her knowing that calling her would do no good. As far as I can tell, Mama Kitty has been completely deaf for at least a couple years. When she finally showed up, lying on her side and meowing in distress, I inspected her as closely as she would let me. Underneath her long, matted fur, I discovered a gaping wound at the base of her tail. While I couldn't see the extent of the wound, what I could see was distressing—a fiery redness where her fur was pulled back and tiny, grey maggots crawling about.
With the help of my partner, Phillip, I pushed her into a carrier and whisked her off to the vet. There they sedated her, cleaned her wound, shaved the hairballs that covered most of the back half of her body and gave her antibiotics and subcutaneous fluids. The vet released her the next day, half bald and far perkier than she had been. She has been convalescing quite comfortably in my house ever since.
In retrospect, I wonder if Mama Kitty came into my house that morning to let me know that she needed help. But how did she know I could help her? For a cat who's been cautious of humans her entire life to take such a leap of trust required unfathomable courage.
This is not the first time I've been amazed by the courage of a feral cat. Almost exactly two years ago another feral cat, Lucy, part of a colony of four neutered ferals, made me aware that she was in trouble. I had known for days that she was ill, but had been unsuccessful in my attempts to catch her. Since she had no appetite, she was not tempted by the stinky tuna I'd used to bait the humane trap. After five days she came to the one place in the yard where she lets me pet her—my back stoop. From there she let me pick her up and place her in a carrier. The vet discovered that Lucy's teeth and gums were terribly infected. Had I not caught her that day, she likely would have died. My vet extracted every last tooth, and Lucy is back to her round, happy self.
I am humbled by the courage of these small beings. Feral cats are wild animals after all, conditioned to be cautious of humans. While we most often think of cats as friendly companions, feral cats are far more like wild squirrels, rabbits, birds or deer. We do not expect other wild animals to communicate with us when they are ill or injured, let alone allow themselves to be picked up and placed in a small cage. When Lucy and Mama Kitty allowed me to put them into a carrier, they had no idea what was in store. Their only prior carrier experience was many years before, when they were spayed, not likely a pleasant memory.
I can only imagine the depth of their fear, and the courage it took for them to make their overtures to me. But in both cases, courage has reaped rewards. Lucy gained at least another two years as ruler of the colony of four. Mama Kitty has settled into a life of indoor comfort, complete with a few new feline friends, regular meals, shelter from inclement weather and the pleasure of contact. She purrs madly when Phillip and I pet her. In just a week, her fear of humans—familiar and unfamiliar people—has all but vanished.
I am reminded of a quote by Walter Anderson: “We're never so vulnerable than when we trust someone—but paradoxically, if we cannot trust, neither can we find love or joy.”