The thermometer registered 8 degrees this morning as the sun finally rose on a frosty morning in my neighborhood.
And there were fresh feline pawprints in the light dusting of snow across the yard and up the steps to my deck along with prints embedded in the ice underneath. It could have been that tough tabby tom cat with the white paws who gets the Fantastic Four all upset when he trots through our yard—tom cats often seem immune to just about anything in the world around them with their single-minded intent and they seem impervious to life-threatening cold—or it could have been one of the other cats I’ve seen outdoors, some who I know belong to someone, others who might be stray, escaped, left behind, tossed outdoors. I’ve been monitoring the population in my little section of the neighborhood in the same way for the 22 years I’ve lived in this house, and some of the cats who came to live with me have joined me from the streets right around me.
One cat who is not outdoors on this brittle morning is Skeeter who I had assisted neighbor Peg Bowman in rescuing last year, and as I felt the cold seep through two doors I remember being glad that though he lost his struggle to injury and infection, he hadn’t died alone and slowly freezing to death as he surely would have.
Did he know this was on its way when he came to Peg for assistance last weekend? Or had the abscess encircling his neck only become so intolerable that he would, in this crusty tomcat’s own proud way, indicate that humans had some purpose in his life and that was to make him more comfortable?
Or had he perhaps remembered somewhere back in his dim past the love and affection of a human, someone who had chosen him and loved and petted him and sought that remembered comfort?
We rarely know the stories of stray cats who show up as if from nowhere, who may even come to our doors in their own way asking to share our company. A neighbor’s cat who likes your yard? A lost cat on its way home? An unintentional escapee trying to make its way in an unfamiliar world? A feral cat simply following the paths of other cats on its way to another food source?
We will never know how Skeeter came to be living outdoors as an intact male cat at the impressive age of at least eight to ten years, perhaps more. We know he wasn’t feral since he was too comfortable with the presence of humans and let Peg pet him after putting forward some objections and informing her he really was a rough, tough guy. But did he escape as a kitten before he was neutered, or was he intentionally not neutered as some cat owners choose not to do, was he simply not wanted in the first place, a little tabby kitten from an unintended litter foisted on someone who really wasn’t interested in the first place, thereby entering the stream of cats living outdoors to roam and reproduce?
Though we thought he had a chance of survival and we knew any recovery would be long and complicated, he came to us for human help, showed us he had a great will to live and we gave him the best we could. He in turn did the best he could, and though he died in surgery, his belly was full, he was hydrated and comfortable, had been treated gently and respectfully by the people around him, and he was already under anesthesia and felt no pain. Most important of all to us and, I think, to him, he was not outdoors, alone, in freezing rain, snow and brutal cold on his last days.
And apparently hundreds of other cat lovers felt the same as Peg and I circulated his story. We never doubted we were doing the right thing by Skeeter, and were sincerely heartened by the comments and even donations of others who supported our decision and helped with the costs of his medical care and were there with sincere condolences when we reported his death. I’ve always said that people who love animals are the best people in the world, and whether it’s an injured kitten or a battered tom cat they will give freely whatever support they can.
It’s so much the story of other cats rescued by compassionate people, and cats still either sweet-tempered after their injuries or willing to cross the line to trust humans once they found one who would help. Like charming little Sassy rescued by Animals Against the Odds with a broken jaw and facial injuries and requiring several reconstructive surgeries, or Callie, a tiny black kitten for whom a list of people literally went miles out of their way to find medical care and a foster home, and dozens of others I’ve mentioned in stories here and those we pass along behind the scenes every day. There are rescuers out there in all conditions chasing down cats they’ve seen or heard about, arranging for medical care and finding the generosity and support of the animal community to help them. People may shake their heads at all this effort and money for one kitten, but each one has a reason.
I’ve been rescuing cats for about 30 years, have had my share of cats approach me for help, seen my share of injuries and abuse and life and death. Last year Peg was a long-time cat owner with her own two shelter cats indoors and at least one “porch cat”, and I was flattered that she called me and that I could be there to guide her and support her decisions when Skeeter came along. Now she’s got the connections and when Houdini came along with her kittens in tow, then was apparently expecting some more, she helped avert the development of a growing feral cat colony in her neighborhood by finding foster help for Houdini and through the network and with her neighbor, spay/neuter and veterinary care and homes for Houdini and all her kittens.
But the best part of rescuing cats is ending up sharing my life with our own rescues, those who’ve inspired us to run around herding cats on the streets. For my part those who ended up staying with me, or should I say more accurately “those who have come to rescue me”, made my life the better for their love and taught me the importance of each individual cat.
So this crusty old tom cat lived life on his own terms and probably raised a lot of hackles with salty stories of life on the streets up there at the Rainbow Bridge, and I’m honored to have shared his last days and helped a friend give comfort to another living creature and continue to support the rescue of others.
And an immense thanks to the dedicated people who go out of their way every day to rescue cats and all other animals off the streets
Other articles about Skeeter:
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