Friday, December 1, 2023
animal welfarecatscats I knowessaypet lossrescue cats

The Honor of Rescue

pawprint in ice with snow

The thermometer registered 14 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 21 years I’ve lived in this house.

Just a nice tabby cat sunning himself on the porch.

But one cat who is not outdoors on this brittle morning is Skeeter, who was the first cat I thought about as I felt the cold seep through two doors, and glad that though he lost his struggle to injury and infection, he hadn’t died alone and slowly freezing to death.

Did he know this was on its way when he came to my neighbor and friend Peg Bowman for assistance last weekend? Or had the abscess encircling his neck only become so intolerable that he would, in his 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?

cat in blanket
Skeeter after some pain meds.

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.

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. Peg is a long-time cat owner but somewhat new to rescue with her own two shelter cats indoors and at least one “porch cat”. She is already aware of cats in the neighborhood; when Skeeter showed up and she realized the extent of his injuries she didn’t question if she should do something only what was best to do for Skeeter. I am flattered that she called me and that I could be there to guide her and support her decisions. She’ll soon be volunteering with Animal Advocates in Pittsburgh; another cat rescuer in training.

And as she and I communicated on the phone, in e-mail, on Facebook and face to face on her porch and in the emergency clinic, we discussed not only his survival but also his death, and agreed that if treatment didn’t work, then walking the last part of life’s path and helping a living creature find a painless death was no less an honor than helping it live.

But the best part of rescuing cats is ending up sharing my life with my own rescues, those who’ve ended up staying with me, or should  I say more accurately “those who have come to rescue me”, and made my life the better for their love and taught me the importance of each individual cat.

So this crusty old tom cat, as was my impression of him, lived life on his own terms and is probably raising a lot of hackles with salty stories of life on the streets up there at the Rainbow Bridge, but I’m honored to have shared his last days and helped a friend give comfort to another living creature.

Other articles about Skeeter:

Skeeter’s Diagnosis

What’s the Matter?

Skeeter on Life With Cats


Read other essays on The Creative Cat.

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23 thoughts on “The Honor of Rescue

  • Pingback: The Housewarming Cat « The Creative Cat

  • Anonymous

    This made me cry. Poor skeeter. RIP

    • Sometimes love makes you cry, it was one of the lessons I learned from loving and losing cats. Thanks for reading.

  • A beautiful post, and a touching tribute to Skeeter and those who rescue. Thank you.

  • Karen

    I am so sorry to hear about Skeeter but am grateful he found the right humans to help him at the end. I have been rescuing cats for years (with the help of local rescue groups and animal shelters) so that my friends are convinced there is a flashing sign outside telling any cat in trouble to find my house. They have ranged from 4 hours old (she is now 4 yrs old and still thinks I am her mom) to 7 yrs old (he is now almost 9-he came to us neutered and declawed with a microchip in him but no response from his owners). I now have a true tomcat, orange and white, big cheeks and tough as they come. He had an infected eye so we went to the vet, he is only 18 months old and FIV positive. He has since been fixed, had all his shots, his eye is better and he is gaining weight and catching up on sleeping in my garage. I hope to find a good home with someone willing to take on a special kitty. He has the loudest purr I have ever heard. He, like all the others, shows me daily how grateful he is for having his life saved. It is nice to know there are a few of us out there that are willing to help them! Thank you for what you do!

    • Karen, don’t you look back on all this and wonder how you managed it? A newborn kitten!How good of you to get them all of the streets and give them love, even if it’s in the garage.

  • Denise

    Bernadette, Pumpkin is now, let us say, a sort of “lodger” in our home.
    Wiccan has a loving and caring home with Willow next door. He is an
    occasional visitor to the windowsill….. those boys cannot resist coming round to
    take a peek through the curtain at Mlle Daisy Marguerite.

    You will recall that a while back Pumpkin was caring for two little black kittens on my
    deck. Those kittens are growing, but still seem to be homeless. And still
    being watched over by Pumpkin. They, and a tabby and a few other kitty hobos
    are regular visitors to the cat soup kitchen on my stoop. I also have warm blankets inside a wooden box tucked under the stairs. I launder those blankets regularly and make
    sure each morning that they are dry. I do what little I can for the poor wee waifs in the
    neighourhood. I wish I could do more. (But as you suspected,
    Mlle has put her paw down at any kitty other than Mr. Pumpkinhead spending the
    night, and he is relegated to the kitchen!)

    • Denise, I wondered where those kittens had gone–still outside?! And with Pumpkin as a guardian?

      I will not let Giuseppe know that Mlle. has admirers.

  • As you said…his belly was full, he was hydrated and comfortable, had been treated gently and respectfully by the people around him. You made a difference, and it is one of the things I am grateful for…and touches my heart.

    • Teri, it’s the least we can do for another living creature.

  • A lovely tribute, Bernadette!

    We will never know what brings these wanderers into our lives, but there must be a purpose and not just for them, but also us! I often wonder how Austin ended up being on the streets and what led him to take shelter inside a car engine? Now as he snores away on his favourite (that’s with a ‘u’ 😉 blanket, I hope he feels secure and safe and those memories have long faded.

    • Carolyn, I just wish there was a better outcome for most of them since we manage to rescue only a small number.

      And I think the “u” adds a touch of dignity to the word (almost added it in the title). I regularly correspond with a friend from Canada (Denise, above) and seeing that “u” all the time it’s almost become part of my spelling now for some reason.

  • Skeeter is now warm and safe at the Rainbow Bridge – no more bitter cold for him. Breckin was out there this morning. I got him to come inside Friday night, but not last night. I know he’s been here because his food is gone – but I won’t stop worrying about him until I actually see him.

    • Vicki, the corollary to actually getting your hands on the cat is the one who won’t let you catch him no matter what he needs. Oh, and here’s to another new cat rescuer!

  • Bernadette, you wrote exactly what I was thinking this morning! I’m certain, now that we know the extent of his wound, Skeeter would never have survived last night out in the cold. Something greater than ourselves led him to us at just the right time and I’m glad we were able to keep him from a painful freezing death and give him a little love before he left for the Bridge. Skeeter has left behind quite a legacy!

    • Peg, I wonder that he would have survived the cold and wind at the end of last week–you can’t get away from that, and he was so weakened already. I’m glad he came to us, and he certainly changed our lives. If this was a test of your ability to rescue a cat, I’d say you passed!

  • hey bernadette … i think i am a latecomer to the cat fancier’s world, but this story is no less touching … i brought my first rescue cat home right before christmas. his arrival and presence is a reminder of all the animals left out there, still needing homes and love. skeeter’s story broke my heart, but lately, this story was enough to fill it up again. your words were right on, BK … i always perceived animal lovers to be more kind than “regular” humans. it takes a special kind of person to care for an animal, especially one so special and symbolic as skeeter. thank you for the touching tribute. 🙂

    • Heather, good to hear from you! I thought I saw you posting a few cat photos. I’m glad you’re in the mix and there’s one more compassionate soul out there. Skeeter touched a lot of people and I’m so glad I could share him. Telling the story takes a lot out of a person and it’s wonderful to hear you and others were moved by it.

  • Denise

    I thought of Skeeter this morning — bright and sunny
    and bitterly cold in Kingston after our massive ice storm, then
    blizzard (we have deep drifts of snow frozen hard by the
    frigid temps) — when I put out the dishes of nurturing
    kitty kibble (too cold to put out anything else) for the
    several cats who are put out onto the street in even these
    (-30 last night) conditions.

    Perhaps a Skeeter’s legacy will be that one stray kitty
    is saved from a death of cold this winter.

    • Denise, what about all the other kitties but Pumpkin and Wiccan out there who show up now and then? I’m surprised Pumpkin hasn’t led them in to you, unless Mlle. has put down her paw. I can’t imagine how they survived the ice storm in Kingston. I hope at least one person is moved to save a cat like Skeeter.

  • A fine tribute to Skeeter, Bernadette. And I agree — I have always found it an honor walking that last part of the path with a cat. A painful honor but an honor nonetheless.

    • Tammy, it’s especially touching when that’s the only time you get to spend with them, but even with my long-time felines that last time is so deep and special from all the rest.


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