Monday, June 6, 2011

For the love of a feral cat

Yesterday evening, my partner and I lost our oldest cat, Rosie, unexpectedly. She'd been sitting on the low wood fence between our house and our neighbor's, as she did almost every night after dinner. We had checked on her earlier in the evening from our living room window before settling down for a movie, and she eyed us with her usual nonchalance. Half way through the film, we heard a loud scuffle; our dog Paris started barking in agitation and throwing herself at the door. We ran outside. A pitbull-mix dog that lived a few doors down and we always worried about had evidently gotten loose and came upon her. Rosie was half-blind in one eye and her hearing had diminished significantly; she had sat on that fence every night for years and either didn't see the dog or didn't think it posed a danger, until it was too late. Though we ran out and fought it off, stopping it from mauling her to death, her back leg had sustained severe injuries. It would have required amputation and difficult follow-up. So, at 1:45 a.m., in the emergency hospital, as we petted her and murmured our love, she was euthanized. She'd already been heavily sedated, and she left us quietly, without further pain.

It was the first time in 11 years we had touched her.

Like our other five cats, who depend on us for food, care, and shelter in our garden and in our garage, where we've designed a cat-friendly environment, Rosie was feral. We think she was probably 11 or 12 years old; but we were never sure. She came to us as a young cat, hungry, thin, and wary, as so many cats born outside do. Together with our next door neighbors, both of whom love cats, we gained her trust and respected the boundaries she determined for interaction. In time, she was caught and spayed, but she was never tamed. Still, she stayed. She dwelled in our and our neighbors' gardens and accepted the other ferals who drifted into our lives over the years and were likewise neutered or spayed, and released; she and they even developed a hierarchy. When feeding time came and Rosie was there, the other cats always deferred to her. She ate first. Same when it came to the wheelbarrow in the garden; it was her special daytime sleeping spot and woe was any other cat who tried to take it from her. She even developed a relationship of sorts with Paris; our dog didn't chase her and she deigned to tolerate Paris sharing the garden on occasion.

Rosie was a wanderer, at first. We fretted over her days-long disappearances, only for her to suddenly show up at our kitchen door, face pressed to the glass, wanting food. As she aged, she stopped leaving. In the last 8 years, she never went far. She ate every day in the morning and evening (and, as her chewing abilities decreased, had her own special dish of wet food); took her morning groom on our deck, her afternoon nap in the wheelbarrow, and at night . . . well, she went onto the fence, to watch the traffic or bask in the moonlight and whatever other allure the night holds for cats.

Her loss - both for how it happened and that it happened to her - has left us bereft. However when I mentioned to a well-meaning friend that we'd decided to have her privately cremated and her ashes returned to us, this friend said, "But why? I mean, it's not as if she was your pet. She was just a wild cat you fed." This got me to thinking about the complex, sometimes intangible bond we can develop with animals, particularly feral cats. People who don't care for them cannot understand that while we may not touch these cats, curl up with them in our beds or play with them, they are still an integral part of our family. We saw Rosie every day for all those years; we watched over her, ensured she would be as safe and comfortable as possible, and always respected she was not, and would never be, a fully domesticated cat. This doesn't mean we didn't love her or she didn't love us. I saw it in her eyes, sometimes, when I paused to whisper silly things at her as I set down her food or went to clean her box in the garage. She would tilt her head, regarding me with those big amber eyes, and she would narrow her gaze, as if to tell me, she understood. She understood and she appreciated it. She thanked us.

We already miss Rosie terribly. We find ourselves looking out the window for her, toward the now-empty wheelbarrow which for today at least, none of the other cats have claimed. Tonight, when we went down into the garden to feed them, all five were sitting there, waiting. They rarely show up like that, all at once; they tend to feed in shifts. Yet as my partner and I gazed upon their solemn faces, they returned our look and I could have sworn, they knew. They realized Rosie was gone and we were grieving for her.

And in their silent way, they thanked us.


Kathy said...

Oh Christopher. I am so very sorry.
I am in tears as I read your beautiful words about your beloved Rosie.
As I type this, my cats (Henry, Daisy and Seven) are close by. Please know that, as I look at them, my thoughts are with you, your partner, Rosie as well as your other animals who loved her.
Know that she had a wonderful life and made your life that much better.
Take care.

Anonymous said...

What a sad way to lose a pet, Christopher, and what a beautiful eulogy to her. You do Rosie great honour.

Teddyree said...

I'm so sorry Christopher, what a beautiful, heartfelt post for Rosie. We have the one little dog who is a much loved member of our family so I do understand the hole that Rosie's loss has left in your life.

Thinking of you and your partner and sending warm hugs across the miles

Michelle Stockard Miller said...

Christopher, I am so sorry for your loss. I know exactly what you mean about cats like this. When I was growing up, we had a myriad of outside cats that never came inside and you pretty much had to abide by their rules when it came to approaching them, etc., but they were still our cats and we loved them. When one would come up missing and perhaps never return, we would grieve for him/her and always wonder what happened. It's obvious that Rosie loved you in her way or she would not have stuck around as she did. I think you do her a great honor by wanting to keep her ashes. I'm sure she is resting easy knowing that she was so loved in her time on earth. Take care. =O)

Passages to the Past said...

Oh Christopher, I am sitting here with tears running down my face. I am so sorry to you and your partner for the loss of Rosie. I can't imagine the pain you are going through, I only hope that the knowledge that you made Rosie's life the best it could possibly be helps in some way. She was a lucky kitty to have such loving and patient parents and I admire your devotion to your animals. I've lost many cats in my life and it never gets any easier, they become such a huge and integral part of your life and bring so much to your daily existence. I will be thinking of all of you in the Gortner house and sending my love.

bren said...

I am so sorry for your loss. Your beautiful words are certainly a tribute to Rosie and I'm sure she will be waiting for you on the other side of that beautiful rainbow!

Sarah Johnson said...

I had to go hug my kitties after reading your beautiful tribute to Rosie. She was a gorgeous cat and I'm sure she knew how much you cared for her - they always do.

BurtonBookReview said...

What a tragedy, and I send you prayers of solace. How sweet for you to provide the better existence that she did have for quite a long time. I think your garden as a sanctuary for those ferals is amazing. Keep up the good work, Christopher.

Historical Fiction Notebook said...

I'm so sorry about the loss of Rosie - your dear feral cat shares a name with a beloved cat who has been with me for 12 years now.

It's always hard to explain how deeply you can feel the loss of an animal and this beautiful post does just that.

Unknown said...

How tragic. I hope that even in your grief you are content knowing that Rosie was loved. If I lost my dog-hter, I would be inconsolable. Animals are such a peaceful force on our lives, giving love and never asking for much in return.
May Rosie be forever remembered!

C.W. Gortner said...

Thank you all so much for your love, your heartfelt words and your support; it means far more to me than I can say. Losing Rosie has hit us quite hard and it's comforting to hear from others out there who understand and share our deep respect and love for these quiet creatures who bring so much into our lives.

brokenteepee said...

That dog's owners should be locked up. No animal should be allowed to attack another like that.

Having had more cats in my life than I can count, including several like Rosie, I completely understand.

I'm very sorry.

Unknown said...

Oh goodness, as a fellow cat-lover, this post just wrecked me. My husband and I rescue cats. Some of them turn out to be wonderful cuddly pets. Some of them never lose their feral nature. They're all creatures to love and admire, so please don't let anyone tell you that you shouldn't be sad. This beauty was a part of your life, and you did her a great mercy. Much love to you and your family, feral cats and all.

Marg said...

Oh what a horrible way to lose your pet, feral or not.

My thoughts are with you and your partner, and your other cats too.

Gregory House said...

I am very sorry to hear of your loss. We also have taken in deserted cats who have asked for our help, it is always a special relationship because they want to be with you.
You and your partner have the sympathy and understanding of this cat family.
regards Greg

Anonymous said...

What a moving tribute to Rosie, who must have been a wonderful cat. I love the image of the other five in the pride showing up to grieve with you. They certainly do get under our skin, don't they?


Anonymous said...

I'm so sorry to read of your loss--my heart goes out to you. It is such an honor to be part of a pride, and so painful when a member dies. What a beautiful tribute to Rosie--and a moving moment when the other 5 showed up together.

Lovely meeting you over the weekend!


Amanda said...

What a beautiful, sad, and touching post. Animals touch our hearts in so many ways.