Farewell to a Feral Feline

cat tail
Photo courtesy Ruerd Leenstra:  www.flickr.com/photos/ruerdleenstra/

There was this feral cat, a big gray fellow, skulking around the farmhouse where I lived a few years back, stalking the birds and squirrels at the feeders. I saw him out there for two years running, hot summers and snowy winters, and started putting out food.

He’d slip up and bolt down the food, then scurry off to wherever he stayed most of the day. I put a chair outside, about 20 feet from the food dish, and started sitting there reading every day at feeding time.

The first day, he came around the corner and saw me, sat there thinking about it, but eventually slinked near and wolfed down the food, while I carefully looked away. In the following days, he got used to me being there, and I started inching the chair closer and closer to the dish.

Eventually, I was right next to it, and one day I reached out as he was eating and touched the top of his head. The look he gave me was … astonished. “Are you insane? I’m a feral cat! You don’t touch cats like me!”

The next day I reached out again, gently scritched the back of his head with one finger. He tolerated it, kept on eating. In days after, he slowly started reacting to the scratching, coming to visibly enjoy it. The slinky behavior went away, and he started hanging around on the back deck.

Turned out “he” was a “she,” and I named her KittyBit. She’d been someone’s pet, I figured. How she ended out in the wilds, I had no idea, but as I had lots of elderly neighbors, I wondered if one of them might have died and her beloved cat fled the scary strangers who came in to deal with things.

She missed being touched! The first few months, she would go bonelessly limp and even drool when she was being stroked. One day I left open the back door and she came in and explored. She made herself at home.

I moved into an apartment, and she came along. I made sure she had windows to look out of, but she avoided them. She’d had her fill of living wild, and was now a pampered Indoor Cat. Good food, places to lounge and luxuriate, hands and laps to enjoy. She no longer drooled, but she would press into any hand. She was a square mile of desert, and every human touch was the pattering of spring rain.

Another move gave her a window to look out on a yard with bird feeders, and she took to lying in the window watching the living scenery. She developed a cute, weird behavior – she would lurk outside the bathroom when I showered, then rush in as soon as the door opened, leap into the shower and commence licking the water off the walls.

In all, five years went by. She wasn’t young when I got her, but she really started showing signs of age. Bones jutted out at hips and shoulders, legs bowed, fur snarled into ungroomed tangles.

Five days ago, she stopped eating. Started vomiting up yellow bile. The machinery of catness was running down, breaking, coming to an end.

Purring in her last hour under a stroking hand, she had a peaceful, painless ending at the vet’s.

The deal I made with her – a guy deal – was that I would save her, but wouldn’t necessarily love her. She was just a roommate. But the silence in the house, the hole that used to be filled with bright eyes and purring laply presence, brings me to unexpected tears.

So long, KittyBit.

  • Pieter B

    Reminds me of a feral who adopted me, whom I named BBC—Big Black Cat. He’d hung out in the back yard for several years, at first very wary of me, then eventually tolerant of my presence in his territory, merely giving a perfunctory hiss if I got too close. He started coming in the cat door at night to clean up the leftovers, but running out if I came into the kitchen; eventually he started coming in and waiting respectfully in the corner of the kitchen while the “official” kitties had their dinner, then finishing the leavings.

    The next stage was me preparing a small plate for him, served at the same time as the big one, which shortly led to him joining the crew at the main plate. I like to think he waited until he was sure everyone was cool with it. Once he’d chosen our house as his retirement home, it was, as you wrote, like rain to a desert. No one could sit more than a minute without him claiming their lap. I don’t remember how long he was with us, but he was a sweet kitty and I miss him to this day.

  • *raises glass* To KittyBit.

  • Condolences, Hank. Fare thee well, KittyBit.

  • ZenDruid

    Condolences.

    I have a feral friend who only visits at night. I call her Shadow. She speaks quietly in greeting and allows only the lightest of touches. She doesn’t like the idea of coming into the house.

  • Snowflake

    I’m so sorry. I’m glad you and KittyBit had each other.

  • Brian Bowhan

    The biggest problem with our furry friends is saying goodbye.

  • Dorothy Grasett

    I will be missing my Grey Lady sometime soon, at 20 she has probably not much more to go. I cannot find you on my facebook. Was there a problem?

  • Bob Jase

    yeah, I’ve added a tenth rescued cat just last week. He is ancient, feeble, mostly blind and missing some teeth so his person dropped him off behind a dumpster (I monitor the area & work w/ some cat rescue groups). The other cats aren’t happy about it but then, many of them were rescued from that same area so they’ll have to live w/ it.

  • paulalovescats

    Knowing the ending, I had to read anyway. I prefer cats over humans. But I’m not a CCL, I only have 2. :'(