Yesterday morning one of the feral cats that frequent my yard showed up half dead. Were it not for the white spot on her nose I wouldn’t have recognized her; she looked like the zombie version of her former self. My first instinct was to reach down and grab her but I hesitated. I’ve learned the hard way it’s a bad idea to try physical contact with a feral cat. Even the tolerant ones hate being picked up. But she was one of the two somewhat tame ones- she never ran like a cockroach and occasionally enjoyed head scratches- so I scooped her up. She didn’t even try to resist.
I was astonished how light she felt in my hands. Even though a year old she remained kitten like and was half the size of her two brothers. Her mother is also strangely small so maybe she inherited the trait. In retrospect her lack of fight was a bad sign.
I brought her into my bathroom and looked her over for any sign of injury. She was emaciated, severely dehydrated, covered in debris. Her golden eyes so sunken they looked gray, and she was struggling to breathe.
Just last week she’d been a sleek, perfectly healthy, well fed cat. What happened? I tried to remember the last time I saw her. Ferals spend a lot of time hiding so it’s not unusual to miss seeing them. Maybe last weekend? Last week? My 13 year old daughter and I put food and water out every day, so she either got trapped somewhere or stopped eating for other reasons.
She was clearly at death’s door but with cats you never know. I got food and water, she weakly drank and drank but didn’t eat. Then she collapsed and stopped drinking.
I found an oral syringe and gave her small amounts of water every hour. She curled up weakly in my lap and still no fight. She swallowed the water almost politely. I cleaned her up as best I could, wrapped her in towels.
The kids marveled at the sick cat once home from school. I warned them repeatedly she was in very bad shape and may not survive.
Toward evening she seemed to perk up but was breathing heavily. She sounded like a human in deep sleep, deep, long, strangely peaceful breaths. My seven year old asked to help give her water, I told her to wait upstairs while I got everything ready.
Downstairs, the bathroom was silent. With unexpected dread I opened the glass doors of the shower: there was the little cat laid out on her side, perfectly still. I touched and shook her lightly. She was dead.
I was shocked by how emotional I was. I don’t cry easily but tears were streaming down my face. They’re streaming as I type this! She was just a cat, and not even a pet cat. She was wild. One of the things I hate about our culture is how we value animals seemingly more than we value human beings. Yet here I was totally distraught over a cat that didn’t even belong to me.
I didn’t want the young kids to see her. What to do with her? I couldn’t bear the thought of putting her in the trash. I decided to dig a hole in the yard and get her in there as quickly as possible. I did this as best I could in the cold and dark. Her three siblings watched me keenly as I dug the hole; one had been sitting at my back door all day long as though to inquire as to her condition. I wrapped her in a small blanket, put her in the hole, packed dirt on top and placed heavy stone blocks there so scavengers wouldn’t dig her up.
Back in the house I explained the situation to my 13 year old and asked if she could place a second layer of rocks on the hole so- and here I started sobbing- so nothing eats her. My 17 year old later remarked she couldn’t remember the last time she saw me cry.
So why the fount of emotion?
Perhaps I’m upset about other things that somehow got focused on this event, like light is focused and scattered by a prism.
Perhaps I assigned a false connection to the cat. Sometimes I think human behavior toward animals is similar to how humans connect to androids in sci fi movies. We assign reciprocal emotion and designate a human style relationship where none exists. To these cats- as cute and funny as they can appear- we are little more than food dispensers.
Anyway the next day, in morning light and under a brief snowfall, I saw the 13 year old’s handiwork. She made a rather respectable grave for ‘our’ little cat. I would be happy to have a grave as peaceful as this when I die.
Why the title parable? Back when she appeared as a totally feral kitten, my ten year old named her Parable, and her identical looking sibling Stanley, after the video game The Stanley Parable.