Sunday, September 23, 2007

Remembering Whiskers

We have a new kitchen window now. With a much lower sill. It would be perfect for Whiskers in her old age, with jumping to the old one probably becoming more difficult.

Except that Whiskers is no longer with us. During the summer we had to have her put down because an injury to her paw became gangrenous. So now there's a gap in our lives, and an empty cat space on our new window sill.

Whiskers was with us for around 14 years. She was an outside cat, a stray kitten who came to beg food and stayed to have a comfortable life. Having an outside cat suited us, as we didn't want indoor animals. And it suited Whiskers too, because she appeared to have a pathological fear of enclosed spaces. If the back door was open in summer, she would venture into the kitchen, and even further, to have a look around. But if her exit closed, she'd get very anxious, even terrified.

She was also very timid, and could be bullied by other cats in the area. She ate in small bits, usually leaving some of her food on the plate outside the back door while she digested what she'd eaten so far. If one of the neighbouring cats came in to filch what was left, she'd just sit on the sill watching them. Maybe occasionally mewling in a quiet but ineffectual protest.

Sometimes she would whine at Vanessa from up the road when that larger cat came around on her territory. But unless Whiskers could see that one of us was in the vicinity as backup, she wouldn't do anything like chasing her unwanted visitor away.

All her life she kept a distance from us. Sure, she'd come and nuzzle around our legs when we sat out on a summer day. But she was always wary of even being petted. Bending down too quickly to do so would have her scampering away. And she wouldn't let us lift her. Once in the early days when we did, to put her in a cage to bring to the vet for treatment, the result was a bad scrape on an arm. So apart from that one visit, she never had any other treatment or shots.

It didn't seem to do her any harm down the years. Two regular meals a day and an unstressed life kept her very healthy. Though we figured she might need worming occasionally, we could never get her to take the medicine. Even breaking the contents of the capsules into her food didn't work, as she would resolutely refuse to eat it then.

Through the years she was a constant companion to the house, probably earning her keep by keeping outdoor mice from coming indoors. She wasn't hard to manage -- if we were going away there were always kind neighbours who would set out her food, and beyond that she required little attention.

Maybe we'd have had her a couple more years, though 14 is quite old for a semi-feral cat. But she got that wound on her paw. Skittish enough at the best of times, she was even more wary when we tried to take a closer look at it. One try to get her into a cage for a vet visit was the beginning of the end.

She escaped from my attempt to bundle her in, and after that wouldn't come around again to the back door where she had always been fed. Indeed, she disappeared into the field behind the house for a couple of days, and when she came back eventually she would only stay close to where she could hide again.

We left out food, and hoped that natural resistance would deal with the wound since she wouldn't let us help. But it didn't, and over a week or so the wound and her overall condition deteriorated. She was dying, and it was terribly hard to watch from the distance she kept between us. Finally, as she ate some food one morning, we managed to throw a rug over her and bundle her into a box. Then it was straight to the vet, with her mewling under the rug on my lap. That was the hardest part, that she was enclosed, in the dark, and probably terrified.

We knew the only thing that could be done was to let her go. It was a sad morning, and we cried as we left the vet's. But it was also a relief that she was now out of what was clearly a miserable situation.

Goodbye, Whiskers. Thanks for being with us for so long, for your sometimes reluctant company. We remember the way you'd tap on the kitchen window if your food was late, how you seemed to know when it was Sunday and you'd get an extra treat at lunchtime from our own dinner. Sometimes we forget that you're gone and look to see if you're on the window, waiting.

We'll be putting a flowerbox on the new sill, so there won't be any other cats taking your place. And we'll remember you in the flowers.

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