I could tell you that I had to put a beloved pet to sleep yesterday but, if I am to be completely honest with my readers, he wasn’t exactly my pet. My actual in-house pet, Bonnie, is a petite calico cat. I rescued her seven years and eleven months ago today. She is a World Trade Center orphan and her owner was killed on September 11. I will share her story with you in September.
My adopted pet was a large, imperious, and somewhat ragged feral black cat with long white whiskers, oval green eyes, and a white patch on his chest. He had been visiting me and my offerings of premium cat food for three or four years, when it was convenient for him. I was always happy when he appeared.
For the first couple of years the midnight-black cat was wary and would watch me cautiously from a safe distance. I had to leave his food far from the house before he would sniff at it but, in time, he came to trust me enough to sidle onto the garden patio. As feral cats do, he would sometimes hang around like he owned the place for days on end, only to vanish for a week or two, or a month, and make me worry that he had been snatched by a coyote, bobcat, or SUV. I named him Big Bill—an obscure reference to Patrick McGoohan’s Prisoner, my all-time favorite television show.
Recently Bill showed up after a long absence. He’d been in some kind of fight, maybe with a coyote. His front left paw was horribly mangled and his head and back were covered in sores. The previously guarded creature lay beside my patio door, crying. I was sure he was in pain, or at least very distressed. I got some antibiotics from the vet and slipped them in his food, but they didn’t seem to help. Then I contacted an animal rescue specialist and borrowed a humane trap. I spent five days trying to catch Big Bill and, after many failures, finally succeeded. Once I got him to the vet, to my great surprise, he was as calm as anything, lying quietly on the examination table, and I was able to pet him for the first time ever.
The news was not good. Bill’s foot was very badly injured and would require bathing, tissue removal, and ongoing care. Feral cats don’t do well with bandages. After taking cultures from his wounds they determined that he had massive infections and needed to be tested for Feline Immunodeficiency Virus and that a biopsy should be done as well. His liver was swollen and he was losing weight. We were looking at very high medical costs for initial tests only, with no guarantee that he’d even be treatable. And what if he was? Is it okay to spend $1,000 or $2,000 on a feral cat, only to put him back out in the wild with a bad foot? It was one of the hardest decisions I ever made, but I couldn’t bear to think of Big Bill suffering any more, so we put him to sleep.
I have been involved in animal rescue and animal rights work for many years and have helped find homes for literally hundreds of cats and dogs. I have lost pets to illness and wandering, to old age and road accidents, and I’ve seen elderly suffering animals euthanized out of compassion. But this was the first time I ever ordered the death of a relatively young cat. He was a scruffy guy, but he was my friend.
After I buried him in the garden, I sat down and wrote out a check for what I would have spent on Big Bill’s tests and sent it to my favorite Tucson animal shelter. I figured they could use those funds to help many cats instead of me possibly being able to help one. In those last few moments, Big Bill seemed quiet and calm, and stopped crying. I hope I did what was best for him, but I’ll never really know for sure.