Thursday, 3 June 2021

A Gift from Ginger Dog

We have a three year old semi-feral cat. His name is Ginger Dog. A week ago he went missing for several days. We weren’t concerned, he’d done this before. But, on his return, he wouldn’t eat or drink. He just lay in his kennel in our back yard and steadily became unresponsive. A vet examined him, but couldn’t find what was wrong. To save his life, Ginger Dog was admitted to the pet hospital and put on a drip. The next morning he was a bit brighter, but still wouldn’t eat. So they decided to feed him through a tube. After three liquid feeds, he began to eat. We were overjoyed. Then the vet sedated him and scanned him. The next call brought the bad news. Ginger Dog had cancer in both kidneys.

Lymphoma is rare in cats, especially younger ones. But it is an aggressive disease. We were told that GD had weeks, possibly months to live. There was no treatment that could cure him. When we got to the vets, GD was waiting in a cat carrier with a towel covering it. As soon as we spoke, he began to miaow. We drove home, speaking to him soothingly. He tentatively stepped out from the carrier and sniffed his surroundings. With the three large patches of fur that had been removed for the scan and the drip, he looked a little odd. But he was still the same GD. After some food and water, he came and sat in T’s lap and purred. And for the rest of the day he followed us around, just like he had done when we first got to know him (that's how he gained his name).

GD arrived almost three years ago, shortly after our collie, Rex, died. He was small and weedy. We reckoned that he had been abandoned as a kitten. Early on he learned to enter the house for food. Sometimes he would stay and sleep for a few hours. He came and went as he pleased. GD far preferred the outdoors, whatever the weather. Often he would sleep in a bush in the garden, or in Rex’s old kennel. Regularly he would go to hang out with other feral cats at a nearby farm.

Because he was still very weak, we tried to keep him indoors. We cleared a space in the utility room and put down a bed for him, food & water and a litter tray (something he had never used, for he had learned to miaow when he wanted to go outdoors). The next morning I found he had been climbing the higher shelves trying to find a way out, as stuff had been knocked to the ground. We decided to allow him outdoors under supervision. GD lay down beside us in the garden and appeared to be sleeping. But when our attention was elsewhere he crept away. I caught him once on his way down the lane to the farm. That evening we again put him in the utility room. He began to howl. We thought he would stop and settle. But he continued to howl plaintively. We opened the back door. GD purred, ate some food and sloped off into the night. We said our goodbyes, wondering if we would ever see him again.

After an intense late night discussion, we agreed a way forward. GD had lived as a semi-feral cat. So he had to be allowed to die as one. It was no good now trying to turn him into an indoor cat. It was his right to decide how to spend his final days and we had to respect that. 

The next morning GD was not waiting on the kitchen window sill for his breakfast. My heart sank. I’d got so used to seeing his little furry face first thing in the morning. It was easy to imagine that he was lying in a ditch somewhere in pain. And I shed a few tears. But, mid-morning, GD appeared as if nothing had happened. He ate a hearty breakfast, groomed a little and lay down in the hall for a nap. A little later, I found a dead mouse on the front door mat. It was a gift from Ginger Dog. The very first time he had ever done that. We wondered what he was saying to us. Perhaps it was ‘thank you’.