He Wasn’t Just A Cat

Last night, I had to make one of the toughest decisions I have ever had to make. I had to say goodbye to one of my oldest friends.

Fergal has been with me for almost 20 years. He was older, by some margin, than my kids – and he did, very much, act like their older brother. 

He wasn’t just a cat – he was a cat who thought he was a dog.
He wasn’t just a cat – he was a cat who thought he was a human.

As a kitten he was my alarm clock – routinely jumping on my head and pawing at me until I fed him. You could set your watch by him.

I didn’t own him – he owned me. And he knew it.

Not only did he own me – he owned the rest of the street as well. He was the elder statesman of my road. In his younger days he acted as master of all he surveyed – even choosing whose house he would sleep in on any given day. And the neighbours loved him.

Fergal came to me as a rescue cat. Someone brought him into a police station in 1997. They had found him in a bin bag as a kitten. Word went around that he needed a home. I went to the station and fell in love with him immediately.

He was thin, he was ginger, he was a complete misfit. He was a polydactyl. He had his usual paws but on the front paws he had an additional mini paw on each and extra toes on the back. Including the dew claws he had 30 claws in all. He was the only cat I ever met with opposable thumbs. He could trap a small ball like it was a baseball mitt.

After his initial lousy start in life I took him in and fed him up until he became the healthy looking ginger bruiser you can see above. That pic is about four years old and he was 15 when it was taken.

He more than used his 9 lives. He was hit by something (I never did find out what) during the night when he was still a young cat. He didn’t come home one morning and I found him outside with a broken back leg. The vet sorted him out but it was to lead to the development of arthritis in that leg later in life.

When I brought him home that time I was told he needed cage rest – but they didn’t have a cage. So I fashioned a barricade in my spare room and tried to box him and his cast leg here. I came home to find him sitting on the windowsill without a care in the world.

On two occasions he didn’t come home for over a week. On both he had become trapped. The first time I have no idea where but he returned thin and cross about 9 days later and was shouting at me at the front door. It was a huge relief.

The second time he got into a neighbours house through their cat flap. This neighbour had gone away and thought they had locked the cat flap. I discovered him after 6 days when I was posted “have you seen…?” noted through my neighbours doors and heard a familiar meow.

The neighbour had presumably thought they had locked the flap but had in fact locked it to “in only.” My cats sense of adventure and general transience backfired because having got in – he couldn’t get out.

It’s a good job this house belonged to a single guy living alone because Fergal survived by drinking water from the toilet. The advantage of leaving the seat up! I discovered this as he maintained the habit for a while until I managed to educate him otherwise.

He even chose to live in another neighbours house for the best part of two years. This neighbour had two ginger cats of his own and Fergal used to spend all his time with them. Fortunately, the neighbour didn’t object and we had an arrangement where he paid the food and I  paid the insurance and vets bills. Bizarre but true.

It became known as “The Ginger Cat Club”. I used to come home and see him say in my neighbours front window as if he owned the place. Frankly, he did.
When the neighbour moved away I had to lock Fergal in my house until he got the message.

He has been there through thick and thin. One of the most constant things in my life for almost two decades.

His alternative name was Uluru. Named so because he resembled Ayers Rock when he was sleeping. An orange mass arising from the floor.

Over the last couple of years the arthritis has become more noticeable. He was taking medicine for it but it was clearly getting worse. He could still jump the wall if he was so minded but he had lost the spring in his step and it has become a hobble.

In January he was given a reasonably clean bill of health for his age but I was told his kidneys weren’t functioning as they should be and to enjoy the remaining time with him.

Yesterday, there was an incident outside which scared him and he tried to run away from it. In doing so he somehow damaged his arthritic leg so that he couldn’t stand on it.

I took him to the vet but there was something else wrong. She discovered a large abdominal mass which would have been unseen and undetected and Fergal was very poorly. It wasn’t there in January but was now tennis ball sized and masked by fur and body.

Now things I had attributed to him being an aged gent started to make more sense. I think he has been more unwell than I have realised for some time.

Watching him struggling on the vets table and hearing the procedures and prognosis it seemed that it would delay the inevitable with very very little chance of any success. The operation itself could prove fatal and the chemo and recovery would be miserable.

I spent some time alone with him. “Chatting it through” – I think he told me what he wanted. I think.

The spark had gone in his eyes. For perhaps the first time I recognised how old and very fragile he had really become. Perhaps I had denied it until now.

I was with him at the end. I held his hand (for it was a hand) and stroked his ear and looked him in the eye – smiling. I was the last thing he saw and I spoke to him throughout. What was said is between me, he and the vet but he will have been in no doubt that I loved him.

It was peaceful and he was no longer in pain.

Now he is gone and I am sad. Time will heal, I know but the sense of loss is comparible to any bereavement.

We invest a lot of love in our pets – to the point where they cease to be “pets” and become part of the family. We care for them, we dote on them, we love their personalities and their ways as we would any relative. They reward us with moments and loyalty – yes – even cats….

He wasn’t just a cat – he was a permanent fixture. The one who would shout at you for daring to go out all day and leave him outside.

He wasn’t just a cat – he would sulk like a child.

He wasn’t just a cat – he was one of my oldest companions.

He wasn’t just a cat – he was my friend.

He wasn’t just a cat – we were soul mates.

Sleep well, Fergs – the pain is gone but you will never be.


3 responses to “He Wasn’t Just A Cat”

  1. peter kilburn says :

    Having just lost my cat at the age of 18 I read your blog with interest. Our cat had dementia, a heart that missed beats every so often and Thyroid problems- it was very sad to say goodbye but he had given up and it was the right thing to do.
    A few days later I got a sympathy card from the vets with an extract from a poem-
    ” Grieve not, nor speak of me with tears, but laugh and talk as though I were beside you. I loved you
    ‘Twas’ heaven here with you”

  2. Vincent Price says :

    Lovely and a tear in my eye as I read that. It reminded me of mine, found in a similar way and was a great character. Sadly no more.

  3. Chris Kirk says :

    Bravo. At 66yrs I have seen a fair number of relatives and animal friends pass away….mainly dogs, My childhood was littered with cats and dogs. I can recall each of the animals passing and my response better than I can that of humans. What I always find astonishing is the silence in the house at night after they have gone; it is almost an uncomfortable silence….the lack of another breathing creature. I continue to cherish the memories of all of these friends. I read this with a tearful recognition of a fellow sufferer. Thank you.

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