Stray cat: A love story

September 20, 2012 • 3:42 am

Reader Rik Gern sent me the following story and photo. Readers might be able to help here (see bottom):


I’ve never been terribly fond of cats, not because I’m a cold and heartless person, but  more likely due to a few traumatic experiences with them.

As a small child I explored a dog house that I thought was empty, but turned out to be occupied by a mother cat nursing her kittens. Naturally, she did what she could to defend her offspring from the “invader”-me-and I was left shredded, bloody and screaming, and with nightmares to last thru my childhood.

It also didn’t help that my grandmother’s Siamese cats once spontaneously decided to use my exposed calves as scratching posts and chased me around her house in pursuit of their demented sense of recreation! I was terrified of cats until my twenties, when I met a good friend whose love of cats and gentle interaction with them convinced me that they weren’t evil, and I stopped fearing them, even if I didn’t particularly like them.

Flash forward a quarter century to about five years ago when I moved into my current residence. A sickly, mangy cat would occasionally show up in the yard looking like something from Steven King’s “Pet Cemetary”. I mean, this animal was nasty! She had open sores and cuts all over, a filmy pus over one eye, huge chunks of fur missing, and what fur there was was so threadbare you could see her bony frame.

She looked so sickly that every time I saw her I literally thought she was fixin’ to crawl off and die somewhere. Strange thing is, though, that she didn’t crawl off and die; she kept coming back. Finally, last summer, when the region was in a terrible drought and a friend’s cat had died from exposure, the sight of such a sickly, suffering animal got to me and I broke down and bought some cat food and started leaving food and water out for the poor thing.

At first she’d wait practically forever ’till the coast was clear to come and furtively sip some water and eat the dry food. I’d watch her with disgusted fascination, but any attempt at getting anywhere close would be met with a frenzied display of hisses, teeth and claws, so I kept my distance.

The Cat at Issue

Meanwhile, I started paying more attention to the pictures your readers were sending in of their cats, and noticed that they really are interesting looking animals. I also noticed how happy and well treated they looked, then I’d look at the scraggly kitty in my yard and wonder why life had dealt her such a lousy hand, so I started adding treats to the dry food–bits of chicken, fish, and egg yolk.

After a while, her fur started filling out, and one day, to my absolute astonishment, the mangy little animal approached me and rubbed against my leg as I was filling her bowl. I was both repulsed and intrigued, and I’m not really sure why, but I reached down and stroked her back. I’m tellin’ you, it was gross—all bony, scabby and scarred, but it was also the beginning of a nice little friendship!

It’s been over a year since I started feeding the kitty, and now her fur has pretty much filled out, the sores are gone, and she no longer staggers around looking like hamburger helper. She’s actually become very affectionate! I’ll get up in the morning to find her sleeping on the fence (one of her favorite spots) and we’ll start out the day with some petting and conversation before she gets her breakfast.

For a while I presumptuously thought the relationship was a one-way street, and that I was engaging in some kind of charity, but I realized I’d gotten hooked on my new buddy when she took off for a kitty walkabout for a few days and I found myself searching her usual haunts and moping about like a jilted lover! Anyway, she’s no prize winner, that’s for sure, but she’s turned out to be a sweet, affectionate little animal who has brightened my life in a way that I never would have expected.

I’d tell you her name, but I don’t know if she has one. Here’s her picture though; hope you like it.


It’s a lovely tale, and I’ve urged Rik to get her to the vet, but he says she’s very shy and would probably run if he tried to grab her.  There must be a way to get medical care to this animal, even if she remains partly wild. Maybe readers can weigh in with some suggestions?

71 thoughts on “Stray cat: A love story

  1. She looks sweet! & in dire need of a brush! As for getting her to a vey – that will be an issue of trust & not someting you want to muck about with at this stage. My cat was also a street kid, but one with I’d say veyr human-social beginnings, but there were still trust issues when I took her to the vet. If she’s filled out & her fur’s grown back, then it sounds like she might be OK.
    But, maybe he could get a vet around for a coffe and just visally check her. The egg & stuff will be doing wonders for her, as much as the gentle relationship.
    Lovely tale, lovely man for being willing to be receptive to another being reaching out when in desperate need.

          1. I agree,
            But maybe you could get someone else to do the dirty work, so that she doesn’t associate it with you. That way you could avoid breaking that hard earned trust 🙂

      1. I’ll add my vote for this option. We’ve used them before to trap feral cats. And they’re harmless. Just put a little treat in there and she’ll do the rest. But she definitely needs to be seen by the vet, however she gets there!

  2. Lovely story thank you.

    What does this mean:-

    “…and she no longer staggers around looking like hamburger helper”

    This idiom is unknown to me in the UK. I’m picturing someone who works at McDonalds, but I still don’t get it.

  3. It’s always nice when a cat adopts you. My current cat adopted me about 14 years ago, he still has some issues but that’s just because he’s a curmudgeon. Sweet most of the time, but sometimes he’ll hiss and attack for no reason. At the vet, his folder is red, while all the others are a light green. The receptionist told me that’ because he’s a mean ol’ cuss and it warns them to be careful around him (picture full body armor).

  4. Why on Earth would you want to take it to a vet? That cat has survived more than twelve months and is gradually looking healthier. What could a vet offer that her benefactor hasn,t?

    1. I can’t tell if your kidding or not. Just because she has survived and improved does not mean that she is healthy. A vet can examine her to determine if she is healthy or not. A vet can rid her of parasites and disease that, perhaps will not kill her outright, but can take many years off her life and cause needless suffering.

      Not sure why I bothered to respond to you because if you really need to ask that question then there is no sense in trying to use reason to change your opinion. But let me ask you something if I may. When you observe other people yawing do you never yawn, sometimes yawn or almost always yawn in response?

      1. It is very likely she has tapeworms, fleas, and perhaps even ear mites.

        You can treat her fleas yourself by running to a pet store and buying such flea treatments as Frontline, Fiproguard, or Advantage. Apply a full tube just behind her head on her spine near her shoulder blades. Be advised these treatments are perhaps a wee bit pricey, especially for an outside feral cat, as they average some 20 dollars per dose, but then again her life will be MUCH more comfortable without fleas.

        The vet will test her for worms by inserting a small lubricated “sampler” and testing the fecal matter for worm bits and eggs. The vet will examine her ears for mites and also examine her coat, skin, mouth, and teeth (if she will allow it).

        As for vaccinations, I would start with her with the rather mandatory rabies shot that may be combined with the the feline distemper, calcivirus, and feline influenza vaccinations. Since she lives outside and is feral, the rabies vaccination I dare say is considered a must have!

        Finally, the vet’s staff will register her rabies shot and likely give you a local government tag that can be connected to a collar: again provided she will allow herself to be collared.

        Many times, the local pet shops may provide vaccinations for reduced prices especially during Saturdays.

        1. All stray cats I have ever adopted have had ear mites. We even thought one cat was deaf or hard of hearing–nope, just a lot of waxy build up from mites interfering with his hearing.

    2. In the US: Average life expectancy for “outside” cats (whether they are strays or just allowed to roam outside from home) is around 2 years.

      Average life expectancy for inside-only cats: around 14 years.

  5. Whatever you do, use caution! We had a stray tom cat earlier in the year who was foraging in our garden (and in our cats’ bowls at night after creeping in through the cat flap). He evidently had a fight at some point and his left eye was punctured, after which we made major efforts to catch him to get some veterinary attention. Ultimately, we borrowed a trap from a cat protection charity but only managed to catch a magpie, one of the next door cats and a european hedgehog, all of whom enjoyed the free cat food.

    The eye steadily deteriorated and I and my wife fed the cat outside and made a fuss of him… to the point where I decided to make a grab for the scruff. I muffed it, he was a whole lot stronger than he looked and I was hospitalised for 4 days on intravenous antibiotics with a further week off work until the stitches were removed (it was an excellent bite that necessitated surgery to open the joint of my index finger in order to drain it).

    The sensitivity of the trap was increased and he was caught! His name is Herbert, he only has one eye now and lives with us and our other cats. We are now the best of friends and you would think he had always lived here.

    1. Another great story! Sorry to hear about your injury. If you are ever in a similar situation, may I recommend using a heavy blanket to try and snare the cat?

      I can’t think of many critters that can cause so much damage in the blink of an eye compared to a cat having a fight or flight kind of reaction. Even most people that have cats have never experienced the full strength of a cat, and they can react fast enough that even as you are standing there bleeding you are not really sure just exactly what happened.

      But why am I telling you? You, obviously, already know all this!

      1. Yes, a blanket or towel works great. Even the smallest cat is a well-armed major predator! The blanket is most effective when combined with Crazy Cat Lady Body Armor: welding gauntlets and a thick jacket. We use them when one of our Wild People needs to go to the vet.

        1. Please be very careful when handling any reluctant animal with gloves. The gloves will remove many of the feedback mechanisms that will prevent you from applying harmful, even lethal, force.

          If I’m not mistraken, trained animal control workers eschew gloves in almost all situations.


          1. Agreed with gloves, they can prevent the firm grip that you need. In terms of blankets: I certainly considered it, in the end I made the (incorrect) assumption that Herb would be weakened by his poor condition sufficiently to surrender… I doubt this now, even if I had achieved the correct grip.

            Knowing the seriousness of any bites to the hands and feet I would definitely recommend getting the loan of a trap… there are plenty available via charities in the UK, I suspect the same is true in the US.

            The other thing I would stress is just how serious any bite (human included) to hands and feet are; I felt like fraud in A&E for about 10 seconds, then I was whisked away for X rays, injections and a chat with two consultants!

  6. I would suggest contacting a veterinarian in the area to see if they would be willing to make a “house” call. They may be able to provide borderline sedation via food/water — at least enough to do a quick physical exam, get a blood sample for a general chemistry evaluation and to check for several feline viruses, get a fecal to determine parasite status, and provide general vaccinations.

    More expensive, but it would save her the trauma of being caged in unfamiliar surroundings and would be less likely to break the element of trust you’ve spent time building up. Cheers and good luck.

  7. Yes, contact a local shelter or rescue organization and get a trap. If they don’t have one, a feed store or large pet store should have them. Bait it with smelly cat food (Nine Lives red tuna; canned mackerel, etc.) Take her to the vet while still in the trap. (Contact your chosen vet first, to make sure they’ll take a trapped stray – some will and some won’t. Be very clear that this cat is NOT feral, which she isn’t if she’s coming to visit you and allowing you to touch her.)
    She will definitely need the following:
    Physical exam
    Testing for FeLV (feline leukemia) and FIV.
    Shots for rabies and upper respiratory disease (and FeLV if she won’t be indoor-only).
    Treatment for parasites (worms and – if present – fleas).

    She will probably need:
    Spaying (yes, even if she’ll be indoors – it reduces her chances for several diseases as well as preventing unwanted kittens).
    Bathing and treating for cuts, abscesses, etc.
    Ear drops for mites (most stray cats have them).

    Since you’ve already come a long way with socializing her, she may surprise you once the vet visit is over and she’s recovering in your house – if she wasn’t born wild, and was once someone’s pet, she’ll be delighted to have loving care again. If she was wild (which I doubt), she’ll come around given patience and time to adjust. She’s already demonstrated considerable attachment to you.

    You can expect to spend at least $500 on the above list (possibly more). She’s worth it! Your reward will be a beautiful, loving companion and the satisfaction of saving her life. I think she is lovely!

    One of my cats, big black Impy, was rescued in this manner. He is blind due to malnutrition while living wild, but is a gentle, cuddly friend to us and our other nine cats.

    Good luck with her – she’s a beauty!

    1. I would just like to add that in many places there are organizations that will provide many of the vet services ironwing listed in her post for a greatly reduced price, sometimes even free. Ask around. Contact vets, pet stores, Humane Society, etc. There are numerous animal rescue organizations that specialize in taking animals like the OP’s cat, treating them and finding good homes for them and charging very low costs. Those types or organizations are usually willing to help in cases like this.

  8. I recently bought a ranch in Idaho. The caretaker left about two dozen feral cats in varying degrees of age and health. My daughter bought a couple of live traps and started collecting. The kittens have been nursed back to health and we’ve found homes for them. The adults have been spayed and neutered (for free by a local vet!) and I suppose we’ll just let them continue to hang out until they die off.

  9. Thank you all for the great suggestions, and thank you Jerry for encouraging me to get her to a vet! I’ve been making inquiries the past few days, and have learned that she used to “belong” to a neighbor. The neighbor told me that she’s about ten or twelve years old, and has been neutered and got shots when she was young. She “ran away from home” because the other cats in the house used to beat the snot out of her on a regular basis, but she still comes inside on rare occasions, such as a really bad storm. My neighbor is cool with me taking care of her, and I’m going to try to work out something where she can take her to a vet for a checkup and I’ll foot the bill. If it’s going to cost $500 I’ll have to rethink that, though, since there’s no way I can afford that!!!

    Meanwhile, I’ve also asked a friend who has farm cats about caring for a cat who lives outdoors, and she suggested I dust her sleeping areas with flea powder and to make sure that the chicken and fish I give her is raw (I’d been giving her my cooked table scraps). She also recommended a better brand of cat food than I’d been using.

    I’ve seen outdoor cat houses for sale on the internet, but they’re a little pricey, However, I’ve got friends who are good at building things (I’m not; I’d need to go to night school to learn to use a hammer!) and I’m going to see if I can get one of them to build a shelter for her. Don’t know if the cat will use it though, but that’s her business!

    Oh, and it turns out she does have a name, at least on paper. My neighbor tells me that the name on her papers is Patch. I’ll probably stick with “Kitty”, as unimaginative as it is, since we’re both used to that!

    1. Didn’t mean to scare you with the vet bill – you’re already way ahead if she’s spayed!
      Ask the vet about Advantage or similar flea treatment (it’s the stuff you squirt on their skin every few months). Works better than flea powder and is less toxic to you and her.

    2. First, thanks for doing the right thing by her!

      Three things.

      First, a house call would be much, much, much preferable to trapping her and taking her to the vet…but the trap would be better than no medical care.

      Second, and I cannot stress this enough: veterinary health insurance. Especially with an older cat, especially with an outdoor cat. The annual premiums will cost only a little more than you should be spending on regular exams, and those exams will be included. Policies differ, but mine is typical. Anything and everything, I pay 20% (after some small deductible) and they pay the rest. If she needs hospitalization at some point and the vet wants hundreds of dollars, it’ll cost you tens of dollars.

      Third, see if maybe she’s ready to come in from the cold and be an indoor cat. It’ll add years of comfort and health to her life…and it sounds like she’s earned the type of quality retirement that only you can give her.



    3. If she is ten to twelve years old, then she is well into middle age, and already likely in her elderly years considering the rough life of an outside cat. For starters, apply flea medication as detailed in the above posts, vaccinate her for rabies, and have her checked for parasites. If she will allow it, you can brush her long fur with cat brushes available at the pet shops. This will help her alleviate hair ball issues in her stomach.

      I think it is safe to say that she should remain an outside cat, but with a decent shelter and a clean feeding station. She should probably live another three to perhaps five years.

  10. I’m so glad to see such kindness! There are many stray cats that are abused and harmed because cats are misunderstood by so many people. About the raw chicken……. hummmm….I don’t know about that. Raw chicken can be very harmful so I personally think that you were right in giving her cooked. Best of luck and please keep us updated on this beautiful little girl!

    1. Raw food is much better for cats and dogs, especially raw whole food (including bones and organs). Of course, the same precautions against contamination should be used.

      The bones are a significant source of nutrition for carnivores. Cooked bones are especially hazardous sharp objects; raw bones are a chewy treat.

      And…cut the kibble. It’s the Doritos of the animal kingdom. Just as tasty, just as addictive…and just as toxic.

      Cats are desert-adapted animals. As such, they get most of their water from their prey and have a low thirst instinct. Dry food is missing entirely in the single most important part of a cat’s diet: water. A healthy cat can go days without the protein and what-not in the food, but not without the water.

      I’ve taken to mixing a couple spoonfuls of water in with Baihu’s meals. I’d say he’s getting at least a half a cup of water a day that way, probably more. Before, he rarely drank water on his own, and was having problems with crystals and UTIs. Not no mo’!

      You can easily mix water with raw or canned food. Mixing water with kibble will just cause the already-significant bacterial load in the kibble to explode.



        1. Thanks — and please spread the word!

          You may have heard that there’s an epidemic of kidney disease in cats; it’s the number one killer these days. And chronic dehydration due to low-water diets is the leading cause.

          Only feed cats wet food (canned or raw — and, if raw, stick with commercial fresh-frozen raw food labelled for cats), and mix in enough water so that the cat never has to drink from a bowl. As with all changes, introduce the water gradually, of course — jumping straight to soup might turn the cat off of the idea.

          Have your vet show you how to tell how well hydrated a cat is, and keep adding water until your cat is always very well hydrated. A healthy cat actually always has a sloppily wet mouth, something like but not nearly as bad as their canine cousins.

          Do this for young cats and they’ll probably never develop kidney disease. Do it for older cats already with kidney problems, and it’ll make them happier for longer.



      1. I would emphasize that feeding raw food, especially to canines, can create potential zoonotic health hazards. Dogs on raw meat diets have an exceptionally high E. coli and Salmonella count in their feces. It is a public health risk to feed raw meet to your animal, and many animals are destroyed because of it.

        Rik – Dusting her sleeping areas with flea powder won’t take care of a flea problem if she has one. Providing a topical (ask a local veterinarian) like Fipronil, Imidoclprid, Selamctin, etc. monthly would be your first step. Flea comb as permitted, and yes, environmental control would then be important. Remove organic debris from areas you know she frequents, and potentially use insecticide sprays every few weeks. If you are worried about fleas, try looking for them on her head/belly (the most common places you will find them in felines).

        1. I would emphasize that feeding raw food, especially to canines, can create potential zoonotic health hazards.

          Only if you use poor hygiene practices that will already put you at risk of getting sick from handling the cat’s litterbox.

          Same thing with the food itself. Handle it the same way you would any other raw meat, and you and your cats will be just fine.


          1. That is true if it is just you handling the food, and if you are able to contain the animal’s feces indoors. And only hypothetically at that, as cats that use the litter box tend to walk other places in the house. Dogs that go outdoors often step in their feces, even if you are conscientious about picking them up.

            Outside, you run the risk of environmental contamination, of other animals contracting it, and of kids inadvertently running across feces and picking up a potentially fatal strain of bacteria. And this says nothing of the potential problems it may cause the animal (less likely in cats). Once infected, they can, and often are, infected for life — and intermittently shed the organism (think Typhoid Mary). Very few cases just “clear it”, as many internet sites, and even books, would have you believe.

            Are these things guaranteed to happen if you feed raw food to your animal? No. But why take the chance?

            This is a zoonotic concern that veterinary med deals with on a daily basis. Good husbandry helps, but it does not eliminate the problem.

            I’ll end here, and let the thread get back to “Kitty”.

            1. That is true if it is just you handling the food, and if you are able to contain the animal’s feces indoors.

              I would heartily agree that safe food handling, good litterbox hygiene, and not allowing any unsupervised outdoor access (i.e., keep the cat either enclosed or leashed) are all essential for the care of any cat, regardless of the amount of heat applied to the cat’s food.


  11. I commend all of you who have taken in these poor creatures. But please remember that ‘feral’ cats are not wild creatures and not native to their environment. Therefore they can do a lot of damage to the native–and often endangered–species, especially small native songbirds. Definitely please get a trap and take the cats indoors to a loving home. But keeping cats outdoors and ‘free’ is both damaging to them and to wildlife.

  12. HI! Check out Alley Cat Allies for tips on how (and why!) to help this girl, vet wise.

    Agree… borrow or buy ($50) a trap and
    1)get her spayed
    2)get her vaxed. Distemper, rabies, you dont want her dying of this garbage.
    3)Deworming, flea treat, hell, even a microchip in case Animal Control scoops her up one day. You’ll be notified.
    4) If they test for diseases, DO NOT let them put her down if she’s FIV+. It’s no big whup, I swear. Look it up if that happens.

    Most of these things are standard in a TNR (Trap Neuter Return) program for strays. Check w Alley Cat Allies for a program in your area!

    Feel free to contact me for any advice! I’ve been an Alley Cat Advocate in my city for years, I know the ropes. 🙂

  13. My cat, Moe, started out sort of like this and I ended up tricking him to get him to the vet. I put the cat carrier by his food dish outside and waited a few days for him to get used to it as an innocuous object. Then one day, while he was eating, I picked him up (wearing canvas gloves) and put him in the carrier. It wasn’t pleasant, but ultimately, made the whole process of getting him assimilated into the household much quicker and easier.

    1. I did much the same. I put the food dish outside the carrier, then moved it further inside each day until it was right in back. Then I closed the door.

      Cat not pleased! Cat VERY not pleased!

  14. My feral cats used to come in the house till I trapped and took them to the vet to be fixed. They got out of trap at vets, had to be chased around the room, but eventually got fixed, brought them home to recoup. but….. once they got outside never came in again when someone home. Sad for me as winter is cold. It would be nice if vet could sedate them at your house or in the cage then fix them

  15. If she rubs against you and was an owned cat at one point, an experienced person could likely get her safely into a carrier.

    I volunteer for a cat rescue organization and we have gone to pick up strays that their kind benefactors could not get into a carrier. Perhaps there is a similar organization close to you who could help get Kitty into a carrier?

    And finally, thank you for extending kindness and compassion to Kitty. If more of us followed your lead and offered help to another that is suffering, our world would be in much better shape.

  16. Re: the stray cat and getting her to the vet, food inside a carrier might work. It does when people are catching strays to neuter them…….it might take days or weeks of leaving the food inside the carrier but eventually she would get used to it.

  17. If Rik is reading this: I love to do animal portraits and this picture of Fence Cat is fantastic. Would you happen to have it at a higher resolution, and if so, would you be willing to let me have a copy and make a drawing from it?

    1. Done! I sent you a picture, and hope you have fun with it!

      Since receiving so much useful advice from the readers here, I’ve given the kitty an Advantage treatment, started feeding her raw fish, and bought a hairbrush, which I thought she’d hate, but she doesn’t; in fact, she really likes being brushed! She’ll be visiting a free clinic a week from Thursday!

      Thanks so much for all the advice, folks. I
      don’t know a thing about cats, and your suggestions have been really helpful.

      Mcmilgarden (comment 14), you make an excellent point, and I am going to try to transition her to an indoor cat, but it might take a while. She’s been in the house a few times now, but both of us are a little uncomfortable with that, so I’m going to take it one step at a time, and let that part of the relationship grow at it’s own pace.

      1. Yay! Thanks, I received the pic. And yes, most cats I’ve had liked brushings, especially scraggly long-haired cats. The only way we could coax our old Benjamin out of hiding for the first few weeks was to show him the brushes!

      2. Rik, I’m so happy that you’ve been able to get her started on Advantage, and that she enjoys the brushing 🙂

        There’s one more thing I’d like to mention so that you’re aware of it. As she’s still an outdoor cat right now it doesn’t matter because I assume she also does some of her own hunting, but if she does eventually become solely an indoor cat, do add some general cat food to her diet (if you don’t already). There are certain species of fish that contain the enzyme thiaminase, which acts to break down thiamine (Vitamin B1). It’s just best to avoid the potential side effects of this, and also to keep a more balanced diet in general. — not too common anymore, but it has been documented in dogs and cats fed only raw fish diets. Cheers and best of luck. She looks like a sweetheart!

  18. We had a farel kitty adopt us about 6 months ago and have been feeding him ever since. Our neighbors have always frowned on stray cats and they usually vanish. This cat, however, was good natured although very fearful. We could leave for a day or 2 and return to find the cat at the back door waiting to be fed. Never growls, swats, hisses or makes a sound. We can get next to it, but cannot touch it. The neighbors we are trying to adopt him. We returned home a few days ago to find him gone. We know he would not leave the area, as he has made several safe havens around the house where he likes to hide. We have looked everywhere. What would cause a street savy male cat to vanish? He loves his home and gets well fed here. Any ideas??? We are very sad. Thanks.

    1. @Looking for Bandy: Could someone have called animal control on him? Check with your local animal control agency and see if he got turned in.
      Check neighbors garages, basements, sheds. Outdoor cats often wander into an open door and then get stuck in there when the door gets shut, not knowing there’s a stowaway. I had a neighbors cat in my basement for a week not knowing it! She wandered in while I was moving old furniture out and had the door open for hours. This happens A LOT.

      1. Thank you so much for your answer. We did call animal control. He is fearful of going into any confined space (even our garage) so it is hard to imagine, but we will try. Thanks again.

        1. Put out a flyer in your neighborhood or to your neighbors too. Someone else may have taken up caring for him while you were away! That happens too. Some other kind soul may be in your area, helping him or giving him shelter and he’s sticking around there. Get the word out (flyer) so they at least can let you know and ease your worry.

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