The vast majority of these street animals are cats of all sizes and colors. Every year, more are added to the population because spaying and neutering animals is not a widespread practice. There are clinics that will do the procedures free or, like our local veterinarian, will offer a discounted price for residents who bring in street animals for treatment. While many people go out of their way to place food and water on the street for these creatures, their lives are generally extremely difficult.
We have a small covered patio and tiny garden at our home, which has become a sort of kitty haven for several street cats in our neighborhood. They know that there is always food and water available and, in inclement weather, they take shelter on the patio in the improvised cat boxes we have outside to provide a little warmth away from the wind, rain and snow. Over time, some of the cats have become affectionate, fearlessly approaching to be stroked and played with. Others are afraid of humans and will slink onto the patio to eat, wary of any threat, and scurry away if we come outside. We have named the regulars and have our own personal favorites.
One of my son’s favorites and mine was a small gray stripped female cat that we dubbed Emmy. Affectionate, yet definitely on the wild side, she would often come by for a few minutes of petting while we sat outside at the patio table to work or eat. Emmy spent nights on the patio when the weather was foul, but the rest of the time she came and went as she pleased. Where she spent her days and what she did to pass time was a mystery, but every morning she was waiting patiently by the back door for her breakfast of cat food.
Keeping an eye on Emmy
Several days ago, we noticed that Emmy was walking oddly -- her back legs looked out of kilter and she began falling over while moving around. Although she did not seem to be in pain, it was obvious that something was wrong. For the first time since she had known us, she did not run to be cuddled when we came outside but instead acted as if she wanted to be left alone, wandering off slowly while walking at an angle, struggling up after each fall. I watched for her the next morning and saw that her back legs were working less and knew we had to catch her and take her to the vet. Since she did not want to approach us, my son and I had to corner her without scaring her and quickly shut her into a cat carrier. Emmy yowled loudly in protest as we carried her to the vet’s office two blocks away from our home.
After an extensive examination, the vet shook his head and told us she had damage to her spine, as well as having intestinal parasites and being anemic. Parasites are a part of life for street animals, so that and the anemia were no surprise. We asked the vet what he thought had caused the spinal damage and he said a car might have hit her, but he thought it was probable that someone had viciously kicked her. However, he was hopeful that if she was kept in the carrier for a week and received daily injections that she would recover. The price he quoted for the treatment was much higher than I had anticipated, but I felt we should do whatever we could to help her.
On the way home with Emmy, my son asked, “Mom, that was a lot of money to pay to help Emmy and we can’t really afford that right now, can we?” Holding his hand, I explained that because Emmy and the other cats relied on us to feed them, it was also our responsibility to take care of them the best way we could, including finding the money for medical bills in emergencies. This, I said, was part of the responsibility of having pets in our home and of taking care of street animals.
By the third daily visit to the vet, it was clear that Emmy was sicker than the doctor had originally thought. Barely responsive, she was breathing lightly and obviously dying. Reluctantly, the vet agreed with me that it was time to put her out of her misery. My son and I gently stroked her and said goodbye to her, thanking her for the joy she brought to our lives. We stayed with her until her last breath. My son was upset with this firsthand experience with death and as I hugged him, the vet came and gently explained that we had done all we could for Emmy and it was best to end her suffering in the kindest way possible instead of letting her linger for another day or two in pain.
On our slow walk home with the empty carrier, my son said that even though it was sometimes hard to have pets, he was glad that we tried our best to help the street animals. In spite of the pain he felt from the loss of Emmy, when we arrived home, he went outside and spoke to and petted the cats waiting for dinner in our garden. Even though Emmy had died, there were more cats needing attention.
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