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Saturday, June 3, 2023
June 3, 2023

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Everybody Has a Story: Stray cat goes from feral to family


Growing up in the 1950s, I always had feral cats hanging around the house, so I fed them whatever I found in my parents’ refrigerator and pantry.

I have always liked cats and they seem to like being around me, too. The problem is that I am highly allergic to cats, and could never own one and let it live inside the house. Over the course of a decade or more, while living with my parents, I fed and cared for more than a dozen cats and their offspring.

Fast forward to adulthood. In the summer of 2007, my neighbor called to let me know that a feral orange cat had a litter of kittens under her deck. She assumed that since I was the only one in the neighborhood who had a dog, that I would know what to do about the situation. I called the Humane Society for Southwest Washington to find out what could be done. Apparently, there was some type of cat influenza around and the Humane Society was not able to take in anymore cats or kittens, but referred me to a local woman who rescues feral cats.

I called this cat woman and she indicated that she could take the kittens to try and adopt them out, but the mother cat needed to be fixed and released. The one hitch was that my neighbor and I had to pay for the mother cat to be spayed and then released in the surrounding area, with one of us feeding the cat as long as she hung around. We both agreed to pay for the procedure. I volunteered to feed the cat.

Once the kittens were taken away and the mother cat was spayed and released, she would cry for days looking for her kittens. That started a long-term relationship as I fed her at various locations around the neighborhood. She went to wood piles, empty sheds and an abandoned house where I would drop off some food for her on my way to work. Eventually I named her Tabby, after her breed. In time, she would cower undercover waiting for my food deliveries.

Tabby never entered my fenced yard because I had a dog that loved to chase squirrels, birds and cats. Eventually my dog died and Tabby started to visit me for her meals. When she discovered that there wasn’t a dog around, ready to lurch at her, she ended up staying.

I decided it was time to invest in some cat toys, bedding, a feeder and scratching post. I even emptied the wood from an area near our outside fireplace to make a bed for her. This arrangement went on for several years, with Tabby getting closer and me stroking her head with my gloves on (to curb my allergies). Since we adopted each other, she came running whenever I called her to give food. Tabby even played with some of the toys and seemed to enjoy being part of the surroundings.

About four years ago, my husband and I adopted a rescue dog and brought him home. He immediately went over to Tabby to get a closer look as she was lounging on a bench in the back yard. That did not sit well with her. She whacked him across the face with her paw and that was the last time my dog approached her. This also happened when a raccoon entered our backyard. She whacked him on the face and he scampered away. Whenever our dog went outside to do his business, he avoided the area where she was. My fear of a dog-and-cat interaction was over.

Last year Tabby’s health declined. She would be gone for a few days and then come back limping and clearly in pain. She was bloated and had a growth on her forehead. She still let me pet her, but was cautious and tried to scratch me if I became too friendly.

I decided the only humane thing to do was to have her euthanized. When she came home after being gone for five days, I wrapped her in a blanket and put her in a cat carrier. It was fortunate that I was able to find a veterinarian who would perform the procedure that same day. On my way to the vet, Tabby cried and looked at me. This was probably her first time in a car and, sadly, the last time. We had developed a bond through all these years and she eventually ended up trusting me and allowing me to pick her up occasionally.

I ended up having to say my goodbyes at the veterinarian’s office. I cried like a baby. I made a pact with my husband that I would not “adopt” anymore feral cats.

In 2018, The Columbian reported there were about 40,000 to 50,000 feral cats in Clark County, many in rural areas. With such a large population of feral and stray cats, who knows if one will decide to adopt me. R.I.P. Tabby!

Everybody Has a Story welcomes nonfiction contributions, 1,000 words maximum, and relevant photographs. Send to: neighbors@columbian.com or P.O. Box 180, Vancouver WA, 98666. Call “Everybody Has an Editor” Scott Hewitt, 360-735-4525, with questions.