Charyl Says

The Least of These: a Lesson in Kindness
January 28, 2014, 12:14 pm
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When Redrum showed up in my parents’ yard a couple of years ago (who can ever remember exactly when or how), he was a mangy, orange and white tomcat covered in battle scars and sporting a lame eye.  Strays have always seemed to find their way to this place–in fact it’s full to the brim with pets acquired by fate–so it wasn’t unusual to see a plate of cat food and a bowl of water casually left outside.  It became a daily ritual for Redrum to partake of a back-step meal–a ritual he probably carried out at a handful of other sympathetic households in the neighborhood as well.

Had he been receptive to the idea, my parents would have likely offered him shelter and love within the house now and then.  But while Redrum seemed to desire human companionship, he did so from a distance.  Getting close enough to get our attention–even meowing desperately at times–his instincts kicked in the moment anyone came within physical reach (even those who fed him numerous times and had never given him reason to fear).  If anyone dared breach his comfort zone, hissing and batting would precede the inevitable darting away to what he deemed to be a safe space.

Occasionally, they would bring him a special treat–a couple of spoonfuls of wet cat food.  You could see his guarded excitement at this culinary delight.  He would get a little closer… but not by much.  No matter what they did or how they tried to tempt the mangy cat, they were never able to get close enough to touch him.   By laying on his stomach and closing his eyes while offering food, my father was able to lure him within inches–but that seemed to be the extent of his trust.  (See the photo above, taken in 2012).

Redrum got his curious name from his maddening cries for attention at all hours of the day and night–usually just outside the living room window–reminiscent of a gravelly voice repeating the infamous line from “The Shining.”  He was also known to carry on a back-and-forth “conversation” with my parents–meowing his responses in composed form as if he truly understood their human language.  Clearly he had once been part of someone’s home; but somewhere along the line, for some incomprehensible reason, he had been severely abused–leaving deep wounds, visible and not.  He so badly wanted human companionship, but was unable to overcome those savage fears that reared up the moment the opportunity presented itself; a problem shared by abused animals and people alike it seems.

When the weather turned dangerously frigid this winter (even for the heartiest of animals), there was concern about Redrum’s safety outside.  A small, makeshift flap was fashioned over the cellar door in which the cat could come and go as he pleased.  A box with an old towel, and food and water bowls completed the amenities.  It wasn’t the kitty Hilton, but it was much better than trying to survive in below zero windchill and several inches of snow.  Redrum took advantage of his new settings for a few weeks.  At times our paths would cross as I toted my laundry downstairs to the unfinished basement.  He would meow at me longingly, but my “hello” and step toward him would inevitably be answered with a hiss from the shadows.

But then, there was a change.  It was subtle at first.  I noticed that instead of finding him out “catting” during the day or slinking around the dark corners of the basement at night–nearly every time I went downstairs he was curled up in his box, sleeping soundly, his stomach slowly rising and falling with each breath.  For days he lay sleeping–barely tasting his food or water, and only marginally acknowledging our presence when we approached close enough to touch.  What before would have gotten us a hiss, followed by a quick scramble–now was nothing more than a raise of the head and a barely-audible growl.

Finally one evening, he became unable to even lift himself from his bed to use his litterbox or take a bite of food–necessitating being manually moved (something he barely tolerated) as my mother changed his box and soiled towels, heating them to keep him warm and placing his food and water next to his head in case he felt like eating (which was doubtful).  Having no idea what was wrong with him (but suspecting he may have been poisoned by a neighbor), we weren’t sure if he would recover or not.  He never cried out, nor did he seem to be in pain.  He only slept.  The decision was made that, unless he showed distress, trying to take him to the vet–who would likely recommend he be euthanized anyway–would only further traumatize the wild cat.

As sun the rose on the frozen horizon the next morning, we found him motionless in his box–his breath permanently silenced.  This once loud and savage cat had slipped from this world into the Next with not so much as a whimper.

Redrum had spent much of his life as a ramblin’ old bastard–fighting, mating, and bumming off the kindness of strangers.  He smelled up the basement with the marking of “his” territory, his gravelly attempts at communication at all hours wasn’t pleasant, and feeding and cleaning up after him cost a little extra–all the while never offering anything of himself in return as most pets do.  Yet there was a sense of sadness at his loss and the silent way his life ended.  No longer would we see his scratched up face and bad eye staring at us from across the yard waiting for someone to set out his meal for the day or hear his feline response to our questions, as if we were addressing an old friend who had come for a visit.

But along with that sadness, there was joy–joy that this animal who had lived such a traumatic life no longer had to struggle.  The pain was over and he could feel love again.  There was a peace in knowing that this “unwanted” and “unlovable” cat did not die alone–freezing, starving and in pain–but warm, dry, with his basic needs met… and as close to humanity as he would allow.

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