May 26 2008

Bye-bye Ginger

Published by at 3:44 pm under Tidings from Gabriola Island

Ginger the tom catHe was a beat-up, feral tomcat, teeth worn to stubs, with testosterone-inflated jowls and scrawny, caved-in sides.

Our first encounter was not promising. A week after our arrival at our new island home, my husband finally let Pussicle and GoldiPuss out to explore our property. Within minutes, we heard the furious howls of a cat fight next door; then our cats disappeared. Four hours later, a bedraggled Pussicle returned, wounded, soon to become infected, necessitating an expensive course of antibiotics. Our beloved GoldiPuss is still missing after almost three years.

The attacker, we learned, was an un-neutered, golden tomcat defending his territory. He lived on the neighboring property, although the neighbor disavowed ownership and refused our request to have it neutered. “He’s not my cat! He’s just a stray who hangs around. I feed it but I don’t touch it or let it in. I call it ‘Cat’.”

With no cooperation forthcoming from our neighbor, we decided to befriend this cat, nicknamed Ginger, so that we could eventually capture it and take it to the veterinarian’s ourselves, figuring that a neutered tom would be less aggressive. Soon after, we’d adopted two female cats, virtually abandoned by another neighbor when his wife got a cat-hating dog. With three cats at risk of attack, we needed to neutralize the Ginger threat. This turned out to be a two-year project.

Since Ginger tended to take short cuts across our deck, we began leaving wet cat food for him there. After a few months of regular, daily feedings on our deck, Ginger no longer disturbed our female cats, although Pussicle never stopped growling and raising his hackles. But there were no more fights, at least not with our felines. However, poor Ginger would often arrive, ears and face bloodied from a skirmish, eyes weeping puss. He was a sorry sight.

Gradually,  he became tamer. By last summer, we were able to stroke him while he ate, though he was still skittish: he would eat then run away. We finally made him a vet appointment, but on the appointed day, with claws and limbs rigidly outstretched, Ginger squirmed away from my husband’s attempt to put him into our cat carrier. Clearly, he would have to become much tamer before we would be able to get him into a carrier.

This past winter proved particularly long and bitter. With our deck now roofed though still under construction, Ginger was able to eat somewhat protected from the elements, but he was so obviously cold and miserable that we had to do something to make him comfortable. My husband confected a padded box and hung an infra-red heat lamp above it. It didn’t take Ginger long to realize his good fortune. He rarely left our deck or his heated box. With a constant supply of wet and dry cat food on demand — all he had to do was sit quietly at the door, looking at us intently to signal he was hungry, and we would respond immediately — he luxuriated in the artificial warmth, a smile on his face as he snoozed.

My husband could now pick him up and stroke him. Ginger began to purr, probably for the first time in his hard-luck life. Our two female cats befriended him, sharing food and, in LuciFur’s case, rubbing noses. Ginger’s life was complete: he was safe, he was well fed, he was warm and dry, and he had friends.

Happy and content at last, Ginger turned out to be sweet and gentle; he came whenever we called him. After every meal, he thanked us by lifting his tail and spraying our patio doors with his strong, musky scent. Spring arrived. It was time to try the carrier again. This time, Ginger was more cooperative and we headed off to the vet’s, Ginger crying softly, upset at being confined.

A few hours later, the vet’s receptionist called to say that the neutering operation had gone well but that the vet wanted to talk to us. She refused to say more. Back we went, slightly perplexed. The vet explained that all strays have to be tested for feline leukemia and the feline immunodeficiency virus, commonly known as feline AIDS. Unfortunately, Ginger had tested positive for feline AIDS.

Still, his prognosis was good: Ginger was not ill; he could live a long healthy life, but would have to be adopted by someone who would commit to keeping him indoors for the rest of his life and away from other cats. With three cats, we were not candidates. We left a voice message for our neighbor, explaining that Ginger would be euthanized if no one would take him on under these strict conditions. The vet also alerted Cat’s Alive, the volunteer animal rescue society on our island, which had agreed to pay for Ginger’s vet care (because he was considered a stray). We were told that the final decision was not ours but Cats Alive’s.  


In the back room, we stroked Ginger through the bars of the cage where he was resting, still groggy from the anesthetic, his ear identification tattooed in green. He’d finally had a few months of happiness and now this. We left the vets with heavy hearts, wondering if we’d ever see Ginger again.

Two weeks later, the police informed us that Ginger had been euthanized. (The vet had refused to tell us Ginger’s fate, citing confidentiality!) Instead of adopting his “stray” and saving its life, the neighbor had opted to lodge a complaint with the police, alleging that we had stolen his cat and taken it to the vet’s without authorization. The police quickly resolved this bizarre complaint in our favor, but we were greatly saddened that our best intentions had resulted in the death of this trusting soul.

Our cats tested negative for both diseases. For several weeks afterward, LuciFur would sit on the deck facing the neighboring property, patiently waiting for her Ginger friend who would arrive no more.

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