In our house we have a rule that only “rescue” type pets join our family. Mostly their backgrounds and how we came by them are fairly unremarkable – except for Finn the cat.
About a year and a half ago we considered that our family was big enough with two greyhounds, two parakeets and two cats, Ethel and Luigi. One night in early spring I was reading in bed when I heard a cat yowling. There was nothing remarkable in this as often either of our cats, usually Ethel, would slip into a closet without our knowledge to catch 40 winks and then howl to get out after one of us closing the door without realizing that the closet was occupied. This time we searched the house and found them unimprisoned. The same thing happened the next night and the next. I had started tip-toeing around trying to get a look at what was obviously not one of ours as it was outside and Ethel and Luigi are inside-only cats. Finally, I got a glimpse of the visitor: large, black, and by the odour around our porch, a male.
I ventured out to see if he was approachable and found two of my neighbours doing the same thing. We figured he had to be a stray as he was frightened off as soon as we showed up. I started leaving out food and water in the hope of eventually overcoming his shyness. I got a better look at him through a window and was saddened to see he had only one ear, his hair was long and matted, and he had a very wary look in his eyes.
One morning I walked out into a disturbing scene. As usual, the food was gone, but this time there were pools of blood left behind. My neighbours had offered to help capture him if needed, so that day they rented a livetrap and I got advice from Full Circle on the best way to manage the attempt: I carefully concealed the trap beneath leaves and branches and covered the steel bottom the same way. A bowl of tuna was bait and then I prayed.
The next morning I thought at first I was unsuccessful and then as I got closer the trap shook violently. The cat was there and one look told me he was completely feral. We had emptied a storage closet in preparation and after closing the door carefully behind me I did one of the most foolish things I’ve ever done – I opened the cage. When I say he hit the ceiling, he actually did and the blood stains were there to prove it!
I did a quick escape (it wouldn’t surprise me to learn that I slithered under the door, I was so terrified) and called my good friend and vet, Dr. Troye MacPherson. Unfortunately, the clinic was backed up with emergencies of their own. Relieved that the cat had gotten back into the cage, I went to the first clinic I could. There I was told that the cat was feral, dangerous, would never make a pet and should be euthanized. I insisted that I wasn’t concerned about making him a pet after a shelter administrator reassured me that I was indeed doing a good thing, even if I had to release him after being treated and neutered.
Finn, as he was by now known (after the legendary Irish hero) lived first in the storage closet, then in the adjoining bedroom and eventually was given full access to the rest of the house, which meant he fled to the basement and stayed there for two months. One day he appeared at the top of the stairs and then tried out a soft chair. The next thing we knew he had attached himself to Al, our greyhound, who he slept with, hid underneath, and tripped up by winding around his legs.
Finn still was very shy of people, so it took a little while for me to notice small smears of blood and identify it as his. His poor feet! They were abscessed and bloody and I knew I’d never bundle him into a carrier to take him to the vet. Instead, I photographed the sores and sent the images to Dr. MacPherson. Then I had two rounds of antibiotics to slip into his food. But here’s the amazing thing: once his feet healed, suddenly he would allow us to approach him and then (because Al the greyhound approved) he started to discover the joys of petting and treats! After that it wasn’t long before he was going by the moniker “Finn Underfoot” for his habit of always wanting to be in contact with our legs.
Over the next six months we had a steady job cleaning clumps of matted black hair off everything in the house as a diet of good food and love did its work. Today Finn is a magnificent, glossy, pure black beauty who is one of the most affectionate cats I’ve ever met. He particularly loves to play with my husband, Jim, and can be rather demanding for his favourite treats. Perhaps as a result of some upper respiratory infection Finn is the cause of me having to wear ear plugs to bed because his snoring sounds like canvas ripping. He spends most of the night draped over Jim’s tall frame, making the windows rattle.
I’m not saying that every completely feral stray will turn into, well, a pussycat, but love and patience can and does work wonders.