Mar 12 2012

OJ the Feral Cat

The morning began simple enough. “Hi, my name is Joan, and I’d like to know if you can come out to the house and neuter my son’s cat.”

“Sure. How old is he?”

“I think he is 2 years old?” Her voice rises with uncertainty and I sense she has more to say.

“Hmmm… Is there anything else you want to tell me about him?” I ask, gently searching for the hidden secret.

“Well, he is kinda hard to catch. That is why we can’t bring him to a vet.”

“Oh, so he lives outside?”

“No. He lives in the house, but no one can touch him. I mean, sometimes he lets us pet him for a second, but mostly he stays away from us. And the thing is, he just cost us $20,000 dollars in stripping the basement where he has been urinating. It smells so awful! And I don’t want him to do that again after we re-do the furniture and carpet down there.”

I wonder what makes the human race so unusual that not only are we one of the only creatures on this planet that voluntarily domesticates another species purely for pleasure, but also sacrifices a large amount of our resources in order to care for that creature? Elephants have symbiotic relationships with birds, but I sincerely doubt they risk their livelihood to care the their feathered friends. In fact, other than in Disney, I can’t recall another natural pairing of distinct species in the animal kingdom that is anywhere near the dependant reliance and unconditional devotion that is exhibited between humans and their animal companions.

I am stymied by Joan’s situation. She can’t pet the cat. Upon further discussion, I discover that the cat is quite feral, will bite and scratch them if caught, has sprayed his urine markings all over the house and offers no love in return for a dramatic rescue as a kitten and subsequent adoption by this caring family. He eats, sleeps and pees.

Yet, the family loves him. His name is OJ.

After advising her that I offered NO assurances neutering him at this late stage would help, I agreed to head to her home and do the impossible- catch, test, vaccinate and neuter their crazy kitty.

We always ask that owners isolate their cats to one room by the time of our arrival. After several endless appointments trying to find cats that ‘were just here a minute ago’, only to leave 45 minutes later without a glimpse of the elusive creature, or of chasing cats around the house, out from behind cabinets and on and off of kitchen tables, we learned that a stern warning ahead of time relieves vast amounts of anxiety by the time we get to the home. Even so, we have had our share of amusing situations.

But OJ, the orange tomcat, was one of the wildest.

Joan had listened diligently to our instructions and very carefully blocked OJ into the living room for us. She had carefully piled pillows, cardboard boxes and a variety of other bits of movable furniture into the open doorways of the main room. Apparently unaware of a feline’s ability to jump, scramble and scurry, she had no idea just how crazy OJ would be once he figured out our plan.

As we crept up upon him with our towel and soft-sided carrier, OJ exploded like a missile. He bounced off the back of an easy chair, shot across the room and ricocheted off the far wall, then scrambled across the top of the china cabinet and finally flew at the pile of cushions blocking his escape. Joan was on the other side of the cushions and she flung her hands up as if to catch the maniacal beast. Lucky for her, OJ crashed into the pile and set it all tumbling backwards onto his stalwart owner, who suffered only a bruised pride.

OJ was racing around the house, now in the dining room, later in the kitchen, up the stairs into and out of the bathroom and then bursting through the door to the guest bedroom. Deryl grabbed the doorknob and pulled the door shut while I turned to the owner and explained.

“Joan,” I said, “I think we would do better on our own. I don’t want you to get tackled again, and for the moment, we have him in a safe location.”

Joan nodded and fled to the far side of the house, thrilled to grant us complete control.

I slipped inside the room and assessed the situation. Piles of blankets, an open, storage filled closet, a bed, a heavily draped end table and a full laundry basket, all provided excellent cover for a sneaky feral cat that wanted to become invisible.

Deryl and I started our search and discovered OJ crouching under the bed. I couldn’t reach for him, due to the hissing and barred teeth. He wouldn’t budge closer to the edge of the bed despite nudging him with a duster I found in the closet. I was at a loss. Joan was counting on us, and despite OJ’s distrust, we were his only chance.

“Let’s take the bed apart,” suggested Deryl, who promptly commenced pulling the bedcovers off and lifting up the mattress to reveal OJ. I think OJ was a stunned as I was, because in a very anti-climatic turn of events, I reached through the slats, picked him up and easily placed him in our carrier.

No bites, scratches, hisses… nothing. Humph. I had to acknowledge my partner’s cleverness, albeit grudgingly, but when I started putting the bed back together he took my arm and led me out of the room. “That’s not our job,” he stated. “Let’s get to work on what we are supposed to do.”

Feeling a bit guilty, I told Joan about the bed but she had nothing but thanks to give us. “No problem!” she gushed. “No problem at all!”

Once in the mobile unit, OJ was peaceful. He was sedated, his FeLV/FIV test was negative, his blood chemistry and CBC were normal and his exam revealed mild allergy-like abrasions on his chin but was otherwise unremarkable. He was neutered, vaccinated for FVRCP, FeLV and Rabies, was dewormed and woke up 20 minutes later as if nothing was different.

Joan and I had a long talk about anxiety in cats, marking behaviors and fleas (not that he had any!). Since then, Joan has called me from time to time. OJ knows me now and is learning that Deryl cannot be outsmarted. It is a comfortable relationship.

But yesterday we got a call from a man who was ‘fired’ by his last vet because his dog attacked people and pets in the waiting room, resulting in a broken foot, a hospitalized Pomeranian and a lack of adequate vaccinations. But maybe Deryl should tell that story…

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