Those that follow the journal know that earlier this year a number of cats ended up at my doorstep one day very tired and very, very hungry. They were abandoned by a neighbor who put his mother into a retirement home and just left the cats to fend for themselves in the middle of winter. These cats are partially wild farm cats or what are considered feral cats. They may have been domesticated at one point in their lives, but now have returned to the wild.
Being the nice guy that I am I started feeding the cats and they became most-of-the-time residents. They've been earning their keep by keeping mice out of my car and truck. It's been a good relationship for the most part.
But as so often happens with feral cats, one of the female cats (Hydro) became pregnant and had four kittens: two females and two males. Trying to find a home for these kittens was not easy. Nobody around here wants more kittens. Most farms that have cats have plenty of their own kittens that come from the never ending supply of non-spayed, female feral cats. Who wants to spend over $100 per cat to have them spayed?
While I was trying to find homes for the kittens, I took the other female cat (Solar) into the vet to be spayed—she was also pregnant. Both of these female cats could not have been more than a year old and were already having families!
To make a long story short, I found families for all the kittens except one: Earl Grey.
Earl was the friendliest of all the kittens, but he also required a lot of TLC. He had a severe eye infection in both eyes that required many weeks for them to clear up. Because of his early illness he was a bit smaller in size, but his affection made up for it.
He stayed with me here in Minnesota for a few months before he became part of our "cat family" in Illinois where Jo is the "cat-mom." During the time that he stayed with me, he was given some of his shots and a blood work-up was done to make sure he did not have feline leukemia. He was also dewormed, de-ear-mited and given antibiotics to clear up his eye infection.
So in July he came to live with Jo and our two other cats: TREC (The Renewable Energy Cat) and Yoda. Both TREC and Yoda are indoor cats. They are both very loving cats and quickly took a liking to Earl Grey—especially TREC. TREC is younger than Yoda and still loves to run around the house like a mad cat...something that Earl liked to do to.
Over time though Earl became less playful and appeared to have a cold. His eyes were runny and he did a lot of sneezing. A trip to the local vet got him fixed up with antibiotics and within a few days he was pretty much his old chipper self. Whatever he had, it seemed to have been fixed by the antibiotics
But that lasted only a few weeks and gradually Earl just slept most of the time. He would play on occasion, but sleeping was the rule. Now for those of you who have or had cats at one time, this doesn't seem too unreasonable of a thing for a cat to do. They do sleep most of the time. But for a kitten like Earl, he seemed to sleep a bit more than he should.
About a week later, Jo awoke one morning to find that Earl had an accident on the bed. Of course, Jo wasn't too happy about this event, but more so she became concerned as to what might be wrong with Earl. She already had an appointment to bring TREC into the vet for a mysterious rash in back of his ear, so she took both of them.
Her visit to the vet revealed that Earl had a high temperature of 105F. (Normal for cats is around 102F.) He also had a bloated stomach. The vet didn't know for sure what was wrong but suspected it might be FIP. FIP stands for Feline Infectious Peritonitis. FIP is not easily detectable, making diagnosis difficult. FIP is lethal. FIP has no cure and the Corona virus that mutates into FIP is highly contagious to other cats.
Jo called me immediately to tell me the news. She was in tears and so was I. I drove home the next day to bring Earl back to Minnesota. I wanted to get a second opinion from the local vet and if Earl had FIP, I certainly didn't want to infect our two other indoor cats, although by now it may have been too late.
Off to the vets office I went with Earl. I felt horrible. What if Earl did have the virus? What would that mean for our other two cats? How could I have possibly done such a thing? Why didn't anyone inform me of the risks related to FIP? Jo and I were both basket cases.
Now I have put down cats a number of times in my life. Heck, ever since I was a kid I have always had a cat or cats as friends. It is not an easy thing to do, but in most cases these events occur with plenty of warning—usually they die from complications of old age. But to put this kitten down was heart wrenching. Although he slept most of the time and wasn't playful, he otherwise seemed pretty much normal. For the few nights that I kept him in Minnesota, he slept by my side in my sleeping bag. He was always affectionate, always purring when you petted him, always wanting to curl up next to you. It was the toughest thing I have ever had to do, but I knew there were no alternatives. His stomach was so bloated that he waddled around like a pregnant mother cat. He was eating less and less. It was only a matter of time. With Jo and our friends arriving for Applefest in a few days, I decided to put him down.
The story doesn't end here though. We now have our two other cats to worry about. They are both adult cats which is a good thing. They may have the Corona virus, but as long as their immune system isn't compromised to any great degree, we think, hope and pray they will be okay.
As to the mysterious rash that TREC developed? It's ring worm. Ring worm is not a worm, but a fungus that it difficult to get rid of. Not only did TREC get it, but Yoda has gotten a touch of it too.
Ring Worm takes months to clear up, it's contagious to cats and humans, and requires an ointment that cats hate! More than likely, the ring worm fungus was passed from Hydro (mother cat) to Earl to our two cats.
The bottom line is that I wanted to share this story with others who may try to rescue feral cats. Although there may be some good that comes out of those noble enough to rescue a feral cat, there are also BIG RISKS involved if you own other cats.
I wrongly assumed that a blood work-up would turn up known diseases in a feral cat prior to introducing them into a family of indoor cats. I was wrong. I introduced a diseased cat into our house and now all we can do is hope that our other two cats NEVER experience this same dreadful disease. And while we have to worry about FIP, we also have to contend with Ringworm.
And what about the other two kittens that I gave away? Are they diseased? Will they pass it on to other cats too? It's hard to say. But the good news is that both kittens are healthy and beautiful. If all goes well, they will be spayed in another month as I promised the owner that I would pay for their operations.
As I stated at the beginning, this journal has no happy ending but it might at least help those who have considered rescuing feral cats that already have other cats as pets.
Thanks for listening!
Some of you may have already seen this photograph at the Continental Cordwood Conference. Earl was featured right after the EDS "herding cats" commercial.
Earl's life was cut way to short. He lived to be only four months of age.