Friday, July 19, 2019

Little Girl, 2010 - July 19, 2019

Little Girl died tonight at about 8:00 PM.

Little Girl was part of the last litter of cats born in our neighborhood, a litter that also included Homer. Unlike Homer, neither Little Girl nor any of her brothers showed any interest in coming into our house.

About six months after she was born, we caught Little Girl to have her spayed. While I was trying to transfer her from the Havahart trap to a cat carrier she squirmed loose. When I tried to catch her, she bit my hand numerous times and escaped into the house. She managed to elude capture in the house for several days, during which time my right hand swelled up like a balloon. In the end, we caught her, had her spayed, and released her.

She was a particularly brave cat, often standing guard while her brothers ate. Over the years her brothers vanished one by one, save Homer, who came into our house a few months after the incident with Little Girl getting loose in our house. One was hit by a car one Winter afternoon several years ago - I buried him behind the garden shed. Eventually only a single brother remained, who we dubbed Big Boy. He, too, vanished about a year ago.

Little Girl never wanted for companionship. Even before Big Boy vanished, several other males came along to court her. Two of the most persistent were Mr. Black, a black cat, and Mr. Orange, an orange one. Mr. Orange disappeared earlier this year. Mr. Black continued to keep Little Girl company until about a month ago, when a new female moved into the area along with her kittens. I had actually noticed her in the neighborhood in the late Spring, dashing inadvisably across a busy street. I spotted her kittens in my garden shed when I pulled out the lawnmower for the first time in early May. But only in the last few weeks has this new cat been bringing her three kittens onto the porch to eat. I expected that Mr. Black would take up with her, abandoning Little Girl. Instead it was Mr. Black who became the odd cat out. In late June he disappeared. He made a special appearance on July 3, looking thinner. He stopped by again a week later, and then again last night. He didn't seem to be there to eat. Last night he just seemed to be staring at Little Girl. I don't know if Little Girl acknowledged him, or even noticed his presence.

Aside from a few territorial face-offs, I never saw Little Girl and the new cat fight. The kittens took to her right away, treating her like a second mommy. But Little Girl definitely showed signs of a decline over the past month. She was losing weight. Fur seemed to be coming off in patches. The pads on her front paws puffed up. She would sometimes hunker down in the street, or on the curb across the street, rather than staying on our lawn and porch. As time went on she took less and less interest in food. In the past week or so she was generally less inclined to move around, apparently leaving the porch only to pee and poop. We were often forced us to step around or over her while leaving the house. As a bonus, we were able to pet her for the first time ever, and I was even able to apply some flea treatment.

Yesterday we reached a crisis point. She had been missing most of the day, a very hot and rainy day. I suspected she had gone off somewhere to die. When I came home from work I found her sitting on the back steps, looking up onto the porch. She was wet and bedraggled and seemed to be speckled with yellowish mud. I brought her onto the porch and got her food. Only then did I notice that her fur was full of flies, and the "mud" I had seen speckling her fur was actually clumps and masses of fly eggs.

I resolved to give her a bath. No way was I going to allow her to be literally eaten alive by maggots. I found an appropriately-sized basin, filled it with warmish water with a dash of flea and tick shampoo, and painstakingly washed her and washed away as many egg clusters as I could. Twice the bathwater turned a deep brown. She fought for a while, but then I noticed she was mostly just stretching her neck and twisting her head - a movement I call "questing" that I have observed in cats who are dying. As I finished drying her, she became very still, save for some gasping, spasmodic breaths. I set her down in a cardboard box on some paper towels. Her eyes were fixed and unresponsive, and her breathing was reduced to shallow gulps. I decided I had just killed her while trying to help her.

Three minutes later, she was up and looking around, and chomping away at the food we offered her. As a bonus, the flies were apparently repelled by her new clean scent.

Overnight she got out of that box and got herself into an old covered litter box that we had cleaned out and converted into a shelter. The hay that I put there in the winter was still there. She had been using this shelter in recent weeks as a place of refuge from the rain. Last night I think she just wanted it as a place of comfort, a place that offered some shelter from the flies. I closed off the opening a bit with a paper towel, making it slightly harder for flies to get in.

My mom checked on her throughout the day. She was breathing.

11:30 OK - Breathing
2:05 PM - Still breathing
3:40 - Heavy breathing, put water on face
7:26 - Still breathing, not as heavy as before

She had eaten the treats I gave her in a clean can from cat food this morning. She didn't seem interested in water. The freezer pack my mom had put in the shelter seemed to help a bit.

When I came home from work today, Little Girl was still breathing. I changed out the freezer pack. I planned to give her another bath to remove any new or leftover egg clusters and bring her temperature down, and maybe put her in a carrier so she could spend the night in the house. Anything to get her away from the rising heat.

My mom checked on her at 7:30  and she was still alive.

I tried to get myself ready for the task ahead. I gathered together some jugs of water, some clean towels, some old washcloths. I planned to go out right around sunset, so the flies would be less active.

I set out the jugs. Propped the basin on a bucket from cat litter that is currently being used to hold dry cat food. Put the washcloths here, the towels there. Pulled Little Girl out of her shelter.

She was limp and didn't appear to be breathing.

I wrapped her in a towel and held her on my lap. I looked at her closely. I couldn't see any squirming maggots. There were still some egg masses here and there, especially on her chest. The matted fur I had felt there as I washed her was apparently a major wound. I did see some tiny black bugs walking through her fur, though if they were fleas, they had survived both a dose of Frontline and a bath with flea shampoo. Her eyes were half-closed, and she had a nugget of food stuck to the side of her lips - maybe one of the treats I had set out for her this morning. Her limbs and tail were all limp.

I held her for a while. Eventually I decided she was dead. But, just on the off chance she was going to pull another resurrection trick like she did last night, I laid her out in the same cardboard box we had put her in last night. I covered her with paper towels to keep the flies from finding her too easily.

I checked her again a while later. She hadn't moved. Rigor mortis had set in.

In the morning I will bury her in the garden next to the house, in a favorite spot where she liked to  sleep. When I see that spot I will think of her, and will know that she is there.