Dorian Hargrove 8 p.m., Dec. 11
For the last several days, I have noticed a small, black cat in the more deserted area of Liberty Station, near where I work. I first encountered him when I was driving on Truxton, to the uninitiated the main drag in Liberty Station. He darted in front of my car, then ran into one of the undeveloped building's courtyard. He then proceeded to go down a hole in the ground, a hole created by nature that just happened to be adjacent to a storm drain. This was his home.
I brought him food for the next two days, wondering what to do about him. At this point, I assumed he was a she. I would observe him from a distance, because every time I tried to get too close, he ran into his hole. It was after the first day that I noticed on him a strange marking, or what I thought to be a marking. Around his neck was a two and one-half inch diameter tan band. I realized immediately that it was a foreign object, but I could not confirm it.
I know what to do. I've trapped cats before, but this one was different. He was wild in a way that I have never experienced. They call them feral, but they are essentially the equivalent of catching a raccoon. I wasn't sure, while my fingers were dialing the number of animal control, if I was making the right decision, but it was that thing around his neck that drove me.
Of course, animal control is far to busy to be able to come and trap a cat. Even one that has been abused. I understand. There are just far too many, and they don't have the resources. They suggested I trap him, to which I readily responded I would. Yesterday, I called my husband and asked him to stop off at animal control in Linda Vista on his way home and pick up the trap. He brought it home, and I tested it a couple of times. They are actually quite simple, but if you have never used one before, you will be confounded. It is a trip plate, set by a rod against another rod that shuts the door, but the door must be opened by lifting what appear initially to be a useless set of rings.
I get it set up, lining it with newspaper and baiting it with a trail of Fancy Feast leading to a full can in the back. Then, I go back to my car and wait. He comes out almost right away, and my heart leaps. I am actually now watching with binoculars, and at this point I confirm that what is around his neck should not be there. He suddenly darts back into his hole. We wait 15 minutes. We go for a walk to kill time, but I can feel it. The cat is in the trap. We race back, and the trap, which is covered with a towel, is violently shaking. I remove the towel, and draw a deep breath. Around his neck is a hard, stiff cardboard ring, the type which is used as a spool for packing tape. It is not flimsy. It is thick and hard, like wood, and wide. It is smaller than his head, so it had to have been shoved on with considerable force. He is flinging himself against the cage, hissing and hurting himself. One of his claws is bleeding and he has a wound on his head. He urinates on himself. I have my husband run to the car, and get my phone and the card for animal control.
Oh, how I had hoped he would be just a stray!! I look at what I have done and I start to cry. The cat is looking at me, wild-eyed, hissing, lying in his own urine. I know a thing or two about cats. But I was not prepared for this. I wanted this to be one of my success stories, one that I could look back on with pride. Tonight, as I write this, this is not the case.
I called animal control, and was given a thorough dressing down about trapping an animal after business hours, because they cannot receive them. It was 6:00 p.m. I remain calm, and explain to the woman that this poor creature has the equivalent of a noose around its neck, getting tighter every day the cat grows, and this is why I trapped him. I ask the woman what are my options, as I know I cannot take a wild animal home. She finally acquiesces, and admits that I can take the cat to the emergency veterinary facility in Mission Valley. They work with this facility, but I suppose this is information they give grudgingly, because it costs money. I put the cat in my car, and sit in the back with him. It looks at me as I am trying to calm him down, hisses at me, and tries to swat me through the cage. As we are driving, he becomes remarkably calmer, almost as if he remembered being in a car once. My spirits brighten a bit. Leaving the car, he becomes again hysterical.
Once inside the emergency facility, I am trying to explain desperately the details surrounding the cat. They calmly take him away, have me fill out a form, explain that they will sedate him, examine him, and, as the attendant told me, "remove that thing from its neck". At this point, I am still thinking, maybe he's one of the ones that are just scared. Wouldn't he have to have trusted people enough at one point to allow someone to get close enough to abuse him? I am delusional. I want this to have a happy ending, but I know in my heart this time is different. The attendants know as well. They give me a number to call to check on his condition last night, and inform me that animal control will pick him up and take over as of today. I called them two hours later (the time they recommended) and they informed me he was a boy (thank God, as I was concerned about a litter of kittens), and that he was neutered. Again, my hopes went up. They instruct me to call animal control in the morning.
My morning feels strange. Used to checking on the cat for the last three mornings, I suddenly realize that the cat is in captivity because of me, and I have no valiant deed to attend to. I go to my office, and stare at the phone. I pick it up, and I call animal control. They have a phone bank that is difficult to maneuver. I speak to someone who makes me feel extremely incompetent because I have a reference number the emergency vet gave me that is useless to them. She finally finds the animal I am calling about. Her exact words - cat with cardboard around neck. Yes, that's the one, I tell her. She transfers me to the medical unit. I speak with a woman who is so mean to me, so jaded, so beyond dealing with the thousands of feral cats brought in that she thinks I am one of the ones that think a feral cat can be a pet. I ask her about the cat's condition. He is dehydrated, has a skin condition, but other than that, they run no further tests. She tells me he has been ear-clipped, which means he was a catch and release. This makes me sad, the realization that he is truly feral sinking in. Someone had caught him before, had him neutered, and released him back to where he was found. There is much controversy surrounding this. Most feral cats die within five years, if they are lucky. Their lives are ones of hardship, disease, crippling accidents, parasites, and abuse. Some feel euthanasia to be the more humane choice, others think they should be returned to their natural habitat. The woman then goes on to tell me that he actually is truly feral, that they will hold him for 72 hours by law, and then I could make the decision what to do with him. I had put on his paperwork to call me for what they call a "last chance". She also told me that should his condition decline, they would take the necessary route to humanely treat him. I ask her what she would do and she tells me that she cannot make that decision for me. I tell her that of course I want to do the responsible thing and not let an animal suffer by returning him to a life of hell and she yells at me that not all people feel that way, but I know that euthanasia is their condoned method of treating the feral cat problem. I start to cry. I asked her why, if she was supposed to be helping, was she being such an as*hole to me. I just want to know what to do. They can't tell you anything. They can't say one way or the other what direction to take because of potential liablity. She softened a bit, gave me a number to call so I don't have to go through the phone bank, and said she was sorry we got off to a bad start. I realized then that she knew I was suffering because I tried to help a creature that desperately needed it and it was hopeless.
Ingrid Newkirk's words have helped me today. An advocate of humane euthanasia, she said either way you play God. You kill the animal by condemning it to death at the hands of a humane end, or by bringing it back to its horrible life, suffering, starving, being abused. I could bring it food everyday. Make it more comfortable. It could live longer if it were not for me.
I never, ever want to play God again.