Two weekends ago, I let the cats out as normal. Two of mine are ex-strays, so go out in the morning if they fancy and are called in when I get home. The other three were meant to be indoor cats (as my road is very busy) but I couldn’t bear the thought of having a garden and not letting my cats enjoy it. So I compromised and they go out at weekends during daylight hours, when I am home and I call them every half an hour or so to check where they are and that they are okay.
All three were rather excited as they hadn’t had much “Outsides” the previous weekend and the day, although cold, was mostly clear and sunny. They spent their time running in and out of the house and playing.
I was on the phone and Merlin came bouncing in, decided he wanted a cuddle and sat on my lap for a few minutes before his brother came skidding in, provoking a game of chase outside. I checked on them a few minutes later and they were still being miniature Tiggers in the garden.
A quarter of an hour later I called them in as it was starting to get dark. Four came in, without Merlin. This is not unusual, as he normally plays silly buggers and runs to the back door, pretending to come in, before skidding down the garden, in the hope that I’ll chase him. This game can go on for an hour before he decides he’s hungry and comes in.
After calling him for some time, I went upstairs and had a look in the gardens from the top of the house. I couldn’t see him at all. I traipsed downstairs and up again and then spotted him. He was sitting on my neighbour’s roof. I called him and he paid no attention at all, again not unusual.
And then a chill went down my spine. He was watching the sunset intently and slowly, ever so slowly, was turning his head, looking at everything in the garden, as if to say goodbye.
I berated myself for being morbid and decided to go upstairs again and try and get him to come in via the bathroom window. My neighbour’s and my conservatory roofs adjoin, with mine being higher by about a foot. Merlin started towards me when called, put his paws up on my roof and then decided to walk away again. By now, I was getting annoyed as he was deliberately being naughty and it was nearly dark.
I went downstairs and called him again. No response. He was back gazing at the sunset. I decided to give it a few minutes and fed the others. It was now fully dark and I was beginning to feel very annoyed indeed, as well as a bit panicky. I went upstairs to check whether he was on the roof and on my way I heard a rather odd crashing noise. I ran downstairs and out of the door, to find Merlin sitting under my chair in the conservatory.
I picked him up and gave him a cuddle and then noticed his back was damp and sticky. He’d obviously been in a cat fight; I surmised and checked him over for bites. There was one on his side, quite a nasty one, so I told him off for fighting and brought him into the kitchen to have a better look.
It looked okay and I reached for the wound powder. Then I looked again. There was something sticking out of the wound, which looked like surgical suture. At this point, I got on the phone to the vet. The vet agreed that he had probably been in a cat fight but couldn’t work out the suture and nor could I. He asked whether I wanted him to see Merlin. I thought about the vet bills on a Saturday night (emergency fees), looked at the wound again and then thought about Merlin’s odd behaviour when he was up on the roof and decided to take him down to the surgery. By the time B had arrived with the car and I’d got Merlin into a carrier, Merlin was starting to feel sorry for himself and I was starting to panic properly.
Once we got to the vet, upon initial investigation, nothing appeared too untoward. It looked like a straight cat fight, albeit with a big cat. Merlin was in shock but his heart was fine, his lungs were fine and appeared alert. When the vet examined the “suture”, he paused.
He asked me to look on Merlin’s other side for another wound. Buried deep in his fur, which is long and very thick, was a wound the size of the top of my thumb. He’d been attacked by a dog.
The suture was in fact one of Merlin’s own muscle fibres, a clue to the devastation which was hidden inside his body. When dogs attack, they grab and then shake and the vet had seen many injuries just like this one, apparently minor on the outside but mortally severe on the inside.
An emergency operation was required and fast. The vet called a nurse in and I held Merlin whilst they prepared the surgery and also whilst they sedated him. I tried to find the light in his soul that loved me and bound it to mine so that I would know what he needed to pull through.
I didn’t want to let him go but knew I had to. I could have stayed in the treatment room for months if it meant I didn’t have to lose him. Merlin didn’t want to go either and despite sedation clung on to my shoulder. I reassured him and sent him a message down the light that I loved him and was not going to give him up without a fight. The vet prepared me for the fact that he might not make it.
B and I went home to wait. I called everyone who knew and cared for me and the cats, and everyone started lighting candles, sending healing and praying. It seemed inconceivable that my naughty, loving, larger-than-life furry boy’s life was in danger. I expected to lose him through illness, not accident. I was so careful about limiting the opportunity for something like this to happen. I held onto the thread between us in my mind, keeping it strong despite conversations and texts.
Four hours later, they finished. Merlin’s bowels were intact but the bite had gone within a millimetre of his spine. The dog’s teeth had not only damaged all the muscle on both sides (the vet said it looked like mince inside) but had ruptured one of his kidney sacs, which was full of grass and grit. The next 48 hours were crucial.
Merlin rallied and dipped and rallied and dipped but overall, the news was good. Later in the week, I brought him home. He was a sorry sight, with stitches all down his middle and top to bottom on both sides and a drain in one side. He had refused to eat at the vet so I had brought him home to see if he would eat at home. He did.
I had to keep him separate from the others, in as sterile as environment as I could as the main danger was infection. My boss was wonderful and let me work from home the first day he was there so I could keep a close eye on him.
I spent every night with him and slept on the floor so he had company, waking up every time he moved. A week later, he got ill, throwing up and refusing to eat. He was due back at the vets that day for removal of his stitches so I took him down, heart in mouth in case infection had struck.
The vet diagnosed a rare allergy to his pain medication (it would be Merlin) so I swapped conventional medicine for herbal (valerian) and resigned myself to sleeping a few more nights on the floor with him, until the vet and I were happy that he was on the mend again.
A few nights before I had taken him downstairs to show him that everything was as he left it and everyone was waiting for him to get better. This seemed to help and he perked up. Just before the weekend, I introduced him back into the household where he was greeted and licked and made a fuss of for five minutes before everyone went back to treating him like normal.
I still don’t know how or where it had happened. Looking back, it could have only happened in about a 30 minute window. During this time, I was in the front room and did not hear anything; my neighbour was back and forth and back out of her house again and saw nothing. Another friend had been walking down the road and she too, had seen nothing. Merlin is unlikely to have gone willingly into the only garden with dogs in our road, which is some way away, separated from our garden by a school and eight other gardens.
He was incredibly lucky – lucky to have escaped the dog, lucky to have had injuries which, although life-threatening, did not paralyse or kill him, lucky to make it back home (although neither the vet nor I can work out how he managed to get up onto the roof with such destruction in his muscles) and lucky that a muscle fibre popped out – without that and his odd behaviour, I may have assumed that he had suffered a minor injury, popped some wound powder onto it and he would not have been alive the next morning.
So my lesson this month is to know your animals and to follow your instincts no matter how silly or neurotic you appear to others.
I could go on a rant, asking why people don’t keep their dogs on leads, I could scream at the thought that someone may have seen their dog attack my cat and do nothing, not even try and find out who the cat belonged to, I could rail against my insurance company for not covering Merlin’s costs fully as he is over 8 and therefore classed as “elderly” regardless of the fact that I have never claimed for anything he’s had done (preferring to keep the insurance for big things) or the fact that the claim was for treatment for injury, not age-related illness. Just for now though, I’m thankful he made it.
I’m also thankful for the fact that I rehomed the cat who was in my spare room during the time I was writing my last article– she’s now called Millie and is living with two wonderful people in a house with her own garden. She was the cuddliest cat I have ever met and I am glad I was able to place her well. Once again, no thanks to Cats Protection who, once they realised I had homed her, refused to pay the vets’ bill.
It has thrown up a lot of issues in my mind though – the ethics around binding him fast to me spiritually in order to pull him through, ethics around using his fur for a ritual to hold him there (which raised other questions for me about the use of animal parts in ritual) and other related questions which I hope to explore more fully in future articles.