He just showed up one day seven years ago. Friendly and dressed in a tuxedo, hoping for an invite to dinner. I resisted at first but eventually gave in and welcomed him into my world, well, onto my back porch.
Orca, that was his name. (Did you think it was Bond … James Bond?) Orca was a short-haired tuxedo cat. Clearly dumped or abandoned in downtown Point Pleasant, he somehow found his way into my yard and calmly persisted with his presence. Over the years, I created an outdoor shelter for him on the porch which he used in the winters but in the summers preferred my porch furniture. It was his home base which he always returned to following his tomcat adventures that took him far and wide. Over the years those adventures took a toll on him with wounds from fights and life in general on the streets – much like living outside the comforts of home does to people. There were times on brutally cold nights he slept in my basement but after a few hours, he always wanted back out into the world he knew best. He did life on his terms.
Not a fan of crates or veterinarians, trying to get him “snipped” to curb his tomcat adventures and injuries proved a challenge. He fought being put in the crate, though all was forgiven at dinner time. He would sniff and then almost obnoxiously walk around live traps that were set to catch him for neutering. Living on the streets, for as long as he did, required some level of intelligence that is learned over time and allowed him to survive. I could respect that.
The last couple of months I noticed Orca was drooling, having trouble eating. I was able to get him an antibiotic to try and curb infection but his jaw only seemed to swell more and eating was becoming difficult for him, painful even it appeared. I tried for two weeks to catch him to get him to a vet, succeeding a few days ago because I think he honestly felt so bad I was able to outsmart him, distracting him with pats on the head and a larger kennel hidden/waiting nearby that allowed me to push him in before he knew what was happening – but then again, maybe he knew? It seemed too easy now that I think about it.
Getting him to the vet was a personal victory. I left the vet’s office thinking (hoping) he had an abscessed tooth that could hopefully be remedied. After all, he survived downtown Point Pleasant for seven years. He could do this. I was leaving for work when the veterinarian called and said he had a cancerous mass in his jaw that was causing him pain and would eventually affect his ability to eat and drink. He would essentially starve to death. “If it was my cat, I would put it down,” the vet said to me. The vet asked if he was some stray cat I’d picked up to help. It was an easy assumption to make, given his unsightly appearance. Despite his independent nature, if anyone “owned” Orca, I guess it was me. It was up to me to decide. Though I wish he could’ve left on his terms, finding some familiar spot to go gentle into that good, feline night, that was not going to be his reality if he came back to the porch for a few more days or weeks. I told the vet to humanely euthanize him, feeling very guilty I was not there with him to say goodbye or apologize for the crate trick. When I expressed this guilt, my significant other asked, “Was wanting to be there for you or him?” They were right. It would’ve prolonged his suffering and more suffering was on his horizon, not some peaceful death if there is such a thing.
As a last show of respect, instead of having the vet dispose of Orca as if he was just a stray, he’s being cremated. Nothing fancy mind you. He wouldn’t like that. He was pretty basic. I’ll spread his ashes under my porch swing which had become his place to rest in recent weeks. Maybe I’ll spread him down our street too in strategic places to put other tomcats on alert about encroaching on his territory. He was not meant to be kept inside, not even his ashes.
My yard is emptier this week after seven years of having a gatekeeper of sorts who kept his own office hours. No, Orca wasn’t just some stray cat, he was my porch cat and I suppose the value of a porch cat to me is their consistency. They return again and again until it’s their time — sometimes that’s mostly about dinner but that’s okay. Everyone has reasons for doing everything. I’ve come to understand some people have things like tulips or cardinals that return to comfort them when life gets unrecognizable, some people have porch cats that lay on the tulips, or, uh, eat…the tulips. Everyone should find something that brings them reassurance; that something that is faithfully there; that same thing when everything else, isn’t; that something you will notice when it’s gone.
Beth Sergent is editor of Ohio Valley Publishing, including the Gallipolis Daily Tribune, Point Pleasant Register, The Daily Sentinel and Sunday Times-Sentinel.