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Monday, October 18, 2004

Back again. Last night at work, come Monday morning, I'll be free until Friday night. Now that's worthy of a yippppppppeeeeeeeeee!

It's not as dead as last night, which is always a good thing, time will move at a normal rate this evening. Thank fuck for that.

I've been thinking about an old friend of mine tonight. I don't think I've written about him here in the blog, but for reasons that will be come clearer, I thought I would tell you about him now.

I should say right up front, that he's not human. The friend I am talking about is Ginger Cat.

As I've mentioned before, Mrs. Hippy and I have 2 cats of our own. In addition, we get many cat visitors from the neighbourhood. That's what happens when you have a cat flap and a bottomless dish constantly filled with cat food. Word gets around.

Many of the cats who drop by run away if I approach them, but not all. Some are friendly and realise that I like cats and they make friends with me. This was the case with Ginger Cat.

Now I first noticed Ginger Cat a few years ago as I would see him dive for the flap whenever I went into the kitchen when he was there. This went on for months, but I would always go to the kitchen door and look out for him after his speedy exit, to in some way let him know that I wasn't the enemy.

He became a regular visitor, sneaking in for food whenever he could. I slowly realised that he was homeless and practically feral.

He'd start showing up earlier and earlier in the evenings, sometimes even during the day. He took over the garden and used to sleep out there for hours at a time. I didn't realise it, but he was making my home, his home.

It got to the point where if I was in the kitchen, making dinner and he appeared, he would sit by the flap until I finished, then come in and have a feast. When I knew he was watching me, I used to make a point of filling the bowl with food, so he could see I was putting it there especially for him.

On a couple of occasions, I came downstairs in the morning to find him sleeping on a sofa in the living room, but as soon as he saw me, he was straight out the door.

I should describe my ginger friend to you; a huge tomcat, totally ginger, but an absolute giant. The first time I got a proper look at him, through my kitchen door, I could see that he had recently been in a fight. We have foxes in my part of north London, so it is possible he tangled with one as I can't imagine another cat besting him in a scrap. He had a large chunk of flesh missing from his scalp, which was raw and pink and one of his ears had a large slit in it. The poor guy.

I don't remember exactly how it happened, but one night when I went into the kitchen, he didn't run outside. I was pleasantly shocked, it meant he was getting used to me. Instead, he ran to the flap and sat very near it, in case I did something unpredictable and he had to flee.

This was progress.

Eventually, when I entered the kitchen, he would even stay at the dish and continue eating, though it took a leap of trust on his part not to run when I got between him and the cat flap. He was learning that I was his friend.

I was able to get quite close to him and checked that the wounds on his head were healing OK. I didn't dare touch him though, at least not yet.

This continued for quite a while and I always kept my ears peeled for the sound of the flap late at night, so I could go and say "hi" to my ginger friend.

Finally, I decided to take a chance, one evening while he was munching away, I put my hand out and stroked him. He turned from the dish and looked up at me, but didn't run away. From that point on, I was able to pet him while he ate, but as soon as he had his fill, he would turn tail and run.

We got closer, bit by bit. My presence in the kitchen wouldn't stop him from coming in and it seemed he made a point of slipping through the flap whenever I was around.

I knew I had finally gained his trust and friendship when one night he actually rubbed against my leg to ask me to put food down for him. This would have at least 18 months or more after I first saw him. I was so pleased, I think I might have even cried tears of joy.

If you know cats, you'll know they are very discriminating when it comes to people and they don't always warm to everyone, but I'd finally made friends with my ginger pal.

One night, just over a year ago, I saw him eating at the dish, but he was not breathing properly, his breath seemed shallow and laboured. I checked him out and saw a bit of dried blood on his nostrils and around his mouth. He wasn't well at all.

It was just starting to get chilly out, so I laid a towel down on the kitchen floor, in case he wanted someplace warmer to sleep. He took me up on my offer and curled up on it straight-away.

The next day, he was still in my kitchen, his condition seemed a lot worse. As I've said, he's practically a wild cat and I was pretty sure he was homeless. I didn't know what to do.

Mrs. Hippy suggested I phone the RSPCA for advice. They were really nice and said he sounded quite sick and they offered to come collect him to have him checked over by a vet.

I would have taken him to my vet, if I could have, but there was no way in hell he was going to let me pick him up and put him in a cat carrier, so I said yes to the RSPCA.

The van arrived a short while later and the nice RSPCA guy came in. He agreed that my ginger friend was not very healthy. He put on some heavy gloves and then had to trap the cat and force him into a cage. GingerCat didn't like this at all, you could tell he was not used to being handled by people and he put up a helluva fight. The RSPCA guy took my details and said I could ring to see how he is later in the day.

Now I recognised this RSPCA guy from the Rolf Harris "Animal Hospital" tv show from the BBC, he was actually one of the featured field guys from the hospital in Finsbury Park.

I told the RSPCA guy that once they had checked him over, I wanted him back. He was my cat now.

I rang later that day, it was a Friday and was told they didn't have much to report. They had run some tests on him and they wouldn't have the results until the following Monday.

I rang on Saturday and Sunday to see how he was, they said he wasn't eating or drinking much.

On Monday I phoned, but it was too early for them to have the results of his tests. Again, I let them know that I wished him to be returned to me. I was missing him very much.

Later that day, they rang me. Ginger Cat was very sick, he had feline aids. Oh shit.

I spoke to a very nice veterinary nurse who explained Ginger's condition to me. Basically, feline aids is different from human aids, it is transmitted through biting, not sexual contact. There's no treatment for the condition, though the symptoms could be treated on a case by case basis. At this point, they had Ginger sedated and were preparing to remove his canine teeth, so if he did bite another cat, the risk of transmission was slimmer.

We discussed the risks to my other cats, sharing food and water etc. While the risks were minimal, there was a slight risk to them, but nothing to be overly concerned about. The main problem would have been administering medication; with Ginger being feral, it would have been next to impossible.

I spoke to this nurse for a good 45 minutes, and it was becoming very clear to me that their advice was not to let him come home to me. They were advocating the more humane option, which was to put the little guy down.

The decision was mine and it was one of the hardest decisions I've ever had to make. I loved this cat, but I knew if I brought him home, it would have been for selfish reasons. His quality of life would have sucked and he would have probably suffered a long, slow and draw out death.

I made my decision and told them to let him go. Since he was already under anaesthetic, his slumber would be extended to eternity.

I started getting choked up before I even got off the phone. I could sense the vet nurse closing down to my emotions. I guess she needed to protect herself as if you worked in an RSPCA hospital, you couldn't get involved on that level.

I was overcome with raw emotions, I collapsed on the floor bawling. I was ready for him to come home to me, I was ready to nurse him back to full health. I didn't really prepared myself for this possibility. My little ginger friend was gone.

I suppose I didn't realise until he got sick that Ginger Cat was my cat. I was probably the only friend he had in the world. When he got sick, who did he come to? Where did he feel safest? And how did I reward him for that trust? By sending him for treatment, but ultimately sending him to his death.

I struggled with my decision for a while, but deep down I knew I did the right thing. It would have been selfish and cruel to spare him his sweet release from this world. I did the humane thing, I followed the RSPCA's advice.

It's almost a year ago to the day that I bid farewell to my ginger friend which is why he is on my mind tonight. I still miss loads. Sometimes, when I'm in the kitchen late at night, I catch a glimpse of another cat outside the flap and for just a split second, I think it's him. Then I remember he's gone and never coming back.

I was as good a friend to him as I could be, but I still feel somewhat guilty about the outcome. Intellectually I know I did the right thing for him, but emotionally it still hurts.

I think I cried more for my ginger friend when he died than I did for my own father...what does that say about me? (That's not really fair to me, because Ginger's death was unexpected, I had months to come to grips with my father's demise, but then I'm always hardest on myself.)

Here's to you my ginger friend, if there's a cat heaven, I hope you've got 1st class accommodation, because this world didn't really do you any favours. At least you had one friend who loved you in the end.

And that ends another depression-inspiring tale of disease and death from your favourite northlondonhippy. Remember, if this tale made you feel down, you can always take some drugs to cheer yourself up - they always work for me!

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