Apifera Farm - where art, story, animals & woman merge. Home to artist Katherine Dunn

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Friday, May 22, 2015

The matriarch of the Apifera Cats is gone

About four weeks ago, Mama Kitty appeared on the front porch-where she lives with two of her remaining sons, Little Orange and Mr. Plum. Her chin was growing in size and was red. I assumed it was an abscess or a tooth issue. I kept my eye on her for the next couple days, as the area became very large. I have dealt with many abscesses on the semi feral cats and have been able to treat them topically in the past. But there was no way I could do that with the wild Mama.

But as time went on, it was becoming apparent it might be more than a abscess. It was really huge, and her mouth was changing shapes. I took her photo and showed vet, and they concurred it might be cancer for all we knew. So I set out to trap her. It took me two years to originally catch Mama. Back in 2004 when we arrived, there was a new litter in the barn, I was able to catch them all and spay/neuter them, along with Big Tony the patriarch. I could not get Mama, and she had two more litters, one who lived with us, and one litter she carried down to a nearby farm. After catching all the litters and spaying/neutering, I finally caught her. And it wasn't easy [obviously]. She was one smart cat, a survivor on many levels. Of the 25 cats that have roamed onto this farm arriving semi feral and ending up pretty tame [to us anyway], Mama was the only one who never allowed you to be close. Thirty feet was her normal boundary with me. After a couple of years, she suddenly appeared on the front porch to eat with some of her offspring. At some point in Apifera history, the original barn cat litters broke up into two groups, some headed to the front porch where they could live under the house and eat on the deck, some stayed in the hay barn. Mama appeared but never tendered. I touched her nose once, I can't remember how, but that was the only time I touched her. When I trapped her back then, it was with a special net contraption I'd invested in just to catch her.

So, I knew trapping her wasn't going to be easy. But I felt I owed it to her-even if she had cancer, I felt I owed it to her to not have her suffer. And I also knew she was old, probably over 12. Mama has always adored Big Tony, who lives in the house. He is the only creature I have ever seen her show affection to. While she was never mean to her offspring, she basically ate at the porch and left, but when Big Tony came out in the morning, Mama would wrap around him and flirt. It was so endearing.

So for the past three weeks we have been trying to trap her. I had two different traps, invested in lots of medicated smelly canned food from my vet, and also had a crate set up with my net. Several times I had her in the trap! But she got out, never tripping the release. We tried so many different ways to get her, including a box and string method so I could do it from the house, as the front door squeaks.

The only comfort I had was the huge chin mass did erupt, and was draining, I thought. If I could keep her eating, she might make it through. I have seen cats survive open wounds to the bone, so I had hope. But we still kept trying to catch her. In the final three days, I could tell she was changing. She would come to the window pane and make a small meow to me when she saw me. Mama never meowed at us. At the time, I tried not to let my human thoughts take over-I felt she was probably famished and wanted the medicated food which was smelly and easier to eat in her condition. But yesterday, I put Big Tony out and she tried to wrap around him-he sniffed her and walked away. That was heartbreaking, but looking back, he knew.

I knew she was weakening, so I spent an hour hiding in a spot near the porch, with my net, hoping I could get her in her weakened state. But no luck.

Yesterday afternoon, I had to go to the vet and found her lying on the road, alive, but right on the open road outside the pastures. I knew she was getting delirious. I got out and she remained still. Grabbing her was dangerous, even in her state, but I got about a foot away and she moved to the pastures. Her walk was catty wampus and she landed on the fence line, and then fell. I ran the 1000 feet in sandals back to the house to get my net, hoping I could trap her and take her to the vet to be put down. She was clearly dying. But I couldn't get her-she got into such thick bramble, I couldn't get her.

I couldn't get her.

I can't tell you how frustrating it has been for three weeks, not being able to help her. I said,

Look, I've helped all your children, now let me help you, please.

When I got back from my errand yesterday, I looked for her in the pastures and the stream she had hid by when I had left an hour earlier. No sight of her and I figured she went off to die somewhere. But last night about nine, there she was curled on the chair on the deck. I couldn't believe she had been able to get there, after what she looked and acted like that afternoon. She was clearly checking out, as she let me get real close to her. I had left my net in the truck, but approached her thinking she was so out of it I could pick her up- but she jumped, fell, and fled under the deck.

I was so mad at myself for blowing my last chance, I figured, and also scaring her to possibly flee for good,into bramble to die.

This morning, I was so humbled and touched to find her in one of the cat baskets on the porch. She was gone, but she had remained on the deck to die. She did not wander off to the bramble. She was not hit by a car on the road. She managed to come up to the deck again and die where I could find her. Somehow in the last 12 years, I had given enough distance and respect that she knew it was safe to lay in that basket right under the window, and die. That was her last gift to me.

I buried her in a spot away from sight, behind the lilacs, not with the other small graves there. She liked being anonymous– that was was my last gift to her. I examined her mouth and whatever it was, it was much more than an abscess as it was a huge hard area that deformed her jawline. It reminded me of what happened to Samuelle, who did have cancer.

It is another end of an era. Stella last week, and now Mama Kitty-the mother of 90 percent of the Apifera cats. She never would have made it so long if we hadn't somehow trapped and spayed her. She was a beautiful lady, a fierce survivor and stoic mother. In the end, she went out as she came in-a survivor on her own.