Tabitha: Respect others’ boundaries.

Today I took a stray cat in to be euthanized. She showed up about a month ago very hungry and unsteady on her feet. She was black-furred, emaciated, and extremely wary.

I fed her regularly, but she would skitter away (often falling a few times) when I put the food out and waited half an hour or so before returning to eat. It hurt my heart to see her in such rough physical condition and I mused about trapping her to get her into a vet.

When I described my thoughts to her as best I could—she was very wary of any contact with me, even just psychically—she indicated she would fight in the trap, killing herself if needed to end the experience.

So, my focus had to shift onto what she would permit me to do to help her. This initially centered around food, and lots of it. At first, she came for food roughly twice daily during daylight hours. She ate as much as my other two cats and showed a preference for wet food and soft meats. I wondered if she had painful teeth.

During her visits I would coo to her and praise her. I assumed she was a female. She had a bit of a dainty look to her head and face.

After about two weeks of soft talk and lots of food, she was willing to converse a bit more. “I don’t know for sure if you are a boy or a girl cat. And I don’t know what your name might be.” The answer was immediate. “You may call me Tabitha.”

From that point on, I alerted her to my intent to approach by calling her name gently. She would look up and skitter off unsteadily. I’d place the food out, but the wait time for her to approach and eat lessened daily. Somehow referring to her by name softened her resistance a little bit.

She shifted to as many as five food forays daily, again mostly in daylight hours. She’d alert me to her presence with gentle psychic contact. I’d mentally see an image of her or just feel a prompt to go feed her. I tried to respond as promptly as possible. This was progress.

She seemed to improve very slightly. She looked a bit less skinny and her coat was glossier. Sometimes she could walk without falling. Her food consumption increased to what would normally support three healthy cats.

But I still had no hope of getting her medical attention. She continued adamant about no trapping and maintained about a ten-foot distance at all times.

Then one day when I called her name, I heard a faint mewl and she approached slowly and jerkily from across the lawn. She stopped within her 10-foot limit, but she was now conversational.

She began to chat with me from her self-established perimeter, but I was chagrined to see that she seemed to be getting less steady. She continued to eat voraciously.

I again raised the subject of trapping and medical care. The answer remained the same, a hard “NO.”

I persisted with the food and cooing praise and she gradually lessened her required distance. About a week ago, I held out my hand in her direction and she approached to within about two feet. Despite my best and most charming efforts, that distance wasn’t further lessened. But she now often initiated vocalizations with me. Her eyes were sad.

I became resigned to the fact that I likely couldn’t save her life. Without the ability to trap or medicate her, I couldn’t see a way to help her get better. Cats are very aware of humans’ efforts to hid medicine in food and usually will refuse to eat doctored meals. I was concerned that if I tried common basic meds on her, I might give her the wrong thing or even worse, she might stop coming to eat and go back to starving again.

About three days ago I explained that my ability to help her was limited and that without being willing to be touched, she would likely die soon. She seemed resigned but adamant about her boundaries.

Yesterday, when I fed her what was, unbeknownst to me, her last meal. She approached and ate within about a foot of me while I sat quietly nearby. I resisted any attempt to reach out and touch her. Previous tries had resulted in her hissing at me and shunning me. I didn’t want to give her any reason to be afraid of eating.

It was cold overnight here, hovering around freezing. I was concerned for how she would fare. She had so far mostly resisted using the heated cat house we had provided for her weeks ago.

When I went out to feed her at six am, she didn’t respond when I called her name. We found her huddled against the foundation of our garage on a pile of leaves behind a rose trellis. She was out of it and nonmobile. She twitched violently occasionally.

I had one last serious conversation with her. I told her that I knew she would prefer to pass without assistance, but that the process might be drawn out and uncomfortable. She very grudgingly agreed to consider euthanasia.

We gently placed her in a carrier and I drove her the five minutes to the emergency vet clinic. Along the way, I again explained to her how euthanasia worked and what to expect. I asked Orion and Makhota to guard her from the other side and to help her cross over the Rainbow Bridge easily and gently. I could feel her energy relax. She knew her ordeal would be over soon.

At the clinic, the staff prioritized her care and removed her briefly from my presence to place her IV. She was returned to me in a blanket so I could hold her.

I spent a couple of minutes stroking her head and face—the first and last time I would pet her—and then gave the vet the okay to release her. Her physical end was quick and gentle. I could see in my mind’s eye Orion and Makhota flanking her as they walked across to the other side together.

Further examination by the vet after her death revealed that her illness was likely liver cancer. It was a small comfort to me that there wasn’t anything that could have been done medically to save her.

We’ll bury her tomorrow in our side yard where we’ve buried our other passed cats. She will remain with us in possibly the only place where she was loved and safe.

I gave her the gift of respecting her boundaries and loving and caring for her within their confines. In return, she offered trust as much as she was able to. It was a loving bargain with both of us doing the best we could in a difficult situation.

Please reflect and share. When have you had to love someone in the limited way they would allow?