Rescue Stories: A Furious Cat called Furiosa
In October 2017, a cat was abandoned in the front garden of the CatCuddles Sanctuary's headquarters.
CCTV footage showed her being dumped by an unknown man in the early hours of the morning. He wedged her between two wheelie bins in a cat carrier wrapped in black sacks, presumably to protect her from the elements, but as a result, volunteers walked right past her. It was a full twelve hours before she was found, and by then she was soaked in her own urine and thoroughly traumatised.
She was taken straight to the vet. She was elderly, emaciated, with CKD (Chronic Kidney Disease), and fur loss from a flea allergy and over-grooming, most likely the result of stress. She was also severely constipated from holding in her poop for twelve hours.
Her discovery caused considerable stress among the team at CC. It was the end of a busy kitten season and there was a long list of emergencies stacking up, and no open spaces on the horizon. I was already fostering a semi-feral kitten at the time, Wilson, who I'd go on to adopt. We had absolutely no where to put the cat.
"At least they've abandoned her somewhere that she'll be looked after", is something you hear a lot in these situations. I don't buy that shit. It's like commending someone for taking ten pounds out of a purse when they could have taken fifty. It's still abandonment, and it's treating rescues like animal dumping grounds, where you don't owe the people who work there so much as a conversation before making your animal their responsibility.
I volunteered to foster the cat. There was no alternative.
"Be very careful" Evina, the founder of CatCuddles said to me as she handed over the carrier at my front door, and alarm bells started ringing in my head. "Keep your face away from her".
Evina has 10+ years' experience in cat behaviour. When she gives warnings like that, you pay attention.
At CatCuddles, we foster cats by isolating them in one room of the house. It might sound mean to keep them confined, but the idea is to replicate the kind of space that they'd have in a shelter setting, only with a few more home comforts. Introducing your own cats (of which I have six) to a constant stream of strange felines, especially strays and cats with unknown backgrounds, can also expose them to stress, fighting and myriad infections like cat flu or worse. And as I said, at the time, I was fostering a kitten, so the only room we had free for the Doorstep Cat was the bathroom.
We made it nice for her. Bed, bowls, litter trays. The bathroom is warm and easy to clean, and it has hosted all manner of strange creatures on an emergency basis over the years.
I put the carrier down on the tiled floor and tentatively opened the door; it was the one she'd been dumped in, and I didn't want her to be inside it for a moment longer than necessary. Later, I'd get an immense sense of satisfaction from throwing it and a tatty collar that had left a bald ring around her neck in the bin.
She didn't emerge, but I wasn't worried. It's not unusual for even friendly cats to be tentative about entering an unfamiliar space.
A long, low growl escaped the carrier, and I decided to leave the cat to acquaint herself with the room. And hopefully calm down, though maybe that was wishful thinking.
It was; when I returned an hour later, she was still inside the carrier, and even more agitated, if anything. I sat down on the floor near her and tried the old slow-blinking trick. Her eyes glowed menacingly back at me from the darkness of the carrier, and her growls started to grow in volume until they were outright howls of rage. The carrier literally shook with the velocity of them.
I didn't move; I didn't want to reinforce the idea that she could simply scare me off with bluster and threats. Suddenly, there was a noise from outside the bathroom door, and she erupted. She spat violently, then lunged, lacerating the air in front of her with her claws. It occurred to me that having a shit had just become dangerous.
That first evening, my brother shook me awake at about 3AM.
"Rae, I need your help!"
"What!?"I was half asleep.
"I need to get in the shower."
"That cat won't let me."
"Oh, for fuck sake."
She got her name the very next day, when my family were in the living room watching Mad Max. As soon as they said the character's name it was an obvious fit. She was Furiosa.
Things continued in this vein for a number of days. She'd emerge from the carrier, but bolt back into it the second someone entered the room. She'd spit and hiss and growl if a human got within two feet of her, and any attempt to touch her would result in fireworks; it was not advisable.
A few days earlier the carrier had caused her untold suffering. Now it was the only place in the world that she felt safe.
With any other cat I might have removed it together, as it was obviously a barrier to her interacting with people. A crutch.
I know that sounds harsh, but when you're trying to socialise cats to get them to a point where they're adoptable, you often have to push them out of their comfort zones. When you have a waiting list of cats in need of the rescue space that they're occupying, including some who are stray or at risk of euthanasia without that space, you don't have the luxury of six months to let the cat come around in their own time. That's just the reality of it.
But it wasn't an option with Furiosa, because she was just so furious. If she didn't have the carrier to run to when confronted by a person, then she would have been utterly panicked. And in the confined space of the bathroom, that could have disastrous results.
I couldn't really subject my family to that; my brother was already brushing his teeth in the bath, since the sink was in swiping distance of her carrier.
It's the nature of our house and it's constant rotation of animals that you just accept things like this and work round them.
Even so, I longed to know why Furiosa was the way she was. What was her life like before? Was it just the trauma of the hours spent in the carrier, the abandonment, that sent her into such a fearful place? Based on her awful bodily condition, I suspected there was more to it than that.
Every day my mum or I would sit in the room while she growled and hissed. The closer you inched to her, the more the carrier would vibrate. It was a full week before the intensity of these protests started to lessen, until one day, I entered the room and she didn't run to her carrier like usual. She was out, eating, and eyed me suspiciously. I walked in slow motion to the toilet, and we stared at each other warily while I peed. I was itching to groom her bedraggled coat, but we definitely weren't there yet.
I think it was my mum who broke through first and actually stroked her - without incurring any bodily injuries. Once we'd crossed that line, I knew everything was going to be okay.
Within two weeks she was a normal cat.
Her bony frame filled out a little, and her fur become glossier. She wasn't black like we first thought - it was hard to tell in the darkness of the carrier - but a beautiful chocolate brown. My brother still couldn't shower or brush his teeth properly, but now it was because she often shunned her soft bed and opted to sleep in the bath or the sink instead. Weird cat.
The carrier, of course, was history.
For a senior black cat, she was adopted fairly quickly. They were a lovely couple who were aware of her past behaviour, but not phased in the slightest. They are the kind of adopters who are like gold dust; not just looking to adopt a cat but to rescue a cat. To change a cat's life. And that they did.
They adored her. She slept on their bed and rolled on her back to show them her fluffy belly. She had never done that for us, but I was too thrilled for her to be resentful.
They re-named her Bonnie, which suited the new her. She wasn't Furiosa anymore - except for when they took her to the vet. Cat carriers probably brought up bad memories for her. Or maybe she just hated the vet.
I think she got about six months in total with them, before she was diagnosed with cancer. She didn't show any symptoms until she was right at the end, the tough old girl, and she spent her final day at home. Her family toasted her with champagne.
Maybe the person who dumped her knew, and that's why they did it.
It wouldn't have changed a thing; we'd have devoted the same amount of time and effort into gaining her trust. Six months of utter contentment and love, in a life that I suspect had been devoid of it previously. It was worth every second, every hiss and swipe, to give her that.