By Lynda Murtha
The moment the men in blue, the “To Serve and Protect” guys, shot the cat on our front lawn was neither the beginning nor the end of the story.
The story began one sunny June morning. I noticed that the door to the shed in our backyard wasn’t quite closed. Sliding it open, I was startled as a mangy looking cat flew out past me and I felt a shiver as its matted and dirty fur rubbed against my bare leg as it fled. A prayer of thanks would have been in order then and there, but what did I know?
The cat then squeezed through the fence into our neighbors yard where it started a sequence of events none of us could ever have predicted. Gwen, my neighbor of many years, sat enjoying her coffee and the morning paper under the trees. Her beautiful Katie, a startlingly beautiful white Persian cat, languished in the sun on the deck nearby. As the intruder entered their backyard Katie shot forward to protect her turf, followed closely, likely more out of curiosity than anything else by Shandy, their quiet little Sheltie. Hearing the commotion before she saw it Gwen bolted out of her chair. Fur flew as the feline-canine threesome rolled in a snarling tangled ball on her deck.
Instinctively trying to protect her pets she grabbed Katie in an attempt to separate all of them, and it was then she believes she received the scratch on her arm. She eventually separated them with a garden rake and the invader flew out of the yard and across the street. Carefully Gwen calmed down her beloved pets. She checked them over and determined they had escaped unharmed thanks to their heavy-coated breeding and that she in fact was the only one who had suffered a scratch.
Across the street, the crazed feline immediately attacked another neighbors cat minding its business on its own front lawn. That cat didn’t fare as well as the pets next door and was badly bitten. At this point a gaggle of neighbor were out on the street comparing notes on the poor creature and the fact it had apparently been seen in the neighborhood for days. The question was what should be done? Someone called the police figuring the situation was dangerous and more than a little beyond a wait for Animal Control. Within minutes the police arrived and quickly assessed the situation. The cat, now slinking around the bushes at the front of our home, was shot on the spot. One bang, then another .Dead cat!
But, as I mentioned at the beginning, this was not the end of the story. As pet owners, most of us think that when we have our cats and dogs vaccinated for rabies, that’s it. Not so! The aftermath of this encounter was enormous. First of all, the cat across the street was not up to date in its shots, and they were ordered to put their cat down immediately. The children were devastated; the parents embarrassed and sad that their neglect had caused the immediate demise of their much loved family pet. These precautionary decisions were made before the results of any testing on the feral cat could be performed, and it was days before we heard that the results were conclusive — the cat did indeed have rabies!
In the meantime, with no evidence of any damage, Gwen’s cat and dog, vaccinations up to date, were ordered into quarantine. They had to remain under direct observation of a veterinarian able to take particular precautions in their care. Many hundreds of dollars were spent on their maintenance while everyone awaited the results of an autopsy on the shot-dead-on-the-lawn cat.
But the worst was yet to come. Well before the results on the cat came back, Gwen was informed she had to start rabies injections. They lasted several weeks, and were painful, and the worry over the consequences was considerable. She tried to find the funny side of all of it, including a story that her husband had tried to increase her life insurance during this period of time, but we all knew this was a chapter in her life she’d rather have missed.
Gwen remained convinced that her own Katie had in fact scratched her as she tried to separate her from the fierce battle that day, but there was no way of knowing for sure, and erring on the side of caution was certainly in order in this case. In terms of the animals, the problem was enormous. They were informed, in spite of the fact the pets were both completely up to date in their rabies vaccinations, the cat and dog would have to stay in quarantine for several months. The cost was horrendous, not only in terms of the many thousands of dollars it eventually cost them, but also in terms of the anguish to their family at having their beloved pets removed from their home.
We wondered many times how other families coped with this unusual situation in terms of cost. Having our pets vaccinated is a must, but do people realize there are still severe consequences should your precious pet come in contact with a rabid animal? I think we naively believe once vaccinated that’s it.
Many weeks later, after all the fur settled (literally), Gwen and I returned to our chats over the back fence. Gwen is a quiet, kind, gentle woman. I can’t recall a time I’ve even heard her raise her voice, let alone utter a curse. That morning, however, in her exquisite Queen’s English, never dampened in any way by her years in Canada, she said to me, ‘The next time I see a strange cat come into my yard, I’m not going to try to help, I’m just simply going to yell Get the Fuck out of here!”
Lynda Murtha writes from Toronto, Canada.