We lost a special cat yesterday.
The worst thing about being an animal lover is that animals get sick, hurt and die. Humans do too of course, but humans can tell us how they feel.
As bad as it is to watch an animal suffer, the feeling of helplessness at not knowing exactly what the problem is makes it worse. Then there are decisions to make about more tests and hospitalization. Is it fair to put them through more pain and stress by taking them out of their environment and sticking needles in them, taking fluid out or putting it in?
Here is Boyjies story, it’s intertwined with ours in many ways.
In the late 1990 s Boyjie was rescued as a kitten from a perilous existence in Zimbabwe. A good friend removed him and his sister, Little Girl, from the chaos and dirt of the police station in the village of Marondera, the nearest village to our farm. Sue worked half days at the local veterinary surgery so naturally Kerry, the rescuer took them to Sue to be checked.
This was a regular occurrence, Sue was known far and wide as a cat lover. Although we always had 6 or more cats on the farm, Sue would never let a stray be abandoned or put down until she had exhausted every possibility of finding a home for it. When all else failed our farm was the refuge of last resort. When Sue phoned me before leaving the village to see if I needed any supplies for the farm and casually mentioned that some one had brought two adorable kittens to the surgery for her, my reaction would be: “Well lets call them number 7 and 8” or whatever positions the new arrivals would occupy in the cat population on the farm.
We were home to so many cats over the years that we ran out of names, eventually we were reduced to simple but accurate names like Black Cat for a large black cat, Tripod for our three-legged cat. Boyjie (little boy in Afrikaans) was so named because he was small and shy. Another rescue case, Puffkins, was easy, he had long hair and looked like a puffball.
Boyjie was always a bit of a shy cat, perhaps because of his start in life surrounded by noise, dust, vehicles and unfriendly people. He did eventually settle down. His friend Puffkins disappeared one day when he was a few years old, outside our security fence during the day and then gone. We searched everywhere for him, all the cats we rescued were neutered so it was unlikely that he was led astray by a female on heat. With little chance that he would have been taken by humans, we can only assume that he was taken by a jackal, python or eagle, all of which were abundant on the farm.
There were many poisonous snakes around, including puff adders and cobras, but if he had been bitten near the house, we would have found him either dying or dead.
Little Girl met a tragic end in a freak accident when she followed Sue out to the horse paddock and got trampled in the melee of horses anxious to get to the stables for their food.
In the year 2000, when the violence and intimidation of white farmers started, we worried about what would happen to our animals when the violence eventually reached our farm. We kept all the pets, at times 10 cats and 6 dogs inside the security fence in our large garden. The dogs came with us when we went for our evening horse ride around the farm or when I was out in the fields.
Then in October 2002, after almost three years of escalating intimidation, a mob of thugs surrounded our security fence, lighting fires, beating on steel oil barrels, shouting and screaming death threats. Our gates were blocked by piles of timber, we could not go out of the fence for days on end. This went on for weeks. Our dogs barked non-stop, demanding to be let out to protect us, but they would have been torn to pieces, there were just too many people there. Despite the threats, not one of them attempted to break through the fence, they knew that we had guns and would use them. We would almost certainly have been attacked and probably killed if we had not had those guns. Just the knowledge that we had them and our threat to use them as a last resort was enough. They saved our lives without having to be fired.
Eventually we were forced off the farm and moved to a small cottage with 6 cats and 4 dogs. With no future in Zimbabwe and to escape continuing persecution from the mobs, the police and other government agents, we moved to Canada with 6 cats. One dog was poisoned by criminals throwing poisoned meat over the fence, 2 were old and were put down and we found a home for one. Our cattle were all sent for slaughter and we found homes for our horses.
Boyjie never fully recovered from the trauma of the “jambanji” at our farm. That was a name in the local Shona language for the whole fire-drum-beating-shouting-intimidation performance that so many of us farmers were subjected to.
Even though the cats were treated with exceptional care on the two British Airways flights and stopover at Heathrow, he more than the others, found that experience traumatic. He never really regained his original relaxed manner. Always fearful, he would flee out of the house if visitors arrived.
Of the 6 cats we brought to Canada, Timmy who we had not had for long before leaving Zimbabwe, was diagnosed with diabetes soon after arriving and had to be put down. Tigga wandered too far away from the house, onto the road and got hit by a car. Black Cat had an over-eating problem, he could not stop eating. Despite restricting his food and putting him on a special diet, he somehow found things to eat and ballooned out to 26 lbs. Eventually his heart gave out.
That left Tripod, the 3 legged cat with a bad attitude and the oldest at 18, Copperkit and Boyjie.
Three weeks ago Boyjie began having trouble breathing, his flanks were always heaving rapidly as he struggled to breathe, he stopped eating, lost weight and ran out of energy. The vet suspected either FIT a type of pleurisy for which there is no cure or a tumour. He prescribed cortisone and appetite enhancing tablets and suggested we keep him shut in the house. Boyjie was the most difficult cat to treat with tablets. Every session was a huge battle. He did not like being shut in a room all day.
He had been going down hill for three weeks, Sue did not think it fair to subject him to more stress, or leave him at the vets with tubes attached to him, reluctantly she had him put to sleep yesterday. We buried him beneath a tree near the barn where he often sat in the shade on hot summer days.
We felt like we buried a piece of ourselves with him.
One more in a long line of treasured pets no longer with us.