Mina had been pregnant for what seemed ages. There was just one problem - Mina wasn't pregnant. Mina wasn't even a female...

Little Max was a beautiful fluffy black cat with enormous eyes in a small face. I first noticed him when he began coming through our cat flap to avail himself of the seven bowls of cat food that were spread throughout the kitchen.

He never said anything to anyone. He just ate and moved on. Then he would return later in the day for a repeat performance.

There was just one thing that bothered me about little Max – he was so fat I thought he was a female and was pregnant.

Having had tomcats which I’d had neutered I had no idea how to cope with a pregnant female and I asked in the local pet shop what I should do. Basically do nothing, was the answer. The cat can take care of itself without human interference or intervention.

So I sat back to wait for the sound of little feet. Max (or Mina, as I first called him) had taken up residence under the little sofa in the dining room. Thinking she had made her ‘nest’ in readiness for the forthcoming litter I laid a warm flannelette sheet down for her, and placed her food and water bowls within paws reach.

The weekend passed – no sign of any kittens. Her breathing was very laboured and when she tried to walk up the garden path she had to stop every other step and sit down and rest. I was very worried so I took her to my vet.

The first surprise was that she was not pregnant – but seriously ill. The second surprise was that she wasn’t a she at all – she was a he. So poor old Max went to the vet as a pregnant female and came out a week later as an entire tom. I had added sexual identity disorder to his other serious ailments.

What I had failed to notice was that Max’s eyes and skin were yellow. His swollen belly which had got progressively worse was the result of an acute liver infection. The worst-case scenario was that it could be FIP – a highly infectious disease which, if the tests came back positive, would mean poor little Max being put to sleep and all my cats having to be screened for the infection and if they had it, they would have to be put to sleep.

Max was kept in at the vets while they carried out numerous blood tests to rule out various liver ailments. He was in quarantine for 5 days until the results of the FIP tests were known and then he was allowed back home. Thankfully, he didn’t have it but he did have serious liver problems and as he was a stray it was not known how long he had been ill.

As I had assumed he was a female I had seen ‘her’ around for a couple of months as ‘pregnant’ so the damage could have begun several months before he started taking his meals chez Daily Mews.

So he came home with a week’s supply of antibiotics. Having become accustomed to being called Mina he now looked at me with a look of disdain when I tried to call him Max. However, I persevered and he seemed to accept his new name.

I had to give him two tablets a day and each time it was ‘tablet time’ I would coax him from under the sofa and pop the pill into his mouth. Only once did he lull me into thinking he had swallowed it and just as he was getting down from my lap, did he suddenly spit it out from the side of his mouth! A hasty scoop back into my arms and dusting the tablet off, and a quick thrust down the back of the throat ensured that the tablet met its destination.

I took advantage of these ‘tablet times’ to cuddle him and to get to know him a little better. I would stroke him, kiss him and tell him what a beautiful cat he was and how loved he was. He would look at me as if I was utterly mad. With such an inscrutable expression on his beautiful face it was hard to know what he could be thinking.

But he accepted these ‘tablet times’ with much grace and didn’t ever struggle to get down. I thought that he liked the cuddles and as he nestled up to me, I felt that we were bonding.

He never said much. In fact I don’t think he ever voiced an opinion on anything. Maybe life had kicked him in the teeth so much he felt valueless and worthless and that if he spoke out of turn he would be punished. So with great wisdom learned from experience Max stayed silent, but his eyes would watch my face with intense interest.

He had to go back to the vet a week later for a check up. The night before he had to go, we had a very long cuddle. He spent over an hour stretched out on me – with his head up under my chin until his overlarge body sat itself on my lap. His two front paws were either side of my neck and this is how he stayed for over an hour. I was stroking him the whole time, kissing his face and head, and telling him nice things about himself that I thought he would like to hear. Every now and then he would look at me and his eyes pierced my soul – so deep did he stare.

The next morning I gave him his tablet and we had a brief cuddle time. Then I put him into the carrying basket and ordered a cab to take us to the vet.

When Max’s name was called, we went in. He was given a thorough examination and the vet said that he couldn’t really detect any noticeable improvement. He could have another 2 or 3 weeks supply of antibiotics but there was no guarantee that Max would be better. The damage to the liver was unknown. Indeed, the damage could be so severe that despite further antibiotics he might never recover. All we would be doing in that case would be prolonging his agony. His breathing was still very bad and was a cause of great concern.

A decision was made to end Max’s suffering. It was a difficult decision to make but it was the right decision. Very gently the vet clipped a little bit of fur from his front paw and an injection was given. Within seconds Max lowered his head and went to sleep. After a few minutes his heart was checked and it had stopped.

Little Max was no longer in any pain or discomfort.

I cuddled him in my arms and told him how special he was and I had loved him. I was quite surprised at how emotional I was considering he had been a stray cat and not part of my feline family.

I walked home in the pouring rain carrying an empty basket. My tears ran down my face and mingled with the rain. I questioned myself over and over on the walk back home – ‘had I done the right thing? Should I have tried the antibiotics a bit longer?’ The vet had reassured me that we had done everything possible and that if I hadn’t taken Max in when I did, he would have become so weak, he could have died a terrible death out in the open, at the mercy of passing dogs or foxes. At least I had saved him from that.

So, I went home and took the food and water bowls out from under the sofa and collected up the flannelette sheet which wouldn’t now see the patter of tiny feet! I sat and cried my eyes out for a beautiful lost soul with deep penetrating eyes, who had had a miserable two or three years of life. By some fluke or luck or good fortune he had waddled up our garden path and stumbled upon our humble dwelling. For a short space of time he had found love and happiness even if most of it was spent under the little sofa.

And the saddest thing of all – I never heard him purr.

© Pauline Dewberry 2003



In the Middle of a World...

"In the middle of a world that has always been a bit mad, the cat walks with confidence."

Roseanne Anderson

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