And then, there was Ollie

Every day.

Every day we would go outside to check on our garden. To see what survived the night and what we lost. It was always a positive to get outside, but how well we held onto that positive mood depended on what plants were still thriving. (James always handled it better than myself).

Every day it got a little harder. We were uncertain how to battle the local squirrels and chipmunks from burying their peanuts in our planters, and the groundhog from eating any leaf it could reach. We made our vegetable plants so secure that it became hard for us to maintain them.

One day, we stepped outside, holding our breath (as always), and were surprised by our neighbors standing on our patio. While they have expressed excitement with the work we have been doing in our yard, and knew they occasionally walked around, we had never walked out in the middle of the afternoon to see them both there.

Ollie.

Oliver.

The stray cat they had been feeding for the last two years, and recently been allowing in their home, was under our bench looking as if he was moments from death.

I’d seen him before. Being the animal lover, I always tried to give him a quick pat. It was only recently that he obliged me. A few quick strokes, and a cheek rub, before he would saunter back into the bushes. It seemed we were both guarded. Me not wanting to make Axl jealous with the smell of another cat, and him, not wanting to accept affection from a human.

But, now, he could hardly raise his head.

Something was clearly, desperately wrong.

With all the attention the four of us were giving him, and our high anxiety, he tried to walk away, showing us immediately that he had little use of his back legs. Half dragging, half hopping, he pulled himself a few steps before dropping back onto our patio.

Had he been hit by a car?

Had he been attacked by another animal?

Was he just… an old man?

Well, our opinions differed and this is when the debate began. Neighbors saying to give him a few days to recover from whatever happened, us believing that he needed a vet as soon as possible. It was a heated debate, and it wasn’t clear how we would reach an agreement. While they had fed him, named him, cared for him, and (in our opinion) belonged to him, they did not want to assume his vet bills.

To pause the conversation, I agreed to give him space, however I spent the next several hours calling vets and shelters trying to find support for a stray cat. I called over 12 organizations. Most said they could do nothing to help, and suggested I try the Emergency Vet. The Emergency Vet said that if they deemed it was a medical emergency after a quick look, than we would give them complete control of Ollie. They would assume responsibility for him, and make all medical decisions. If it was not a medical emergency, we could choose to assume all vet bills, or bring him home without care. That became Plan A, but I grew paranoid that by the vet accepting responsibility of his medical decisions they may choose to “put him down” faster than if I remained responsible for him.

I didn’t have the heart for that.

However, my current level of responsibility was still in question.

I wasn’t sure what I could do, or if I could actually do anything at all.

While I waited for other organizations to call me back, I kept going out to check on him. He slowly had made his way into an abandoned backyard, and positioned himself under some rickety stairs, with a bunch of exposed, rusty nails, along an old and unstable chain link fence. It was hard to even pet him, let alone process how we would get him out of there.

He was totally inaccessible.

Photos of the abandoned property behind our apartment, where Ollie dragged himself to be under the staircase. We took these photos in March 2020.

And, as I began to realize the extent of the new challenge he provided with his position under the stairs, I also noticed the flies. They had started to swarm around his back legs. In and out, with their nauseating buzzing. There was no other choice. I needed to make a move, and quickly. Cautiously, James grabbed hold of me, as I contorted myself in a way only possible with adrenaline (and yoga) to reach over, and down and in, to pick up this stray cat who had avoided most of my previous attempts to pet him. There was no defiance in his body or expression as I lifted him from the cement slab, and held him tight to my chest, until I could stand straight again.

Ollie knew, as much as I did, that he needed help.

Wrapping him in a clean towel, I let his damaged back legs dangle as James set up the screened-in tent that we use for Axl on nice, summer nights. It was a place that would keep Ollie safe from the flies.

Ollie did not resist.

He did not make a sound.

He looked at me with groggy eyes, searching my face. It seems we both found that our guards were down. It was clear that I belonged to this handsome boy, who dragged himself into our backyard. Again, there was no choice, I needed to find a way to help him.

I could not – would not – let him down.

Ollie after we got him in the screened in tent, while we waited for support.

And, in case you were wondering, our garden was no longer the priority…

To be continued…

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