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Rusty The Purring Cat

September 2004


A year ago this month I was working at home in my computer lab on a Friday, like I do every week. when I looked up to my window and saw an old scruffy cat smashing his head into the actual window. At first I thought the cat was insane, but as I looked at him just a couple of feet away I could see he was not in good shape.

Our home is located in a rural area that is a prime dumping ground for unwanted animals. We have a lot of woods, with deer on our front lawn all day and night and a ground hog colony, and our next door neighbour has a bass pond in his back yard.

Looking at this cat I could see he was dilapidated. You could see his ribs and there was something about his lips that was in a weird way similar to Elvis's twitched lip, but on a cat!

I went upstairs and I opened a can of cat food and put it on a paper plate and feed the cat. I have been a cat lover my entire life. I have owned cats since I was a little kid and in my forty-one years on this planet I have never witnessed a cat kill a can of food as quickly as this little cat did. Afterwards I hung out with him and petted him and he was purring like crazy. To be honest he was real scruffy and dirty. His lips and eyes had black all around them. It looked kind of out of place considering that he was a rusty coloured cat. Thinking back in the two prior years I've lived here I had seen this cat walking steadily down the street as I landscaped and I never really paid much attention to him. After playing with him and figuring that he was still hungry I gave him a second can of food. He demolished that one also. Now he wasn't going anywhere.

Over the course of the next few days he parked his ass under my newly purchased "Cat Lover Lives Here" sign that resides in my landscaping. He stayed right there and we continued to feed him while he looked through our glass screen door at our 2 indoor Rag Doll Cats. I found this to be more than Ironic. Here are two top pedigree cats a foot away from a dirty scruffy cat who probably dreams of the life they have. After a couple of days I said to my wife "I don't care if he is not ours, I am taking that cat to our vet and getting him checked out". I made an appointment thinking that our vet would maybe work with us on helping him out after all he wasn't even our cat. Well I brought him to our Vet and this place is a high end vet hospital where most of the pets are pedigrees and spoiled and in I walk with this cat. The vet pulled him out of the cat carrier and said "My you're a scruffy little guy aren't you."

I then told her that although he might not be the best looking pet in the hospital, he was the smartest. She then asked me how I knew that and I proceeded to tell her that the day after I put the "Cat Lover Lives Here" sign out in front of my house, he parked his ass in front of it and never left. The vet performed every medical test possible on this cat, during everything they did he never stopped purring. They even tried scaring him to get him to stop purring so they could check his heart but nothing stopped him from purring. We also observed that he had one tooth in his entire mouth, hence why he had that Elvis thing going on. He was also fixed so at sometime someone took care of him. At the end of it all I was handed a bill for 500 dollars plus. I must say it kind of pissed me off at the time. Especially the $21 they charged me to cut his nails. Considering I bring my other three "legitimate" pets there, I thought that they would work with me on this one being I was trying to do the right thing.

I left the vet with the cat and my daughter and we went to the pet store and bought him the best collar there. After getting home I put his collar and shot tags on him and he walked around the yard like he was the coolest thing ever put on this planet. I remember saying to my daughter that this was probably the best day of his life and that we would start making him one of our pets. Everything went good for the next few days and then I got "the call"...

Rusty (as we named him) was FIV Positive. At first I was quite concerned. My wife was nine months pregnant and I had no clue what FIV was other than it was the cat equivalent of aids. The Doctor told me that he was no danger to anyone other than a cat. Humans cannot contract anything from them and that the only way they could transmit the disease was through birth or through a bite to another cat. Since he had one single tooth left he wasn't much of a risk. At first I was kind of bummed about it, but over the course of time I realized that he knew something was wrong with him, and that his attitude was one that didn't have the cockiness usually associated with cats.

Rusty was very lovable and appreciative. I would open the garage and he would come lay on the extra mattress we had out there and he loved being petted. You could pet him until your arm fell off, and he would just hang out and purr. In my pursuit to help him I went online and I discovered that much like human Doctors and HIV, vets know very little about FIV, I found many wonderful people who had real life experience with these cats and told me many things I could do to nurse him back to a decent life.

I started making him a sport shake very much like one a human would drink. It contained all the vitamins and supplements that humans take. Immediately upon giving him this "shake" he started to gain weight and get back to looking like a normal cat. We feed him like clockwork four times a day. Chunk Light Tuna, Salmon, etcetera, he was living like a king. He would hang with me while I did all of my landscaping duties and he was just living large.

Rusty & Catnip
One clear memory I have is that at the end of the summer I cut all of the fresh catnip I had grown for my indoor cats and had a giant pile of it. While my indoor cats go wild over it and do all kinds of stupid stoned cat stuff, Rusty didn't have their energy. So instead of going crazy he just laid on top of it, high as a kite. As fall approached he looked better and I was afraid that a winter outdoors would be the end of him. In the fall my daughters went back to my ex's house which conveniently left me an extra bedroom. One with access to the backyard via a window over the bed. My wife's fear was him getting out of the room and fighting with one of our rag dolls so I put dual locks on the door and that was the end of that problem. Rusty was now living larger than ever. Not only did he have his own room with heat, but he had digital TV which was on for him all of the time. He loved his room.

Throughout the year on several occasions Rusty got very sick. Each time I would take him to the vet and they would charge me an astronomical amount and tell me that this was it, but each time he rallied and recovered. That was half the fun, proving the Vet wrong, and he did it several times. Once they told me his liver wasn't working but I found out about a special medicine for a Cat's liver. We put him on it and he was fine.

Between all of the drama, he was the nicest cat I ever met. He would lay on my chest about three inches from my face and his breath was horrible from the disease but he purred and was just loving life. It became apparent to my entire family that he was one of the most special animals ever on this planet. In our quest to learn more about his life we discovered that he was not the eleven/twelve year old we had thought, but he was actually nineteen years old. He had been left behind by a family around the corner in 1986. He had lived in the woods around our home since then surviving off the food left out by other neighbours and by the bountiful chipmunk den that is in the woods by my home.

Rusty got very sick at the beginning of August. He started breathing erratically and we got him on antibiotics right away. The breathing just became worst and worst. After coming back so many times from the inevitable, this time he couldn't do it. We watched him and prayed for him.

We repeatedly took him to the vets for different attempts at saving this creature who had become so much a part of our family. It got very bad and I looked at him and he gave me "the look". It was time, as much and as hard as it was to admit it he was too far gone and as tough as he was, and as much as he put up with in his life he had had enough. We called the Vet who had taken thousands from us at this point, twenty minutes before they were going to close, only to be told that none of the 6 vets there could wait the extra half-an-hour to help this cat out and that we would have to take him to a clinic two hours later. (Needless to say I will spend the rest of my life badmouthing this rather well known Vet Hospital in Lakewood, New Jersey).

I walked him around the woods he loved so much as he could barely breath, and said my goodbyes to him. We took him into the clinic and he passed peacefully. Rusty was an incredible animal and he made me realize how much could be gained by giving an old timer like him a chance. I would suggest to anyone who can try adopting one of the many FIV Homeless cats that are up for adoption all over the United States. It will be one of the most rewarding experiences you will ever have. These cats know they are sick, and they know they need you. You will be rewarded in ways a regular pet just couldn't reward you. As heartbreaking as it has been for my family I would adopt another FIV cat without a second thought. Our home is not the same without Rusty... he is buried outside my office window on the edge of the woods by the Groundhogs and Chipmunk Den he loved to hunt by.

On the night Rusty passed, it was late by the time all was said and done and I had to get up at 3:30am for work. While at work the next day my wife spared me the anguish of cleaning his room out. She disposed of his litterbox and changed his sheets. When we had first found him I had bought him a toy stuffed mouse with a bell. Being he was older he never really played with it but he would curl up to sleep on top of it.

That night I dug a real deep hole to bury him and when I went to bury him I wanted his bowl, collar some of the catnip he loved, and his toy to be buried with him. When I asked my wife where his toy was she had a panicked look on her face. She had thrown it into the big hefty bag in the garbage with the litter box and the litter. I wasn't real upset as I knew she was just trying to help and he wasn't overly attached to the toy (or at least I thought).

Because of all of the animals that live by us, our township gives us a mini dumpster about one third the size of a commercial one. I looked in it and the bag in question was below a bunch of other bags full of food, I left it. It would be all full of dirty litter anyway and it wasn't a big deal.

Three days later we put the dumpster out front for the normal garbage pickup. It is a one man operation where it is automated and on a couple of occasions a bag has fallen on the ground and created a big mess and I have to clean it up. The garbage man doesn't get out and clean it up. So that night my wife and I both pulled into the driveway five seconds apart (an oddity) and we go to wheel in the dumpster and guess what was on the ground next to the dumpster? The toy... and there wasn't a spec of litter anywhere, not a drop of any other garbage! For the life of us we cannot figure out how that toy got out of the dumpster from underneath the other bags, without there being a trace of the litter that was also in the bag... pretty weird!


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