As a community cat caretaker you sometimes see new faces at your feeding station. And I'm not talking about kittens born inside the cat colony. Here's the unreal story about Papa.
I feed a colony of around 20 neutered community cats. As they are not tame, I use a wildlife camera to keep track of them all. When winter set in, in 2018, some new faces started to appear on my recordings. One of them was a big, red and white cat. The sheer size of it told me that it could only be a male cat.
It was also evident from my footage that it was not a youn cat. His coat was doing that thing that the fur of old (and sick) cat where it sort of seperates. He also walked very carefully and angled his body in a weird way. He had big problems getting up into the cathouse I call the Clubhouse. It's only a small leap for adult cats, but Papa couldn't make it. Instead he had to pull himself up with his front legs and he was clearly struggling to get to the food. Frankly it was painfull to watch. I set up a pallet next to the cathouse so he could use that as a step. His condition told me that no humans were taking care of him as he clearly needed to see a vet.
Since I live kinda on the country side with different farm type houses, I've heard many stories about cats in the area. I keep hearing of a big red cat although no red cats have ever shown themself to me. Last year two were born in my colony (before I had a chance to TNR their mothers), but the stories started way before that. So I figured that I had finally caught a glimpse of this big brawling red cat. He sure did look like he had taken some beating in his days.
There could be no doubt that Papa didn't belong to my usual colony. He came alone and when he ran into some of the other cats, they would usually run. If they spotted him too late they would freeze and let him pass. There was a tence vibe, when Papa arrived at the feeding station, but no fighting.
Papa quickly became a regular on my recordings at night and soon he also visited during the day. I even ran into him a couble of times, but he would always run off, as quickly as he could. As it was December there was hardly ever any daylight, but I did see his face well enough to notice the resemplance he had to some of my other colony cats. I figured if he was a feral cat who had lived out there all these years I have heard stories of him, he was probably the father of many of my free cats. And thus I named him Papa which means "father" in many languages.
So my fist theory was that he was an elderly feral, who had sustained injurues, perhaps was sick and definitly tired. That his desperation had finally led him to my feeding station and that he was taking risks because of his health and the cold. One thing I knew for sure was that he needed my help.
Although I found it most likely that Papa was another feral amongst the many I have come across in my area, there was one thing that spoke against that. I had one clip of Papa where it seemed like he had an ear tattoo. In Denmark we ear tattoo our pet cats to have a visual way of showing that our pets have an owner. It's like a licence plate with digits and letters and anyone who can read the tattoo can also look up the owner online. We also chip our cats, but this way you don't nessesarily need to take the cat to the vet. But the recordings were fuzzy and I wasn't sure if it was just a shadow.
Since I couldn't get to him he needed to go to a vet anyway. I had to trap him, which took me a couple of tries, but he was very polite about it once I suceeded. I had expected more of a fight form him, but I don't think he had anymore fights left in him.
A long journey ends
At the vet they find Papa to be pretty tame and already neutered. They confirmed that it was in fact an ear tattoo I saw on that one recording. And the ear tattoo in itself told a bit of a story. Papa was reported missing back in 2005! He was then reported deceased in 2008. So he could still be the big red cat from all the stories, but he was in no way father to anyone.
As Papa's case was old it was tricky to track down his owner. But eventually the vet managed to get a hold of her. His owner must have been very surprised to hear he was alive over 13 years after he went missing!
We can only speculate where Papa has been all these years and what he has been up to. But as the wildlife camera recordings showed me, life as a homeless cat taken it's told on his old body. Just by looking, listening and feeling Papa, the vet concluded that he was in very bad shape. The list of things that needed to be looked into was long. He was definitly never going to back to the life he had been leading. For that he was too weak, so there was no change that I could continue as his caretaker. Based on his condition his owner decided that Papa had been through enough and he needed to get peace. His journey had reached its final destination.
Here we have a responsoble owner who got her cat neutered and marked. Think how many kittens Papa could have fathered in the 13 years he was lost! Unfortunatly for both Papa and his owner, his ear tattoo didn't do them any good in this case. Cause it took 13 years for a human to act on it. I'm having a hard time to believe that no one came across him earlier and that no one has been feeding him before me.
What can we learn from this
I wasn't sure if I wanted to share Papa's story as it is not a happy one. But it shows another side of being a community cat caretaker and it contains an important lesson about our responsibility toward stray cats.
So if you come across an unformiliar cat multible times, please look into the matter. Sure, maybe it's just a new neighboor cat, but what's the harm in checking it out? Ask around, put up flyers or use local Facebook pages. In Denmark we have a lot of Facebook groups for lost and found pets where you can share a picture. It is better to invesitgate one too many times, rather than ignoring it. If Papa had met someone who had bothered finding out where he lives, he could have gotten home. But Papa never made it home
Another reason I was hesistant sharing this story is that I do not wish to put Papa's original owner in a bad place. I would feel terible if the owner came across this story and had to read angry comments. The owner has no fault in this matter. She acted responsibly thing when he was young and she made a hard but also loving decision of finally putting him to rest. He wasn't fit to endure any more struggles and she did what she thought best. I would have done the same.
I hope Papa in spite of it all still managed to get some good years before his health took a turn for the worse. And that his story can inspire people to help more strays find their way back home.
Rest in peace Papa.