The Help Save Ginger Backstory

A family, including three dogs and a cat live happily in a good house with extensive gardens; a great area for the animals to roam and play. By this stage, the kids have grown up, moved away and started their own lives. Mom and Dad are still there, looking after the animals and the gardens. However, old age takes its toll on the father and he passes away. Not wanting their mother to live in the large empty house alone, one of the daughters asks Mom to move in. This she does on the condition that the dogs come with her.

A buddy of mine was asked to house-sit pending the sale of the house. While there, he found that the cat was still living in the gardens. It turns out that the owners had decided not to take the cat with them. The cat's health wasn't good and, besides, he was used to living in a big garden and probably wouldn't have liked to move anyway. At least, that was their excuse.

The story I heard later was that the cat was never theirs but had arrived on their doorstep one day and they decided to feed it. Naturally, it returned day after day. To my mind, that's taking responsibility for the cat. If you don't want that kind of responsibility, then don't feed an animal. It will move on until it finds someone who will care of it or feed it. But that's just me.

I popped out to see my buddy on a couple of occasions and to take a look around the house and gardens. The cat was there and looked in a sorry state. His breath stank to high heaven and he was suffering from cat flu. To be honest, I didn't want the cat near me as I didn't want to bring any infection beck home to my own two cats.

There things rested for a few months until a couple of things arose that prevented my buddy from house-sitting. He asked me to fill in for a couple of weeks until he could resume his duties. I asked him if the cat was still there and if he was feeding it. He told me that, yes, the cat was still there and, yes, he was feeding it. The original house owners were providing the food but still weren't interested in taking the cat with them.

So I arrived out at the house one dingy, rainy night and, fumbling in the dark for the gate keys, heard a faint meowing from behind the wooden gate. When I opened it, I was greeted by the cat. I could just make out his shape in the faint light. The entrance to the house lies through a dilapidated conservatory where the cat lives - there's a cat-sized hole in the brickwork to allow him to come and go, so someone originally went to the trouble of making this alteration for a cat nobody seemed to want!

The first thing I noticed about the cat was a half serious/half evil visage. This did not look like a happy cat. However, he was friendly and sidled up against my legs, purring all the while. I put out some food for him which he gobbled up, so his appetite was fine. I left the door to the house ajar while I turned on the light and got my bearings. I walked through to the kitchen and, as I turned to leave, tripped over the cat who'd silently followed me in. In the light, I got a better view of his face. He opened his mouth and meowed, but no sound came out. I soon realized he rarely vocalized. He was bleary-eyed and furrowed of brow, or so it seemed and was slightly unsteady on his feet. His eyes were weeping and his nose was wet. A cut, just below his right lip, had turned septic. His breath could kill at five paces. Stroking the cat, I found his hair was dry and matted in places, so I knew he wasn't grooming properly.

When I went to the fridge, he perked up and lapped up a saucer of milk I gave him. Once he'd finished, he followed me into the TV room and sat watching while I got settled. As soon as I sat down, he jumped onto my lap, lay down and started purring. Then he stood up and, as best as I can describe it, hugged me.

This kind of behavior persisted over the next couple of days. There was no doubt that this was a cat that was not only used to people but was very affectionate with them. This wasn't a cat that just lived outdoors and got fed. This was a cat that had received a lot of love and attention. Again, I wondered how someone could just walk away and leave their pet.

Despite obviously enjoying my company, the cat always looked miserable, more so when sitting or lying alone. His eyes ran persistently, he sneezed frequently and dribbled from the area above the septic cut.

I guess I bonded with the animal because I couldn't stand to see such a friendly soul in such misery. So I took him to my vet. I've never seen a cat pant before but the stress of the journey was more than he was used to.

The Diagnosis

The cat settled down once I arrived at the vet. The motion of the car and/or the engine noise seems to have been what made him uneasy. For their records, the clinic required a name for him. Since I'd never known his real name, I chose the rather unimaginative name of 'Ginger'. Hey, it wasn't like I'd had a lot of time to think about it!

He was reluctantly pulled from the cat box but curiosity got the better of him and he started to inspect the new surroundings. Meanwhile, the vet began the examination. This was the result:

  • 6 rotten teeth - this accounted for the bad breath. The vet noticed that Ginger's face was slightly asymmetrical. Apparently, the infection from the rotting teeth had traveled up through his face and probably infected his right cheek bone. The infection had also backed up into the sinuses and had caused a partial blockage of his tear ducts which prevented his eyes from draining properly and led to the bleary-eyed look.
  • the remnants of cat flu - apparently the virus can stay in the system for a while, causing persistent weeping from the eyes and/or nose. In his weakened state from the infected teeth, he might not have been able to fight off the infection completely.
  • a septic cut below his lower lip - again, this probably didn't clear up due to the other infections he was fighting off.
  • Ear infections
  • Fleas
  • A skin allergy
  • A heart murmur - while a murmur was detected, his heart is strong and no other problems were detected
  • The possibility of an immune deficiency disease which might have contributed to his inability to get well.

Why Help Was Needed

Antibiotics were prescribed to cure the infections and a flea treatment was given to kill off the fleas. The big problem was the teeth. Ginger needed 6 extractions and follow-up care. He also needed to be tested for immune deficiency diseases and feline leukemia. And a new home needed to be found for him.

I covered the cost of the examination and antibiotics but couldn’t cover the cost of the dental treatment and tests. His original owners weren't interested in helping out.

The vet wasn't happy that his owners had let him get into his deteriorated state. He told me that Ginger was very uncomfortable (not surprising with six simultaneous toothaches) and recommended two courses of action:

  • find someone who would take long-term responsibility for Ginger; have him tested for immune deficiency disease and feline leukemia and if he was clear, have the six teeth extracted. If he had either of the two diseases, Ginger could not go to a home where cats already lived as he'd pass the disease on to them. He could have gone to a cat-free home though
  • put the cat to sleep and end his misery.

I didn't like option two and, if it was to be an option, it was going to be the one of last resort. This was a cat who'd had a miserable year and, despite the pain and suffering he'd endured and was still enduring, remained friendly and non-aggressive. This gentle soul needed to have the opportunity to survive and have an enjoyable few years of life.

The Request

I asked visitors to my website to help me help Ginger survive with donations (through PayPal) to cover the medical bills. Finding a new home for him was the least of the problems and, I must admit, I was taken aback by the generosity shown...

The Story Continues

Following the first of many visits to the vet, Ginger underwent a 2-week course of antibiotics to clear up the remnants of cat flu and to control the infection that resulted from his decaying teeth. And he responded very well. He started grooming properly again and all of the matted hair around his rump was replaced by sleek smooth hair. His coat was again shiny and well looked after rather than being matted and dull, lifeless and unclean. The skin allergy was also addressed by the antibiotics and the fleas killed off with a flea control treatment. The antibiotics also cleared up the septic lip although the lip appeared to be slightly damaged from the prolonged sepsis. As a result, he dribbled a bit! He was also interested in playing - savaging bird feathers was his current fun activity.

After the antibiotics treatment was finished, we returned to the vet so he could undergo some blood tests to determine if he suffered from feline leukemia or feline aids and I'm happy to report that he didn't have either.

That then left the way clear for him to undergo the dental treatment and have the six rotten teeth extracted. He was put on antibiotics again as the infection from the teeth was starting to reassert itself and he was on the tablets until the surgery (15 days later, when the vet determined that he was ready to undergo the extractions).

The operation went smoothly and he returned home later that day. Naturally, with such a large number of extractions, he found eating to be somewhat uncomfortable. But you can't keep a good cat down!

After a couple of days, he was eating normally again. A week after the surgery I took him back to the vet for his post-operative check-up. His gums had healed over nicely after the extractions but he still had a bit of gingivitis. The vet was a little concerned that Ginger might be carrying the cat-flu virus - apparently prolonged gingivitis is a symptom. On the other hand, the inflammation may just have been the last remnants of the chronic infection he suffered in the previous year from his teeth. He was put on a further two weeks of antibiotics which, we hoped, would finally clear everything up.

Aside from that, he was in fine fettle. He must have been a lot more comfortable with the teeth removed as his purring became much louder over the following week. And he was much more playful.

After the latest two-week antibiotic treatment, it was time for another check-up visit to the vet. The good news was that Ginger was in good health. His gums had healed perfectly after the extractions. He'd even put on weight, weighing in at 5.2kg (11.5 lbs) which is pretty hefty for a cat.

His gums, in general, (i.e. not related to the surgery) remained inflamed even after all the post-op antibiotics. The vet came to the conclusion that Ginger was suffering from persistent cat flu. His only current symptoms were the gingivitis - while no other symptoms were present, he is a cat-flu carrier.

Aside from that, he’s very healthy. The downside is that he cannot be placed in a home where cats already reside. The vet was adamant about this saying that any household that takes him in will just introduce long term problems for their own cats.

Ginger's still living at his old house. My buddy is still care-taking out there and is giving Ginger lots of care and attention. We're on the lookout for someone who'll be willing to give him a home in the next couple of months. He's such an affectionate cat that I don't think that'll be a problem.

I'd like to thank all those who took the time and effort to send in donations, but the following people in particular who provided substantial donations to cover Ginger's medical bills:

  • Wayne Folsom
  • Tim Carr
  • Amanda Bloxham
  • Hilary Bloxham

It's life-affirming to know that there are caring people out there. But the story's not over. Ginger still needed to be re-homed but at least we had a few months to line up a new residence...

One final note: I only recently learned Ginger's real name. Apparently, it's Redpuss!

This graph shows the overall cost of antibiotics, testing and dental treatment ($553) vs donations received to date ($502). My thanks to all those who've helped in this regard. Please note that the Help Save Ginger fund is now closed.

The Story Concludes

While Ginger/Redpuss's health problems were sorted out, finding a new home for him proved to be something of a problem. Neither friends nor family were in a position to take him in for two reasons - he's a cat-flu carrier (and my vet was insistent that Ginger should not go to a house that already has a cat) and his age (people are too worried that an aging cat just meant big medical bills down the road). Notices stuck up in supermarkets, libraries and vet clinics didn't get a single reply. Neither did putting appeals in classified ads papers.

I contacted a few catteries to see if they could offer any leads I could follow up on. While they couldn't suggest anyone to place the cat with, they suggested contacting an animal shelter who didn't euthanize unwanted animals. Unfortunately, when I contacted them, they told me they only now dealt exclusively with dogs (apparently there'd been unholy war between the cats and dogs when they catered for both). They advised me to contact the local Cat Protection Association through their webpage.

Emails to their advertised email address went unanswered and after several aborted phone calls, I got a message saying that they'd moved and had a new phone number. I tried that only to get a message saying they were unavailable for several days and to leave a message. I did, but with less than ten days remaining before a final decision would have to be made as to whether to have him put to sleep or not, time was running out for Ginger (this was back in April 2005).

Then, on the weekend prior to what could become a fateful day, I received a call telling me that a home had been found for Ginger. It seems that a grand-niece of Ginger's original owner had stepped in to take care of him. So, with just one day to spare, Ginger was whisked off to his new home.

It was a relief knowing that the Sword of Damocles no longer hung over him and that the thought of having to have him put to sleep was no longer a consideration.

He made a great pet for his new owners as he's a very affectionate cat. With the exception of being a cat-flu carrier, his health is otherwise good. Given what he went though that previous year, he deserved to have a few good, happy years ahead of him and now he had.

Here are some pictures of a healthy Redpuss:

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