Image at Approximately 10 – 11 years old.
Health: Neutered and vaccincated; ear polyps surgically removed; repeat chronic ear infections; survivor of feline panleukopenia; required round-the-clock care for months; confined for over a year to bring his health to normal.
Ears aka Earsie deserves special mention on this website although he is no longer feral. Due to a serious illness, I was able to capture this one and tame him. Still, this one suffered a very difficult life and his story should not go untold.
Ears is a very special case. Although once VERY feral, he became a very adorable cat that grabbed hands and pulled them to him to nuzzle fingers. He was once a very aggressive, true feral on his way to being a special needs case.
Settle in for Earsie’s lengthy story.
Several years ago, I walked outside to see an orange cat run away as fast as he could. I saw him just long enough to notice that he appeared to have an extremely bad case of ear mites. His ears were covered in a dark crusty substance, but he ran so fast that it was just a very brief observation.
I didn’t see him for quite a long time after that, but eventually, while looking out the window, I noticed that he had shown up again and that his ears obviously needed medical attention. He would come and sit at the top of the hill or in the edge of the woods where he would just watch from a distance of about 75 feet. Even from this distance I could see that he had major ear problems. Yet, if I opened the door and walked outside he would run away as fast as he could in the opposite direction.
Watching from a distance and running away when he saw me became his routine. Then one day I walked out to find him sitting on the deck within 15 feet of me. He just sat there for a few moments and we studied each other, but as soon as I took a step toward him, he ran away and didn’t visit again for a long time.
As time passed, even though I saw him around the neighborhood, I gave up on ever being able to trap or gentle him to an extent that I would be able to get him the medical care he needed. I was certain he was a full feral that was running short on time. Still, I wanted to have him vetted and treated for ear mites, or whatever his ear affliction was, if possible.
Finally, while walking during the summer of 2010, I found his colony. He was a member of a rather large colony of cats that a nearby Native American family fed. Unfortunately, it was obvious that the family did not practice spay and neuter or health care. I watched the lady walk to the end of her driveway with a bowl of dry cat food. She tossed the food out to this very large group of cats. There had to be about 50 cats in that colony and she was feeding them in the gravel road in front of her house. The big orange cat with the crusty ears was in that group.
By the end of summer, several different cats started showing up at our, and a neighbor’s, house looking for food. Recognizing the cats as ones from that large colony, I did some investigation and found that the Native American family had stopped feeding the cats due to “financial problems”; the family was losing their home. They would be moving away without the cats; another case of animal abandonment, a by-product of the troubled economy.
The next thing I know, the local Animal Control was making several trips a week to their house for the next month or two. They were setting traps with cat food in efforts to trap them and I chanced to speak with Animal Control and was informed that the cats would be euthanized.
With the cat’s fates in mind, I began over-feeding the ones that wandered to my house for food in efforts to keep them from wandering into the traps being set for them. I over-fed them to keep them from hunting food. Still, how the orange cat with the crusty ears managed to escape being trapped I’ll never know. I can only imagine it was because I would leave a huge amounts of food where I knew he would be coming to sit and watch, and though I never saw him eat, the food always disappeared.
Soon, the family was gone and most of that cat colony moved on to find new food sources. Two or three of the cats had come to rely on food in our yard and were trying to “morph” into the colony I manage. The animal control officer, after my pleading with her, let me have a one-eyed cat that she had trapped and planned to euthanize that day. I had made progress in “gentling” this particular one as I had wanted to get medical attention for his missing eye. Thankfully, the officer transferred the cat from her trap to mine right off the back of her truck. This very old, one-eyed cat turned out to be the key in bringing the orange, crusty eared cat closer to me. At night, the orange cat would go into the box shelter on our deck with the one-eyed cat and snuggle with him. Then he would observe my interactions with the one-eyed cat. Through this, I learned that feral cat’s witnessing human interaction with other cats is an important step in the taming process.
From this point, it wasn’t long before EARS was eating his food at my feet. He didn’t fully trust me yet, and so he would hiss, spit, and swat at me, and try to viciously steal the food from my hands before I could set it down for him. He would fight off any other cat that came near while he ate and keep them at bay while he devoured his meaty-crunchy food mix, from a plate. I fed him as much as he wanted at each meal. It was three weeks before he realized he no longer had to fight for his food.
When he finally started calming down about getting fed, I began scratching him on the back of his neck while he ate. I literally saw a transformation take place. Gentleness came into his eyes during this interaction with him, and his entire personality very quickly changed to what I can only describe as contentment.
Gradually, I was able to treat him for fleas and ticks and then very cautiously began cleaning his ears twice a day. He still wouldn’t let me pick him up though, and that was my goal; pick him up, put him in a carrier and take him to the vet. Unfortunately, just as I was getting to this point, Ears came down with a very bad ear infection that caused severe vertigo. He couldn’t walk straight and fell over frequently. For two days I tried to get close enough to him to pick him up and put him in a carrier. Finally, while he was eating a meal, I picked up him and his plate and put him in a dog crate. Success!
Ears was vaccinated and had an ear wash done the very next day. His ear canal was so inflamed the vet couldn’t see very far into it. He received an antibiotic treatment to the ear that would last 2 weeks. I was informed that the vertigo would subside but would cause him to have a permanent head tilt once the infection had healed.
After 2 weeks, I took him back to the vet for neutering and a thorough ear exam while under anesthesia. The vet found a tumor in the middle ear and took a biopsy. I authorized him to send it to the lab and we learned that it was a deep benign tumor, but that it would always cause him to have chronic ear infections if not removed.
Needless to say, EARS went from being a free-roaming feral cat living “wild” to, very cautiously, being a sheltered cat where he found his very own soft bed and plenty of food and water. He learned he had access to food at all time in the shelter and came to love it so much that he didn’t want to leave. He probably slept his first sound sleep in his life in the kennel where he was nice and dry, and safe from predators. Even though he lost some balance and had a permanent head tilt from the ear problem, he was easy to tame and became a very loving and playful cat that fit right in with the rest of the cats here. He loved to be picked up and cuddled in no time!
Then, one day, Ears became very ill suddenly. He lost all his strength and couldn’t eat or drink. I took him to the emergency vet late Saturday night and their recommendation was to “put him down…,” because his white blood cells were way too high and the red blood cells were way too low. They said the cat would die before morning. Following gut instinct, I refused to euthanize him and brought him home, into my house, and put him in a dog crate on a heating pad.
Instinctively, I commenced to force feeding water to him, while planning my next course of action. By the next day he was eagerly lapping water from the syringe. As soon as he could lap the water on his own, I added water to Hills A/D Critical Care food and began syringe feeding him. This way, he lapped food and water at the same time.
Within 2 days he was greatly improved and the following Monday I took him to my regular vet who prescribed confinement, antibiotics and prednisone. He sent me away with doubts that the cat would make it; the blood work had indicated panleukopenia (feline distemper), an illness that is almost always fatal.
I began round-the-clock medication and nourishment and kept him on a heating pad. He was still too weak to hold his head up for feeding, but had the strength to lap the food/water mix. He finally began to eat on his own and so I let him self feed 5 to 6 times a day.
I kept him isolated in a small bathroom for several months. It was the veterinarian’s recommendation that he be confined for no less than six months. However, Ears kept slipping back to that weakened state of being to the point that he lost all strength and I would have to revert back to hand feeding him every 3 hours to help build his strength. Each time he back slid, I had to start over on the confinement period.
After doing some research and checking with the veterinarian, I decided to add vitamin K1, B12, and milk thistle to his routine since the illness was repeatedly breaking down his blood. I gave him K1 for a total of 1 week; kept him on B12 and milk thistle throughout the antibiotic and prednisone regimen; added raw cow liver to his food twice a day.
He took a sudden turn for the best within a day of adding the milk thistle to his food, and finally, after over a year of working with him in isolation, I let him out to meet my indoor pets. They accepted him as though he had always been there.
It was out of the question to return him to outdoors, because his head tilt created a handicap that put him in danger. The ear issue had resulted in a balance problem as well as distorted hearing. He had difficulty determining from which direction sounds originated.
Ears adjusted to his handicap and remained healthy with only occasional minor ear infections that were quickly treated. He ran and played indoors with all his might as our beloved pet, and insisted on loving the other cats and his human pets. Of all the cats we’ve seen around here, Ears was the most loving ferals that we were able to tame. For a very long time while adapting to living in the great indoors, he insisted on wrapping around my head for a good night’s sleep. This was quite a 360 degree turnaround for a once very aggressive feral cat!
Although his ears had to be cleaned on a regular basis after having polyps removed, at least we knew the tumors were benign. His head tilt was barely there after several months, and he always came running if he heard a cat food can pop open! He created new friendships with the rest of the indoor cats and found a couple he loved to cuddle at nap time.
Unfortunately, Ears decided to move on to Rainbow bridge in 2017. He will be missed but will remain in our hearts forever. We are so thankful that we were able to show this loving boy the comforts of a safe home filled with love while seeing him through his senior years.