D. E. Larsen, DVM
I watched as Ayers struggled to get the large chicken wire cage out of the back seat of his car. His brother-in-law finally came around and helped him with it. The cage held the old tomcat from Ayers’ barn.
I held the door for them as they carefully fit the cage through the door. I had not seen Ayers since Nessie had died a couple of years ago.
Ayers had aged in that time. He was a shadow of the man he used to be. His shoulders were still square and broad, but he was thin. His face lacked the luster it once possessed. There was a space in his eye socket, and his glass eye no longer filled the socket. It looked like it would fall out if he bent over.
“What do we have here?” I asked.
“This is George,” Ayers said. “It took me a long time to convince him that we were friends. But now he lets me sit on his hay bale and talk with him. He is right there every morning, waiting for his can of cat food.”
“He looks pretty good for a tomcat?” I said. “You must be feeding him well.”
“He is the only animal on the place,” Ayers said. “I sold all the sheep and the cows. Then Nessie died, and I didn’t even have any chores to do. George and I have been fast friends for the last year or more.”
“What’s going on with George today?” I asked.
“He has abscess back by his tail,” Ayers said. “It has been there for maybe a couple of weeks, and it breaks, opens and drains, and then closes up. Just when I start thinking it is all healed, it will break open again.”
“That’s pretty common for that location,” I said. “We can clean it up and put a drain in there for a few days, and it will heal with no problem. Do you want me to neuter him at the same time?”
“Doc, you are getting way ahead of things now,” Ayers said. “For one thing, I’m not sure I will ever be able to get him in this cage again. It took both of us, and there for a while, I thought Allen here was trying to stuff me into the darn thing. Allen is only here for a couple of days. I don’t think there will be an option to bring George back to take a drain out.”
“I can work with that,” I said. “I will treat him like we did in the old days, nothing fancy. We made a big hole that would allow the inside to heal before the skin closed things up again. It works fine, but the ladies don’t like to look at that big hole.”
“Good, and I hope the antibiotics can go in his food,” Ayers said.
“Yes, we can try that,” I said. “But just in case George won’t eat it, I will give him a dose of long-acting penicillin. In fact, with the big hole, we could probably get by with that injection.”
“So we can pick him up this afternoon?” Ayers asked.
“Yes, we can be done with him pretty soon, and he will be ready to go home pretty much anytime this afternoon.”
Ayers and Allen stood up to go, and Ayers spoke to George. “You be good to this guy. He is really our friend.”
“What about neutering George?” I asked.
Ayers took a deep breath and looked at George for a full minute.
“Doc, I’m not going to be around for much longer,” Ayers said. “This old guy is going to have to fend for himself then. I would guess that my place will just fade into history and be cut up into a bunch of hobby farms for Californians. George will need all the help he can muster to survive out there. I don’t think I want to do that to him. You can vaccinate him and give him a worm pill, if you’re man enough, but let’s leave him with his nuts.”
“Why does this abscess appear to heal up and then break open again?” Allen asked.
“It is due to the location,” I said. “It is there on the flat of his back, and there is no way for the abscess to drain well. The cat’s skin grows over these wounds so fast that the pus just gets trapped under the skin again. These days, we put a little rubber drain in the wound. All it does is keep the hole open, so we get good drainage. We will just remove a large patch of skin from over the abscess with George. That will give the wound plenty of time to heal before it is covered with skin again. And with antibiotics, it should heal with no problem.”
“I will have Ayers back here around four this afternoon,” Allen said. “Will that work okay?”
“That will be fine,” I said. “George will be wide awake, and I should be able to worm him and get him vaccinated by then.
We took George in the back to get to work on him.
“Are you going to try to worm him before surgery?” Ruth asked.
“I think I will wait, maybe do it when he is a little sleepy still,” I said. “Sometimes, working with these mean-looking tomcats is surprisingly easy. They know if things get bad, they can tear you up, and then things over.”
We struggled to get George into a cat bag, but things went along okay once he was stuffed in there.
Anesthesia was induced with gas via a mask. I shaved the abscess area with a straight razor and trimmed a quarter-size piece of debilitated skin from over the abscess. We flushed the wound with hydrogen peroxide and applied an antibiotic powder.
As soon as George was recovered, I grabbed his head with my left hand, holding it much like a baseball. I tipped his head back, pointing his nose straight in the air. This caused his mouth to gap open slightly. With the worm pill held by my thumb and index finger of my right hand, I opened his mouth wide with my middle finger. Then, with the precision of a bombardier, I dropped the pill onto the very back of George’s tongue. I allowed the mouth to close slightly, and he swallowed. A quick peek, the pill was gone.
I gave George a four-way vaccine for distemper and the upper respiratory viruses and a feline leukemia vaccine. We also gave him a rabies vaccine and a large dose of long-acting penicillin.
“It doesn’t sound like he will be getting any boosters,” Ruth said.
“No, but something is better than nothing,” I said. “The rabies vaccine will be effective for a year, probably more. The feline distemper vaccine is probably one of the best vaccines ever. I have never seen a vaccinated cat come down with distemper, even with only one dose. I think it will probably last a lifetime for guys like George, who will get some natural exposures along the way. The others are better than nothing.”
George was almost excited to get back into his cage.
“He must know this is his ticket home,” Ruth said.
Allen came in and picked up George in his cage for Ayers. I went out and shook Ayers’ hand as they were getting ready to leave.
“Ayers, if you have any concerns about how George is doing, you let me know,” I said. “It is no problem for me to run out to your place to look at him.
True to his words, Ayers did not last long following this last visit. His farm was chopped up into five-acre parcels, and I would guess that George was back to fending for himself in the farm/forest zone.
Photo by Piers Olphin from Pexels.