Bigga Is Reunited with His Owner after an Eight-Year Absence but Life on the Street Has Left Him in Poor Health and Put Her in a Quandary
"We are really happy to have him back but I know when we do let him out in a week or so we will probably never see him again."
-- Lorna Fothergill
Au premier coup d'oeil, cats appear to be rather simple creatures with few needs and that is exactly what some individuals find so appealing about them. Appearances, as everyone knows, are deceiving and it simply is mind-boggling how complicated, exasperating, and heartwrenching caring for a cat sometimes can become.
Take Bigga for example. He first turned up unannounced in Lorna Fothergill's yard on Micklefield Road in High Wycombe, Buckinghamshire, in 2001. A year or so later he walked out of her life every bit as mysteriously as he had entered it. (See photo above.)
Since several of her neighbors' cats had been murdered around that time, Fothergill assumed that Bigga, too, had met with foul play and that she had seen the last of him. She continued on with her career as the lead singer of the popular funk and blues band Northsyde and changed addresses several times before settling into her current abode in the parish town of Newport Pagnell in the borough of Milton Keynes, also in Buckinghamshire.
Unbeknownst to her, Julie Britnell of the Peterborough RSPCA picked up Bigga in High Wycombe on March 25th and, thanks to an implanted microchip and some pretty sound detective work, eventually was able to trace Fothergill's perambulations to Newport Pagnell. A couple of weeks later Fothergill was reunited with Bigga at the RSPCA's Blackberry Farm Animal Center in Aylesbury. (See photo below.)
"He got on his back and got a belly rub, like he always did," Fothergill told the Bucks Free Press of High Wycombe on April 12th. (See "Missing High Wycombe Cat Reunited with Owner after Eight Years.") "He's still the same and has got the same appetite."
"It's almost like he never went," she added to the Daily Mail on April 12th. (See "The Wanderer's Returned: Cat Reunited with Owner Eight Years after Running Away.") "He follows me everywhere, when I go to the loo, when I walk into the kitchen..."
From all of that, she is convinced that Bigga recognizes her. While little is known concerning the retentive power of cats, Ingrid Kerger of Winnipeg likewise insists that her cat, Tiger Lily, immediately recognized her after a separation of fourteen years. (See Cat Defender post of March 31, 2010 entitled "Winnipeg Family Is Astounded by Tiger Lily's Miraculous Return after Having Been Believed Dead for Fourteen Years.")
Although the forty-year-old songstress was delighted to see him again, Bigga's return certainly has complicated her life and, much more importantly, presented her with a moral dilemma. Most distressing of all, the intervening years have not been particularly kind to him and his health is not good.
For instance, he has been diagnosed with arthritis, liver problems, and the Feline Immunodeficiency Virus (FIV). Fothergill, to her credit, has shelled out four-hundred-fifty pounds on veterinary care but Bigga's long-term prognosis is uncertain.
The major concern is his liver but since press reports fail to reveal the extent of the damage it is impossible to speculate on that issue. Although painful, arthritis is not any big deal and many FIV-positive cats live for years.
Since FIV is transmitted through bite wounds, most veterinarians recommend that cats suffering from the ailment be sterilized in order to curtail both their aggressiveness and tendency to roam. That is a particularly important consideration in Fothergill's case since she has other cats at home.
Sterilizing Bigga might be sufficient in order to protect her other cats since FIV is not transmitted through either casual or sexual contact. If she is loath to go that route, it would be best if Bigga were segregated from her other cats.
Whereas Bigga's medical woes can be managed, his love of the great outdoors is an altogether different matter. "We love him and he recognizes me but he's been a feral cat for a very long time," she told the Daily Mail in the article cited supra. "He's scratching the house down just trying to get out."
In that respect Bigga is reminiscent of Booth Tarkington's fictional Gipsy. Here is what he had to say about him in his 1916 novel, Penrod and Sam:
"This cat was, for a cat, needlessly tall, powerful, independent and masculine. Once, long ago, he had been a roly-poly pepper-and-salt kitten; he had a home in those days, and a name, "Gipsy," which he abundantly justified. He was precocious in dissipation. Long before his adolescence, his lack of domesticity was ominous, and he had formed bad companionships. Meanwhile, he grew so rangy, and developed such length and power of leg and such traits of character, that the father of the little girl who owned him was almost convincing when he declared that the young cat was half bronco and half Malay pirate -- though, in the light of Gipsy's later career, this seems bitterly unfair to even the lowest orders of broncos and Malay pirates.
"No; Gipsy was not the pet for a little girl. The rosy hearthstone and sheltered rug were too circumspect for him. Surrounded by the comforts of middle-class respectability, and profoundly oppressed, even in his youth, by the Puritan ideals of the household, he sometimes experienced a sense of suffocation. He wanted free air and he wanted free life; he wanted the lights, the lights and the music. He abandoned the bourgeoisie irrevocably. He went forth in a May twilight, carrying the evening beefsteak with him, and joined the underworld.
"His extraordinary size, his daring and his utter lack of sympathy soon made him the leader -- and, at the same time, the terror -- of all the loose-lived cats in a wide neighborhood. He contracted no friendships and had no confidants. He seldom slept in the same place twice in succession, and though he was wanted by the police, he was not found. In appearance he did not lack distinction of an ominous sort; the slow, rhythmic, perfectly controlled mechanism of his tail, as he impressively walked abroad, was incomparably sinister. This stately and dangerous walk of his, his long, vibrant whiskers, his scars, his yellow eye, so ice-cold, so fire-hot, haughty as the eye of Satan, gave him the deadly air of a mousquetaire duelist. His soul was in that walk and in that eye; it could be read -- the soul of a bravo of fortune, living on his wits and his velour, asking no favors and granting no quarter. Intolerant, proud, sullen, yet watchful and constantly planning -- purely a militarist, believing in slaughter as in a religion, and confident that art, science, poetry and the good of the world were happily advanced thereby -- Gipsy had become, though technically not a wildcat, undoubtedly the most untamed cat at large in the civilized world."
Just as no human ever would want to be locked up indoors for life, it is cruel and inhumane to imprison cats inside and those individuals and groups that are advocating for such a perverse agenda are either inveterate cat-haters, such as the American Bird Conservancy (ABC), the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA), and all wildlife biologists, or twenty-four karat frauds such as the American Humane Association (AHA), Neighborhood Cats, and the Humane Society of the United States. On the opposite side of the issue, Cats Protection of Chelwood Gate in Sussex will not allow individuals without at least yards to adopt its cats.
In addition to cruelly robbing them of their freedom, indoor environments are lethal to cats. (See Cat Defender posts of August 22, 2007 and October 19, 2007 entitled, respectively, "Indoor Cats Are Dying from Diabetes, Hyperthyroidism, and Various Toxins in the Home" and "Smokers Are Killing Their Cats, Dogs, Birds, and Infants by Continuing to Light Up in Their Presence.")
Worst still, all apostles of the ABC's Cats Indoor agenda dishonestly refuse to even acknowledge that indoor pollution exists. (See "Free Roaming Abandoned and Feral Cats" at www.avma.org and the AHA's online publication "CATegorical Care: An Owner's Guide to America's Number One Companion.")
It therefore is not at all surprising that these cat-haters equally refuse to admit that it is precisely their insatiable thirst for petrol that at this very moment is dooming tens of thousands of birds, dolphins, turtles, fish, and other animals as well as microorganisms to horrific deaths in the Gulf of Mexico. In their warped and demented gourds, however, it is cats that are responsible for all the evil that exists in creation.
Depending upon circumstances and the level of care that they receive, a good argument could be made that outdoor cats are in fact healthier than those that are cruelly locked up inside. That is, for example, the opinion of retired financial editor Fred Hampton who for more than a decade has cared for a colony of homeless cats in the Riverdale section of the Bronx.
"On average, outdoor cats are healthier than indoor. And they live longer, too," he told The Riverdale Press on June 10th. (See "They Care for Cats That Others Don't Care For.")
Veterinarian Sheila Dobson, who has worked extensively with outdoor cats through her affiliation with No More Homeless Pets Kansas City, is on record as stating that most of them are healthy. Furthermore, she has not found any greater incidence of either feline leukemia (FeLV) or FIV in homeless cats than in domesticated ones. Consequently, they are no more likely to spread diseases to other cats than those that are locked up indoors. (See Cat Defender post of May 16, 2006 entitled "Kansas City Vets Break Ranks with AVMA to Defend Cats Against Bird Advocates, Wildlife Proponents, and Exterminators.")
In spite of all of that, extraordinary circumstances do arise from time to time when cats either must be confined inside or allowed out only under tightly-controlled circumstances. Because of his age and poor health, the time has come for Fothergill to consider curtailing Bigga's roaming. This is especially important if she wants to hang on to him and to extend his life.
The difficulties involved in transforming an outdoor cat into an indoor dweller cannot in any way be underestimated. Moreover, the problems are magnified tenfold in the case of cats like Bigga who have grown accustomed to coming and going as they please.
Consequently, Fothergill is bracing for the worst. "We are really happy to have him back but I know when we do let him out in a week or so we will probably never see him again," she glumly predicted to the Daily Mail.
That is not necessarily the case. Cats are territorial by nature and seldom leave their home turf. After all, it was Fothergill who abandoned High Wycombe, not Bigga.
His disappearance from her home on Micklefield Road most likely was the result of him being imprisoned indoors for an unspecified period of time by one of her neighbors. That is not an uncommon occurrence with outdoor cats. (See Cat Defender post of July 9, 2007 entitled "Hungry and Disheveled Cat Named Slim Is Picked Up Off the Streets of Ottawa by Rescuer Who Refuses to Return Him to His Owners.")
Furthermore, it is a good bet that if she were to show his photograph around her old neighborhood someone would not only recognize Bigga but also be able to enlighten her as to how he spent the last eight years. After all, someone must have been feeding and sheltering him for at least part of that time.
It also is conceivable that he either became injured or incapacitated in some way. Another possibility is that he was picked up by either the RSPCA or some other rescue group that did not scan him for a microchip.
Being natural gourmands, cats often dine at several addresses but they seldom willingly abandon a permanent source of food and shelter. Since there is absolutely nothing in the public record to suggest that Fothergill in any way neglected or mistreated him, Bigga in all probability was waylaid somewhere and by the time that he had regained his freedom she had changed addresses.
The main concern at the moment is that Newport Pagnell is not High Wycombe and as a consequence Bigga may attempt to return to his old haunt as soon as he is let out again. If Fothergill could keep him inside for between four and six weeks he then might be less inclined to attempt a return to High Wycombe.
Although there are similarities, all cats have their own personalities and memories and that makes predicting exactly what they are going to do almost impossible. In other words, one size does not fit all and, more importantly, owners cannot live their lives for them.
Fothergill already has taught him to walk on a leash and that at least gets him out of the house now and again. He also may understand by now that he is no longer in High Wycombe but it is difficult to say how he will react to that realization.
In that Newport Pagnell has only 15,020 residents as opposed High Wycombe's 92,300, it actually might be a safer location for him but only Fothergill can make that determination. Besides, every neighborhood, regardless of its size, has its fair share of cat-haters, motorists, and wild animals.
Although cats certainly are capable of adjusting to new environments, there is a learning curve involved and they are extremely vulnerable while they connaitre les ficelles. That is why a five-year-old black and white cat named Domino was returned to Poynette, Wisconsin, last year after she unwittingly became trapped inside one of Mike and Ann Hirz's shipping crates and wound up in Green Valley, Arizona.
"It (Domino) knows its safety area. It knows its sources of food and shelter," Patti Hogan of Paws Patrol in Green Valley said at that time. "This is Domino's best chance of survival. We always try to get ferals back to where they came from." (See Cat Defender post of May 8, 2009 entitled "Domino, Feral and All Alone, Faces an Uncertain Future in Wisconsin Following an Unplanned Trip to Arizona.")
As a consequence, Domino was driven back to Poynette and released to fend for herself. It therefore is not known how she fared this past winter or, for that matter, even if she is still alive.
Hogan's logic is severely flawed in two crucial respects, however. First of all, with the Hirzes' departure, Domino lost her primary source of food and shelter. Secondly, their abandonment of her was every bit as morally reprehensible as their initial unconscionable decision to run off and leave her behind.
With Bigga the situation is slightly different in that he has Fothergill to care for him in Newport Pagnell and presumably someone else to do likewise in High Wycombe. The acute danger is that he will attempt to walk to High Wycombe.
Far from being overpowered by outrageous circumstances and events, Fothergill has the smarts and resources in order to protect Bigga. She could begin by making the inside of her house more appealing to him.
Since she lives in a multistory dwelling, there already are stairs for him to climb and that is a big plus. Window perches, other climbing devices, scratching posts, and multiple litter boxes would be steps in the right direction.
It also is important that she spoil him rotten with plenty of meat and fresh cream. She additionally needs to spend as much time with him as possible even though that may be difficult since she is an entertainer who works nights and is often on the road.
Fencing in her yard also would be worth a try. Finally, if she really cares about him she could go out roaming with him.
Individuals walk dogs day and night and accordingly there is not any valid reason why cat owners should not roam with their companions. By doing so they would not only be able to serve as their guardian angels, but also to ascertain where they go and the dangers that they encounter. Sacrificing a night's repose once or twice a week would be a small price to pay in order to ensure the safety of a beloved cat as well as to put one's mind to rest.
Properly understood, such an undertaking not only could be exhilarating but also serve as a happy reminder as well of younger days spent dragging home after a long night of cavorting just in time to hear the cock crow and to witness Old Sol making his triumphant return. After all, the pleasures of the night are sometimes best experienced without their customary embarrassing and debilitating side effects.
It even is conceivable that Bigga eventually will find domestic life with Fothergill to be so appealing that he gladly will spend evenings at home. After all, he is getting on and the English weather seldom is ideal for outdoor activities.
Ultimately, it is up to Fothergill to decide what is best for Bigga. In that light, it is conceivable that she ultimately may decide that he would be happier remaining an outdoor, intact tomcat.
In that case, he might actually be better off if she returned him to High Wycombe and attempted to track down those individuals who have been caring for him during the past eight years. Such a sad denouement would not necessarily mean the end of her relationship with him in that she still could visit him and even financially provide for his continued care.
Although the complications and contradictions involved in caring for cats are manifold, the transformative power of these exquisite creatures cannot be denied. As Anatole France once observed: "Until one has loved an animal a part of one's soul remains unawakened."
By sharing one's life with a cat an individual also learns a good deal about either himself or herself as well as the world in general. "These intelligent, peace-loving, four-footed friends -- who are without prejudice, without hate, without greed -- may someday teach us something," Lilian Jackson Braun once opined.
Finally, Bigga's travails highlight another glaring limitation of both microchips and tattoos as identification tools. It therefore is essential that cat owners update their contact information every time that they change addresses no matter how long their cats have been missing.
Both Fothergill and Kerger were reunited with Bigga and Tiger Lily, respectively, because local rescue groups pulled out all the stops in order to track them down but it is difficult to believe that such dedication to duty is the norm within a profession so overwhelmingly comprised of cat killers. Even in cases where rescue groups are serious about returning lost cats to their owners they sometimes are unsuccessful in their efforts. Individuals die, others move away and do not leave forwarding addresses, and some seemingly vanish into thin air.
The road ahead is going to be trying and morally vexing but hopefully Fothergill and Bigga will be able to make the correct decisions that will allow their improbable, albeit happy, reunion to be a long-running engagement as opposed to a show that is forced to close early.
Photos: Daily Mail and INS (Bigga) and Bucks Free Press (Fothergill and Bigga).