A Cancer Victim in Billericay Issues an Urgent Appeal for the Prompt Return of Her Beloved Cat, Bear
"I was called in to hospital and got kept in. Bear was with Jim at home that night but he hasn't been back since. I feel terrible I can't do anything or go and look for him."
-- Sylvia Manning
"Life is a moderately good play with a badly written third act," Truman Capote once observed. It also is terribly short and the good times even briefer.
In keeping with that, there is perhaps no crueler fate than to be old, sickly, and strapped for cash. At such times it often is only the love and devotion of a beloved cat that stands between an individual and that "undiscovered country from whose bourn no traveler returns." (See Cat Defender posts of January 2, 2012 and June 12, 2012 entitled, respectively, "With No Reason Left to Go on Living, Treadworth Resident Takes His Own Life after His Beloved Cat Disappears" and "Sophie's Sudden Death Proves to Be Too Much for a Bachelor in Poole to Bear So He Elects to Join Her in the Great Void.")
Losing a cat is never easy under even the best of circumstances but to suffer such a devastating loss during a time of sickness can be truly traumatic. That nonetheless is precisely what recently happened to fifty-four-year-old Sylvia Manning of Bunting Lane in the Billericay section of Essex, forty-five kilometers east of central London.
Diagnosed with multiple myeloma, she entrusted the care of her two-year-old tabby, Bear, to her common law husband, Jim Wakeling, before entering Basildon University Hospital on February 22nd. Later that night, Bear mysteriously disappeared.
"I was called in to hospital and got kept in," she explained to the Billericay Gazette on March 30th. (See "Woman with Cancer Desperately Seeks Her Missing Cat in Billericay.") "Bear was with Jim at home that night but he hasn't been back since. I feel terrible I can't do anything or go and look for him."
None of that has deterred Wakeling, however, from mounting an all-out search in order to locate him. Specifically, he has blanketed the neighborhood with Lost Cat posters, posted notices online, and even enlisted the assistance of the Billericay Gazette. Unfortunately, none of those efforts have proven to be successful.
"So far we have had a few people thinking they have found him and Jim has rushed home only to find it was another cat that looked similar to Bear," Manning explained to the Billericay Gazette. "I really hope someone will find him."
Wakeling accordingly has been forced to expand his search. "I've listed Bear on missing cat web sites and leafleted a large area of Billericay to the east of the high street and south of the railway and some of the sightings have led us to think he may have crossed over to the west side of the high street," he told the Billericay Gazette in the article cited supra. "Basildon Leaflets (of Laindon) kindly helped us and covered an extra area around South Green at no cost. It's likely that he is moving between other houses without being seen."
Although making assumptions about the behavior of any cat is always an extremely dicey proposition, there nevertheless would appear to be some connection, no matter how slight, between Bear's disappearance and Manning's entering the hospital. It therefore is remotely conceivable that he could be searching for her just as she simultaneously is looking for him.
A considerably less likely possibility is that he was unhappy living with her, Wakeling, and their five other cats and simply was biding his time for the right opportunity in order to escape. That is plausible because he had been living with them for only the past six months following his adoption from the Celia Hammond Animal Trust. As it may be recalled by some, it was that courageous and spirited rescue group that went toe-to-toe with the authorities in London in order to save one-hundred-eighty-seven homeless cats from the wrecking ball back in 2007 and 2008 when eight-hundred acres of land were cleared in the East End in order to make way for last summer's ostentatious, boring, and seemingly interminable Olympic games.
Regardless of whatever prompted Bear to leave home, there can be no denying that far too little attention is paid to the mental health of cats and that is an egregious oversight because their psychological makeup is not substantially different from that of humans. For example, they suffer from separation anxiety, loneliness and neglect, and have a totally understandable fear of the outside world and especially of large and noisy objects and individuals.
They also, inter alia, crave love and attention and sometimes suffer from the debilitating effects of being bullied by other cats just as schoolchildren often are horribly abused and mistreated by their classmates. The proper care of a cat accordingly involves a good deal more than merely feeding and sheltering it and thoughtful guardians are acutely attuned to these other needs as well.
Perhaps most disquieting of all Bear was wearing an orange collar and had been microchipped. He also sports an unmistakable fold in his right ear.
No one should rely too heavily upon any pet identification device because none of them are foolproof. For instance, collars can either come off accidentally or be intentionally removed.
Besides causing cancer, implanted microchips sometimes malfunction. They also can shift positions and that makes it difficult to locate them. Above all, not all shelters and veterinarians exercise due diligence even when they bother to look for them.
All of those considerations combined with the enormous amount of time that has elapsed since Bear's disappearance raises the possibility that someone has rescued him from the street but does not have any intention of returning him. After all, he must be eating and sleeping somewhere.
It also is obvious that Bear would make a valuable addition to almost any home. Besides being a handsome fellow, he is described by Manning as a "lovely playful little boy." Wakeling, for his part, fondly remembers him as being "very friendly" and fond of food.
Not a good deal is written about catnapping but it nevertheless occurs all the time. (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.")
Besides the machinations of private individuals, veterinarians sometimes rehome lost cats without so much as a second thought to either the feelings or rights of their lawful owners. (See Cat Defender post of June 26, 2012 entitled "A Family in Wiltshire Turns to Social Media and Leaflets in Order to Shame a Veterinary Chain and a Foster Parent into Returning Tazzy.")
The worst denouement of all would be for Bear to have fallen into the murderous clutches of the RSPCA. (See Cat Defender posts of June 5, 2007 and October 23, 2010 entitled, respectively, "RSPCA's Unlawful Seizure and Senseless Killing of Mork Leaves His Sister, Mindy, Brokenhearted and His Caretakers Devastated" and "RSPCA Steals and Executes Nightshift Who Was His Elderly Caretaker's Last Surviving Link to Her Dead Husband," plus the Daily Mail, December 30, 2012, "Revealed: RSPCA Destroys Half of the Animals That It Rescues -- Yet Thousands Are Completely Healthy.")
Bear's sudden disappearance also has had a profound effect upon Manning's cat, Tatiana. "They are the youngest cats in our family and love to play," she added to the Billericay Gazette. "Tatiana has been missing him more than anyone else as they were very good friends."
Bear was last seen on Greens Farm lane, which is approximately three-tenths of a mile from home, but it has not been divulged how long ago that was so he could be almost anywhere by now. Wakeling has not written him off as lost cause, however, and is offering a small reward for his return. He accordingly can be reached by telephone evenings and weekends at 01277 632527.
In Helen Keller's hometown of tiny Tuscumbia, Alabama, another version of this story currently is being played out but with an Evelyn Waugh twist. In this instance, the protagonists are twenty-nine-year-old Haley Nichols, who is battling stage three cervical cancer, and her resident feline, Baby Cat.
Unable to afford the onerous pet fees imposed upon her by the apartment complex in which she lives, Nichols earlier this year surrendered Baby Cat and her two kittens to Pets Are Worth Saving of Florence. The organization then sterilized them and placed them on a farm in Spring Valley, eleven kilometers removed from Tuscumbia.
"I thought she's be happier because she always wanted outside here, and I knew she was going to be in a barn and stay with her babies," Nichols told WAAY-TV of Hunstville on February 7th. (See "Cat Journeys Miles Back to Owner Battling Cancer.") "I thought it was perfect and that she's be happier, and I wanted to do what's right for my pets."
|Baby Cat and Haley Nichols|
Those sentiments clearly are at odds with her behavior in that the decision to get rid of Baby Cat and her kittens appears to have been made long before her clumsy attempt to rationalize doing so by appealing to the cats' best interests. Secondly, her timing tends to suggest that she followed the familiar ritual of abandoning them right after the holidays. Thirdly, her assertions conveniently omit any reference to the overriding financial considerations that prompted her to act.
Nichols, most assuredly, is neither the first nor the last individual to have abandoned cats in the name of expediency. In fact, such behavior is pretty much the norm with just about all individuals.
They love having them around when the times are good but once keeping them becomes either too expensive, troublesome, or simply inconvenient they drop them quicker than a hot potato. This abhorrent behavior is most readily discernible on the part of those individuals and organizations who have their cats killed off as soon as they become either old, sickly, or incontinent. (See Cat Defender post of January 2, 2013 entitled "Alley Cat Allies Demonstrates Its Utter Contempt for the Sanctity of Life by Unconscionably Killing Off Its Office Cat, Jared.")
To her credit, however, Nichols simply did not hand over Baby Cat and her kittens to a shelter to be killed upon arrival but instead placed them with a charity that respects life. That not only was the least morally offensive alternative available to her under the circumstances but it ultimately proved to be fatalistic as well.
That is because a few weeks after she had surrendered Baby Cat and her kittens, Nichols was diagnosed with cancer. She then spent four days in Birmingham undergoing treatment but the very next day after returning home she received the shock of her life.
"I woke up and there was a cat at my window. I looked and I was like that cannot be Baby Cat. It can't be," she related to WAAY-TV in the article cited supra. "I reached and opened the door and she ran in and meowed and I thought that it can't be her, but she has a distinctive meow."
The particulars of Baby Cat's escape from the farm in Spring Valley and perilous journey back home to Tuscumbia likely never will be either known or fully comprehended. It is theorized, however, that she walked the entire distance over an extended four-week period wherein she was forced to traverse several busy roads and highways. It therefore is truly a miracle that she was not run down and killed by a hit-and-run motorist somewhere along the way.
"My cat knew I wasn't okay and she came back home. I think she's here watching over me," Nichols speculated to WAAY-TV. "I just feel blessed to have her back, and I know that she's going to make my healing process better because she's like a friend."
Not too many individuals are fortunate enough to be given a second chance in order to rectify their mistakes in this world. That is because it usually is way too late in order in order to do so once they have come to their senses. Baby Cat's heroics, however, have bestowed upon Nichols a rare, once-in-a-lifetime opportunity not only to atone for abandoning her but, almost as importantly, to clear her own conscience.
Although her unexpected return is a welcomed development, dark clouds still linger on the horizon. Specifically, Nichols has not disclosed what she is going to do about the pet fee which precipitated this crisis in the first place. Plus, her escalating medical bills no doubt have only worsened her already precarious financial situation.
Apartment complexes that levy pet fees, ban cats altogether and, worst of all, kill and outlaw the feeding of those that are homeless are a reprehensible disgrace even under normal circumstances but in Nichols' case the conduct of her unidentified landlord is simply outrageous. (See Cat Defender posts of August 2, 2010 and July 7, 2012 entitled, respectively, "Old, Poor, and Sickly, Jeanne Ambler Is Facing Eviction for Feeding a Trio of Hungry Cats" and "NBC Philadelphia Conspires with a Virulent Cat-Hater and an Exterminator in Order to Have Six Newborn and Totally Innocent Kittens Killed in Southern New Jersey.")
Under these extremely trying circumstances, the proper thing for the apartment complex to do would be to waive the pet fee. If that is not in the cards, perhaps either some private individual or local charity will be willing to take concrete steps so as to ensure that Nichols and Baby Cat are able to remain together. It might even eventually be possible to reunite Baby Cat with her kittens.
In addition to providing a world of comfort to individuals who have been stricken with cancer, cats have been known to save their guardians' lives simply by alerting them to the presence of the disease itself. That is precisely what a black and white cat named Fidge recently did for fifty-two-year-old Wendy Humphreys of Wroughton in Wiltshire.
"She kept coming and sitting on my right breast when I was lying on the settee. She would jump onto it every night for a fortnight," Humphreys explained last year. "I went to see my general practitioner because I thought it was bruised. It just hurt and I didn't think anything else could be wrong."
Sadly, she was badly mistaken in that a pea-sized malignant lump was discovered in one of her breasts in September of 2011. She thus was forced to undergo chemotherapy and to have the breast removed in March of 2012.
"She saved my life, definitely. No hesitation at all," Humphreys added. "I was told that if I hadn't been diagnosed when I was I could have died because of the hormones in the menopause. I am so glad I got her."
Fidge's boundless loyalty and devotion to Humphreys did not end there, however. "She goes around on your shoulder and on your back and none of the other cats have done that. She never leaves me alone," Humphreys related. "Every morning she jumps up and makes sure I'm all right." (See Cat Defender post of April 20, 2012 entitled "Grateful for Being Provided with a Loving Home, Fidge in Turn Saves Her Mistress's Life by Alerting Her to a Malignant Growth on Her Breast.")
In June of 2009, an orange and white vagabond named Sumo performed the same heroics for Judy Danchurra of Winnipeg. (See Cat Defender post of March 27, 2010 entitled "Taken In Off the Street by a Compassionate Woman, Sumo Returns the Favor by Alerting Her to a Cancerous Growth on Her Bosom.")
Earlier in 2008, an eight-year-old orange cat named Tiger undoubtedly saved the life of fifty-nine-year-old Calgary resident Lionel Adams by alerting him to the presence of a malignant tumor the size of a soda can on his left lung. (See Cat Defender post of April 11, 2009 entitled "Tiger Saves His Owner's Life by Alerting Him to a Cancerous Growth on His Left Lung.")
On a somber note, the long-term prognoses for both Manning and Nichols do not look especially encouraging. Whereas multiple myeloma can be treated there is not yet a cure for the disease. Likewise, some handicappers peg the survival rate for stage three cervical cancer to be as low as thirty to forty per cent. The medical men have been wrong before and, hopefully, that will be the case for both Manning and Nichols.
That nonetheless brings up the disquieting issue of the welfare of cats that survive their owners. In some instances they die of starvation and dehydration once they become trapped inside locked apartments and houses with their dead guardians. That, by the way, is another cogent argument against denying cats access to the great outdoors.
At other times either Animal Control officers or so-called rescue groups arrive johnny-on-the-spot and proceed to trap and kill every feline in sight. As badly as their owners need them, it is quite obvious that cats even more so require the protection that only they can provide.
The only sure way out of this extremely vexing problem is reserved for individuals like songstress Dusty Springfield who possess the wherewithal in order to establish living trusts for the continued care of their cats. Even family members and close friends cannot always be counted upon to take care of felines that are left behind. That in itself is all the more the pity considering all the trials and tribulations that cats are put through during their extremely brief existences.
If the future thus is destined to remain both unknowable and unmanageable, perhaps the best that can be done is to determine as early as possible exactly what is important in life and to accordingly live each day to the fullest and as if it were the very last. Manning, quite obviously, has her priorities in order in that she is fully cognizant of Bear's value. Nichols, on the other hand, hopefully has been enlightened and now is seized with an infinitely greater appreciation for Baby Cat.
In the final analysis, however, life remains an unfathomable mystery right up through the ringing down of the curtain on act three and that holds true for both cats and men alike. "Droll thing life is -- that mysterious arrangement of merciless logic for a futile purpose," Joe Conrad mused in Heart of Darkness. "The most you can hope from it is some knowledge of yourself -- that comes too late -- a crop of unextinguishable (sic) regrets."
Photos: Sylvia Manning (Bear) and WAAY-TV (Baby Cat and Nichols).