Nelson's Odyssey from Being the Long Abused Cat That Nobody Wanted to One of England's Most Beloved Comes to Sad End at Age Twenty
"I am heartbroken. I miss him very much, as do Dave and my mam and dad. The house and garden seem so empty without him. Even our other cat Minnie seems to be looking around for him."
-- Andrea Huntley-Crow
Philosophers and laymen alike have long mused about the meaning of life without coming to much of an agreement on anything. Most of them would agree, however, that it is above all fleeting and with its happy moments being in extremely short supply.
The life and times of a brown-colored tom with black stripes and yellow eyes named Nelson certainly bears out that somber assessment of things. Following a lifetime of deprivations and unspeakable abuse, he was crowned as Cats Protection's Cat of the Year last August at the ripe old age of twenty but the good times did not last very long because by January of this year he was in his grave.
Not much is known about where he came from other than that he was born either in or nearby Seaham Harbor, County Durham, in 1994. As it so often is the case, his owner wanted no part of either him or his littermates and as a consequence tied them up in a sack and then tossed them into the North Sea to drown.
His life surely would have ended right then and there if an unidentified fisherman had not intervened by plucking the sack out of the waves. Even then only Nelson and one of his brothers survived; the remainder of his siblings perished.
The fisherman had the survivors treated and sterilized by a veterinarian but that appears to have been the outer limit of his compassion. He was in fact so dead set against becoming emotionally involved with either of them that he did not even name them.
Sometime later Nelson's brother lost his tail to either violence or disease before mysteriously disappearing altogether without leaving behind so much as a trace. Although the fisherman continued to allow Nelson to stay in his tiny cabin and, presumably, occasionally fed him, his brother's demise left him pretty much all alone in an extremely hostile and forbidding environment.
Of all of his guardian's gross derelictions of duty none was more glaring than his abject failure to take any concrete measures in order to ensure his safety and that in turn left Nelson vulnerable to unprovoked attacks from both yobs and dogs. Although it is by no means clear, it is believed by some that rocks hurled at him by the former is what cost him the services of his right eye.
A far more plausible scenario is that he was victimized by a punk armed with an air gun. (See Cat Defender posts of May 7, 2007 and April 2, 2015 entitled, respectively, "British Punks Are Having a Field Day Maiming Cats with Air Guns but the Peelers Continue to Look the Other Way" and "Cornishman Shells Out £10,000 on Private Peepers in Order to Track Down Farah's Killer but Once Again Gets Stiffed by Both the Police and the RSPCA.")
The elements were an additional burden that he was forced to bear in that winters in northern England are both cold and wet. Under such trying conditions, there is not any way that he possibly could have been anything other than utterly miserable during those prolonged periods that he was forced to spend outdoors.
Against all odds, he persevered for fifteen long, lonely years on the docks until 2009 when a major construction project that was destined to transform the forlorn harbor into a bustling marina forced him to look elsewhere for a place to live out his twilight years. Like manna from heaven, that was when Andrea Huntley-Crow and her husband Dave from the tiny village of Seaton, eight kilometers south of Seaham, belatedly decided to put an end once and for all to his life of unrelenting misery by adopting him.
|Nelson All Alone on the Dangerous Docks of Seaham Harbor|
"We used to visit the harbor and the fisherman would tell us about his tough life," she recalled in an August 7th press release from Cats Protection. (See "Plucky Puss Nelson Named National Cat of the Year 2014!") "He had some shelter in the fisherman's cabin, but certainly none of the comforts of a home. To do that for fifteen years is quite something, and we're just pleased he now finally has the warm, loving home he deserves."
Because of his bravery in standing up to both the dogs and the yobs as well as his missing eye, she named him in honor of the much celebrated one-eyed Admiral Horatio Nelson who gave his life defeating the French and Spanish armada at the Battle of Trafalgar in 1805. From all outward indications, the marriage between him and the Huntley-Crows was one that enjoyed the blessings of The Fates.
"We work away a lot so my mum and dad come and look after him when we're away," she confided to Your Cat Magazine of Grantham in Lincolnshire on February 12th. (See "My Cat's a Survivor!") "He's lovely with us -- so affectionate and playful, but he's really nervous around strangers, probably because of how badly he was treated before."
Right up until near the end he was still able to run up and down the stairs as well as to catch an occasional mouse. "Luckily, he doesn't kill them most of the time so we can release them back outside to fight another day," she added to Your Cat.
Another telling sign of his contentment was to be found in his unwillingness to stray from the Huntley-Crows' garden. He also sans doute had seen and experienced firsthand more than enough of what the cruel and violent outside world has to offer defenseless, peace-loving cats like himself.
More than likely Nelson would have lived out his remaining days in obscurity with the Huntley-Crows if it had not been for a casual suggestion put forward by an unidentified member of his veterinary team. Acting upon that suggestion, Huntley-Crow decided to enter him in Cats Protection's annual awards and he, not surprisingly, prevailed in the Most Incredible Cat Story category.
His selection was made by celebrity judge Paul Copley who is perhaps best known on this side of the Atlantic for his portrayal of Mr. Mason on the popular English television show, Downton Abbey. "To survive all that he has and still be able to trust humans is quite something," he, a cat lover himself, told Cats Protection in the press release cited supra.
Although Huntley-Crow had felt all along that Nelson had a good chance of winning in his own category, she was somewhat surprised when he took home the top honor as Cat of the Year in ceremonies held August 7th at The Savoy in London. "We're over the moon!" she told Your Cat.
The final selection was made by a celebrity panel comprised of model Lucy Pinder, actress Lesley Joseph, and newsreader and television presenter Jan Leeming. For his trouble and bother, Nelson received two trophies and a three months' supply of Purina cat food.
Headquartered in St. Louis, Nestlé Purina Petcare, which sponsored the contest, had revenues of US$11.2 billion in 2013 and most assuredly could have easily afforded to foot Nelson's nutritional and veterinary bills for the remainder of his life without ever feeling so much as a twinge of financial distress. The niggardliness of miserable capitalists like Purina is nothing short of breathtaking and Cats Protection does not come off smelling any the sweeter by associating with such a rotter.
|Nelson's Brief Moment in the Sun with Andrea and Dave Huntley-Crow|
If Nelson's newfound celebrity status accomplished nothing else it gave the world an opportunity to not only get to know him but also to learn about how long he had suffered and persevered in obscurity. His experiences also serve as a poignant reminder that for every cat like him who ends up rising to international prominence there are millions of others whose unbearable suffering and premature deaths never see the light of day.
Tragically, even Nelson's own deliverance and fame came way too late in order to do him much good. That is because in January of last year he was diagnosed with an inoperable tumor on his brave and noble little heart. His appetite decreased and his chest had to be drained every few days.
At that point it certainly looked like it was curtains for him until his unidentified veterinarian hit upon the last-ditch expedient of placing him on Metacam® (Meloxicam) which is a nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drug (NSAID) manufactured specifically for dogs suffering from arthritis by Boehringer Ingelheim Vetmedica of Ingelheim am Rhein in Rhineland-Palatinate. In the United States, for example, the Federal Drug Administration has refused to sanction its oral use in cats under any circumstances. Even in its injectable form it may be legally prescribed only once in order to help alleviate post-operative pain and inflammation.
That is because its repeated use, either orally or subcutaneously, has been known to cause renal failure and death. That is so much the case that a web site, www.metacamkills.com, has been established and its pages are chock-full of tearful testimonies from dozens of owners whose cats have been felled by the drug.
It is unclear if Huntley-Crow was either aware of the dangers of administering Metacam® to Nelson or, even if she had been, it would have mattered very much to her. Once all conventional remedies have been exhausted some individuals will try just about anything in order to prolong not only their cat's life but their own as well. In the latter case some individuals even have been known to resort to, inter alia, eating dirt and tossing off tumblers of piss once they were down to their last gasps.
In Nelson's case, however, Huntley-Crow was able to catch lightning in a bottle because the drug, which has the added benefit of being able to shrink tumors, worked like magic. "Within days you could tell it was working," she told Your Cat. "He started to eat again and put weight on, and the time between him needing to have his chest drained increased more and more."
So astonishing was his turnaround that not only did his breathing substantially improve, but his veterinarian was able to reduce the frequency of his office visits to once every three months. "He's doing really well," his guardian added.
As the cynics are overly fond of reminding everyone, nothing good ever lasts and that, sadly, ultimately held true in Nelson's life and death battle with cancer. "He kept bouncing back and fighting it, doing his little miracle thing and amazing everyone with his zest for life," Huntley-Crow told Your Cat Magazine on February 24th. (See "Tribute to Cat of the Year Nelson.") "He started to slow down around early January and we were feeding him in his bed and carrying him down to the door for him to enjoy the air and have a stroll around the garden."
She has been anything but candid about what transpired next. "He was comfortable and happy until the end," was all that she was willing to disclose to Your Cat.
That could mean almost anything but, given that individuals who reside in nominally Christian countries have a thoroughly morally repugnant tendency of killing off their cats shortly after the holidays, she in all probability paid Nelson's veterinarian to snuff out his life. (See Cat Defender posts of January 15, 2015 and October 18, 2014 entitled, respectively, "Lewis, Ann Arbor's Much Celebrated Garden Shop Cat, Departs This World Under Highly Suspicious Circumstances" and "Hamish McHamish's Derelict Owner Reenters His Life after Fourteen Years of Abject Neglect only to Have Him Killed Off after He Contracts a Preeminently Treatable Common Cold.")
|Nelson at Home with Andrea Huntley-Crow|
Additionally, since she also has categorically refused to disclose precisely what it was that ultimately claimed his life, it is impossible to speculate upon what, if any, role that Metacam® may have played in his death. Even if it did ultimately doom him, without it he likely would have died a year earlier and as a result he never would have been named Cat of the Year.
"I am heartbroken. I miss him very much, as do Dave and my mam and dad," she confided to Your Cat in the February 24th article cited supra. "The house and garden seem so empty without him. Even our other cat Minnie seems to be looking around for him."
Looking back over the course of Nelson's life it is painfully obvious not only how trying his first fifteen years must have been but, equally important, just how miserably he was treated by everyone who either walked in or out of his world. First of all, there is his original owner who not only got away scot-free with killing the majority of his littermates but likely has gone on to liquidate, in one form or another, untold numbers of additional cats as well.
Secondly, the fisherman did a simply atrocious job of protecting him from the machinations of both dogs and yobs. Even the shelter, food, and veterinary care that he did provide him with was hardly adequate.
Animal protection groups, such as the RSPCA, did absolutely nothing in order to either provide for his well-being or to bring to justice those who so horribly abused him. In the end perhaps that was best because if they had intervened on his behalf they likely would have done so only in order to have initialed his death warrant on the spot. When abject neglect is the very best that cats can expect from those groups charged with safeguarding their lives it is high time that their supporters looked elsewhere for their deliverance.
Even Huntley-Crow and her family have a considerable amount on their consciences. By her own admission, for example, not only had she and her parents known about Nelson's desperate plight for years but yet they did little or nothing in order to relieve it until 2009.
She thus knowingly allowed him to go on suffering and to continue to be abused when she all along had it in her power to have rescued him. In that respect she is indeed fortunate that he was not killed long before she finally got around to making up her mind to help him.
Nelson now lies buried in her garden but his trophies are still on display alongside a photograph of him in her conservatory. He also lives on in videos and, most enduringly, in her heart and memories.
"He was our little hero, a real little character and so affectionate and loving," she confessed to Your Cat on February 24th. "We just have to remember how happy he was with us for over five years, what a lovely life he had and how much we loved him."
That leads to the thought provoking question of whether it is possible for love to transcend the grave. An Italian cat named Toldo most assuredly continued to care deeply for his beloved guardian even long after he was gone. (See Cat Defender post of March 28, 2013 entitled "Even the Finality of the Grave Fails to Diminish Toldo's Abiding Love and Devotion to His Long Dead Guardian.")
|Nelson in His Beloved Garden Alongside His Trophies|
With humans on the other hand that type of devotion is considerably rarer, especially when it comes to the amount of tears that they are willing to shed over a deceased cat. There are many reasons for that callousness but chiefly among them is that with the passage of time memories tend to fade and guardians, sooner or later, come to forget all about their once cherished companions.
Plus, modern-day life is extremely hectic and demanding and that in turn serves only to fuel the fires of man's inherent selfishness and forgetfulness. On top of all of that, aggrieved owners usually wind up acquiring new cats who have their own needs and demands that must be satisfied.
Perhaps Jonathan Hull came the closest to the truth when he suggested in his 2001 novel, Losing Julia, that men are little more than "overly sensitive fertilizer." Even if he should be correct in that summation, that only serves to enhance, rather than to diminish, the intrinsic value of this life and this world.
That is especially the case where cats are concerned in that they, first of all, live such terribly short lives. Secondly, the unconditional, no strings attached love, support, and loyalty that they so freely dispense at the drop of a hat are about the only constants that an individual can bank on in an ever-changing, topsy-turvy world.
If all of that were not sufficient, there are substantial psychological and physical health benefits to be derived from living with a cat. In regard to the former, an individual can be a good for nothing, penniless bum in the prying and censorious eyes of the world and yet be a knight in shining armor to a forgotten cat.
No experience is required and the out-of-pocket expenses are, in most cases, minimal. In what other undertaking that life has to offer can one receive so much in return for such a minuscule investment?
Once they are gone, however, it is for ever and there are not going to be any joyous reunions in the sweet-by-and-by. Intelligent and caring individuals therefore have the bon sens to treasure them while they are here. "We have only a little time to please the living but all eternity to love the dead," Sophocles pointed out in Antigone.
It was novelist Harriet Beecher Stowe, however, who supplied the most valuable rationale for not discounting the present. "The bitterest tears shed over graves are for words left unsaid and deeds left undone," she once astutely observed.
Contrary to what Huntley-Crow insinuates, there simply is not any conceivable way that the last five happy years that Nelson spent on this earth ever could make up for the fifteen miserable ones that preceded them. That is because life is simply too short to squander three-quarters of it as society's punching bag.
Secondly, the role that suffering and overcoming hardships plays in building character is not only grossly overrated in the human world but an utter absurdity as far as cats like Nelson are concerned. Besides, wallowing in the glorification of pain and abuse is for sadists and, of course, those thoroughly lawless and uncivilized savages known as Americans who delight no end in the amount of punishment that they can inflict upon others, the animals, and Mother Earth.
Since late is significantly better than never at all, it is wonderful that Nelson's long overdue ship finally came in, even if it did not dock until he was in his twilight years. He did not need to be put through fifteen years of unrelenting hell however in order to enjoy at a few shining moments in the sun; rather, he deserved far better than that starting from day one of his life and therein lies the tragedy.
It is now way too late to put the sand back into the hourglass. As Nelson was forced to learn firsthand at any early age, most individuals in this wicked old world play for keeps and mulligans are largely reserved for the golfing links.
Photos: Moggies (Nelson), Express and SWNS (Nelson on the docks and with Andrea Huntley-Crow), Mirror (Nelson with Andrea and Dave), and Your Cat (Nelson in the garden).