Stray Grey aka Toby

Luckily, my barn is off from the road and I don’t yet have a problem with people dumping cats.  But over the years there have been a few stray cats who have made appearances.  Most moved on rather quickly.  John would always say, “Don’t feed them.”

I complied to some extent.  I figure a weary soul deserves a meal, but I didn’t make it a habit to feed the strays.  Back when Stray Grey first showed up, I would occasionally put out dry food for our cats in the barn or garage.  This practice was halted when I found a young opossum in the garage!!!!

Stray Grey decided to stay.  At first he was but a fleeting grey tabby shadow and would disappear whenever he saw you.

Stray Grey- exit stage right

Eventually, he lingered longer.  Over time he became my faithful barn helper.  He’d follow several feet behind me and talk to me with his deep gravely voice.

I’d never had a cat pick me.  Stray Grey’s interaction with people seemed to be quite limited… he obviously was not somebody’s pet.  He kept his distance and he didn’t trust humans.

I so looked forward to seeing my tabby friend.  We had a bond…. separated by a few feet… but a bond nonetheless.

If you got too close, he’d hiss and show his teeth.  He looked so fierce.  But he never ever tried to bite.

Stray Grey- looking fierce

Stray Grey- "Too close!"

He loved to sleep in the garage on the cat bed.  It was always such a treat to see him there.

Stray Grey on "his" bed

It became clear that he had picked Leaky Creek to be his home and me to be his human.  John didn’t protest and I think he looked forward to seeing him.  Stray Grey didn’t live long enough to grow to trust John.  John wasn’t bothered by it.

I have a rule with the strays, I have to be able to touch them before they earn their name.  Stray Grey let me touch him on a few occasions, but he never welcomed my touch.  Poor cat would cringe and on the rare occasion where I stroked his coat, he saw no pleasure in it.

I decided not to violate our trust and backed off.  I dreamed of the day when we’d cross the hurdle and Stray Grey would sit in my lap or come to me for attention.  Sadly, that day remains in my dreams… I hope that up in Heaven he’s met up with John and is getting his pets.

But, Stray Grey earned his name.  I always liked the name Toby for an animal.  So, he became Toby.  I think John thought that Toby was a dumb name.  He continued to call him Stray Grey.

Then came the horrible day when I opened the door to go feed and there was Toby sitting in the garage waiting for me and there was blood everywhere.  I was shocked.  It’s hard to evaluate injuries on an animal that you can’t handle.  My assumption was that he’d been in a fight.  It looked like his testicles had been shredded.

I didn’t even know where to turn to for treatment of a stray.  I called Doctor Foster and he said, if I could catch him and get him in here, he’d treat him.

Therein lay the problem…

For days we tried to catch him.  We did have him trapped in the garage.  John even got a live trap from the humane society and we tried to coax him in with food.  My friend, Erin, and I had a very ill fated attempt which ended up with a wild bleeding cat loose in the house.  Luckily, John was home and put his firefighter common sense to the task and we soon had him back in the garage.  Most men would have yelled and screamed.  John obviously wasn’t pleased that I’d let Toby get inside, but he handled the situation and dropped the issue.  Finally in desperation,  as Toby was getting weaker and sicker.  John suggested a snare.  He didn’t want to hurt Toby, but it was getting down to critical point.  Either we caught him and got him to the vet or he was going to die.

John fashioned the snare and we caught Toby.  Toby got loose.  John re-worked the snare and caught him again.  We loaded him into the cat carrier easily and got him to the vet.

Dr. Foster said he’d call us after he examined him.

In the previous post… I told you how compassionately Dr. Foster handled the situation.  It appeared as if Toby had been attacked by something.  It had basically ripped out his whole hind end… testicles, rectum, intestines.  The vet tech later told John that he’d never seen such injuries.

Dr. Foster offered us the opportunity to have Toby cremated.  Not thinking about it being February and concerned over the bill, I decided against it.

John always took care of things.  I’ll never forget how he insisted on overseeing his mother’s body placed in the body bag.  He wanted to make sure Ann was properly taken care of and handled properly.  He took care of the things I couldn’t handle.  He had a year earlier retrieved our other cat’s body and buried him.  John was my rock.  Being a firefighter he was used to handling things that the public never saw and he protected me from a lot of things.  I knew I could count on him when I needed him to be there.

John went and picked up Toby’s body.  I had told the vet that Toby was to come home to be buried.  Toby was a stray and he picked me and picked our farm to be his home.  We had a level of trust and an understanding and a bond.  Toby needed to come home…

Then for the irony.  After John brought Toby’s body home, I posted online that Toby had been euthanized.  I had posted trying to get suggestions on how to catch him.  Well, somebody replied that his injuries sounded like a raccoon had gotten a hold of him.

Not more than 15 minutes after reading that, I spotted some creature by the trees.  I called John.  We confirmed that it wasn’t a fox.  John went and got the gun.  Once he was sure it wasn’t a cat, he pulled the trigger.  One dead raccoon.  It had been nosing around a pile of bird feathers.

Toby died, but his death may have very well saved our barn cats’ lives.

John HATED to shoot things.  But, John was our protector.  He protected our animals and he protected his family… like any good man would do.

In this case John was glad the raccoon was dead!  I think it was the only thing that he was glad he killed.  Toby may have been my cat, but John was fond of him, too.

John went out to dig the grave only to discover that the ground was frozen solid.  John tried for a few days.  Good thing the temperature kept Toby “refrigerated.”  Finally, John went to Home Depot and rented some sort of “chisel pounder thing” and was able to dig the hole and we buried Toby.  I’ll also always remember how John decided to wrap Toby’s body in his cat bed pillow cover.  It was just so fitting.  John was always like that… he knew the right things to do at the right times.

John handled Toby’s escape into the house and his death and burial fiasco with such compassion.  Never was Toby “MY” cat.  Never was Toby a “stupid cat.”  John recognized that Toby was terrified, hurt, in pain, and afraid and he treated him with compassion.

Toby’s death devastated me- I never knew how much my buddy had taken hold of my heart.  Days later and even weeks later, I would think I’d hear his gravely voice when I went into the garage and went to feed.  I look for a cat and not see one.  I told myself that I was imagining things.  After my more recent experiences, I think maybe it wasn’t just in my head.

John was a cat lover… hopefully up there in Heaven he’s got Buttons, Salem, Spook, Kit Kat, and Stray Grey to keep him company.  And it’s Heaven, so they all get along!

Most men would have gotten angry and frustrated over trying to capture the cat and trying to bury him.  Most men would have yelled or screamed (I can’t said that some profanity didn’t come out of John’s mouth because it probably did).  Many men would have walked away.  Most men wouldn’t have done all of that for a stray cat… his wife’s stray cat on top it.  A cat that ran from him.   But… John wasn’t most men…

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About Mary K. Smith

I was widowed in July 2009, when I lost my beloved husband, John, to melanoma. Cancer SUCKS. We have a young son who was just a year old when his father died. I live on a small farm in Maryland which is home to horses, cats, and a dog. I started this blog as a way for me to heal, a way to remember my husband, and eventually I'd like to share it with our son so he can see the love that his father had for him, the love that we had for each other, what a great person his father was, and how hard his father fought to live.
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One Response to Stray Grey aka Toby

  1. Nikki says:

    This was the sweetest story I ever read about the love of a stray and a person who offered some assistance and comforts for a creature in need. As I read this, I thought about a cat that had picked me. She was a stray that had just turned nine years old. I remember when her mother had her following around on the streets. Last summer after nine years of enjoying her presence someone broke her right leg and hip. I had her put to sleep because she could barely get around. The difference is I didn’t bring her back home. I should have and it bothers me still, seven and a half months later. You did the right thing, he never had anything. at least you gave him a place to lay. I should have done the same thing. I wasn’t thinking until later on after I sat and cried for awhile. Such a beautiful story.

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