My tomcat, the fighter

July 31, 2019

One fine day, our contributor fell in love with a scruffy, abandoned alley cat. Nearly a decade later, she shares their touching story.

Every morning, when he’d come in from his busy nighttime escapades, he’d go straight into my room, jump up onto the bed where I pretended to sleep, sprawl his 5-kilogram heft over my chest and stretch out his paw to lay it down gently on my chin. When I’d open my eyes, he’d be staring at me as if to say: “You see, I came back, yet again.” That was one of my favourite times of day.

Regalito and his favorite human share a precious moment.

He was a tough cat. I adopted him when he was about 2 years old, while I was at the vet’s with my black cat, Cat Benatar. “I’ve got a tomcat here that I can’t keep. His owner left him with me. He was in bad shape after being in a mean fight and she said that she didn’t want to pay for the surgery he needed,” my vet told me. “So, I operated on him at my own expense and I’m looking for someone to adopt him. Would you be interested?” When she showed me this stocky tabby with one torn ear, my heart melted. Without another thought, I said “I’ll take him” and promised to come get him in 2 weeks, after my vacation in Spain. As a matter of fact, it was in a grocery store in Barcelona that I came up with his name: the cashier asked me if I wanted a regalito with my purchase, handing me a scented candle. This lovely word means “little present”.

Regalito lived with us, shall we say, part-time, for 5 years. I say “part-time” because what he loved most was to be outside. In winter, he’d sit inside totally depressed until the mercury rose just enough for him to get back outside and rule the busy feline world of Limoilou in Quebec City. All the neighbours knew him. Some of them fed him, to my dismay, as he was getting dangerously fat! In short, he shone in his role of neighbourhood mascot.

The explorer returns home exhausted from his nocturnal escapades.

Then one morning in May of 2016, there was no soft paw on my chin. Nor the next day. We looked for him, called him, all to no avail. After 3 days of worry, Regalito finally came home one Friday evening, visibly ill and thin. He went straight upstairs to lie down on our bed and stayed there the entire weekend. He wasn’t even interested in food. That Monday, I took him to the vet who diagnosed him with a liver infection. She also recommended running a blood test for leukemia and FIA. “Leukemia and what?” I asked. “Feline AIDS. It’s not uncommon in aggressive cats, especially if they come into contact with strays. It’s transmitted through their bites.”

He tested positive.

I was completely stunned. The disease, which isn’t transmittable to humans or other type of animals (just cats), is incurable, I was told. Just like human HIV, feline immunodeficiency virus (FIA) is a retrovirus that weakens the immune system. A cat can carry FIA for up to 3 years before showing any symptoms, meaning, recurring infections. Regalito could live a few months, or even years, but he’d have to be isolated from other cats to avoid infecting them. But because of his adventuresome and active personality, keeping him indoors was inconceivable. He’d have been utterly miserable—especially since we’d have to lock him in a separate room to keep Cat Benatar, with whom he sometimes squabbled, from getting sick (we had Cat Benatar tested as well, and luckily, she tested negative for FIA). Because his liver infection was serious and his future looked grim, we decided to have him euthanized the following Wednesday.

Regalito takes a much-needed rest before leaving on what will be his longest journey.

I’ve cried many tears for Regalito since then. But I’ve also adopted 2 more cats. The nighttime escapades are over, however. My cats now go outside on leashes and under supervision. Regalito’s tragic demise has made me reconsider the importance I gave to cats roaming freely outside. The deadly potential consequences far outweigh any advantages.

Regalito is buried under the big pine tree behind my house, where I hang my hammock in the summertime. Every time I go lie there, I stretch my arm down to the ground and touch the spot where he rests—a gesture he knows well.

Read tomorrow: How to prevent FIA

Photo credits: Personal collection


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