Sometimes doing a little good is the best course

Published 12:00 am Friday, July 16, 2004

Yellow Cat and I have seen altruism morph into its own version of a welfare state.

We have seen that change the relationship between the giver and the recipient, and neither of us has been very comfortable with it.

Yellow Cat is not my cat, but I have been feeding him for some time now, and when he has gotten sick, I have paid for his medical care. He does not regard that as giving me a claim on his life.

Email newsletter signup

Yellow Cat – we didn’t hang that name/description on him until later – lurked around our area for a long time before we established a relationship. He was skinny, his fur was matted, and it was obvious that he had no home. He ranged widely.

I began putting out a dish of food, first in the driveway and then at the end of our side deck. Yellow Cat came to eat when I retreated to the house. Eventually, he abandoned the caution born of experience and he began rubbing against my leg at feeding time and letting me scratch his ears.

No long ago, though, as Yellow Cat was lounging on the settee on the side deck, I noticed an open wound near his rear leg. It obviously needed attention.

Yellow Cat did not want to be caught and placed in the cat carrier, but eventually I prevailed. After the vet patched him up, Yellow Cat had to wear a collar to keep him from gnawing at his stitches. He couldn’t live outdoors wearing the device, so we confined him to an extra bathroom until the stitches and collar were removed. He was freed, and things continued as before, with him showing up at the door morning and evening.

In recent weeks I noticed that Yellow Cat was not eating much from his dish and was in general making himself scarce, but I attributed that to our having so many visitors around.

On July 4, I saw Yellow Cat’s tail protruding from the small opening at the end of the steps from the side deck to the door. It’s a place where he often takes refuge. I tweaked his tail, but there was no response. I did it again, and the tail twitched very, very slowly and lay still again.

I grabbed a hammer and a crow bar to pry up the step. As pried, I could see Yellow Cat lying on his side, barely moving. Ordinarily the hammering would have propelled him from under the step like a shot.

He didn’t resist when I picked him up and put him in the cat carrier. I put some water before him and he lapped it up for the long time.

That Monday, I took Yellow Cat to the veterinarian’s office. He stayed there two nights awaiting the blood test that showed an infection but no other serious ailments. When I collected Yellow Cat, the vet gave me a bottle of antibiotics to administer twice a day.

We still had guests, so I couldn’t confine Yellow Cat in the house.

The first couple of days when he came to his food dish he allowed me to pick him up and squirt medicine down his throat. As he began to feel better, though, he was less agreeable. He’d peer through the glass door at feeding time, but he would retreat when I brought the dish out.

That’s when the welfare state mentality took over.

“No medicine, no food,” I said and took the dish inside.

He continued to show up every day at meal time, but he wouldn’t let me catch him. I would sit on the step by the dish and he would sit at the end of the deck watching.

I would wait; he would wait. Then I would take the dish inside.

I have invested considerable money in a cat’s health care, and I know what is good for him better than he does, just as I often know what is good for other people better than they do themselves. But cats and people don’t always want to do what we think is best for them.

I realized that what had started as a charitable impulse was turning into an effort to control and that Yellow Cat was not willing to trade food for freedom.

So if I can, I will give Yellow Cat his medicine. If I can’t, though, I won’t stop putting his food dish out.. Sometimes you have to do what little good you can instead of what you think the larger good would be.

Bill Brown can be contacted at 377 Quail Hollow Drive, Dadeville AL 36853 or by e-mail at

(c)2004 William B. Brown