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Hershey is Gone

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Hershey, the last feral cat at my building, has died. I wanted to believe that I was overreacting to her symptoms, especially when I saw her meandering around the property for a couple of weeks after she’d first seemed sick, but I was right to be worried. I started to count days, since the weekend, that I had not seen her around, hoping that I just wasn’t looking closely enough. But then I saw her outdoor house, a box covered in a blue tarp, removed from the alcove next to my neighbor’s apartment, and wrapped up to be taken away.

I asked the maintenance man, sitting on the steps at the last building, if he knew why Hershey’s house was wrapped up, and he said that Hershey had died, and my neighbor had asked him to pack up the cat house because she wouldn’t need it anymore, and maybe because she didn’t want the reminder.

I started sobbing as soon as I got into my apartment. But I was also very, very angry, at my neighbor for not seeking medical help for Hershey when her symptoms began, and at myself, for not confronting her or trying to trap Hershey myself to get her to the doctor.

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I’ve been told that there used to be fifteen feral cats on the property, and the lawns were dotted with dead mice (and these are the same people who are worried about my dogs peeing on the grass?). One of my neighbors was proactive about trapping the cats, to get them spayed and neutered, and intervening with new litters as soon as possible to get the kittens adopted out if at all possible. He supports a group called Alley Cat Allies based in Washington, DC that advocates for trapping and neutering programs, and helps fund one nearby. He also personally rescued cats that could not survive the feral life, and sought medical care for them whenever possible. Maybe it was all of his work, or just a change in the neighborhood, but by the time Mom and I had moved in, there were only two or three feral cats left. It was hard to tell, actually, because a bunch of my neighbors had indoor/outdoor cats as well, and left front doors or window open for the cats to go wandering on their own schedules, but eventually there were just two, Gimpy and Hershey.

And now there are none.

I’m supposed to be grateful that Hershey lived as long as she did, and as well as she did, as a feral cat. I’m supposed to be philosophical about her death. “That’s nature,” the maintenance man told me, with a shrug. “She wouldn’t have been able to tolerate a visit to the vet, or the medical care required,” another said.

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I worry that Hershey caught whatever illness killed Gimpy (the second to last feral cat, who died a month ago, at age thirteen), or that, even worse, someone put out poison that killed both cats, and my dogs might be vulnerable as well.

Before the blue tarp-wrapped cat house was removed from the lawn behind the building, the girls had a chance to sniff their goodbyes to Hershey. They took a long time, checking each crevice, seeming to recognize her smell, and her story, in each corner.

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“Hershey has to be here somewhere.”

There are still squirrels, and raccoons, and birds and, of course the dogs, around the place. But there is no more Hershey. I’d gotten used to having her around, and spying her through the greenery of the retaining wall. I’m not used to her being gone. I keep looking for her, everywhere.

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About rachelmankowitz

I am a fiction writer, a writing coach, and an obsessive chronicler of my dogs' lives.

189 responses »

  1. The only reason I ‘liked’ this is because it is such a beautiful good-bye to Hershey. I hope your girls continue to sniff their good-byes to her, Rachel. People can say what they want about feral cats; but they are still cats that we can love. And as long as there are people who put out food and shelter, all the Hershey’s and Gimpy’s in the world will continue to be loved and then grieved. Rest in peace, sweet Hershey.

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  2. hairytoegardener

    Oh that made me cry. You loved Hershey and THAT matters, even if you didn’t touch her, and she wasn’t personally your cat. You cared. It mattered. She was loved and cared about from afar.

    I pray for the little animals I come into contact with at the shelter. I tell God to hold them and love them when they die, and many do die from parvo, which is rampant. You may not believe animals have souls and that’s okay if you don’t. We don’t all have to have the same belief.

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  3. Very sad to hear about Hershey. 😢

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  4. Oh that is so sad. It is so nice that others took such an interest in them.I love cats and since I can’t have one (due to allergies) I am so grateful that there are feral cats around.

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  5. RIP Hershey I am sure he is rolling in catnip.

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  6. Moving story. Thanks for sharing it. The life of semi-feral Cats is not a great one. Sounds like Hershey had a much better life than most….

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  7. RIP Hershey. This is so sad. I hope she had a good life.

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  8. I’ll bet that there will soon be a new feral cat. That’s the nature of population kinetics. Where I once worked we had a large population of feral cats who lived under the sewer grates. Our catch and neuter program stabilized the population but they all loved the canned tuna that our many volunteers supplied. And all the feral cats had names.

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    • I know that there’s a feral cat community a few blocks away from us, but they are well fed where they are (and they’ve been spayed and neutered), so I may have to go visit them where they hang out.

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  9. So sorry to hear that you lost your friend Hershey, but I also believe that cats have souls, and that she’s in a warm loving place.

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  10. she was such pretty cat….

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  11. I am so very sorry Rachel. Even feral cats are connected to everything, somehow. Nature abhors a vacuum. Please tell Cricket and Butterfly how sorry I am.

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  12. I have cried when Lexi killed a baby bird, and I had never seen it before. You saw dear Hershey about every day, so I know it must be painful. Not every feral cat has someone to grieve for them. Hopefully Hershey is in a better place. Oh, and I, too, hope it wasn’t poison!

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  13. I am saddened to read of Hershey’s passing Rachel. Our house has three rescued cats that my husband looks after, along with a pet sheep that was born in the abattoir, two dogs and a rescued sparrow who has the life of royalty. I grieve for all the animals that life a marginal life around humans. At least Hershey was loved which is what all our animals need.

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    • Your house sounds wonderful and full of life!

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      • You betcha! Full of the “right” variety of animal – the four legged variety which never lets you down and always loves you and accepts you regardless of your skin colour or creed. I love animals a lot and so does my husband. They are our constant companions and I cannot imagine a house without animals at all.

    • That’s a succinct and apt way of putting it, “I grieve for all animals that have a marginal life around humans.” I do too. I always put my arms around my kitties just a little tighter when I read tales like this one. Of course, they don’t like it. They’re cats! And then I remember and let go.

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  14. I’m so sorry about Hershey Rachel, I know how you loved her silent company outside. I’m sure Cricket and Butterfly are giving you extra kisses. Hugs

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  15. I hear your heart breaking for her. No words will change that, just I am sorry for your loss. I sincerely hope it isn’t poison and that your dogs aren’t at risk.

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  16. I am so sorry Rachel- such a sad ending. Sending hugs to you

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  17. I am sorry Rachel… We get attached to these sweet silent furry friends.. who live their lives, not in the best circumstances. When we moved away from Ca. we left behind four feral kittens that were born next door and it broke my heart.. Take care my friend…

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  18. I’m sorry you are having to go through this – we lost our Amber kitty who was about 17 last Friday and it hurts. She was an indoor cat all of her life unlike dear Hershey. You honor Hershey by sharing her story and what you learned so there can be more happy endings to these kinds of stories for feral cats. The life of a feral cat can be really rough, as you’ve witnessed. May be there is a way you can honor her tangibly – help with rescue, foster or spade and neuter operations of feral colonies. You’ll sort it out! Much love to you – you are a kinded soul !!

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  19. I’m sorry she’s gone. Every life, every creature, counts even if feral. I’m glad someone took care of her as long as they did, but the lack of medical care for her is disappointing. How sad.

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  20. Three Pups and a Couple of Kitties

    I’m so sorry Rachel.

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  21. I’m so sorry, Rachel. The price of caring is the pain when tragedy strikes. You are a very caring and compassionate person, and I hope you never lose that.

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  22. Aw. How sad. Sending hugs your way.

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  23. ramblingsofaperforatedmind

    Animal rescue ppl are heroes….thank you for loving the feral cats and valuing them.

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  24. So very sorry for your loss. Very sweet pictures. I’m glad you have the dogs to keep you company and give you some comfort during this time.

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  25. I am very sad to hear about Hershey. I am sure she knew you loved her. Benji is sending puppy kisses to you, Cricket and Butterfly.

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  26. I am so sorry to hear about Hershey, but through you, we all knew her and she was part of our story too. You wrote about her and took photographs of her – she became part of us and how many Manhattan Feral Cats have their story told in far away Australia or Europe, or other parts of the world. Thank you for the tears you shed for her. By your care, concern posts and photographs, she will, for a time, remain with all of us.

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  27. I’m sorry… Life sucks sometimes! The life of a feral cat is a hard one. Not many can say that people grieved over them. That’s something that Hershey has 💚

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  28. I am sad that Hershey has passed away. It takes time to get used to loss… Keep your girls safe: who knows what happened… Sending hugs.

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  29. Sad to hear she passed. She was such a sweet adorable looking girl. My heart’s with you.

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  30. So sad Rachel, but Hershey is out of pain and in a far better place. Pets, even if they’re not ours, leave a hole simply by not being there to occupy a familiar space. RIP puss.

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  31. So sorry you have lost a special friend. RIP sweet Hershey.

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  32. Feral cats have a very hard life. It is so sad :(. Very sorry for your loss. I very recently had to take a feral mom and her litter to the shelter. I cried all day. But, there are so many and a lot of them hang in our big yard since we have tons of hiding places, such as grape vines and shrubs. The owner of our house was getting very annoyed at all of the cats and one neighbor was not happy at all of “our” cats. They were threatening to get rid of them, and in a not so nice way. But, do you think anyone would help catch and fix them? Nope. Such a sad thing for these feral cats.

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    • It’s horrible. If these people had to watch as they “got rid” of each cat, maybe they wouldn’t be so facile about killing living things. I’m so sorry.

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    • It’s true. Both of my cats came to me as a result of a capture program. Volunteers in the area captured cats, gave them medical care, then adopted them out. My first was Charlie at 6 months old. As an almost grown feral, he’s still skittish, but Chloe was a 3 week old whose mother died. Both cats would have died, but we have been a family for nearly 15 years now.

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  33. Sometimes the losses seem to come in waves – like yours have this year. The baby moves, the cats are gone…I feel for you, Rachel. I understand your weeping. Maybe Hershey simply didn’t want to go on without Gimpy. That can happen, too.
    I am so sorry.

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  34. Such a lovely, well written story. You have such a big heart. Thanks for sharing. My sympathies.

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  35. So sad Hershey is gone. I think they are reunited in the cat heaven where no more sickness or pain.

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  36. You cared, and that is the main thing here. When cats leave us every shadow and flicker of light becomes feline; maybe they always live there.

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  37. I am so sorry for your loss:( Cats are adorable

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  38. So sad! (っ- ‸ – ς) RIP, Hershey!

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  39. So sad when our furry friends go away. Sorry for the loss in your life. They were blessed to have you caring about and for them.

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  40. Oh that is so sad. It is never a good time to lose a Cat or indeed any other loved one, though I am bias and have to say Cats are very special and so it is doubly sad.

    Looking on the bright side, if that is at all possible in circumstances such as these, there are plenty of other feral Cats who will be more than ready to set into Hershey’s footprints at the feeding bowl, especially as winter is coming.

    You are a very caring person and this Cat wishes that there were just a few more people like you, because feral Cats and others need nice, caring, compassionate folk er… like you!

    Purrs,

    The Cat

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  41. Thanks for tracking the lives of these animals, and of yours. The world is a richer place because their memories can be marked and their little lives grieved. In the end, what more could anyone ask?

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  42. Like you, I was worried when you described the symptoms of Hershey’s illness. And wondered if someone couldn’t trap her and get her to a vet. But feral cats are nobody’s ‘property’ and it’s difficult for some to justify spending any money or time on such expenses. Hershey apparently had a good life for a feral, daily regular food, shelter and kindness from those she chose to allow near to her. You were part of the kindness, so remember that and the beauty and sweetness of kitty, not her demise and the hole that is now there where she was. This week has been difficult for many, my neighbor’s husband died on Friday – unexpectedly. He was 65. I’m watching her struggle with grief and trying to figure out what she’ll do now, they were married almost 45 years (would have been 45 in December). I know firsthand what she’s going through and so I’ve tried to be there for her, to listen to the stories, have kleenex for the tears and food for the body. Death is never easy nor acceptable, BUT. I believe in an afterlife – a place of peace where cats may roam free without worry about traps and poison and terror. We humans should hope for a place that good. Me? I’ll be with my many four-foots when I go, there are several waiting for me now, of this I’m certain. Else it won’t be heaven and it would be hell. I hope you find solace in your babies today – hug them and rejoice that they are still here.

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  43. I’m so sorry to hear this sad news. It is always difficult to say goodbye to a dear friend.

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  44. Sniffing good bye is a good way to acknowledge her life. Sadly, we can not save them all.

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  45. So very sorry for your loss. Feral cats that are part of the neighborhood sure are a special part of our lives — we name them too. We’ll never forget the sad July Fourth weekend that Buttons got hit by a car. Everyone in the neighborhood bonded over his death.

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  46. There are too many coyotes here to have feral cats. It’s a dangerous world out there. A former neighbor had a cat that snuck out of the house-gone.

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  47. So sad, Rachel. They are from another world: feral cats. Pip

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