A better life for Billy the Bum

22nd Jul, 2020

Written by Lize Müller – co-founder of Feral Cat Assist Heidelberg

Professional photography by Melissa Kruger Photography

I first saw him in January 2019. A skittish and elusive marbled tabby, sitting a distance away from the other feral cats in my large colony, just as a newbie would do. It was only when I trapped him for sterilisation, a few days later, that I discovered he was in fact a tame domestic boy, most likely abandoned at the colony, as so often happens. There was nowhere to go with him; we had no foster home available and shelters were overflowing. It’s not easy finding a home for an adult cat – everyone wants kittens. I had no choice but to return him to the colony, where at least I could watch over him until, hopefully, better days arrived for him. 

So, with his tipped ear to identify him as a sterilised feral cat – his badge of honour, showing that he’s a survivor and that he’s loved and cared for, even if he doesn’t have a home of his own – he was released. As he ran off, he paused to look back at me, and then he disappeared through a fence. Whether I’d see him again, I didn’t know.

The next day at feeding time, there he was, sitting at the gate, watching me with hooded eyes, and so it began. Within mere days, his true personality emerged; a super-affectionate, charming and friendly boy with no shortage of self-confidence, the confidence which I think had been his saving grace to help him stand his ground in a feral colony of 17 strong. When he spotted me, he’d lazily saunter over with a Wild West gunslinger’s swagger; a big burly boy with piercing green eyes. He was Billy, the only name I thought would do.

He was something else. He was jealous and possessive, not allowing any of the colony members near me as he always walked a step ahead of me to ward off any “undesirable” cats who had the cheek to approach me while he was around – my furry bodyguard of sorts. The cats parted like the Red Sea, allowing him through, proudly walking ahead like a king, straight to his feeding spot on a large rock. 

Billy wasn’t mean or a bully, but he did use his size to his advantage to intimidate the others, and he was a little uncertain of how to interact with other cats, inclined to give chase out of excitement when he saw one walking or running past. 

Weeks, months, seasons passed, and Billy was waiting, every single day, my heart always skipping a beat when I saw him walking down from his vantage point, his rock. A quiet, proud and confident boy, chaperoning me as I made my rounds, putting food down until he had his, then I’d leave him behind, hoping he’d be safe out there. I couldn’t take him home as there’s a pet limit in my complex, and all I could do was to hope that someday soon, we’d find his forever home. More than a year passed….

On the evening of the 26th of April 2020, everything changed. Since our national lockdown had started a month before, my husband started accompanying me every afternoon and Billy acquired another fan. Gavin was mad about him, and the feeling was mutual. That evening, our Billy boy didn’t saunter over as he’d always done. Instead, he sat holding his left hind leg up, a swollen paw and leg on which he was putting no weight. And for the first time, he called out to us.

Gavin rushed home to collect a carrier. We easily lifted him, and off we went under the cover of darkness, through deserted streets void of any signs of life, to make him comfortable in our workshop’s bathroom until his vet visit in the morning. Billy was in heaven – he started chirping and chatting, forgetting about his swollen leg and the pain; all he wanted was to cuddle and purr. 

The next morning, we found him snuggled up inside the carrier, nestled into his soft blanket, the very first time in more than a year that he didn’t have to sleep on the ground, or anywhere he could find shelter. He loved it and wouldn’t even bother to get up. When I peeked inside, there was a squeak, and I saw two big tabby paws “making biscuits”... something so simple made him so happy.

Billy, the big, burly tabby boy with the swagger, was making biscuits on his blanket, and I closed the carrier and off we went. He chatted and kneaded the blankie all the way there, and he was so, so good. Nothing broken. It was most likely a bee or scorpion sting, and he had to be watched for a day and then returned to the street. A happy boy, memories afresh of love and affection, a soft bed and safety, had to go back into the feral colony.

I couldn’t do it. So, in an economic climate ruled by uncertainty about what the future holds, and a time during which it’s not even possible to find forever homes for cute little kittens, we decided to do the impossible, to find a home for this boy. Because you see, someone who’d spent more than a year living outside, homeless, in a feral colony where he was dumped, in the pouring rain and freezing cold, hadn’t forgotten what it was like to be loved and what it was to belong. 

Right there in the workshop, I photographed him, on my husband’s lap where he wanted to stay, and his adoption appeal went out on Facebook. An appeal to find the person this boy had been waiting for – that person to love him as he should be loved.

A day later, her mail was there in my inbox... she said that Billy was meant to be hers. Her name was Bianca Breytenbach. A miracle was happening for Billy, his wish was coming true, and a cat with a personality larger than life and a heart just as big, big enough to forget that someone abandoned him, big enough to love again and be loved, was finally going home.

I still look for you every night, your rock is empty now… but my heart is full, overflowing with gratitude for what you’ve made happen for Billy. Thank you, Bianca, may he bring you only happiness, forever and a day.

Bianca Breytenbach, Billy’s new owner, shares…

Billy captured my heart from the moment I read his story on Facebook. I enquired about Billy the following day and was pleased to be informed that our house might be a good fit for him. Lize and Jenni from Heidelberg Feral Cat Assist were very professional and helpful during Billy’s adoption process. They kept me updated throughout the process and took incredibly good care of Billy until we could finally pick him up. The challenges of the lockdown didn’t hinder Heidelberg Feral Cat Assist from finding the best homes for the cats that they’re helping. They’re truly remarkable women for devoting so much care to helpless and abandoned cats.

At first, Billy was very skittish and hid behind the mirror in the main bedroom. However, he’s very inquisitive and quickly started to roam the house and found his favourite nap spots. After a week, he began exploring the garden and now enjoys daily garden rounds and rolling in the dirt.

I call him Billy the Bum, as there are two positive meanings for the word “Bum”. The first meaning is “travel with no particular purpose”, and second, “devoting a great deal of time to a specific activity”. Therefore, Billy the Bum’s life has changed from bumming around the feral colony (travelling with no purpose) to becoming a cuddle bum (devoting most of his time towards cuddling with his new family). Billy spends his days filled with lots of relaxing inside and outside the house, with loads of cuddles, and yes, he still has his gunslinger swag… I mean, he does own the house now!

Turns out that not just our home but our hearts were indeed a good fit for Billy, as his calm energy and loveable nature fill our home and hearts with so much joy. We love him deeply.