Saving Orange Roughy

Hi everyone,

Please find below a very sad story with a happy ending for most of the cats by Jennifer Barraclough




In the year 2000, after moving from England to New Zealand with my husband and two cats, I volunteered as a foster parent for a feline charity. I was given a litter of four delightful rescue kittens to look after over Christmas. They soon became very playful and active and one day, before going out for an hour or so, I made the mistake of giving them the run of the house instead of leaving them locked in their room. I shut all the windows but did not think to lock the cat flap, because they were far too small to be able to reach it.

We came home to find the hallway smeared with blood, fur and excrement. The black and white male kitten was collapsed on the floor, blood oozing from his neck. The grey and white female kitten was missing, and later we found her dead body in the back garden. Over the next few days and nights we did our best to cope with the aftermath of the tragedy. The local veterinary clinic was closed for the holiday, and I nursed the injured kitten at home as he hovered between life and death. At least the two black kittens, and our two adult cats, were unharmed.

Nobody had witnessed the attack, but all our neighbours were certain that the culprit was the big ginger tom who lived on the wild hillside behind our house. Having been abandoned when his owners moved away he had become feral, and was notorious for getting into local houses, frightening other cats and eating their food.

Most people favored the death penalty for this tom, but I wanted to give him another chance, because his situation was no fault of his own and he had only been obeying his instincts by killing the offspring of another male. One of the local vets agreed to help. We borrowed a possum trap, baited it with fish, and left it overnight. The huge angry orange cat was lashing and growling inside the trap next morning. He was taken to the clinic to be castrated and given an anti-androgen injection. We named him Orange Roughy (O.R.) – a pun on the name of a local fish. A few days later he was released into our back garden and fled up the hillside, not to be seen again for some time.

Meanwhile the injured kitten, who had been getting better, was less well. He slept most of the day and when he tried to walk he just flopped on all fours. The diagnosis became clear when an abscess appeared on his head; after having it drained and receiving antibiotics he began to improve, but remained wobbly and frail. The animal charity said there was no chance of rehoming him; it was proving difficult enough to place his two healthy sisters, for there were so many unwanted kittens that year and black ones were “out of fashion”. I gladly adopted him myself, and named him Felix.

I continued to leave food out for O.R. Eventually he started coming into the garden for meals. Then he started sleeping on the lawn. Then he let me stroke him. And then he started to follow me around like a dog, coming into the house and settling down on my lap with loud purrs whenever he got the chance. But the more attached he grew to me, the more hostile he became towards our other cats – terrifying the two adults, and posing a further threat to the vulnerable Felix.

O.R. needed a home where he was the only pet, but nobody seemed to want him, and all the animal shelters were full. The vet who had done so much for us advised that euthanasia was the only option now. I prayed for a miracle, and over Easter it happened. I heard that a woman from a remote part of Waiheke Island was looking for a ginger tom because her old one had died.

O.R. settled well in his new home. Felix made a full recovery and lived another fourteen years.

Jennifer Barraclough

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13 thoughts on “Saving Orange Roughy

  1. macalder02 says:

    A story of nuances that, as you say, had a happy ending. Felix was lucky to have you after the tragedy and OR found a home to suit you. A fascinating story

    • Marc-André says:

      In the U.K. especially black cats find it difficult to be rehomed. Not just because of superstition but because people think they are too difficult to take photos of… I say get a better camera and practice your skills to that rubbish.

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