Nancy, who lives in Hillsborough and Rocky Mount, NC and takes care of so many stray animals on her farm, contributed this recent piece about the frustrations that can come with people’s troubles–and to ask for readers’ suggestions for help!
I’m writing this story not because I want to say, hey look at me I’m a good person, but because I’m upset about what is happening and don’t know what to do. First, the back story.
When I built my house in 1984 at the end of a dead-end road that was mostly inhabited or owned by members of one family (who resembled the Hatfield’s and McCoy’s), there was one odd bird on the road, a gentle man named Jay, who took walks on the road with his mother and her twin. The threesome occasionally ended up outside my house to see the progress on my house and talk. Jay had a small antique store on the main road and traveled to buy inventory, while his mother and aunt tended the store. Jay lived upstairs in the store, and his mother and aunt lived in a small farm house on the adjacent lot.
They had cats.
Aunt Caroline developed breast cancer at some point, and Jay moved into the farm house to help care for her. She died after being ill for seven years.
The cats multiplied.
Then Jay’s mother developed Alzheimer’s. One day, as I was driving by, there seemed to be a swirl of cats in the yard, so I called Jay to ask him if he needed help getting them fixed. Yes, he said, he would be so grateful, since he was too busy caring for his mother. I caught some of the kittens and found them homes, taking two of them to my house, where they still live, and we focused our attention on the breeding females.
There were about thirty cats in all, and they were essentially feral, but they all had names. There were a lot of Henry’s (the eighth, the sixth, etc.). I would take two cat carriers down and leave them on the front porch. When Jay came out to feed them, he would catch two and call me. I would then bring them to my house to spend the night, taking them first thing in the morning to be fixed and get shots. Things went along pretty smoothly–except for the time that one calico talked me into letting her out of her carrier inside my greenhouse, and I realized I had essentially let out a wild squirrel!
Jay’s favorite cat was his beloved Cappy, an all-white sweetheart who would sit by his mother’s window and watch her. He told me about her mother, Happy, who had been killed on the highway, but that’s another story.
One day, I noticed that the license plate on Jay’s van was gone, and I called him to ask how he and his mother were getting food. Apparently, food arrived randomly when a nurse came by to see his mother. I offered to get them food, and thus began several years of grocery shopping for Jay. Weekly, Jay would give me a list, confounding me with his memory for detail, asking for things such as one particular red wine vinegar. I became a better shopper, paying more attention to prices. Jay and I would talk on the phone about what he was preparing for his mother, and I would tell him that he should write a cookbook for caregivers. To keep her weight up, he would get real butter, whole milk and ice cream. He’d make her omelets and give her lots of vegetables. She deteriorated despite his care. Sometimes I could hear her yelling from inside the house.
I began to feed the cats too. Jay was now suffering from rheumatoid arthritis and was having a hard time. His mother was staying up all night—and Jay with her. He became the classic case of the caregiver going downhill with the patient. He started pushing a chair in front of him to help him walk.
I would leave the groceries at the front door, and he’d get them sometime during the night. I started leaving the food in insulated coolers after seeing it a few times still sitting there on the porch in the morning.
Hospice started showing up every now and then, but Jay’s mother, nourished by all that good food, kept on living, and Hospice eventually stopped coming. The county sent the occasional helper, but Jay said he discovered one helper going through his dressers and stealing, so he would never let anyone come again.
Occasionally, Jay would be talked into hospitalizing his mother, and the doctors would suggest all sorts of tests that Jay would refuse.
Jay’s cousin lived across the street from him, but he and his wife never came to help, even though Jay’s mother had cared for this cousin’s father, her dying brother, year’s earlier.
It made Jay resentful, but Jay had other issues with this cousin. When the father was dying, this cousin had promised to restore the old home place, prompting the father to leave it to him in his will. This same cousin promptly had bulldozed it and put a trailer in its place.
All this time, I was juggling being in Hillsborough, at my farm, helping Jay, and going back to be with my husband in Rocky Mount. I tried automatic feeders for the cats that dispensed food three times a day. Some nocturnal thief kept turning them over and emptying them. I barricaded the feeders with cinder blocks and hardware cloth, but it was an ongoing battle.
For seven years, Jay’s mother was bedridden.
Then, one day in August, Jay called, upset that Cappy was missing. I tried to reassure him that she would show up. Then Jay called back to say there was a terrible smell coming from under the house. I went over to see. I could see Cappy’s little body near the back of the house, close enough for me to pull her out with a rake. I called Jay and told him.
He told me his mother had just died.
You would think that things could not get worse. You would be wrong.
I drove Jay and his cousins to the funeral and gave Jay a picture of Cappy to slip into his mother’s coffin. Jay looked good but had difficulty walking. We went through a drive-through restaurant on the way home and took a little tour of Hillsborough. It was the first time Jay had been out in years. He was ghostly pale.
The routine resumed. I fed the cats twice a day and bought Jay’s groceries, leaving them on the front porch. Jay was depressed and lost without his mother–and mourning Cappy.
I did Jay’s banking, which up until then had consisted of keeping track of his mother’s social security check. I ran errands. I mowed the yard. The house was crumbling around him, and it was leaky and cold, so I put plastic on the windows. I tried to put plastic around the openings in the foundation, but the pipes froze. The insulation in the house was nonexistent, and there was a hole in the roof. You could see termite damage in the siding. I got Jay a little electric-heated shawl at Costco. He called it a lifesaver.
Without the impetus to care for his mother, Jay started going downhill. I wondered how much of the food I brought actually got prepared and eaten. Jay paid me $25 every time I would go to the grocery store. I didn’t want the fee, but there was no use arguing with him, so I put it toward cat food.
Sometime in March of this past year, Jay fell and couldn’t get up. He refused to let me come into the house and began scooting around the house on his back. I called social services, and they came to the house and called him, but he refused to let them come in. Without his consent, they said there was nothing they could do. It was obvious that he couldn’t get to the door to get the food any more. He finally let me come in the back door, where I saw a caved-in ceiling, water damage and mold. I was allowed to come as far as a curtain at the kitchen and leave the food.
I sometimes felt like I was talking to the Wizard of Oz. Jay talked about how he couldn’t get into his bed and how his back hurt from being on the floor. I brought a thick mat and slipped it through the curtain. I got one of those automotive dollies to see if he could push himself around on it, but he couldn’t get it over the door sills, so I brought a rolling computer chair, but he couldn’t get in it.
I wanted to call his cousins, but he was adamant against it. I began cooking for him and leaving the food there but also pressuring him to call for help.
Finally, this past September, he called 911. They came and took him to the hospital. He weighed a mere 100 pounds. When I visited Jay at the hospital, I didn’t know what to expect, but he looked relatively good, and he was cheery. Amazingly, the doctors could find nothing wrong with him—other than starvation–and signs that he had broken something in his knee when he’d fallen. He probably stayed in the hospital 12 weeks before they could find a rehabilitation home for him.
Did I say rehabilitation? It was more like a hell hole, worse than “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest.” It was in the next town over, and Jay shared a room with an ever-changing population, many of them needing to be in mental hospitals. When not tied down, one roommate would crawl around on the floor at night under Jay’s bed. There was a woman across the hall who screamed rhythmically all day long. One roommate had an alarm on the bed that went off every time he got out of bed, which was often.
There was no rehabilitation.
Jay was desperate. He wanted to get out of there, but that was not easy. The state was involved now, and the cousins were trying to get him on disability, but he hadn’t worked in 14 years, other than care taking for his mother, so he had no income. I’m not sure what programs he finally got on, maybe Medicaid, but at any rate he wanted out of there.
After being there for maybe three months, Jay moved to an apartment in Hillsborough. It seemed miraculous that he was there. Apparently the cousins helped arrange it. I’m not sure what the arrangement between them was, but Jay was finally in a clean, warm place, with Meals on Wheels coming by and a helper from the state to clean up and shop for him.
But he still wasn’t happy.
He wanted to get back out to the country. He told me the cousin was after him, trying to get his house. I was still feeding the cats at the house twice a day. Jay was in a wheelchair, and there was talk of his getting rehab, but to go into Chapel Hill was too grueling for him, and nothing seemed to work out locally. I tried to get him to go to the local senior center, which provided transportation. I even offered to meet him there. He’s a stubborn man, and, although so lonely, he refused.
He became obsessed with getting back out to his house. I reminded him of the cold and the deterioration–and that he wouldn’t get any services out there. It got to the point where he said that he would rather be out there on the floor than where he was. I saw less of him, mostly, I confess, because it became so draining to hear the same complaints, over and over.
This past week he called, in a panic. He wanted me to drive down to his house and check on the cats. I did and reassured him that they were fine. I knew they were, since another neighbor and I have been feeding them–and I will continue to feed them. There are nine left, plus a maverick who has tried to join the group.
When I saw him last week, I noticed that something had shifted. I’d taken some food by, but instead of smiling and being pleased at the company, he looked angry and stressed. He would not tell me anything. This week, he told me he’d given his house to his cousin, but he was afraid of what was going to happen to the cats. I was shocked and asked if the cousin had paid him for it. Even though the house wasn’t worth anything, the two and a half acres of land under it were. The answer was no. Did he sign something? Yes. Did he have a copy of it? No. (Years before, a “friend” had basically stolen the antique store from Jay, paying him a pittance for it. Jay had been shocked when he asked me about land values, but he was so ensconced in care taking that he hadn’t questioned the sale.)
Jay told me he was confused and didn’t know what he’d done. I told him he needed to call a lawyer, but I don’t think he will. I called an old friend of his, a retired nurse/pastor, who is herself disabled, and she called him just to give moral support. I called protective services, who speculated that there was some deal between Jay and the cousins to cover the cost of his apartment in exchange for the house. They were going to call him, but I know he is very distrustful of them. So, I called an 80-year-old cousin of his in Florida, Jean, who seemed to be the only relative who had ever given a hoot about him. Bingo. She told me that she and another cousin, Bobby, a 59-year-old whom she had never met before, had driven up from Florida to visit Jay the week before. Jay had called the other cousin and offered her everything in his house, so she’d decided to come up and see what was there. Jean, suspicious about Bobby’s motives but appreciative of the ride, had come along. They’d visited with Jay, then gone out to see the house, meeting the cousins from across the road. They’d been appalled at the condition of the house, and Bobby had taken digital pictures of everything and gone back to see Jay and show him how bad the condition of the house was. They’d convinced him that he should give the house to the cousins across the street because those cousins had said they would restore the house for Jay to return to.
So, as things turned out, the good cousins had railroaded him with good intentions, not knowing the history of the cousins across the street. They didn’t know the story of the bulldozing of the old homeplace, which had been in far better condition than Jay’s house. The male cousin had had papers drawn up before, when Jay was first taken to the hospital, and Jay had refused to sign his house over to him, but this time, the cousin had run home to get the papers, and Jay had signed.
Jean told me there was talk of moving Jay to a “retirement” home, where he could have his own room but be around other people.
I’m afraid for Jay. I’m afraid that if there is some arrangement about the apartment and the house, the cousins will quit paying for the apartment as soon as the house is in their name. I know there is no way they will restore it for Jay to return home to, although that is their song and dance. I called them and was reassured that the cats were fine to stay there, but I fear for them, too. I mostly fear Jay will be put back into another hell hole. My urging Jay to get a lawyer just upset him, so I called and apologized to him and tried to reassure him that the cats were fine.
But I feel like a lamb is being led to slaughter.
I feel helpless.