A FURRY FRIEND: Scruffy was the name I gave to the marmalade cat with the black smudged nose that had started hanging around cautiously in my garden. It was thinner than thin and spat at me when I tried to approach it.

It seemed to listen, though, when I spoke to it and gradually stopped running away but crouched and growled at a safe distance instead.

I had begun putting food down for it from day one. At first it would wait for me to go back indoors and close the door and then crawl out on its bell,. constantly looking around and pausing as it approached the bowl.

It would take mouthfuls of food away with it to eat under cover of the hedge or the under belly of the car on the drive.

Gradually, it began coming towards me as I dished out the food. Then over the weeks it began to eat while I sat near the bowl, but always growling a warning.

At first it wore a collar and I was bewildered by this. It if belonged to someone, why did they not feed it? Could they not see it was far too thin? One day it turned up without its collar and it was never replaced. I assumed the cat had run away or been abandoned and continued to feed the timid but ferociously independent little cat.

Over the weeks it allowed me to stroke it while it ate, and eventually I picked it up. It growled with indignation but gradually over time it got used to being handled and even appeared to enjoy the cwtches and stroking, although it never purred.

Before long, the little cat was on the doorstep first thing in the morning and when I got home from work. It even got used to its name and had started trotting over to me when I called Scruffy.

It became a familiar fixture and I grew very fond of it. I realised it was too feral to ever be a proper' domesticated cat, but we both seemed happy with our situation.

Still concerned over the cat's thinness, I wormed it and although this calmed the slavish eating, it did not fill out very much ever. I began to wonder if there maybe something a lot more wrong with Scruffy than just common worms.

One night I found it shivering on the doorstep and brought it into the kitchen. As soon as I closed the door it rebelled insanely and began pacing and meowing strongly demanding to be let out.

I released it and realised it would never be caged - it was not what it wanted, even though it could be warm and dry.

Then, talking to my neighbour one day, she revealed that she had been feeding Scruffy too and we expressed our concerns about its health and well being.

One issue that came up was that Scruffy was a girl and we could not possibly allow her to have kittens. Secondly, Scruffy had a very odd manner of eating - chewing on one side of her mouth and often dropping things.

My neighbour was worried that Scruffy had something wrong with her mouth. I just hoped it was a peculiarity.

On Thursday, July 12, I arrived home and Scruffy was waiting for her tea. I picked her up and she got her usual cuddle. She did not offer much resistance these days and put her head under my chin and closed her eyes, but she still did not purr (it had become an ambition of mine to make her purr).

I fed her then but was not to know that as she disappeared through her door' in the hedge to visit my neighbour, I would never see her again.

I arrived home from work on Friday, July 13, much later than usual, so was not surprised when Scruffy was not on the doorstep. I guessed she would show up sometime later. She would not miss her supper.

I was later to find out that my neighbour had become very concerned when she had noticed Scruffy bleeding profusely from the mouth that morning. So worried, she took her straight to the vet.

She and my partner had had a hard time catching Scruffy and trying to get her into a box was almost impossible. She fought like a tiger for her freedom.

She was still fighting when she arrived to see the vet. She fought so much they had to sedate her to examine her. It was discovered that Scruffy had a very long standing, deep seated abcess and would require three operations to remove it all.

Because she was so thin she would not have survived the surgery. The abcess had completely taken a hold on her, its pain giving her the odd eating motion. If the vet had sent her back to live between me and my neighbour, the cold winter would surely have killed her slowly too.

Her reluctance to stay indoors meant we could not help her. Her desire to be free was going to kill her.

The vet had no option but to put Scruffy to sleep. We still miss the poor little scrap whose short life was riddled with rejection and hunger and pain.

She died wild and without the people she trusted. It will be a long time before I stop seeing her face in the window and stop wondering how her purr would have sounded.