Dear Readers, although I usually write about the wildlife outside my house, today I would like to share some tales with you about the creatures that we actually select as our companions. My husband and I began to foster cats for Cats Protection back in 2008, because for me a house without a pet is not a home, but our garden-less flat wasn’t the best environment for housing a cat permanently. Fostering involves taking cats into your home and looking after them until they are ready to be re-homed. Sometimes the cats that we looked after were sick. Sometimes they were young or vulnerable, and needed some confidence-building. On one occasion we gave sanctuary to a creature who had no idea how to behave around human beings at all (see Snowball below). During our five years of fostering we looked after nearly 80 cats, and learned a lot about non-attachment, about how every cat is different, and how tolerant it was possible to be in the face of feline bodily fluids. We also developed a clear idea of the kind of cat that we’d want to adopt when we eventually had a house with some outside space (and at this point the Universe gave a little chortle). So, here, in no particular order, are some of the cats that were in our care, sometimes for weeks, sometimes for months.
Billy had suffered a horrible abscess on his head through fighting with another cat – he was a harem-scarum tomcat, a real bruiser. But after being neutered he settled down into home life and would head-butt you so hard when he wanted to be stroked that woe betide your best clothes if you happened to have a mug of tea in your hand. We developed a love for these big male ex-strays, who were so full of character and seemed to want to make the most of their new environment. We were sure that this was the kind of cat that we would eventually adopt.
Snowball was the most beautiful and most acrobatic cat that we ever fostered. He was pure white, deaf and lethal. If you ventured downstairs in your dressing gown he would pounce from behind cover and rip your bare legs with his needle-sharp claws. As he couldn’t hear your screams he presumably wondered why your mouth was opening and closing while you tried to prise him off. I still bear the scars from making the mistake of reaching out to pet him when he snuggled up next to me on the sofa. We worked with an animal behaviourist to try to reduce his ‘boredom aggression’, but no amount of tiring him out by playing with him would completely eliminate his bad behaviour. Eventually he was adopted, with full disclosure, by a man who didn’t mind wearing Wellington boots over his pyjamas in the morning, which just goes to show that there’s an owner out there for every cat if you wait long enough. When we waved Snowball goodbye it was with tears of relief rather than the usual sadness. I later heard that Snowball had taken to wandering, and was regularly retrieved from locations more than 2 postcodes away from where he lived. I doubt that he made old bones, but I don’t doubt that he lived his life as a semi-wild animal in just the way he chose.
Little Colette was rescued from a house fire – in fact the cat carrier in which she was saved was melted like a Salvador Dali painting. She smelled of smoke for days, and also had a brutal flea infection. She made a quick recovery, however, and was soon off to her new home, where hopefully they’d made sure the wiring wasn’t a death-trap.
Felix came to us with his little sister Irene, and he was an unmitigated show-stealer. Whenever there was something interesting going on, he was there, and poor Irene was relegated to the sidelines. If she was being stroked, he would barge his way in. If you put down 2 dishes of food, he wanted both of them. It was decided to re-home them separately, and you never saw a happier cat than Irene when her brother went off to his new home.
Galaxy came to us with a terrible throat lesions, an allergic reaction to his vaccinations and a general air of depression. Mother cats who are not vaccinated can pass calicivirus onto their kittens, which leaves them with a lifelong tendency to throat and mouth inflammation. Galaxy’s throat was so painful that there was some talk of putting him to sleep if the situation didn’t improve, and so we spoilt him horribly. He slept on the bed, in spite of his snoring. He got all the best food. We put up with his outrageous flatulence. And, lo and behold, he gradually improved, and was finally (after a year) re-homed with a wonderful lady who gave him venison and wild boar at Christmas, and didn’t mind him sleeping in her potted plants on the patio. He lived for another five years, and was so cherished that he frequently featured on his owner’s Christmas cards.
Honey was a most unfortunate-looking cat. She was as round as a beach ball and had a most disapproving expression (not helped by her moustache). However, she was an affectionate cat, and would sit beside you, purring like an idling engine. If you didn’t stroke her, she would reach out with one paw and place it on your arm until you produced the desired caresses. If they stopped, she would pause for a moment and then apologetically reach out again. Eventually she found a home with someone who could see past her unfortunate looks to the characterful creature beneath.
Mocha and Latte were described to us by the people at the cat shelter as ‘the Cappuccino Kits’ but they arrived as two lively adolescent lunks, with all the social graces of a troop of teddy boys. One afternoon, Latte decided to run up our full-length sitting room curtains, and, before I could stop him, Mocha tried to do the same. Unfortunately, Mocha was twice the weight of Latte and so the entire curtain rail, complete with an enormous chunk of plaster, came out of the wall, leaving a cloud of dust. Suffice to say that they were both in hiding for at least five minutes before they ventured out to inspect the damage.
And talking of adolescent lunks, Mork and Lee were our two first teenagers, and were a whole heap of trouble. Lee was forever jumping out of open windows, hiding on the top of bookcases and, on one occasion, getting into the washing machine.
Mork was the most affectionate cat we ever had, and the first that would sit on your shoulder while you went about your housework (though he never did learn how to wash up or do anything useful). Mork and Lee were the first cats that we truly fell in love with, and we were heartbroken when they eventually found a wonderful new home. It’s safe to say that we were careful about not becoming too attached in future.
And this is Tabby, a lynx in miniature. Look at the size of those paws! He grew to be enormous, and was the gentlest kitten we ever looked after, happy to lie in your arms like a baby.
Rosa was the only cat who gave birth to her kittens in our house. And what an event it was! We had prepared several places for the big event, but of course she had her babies squeezed between the bookshelf and the radiator, on the 4th November. On the 5th November there was a Guy Fawkes party in the street, with deafening explosions and shouting and general carry-on, but she stayed firm despite it all. When the kittens first came out from their hiding place after a few weeks, she spent a lot of time trying to corrall them by tapping them with her front feet, like a footballer trying to dribble the ball, but eventually she gave up and let them start to explore. We felt like proud parents, and were most indignant when the shelter folk described them as ‘long-bodied and short-legged’. Harrumph!
Seymour was another big tom-cat, but he had a condition called Horner’s Syndrome, a condition which makes one eye droop, and is often related to lesions of the nervous system. Hence, he wasn’t expected to have a long life. He spent his first day with us hiding in his covered litter-tray, and it was only after I reached in to stroke him and he started to purr that I realised that he was just frightened and confused. He was always very careful with the many flights of stairs in the flat, and I’m sure that he couldn’t focus properly. As is often the case with the most damaged of cats he was very easy to love, and I was very happy when he was re-homed by someone who knew that his prognosis wasn’t good, but wanted to make his life as happy as it could be.
Which brings me on to Rosie.
We looked after Rosie when her owners went away on holiday. She was a cat with quite severe disabilities – she couldn’t stand up, and had to be helped to her litter tray a couple of times a day. She would always call and let you know when she wanted to go, which was generally at the human-friendly times of 8.00 am and 6.00 pm. She was a very perky cat, interested in everything that was going on, and loved to sit on the sofa next to you, or to be picked up for a cuddle. She also loved other cats, but they generally knew that there was something wrong with her, and so would avoid her. Until, that is, her owner adopted another little cat who had been through the most horrific abuse I’d ever heard of. He loved Rosie on sight, and would cuddle up with her in her basket – maybe she reminded him of his mother, or maybe he just recognised another cat that wasn’t able to deal with the world around her on her own. At any rate, the two of them were a comfort to one another throughout their lives.
So, dear readers, having read this far, what do you think happened when we finally decided to adopt? Was it a big tough tomcat, full of personality and affection?
Our last two foster cats were a brother and sister: a big tough tom, and an extremely shy little female cat. The big tough tom was adopted out to Gerrard’s Cross (the richest area in the UK by the way), to a man who owned a stable full of show jumpers, a wood, a stream, and who didn’t mind if his cat wanted to sleep on the bed. This just left the female, who, up to then, had spent her whole time hiding behind the sofa.
John and I wondered who, on earth, would ever adopt a cat who never showed herself. The months went on. Nobody wanted a very ordinary little black and white scaredy cat. And yet, we’d started to notice that she wasn’t such a scaredy cat any more. She liked to be brushed, for just a minute or so at first. Eventually, she would demand to be brushed, and complain when you stopped.
Then, she started to jump on the bed when we were reading at night.The remarkable thing was that she would jump off as soon as we put the lights out, and would never come into the bedroom until she heard us talking.
And finally, she had no interest at all in going out into the garden. In the living room, she would hunt scraps of tissue paper, foil wrappers and invisible microbes, but she was quite content to watch the birds from a window-sill.
We stopped thinking about her in terms of ‘who else will adopt this cat if we don’t?’ and started to realise that, for us, she was ideal. She wouldn’t hunt and kill the creatures in my garden. She respected our sleep time. She didn’t have any strange problems with food. She did rip the sofa to shreds, but then it was old anyway.
So, Gentle Reader, we adopted her, and put away all notions of the cats that we thought we wanted, in favour of the one that we actually did. She is seven years old this year, and gets more outgoing and friendly every day.
Every animal has a personality. If we can understand this with our pets, I wonder why we find it so hard to acknowledge that wild animals might be the same?