Fostered Felines and an Unexpected Gift

Willow

Willow

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

Billy

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

Snowball

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.

Colette

Colette

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

Felix

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

Galaxy

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

Honey

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

Mocha (aka Fat Boy)

Latte

Latte

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.

Lee

Lee

Mork

Mork

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.

Aaargh! Don't try this at home...Lee in the washing machine.

Aaargh! Don’t try this at home…Lee in 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.

Tabby Kit

Tabby Kit

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

Rosa

Rosa and the family

Rosa and the family

Mostly White

Mostly White

Stripey Tail

Stripey Tail

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!

Stripey Tail emerging for the first time

Stripey Tail emerging for the first time

Seymour

Seymour

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.

Rosie

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?

Umm, no.

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?

Willow. The perfect cat.

Willow. The perfect cat.

 

30 thoughts on “Fostered Felines and an Unexpected Gift

  1. Baldwin Hamey

    Lovely post to read under the Christmas tree, which I do not have as a certain person – no names mentioned, but black and white with four paws – would gladly destroy it in search of shiny things that might very well have been put there by a kind human for this particular cat to play with. They’re not? Oh, sorry, he would say grinning from ear to ear while crushing the remains underfoot.

    Reply
    1. Bug Woman Post author

      Ah Baldwin, on the year that we had Rosa and her kittens we put up the Christmas tree, duct-taped it to the floorboards and left it decoration-free as a jungle gym for the kittens. I shall post a photo if I can find one :-). But I suspect that your ‘certain person’ would find this no challenge at all, and would be duly disgusted.

      Reply
  2. Katya

    For all the kind efforts you and your husband made fostering so many needy cats, the beautiful Willow is indeed a perfect reward. Best wishes for many happy years ahead!

    Reply
    1. Bug Woman Post author

      Thank you Katya! Fostering was great, though stressful, especially when the cats were very sick. But it really taught me that every animal is an individual, and you can never generalise about what they ‘like’. Lee used to sit in the shower with me, for example, with the water running off his whiskers πŸ™‚

      Reply
  3. alcsmith

    Such a lovely and funny post. I was always a cat person before we got a dog. But I’ve been wondering if I could persuade hubby and dog to adopt a cat. Or guinea pigs. Or in fact a whole menagerie. Maybe one day.

    Reply
  4. littleredyarn

    We adopted a big tomcat a few years ago and he’s the love of our lives. My boyfriend grew up with dogs, not cats and Frogger’s turned P into a “cat guy”. It’s wonderful and terrific and the funniest thing ever.

    Reply
    1. Bug Woman Post author

      Those big toms are such characters, aren’t they! And my husband had never had a pet growing up, and has turned into a ‘cat guy’ too. I think the felines are on a conversion mission πŸ™‚

      Reply
  5. Julia

    This lovely piece has reduced me to tears! A mix of horror at humans behaviour and delight at the other side, the kindness, generosity and willingness to meet animals on their terms. We are lucky to live with a plump little rescue tabby girl and our rescue lurcher, we feel very fortunate.

    Reply
    1. Bug Woman Post author

      It’s true that for every negligent, cruel person that I came across during my association with the cat shelter there were half a dozen folk who would put themselves to endless trouble for their animals, and for other human beings too. It helped me to remember that most people are kind and generous, most of the time…Thank you, Julia, for your comments.

      Reply
  6. Bronchitikat

    We had a pet rabbit. It was supposed to belong to our daughter and, fair play to her, she did look after it well. It lived in a hutch and outdoor run during the day. Come evenings she would bring it in and they’d occupy the front room together.
    The rabbit loved to have its head rubbed and would but your hand if you stopped. Other times it would like to sit on one of the armchairs and watch TV. It particularly enjoyed athletics and Wimbledon!

    The things people miss when they confine their pet rabbits to hutches and runs outdoors only. Of course, we had to ‘protect’ the suite with hardboard etc and put up other barriers to stop said creature getting in behind things, but, on the whole, he was lovely.

    Reply
    1. Bug Woman Post author

      Hi Bronchitikat, we had a ‘free-range’ bunny as well, you’re right, you miss out on so much when the poor things are incarcerated 24/7. The only problem was that we also had a golden hamster who had ‘free-range’time, and although she was only a tenth of the size of the bunny, she would run up to him and steal his carrots, running off with a whole baby carrot stuffed into her cheekpouches. Happy Days!

      Reply
  7. Beach-Combing Magpie

    Lovely post on such gorgeous cats…I have my two hairy beasts squeezed in around the keyboard as I write this. Am looking forward to wandering around your blog as I love plants and general wildlife too, especially when you come across these in an urban environment and least expect to find anything…

    Reply
    1. Bug Woman Post author

      Thank you! I’ve discovered so much in the past two years of exploring the half-mile around my house, it constantly surprises me that there is so much diversity in a city.Say hello to your hairy beasts for me – mine is curled up in an inky pool on the duvet…

      Reply
  8. Anne Guy

    What a great post Vivienne…I do admire your fostering abilities I am afraid I would get far to attached to them all! Willow looks just lovely and she looks very happy indeed in your home.

    Reply
    1. Bug Woman Post author

      It is very hard sometimes, Anne, but I did find it got a little easier with time. And it was so good to see them arrive with shedloads of health problems, and leave as happy and healthy cats…

      Reply
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