Tuesday, 16 June 2015

FUSSCAT AND PIGLET


My world imploded when Lola died.

Lola wasn’t just a special cat, she was my muse, my closest friend, my confident, my comforter, my soul-mate. Those who knew me well were aware of the emotional superglue that bound us together like a cranky married couple and had done ever since she arrived in my life fifteen furry purry years ago - nobody tolerated and cared for, or maybe needed, me as much as she did.

I was traumatised as I watched her waste away from cancer. She retreated to the safety of a secluded nest beneath my spare bed and slept for most of her last few days, only struggling to her feet to take a sip of water and rub her head affectionately against my hand when I sang quietly to let her know I was there. She remained a gentle, giving, loving soul to the end, calming my tears with the rub of her loving head against my fingers, sweet dignified and noble to the last.

I was inconsolable when she died and wept for days. I read everything I could find on-line about pet bereavement as I struggled with feelings more akin to the loss of a family member than a cat. My reaction was not uncommon, I discovered. A special pet such as Lola often fills an emotional void and their loss leaves a chasm of emptiness in the owner’s life. So it was for me. I still visit the small memorial I erected in my garden several times a day and sing the Lola-Pola song beneath my breath with a lump in my throat knowing that she’ll never be forgotten and can never be replaced.

But to quote the oldest cliché in the book, life goes on – it must – and in any event, I retained responsibility for another cat, Molly aka Sneaky Cat, an ageing bad-tempered and often aggressive puss I inherited from my son Joel after he died five years ago. Molly and Lola had never been friends – at best Lola tolerated Molly and at worst they fought like two proverbial ferrets in a sack. When I tried to show Molly affection, her stock response was to answer with a hiss or a bite and a slash of claws. I’d grown used to this and tolerated the wounds as part and parcel of my role as surrogate pussy step-father so needless to say, I was filled with trepidation at the prospect of domestic life alone with Sneaky. To say that there wasn’t a great deal of love lost between us is something of an understatement. I fed her – or else – and occasionally petted her, but often retreated with scratches on my hand. She was – she is – an awkward cat, lumbering rather than scampering about and hauling herself clumsily up onto the sofa with her front paws rather than bounding up gracefully as Lola used to do. Despite this, I had grown fond of old grump-puss, not least because she had been Joel’s cat and an everlasting sadness in her eyes melted into my heart like a laser so I had always done my best not to show undue favouritism to my lovely Lola, though I know I failed. And now...now it was just me and Sneaky.

Be afraid, my friends said...be very afraid.

Strangely, it seemed that Sneaky was missing Lola and she prowled the house meowing, poking her twitching whiskers into Lola’s favourite sleeping places and pricking her ears at the slightest sound emanating from the direction of the cat flap in my extension. We were both grieving the loss of our furry friend and so, within a few weeks of Lola’s death, I decided to get another cat, not to replace her – that would be impossible – but to fill a void in mine and Sneaky’s lives. Sneaky had started to undergo a remarkable transformation, sleeping at the foot of my bed, lying beside me on the sofa purring loudly as I stroked her (sessions that invariably ended with a bite or a scratch or a venomous hiss for no apparent reason) and waiting for me by the front door in the evening as Lola used to. She clearly needed company and although I knew it would be risky to introduce another cat, it was a risk I had to take.

Bearing in mind Joel’s experience with Sneaky, I determined to research my new family member carefully. It was highly likely that a young cat would be my furrever companion as I’m nearing my mid-sixties so decided to rehouse an adult rather than a kitten. In that I’m a pretty catcentric sort of person with a large-ish house and a small garden bordering a vast expanse of adjacent gardens, I could offer a purrrfect home for a needy puss. So it was that I embarked on a period of obsessive research, bookmarking all the London cat-refuge websites and checking Gumtree several times a day to monitor cats that needed to be rehoused (invariably for one of three reasons...owners moving abroad, landlords refusing pets or children suffering cat allergies. Reading between the lines, it soon became sadly obvious that many people rush out and buy a cuddly kitten only to discover that the responsibilities of ownership are greater than they imagine.) Accordingly, I determined to trust my future pussy-fate to the Kentish Town Cat’s Protection League. They were local, extremely professional and would help me find my new life-companion by introducing me to a selection of potential housemates. After all, this was too important a decision to rush as I was looking for personality rather than appearance, good company rather than a furry ornament to impress the neighbours.

Lola’s death had affected me more than I could have imagined so I took a short holiday to clear my mind and ease the grief, although I spent more time than I care to admit checking the Kentish Town Cat’s Protection League website to view new arrivals. This meant that I already had an idea of possible pussy-options when I visited their premises on my return to choose my new furrever friend. I had a shortlist of potential pussies gleaned from the website, top of which was a cute but sad looking four year-old who had been a resident for a long, long time. We met and she was indeed a friendly cat, if a little nervy. However, I was advised that she wasn’t suitable as a town cat, even though I had a garden bordering on others, as she had a propensity to wander and had no road sense. Bah...but I still had a few other options I’d viewed on-line. All were well fed, clearly loved by the staff but obviously frustrated at being pent up, albeit in a spacious and comfortable cage. Having drawn a blank, I was about to leave when I was presented with an option I hadn’t previously considered.

‘What about two cats?’ someone suggested.

‘Not really,’ I said, ‘I already have a Sneaky cat. Three might be too many.’

Judging that ‘not really...’ wasn’t the same as...’not on your life...’ I was introduced to Bonnie and Clyde, an inseparable brother and sister (I was told) that I had viewed on the website but discounted...apart from names that hardly enthused me, the photo of the Tom looked mean and his sister wide-eyed and shy. Nevertheless, what did I have to lose by saying hello? Having washed my hands, I slipped into their cage and Bonnie immediately ran over and rubbed her nose against my hand, fussing and purring and making clear that she wanted to come home with me. Clyde shrank back and when I reached out to stroke him, he hissed, then growled and promptly nipped my finger. Hmmm...after eight years of being mauled by Sneaky cat, the message was clear...take care, my friend, take care. I left with an empty cat basket but no matter how I tried to dismiss the memory of Bonnie’s pleading eyes, her image stayed with me. She was utterly adorable, far more of a kitten than I’d expected, maybe five or six months rather than the young adult suggested by the website, but I didn’t want a kitten and certainly didn’t intend to get two cats so why couldn’t I put her out of my mind and move on?


Over the course of the following week, the thought of Bonnie rubbing against my hand, tail swishing happily, eyes closed as her whiskered snout rubbed my hand, stayed with me so I decided to pay them another visit. This time I experienced a complete role reversal as Clyde stretched out towards me purring like a chain-saw and rubbed his silky ears against my fingers while Bonnie sat in her shelter maintaining a ladylike distance. It was love at second sight and so a deal was done. I filled out the paperwork, made a meagre donation to an extremely worthy cause, bought a second cat basket and drove home, thinking...’what have I done?’ I now had two newbies for Sneaky to wreak terror upon rather than one, two new friends to get to know and, of course, the infinite uncertainty of how we would all get on or whether we would get on at all. Because cats are a forever kind of companion, with us for as long as they – or we – live.

Gulp.

I was fortunate to have the space and facilities to introduce the new cats to my existing feline resident gradually and with a minimum of stress. I prided myself on having planned the process down to the last detail –I’d locked the cat flap at the rear of the extension, made a couple of pussy-beds, bought new feeding dishes, a cat-litter tray and all the trimmings. I intended the newbies to spend a couple of weeks in the extension getting to know the sounds and smells of their new home and gradually acclimatising to Sneaky’s presence on the other side of a closed door so the cats would become accustomed to each other’s scent before meeting. I had all bases covered, or so I thought.

I left the new arrivals in the extension and popped next door to get them some food, returning two minutes later to find...nothing. True to their names, Bonnie and Clyde had done a runner. I looked everywhere without discovering hide nor pussy hair of either cat. How? It was impossible, or was it? With a growing sense of panic, I checked the catflap and discovered to my horror that I hadn’t locked it securely. Sure, cats could no longer come in but the flap still opened outwards. A picture flashed through my mind of my two new pussies making a bolt through the flap into an unfamiliar maze of gardens the moment my back had been turned. Bonnie and Clyde had escaped within two minutes of arriving at their new home. I sat and stared at that damned catflap for an hour, fixated by what an utter imbecile I’d been, summoning up the courage to phone the Kentish Town Cat Protection centre. I could imagine the conversation...

‘Hello.’ I would say in my friendliest voice.

‘Yes? How can I help?’

‘I’m not sure if you remember me, but I popped in an hour or so back and adopted a couple of cats.’

‘Of course,’ the friendly voice would reply. ‘Bonnie and Clyde.’

‘Yes, Bonnie and...’ ...Gulp...‘The thing is, I’ve lost them.’

‘You’ve what?’ A note of alarm peppered with disbelief would temper the response.

‘Well, it’s a bit embarrassing really...’ This was going to be the difficult part. ‘I got them home without a problem, but...’

‘But?’

‘I...I, er, I forgot to lock the cat flap and they promptly buggered off. Could you let me know if they turn up?’

At this point my mental reconstruction dissolved into an unprintable smudge of expletives and invective as the receptionist, Susie Q, vented her contempt for irresponsible wannabe cat owners and advised me that I would forever be blackballed by every cat sanctuary this side of Ho Chi Minh City, that the Cat-Fuzz would be round to feel my collar shortly and that she placed me slightly lower on the scale of pond-life than a virus. And so I delayed the moment of truth and stared blankly at my cellphone, summoning up the courage to make the call until... until I noticed a slight movement behind the sofa and saw a terrified kitten staring up at me – Bonnie. The moment she saw me, she scurried away and squeezed behind an overflowing bookcase. Thank God...having now secured the catflap, I would only have to report one missing pussy, not two. I retired to the kitchen to make a cup of tea in readiness for a tongue-lashing from Suzie Q and returned to find Bonnie was back behind the sofa again, or was she? No. This puss was larger and a glossy shade of brown not black and white – it was Clyde. Amazing...I had a full complement of cats, with a suspicious Sneaky next door and a traumatised Bonnie and Clyde hiding in the extension. I was on the point of calling the cat refuge in my euphoria...‘Hi, is that Suzie Q? Yes, it’s me and guess what? It’s been two hours and I haven’t lost my new cats yet, not even one. Good going, eh? Aren’t you going to congratulate me?’ but paused. Hmmm...maybe it was better that I didn’t tell anyone about my near miss with the dodgy catflap.

I saw very little of Bonnie and Clyde over the next couple of days apart from an occasional pair of suspicious eyes peeking out from behind the bookcase or a tail disappearing behind the sofa. The food and water I left disappeared but it was some time before I noticed that the litter tray was being used. However, by day three two timid faces started to inspect me as I delivered food and the rattle of a Dreamies packet finally tempted both cats out into the open allowing our friendship to begin in earnest. Clyde would edge towards me and lie down, inviting me to stroke his head, breaking into the loudest purr I’ve ever heard as he demanded that I fuss, fuss, fuss over him, hence his new name of Fusscat. He’s highly strung and nervy and scampers off at any sudden movement, returning warily to be fussed again as his confidence returns. Bonnie on the other hand shows no fear whatsoever, merely curiosity. When she wants attention, she is the most affectionate puss I’ve ever known, rubbing her nose against my hand and purring constantly but strokes are offered on her terms, not mine. She is the cutest puss alive and can eat her own weight in food in one fell swoop, hence her new forever name of Piglet.

Despite the paperwork I had been given by Cat’s Protection League stating that the two are brother and sister from the same litter, they are clearly not. Piglet is very much a kitten, maybe five or six months old at most, whereas Fusscat is a fully grown adult. Piglet is a black and white moggy, a miniature version of Sneaky, whereas Fusscat is a beautiful shade of brown with brilliant emerald eyes and a nervy sleekness that suggests a touch of Siamese. I can only speculate how they’ve ended up as such unlikely friends. Maybe they’re brother and sister from different litters, maybe Fusscat is Piglet’s dad or possibly they’re completely unrelated and became friends by chance? Who knows and to be honest, who cares - whatever the genesis of their relationship, the nervy adult relies on the kitten’s confidence for support rather than the kitten sheltering behind her older friend’s bravado.

Intriguing but cute.

The most remarkable thing about the arrival of these newbies is the effect they’ve had on Sneaky. I took great care to introduce them gradually and let Sneaky sniff around the extension while the new arrivals were shut in a lobby, which meant their initial introduction was through a glass door – they spent a long time looking at each other before they met, but now they mingle freely. Sneaky has adopted the two new arrivals like an elderly watchful aunt, almost as if their playful antics brings back memories of her own kittenhood. Indeed, I would go so far as to say they’ve become friends, particularly Sneaky and Piglet. They sit together in the garden and Sneaky watches fondly as the two youngsters go crazy chasing bees and rummaging through the undergrowth. I can only imagine how exciting the great outdoors must be for pussies who’ve only ever known a life inside and maybe the thrill of her adopted sibling’s new adventures rubs off on Sneaky Cat. She’s even taken to scampering around after them in her own clumpy, arthritic way. Remarkable and very, very touching.

In a little over two weeks, Fusscat and Piglet have become part of the family and moreover, they’ve helped Sneaky integrate into the household in a way she never has before. Sure, they’ll never replace Lola, no cat ever could, but as their confidence grows and they settle in, their personalities are starting to blossom and I can see we have many enjoyable and adventurous years ahead of us, thanks in no small part to the dedicated staff at the Kentish Town Cat’s Protection League and Hornsey Vets.

Eccentric - June 7th 2015

Update – June 14th.
Fusscat and Piglet have settled in and accept my house as home. They use the catflap rather than the litter tray, remind me when feeding time comes round and Fusscat in particular lies beside me on the sofa while I read or watch the television.

Having become increasingly intrigued by Fusscat’s beautiful coat and eyes and highly strung yet affectionate personality, I did some research on the internet and discovered that far from being a run of the mill alley cat like Sneaky and Piglet, he’s actually a ‘Havana Brown’, an extremely rare breed (there are apparently less than a thousand on the planet I gather). His rich, silky mahogany coloured coat, slightly elongated face, almond-shaped brilliant green eyes, talkative nature and, crucially, whiskers the same colour as his coat, are trademarks of the breed, as is his personality – ‘demanding and affectionate’ as the websites say, or to put it another way, desperate to be fussed. And that’s Fusscat alright. Havana Browns are also gregarious and like the company of other cats, which may explain why Fusscat befriended Piglet somewhere down the line. I’m curious how two such unlikely pussies shacked up together but doubt whether I’ll ever find out. It would make a great children’s book though, or even a song – The Ballad of Fusscat and Piglet.

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