Pet Appreciation Day falls on 21 February this year. When I read this it got me thinking, what do I appreciate about my cats?
Five years ago I lost my long time companion, Amber. She was the most gorgeous ginger and white bag puss, my constant companion for twenty years. Her sister, Cleo (who she hated, but I adored) had died two years previously. I was bereft.
I said I wouldn’t jump in to having another cat straight away. I needed a break and time to grieve. Losing my dear old girls was so painful I wasn’t even sure I could ever have another pet; they could never be replaced.
But it very quickly became abundantly clear that I was fooling myself. After twenty years of having cats (I won’t say owning as cat’s don’t have owners, they have staff), I couldn’t live without at least one of them. I would get home from work and the house felt empty without having four paws running down the stairs to greet me. Sitting in front of the tv was a lonely experience without my buddy draped over my left shoulder, purring like a machine in my ear.
So, a couple of weeks later, when my sister heard of someone seeking homes for a litter of kittens, she knew I would be in the market for them. I went along full of bravado. I want a pretty, ginger kitty. No pointy face and he’s got to be a lap cat who is going to lavish me with love and attention.
That notion was instantly dispelled when we arrived at a hovel of a house, where two scrawny black kittens had taken over the kitchen. They were pathetic creatures, scavenging scraps of food from the table. When the owner’s young daughter dropped her chicken roll (synthetic, white pap that’s never seen a chicken) sandwich on the floor, the pair of them pounced on it and devoured it like they may never see food again. I had never seen cats eating sandwiches before, they were fighting over it because they were starving.
The largest of the two was a skinny boy with huge ears and a pointed nose like a fox’s muzzle. To be blunt, he was ugly, with a face only his mother could love. And he was incredibly nervous. I tried to pick him up but he was having none of it, wriggling free and hiding under the table, way out of reach. He didn’t want to be touched.
His sister, on the other hand, was tiny. She was definitely the runt of the litter. My sister picked her up and passed the tiny bundle of fluff to me, she instantly fell asleep in my arms.
These kittens were not loved and they knew it. They were fighting for survival in the house of an irresponsible woman who had several cats that were constantly producing more kittens. She had even been out and brought another kitten in to the home from elsewhere, when she had this litter of her own to re-home.
Of course there was no question over what would happen to these pitiful creatures. They were coming home with me.
Five years later I’m glad to report that they are both thriving and they have me right where they want me.
Nigel, the big ugly one, is now huge. Really massive. But he’s grown in to his face and I think he’s rather handsome, in a geeky cat way. What hasn’t changed is his nervousness. He is a gibbering wreck, the proverbial scaredy cat on a hot tin roof, frightened of his own shadow. And, despite being the largest cat in the neighbourhood by a huge margin, he is also the biggest wimp.
For the first year he hardly ever went outside, preferring to live in my wardrobe. He became known as the Narnia cat as he used to curl up in there all day and night. That was until the day when he bravely took a trip in to the garden, something spooked him to the extent that he bombed in through the cat flap and took refuge in his favourite safe place under my freshly laundered and ironed shirts. Unable to gain control of his faculties, he had a catastrophic bowel incident and launched a high velocity excrement hand grenade, the result of which had to be seen to be believed.
I can’t describe the scene of devastation that I discovered, it makes me gag to think about it. To launder the affected clothes was out of the question, I couldn’t contemplate this filth going in to my washing machine. Instead, I donned my Marigolds and chemical warfare gear, shoved all the turd splattered items in a bin liner and dumped it without further ceremony in to the bin. Nigel remained cowering in the corner until I turfed him out, and the wardrobe door has remained firmly closed to him ever since.
The tiny waif, now known as Nessa, was so underweight when I took her for her first check up that she couldn’t have her vaccinations as she was less than 1kg. She had a hernia which meant that she had to be spayed by a midline incision, rather than the usual keyhole surgery. Four times the cost, that’s all I’m saying.
And that early shortage of food has turned her in to a voracious hunter. Rodents and birds of every description. Dead, maimed or very much alive. They’re all dragged in through the cat flap at alarming regularity.
I’m constantly reminded that this means she really loves me. Why else would she bring me these glorious gifts? All I can say is these are gifts I can do without.
The mouse that lived in my lounge for a fortnight and managed to chew holes in every cushion I possess, and the frog that flopped its freaky, amphibian body all around my kitchen for forty minutes before I was able to sweep it into a dustpan and lob it out of the front door, are just a couple of highlights.
But, her crowning glory remains the rat, still twitching in its death throes, that she woke me up with as she dumped it on my bed at an ungodly hour. Unpleasant, not called for, and never to be repeated – I hope!
Why do I continue to welcome these monsters in to my home?
Neither of them are true lap cats in the same way that Amber or Cleo were. But on the rare occasions when they do choose to sit on my lap, it makes it more special somehow. If Nessa decides she wants to occupy my lap then there’s no room for holding a book or an iPad, she sprawls herself out to make herself as long as possible and demands my full focus, dribbling and wriggling with excitement as I make a fuss of her.
If Nigel ever dares to venture outside in to the big scary world, the first thing he does on his return is to seek me out and let me know he is home safe. He rubs up against my leg or shoves his head in my hand and tells me he needs some love for being such a brave boy.
When ever I’m in the kitchen, Nessa is sat on the stairs peering through the banisters watching me go about my business. She will go in to her slinky impression, somersaulting down the stairs to grab my attention so that I can’t resist breaking away from what I’m doing to tickle her tummy.
On days when I’m hit with overwhelming fatigue so that I have no choice but to retire to my bed, the pair of them somehow sense it and they retire with me. There’s nothing quite as comforting or with the same healing power, when you are feeling like you’ve been run over by a steam roller, as waking up to two feline hot water bottles, purring by your side.
And what I really love is that they have complete freedom to go anywhere they want to go, but they always choose to come home to me.
They need me as much as I need them. We are a team and we fight the world and crappy MS together.
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