Sunday 30 June 2013

The empathy of marmalade cats

Watching the BBC news story about how a street cat named Bob adopted a homeless, drug-addicted busker and turned his life around set me thinking about the abilities of marmalade cats like Bob.

A few years ago my parents' small elderly Jack Russell dog came to live with us as she had gone blind and they could no longer cope with her. She arrived in September, and settled in well, enjoying walks along the lane, sniffing all the while, so that even if she couldn't see, she was still aware of her environment.

However, within a few weeks it was apparent that she was developing canine dementia, and as her condition deteriorated the previously enjoyed walks became a bit of a trudge for her. No longer able to manage more than a hundred yards and back, she plodded along with no interest in her surroundings at all. In fact, one neighbour commented that she was well past it and wasn't long for this world.

Despite her frailty she still enjoyed small meals and treats, and loved being cuddled, spending much of her time curled up on my lap.

Our old girl in her younger days

One day we opened the door to go for her usual short walk, and found a marmalade cat on the step. He was one of two which had been playing in the garden for a few weeks, then one had vanished completely, and the other was rarely seen. Now there he was, on the step. Seeing the dog he raised up, hissed and spat at her, and swished a paw with claws extended across her muzzle. She, being blind and with no sense of smell, was unaware of him and suffering a scratch cried out in pain and shock. But unlike other dogs, she didn't react by attacking her attacker. The cat was puzzled. He crept forward and sniffed her, and seemingly realised that this was a sick dog.

As we set off for our short amble along the lane, we heard to swish of a tail and the patter of small paws, and there, walking alongside the dog was the marmalade cat. When she stopped, he stopped; when she strayed he gently nudged her back on course; all the while trotting along quietly beside her until we returned to the house.

Thereafter, each time we opened the door to take her for a walk the cat was there, and he accompanied us on the walk. Finally, at the end of January our little dog stopped eating, and having been advised by the vet that the time had come to say goodbye, we sadly made the necessary arrangements.

The next time we opened the door, the cat was there again, but seeing no dog he just turned and walked away and did not return. He had done his job lending a helping paw to our old girl in her last few weeks.

The marmalade cat who befriended our old girl

Thursday 20 June 2013

Ferdie the Fearless

Ferdie the Fearless lives in the cottage opposite ours. He's small, speckled, affectionate, blind in one eye, and very inquisitive! We first met him on a cold Winter afternoon, when leaves prickled with frost and the chill of the air cut each breath like a sharp knife, and he clearly thought that joining us in a warm house was a better option than exploring a frozen garden.

He's a Bengal x British Short Hair, one of two hand-reared brothers belonging to our neighbour - the other being more of a home-lover, curling up on the rug before a cosy fire. But not Ferdie, he's a curious cat. He wants to be in the middle of whatever is happening, and he loves people! If he hears voices, or if a vehicle stops outside the houses, he comes running, his loud MIAOW! is heard long before he is seen. Many is the time the doorbell rings, and opening the door we find a visitor plus Ferdie on the step. "Is this your cat?" they ask. "No" we reply, "but he would be if we'd let him!"

On the coldest days of the year our frog pond froze, so Ferdie became accustomed to walking across its glassy surface. After the thaw it changed from clear water to green as the floating pond weed grew back, making the surface look solid again. Approaching Election Day, on a sunny warm afternoon when I was stood in the garden chatting to one of the candidates, Ferdie appeared as usual. After climbing up my jeans for a cuddle - he loves being held - and having made friends with the candidate ("Even if cats can't vote for me!") he had spotted a frog so demanded to be put down again. Off across the garden he raced, and then pounced, only to find that the apparently firm green surface was really liquid. With a big splash, and a look of shock that would have done credit to any cartoon cat, he scrambled hastily out of the pond, sopping wet and covered in tiny green dots of weed. Glaring at us, daring us to laugh at his predicament, he hid under a garden chair feeling very sorry for himself before slinking off home to his bemused owner and an early bath.

Now that Summer has arrived and we like to keep the downstairs windows partly open - enough to let in the fresh air but not enough for a cat to squeeze through! Today with the arrival of the decorators Ferdie thought he had outwitted us. There were two painters up ladders painting the soffit boards, and as the upstairs windows were open Ferdie saw his chance - up the ladder he went after a painter, then realised he could not get past the decorator to get to the windows. What to do next? Turn round and come back down again, of course, which is not quite so easy, but he managed it until about five feet from the ground when we gave him a helping hand!