This week – 25 September to be precise – marks our tenth anniversary of cat rescue …. well … cat rescue as we now know it. I suppose in a different sense, the anniversary will be 19 years in November … the date when we accidentally rescued a stray cat and had a taste of what was to come.
It was a gloomy Sunday lunchtime towards the end of November 2001 when I looked out the window to see a small tabby cat looking back at me. If I’d known then what I know now, I’d have quickly assessed that she was about 6-8 months old, but back then she was just a small tabby cat. I knew enough to know that she looked lost though. I’d moved in with my partner earlier that year and desperately wanted to have a cat, but he didn’t understand what cats were for, so I’d not wanted to push the subject. However, here was a cat, lost and perhaps waiting to move in, quite a different proposition from suggesting we set out to “get” a cat … my brain flew through so many thoughts and hopes. Normally veggie but a rare eater of fish, I didn’t hesitate when the question “what do you fancy for lunch?” came up. Tuna sandwiches … just had to be. One thing led to another … strangely there was “just a bit of tuna left” … and it was shame to waste it. Then one of the neighbourhood cats jumped over the gate and scared her and the next thing I knew I’d pulled her into the kitchen for safety. She spent most of the rest of the day “safely” curled up on my lap. It came to bedtime and we had no litter tray and no cat flap … and maybe she belonged to someone anyway, so we put her back outside (gulp …. I hate to think of this now). I was so disappointed that there was no sign of her during the following day however she turned up at tea time. I went to the corner shop and bought just one can of cat food .. only one … because of course this was only temporary … just until we found who she belonged to.
The details of days and times blur after nearly 20 years. We’d no idea what to do about stray cats really, and the internet wasn’t so busy back then … there was no facebook lost and found pets pages, and I’d never even heard of a microchip. We put notes in the windows of the two closest shops and I held my breath every time the phone rang.
No one claimed her. I found out where there was a pet shop and went to buy a litter tray. We found out where the nearest vet was and booked her in for an appointment. It was a strange thing to us to come across a stray cat but the words of the vet stuck with me forever “oh there’s hundreds of them …. this one has just dropped lucky”. In every life there are a few moments or words, that stand out as turning points for what is to come. This was one of mine.
She was spayed shortly after, and after much research and trepidation was also microchipped. Midgecat was ours … or rather mine. The relationship with the partner didn’t last …. though it lasted long enough for him to work out what cats were for. I sold my flat and bought a house when we separated …. because Midge couldn’t go to live in the flat.
She was the most loving, chatty, beautiful cat you can imagine. She was with me through so much change, of splitting with my partner, moving house .. twice!, my dad becoming ill, going into a nursing home, dying. Midge was a purry constant. We learned about the internet and facebook together. We had nine years … and I dared to hope we’d have another nine years … but then she started behaving oddly, seeming lost in familiar places, licking paving slabs. I took her to the vet and they dismissed my concerns (I’ll probably never forgive that vet!) A few weeks later she was definitely not ok and when I took her back to the vet she was admitted. It was a Monday evening. She spent the week there having various tests, culminating in them opening her up on the Friday and finding lots of lumps on her liver and recommending they put her to sleep whilst still under the anaesthetic. That week was one of the worst weeks of my life, and images of bringing her home, digging a grave in the garden and burying her willl be with me forever.
I’d had a week of not having a cat around whilst she was at the vets and it felt unbearable. I looked at RSPCA website … it’s the only rescue I knew of … but the thought of choosing another cat felt equally unbearable. Then I remembered someone I’d met who had fostered a dog for a rescue … and I wondered if there might be a similar thing for cats. I’d no idea if cat fostering was “a thing” but posted on a local forum to ask if anyone knew of anything like that. Within minutes I had a reply confirming that yes it was a thing, and a direct message from a rescue confirming that not only was it a thing, but they had a cat right there and then who needed a foster home.
Seeing a way through the pain of bereavement I jumped at the chance to foster her. Then realised I knew nothing about her, and what if she looked like Midge and it was all to painful? I naiively asked the question that I now realise is taboo in rescue … “what colour is she?” and got a bit of a tetchy answer …. which I now understand. Anyway, I brought her home later that day. I feel some guilt that I brought in another cat just over 24 hours after I’d buried Midge, but Mog needed somewhere to stay, and I can honestly say that several hundred wonderful cats later, there has never been another like Midge, and no one has ever replaced her.
A week later I brought home our second foster cat. That felt strange, I’d never had more than one cat in the house before. I remember asking if they needed separate food and water bowls and feeling a little overwhelmed at having two animals to keep an eye on. I don’t know what I’d have thought if I’d known then that at our peaks we’d have over 20 in the house. After that arrivals and departures followed thick and fast. Mum’s with kittens, smelly old tom cats, scaredy cats, badly neglected pedigree cats. poorly cats, feral kittens.
I can’t help wonder what might have been. If Midgecat had lived, she’d be a very old lady now, but probably only the same age as Henderson. Of course if Midge had lived we wouldn’t have known Henderson. Midge hated other cats so we’d have been a one cat household for all these years. We wouldn’t have known all the beautiful, precious cats who have come into our lives over the last ten years. We wouldn’t have all these stories to tell. We wouldn’t have the friends that we have … so many of them made because of connections with cats. We might have carpets and curtains, and furniture that wasn’t clawed to bits. We might have more money in the bank and a lower stress level.
For better or worse … this is our life. I’m glad in many ways that the choice wasn’t mine to make and am minded of CS Lewis reading from childhood. His Narnia series more than once touches on the notion of what might have been:
“To know what would have happened, child?” said Aslan. “No. Nobody is ever told that.”