Act I was played out last spring, during the first lockdown. Basking in strange, glorious weather, I trimmed aimlessly at the rampant shrubbery in my back garden and greeted the stray cats who ambled through with gentle ribbing in a foreign language. You can read about that here.
Things turned sour in Act II, with a new breed of wild cat being belligerent and shirty to me in my garden and piddling in my car when I inadvertently left the door open overnight. That post is here if you fancy it. I was surprised how some readers found Act II to be quite sad. My cat nirvana was over, hostilities were declared. It seemed as if something good had passed.
Stick around. Act III is on the way… and it’s a bit of a doozy.
Where to begin?
The cat from Act II, the one who pissed in my car, had taken to going into my shed and hanging out there. I’d tried to secure it but there’s a flat roof next-door, up against it and an adjoining gap at the eaves so in it would come. The shed is more of a garage really, sturdy, and well-built, but I’ve filled it up with boxes and stuff from the house until it’s become just a shed.
The cat liked it in there. I would often open the side door to get some fuel for the fire and be greeted with a hostile meow from the gloom. I would shout at the cat and the cat would bugger off out through the eaves gap and that would be it, until the next time. It was encouragement to put the job on the list; hire a skip, clean out the shed, repair the eaves, stop all this nonsense. Being on the list means nothing, nothing at all.
I should say, for those of you coming straight in here at Act III, the cat is a feral one who lives around my area. Nothing to do with me, really. We keep our distance. We glare at each other. There is no love lost there.
Easter Saturday afternoon. I decide to get the peat briquettes for the stove in a little early. I go to the shed/garage and open the side door and there is the cat, perched like Lady Muck in a cardboard box on top of a mountain of other cardboard boxes. We eye each other up, the cat and me, as we often do, but he hasn't the usual poise to leave when I start shouting.
I start shouting.
“Go on, piss off you.” I suggest in my best loud voice. This is normally enough to get the cat, who is white with a black patch over one eye, on the move. Not today though. The cat holds firm and eyes me coolly.
“Hey, bugger on out of it, go on!” I clap my hands. The cat reluctantly moves. It climbs the boxes and springs up to the eaves and sits there, eyeballing me. A mewling noise emits. I haven’t heard the cat make this noise before. Is it sick? Is it injured?
You’ll probably have guessed this next bit. The new mewling is not coming from the cat in the eaves, it is coming from within the box. The box that is precariously perched on top of a mountain of cardboard garbage. A box that the bottom is rapidly falling out of.
“Oh no,” I say to myself, much softer, “oh, no.”
I fought my way to the box, the cat watching me all the time. There were two newborn kittens inside and the bottom of the box was indeed torn open. There could be more, fallen through.
The garage doors at the front of the shed don’t usually get opened. The bins sit in front of them, and the side door is adequate for access. I couldn’t help thinking of the cat when I throw them both open, and the sunlight streamed in to the normally dark and gloomy space. The cat might have thought it was in ‘Inception’ or something. “Bloody hell,” it might have thought, “what’s all this now? I give birth and now the whole house is coming apart.” She continued to watch me from the eaves as I battled my way through the boxes, extracted the box with the two kittens and went searching to see if there was any more. There was indeed one more, who had slipped through the bottom. There wasn’t a fourth. I made sure.
So, I guess the cat, who had been a ‘He’ until now, was actually a ‘She’. I figured that out myself.
It’s a different matter, having a feral cat who breezes through your garden and glares at you and pisses in your car, to having a new Mum with three tiny kittens, black withered umbilici still attached, all in need of a little help. It changes the narrative in a single moment.
I summoned Patricia from the house, and we found a better box and a small quilt that one of the boys used to use, and a hot water bottle and some newspapers for a little extra insulation, and I set it up in a tidy, defensible, corner of the garage, near the side door. I put the kittens in there, as warm, and snug as we could manage, and I closed the garage doors and the side door, and I left them alone. There was only one person who could take care of these wild little things and she was up in the eaves, doubtless completely distressed. She had to be given room to come back down. So, I left them to it.
Checking in a while later, I was greeted upon opening the door by a hostile hiss. The cat was ensconced in the box with her kittens under her. She looked okay. I drove to the supermarket and bought some of the best cat food I could find.
I didn’t know how this story would end but I knew how it needed to go from here.
Fast forward ten days. Over a week ago.
The cat gets fed twice a day. She seems to prefer the more expensive ‘Felix’ cat food. Her box remains comfy. Whenever I see her out, I check the kittens and tidy things up. They don’t seem to need the hot water bottle any more. Mum is plenty warm. Every time I open the shed door, the cat hisses at me with unbridled hostility. “Don’t you come near me, you bastard.” But I think she knows by now that I’m not here to do her much harm. As soon as I close the door she nips out and eats her dinner. Then she works hard to bury the dish, which isn’t easy on a concrete floor. She manages to cover it with bits of card and stuff. I’ve started to remove it as soon as she’s finished. I think some of the other wild cats who roam our gardens must come to visit her lair, perhaps attracted by the smell of the food. They are a belligerent bunch and I think she might have to defend her patch and her kittens from them. So, I take the food dish out and wash it until the next time. I do my bit. The kittens are well, getting bigger and stronger, obviously being well looked after by their Mum.
The plan, such as it is, is to leave the cat in-situ with the kittens until they are weaned, then try to enlist the North West SPCA in homing them, getting Mum neutered, and letting her return to her feral back garden life. She is too wild to be tamed now. I have called the NWSPCA, but they think like I do. For now, the best place for them is in the shed, getting looked after by us.
You might think this Act is over now, but it isn’t. Not by a long chalk.
Last week. I go to give the cat its morning ‘Felix’ before I go to work. The cat isn’t there.
No sweat. It goes off for a few minutes now and then, probably to do its round of friendly houses to see what treats might be on offer. I take the food away again. No good leaving it for the marauding moggies. Trish works from home on certain days, so she tries again later with the food.
But the cat has not returned. The kittens are fine.
The cat has not returned. The kittens are fine. I put a hot water bottle in with them. I look around the neighbourhood for some sign of the cat but there is none. She has vanished.
The cat has not returned. The kittens are okay. But it’s been a while now. It’s been ten hours, perhaps more. Perhaps the cat has been hit by a car? Perhaps it been locked up in somebody’s shed?
I call up the North West SPCA, who are just lovely. The kittens must come into the house. The Toms who breeze through the shed in search of food may harm the kittens now that Mum is gone. Besides, it’s coming to night and getting colder. We must get some kitten food and some bottles, and we have to start hand feeding them. Somebody will come to help later. The Vet’s shop has a huge tin of kitten food and all the kit. It’s fairly expensive gear. I read the tiny print, boil kettles, measure powder out. Memories of late nights twenty-plus years before.
Trish and me, we start to bottle feed the kittens. We haven’t much of a clue what we’re doing, and the kittens are loud and feisty little beggars. Not much is going in. I get an eye dropper and squeeze some milk into each of their mouths. They make faces but some milk goes down. I didn’t read this eye dropper thing anywhere so it’s probably a terrible idea so don’t do it. Ever. Okay?
Trish gets the hang of it a bit. The kittens get some milk. It’s getting on eight o’clock. I check the shed. There is no cat there. No cat at all.
We can do a night or two of this, three hourly feeds, but we can’t keep the kittens going for the remaining four weeks it might need to get them weaned. We need some help.
And we get it.
Triona arrives in her car from the North West SPCA. Her hands and arms are torn from the feral cat that she has in a cage in her boot (no, it’s not ours). She comes in to see the kittens. I expected her to be cool and detached and businesslike. Not the case. She melts at the sight of the kittens. “Oh, they’re Gorgeous, they’re the most Gorgeous things.” She helps us with the bottle feeding, showing us a trick or two. It’s going to be a long night, but a foster can be found tomorrow. So, settle in. But wait, a phone call to Triona. Magda can take them, the little mites, she is an experienced fosterer and will feed them without trouble and hand-rear them until they are of age when they will be found homes of their own. She can take them right now.
Triona takes the kittens, along with their box, their quilt, their hot water bottle, their kitten food, and their Finding Nemo soft toy which we were using to replace the bulk of the cat. We wave them off, exhausted but secure in the knowledge that we had done our best.
You think this act is over now, the crisis averted, but it isn’t.
There is one more twist in the tale.
Can you guess what it is?
The kittens are gone to their foster home with Magda. After a while, I go to the shed to tidy up a bit and reflect on what occurred there in that tatty box in the corner. I open the door in the deepening gloom.
The cat is back. Right there, sitting in her box looking at me, her expression perhaps saying, “Okay, Nimrod, what have you done this time?”
The kittens can’t be returned and locked back in with Mum, she is wild and may reject them now that they have been bottle fed and much handled. Plus, the roaming toms are a hazard. They are better now in their foster home. They will have a life.
But it’s so very sad. The cat is in her box. I gave her some food and she eats it and looks at me. Come on, where are they?
There is one more shot. The plan was always to trap the Mum and have her neutered so that this whole scene isn’t replayed in a few months’ time. Triona comes back the next day with a cat trap. We place it close to the box, where the food normally sits, and we wait.
Teatime. No cat in the cage.
Evening. No cat in the cage.
Late night. No cat in the cage.
I get up the next morning and go in the shed. The cat is in the cage, sitting there placidly. No hiss. I cover her with sheet to keep her calm.
I bring her to Magda’s house in my car. Magda has a big soppy foster dog called Khaleesi who is smitten with the kittens. She licks them and nuzzles them and keeps watch over them. The cat is carried into the spare room where Magda looks after her fostered animals. She will leave the cat covered for a while and take things easy. She will see what happens.
The next day, I get a video on my phone. The cat is lying on her side in her basket. The three kittens are feeding from her, nestled up. They are back together again… and safe.
Yesterday, a week on, I went to visit them at their foster home. All four look sleek and healthy and very well indeed. Magda spoils them rotten though the Mum is still hissy and growly and hostile and, well, wild.
And that is it. Act III of me and the cat. When the three kittens are weaned, they will be found good homes. The cat will be neutered and returned to her domain, roaming freely though our back gardens, picking up her kindnesses wherever she can get them. We will try to trap as many of her fellow feral cats as we can and have them neutered too. She will never live in a house because she is a fully grown wild thing but, whereas before I would have had as little as possible to do with her, I won’t be able to help but keep an eye out for her from now on. Leave her a daily Felix treat. Help her out if she ever needs it. A nice lady turned up at my door yesterday asking after her wild cat pal who she feeds every day. I was pleased to be able to reassure her that everything was all right.
Stray cats don’t have names. There is nobody to put one on them. But I think, when she comes back to our gardens, I might call this one Magda, after her foster-saviour. We will doubtless glare at each other from afar, Magda and me, but maybe we’ll know each other a little better too.
Maybe we’ll have done each other a bit of good.
The North West SPCA is an entirely voluntary and non-profit organization and I have now seen, first hand, the wonderful things they do and the wonderful way they go about their work. You can follow the great work they do via their Facebook Page and maybe give them a little donation there too, if you can spare it.