Approaching middle-age (45, but feel about 10 and still wondering what to do when I grow up). Single (divorced for years), mother to one son. Owner of a large and handsome black cat. Just one cat – for now at least.
You see I ended up being a cat lover by accident. Our family members were all “dog people”, we had a lot of dogs when I was a child, a selection of savvy mongrels, some undeniably beautiful but daft pedigree specimens and a fantastic black German Shepherd called Berry. I was also lucky enough to have a pony when I was growing up. What’s this got to do with cats you may be thinking? (I’m writing this and I too, am wondering when I’m going to get to the point, not long now, honest.)
The day came when I had to leave all these animals behind me because I got married. The man I chose to marry had never been allowed to keep a pet. His home was a temple to Dettol and Flash and fastidiousness. Carefully calculated ounces of food to last the week, 4 ounces of cheese per adult per week and 2 ounces per child. I recall going to the in-laws (outlaws) house for tea one Sunday and after wiping my nose, (shocking hayfever), I put the used tissue in the kitchen bin. I might as well have pee’d on the axminster.
Followed by the mother outlaw saying “We don’t put tissues in the bin, we flush them down the toilet, because they harbour germs.” (I tell you, it would be a brave germ that took up residence in her house).
This was the kind of home my ex-husband grew up in. No pets, no snotty noses, take your shoes off at the front door. When I got married I worked full time, and it was utterly impractical to have a dog. By this time though, the family attitude to cats had softened and my parents had given refuge to two cats called Tiffin and Milly. We were also friends with a couple who had a tabby cat called Fanny, who liked to wander off – whereupon my mate would ask passing strangers if they’d seen her Fanny. Oh how we laughed, no really it was dead funny!
Anyhow, my mate and her fella found a stray tabby kitten under their car and because Fanny was a diva she wouldn’t give him a bit of peace. With heavy hearts they took him to a lady called Mrs Bacon who took in strays for the Cats Protection League. The ex said that he would consider permitting me a cat as I was feeling the want of a pet in the house. Eventually I ended up with the tabby kitten, called him Rum Tum Tugger, (I just know you’ll talk about me for this), then on my second wedding anniversary, my ex produced a little tabby girl kitten, that I called Lulu.
After seven years my marriage broke up (once again the cliché, someone [not me] scratched the seven-year itch). The break up was awful, the ex said that he didn’t want to be married anymore and so off he went.
I was 8 months pregnant with my son when he left and I was forced to move house – obviously Lulu and Tugger came with me. Having a baby on my own was not part of my life plan and the circumstances I found myself in were really reduced. Time moved on and Tugger passed away when he was about 9 – his lifespan was relatively short and it was a real loss. I don’t want to describe my feelings as I’ll be depressed, but I have so many happy memories of him. The milestone of him learning the catflap and the fact that he’d wait on the stairs at head height, poke his head through the bannister and wait for me to kiss him on the top of his head when I came in from work.
Lulu, my son and I were then the core family unit. My son and Lulu adored each other, I mean it, she was so patient with him. He was often less than gentle with her and she never scratched, lashed or hissed at him. Lulu was 17 when she got ill, she developed a massive tumour really quickly and from diagnosis to euthanasia it took just 3 weeks. It was the 17th December that we lost her. My son and my mum came with me to the vets and when we got home with her empty cat basket we just put it away, cleaned all the bowls and dealt with the litter tray. My kitchen floor had never been so clean – no little cat biscuits dropped from a soft mouth that had lost a few teeth, no little grains of cat litter that had stuck to, and fallen off, a snowy white paw.
I lasted a week with no cat in the house. I came home from work one night and surveyed the clean floor, empty of all its usual feline accoutrements, and said to my son and my mum, “I’m getting another cat as soon as I can”. Mum’s response was negative – she had loved Lulu and was just as cut up about her loss as me and my son. She doesn’t live with us but spends a lot of time at our house. Her reasoning was that the loss of a pet was heartbreaking and to be fair to her she knows a lot about heartbreak, my mum does. I’m no stranger to it myself. My son was cautious – caught up in feelings of disloyalty to Lulu – the ache of loss was still so fresh, but wanting to have the comfort of a new cat.
The next day I looked online and emailed local RSPCA and Cats Protection League refuge centres offering a loving home to a cat – no-one emailed back, I was surprised, they’d invited email enquiries. Why was no-one answering? Do they not want to provide homes for these cats? Then someone pointed me in the direction of an animal sanctuary in Crosby, near Liverpool.
We went off to the animal sanctuary and we looked around and chose a cat. I had very specific criteria in my head for the new cat. I wanted a young, (up to 6 months old) female, preferably a tabby with a loving nature. I suppose I was looking for another Lulu. I wanted a cat who liked a cuddle, would be sociable, one who would have a little chat with you while you were mooching around the kitchen. One that would let you squeeze it until its eyes popped! (Hyperbole. Not cruel squeezing – indicates vast amounts of love you want to bestow upon your chosen cat).
We squared our choice of cat with the volunteers in the office, and went back to pick her up. When we got there we were told there had been a mix up and the cat had already been promised to someone else. “But please, look around; we have many lovely cats here”. And so we did, and so they did and so we chose again. And so we went back to collect the new cat – to be told that she was one of a pair and they couldn’t be split up and that she’d and her sister had been promised to someone else anyway. Went home again. Time was getting on – when the volunteer lady came to do the home check we had been told that they didn’t rehome animals over Christmas because of the general levels of chaos in the average family home. Our family is quiet, and our home is quiet, this was remarked upon by the home visit lady. I had mentioned that I would like to have the cat over Christmas because it meant that both my son and I were off work and school and would have time available to help new cat settle in. Lady nodded – it seemed like I was making sense but the policy was strict.
My mother is a great believer in the power of prayer and she told me she was saying a few words so that we could get a cat that would suit us.
I perused the website for the animal sanctuary – noticing a funny picture of a black cat called Milo. It made me smile because Milo had been photographed wearing a lamp shade of a collar that the vet had put on him. Milo had a very cross face. Milo, in fact, had a face on him like an oul boot. I like black cats though, I like black clothes as they allegedly make you look thinner (I’m deluded here). In fact, the last two cars I have bought have been black because I think my bum looks smaller in them. However, measured against my criteria Milo was the wrong gender, about 2 years too old and looked like a grumpy git.
I scanned the website and found a pretty little girly cat called Doughnut. Dainty and black and white – I’m starting to compromise on colour here. On December 24th we went back to meet Doughnut in person. We went into the little compound which Doughnut shared with about 6 other cats. We found Doughnut ensconced in a little cat house and despite our coaxing, she wouldn’t engage with us.
However, as we stood there, me and the lad looking at each sadly, we were accosted by a massive black cat. This cat did not possess a tail. This cat jumped onto a shelf at head height and tapped us on the shoulders – no joke! At the same as he was trying to get our attention, he was ducking his head into little bowls of cat biscuits and scoffing them. He was gorgeous and had a personality!
We looked at the photographs outside the compound to see if we could put a name to this wonderful cat and after a process of elimination found that he could only be Milo! The boot-faced Milo I’d seen on the internet. The lack of tail explained why he’d needed the vet collar, his tail had been amputated on admittance because of some injury and he’d been at the cattery about 3 months. My son and I looked at each other; this cat was really selling himself to us, purring, snuggling up, face rubbing. We instantly bonded with him, I know it may sound a bit daft but it was true, he wanted us! No brainer – we wanted him – this was our cat.
We went to see the man – hoping that Milo was still available and we could reserve him til after Christmas. The man said he wasn’t reserved and given that we’d had the all clear from the home-visit lady he bent the rules said we could take him with us straight away! I gave them a donation, signed the adoption papers and packed Milo into a cat carrier and secured him and my son in the back of my car. He made not a murmur until I got on the motorway and exceeded the speed limit – he yowled, I slowed down and he settled down. We got home, showed him where to have a wee, where his water and food were and within an hour he’d explored the house.
I sat on the sofa, a bit drained because we’d had a few days of ups and downs. The “yes you can” and “no you can’t” of our two previous choices of cat and then the Eureka moment of finding this perfect, handsome specimen! So there I am, on the sofa and Milo walked over, climbed onto my lap and wriggled his way into the crook of my arm like a baby. He went to sleep. My mum and I cried, because his presence was so soothing and he was everything we could have hoped for.
My mum says the other 2 cats wouldn’t have been what we needed and Milo was the answer to her prayer. I’m not arguing with her. He’s lived with us for 5 years now and has been on boating holidays with us, he came with us when we went to stay with our family in Scotland and has charmed everyone he has ever met. We love him and he loves us.
I read recently that the best way to honour a pet you have lost is to rescue another one, but sometimes that rescued pet can rescue you.
Jayne lives near Liverpool in the United Kingdom, and has just started blogging. Apart from writing some very amateur concert reviews for a fanzine, Jayne says she has no literary credentials to speak of! Jayne works in education and doesn’t like pina coladas or getting caught in the rain. The names have been changed to protect the innocent, but other than that the story is as true as truth can be. Follow Jayne on Twitter @J2yny and let her know what you liked about her story in a comment here!