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Tuesday, 8 September 2015

Guest Blog by Elizabeth Mppre - Lucy

This is the beautifully written account of Lucy, a young feral cat, who came to share Elizabeth Mppre's life. I hope you'll enjoy reading this extraordinary story as much as I did.

I was aware of Lucy before we actually met. Our vet had rescued two litters of kittens and they were all playing in a large enclosure when I went to collect food for Toby – our tuxedo cat. 

There was a beautiful champagne tabby cavorting with her siblings. When I returned in two weeks she and several other kittens had been claimed. The remaining fur balls rolled, played and stalked on.

It was several weeks before I returned. There had been a juvenile whale found in a waterway in Sydney’s north and it was not expected to survive. As I parked the car the newscaster revealed that the decision had been made to euthanase Colin the whale.

I pushed the surgery door open feeling sad and even a little teary. Without even thinking I checked the enclosure and made eye contact with the last kitten. A loud trill came from this tiny, tortie creature. I was being summoned.

The vet was managing the front desk as it was quite early. I looked at him and made some comment about the poor whale and he nodded. The decision by the marine vets was for the best.

I sighed and looked back at the little lady who was demanding my attention - talking and trilling. We had quite a conversation and I felt wretched that she was the last of the two litters. “That’s Lucy.” I was informed. “Staff members always name the kittens when they are caring for them.”

I was late for work but the germ of an idea was hovering. I mentioned Lucy to my husband and for once he said “Let’s talk about it when we get home.” He always countered any kitten request from me in a kind but firm negative. Not this time.

As soon as I finished work I drove straight back to the vets. Lucy was not in the enclosure. Relief – she was behind the scenes with one of the nurses. I asked if I could meet her as I was interested in adoption.

I was ushered into one of the examination rooms and the nurse arrived with Miss Lucy. Lucy made all the right moves for an adoption interview. She snuggled and purred and rubbed her head on my wrist.

To the practice’s credit, the nurse was conducting a covert interview. She pointed out that Lucy was not really a tiny kitten anymore – she was a lanky 5 month old and growing fast. I told the nurse I didn’t really want a kitten – I wanted a cat. Right answer apparently.

“Besides” I added remembering our exchange earlier in the day, “She is an amazing talker.” The nurse looked askance at me. “Lucy never talks.” Now that really was incredible. I quickly asked about all the necessary adoption details and hurried home to convince my husband.

He was curiously amenable and so next day Lucy and I became an official item. She had spent all her time in a vet’s enclosure so I decided to start her off gently and gave her own little room with all the basics – a bed, food, litter, water and toys. I would head in every half hour or so and sit on the floor with her while she sniffed, played and explored.

That night my husband and I could hear what can only be described as cat Olympics as she bounced and jumped and skittered in her new, very own space.

Our next task was to introduce her to Toby. He was interested but she put on her best firebrand impression and made much noise. Within minutes they were firm friends and remain inseparable.

I had been warned when I collected Lucy that she was possible very close to her first oestrus. Her sister Annabelle had been de-sexed the week I met Lucy and staff described the signs I needed to watch for.

Naturally she began calling, trilling and shimmying on our first weekend together. All night and constantly. I called the surgery and she was booked in for the following Tuesday.
I took her in for her surgery and felt dreadful. This dear little girl had spent  three full days with us and I was carting her through the door and back to all the familiar sights smells and voices she knew so well.

I fretted. Would she think she was being abandoned? Did she imagine she had not been the best cat she could have been and we had decided we didn’t want her anymore? It was awful standing in the waiting room with all these thoughts chasing around in my head.

Thankfully she was soon home with a shaved tummy, stitches and instructions about keeping her quiet and rested while she recuperated. The nightly Olympics resumed immediately. She did not miss a beat.

Lucy slipped seamlessly into our lives. She adored Toby, loved my husband but was obviously my kitten. Each morning she would jump onto the bed accompanied by her lovely trilling calls. We would snuggle and then I was gently encouraged to start her day with food and litter duties.

One morning, her snuggles varied a little. She leaned across me and pushed my left breast with her head. I moved her away as I was about to get up and attend to her breakfast.

She repeated the behaviour the next morning but this time she was much more insistent – annoying even. I reached across to stop her and as I moved her head I felt a lump. A lump that was not going away. A lump I should have found myself had I not been so haphazard in my own self breast examinations.

Everything changed in seconds. My doctor saw me without an appointment, I spent a day at the Sydney Breast Clinic confirming my fears and by the end of the week I was in surgery.

There are numberless accounts of surgeries, chemo and radiotherapie. I won’t go into detail. I spent months dutifully following every instruction I received, attending every appointment and downing every medication. Eight months later I was pronounced fit for work. Five years later the powers that be were tentatively pleased with my progress.

So – was it sheer happenstance? Dogs sniff cancer – but cats? I honestly don’t know but Lucy found my cancer. I really don’t care how she did it – she essentially saved my life – at the very least she hastened my diagnosis and treatment.

She has tortitude by the bucket load. She loves my husband and me unconditionally and occasionally my daughter. I have friends who do not believe Lucy lives in my house.  All strangers are to be hidden from, but supervision of the tradesman working on our renovations is deemed necessary, albeit from a safe distance.

I knew very little about torties before I met Lucy. I know a lot more now and have become one of an elite group, enchanted tortie lovers. It’s an exclusive club – by invitation only and I and so glad I was asked to join.

Saturday, 5 September 2015

Brutus - Our Feral Cat

It seems like a lifetime ago, but actually it wasn’t. This blog tells the tale of how Jack, my husband, and I came to share our lives with a feral cat.

One evening during the renovation process of our tumbledown hunting estate in France, we were sitting outside on an old section of broken-down wall. Chatting away exhaustedly about the latest disasters that had befallen us that day, we were interrupted by a strange sound coming from the bushes. We both stared at the leaves, but couldn’t see a thing. Then suddenly we heard what we thought was a meow. We peered again, but nothing. Although it had definitely sounded like a cat, with no neighbours for miles around, we just assumed we were imagining things. But we couldn’t be sure.

As a precaution, and much to our dogs’ disgust, we left some of their food out in a dish in case our hunch was correct. I rushed out the next day and was excited to find that there wasn’t a scrap left. Jack quite sensibly told me it had very likely been eaten by a fox, or other wild animal, and not to fuss. He was probably right, but I still had a hunch that we had a cat somewhere. Each evening we banished the dogs to a safe distance and began a very pleasant nightly beer-drinking-on-a-boulder vigil. Our patience eventually paid off.

About a week had passed before we spotted her, a small face peeking timidly through the undergrowth. No wonder we hadn’t seen her before, her tortoiseshell markings blended perfectly with the foliage. Sitting absolutely still, we watched and talked to her, hoping that she’d have the confidence to venture out. This took a while, but when she finally emerged we were treated to the sight of a lovely, petite cat who was obviously stuffed full of kittens.

Over the following days her confidence grew and we were eventually allowed to stroke her whiskers and the sides of her face and body, but never her ears – these were her radars, always pricked and alert for the sounds of danger. Amazingly though, she was incredibly mild-mannered and trusting, and even let me brush her. This was evidently a blissful new experience which caused her to purr like an outboard motor. With no collar, or other explanation for her appearance, we concluded that she must be a feral cat who lived in our woods. If she was going to stay around I decided that she needed a name. So, severely lacking in inspiration, we ended up calling the poor animal Pusskins.

A couple of weeks later her evening routine changed and she became even more furtive than usual. Showing a massively distended belly, she began roaming restlessly around the barns, mewing gently. We assumed that she was ready to give birth and needed somewhere safe and dry to have her kittens. Then quite suddenly she disappeared completely. I was distraught and hunted high and low, fearful that she might be in distress, but there was no sign of her anywhere.

At this stage I had all but given up hope but as I passed the tractor shed one day I was distracted by a scuffling sound coming from behind one of the old crates. I stared into the gloom and gazing dreamily back at me was our little feral cat surrounded by several balls of fur. Pusskins had given birth! At that stage I had no idea how many there were, but I could certainly see tabbies, a ginger, and a cream coloured kitten. I couldn’t believe my eyes, they were absolutely gorgeous. I rushed excitedly back to the house to break the news to Jack, who hunted around and confirmed that we had six new arrivals to our home.

Now we had a difficult decision to make. One of the projects we started was to raise pheasants and partridges to repopulate our woods. At the time we had around 300 chicks in brooder sheds next door. Our worry was that with many hungry mouths to feed, our new mum would be very likely to use these fledglings to teach her youngsters some early hunting skills. This would be perfectly natural behaviour, an easy meal, but definitely unwelcome. Unsure of what we should do we asked our vet for advice. He explained that there was a serious feral cat problem in the area. Interbreeding and disease were rife amongst the feline colonies, and we should do everything we could to prevent them contributing to the already burgeoning population. The writing was on the wall – have the litter put down, or take them in. Our conclusion was an easy one; we took mum and her kittens in.

It was a great idea in theory but not so simple in practice. First things first we had to catch the kittens. This was very tricky because they were extremely adept at skittering around and under machinery and squishing themselves into the tiniest spaces imaginable. After much clambering and falling over boxes and oily bits of machine, and much cussing from Jack, we finally we managed it. We took them to the house and made a new nest out of an old puppy bed in a dog cage. 

Our next worry was how we would feed them. Luckily this was where Pusskins came into her own. Her terror of entering a human building was overcome by the instinctive need to feed her young, so mealtimes quickly became a team activity. Much to the disgust of our dogs once again, she would pluck up courage, creep stealthily into the house, and pop into the cage to nurse her hungry mob. We’d close the cage door to give her complete privacy, and she’d lie there until the job was done. She would then become restive until we re-opened the door which allowed her to speed back to the freedom of her outdoor domain. She repeated this twice a day, but it wasn’t enough.

As we all know kittens need several feeds a day so, under instruction from our vet, we supplemented her efforts by bottle feeding. This, by the way, is not an easy task because kittens are very wriggly little suckers!

Four weeks later we trapped our little Pusskins after a feeding session, and took her to the vet to be sterilised. Knowing that she would be ready to mate again it was the least we could do to help maintain her health. It must have been a terrifying ordeal for her, but she coped fantastically well and never growled or fought once. Meanwhile we continued to bottle feed the kittens and gradually introduced them to solid food.

Pusskins made a perfect recovery from her surgery and, once again, instinctively seemed to know that her job was done. She took very little interest in her kittens after six weeks and only rarely came into the house again. So there we were – six fluffy beauties who ate, played and generally caused havoc. Well nearly. There was one which was different from the others. Although it was very big, it was always much more reserved and very nervous of us humans. I was instantly drawn to this fragile creature.

Much as I would have loved to, there was no doubt about it, we couldn’t keep all the kittens. But having been brought up with lots of cats I was desperate to keep at least one. Jack had become unusually besotted by them and agreed, so we decided to invite animal-loving friends of ours to come round to give homes to the others. This was a great arrangement, although I would later realise how hard it was to see our kits being examined by prospective new families. I was under strict instructions to let them choose whichever kitten they wanted, which was agony because I always knew which one I wanted to keep.

Prior to the first visit the main challenge we had was to establish what sex they were. Most of our friends had said that they wanted to have females, so we unceremoniously turned each kitten bottom-up to try and work out their gender. Fairly sure of our findings, we then named them because it was easier for identification purposes when we were picking each out for feeding sessions. Unfortunately for the little critters, I’d been reading a Roman history thriller at the time so they mostly got saddled with names as awful as Pusskins.

We wanted to do everything properly for the kittens, so arranged for them to be picked up by their new families after their first vaccination. Our trip to the vet to have this done also involved a confirmation of each animal’s gender. As it turned out we weren’t world-class experts in the cat-sexing department, so some rapid re-naming had to be done. Caesar became Cleo, Maximus became Maxine, but Ginger remained Ginger in spite of the fact that she was a girl. Then there were three boys. Hercule, so named because he was incredibly nosy, Tigger who was on springs and completely hyperactive, and finally the huge, but terribly timid, Brutus.

Our first groups of friends came to examine and coo at the kittens. After much playing and cuddling the girls were selected, but the boys were left. I was terrified that Brutus would be next, but I needn’t have worried. Hercule was big and bold and Tigger was the litter comic so whilst they stole the show, Brutus hung back, resisting all attempts at being handled. Everyone decided that he was the true feral, and would never make a house pet so left him to hide in a corner. How wrong they were.

By the time they were 10 weeks old all the kittens had gone apart from Brutus. Pusskins had reverted to her ghost-like appearances and now refused to eat our continued offerings. But I was happy because we still had Brutus.

A richly-coloured tabby, to my eyes he was an extraordinarily beautiful boy, filled with feline grace and poise. As the months passed he gained more confidence in himself and us and purred like mad when stroked and cuddled.

However, whilst he was loving and tactile with my husband and I, his expression would turn to one of pure terror if someone else came into the house. He was the same with machines, the very sound of which would cause him to run for cover underneath our bed.

Today, five years later, Brutus is exactly the same. He has grown into a fine, big cat who is the most gentle animal we have ever had the privilege to share our lives with. His exquisite face and gentle, sensitive, temperament closely resemble that of his mum, as does his natural nervousness. But with us he plays and wrestles and snuggles, and does all those things his siblings did – but only with us.

We absolutely adore our big wild cat. He works with me at my computer, watches me while I cook and stalks leaves in the garden pretending that he’s a big brave boy. He’s the boss of our dogs, our home and he has my heart. We’ll always be thankful for the day that his mum came into our lives and allowed us to take care of her family.