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Sunday, November 25, 2007

Blue eyes and black coat


George still had some of the blue eyes of a kitten when I took him home. Within weeks that blue tinge had grown into a light golden colour, better suited to his little black face.The skin inside his ears was pink, and they seemed unusually large for his face. They were ears to grow into, like baby clothes bought large to allow for longer wearing. The hair of his face, and most of his body, was medium long and stood at right angles to his body, except for the short hair of his tiny black nose. Little wisps of hair stuck out of his large pink ears and single large hairs grew from his face. His whiskers were modest, as befitted an animal of his size - the only modest thing about him. He looked not so much fluffy as sort of starey haired. Not the most beautiful of kittens except in my doating eyes.
As he grew, his hair stayed the same length and started becoming tougher. The way it grew out of his body changed. It began to grow parallel, sleeking down to become shiney in sunlight. The bottom of his feet, the thick leathery skin of his paws was a bluish black. Those paws that had, like his ears, seemed too big for his tiny kitten body began to take on adult proportions. Small, soft and starey, the little kitten was to grow into a sleek elongated cat, from sweetness to strength.
The poet Robert Southey lamented the end of kittenhood. "Kitten is in the animal world what the rosebud is in the garden; the one the most beautiful of all young creatures, the other the loveliest of all opening flowers, " he wrote. "The rose loses only something in delicacy by its development, - enough to make it a serious emblem to the pensive mind; but if a cat could remember kittenhood, as we remember our youth, it were enough to break a cat’s heart, even if it had nine times nine heart strings."
To my mind, however, the chubbiness of kittenhood has nothing to the full grown beauty of an adult cat. Besides, George was fully grown in character from the start. He was always quite certain what he wanted and he was always ready to play.

Monday, November 19, 2007

Bold George's education.


George was bold from the beginning. He squeaked his protest when Lou, his foster mother, handed him to me but settled down in my arms immediately. I placed him in the cat box and drove him home. No more kitten noises. He accepted being alone in the carrier with equanimity. And when I placed him in the crate (a kind of large cage) within the living room, investigated it thoroughly, ate some of the kitten food, used the litter tray and climbed into the bed.
Kittens have to be handled between two and seven weeks in order not to fear humans. George had been handled by Lou and indeed bottle fed by her. He had no fear of humans. In theory the fear instinct in cats is meant to appear at the age of about five or six weeks and according to the books even a kitten who has been well handled by humans may go through a period of avoiding them. By 10 weeks this fear period disappears and the well handled kitten becomes an affectionate cat.
George just cut through this theory. From being a helpless fearless kitten he moved into being a fearless affectionate adolescent without ever going through the fear of humans stage. I could pick him up and cradle him on his back - something I did a lot as I had always wanted a cradle cat. I introduced him to everybody I could think of - the postman, the delivery people, friends, neighbours. Anybody who visited the cat got George to cuddle. When I took him to the vet for a check over and vaccinations, I passed him to the receptionist, the nurse, and each person in the waiting room. He met about 24 people in the first month.
I was giving him the ideal upbringing as a pet. George was going to be a bombproof cat. He was bold. Very bold.

Monday, November 12, 2007

A real little corker.


"He makes his wishes known," said Lou Tyack of West Oxfordshire Cats Protection. "He's a real little corker, this one." She handed the small black kitten to me who squeaked in protest. He was not frightened, merely indignant. His fur positively bristled with outrage as he realised he was being transferred to an unknown female.
George's early life had been spent with Lou Tyack in a cat chalet at the bottom of her Oxfordshire garden. Four kittens had been rescued as a wild litter and handed over to Lou - two black ones and two black and white. I had heard of them while lying on my back with my legs in table top position during a pilates class. As we drew in our muscles and indented our stomachs to get the second leg up to table top, one of my classmates turned her head in my direction and whispered: "Do you know that Lou has some kittens."
Kittens in October are rare, particularly kittens born in the wild. It's normally too late in the year for kittens to survive the winter and most female cats don't come on heat so late. Nature knows the effort of pregnancy may well be wasted. The only winter kittens are those produced by unscrupulous pedigree breeders or equally unscrupulous low life people who think they can make a few extra pence by selling kittens as Christmas presents. These wild kittens, the tiny black male and his three sisters, would probably have died that autumn. How did they arrive so late into a cold world so unfriendly to wild kittens? Perhaps their mother was as fearless and irrepressible as her son was to be, and just fancied a handsome passing tom that autumn despite it not being the right season for cats living wild.
Her four little kittens, if by some miracle they had survived in the wild, would have grown up feral. Their mother was just one of the many unknown cats who live a hidden life in the wild sheltering in damp hedges, or dusty derelict buildings or creeping into factories at night for the warmth left over from day time work. Some of them, the best survivors, are wild from birth, others are pets that have got lost, still others are pets that are thrown out by owners who no longer want them. Their lifespan is often less than two years, as they scrounge for food among the dustbins or try to keep themselves alive by hunting rabbits and rats in the wet fields. For an entire tom cat, it is a life of roaming in search of sex, caterwauling around the roof tops, or dodging the gamekeepers and their guns. For the un-neutered females it is a desperate and short life bearing litters of kittens. Near starving mothers do their best to rear their offspring but few of them survive.
The tiny black kitten and his sisters were alive thanks to Cats Protection and Lou's bottle feeding. But it was unusual to find unwanted kittens in a rescue centre that time of year and I had thought I would have to wait until Spring. I couldn't adopt an adult cat. A kitten was what I had to have, as in 2006 I was spending part of the week in London and part of it in Oxfordshire. A young kitten could be acclimatised to the car and would grow up relaxed about having two different territories. An older cat would have hated each journey. So, though there were cats more desperately needing homes, I had to have a kitten. and a young one at that.
A black kitten was my choice, because black is the least popular colour. Tabbies, gingers, tortoiseshells, blues and whites are quickly chosen out of the rescue pens regardless of their temperaments. Black and whites are not much desired but are taken eventually. In rescue centres where the public are allowed to walk by looking at the cats, they often fail to give black cats even a second glance. Friendly black cats will walk hopefully towards the passing human only to be ignored. Taking a black kitten was the least I could do, to help Cats Protection and the rescue movement in general. I also wanted a black cat because my last cat, Fat Mog, had been strong minded and black. Mog had been put to sleep with kidney disease about two or three months earlier.
A young kitten, as young as eight weeks, would grow up thinking car journeys were a normal part of life. "I can't give him to you yet," Lou had said a week earlier. "He's eight weeks old and he's eating solid food but he still likes his bottle. I don't want to wean him too early if he wants to continue on the bottle." Obviously the small black kitten, rather me or Lou, had taken charge of the the timing of his adoption.
I named him George because I knew he was valiant and irrepressible, and I hoped he would grow up to be loving and gorgeous.

Thursday, November 08, 2007

Day 11. No George

I went round four or five places calling and checked out a guy who is said to shoot round my nearby woods. It turns out I know him and he wouldn't have shot George. So that was reassuring.
I think George is dead otherwise he would have come home. I am way for three days and will resume this blog on my return with an obituary of his life starting with his arrival at my home.
Cellia, George's human.

Wednesday, November 07, 2007

Day 10 - still no George


This was George playing in the sink. I wanted a photo to place on www.catsinsinks.com ( I think that\s the website). He was always happy to oblige for the camera. I have scores of pictures of him playing - in sinks, in waste paper baskets, up trees, with dead mice, with cat toys. He was a good player.
The search is on hold for a few days as I am going to look at standing stones this coming weekend. Ronnie will be at home just in case he turns up. I have decided to write George's life story in this blog, starting with the small black kitten with a mind of its own. A sort of extended obituary.
Thank you, Oscar, for the quotation. I knew the first half but not the second bit.

Tuesday, November 06, 2007

Day 9 - no George

The black cat in Asthall, seen round a skip, is probably a feral. There is one in the village, also a tabby that is perhaps a stray. I owe this information to the farmer's wife, living in a caravan because of the devastating floods. She once lost a dog that simply never was found again so she knows the pain of uncertainity. The farm has a shoot, and she is going to tell the beaters about George. I didn't think he would be that far away but I needed to check. I have left a poster on the village noticeboard - just in case.
I am off to London today, leaving the cat flap open for cats to come in but closed for cats that go out. I wish I could stop hoping.

Monday, November 05, 2007

Day 8. No George


Yesterday I checked the two most likely places, drove on the roads where there is most likely to be corpse and handed out leaflets to dog walkers. I got a new lead. A black cat had been seen near a builders skip in the village of Asthall. This is quite far away - nearer five miles than two - and the lead came in as darkness fell. I am going there this morning.
Tracey, one of Smudge's two owners, is the local RSPCA inspector and she is going to keep an eye out. She also asked the shooters' beaters to look out for him. So that will make it more likely that they hold back, if he is still alive.
For my peace of mind, I am trying to think of him as being dead - after a glorious two year life of hunting and being cuddled. A good combination for a cat. A full life. His loss is the consequence of my decision to let him out in the wide wide world - the English way of keeping cats. I would do it again but now I know the cost of freedom. Freedom isn't a free gift either for humans or cats. It is paid for in lives. George paid for his. I think it is still worth it.
I am still praying for him.

Sunday, November 04, 2007

Day 7 Still no George

Yesterday I rushed off to the nearest hamlet where a black cat, looking like George, was sitting on somebody's garden shed. I called. He looked at me, thought about coming and stayed where he was. I called some more and he started to look uneasy, then jumped off the shed and ran off. it turns out he was Smudge. Smudge is owned by two people who live only two doors away and both think he belongs to them. (I haven't enlightened them!!). But he spends most of his time with a third person further down the same road. Cats!
I left food at the nearby farm buildings which was untouched this morning. So if there is a black cat there, he is a visitor not a resident. Resident cats patrol their territory carefully. George would have recognised the bowl. I left the food there as I would like to see the visitor just to rule him out. I think he may be the feral from Buttermilk Farm - a cat with a hunting territory which includes two other lots of farm buildings.
The Astall Leigh bench, where i left some food yesterday morning, still had it during the day but it was eaten during the night. Either another feral in the further reaches of his territory or a fox patrolling his territory. I put down some more. I will check this until I go away on Thursday on a long-booked four day archeaological trip. Ronnie will be there if George comes home.
I now think George is dead, which is some kind of relief really. But I will keep checking until I go away.

Saturday, November 03, 2007

Day 6. Still no George

Yesterday i continued to leaflet the local houses within a two mile radius. I also gave tradesmen in vans leaflets when I could. I rang one of the local vets whom I had previously missed. The result has been three phone calls. One about a black cat in Minster Lovell. Not George because she wears a collar. In Asthall Leigh there was a black female cat with two kittens, quite wild, earlier in the autumn. And there is a black cat hanging round one of the farms near Minster. All in all this means in a five mile radius there are at least two feral cats, one possibly feral, and one lost pet. The countryside (with no dustbins to support strays) has a hidden population of non-owned cats in the autumn. I should think most die off in a cold winter.
I have started putting a little food down in the farm where a black cat has been seen and I am going to visit daily and call. I don't think it is George but I would like to be able to rule it out as a possibility. I have also left food on a bench where a black cat was seen leaping into the hedge. I went early today before 7am and called. I didn't walk the hedges - just as well as a grumpy farmer passed by. I want to avoid getting caught trespassing if I can because once I am warned off, it will be harder to do next time. But walking them in the dark is just too difficult. I fell over twice when I did this.
All in all, I am scaling down hedge walking. If George is in a snare, he will be dead by now. I was tortured by the thought of him dying slowly but now that, at least, is over if it happened.
My best chance is that he turns up in somebody's garden. That might be weeks away.

Friday, November 02, 2007

DAY 4... GEORGE IS STILL MISSING


Yesterday was a day of false sightings. First, a cat near the oak tree in the field near Purrants Lane. It was probably the cat, black with white feet, belonging to somebody in the lane - with its feet hidden in grass. Next a black cat near Buttermilk Farm. I ran gasping for breath (aged 63 is too old for this) just to late to see it vanish into a barn. But the farm owner tells me it is her local feral and when I called it did not come. Worst of all, was the sighting by a friend of George down several fields away towards Minster Lovell. Good friend that she is we went out in the dark with torches - no luck. I went back again this morning at 7am calling. No luck again. I had left some catfood on a bench near the road and it had been eaten. Probably a fox but I have left a bit more. I am going to leaflet that end of Asthall Leigh. The cat seen there was slim and sleek but with a bushy tail. Odds are that it is not George. However at least there were no bodies on the road this morning.
I also left a poster with the Blue Cross. I am going to put one on that bench.
Thank you all for your friendly comments, cross blogs etc. It is comforting for me.

Help for cats whose humans show behaviour problems.

This blog is devoted to the study of human behaviour. We cats, who live with this sometimes unpredictable and always feeble minded species, can benefit from seeing their behaviour in its proper scientific context. The study of feline dilemmas, training problems, and difficulties with humans, can only benefit all of us. All of us train our humans - to buy the right food, for instance, but many of us do not have knowledge of how to improve our training methods. The human species is obviously not as intelligent as the cat, but nevertheless can learn quite a lot - if properly managed. Topics of interest include the use of claw and order, purring as a human reward, rubbing your human up the right way, when to bite, spraying as a method of making our wishes known, ignoring the human, human harassment, human inattention and sheer human stupidity. I welcome your questions. Photos can be sent via my secretary's website, www.celiahaddon.com This blog has been chosen as one of the top 50 feline blogs by Online VetTechprogramms.org