It is not every day that you wait for a train at a tiny station in a mixed residential-industrial area and are greeted loudly by a cat who comes running down the platform towards you, past you and then starts to go over the edge of the platform, in front of an incoming train.
When I was growing up, my mother used to marvel that no matter where the family went, if I was with them, within a few minutes of arrival, a cat would show up. Most of these were well-nourished, happy, homed cats who just liked a wander and a stranger’s cuddle. The few that were skinny were also feral and wouldn’t come near me, just watch me from a distance with bright, slanted eyes.
This has followed most of my life, with cats fetching up in the oddest of places and I have spent many happy hours cuddling various feline forms. I guess then it is no wonder that I ended up with Bast as my Goddess and a house full of furry-purries. I have also been called on to view dead cats, when their carers have tried to understand why they have died. This is most upsetting – sixteen years later I can still recall the beautiful tabby I was once led to, dead from a brick across the face at an oil refinery, killed by someone with nothing better to do than to hate a creature who kept the place vermin-free.
However I have never seen a cat leap to its death in front of me and thankfully, that event was postponed (and hopefully will never happen) as I bellowed “No” and the cat turned away and ran up the platform, disorientated by the noise. Once the train had stopped, I ran towards it, discarding my bags (why am I always carrying shedloads of stuff when this sort of thing happens?) along the way, scooped it up and held it close whilst the train, which was the one I had been waiting for, pulled out of the station. As people walked down the platform I asked if anyone recognised it. No-one did.
What do you do with a cat who is obviously domesticated, scared, possibly lost and definitely in danger when you are two hours away from home, don’t know the area at all well, have no money to cab it (it was just before payday), have no-one you can ask to drive that distance to fetch you and even if you could, the cat is probably local and you’ll do it an even bigger disservice by preventing its return to its owner by taking it way out of the neighbourhood, the RSPCA helpline is closed and you know of no local vets?
A closer inspection of the cat revealed a sweet white cat with tabby ears, ginger bits and a dark tabby tail, age unknown but fully mature, and although a little raggedy, had been in very good previous shape. All this added up to a cherished pet who had got lost.
The cat was certainly enjoying the cuddle and stayed in my arms as I picked up my bags and headed away from the station. There is a row of houses to the right of the back of the station, to the left a large common, made up of brush and gorse and a few tracks. I decided to ask a few neighbours if they knew the cat. This was unsuccessful.
The cat then bolted out of my arms and went back to the station. I followed it and instead of going back to the platform, it headed for the common. I stopped at this point and just watched as I wanted to see if it knew where it was going. It seemed to – it stopped to sniff at the sides of the path before walking up it and onto the common proper. The common is not level, but comprised of hilly ground and the main path meanders through it, with less-trodden tracks going off at intervals along the path.
The cat had walked just out of eyesight when I decided to follow it again and kept at a distance whilst it wended its way along. At a point it stopped, came off the path and walked up an incline, jumped over something and sat behind what appeared to be a bunch of branches in the near darkness. As I neared, I realised that next to the cat was a mattress. The cat looked perfectly at home, sitting safely behind the branches. I wondered if it had taken up with a homeless person. There was nothing more I could do, so asking the Gods to take care of it, I wandered back to the station. The cat did not follow me and did not appear again on the platform.
The next day, on my day off, which should have been spent gardening (can you guess yet why it remains a jungle?), I went back to the station to see if I could find the cat, armed with food, water and a cat carrier. Two hours later I arrived and I spent the next hour and a half looking for it. I found a rabbit warren, several hundred crickets (most of which seemed to want to land on me), about 30 empty bottles of alcohol, countless pieces of litter, but no cat. There was no sign of it at all. The nearest I got was some feathers which had obviously come from a kill, about two minutes along from where I had seen the cat. Closer inspection however showed that a large patch of grass around the feathers had been crushed, leading me to believe that a fox, not a cat, had eaten there. I left some food for it and went up on the bridge over the station to see if it had made it to the other side of the station. Whilst up there, I carefully and wincingly checked the tracks that led into and out of the station, to see if I could spot a body. Thankfully, there was none to be seen.
I’ll have another look on Thursday when I return to work. I’m hoping that I got the cat the right side of the station and that it has found its way home as the alternatives do not bear thinking about.
Just before this happened, I read in the online version of a local newspaper that a woman had been evicted from her council flat for allowing drug dealing from the residence, causing her neighbours considerable problems. The reporter had written that after the eviction, the only things left behind were a wide-screen TV and a black and white cat, before council workers came to board the flat up.
Having recently heard of a similar event, with the cat boarded up inside the flat and left to starve to death, I realised that I had little time to ascertain whether the cat was inside or outside, rehomed and safe, or left to die of thirst and hunger. I was at work and had no way to make it out of there with time enough to get within a reasonable hour to the flat to make enquiries.
Gods bless ex-husbands, for it was he I called and he who not only got hold of the newspaper to make them aware that there were concerned people who wanted to know what had happened to the cat, but who also took a trip to the flats that evening and talked to the neighbours to try and find out what had happened.
Thankfully, the cat had been removed and rehomed and at that moment was not sitting trapped, helpless and alone behind shutters of steel.
Why is it that the councils seem to think it is okay to board an animal up in this way? When did legitimate cruelty enter the statute books? How much effort exactly does it cost to make one phone call to an animal rescue organisation to help the pets left behind by the dregs of our society?
I do not expect everyone to spend their day off travelling around the UK, trying to locate a vulnerable animal and to those who think I’m unhinged to do it, that’s your opinion and you’re entitled to it. I’m long past the point of being embarrassed by my behaviour. However, at what point in our supposedly animal-friendly, pet-loving society did this become the norm? What council worker first said, “sod it, I’ll just board the cat or dog up and leave it to its lonely painful death”? What type of people stand round and watch it happen? And why is the response to someone who tries to help a scathing one? Is it that people feel guilty about being bystanders to brutality and shrug off their feelings by belittling the person who disagrees with them?
In any event, I won’t shut up. I won’t be constrained by a society who approves of a “turn your face away” response to horrific events. I won’t sit and watch any creature, human or animal be led to destruction. And if that puts me into conflict with the authorities, if that makes me as “mad” or “stupid” or any of the labels that people seem so keen to have me swallow, then so be it. I care nothing for the opinion of someone who would watch this happen and stand by, approve or make excuses for it.