Not all rescues happen smoothly. In fact, I can’t think of one that has done. Something always happens so you learn to plan ahead for the unexpected. I really should have known …
And so it came to pass one day that I did something completely out of character – I accepted a friend request from someone who I didn’t actually know. It was only the second time in the history of my facebook account that I did this. And whilst browsing through her wall, I came across a post from a friend of hers, talking about needing to rehome three cats really quickly.
All the rescue centres in the area were full. One rescue centre would take them but it would be some time before they were able to do so. The cats, who had been left homeless after their owner passed away suddenly and tragically, faced being put down. They were young cats who had been loved and looked after well. The lady’s children were being looked after but they could not keep the kitties.
I contacted the friend and offered to do what I could. This ended up being ringing round my local animal contacts, shelters and sanctuaries. The Retreat, which is a wonderful sanctuary agreed to take them. I knew that the cats would hopefully be rehomed from there but if not, would live their lives there, in freedom and happiness. The Retreat does not put animals down but cares for them for the rest of their lives.
Unfortunately, the Retreat could not fetch them, so I was left with the cats up in Shropshire and the Retreat down in Orpington. I don’t drive so the only option seemed to be to fetch them and bring them back via public transport. I would have risked it with one, possibly with two but I knew that bringing three cat carriers across that sort of distance, changing from buses to trains to tubes and trains again just would not work on my own and would stress the cats beyond belief.
Luckily, an acquaintance of mine (let’s call him R) offered to drive me all the way and back again. Whilst questioning his sanity, I was extraordinarily grateful. It is not every day someone offers to do this sort of thing and it is a huge favour. People were contacted, the journey was planned, costs calculated, CDs loaded, fags and food and cooldrink stocked up on and we were off.
On the day we set out, we were slightly late and the journey was pretty horrific across London. We got stuck in every traffic jam. We got stuck in another jam on the motorway, the GPS played silly buggers and to top it all off, we made the decision to fill up with petrol for the return journey before we collected the cats.
This was a very sensible decision, except we were unfamilar with the area and entered the petrol station via the entrance/exit to the supermarket. This in itself wouldn’t have been so bad had we not actually entered the exit itself and completely snafu’ed everyone trying to get out. They were rather polite about it, but it took us a while to rearrange the car so it was facing in the right direction and then we managed to enter the petrol station from across the lanes rather than from the entrance, which we were assured was the normal route. To be fair, it was rather confusing! Having recovered from a monumental fit of giggles, I rang ahead with my apologies and said we would be a few minutes.
As we left, R reprogrammed the GPS from the petrol station to our destination. The GPS, completely fed up with us by this time, decided to deprogramme itself so instead of heading towards the house where we were due to meet up, we instead found ourselves going round the massive IKEA island for the third time.
So we stopped in a side-street, deleted the ASDA reference and started again. Much further giggling resulted but it meant that we reached our destination (via another GPS mistake that sent us in the opposite direction) late, tired, sweaty and slightly hysterical. I had lost my Mum just a month before and we were going into a situation where another Mum had passed away. I had as usual, under-estimated the emotional impact this would have on me.
Moreover, this was the first rescue I had done where the cats had been loved and looked after. Every single previous rescue I have done has been emotional to some extent (normally me trying not to let my anger out in the form of a fist to the owner’s mouth).
As we pulled up, I took a deep breath, looked down and realised my t-shirt was covered in holes, I was wearing some of my lunch, my hair was irretrievable. R was in a slightly better state but we both looked like we had spent some days living on a park bench. My “sod it!” gene kicked in and I got out to introduce myself. One of the blonde ladies looked vaguely familiar but I was so caught up in biting my lip (there is nothing worse when you have suffered a bereavement to have a stranger sobbing all over your shoulder because of their own loss – it makes you want to kick them in the teeth), and focussing on what needed to be done that it went into my brain and out again.
There was a sudden and loud whup-whup-whup-whup overhead, sirens were turned on and a shedload of police cars and policemen came down the lane, at speed. Now I don’t know about you, but whenever that sort of thing happens, I automatically assume that someone is being chased (hopefully not me). The blonde lady and I looked at each other horrified. For a split second I thought, oh god, what have we done? My brain is a funny thing. I swear it leads several different existences all at once because as one part of my brain lit up with “oh no”, the other bit was coming out with “Asda” and of course a third part was going “don’t be silly, there wouldn’t be a whole lot of police running down the road towards you for that. And this kicked off the giggle/tears impulse again. I decided to ignore the Bill and went in to meet the cats.
They were utterly gorgeous and were no trouble at all getting into the carriers. Once in the carriers, they went into the car and settled down fairly well (catnip and valerian are essentials – they work both as sedative and stimulant, so the cat is occupied and over time, relaxes).
A neighbour very kindly made us a cup of tea (what a lovely lady) and we stood and chatted for a bit, before I discovered that the backseat only had two seatbelts and we could not get them both over 3 cat carriers. Luckily, I had brought some headphones from my CD player and we used these to secure the third carrier. This is another accessory I have found invaluable – I have used them like this, as string, as a dog lead (although admittedly, I had to get another pair as unsurpsingly, they didn’t work afterwards!).
We set back out again and I was struck by a terrible foreboding. I often accuse myself of being paranoid but as most of my instincts turn out to be eerily accurate, I have learned to listen to them. I got very obsessed with the thought that we had cheated death and were literally taking the cats out of his grasp. Now I am not normally that dramatic but my brain had lit up again and was kicking me so I thought I’d pay special attention to the journey. I also texted a few close friends saying I may be paranoid but … can you spare a thought for us and entered a facebook status asking people to wish us well.
Of course, the journey back went exceptionally smoothly. Not a jam, not a crease in the traffic. We made a brief stop for more tea, I stayed with the kitties and we set off again. However, the feeling got worse. I bit my lip, concentrated on the road ahead and played some relaxing music for the cats (and for me who by this stage was in a bit of a state and pretty desperate not to show it). It was nearly dark now and my hope of getting back in time to feed my own cats had faded. I called S, my neighbour and she kindly agreed to get the outside cats indoors and feed them.
We got back onto the motorway, got closer to London, and then it happened. In a split-second, the car in front of us swerved into the right hand lane and R braked suddenly. Not more than a few feet away, silhouetted in the headlights and drizzle, were two bicycles, one on top of another. I had barely time to breathe before he threw the hazard lights on, leapt out of the car, ran into the lane, picked up the bicycles and threw them over the barrier. I looked back to check the cats were okay and watched as the traffic behind us got nearer and nearer. R leapt back into the car, started up and we drove away. We were so startled that neither of us said a word for a few minutes.
I broke the silence by asking whether I could reprogramme the GPS. R was puzzled but said yes and I reprogrammed it for Brighton. I had the feeling that we going to be in danger as long as our destination was logged as my house. I knew by programming it for Brighton, there would be a turnoff that took us near where I lived and I could direct us the rest of the way.
This I did and apart from mentioning how odd it was to see two bicycles like that, neither of us mentioned what we had each thought, that it was a deliberate act. If they had fallen off a van, even if they had been tied on together, the fact that the vehicle was travelling would have meant that they would have most likely hit the ground at different times and probably bounced in different directions. This looked like a determined effort at harm.
The rest of the journey was uneventful. We got back, I settled the cats in and we had a large glass of something alcoholic to relax.
That day taught me a few valuable lessons – particularly about listening to my instincts. If I hadn’t been so creeped out, if I hadn’t been watching and as quiet as a mouse, we probably would have been chatting and we could have ended up in a very nasty accident with 3 cats in the back seat. If R had not been equally creeped out (it took us a day or so to admit that we had each felt that the journey was doomed), he may have not been so intent on the road and not been able to stop so quickly. Moreover, if we had been there a few seconds later, the traffic behind us would have been nearer. It doesn’t really bear thinking about too much.
I was very pleased to have the rescue centre pick the cats up and get them safely back. My cat carriers never did come back to me (lesson number 2 – never, ever lend your carriers out :-)). The cats were rehomed together and will have a lovely life (the Retreat are very particular about who they rehome to).
As it turned out, the police operation was because of an unexplained death in the area a day or so ago and nothing to do with our antics at IKEA.
In a very funny end note – the blonde lady who looked vaguely familiar was in fact my facebook friend. I actually texted her as we left to let her know that we had picked the cats up and then again to say we had got back safely. Bless her, she said “I know, I was there”; and refrained from making any comments about my lack of brain! To be fair, I hadn’t expected to see her there. I had been so looking forward to meeting her that I kicked myself afterwards for not making better use of the time. However, I am sure we will meet up one day for that coffee!