March 2006. My home was a pretty desolate place. My marriage in ruins, we had lost the contract at work despite providing a consistently excellent service and I was staying with the company but changing jobs to a smaller contract that I knew was a bad move.
There was me and four cats. Oscar, Jaggie, Poppet and Kitten were yet to arrive. It was a cold, rainy March. Two months before, I had noticed a beautiful, long haired ginger cat. Very shy, he/ she ran away whenever I approached but was thin and unkempt and clearly starving.
Living off the fox food, she (I decided that the cat must be a she, she was so beautiful) miaowed whenever she saw me, more in panic than in greeting.
Eventually, slowly, the appalling weather and an increasing confidence in the fact I was not trying to hurt her, drove her to seek shelter in my conservatory. By March, she came when called and I was feeding her in the conservatory, proper cat food. She wouldn’t let me pet her. She was scared of hands and feet and I realised she had likely been badly abused.
A happy, socialised cat will normally head for your hand, in the hopeful anticipation of a head scratch. A fearful cat who has been abused will run the moment you lift your hand.
She was however comfortable with my slippers. I had bought monster feet slippers. They were warm, made me giggle and had fake claws on them, made out of a silky material. These she tolerated at first but it meant I could touch her. Over the weeks, she filled out, started grooming and I realised that she wasn’t just beautiful but absolutely stunning. She also started loving being stroked with the monster slippers.
She gained confidence, running into the conservatory when I came home for a slipper cuddle and food. She spent her days in the garden until the weather got too much and then shared the basket with Mommi Fox when she was ill.
Fox and cat cohabited peacefully as Mommi Fox got better. Mommi fox ate on the patio, Syllabub (because I called her a silly bubbie one day for being scared of me and it stuck and I later contracted it to Syllabub) ate in the conservatory.
No fights for food broke out as they both knew they would get their share. Both needed feeding up. Mommi Fox left when she was well enough to do so and Syllabub had the conservatory and basket to herself which gave her even more confidence.
Towards the end of April, I had a small gathering of friends around for my birthday. Originally planned as an outdoor event with a fire, the incessant rain brought the celebration indoors. Syllabub loathed me having other people in the house (for the first time since she arrived) and ran to the bottom of the garden, miaowing plaintively. Although a very small, sedate, bittersweet gathering (given that it was the anniversary of my hen-night, the year before), it completely unnerved her.
It took several hours that night to coax her indoors. She was shaking from the cold and soaked to the skin. There was no way I could get a towel round her so I sat with her, initially with a glass of wine, then cup after cup of tea as the wind roared outside and the rain fell. She snuggled into the basket, the smell of wet cat and fox intermingling with the scent of my cigarettes. When she fell asleep, warm and no longer shivering, I went upstairs to sleep myself.
Syllabub was a complete creature of habit. She sat outside, slightly to the right hand side of the garden, seemingly all day, occasionally making a foray into the jungle at the end of the garden. My cats didn’t mind her at all. She was so gentle and timid, she would have run at the first sign of a fight. Arthur, being his usual loving self, exchanged nosey kisses with her, after a few false starts.
Oscar, who was living with his original owners two doors down, however, just fell in love with her, completely and utterly. They mated in the garden, made the most unusual love in that there was no squalling or fighting. Just long hours of gazing at each other, purring and having the gentlest sex and sleeping in the sun, in each others’ arms.
Oscar’s owner was thrilled. I was less than fucking impressed. Particularly as I couldn’t pick her up to put her in a basket and get her spayed.
One evening in May, she didn’t come in when I came home. The garden was empty, the conservatory was empty and I knew something had happened. I had taken one photo of her, in her basket and I used this to mock up a poster and flyers and distributed them the same night.
I received two calls. One from a lady over the road from me and 10 houses down who swore she had seen Syllabub the day before in her garden. That was some way away from me and I didn’t think it was possible until the lady (who had had cats before) said, “she was so scared and when I tried to touch her, she fled.” A little comforted, I asked her to call me if she saw the cat again. She promised to do so.
The next call came in quickly after that. “You’ve got my cat” said the woman. “Really?” said I. “You have a reward out for the cat, how much is it?” The question did not fill me with confidence.
A long conversation ensued. Syllabub was a year old, an indoor cat (plus points) the lady had bought Syllabub for her son. Syllabub had disappeared in January (minus points – the cat did not get that thin in the 10 days between her leaving her home and being spotted by me, eating the fox food if she had been well cared for). In between the woman’s garden and mine, there is a couple who also feed foxes, so she would have had an adequate supply of food by the time she got to mine.
Syllabub apparently got out when someone left the back door open (minus points although to be fair, this could have happened to anyone). I mentioned Syllabub’s timidity, the owner said she had always been like that (minus points as I had managed to get close enough to pet her, albeit with monster feet). The owner insisted that she wanted the cat (she never mentioned the cat’s name once) back and was willing to pay £5 as a reward to the person who returned her. No more, mind. Yeah, right.
Nothing I could puta finger on was truly untoward but I didn’t like the woman’s manner. I spoke to M who said, go knock on her door, see her face to face and make up your mind then. A day or so later, with Syllabub missing now for three days, I did. What I found did not impress me. Whenever I had walked past the house, there had been an overwhelming smell of weed. I don’t give a duck’s arse about people smoking weed but smoking it indoors, with an indoor cat inside? I don’t think so.
The conversation elicited more facts. Yes, she was beautiful. They intended to mate her and sell the kittens. The first attempt they made with a friend’s cat was not a success. Her son was a grown up, not a child. No they hadn’t put posters out to find her when she disappeared. I left, knowing that returning the cat would be the worst thing I could do for her.
But where was she? The following weekend, I was going to my ex-boss’s for lunch. A lovely man, with a lovely wife and two gorgeous kids, I was thoroughly looking forward to it. Getting home from work on the Friday, I felt an impending sense of doom. I knew Syllabub was in trouble. I didn’t know where she was or what was going on, but I knew it wasn’t good.
I wondered if her owners had got hold of her again. Panicked, I did a card reading which told me nothing except trouble ahead. I sat all night in the conservatory. At 2am, I did something unusual for me. I did a ritual, begging the universe to tell Syllabub to come home, safely, just to find a way back to me. I did it with all the love I felt for her and all the fear.
I then went to bed. A night of broken sleep, worry and a little too much alcohol followed. Syllabub had been missing by then for 5 days. At 11am I got up and came downstairs, my heart like lead.
And there she was. In her basket, just like normal. I ran towards her and scooped her up.
As I did, liquid and blood gushed from her and down me. She stayed in my arms, miaowing from the pain. I had a look at her backside and her bits were so swollen and bloody I could not tell what was wrong. I feared she had been raped, the fate of a deaf cat down the road some years previously.
I phoned the vet, 30 minutes before they closed. My wonderful vet said yes, bring her in. I phoned for a cab, put her in a basket and raced her there.
My vet looked at me and said, this is bad news, looks like cystitis which has advanced to a full kidney infection and a blockage. I am going to have to operate before her bladder explodes. This is a very rare complication in a female cat. Are you sure she is female? Female ginger cats are very rare.
I explained that although I hadn’t looked at her backside, I had assumed from her behaviour, mating with Oscar and her looks that she was. I told my vet about the owner, all of it. Including the fact that the owner said she was female. Vet looked doubtful but said that as her back bits were so swollen, it was difficult to tell.
Leaving my vet without her was awful. I knew she could not have been in better hands but I sat next to the phone, willing it to ring.
At 3pm, my vet rung. Caught just in time, another 24 hours and she wouldn’t have made it. Original diagnosis was correct. Very rare in a female, which is just as well. As Syllabub was in fact, male.
The vet giggled. Of all the cats and kittens I had taken there, I had got it wrong.
However, that did mean that Syllabub, a year old, had never gone to a vet. No checkups, no shots, nothing. No wonder the attempt at mating her him had not worked. It also meant that both were gay. The vet and I LOL’ed. My vet was and is in a very happy same-sex relationship.
Not so happily, his urethra was scarred, which meant that he had suffered from several of these infections. Without once being taken to the vet. I had to find out for sure.
So I rang his owner. Desperate to keep my story straight and not referring to him as her, I lied through my back teeth and explained that he had not been found yet but I was still trying. Had she ever been ill? Not really, a few times of peeing in odd places and miaowing but it had passed.
I put the phone down, knowing that I would never return him. Worse, the distance between us and them (a mere 12 houses) meant that I would not be able to keep him. I called M and related the latest news.
Hang on, she said, I know just the place. A few hours elapsed. She called me back. Possible space at a refuge she knew.
The next day, the vet called to update me. I asked him to keep Syllabub there, explaining the situation. We agreed that he would be spayed. And I was totally truthful about the circumstances. Charging me the minimum he could, we agreed on a week’s board, to keep Syllabub safe.
Within a few days, thanks to M, I had a place at the secret sanctuary. One of the two owners fetched Syllabub and I was there too, to place him in his carrier. They were kind enough to let me go with him and I was introduced to the nicest couple ever, in the most wonderful house, with 40 cats and 3 dogs in a place backing onto safe countryside.
They normally took in terminally ill cats whose owners could not be bothered to look after them, seeing them through their final months and years with love and care and appropriate vet intervention.
Syllabub was the youngest cat they had had and not dying.
Syllabub was less than impressed. Let out of his carrier into the front room, he hissed and hid behind the settee. I left, knowing that once more he had been destabilised and praying that I had made the right decision.
Updates followed. It took a few weeks for him to settle down. He went upstairs to greet the other cats a week or so later. He was let out into the garden a short time after that. He was adorable, sweet and beautifully behaved. My heart ached. I missed him so.
A few months later, a new update. Syllabub was now asking for cuddles. He spent a large proportion of his time in the local graveyard, sunning himself on one of the flat gravestones. A few weeks later, he had moved in with a neighbour. He was now called Colin. He was happy and loved and wanted. I wept.
It was everything I had hoped for him and been unable to provide myself, with his old owners just down the road.
A year later, he was still doing well, his new owners adored him. He had turned a corner, was sitting on laps and being a happy cat, living a full life. He still spent time down the cemetery, as if guarding the dead.
Another horrible cat rescue, Daisy, and the sanctuary gave us another place … Colin was thriving and had turned into the cat he always should have been.
The years passed. The sanctuary was battling, economics and too many animals dumped and left for dead took all of their energy. I so wanted to see him but was put off until the spring. Understanding completely, because by now I had seven permanent residents and my god, if seven took it out of me, what would 41 do to a couple of lovely human beings? Spring came and went and all our lives got busier than before.
B and I did an unrelated wander down their way in his car about two years ago. I wanted, needed to see Colin. Could not remember the address but the route to the sanctuary from the station was fixed in my memory. B said don’t be stupid. He was right, they probably would not have appreciated an unannounced visit. We drove back, me sad at a missed opportunity.
And then … a few weeks ago … another pair of cats desperately needing a home. M got in touch with the sanctuary. After a few exchanges, she asked about Daisy. Daisy was thriving. The cat who had been locked in a room for a year, frightened half to death with a vaccuum cleaner and left in her own dirt had blossomed, was still grumpy but alive, well and thriving.
M asked about Syllabub/ Colin. Not such good news. He had succumbed to cancer, a year or so ago.
His owners, despite being well off, had put off taking him to the vet until it was too late. The dear, sweet couple who owned the sanctuary had taken him there when his owners did nothing and the sanctuary had paid the bills. My beautiful boy was put to sleep when nothing more could be done for him. He was 7 years old.
In that time, he was loved but not looked after particularly well.
My Arthur was diagnosed with probable bowel cancer some months back. Two vets agreed with me that to get a diagnosis by putting him under and taking a biopsy would not help. He is currently thriving. But if it ever got to the point where he dipped, he would go back to the vet and he would not be left to suffer.
Colin was and did. And it was only because the refuge are based a few houses from where he lived that they became aware of his plight and did something about it. I know that my actions saved him from a fate worse than this but my gods, he should have lived longer and I so dearly wish he had ended up with better owners.
He was a beautiful, gorgeous cat who had the courage to love again, to trust when the humans around him had failed. I saved him, trusted that he would be safe in a new home 30 miles from his original owners. The sanctuary trusted their neighbour, who was heartbroken after the death of their previous cat and who fell in love with him. They were well off, doted on him and failed him.
The irony here is incredible.
Rest in peace beloved child. If I thought for a moment it was safe to have kept you, I would have done. I hope the afterlife gives you everything you were unable to receive in this life. And I hope you know that you are loved still and will be for as long as I draw breath.