In all the years I spent fostering cats and kittens, it was Arthur who first befriended the traumatised, frightened and often ill felines first. My general rule of thumb was not to mix any fosters with my own but that works only for so long … you can’t keep a cat confined in a room for more than a week without stressing him/her further.
The longest I kept fosters apart from mine was around two months – a very ill kitten and her friend in my front room – but they were babies when they came to me and stayed til they were rehomed at just over six months and they had the run of the front room.
So Arthur never got to meet the short term fosters but did meet all the others including those two. Despite being hissed at, batted, scratched and in one case, chased out of the room, he never gave up. It was he who would station himself outside the spare bedroom door and purr under it, his little face squashed into the crack between door and carpet, to reassure the current inhabitant that it was safe.
It was Arthur who, when very ill kittens came to stay, would wash them, cuddle them, keep them warm, show them the litter tray, encourage them to eat. I never lost a kitten. Between Marion, Arthur and I, we saved every single one.
It got to the stage eventually when I observed them overnight (okay, including sleeping in the spare room with them overnight) and then let Arthur in the next night, to do his stuff. Kittens adored him and he them. Adult cats took a little longer. Of course, when they moved on to new homes, he would miss them, pad around looking for them and I felt guilty.
Guiltier still when he got used to it and would walk to the door with me, me holding the carrier and him trotting behind, meeping and murring assurances and a kind of kitty goodbye.
As time went on and I stopped fostering, I decided that one day, I would get him a kitten of his very own.
However, life doesn’t work that way and the next cats who moved in permanently were adults, Jaggie, Oscar and Poppet in that order. I didn’t want to go and buy him a kitten.
By the time Mewsie arrived (who turned out to be FIV positive and went to live with a good friend who has another FIV positive cat) it was clear that he probably wasn’t going to last long enough for me to fulfil the one thing I thought he deserved – a kitten of his own to love and rear.
I am well aware of my ability to anthromorphosize but I have seen so much human-like behaviour, emotion and interaction between my cats it is difficult not to do so. It is equally difficult not to want to work out what would make them happiest and to wonder if they too, have dreams and aspirations. I knew that if Arthur had any at all, a kitten would be top of his list.
Next thing, I was rescuing a tortoiseshell kitten from her terminally stupid owner, off the street. Although she wasn’t a kitten really. She was 7 months old. Throwing a twos-up at the universe for sending me a kitten at last, who wasn’t really a kitten, so no bloody good for Arthur, I concentrated on getting her well, then concentrating on deciding whether or not to rehome her, ending up in her making the decision when she got better, settled down in short order and demanded to meet the others.
She wasn’t better straight away and we had about two weeks in which it could have gone either way, she was so thin. Arthur plunged straight in of course and despite not having a foster for a few years in between, he remembered it all, including the Showing of the Litter Tray.
She knew it all already but that didn’t stop him. And it became clear that she adored him. She hung out mainly upstairs (the resident queen Guinevere lives downstairs), they indulged in mutual grooming sessions and when she went into heat for the first time, it was Arthur who was showered with her attentions, rather than Jaggie, who hung around leeringly.
As all mine are spayed, there was not a lot Arthur could do except grab her neck and wrestle and eventually she would give up and go and sulk in the corner. She was too frail yet to be spayed so we endured several rounds of “I want Arthur’s kittens” before the cold weather set in.
They would sleep together on the warm patch in the spare room doorway, where the central heating pipe runs under the floorboards, snuggled up in each other’s paws.
When Arthur had his attack of severe arthritis and spondylosis and was in horrendous pain and disablement, it was Kitty (now nearly a year old) who wrapped her slim body round his back to keep him warm. It was Kitty who washed him and it was Kitty who purred at him, brred comfortingly in his face and Kitty who kept Jaggie (who is not averse to the odd side-swipe) from going near him.
And I realised that Kitty may not have been the kitten I envisaged for Arthur, some small little scrap of fur who needed love and attention and learning from an older cat.
She may not have been the compliant furball who would adore him, look up to him and who he could proudly walk around with like the miniutare lion he really is.
But, in looking after him now the way he looked after her when she first arrived, traumatised and skinny and sick, she is certainly the kitten he needs.
So I hereby respectfully withdraw my two stiff fingers out of the Universe’s metaphorical backside …