Let’s all just jump on William

Funny how things go: I just sat down here to write an article about – in a rambling sort of way – justice – and cats – and found a comment on that same subject by a new follower, on a different post.

I remember a lengthy conversation I had with Ex. We did have quite a few such lengthy conversations, often after too much beer or cider, which seemed to be the only way we could get past each other’s barriers. Hasten to add, I don’t drink now. Well, maybe the odd glass of wine at Christmas, if offered.

I was working for a firm of solicitors and had just had another conversation with my boss. She was a probate and trusts partner, but I had asked her how a criminal lawyer can bring themselves to defend someone who is pleading innocent although everyone knows he’s guilty – a violent rapist, say, or a mass murderer. Firstly, she said that if at any point the client was foolish enough to tell the lawyer he was guilty, the lawyer could no longer defend him. As long as he maintained his innocence, the lawyer – even though all sorts of verbal games had to be played to keep up this pretence – would continue to represent him, and do his or her utmost to put his side of the case (which isn’t necessarily the same thing as proving him innocent). Secondly, she said, everyone is entitled to a fair trial.

Now, Ex was a complex being. A gentle soul in many ways, he buried his deceased goldfish around the pond. He put up little crosses where each old cat was buried, and asked me to write a poem on a slip of paper to bury with them. He was many IQ points brighter than me (he took the test for MENSA) but if you were just listening to him arguing – about anything – you’d assume he was one of those shaven-headed National Front members, the sort with HATE tattooed on their knuckles. In argument, at least, he was always absolutely black or white, no shades of grey. Me, I love a good paradox: ambiguity is one of the few things I can cope with.

So his take on Justice was – and for all I know may still be – this: if everyone knows some bugger is guilty, then that bugger should be immediately shot, beheaded or castrated, depending on what he did. No time wasted by mealy-mouthed lawyers, arguing on his side. I remember, through the usual cider fog, saying that that was all very well, but just because everyone thinks they know someone is guilty, doesn’t mean that they actually are. After all, everyone knew all those poor, harmless old ladies in the Middle Ages were guilty of witchcraft and allowed the Devil to suckle on their teats, etcetera.

I remember asking him what if you were the one accused of a crime of which you were innocent – but everyone – everyone – knew you were guilty. Wouldn’t you be grateful then for a lawyer willing to prepare your case and argue in your defence? How could we call ourselves civilised, I asked him, if we reverted to taking it upon our individual selves to shoot, hang, castrate – or whatever – anyone we decided we knew was guilty?

And cats? Well, this week I have been looking after a cat called Nicholas.  Oh, let’s be honest, I’ve gone and adopted yet another stray. Nicholas arrived at my back door with a badly mangled arm, and the vet gave me the choice of either amputation at the shoulder, more or less, or euthanasia. So of course I paid for the amputation. I collected the cat later in the day. Inside his box they had wrapped him in a blanket against the cold. They did not offer to show him to me before I took him home, but I could imagine. Actually, though it looks strange – a cat with only one front leg – and sad, it’s not that shocking. He’s still the same Nicholas.

All went well for the first week, then I was woken at 2 in the morning by what sounded like a horrendous cat fight. But it wasn’t. It was Nicholas, standing in his pet bed, wobbling about on all three legs, screaming in terror whilst fighting off some invisible enemy that was obviously much larger than himself. This – whatever it might have been – fox, dog – had him by the leg – the now-amputated front leg – and Nicholas was twisting and turning, lashing out, trying desperately to pull himself free.

All my cats came running, as they always do when there is a ‘fight’. Their idea of justice is this: usually, any fight will involve William. William is a lumbering ginger cat who thinks he is in charge but isn’t – although he used to be. William is not very bright and, I’m afraid, a bit of a bully. So the cats come running and all jump on William. This does solve the problem, though it’s not exactly fair on William – he might have been in the right.

But now, with Nicholas, the weakness of cat strategy – the fundamental alien-ness of cats – has become apparent to me. Every couple of hours, still, in the depth of his nightmares poor Nicholas wakes up screaming. Fighting for his life against an invisible opponent.

Arthur approaches Nicholas. Arthur, huge, but usually the soppiest and most tremulous of cats. Ah, I think, he’s going to try and comfort his little friend. Arthur approaches, on tiptoe and extends a nose towards Nicholas’s nose, whiffling gently. And then he pounces on Nicholas and, notwithstanding the amputated front arm, proceeds to try to murder him. Fur flies everywhere. I grab Arthur. How could you? I ask him, tearfully. Even a human being wouldn’t set upon a disabled member of their own species, especially one who was suffering from PTSD.

Nicholas seems OK, if a bit battered. The stitches are still in place. Arthur looks at me blankly. He doesn’t understand and I don’t understand. How is this logic?

So I am having to think of strategies to protect Nicholas when I am forced to be out of the house, just in case. Feliway Friends (expensive! and you have to buy a refill every thirty days!) plugged in right next to the room he is occupying – the bathroom at the moment, which is very inconvenient (argh, a pun!) – and a long rabbit run for the spare room, so that he can get around but hopefully not be attacked.

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: My Life Is So Complicated.

PAWS CROSSED FOR LITTLE ARF

I was just emailing my friend about Arthur, who isn’t very well at the moment. She emailed me back, you’re a sucker for an undercat – and I suppose I am. Poor Little Arf – he can’t breathe very well, he keeps sneezing and licking his lips, and his eyes have gone all small.

First I fed him and then I rescued him. He didn’t put up much resistance. Cats tend to revert to the wild when they’ve been straying for so long. It can take six months to a year before they even let you touch them, and longer than that before they let you pick them up. Sometimes, just sometimes, you never can. I fed a hideous old tomcat called Frodo for many years – as did the whole neighbourhood – but I only managed to stroke him once, when he was dying.

First you put out food for them and keep watch from indoors. After a while you go quietly out and sit, at a distance, just watching them eat, sending out kindness. I have sat on my back door step for fifteen minutes at a time, sometimes, watching a stray cat eat, saying a few words – just things like There you are, are you ok? What’s your name, then? Do you have a name? and getting no reply. I have sat on that step in the snow with no coat on because there wasn’t time to fetch one. I have sat in the rain and waited, making no sudden moves.

And sometimes I find that their name has arrived in my head. It was like that with Arthur. Could you be Arthur? Are you my Little Arf? I think he decided fairly quickly that he was. Of all the cats I have rescued, Arthur probably had the least to lose by giving up on the wild. When he came indoors I discovered that his two canine teeth had been snapped off at exactly the same level, as if somebody had kicked him in the face. Now the vet says he’s got a larynx like a cauliflower from repeated throat infections. He may need to be antibiotics for the rest of his life or it may be something worse but Arthur and I, we are hoping for the best. We are keeping our paws crossed.

So many years he was out there on his own, running around looking for food in all weathers. So very long before he came to me. I wish I could heal his past as well as his present illness. I wish I could go back and revise his little life, give him a second chance – to be young again, to sit by the fire; to curl up for a nap in the sun, well fed; to be loved as all cats should be.

Somebody once told me there is a special prayer or church service known as The Healing of the Memories. If only such a thing worked, and not only on cats: on people, on nations, on cities.

Update 29th November:

Hopefully Arthur is over the worst now. Still sneezing all over me, and the other cats, who are also sneezing, but there’s been no practical way of segregating him. He has started eating and drinking again, and got a bit of his “shine” back, and the others seem to be going through/have gone through a lesser version of – whatever it was. Most of the “cure” I suspect comes from purrs: lots and lots of time on the lap, and purrs. The laying on of hands.

Update 9th December:

Arf continues to improve, with the occasional splashy sneeze inches from Mummy’s face to remind her he’s still not quite better and requires an awful lot of fuss to make sure he doesn’t fade away again. He’s now back to head-butting me out of the way to get to a new plate of food. Out of the woods, I think.