In Some Disarray

Our local cat rescue society is in some disarray, and everyone keeps telling me this. ‘I am only phoning you because I gather the local cat rescue society is in some disarray’. Even the vet said it, at my latest appointment.

It would seem that our local cat rescue society, whether as a result of a shortage of volunteers, vicious in-fighting or an outbreak of bubonic plague, no longer in any meaningful sense exists. And this seems to have been the situation for at least the last several years.

Neighbours tend to arrive on my doorstep, usually in or just after thunderstorms bearing straggly, ear-mite infected kittens and huge, battered, un-neutered toms.

‘I thought as you have lots of cats you might just know the telephone number of the local cat rescue society, although I hear that nowadays they are in some disarray..

What they always mean is: one way or another I intend to give you this cat.

So I was not particularly surprised the other evening to get a telephone call on the subject of cats from ex-sister-in-law-the-elder, and to be advised yet again that my local cat rescue society is in some disarray. Somehow or other she was aware of this even though she lives sixty miles away. This is why she has extracted my new landline number from ex-sister-in-law-the-younger, something she wouldn’t have dreamed of doing in any other circumstances, etc.

‘I wouldn’t bother you’, she said – she wasn’t – but there’s this old lady, you see, who lives really, really close to you, you see, and you see she’s got this lovely old cat. And she’s got this problem

And so yet again, after yet another bout of rain, I ended up on the rattly local bus with its endless diversions on the way to visit an old lady in an unfamiliar neighbourhood. ‘Really, really close to you’ equates to almost an hour on the bus, then a bit of a walk, street-map in hand. Ex-sister-in-law did not realise I’d lost the car.

By coincidence, Ex’s family used to live around these parts, and this lady used to be nanny to ex-sister-in-law-the-elder. Now in her eighties Annie is tiny, bent almost double with arthritis and only able to shuffle about very, very slowly with the help of a walker, and strong painkillers. When she first opened the street door I thought she must be at least a hundred. Recently she also had a massive heart attack and was in hospital for two weeks. Ex-sister-in-law wasn’t told.

Annie brought up two children. They were not her biological children but she brought them up anyway. About four years ago she was given a cat for company – a large, soppy black and white creature – let’s call him Moppet. Moppet loves Annie to bits, and Annie loves Moppet.

Because of the arthritis Annie is now confined to the ground floor of her tiny terraced house. As you walk along the hallway the stairway is uncarpeted, ascending into darkness. Everywhere is uncarpeted, just wooden floors. In her front room is a bed and a chair and a television set, and that’s all. When I saw it I promised myself I would never again fret about my house being shabby or uncomfortable. Moppet ambles between this room and the back kitchen. He greets me casually, jumps up onto the bed and then onto her lap.

‘He’s a real mummy’s boy’, she says. ‘Aren’t you, Moppet?’

But this same laid-back Moppet has apparently savaged the ‘son’s’ hands, or legs whenever approached on a visit. And the son has said to her: ‘When you’re out, Annie, I’m going to come in and get that cat and take it somewhere – leave it in a field.’ I suspect the son has been rough with the cat in the past, and the cat remembers. Annie does too.

‘He’d do it,’ she tells me. ‘He’d really do it, and I couldn’t stop him. I’m so frightened he’ll take Moppet and leave him in a field.’

She is also afraid that she might die and that her pet will be instantly disposed of, or that she might be rushed off to hospital again and Moppet will have vanished by the time she comes out. Several times she has been sobbing to my sister-in-law over the telephone. I really hate human beings sometimes. Even if he was joking, what a dreadful, insensitive thing to say. And if he wasn’t…

I sat on the bed. We had a bit of a chat. ‘Friends’ and its canned laughter carried on in the background. I gave her both my phone numbers and told her (more than once) that Moppet would always have a home with me if he needed one – either permanently or as temporary respite. Sister-in-law telephoned me later to say that Annie likes me, and was greatly relieved to have met Moppet’s potential rescuer face to face.

But it worries me. That cat really needs to be out of danger but he and Annie are great friends, and she needs him. Besides, it’s not my decision to make. It worries me that by the time I found out something had gone wrong, and long before I could embark on that interminable bus journey clutching one of my spare cat boxes, the worst would already have happened. Annie can’t tell her son about me because she is frightened of him. Sister-in-law daren’t tell him that there would be somewhere for Moppet to go if necessary: he is suspicious of sister-in-law and her husband, and she feels this might just tip him over into carrying out his threats.

Yet another frail old person to add to my growing collection. And yet another little cat for Saint Francis to watch over.

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