I wrote this last weekend whilst I was staying at my friends’ house last weekend.
“It feels strange sitting here alone, in someone else’s house. I feel safe, it’s a friendly house. (Actually it’s a bungalow but let’s not split hairs). I’m here because Kate and Geoff are going to their nephew’s wedding for the weekend. I’m alone because they aren’t here, and nor is little Tigs, their cat. Their lovely little cat. If you aren’t a cat person, read no further, it will make no sense.
“Even as I write this, I know it’s not what I had planned to write this week’s blog about, I had wanted all happy and friendly, but life catches you unexpectedly sometimes, and recording it is what being a writer is all about.
“Ok, let me start from the beginning, it will be easier for you all to understand.
“Tigger was 21 years old, and had lived with my friends Kate and Geoff for about 14 years. I remember that it was a short while after I got my first cat, my lovely boy Titan, whom I had to have euthanised six years ago on 31 August – Bank Holiday Monday.
“Kate, Geoff and I had always been dog people. Even before he met Kate, Geoff had been an Alsatian man – I remember meeting one of his boys, Benny (Benson) when they were first going out together.
“I had had dogs on and off since I was 16. My Mum wouldn’t allow it when we were kids, she said that she would have been the one who always ended up walking them, so we weren’t allowed anything that didn’t come in a cage or a tank full of water. When I was 16, someone that my parents knew had a dog who had pups, so I was allowed my first dog.
“He came home, some cross between a lab, a poodle and something else, this little black creature who sat on my lap and immediately pee’d over my (then) favourite skirt. (Which was, fortunately, washable.) I was horrified and called him Barney. Rather, my Mum called him Barney. There was a boy I knew and she thought it was appropriate.
“Barney and I had teething troubles. I now understand my Mum’s reservations. Animals and children are not dissimilar, but animals have stronger teeth and chew on their owners’ best shoes; babies don’t have teeth early enough to do that, nor are they big enough. Barney thought all my shoes were game on. I disagreed. It was tough.
“Barney and I were together until I got married, then I couldn’t have him in Naval married quarters, so my Mum and Dad looked after him. When I started running a pub, Barney came back to me.
“Poor little Barnes didn’t stay long. He clearly didn’t like it, ran off one day and I never saw him again, despite my best efforts to find him. He wasn’t wearing a collar (he used to scratch a lot and the collar seemed to irritate it so I left the collar off when he was indoors. We didn’t have micro-chipping in those days). One charming officer from Essex police (where we lived when he went missing) told me it was an offence to allow a dog out without a collar. I have to tell you that at the time of writing, I wanted to say something very offensive about that, but at the time, I just mumbled something and tried not to aggravate him because I hoped he might help me. Anyway, I never saw poor little Barney again. I don’t know what happened to him. It doesn’t haunt me anymore, not until something brings it back to me, like today.
“I was sad, very sad, and a couple of weeks later, I went to an RSPCA rescue centre and found my lovely Gemma, the most wonderful dog in the world. I do have photographs of her, but they aren’t digital, and I haven’t converted them yet. She was a black collie retriever cross, with a partly black tongue. She was lovely. Beautiful. Again, not all a bed of roses. I remember a notable occasion when I was entertaining a gentleman friend, after my marriage had ended, and she was outside in the garden. It started to thunder and Gemma did a runner. That was the first time, but not the last, that I ran out in the rain, without a coat, trying to retrieve a pet. We eventually reunited and Gemma and I were together for about 11 years (not bad for her size of dog) until she was diagnosed with cancer. The surgery was not a success so eventually I had to have her euthanised (we still called it putting them to sleep, which, I have to say, I think is preferable). There were lots of things about Gemma that were so funny, they need to go into a book. She was my best friend.
“I was distraught, but the man of the moment told me not to get another dog straight away. He said that I spent too long out of the house, and my little Gems had got used to it but another dog wouldn’t find it so easy. He was right. I was without a pet for ten years. A lonely ten years in many ways.
“I lived in a third floor flat and I found I had mice. How? Who knows? I did find out later but that’s a story for another day. I got a cat, my first cat. My little Titan. I went to Battersea Home for Cats and Dogs. I found little T and took him home on a mainline train and a couple of tubes. I think you may not be surprised to learn that, yet again, it was not all a bed of roses… Maybe I am just a commitment phobic. My paternal grandmother had a cat, but my mother didn’t like them. At all. Me, I generally like all animals, at least until they try to bite me. That usually tends to put me off a bit.
“However, there is something about living with a cat when you have never lived with one before. They are wilful. So am I. So there was a battle of the wills. Mine and his. They say that the first year of a marriage is the hardest and I think that is the same when you get a cat for the first time. I don’t remember it being so hard with dogs, but then they are more eager to please. Cats don’t give a flying….
“So, this dog person had a cat. Kate and I always spoke (still do) frequently on the ’phone and she rang one day to tell me she had a rescue cat whom they had called Tigger. He was a lovely little boy, much like my little Titan. They were both black, except that my little boy had a white locket. (A little white spot on his chest.)
“Over the years, we compared notes and always asked about how our boys were. Six years ago, exactly six years ago on 31 August, I had my little boy put to sleep. I was a wreck. I was lonely. I left it for six weeks and went to Battersea again to get more cats – two girls, sisters. Kate understood my pain and she and Nicola came with me. I wasn’t trying to replace Titan, I just couldn’t be without a pet again.
“Meanwhile back on the ranch, Tigger went on and on, way outliving my little Titan. Kate and Geoff did everything that responsible people would do for a cat, but far more than that, they loved him and made a fuss of him. I think my girls are pretty well spoiled, but nowhere near little Tigs. But all good things, however painful, must come to an end. Despite all the love, care and medication, Tigs had stroke.
“He was 21 years old when he passed; about 91 in human years. I had a bad feeling when I said that I’d come up to look after him while Kate and Geoff went to a wedding. Was it because it was six years earlier, on the Bank Holiday Monday, that I had to have my little boy put to sleep? Maybe but I didn’t think so. Notwithstanding that, I came up, on Friday evening. All well and good, we had a nice meal, and Tigs was on form.
“I woke early on the Saturday morning, tossing and turning, too hot, too cold. Nothing unusual about any of that. At about a quarter to five, I heard Tiggy out in the hallway. I thought he was struggling to breathe so I got up and went to him. He was staring into the dining room. Maybe he was looking the Angel of Death in the face, anyway, I touched him, and it was clear that he hadn’t heard me come up to him. I’d distracted his attention, but he let me pick him up and we had a little cuddle, but he wasn’t himself.
“Kate got up a few minutes later; she and the boy had a cuddle, I made the tea. All I can say to you is that little Tigs was ok until he went outside. But he didn’t come back in the usual timeframe (if you know anything about cats, you will know that they are creatures of habit, even more than humans).
“I had just got out of the shower when Kate came back in with him. He had been lying in the next-door-neighbour’s garden. All I’m going to say here is that he was not in a good way. We couldn’t get him to local vet so we took him to the Beccles branch, where, fortunately, we saw his usual vet, Lotte.
“The rest, as they say, is history. Tigger breathed his last breath today.”
© Susan Shirley 2015