Tuesday, May 18, 2010

A Community Cat

You may have anticipated this letter. I hadn't. Not so soon.
But life has a habit of writing its own script, and this script can carry you into uncharted territory before you feel that you're ready.
Was I ready to consider having a new kitten? I didn't think so. Then, life took over . . .

It was a week after Rupert's death, and I was sitting with Naomi by the pond.
Naomi's Bengal cat, Delilah, had been Rupert's girl-friend. Or perhaps it would be more accurate to say that Rupert was Delilah's boy-friend. She had only to catch a glimpse of him to let out a call of delight, rush up and kiss him fondly on the nose. Rupert took these overtures with the dignity of a gentleman . . . secretly a little flattered, but unwilling to display his feelings.
Nonetheless, I was taken aback when, sitting there in the sunshine, Naomi made a suggestion.
"I'm sure Rupert would like you to have a Bengal kitten," she said.
I looked at her in surprise.
"I'm not even thinking about kittens," I told her, "not yet . . ."

Two days later, alone in a flat that was crying out for a familiar friend, I found myself sitting at this computer and putting 'Bengal Cats' into Google. Up came a screen-full of breeders. But what should have been helpful was merely confusing.
This was a map . . . but there was no route, no destination.
I was about to abandon the idea when, all at once, what should appear on the screen but a blank email. Unthinkingly, I had allowed the cursor to stray and click on one of the breeders, the click had produced this unexpected email.
I hesitated . . . but I'd nothing to lose. The breeder was in Reading, it was not too far away. With little expectation, I typed a message in the empty space. Did the breeder, I enquired, have a blue-eyed, female kitten that would be ready for a new home by the end of May? It had to be a female, I'd decided . . . I couldn't follow Rupert with another boy.
I was rather shaken by the immediate response. Yes, there was a blue-eyed female kitten. Yes, she would be available to be re-housed at the end of May.

After visiting the breeder's website, and speaking to her on the phone, I began to wonder whether Rupert was pulling the strings in the background. He had been a regular and popular visitor to the Special Needs Department of our local school. What was the profession of the kitten's breeder . . . ? She, it appeared, was a Special Needs teacher!

When I mentioned the possibility of a new kitten to my friends their genuine delight took me by surprise. Very few of them have animals, their busy lives make this impossible. Rupert had been their sole contact with the joys and benefits of animal companionship. They were missing him, too. They were missing him far more than I'd appreciated. The thought of a new kitten brought delight to the whole community.

Within days this unseen kitten had acquired not only a name, Chloe, but three aunts, two uncles, and a god-mother! Ten days later I invited one of the aunts to come with me to Reading to visit what I had now decided to call our 'Community Cat'.

The visit confirmed all my hopes and expectations. The breeder was welcoming, the cats and kittens enchanting.
Have you ever tried to photograph a Bengal kitten with a digital camera? The two are not compatible! A kitten is like quicksilver, a digital camera is ponderous in the extreme. After six attempts (in each of which Chloe became the tip of a tail or an empty floor) I succeeded in catching a snatched photo when she dived under her bed in search of a toy . . .
. . . and a second one when she paused for breath.

All of which provided me with plenty of food for thought. The flat would need to be made kitten-proof . . . and tidy . . . and immaculate. Bedding and blankets would need to be washed. Vital electrical wires, such as the broadband connection to this computer, would have to be concealed behind protective shields. It was all too clear that I was going to need every minute of those three weeks before Chloe's arrival!

Now, with ten days to go, an expectant community - aunts and uncles, godparents and friends - awaits our Community Cat. She has been booked for the Animal Service, invited to a pub lunch, is eagerly anticipated by the porters in adjacent blocks of flats, and has been promised long walks in Holland Park. Then there's the visit we must make to Rupert's memorial tree, donated by Mandy in Penn Wood .
Chloe will need to adapt very quickly to a harness, to travel obediently in the car, and to learn good manners . . . I'm sure she will.

As for the most important question: would Rupert approve?
Yes . . . I really think he would . . . I really think he does.