It is with a heavy heart that I share some sad news about the loss of a dear friend. A few days ago John informed me that my great buddy Tiffin was hit by a car just a few doors from where she lived and she died instantly. Her sister Muffin and our other friends Basil, Ginger and Zoukia are all in shock over this unhappy event. Tiffin was a unique combination of courage and vulnerability, beauty and strength, dignity and silliness. She spent half her time wide-eyed and scatty, the other half stealthy and agile. She slept for England and loved her food. I remember whenever I visited her house for dinner she would go around licking all the bowls clean afterwards. When her owner scattered biscuits on the patio at lunchtime she would always be the last to leave, sniffing out every single morsel.
Luckily she was found only minutes after the accident and at least we know what happened to her and had the chance to say goodbye. But it is disappointing that the person who hit her did not stop to check if she was alive and did not even move her out of the road. I understand that accidents happen and unfortunately cats don’t realise the danger that cars represent, but there is no excuse for leaving a cat lying in the middle of the road. I know my readers are compassionate people who would never hit an animal and leave it behind without blinking an eye, but not everyone is like that. Stop and check the animal people! If it’s wild call the RSPCA or take the pet to the vet for life-saving treatment and to be scanned for a microchip in the hope that the owners can be notified. Today we mourn the loss of a lovely girl whose life was cut short and to help us work through our grief, her ashes will be returned in the next few days and she will be laid to rest in her garden, the place where she was most happy.
For the final instalment of my New York adventure I’d like to share my experience of the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Now you might think I’m a cultured cat given that I portray myself as refined and sophisticated but I’m self-taught so my knowledge of the visual arts is limited. I’m familiar with a few famous painters like Renoir and Picasso, I’ve heard of Michelangelo and I’ve admired a poster of Le Chat Noir from 19th century Paris once in a coffee shop; but I’ve spent more time in the countryside than I have in art galleries. I felt like a child in a sweet shop as I wandered through the imposing façade of this Gothic-revival style building and stood in the entrance hall surrounded by numerous corridors leading to halls filled with sculptures, jewellery, pottery, ornaments, textiles, costumes, musical instruments and paintings spanning 5000 years and representing cultures from all over the world.
I was dawdling because there was so much to see and John had to keep chivvying me on but you know how curious cats can be and I wanted to investigate every passageway. The paintings area was split into multiple rooms dedicated to a particular artist each with a concrete bench in the centre of each room. When I hopped on to a bench I noticed that many of the tourists were looking at me and taking pictures as though they’d never seen a cultured cat at an art gallery before. I’m sure John thought I was spending time mesmerised by serenity of Claude Monet’s Waterlily Pond or captivated by the work of Gustave Courbet and his portrayals of people and scenes from the 1800s but really I was posing for the cameras! Anyway, the sight of Van Gogh’s abstract portraits and still-life pictures had given me a wibbly-wobbly feeling that I didn’t enjoy so it was time to explore the Halls of Arms and Armour which displayed weapons and protective military clothing from the Roman Empire, Ancient Greece, Dynastic Egypt and the Americas. My fur prickled as my eyes caught the stare of a dark shadow behind an enclosed metal helmet that formed part of a suit of armour worn by Henry VIII of England. I don’t know how people moved let alone fought for their lives wearing heavy layers of chainmail and steel plates from head to toe. There are more comfortable ways of looking stately and formidable I’m sure.
The Egyptian pharaohs had the right idea with their hand-woven linen robes embroidered with bold patterns and head-dresses adorned with feathers and jewels. The pharaohs such as King Narmer or Queen Nefertiti were the most powerful person in their kingdom, head of government and high priest or priestess often worshipped in a temple such as the Temple of Dendur. The Temple of Dendur was built during the reign of Augustus who ruled Egypt from 30BC to 14AD and was situated on the West bank of the River Nile in Ancient Nubia before it was dismantled and transported piece by piece to the United States at a cost of around 9.5 million dollars before finally being installed at the Met in 1978. The temple is dedicated to the goddess Isis and the gods Harpocrates and Osiris and is engraved with hieroglyphs, images of the sun, the outspread wings of Horus the sky god and scenes of kings holding sceptres and the ankh. Head held high, I strode regally between two enormous columns decorated with carvings of papyrus and lotus plants into a large chamber surrounded by a reflecting pool. I caught a glimpse of my reflection in the still silvery water and looked up to see a vision of myself wearing a golden crown and a brightly beaded girdle waving majestically to my adoring crowd. I would call on them to devote themselves to the miracle of nature, to the earth and all its complex forms of plant and animal life, and to support the development of wildlife sanctuaries across the lands. Cats from every species would be free to meander through the lands and crowds would stop to gaze in awe at their furry beauty. All cats would become a symbol of grace and poise and Shad the Cat’s silhouette would be deified in inscriptions on the sandstone walls. What a wonderful world this would be!
There is an enormous amount of myth and folklore surrounding black cats. In medieval times it was commonly believed that if you deliberately killed a black cat you would forfeit your soul to the devil; while in Scandinavia the Norse goddess of love and fertility Freya travelled in a chariot pulled by two black cats. Let’s hope she was a wee slip of a thing or they were huge black panthers! In the UK some people believe it is good luck when a black cat crosses your path but in the US it is considered bad luck. In Japan a single lady owning a black cat is said to have an increased number of suitors and some black cats are enshrined in maritime history, like Tiddles who travelled thousands of miles on British Navy vessels keeping them free of mice. Fancy being named Tiddles, it’s a little embarrassing for a tough guy! None of it makes sense to me and its superstitious hooey, as we all know that colour is only fur deep. An excessive amount of melanin is what causes fur to be black; it’s the opposite of albinism and gives our eyes that golden hue. Black fur turns reddish brown with exposure to the sun and goes grey with age like humans do. My black cat friend Tiffin is about to turn 9 and wasn’t happy when I mentioned she was getting a white beard!
My message to you at this time is that black cats are in danger and should be kept indoors on Halloween night or weekend and the days leading up to it because we are targets for abuse by thoughtless individuals who associate us with witchcraft. In fact throughout the Middle Ages and the so-called Age of Enlightenment black cats were actively persecuted as part of the measures taken by Christian cultures to eliminate any links to paganism. All this because our coats are the colour of night and night was associated with evil doings. This Halloween night make your celebrations fun and light-hearted and be sure to dress up in comical costumes and eat ghoulish treats. I don’t mind wearing a scarf or a funny hat for a few minutes to entertain John but many other cats would find it stressful. The coming and going of trick-or-treaters can make it easy for cats and kittens to slip out through the door especially if they’re trying to escape the noise and naked flames on candles could be a hazard. Now I’ve done my bit for black cat-kind, take care and have fun and enjoy the photos of all these lovely black cats. Can you pick out which ones are me?
My friend Tiffin is a charming 7 year old lady with smooth black fur and a few white flecks on her chest. She lives with her sister Muffin at the house with the cat pen in the garden, the one where the waifs and strays live until they find their forever homes. Tiffin is as scatty as they come, staring wide-eyed in the direction of any noise and running away from humans and animals she doesn’t know. But this kind hearted soul is a good buddy of mine and we often meet up to philosophise about the meaning of life and put the world to rights. I call it Tiffin time and it is usually accompanied by a few flakes of tuna which John always brings as a special treat for the cats in the foster pen.
As Tiffin and I sat on the low wall in the garden watching the rescue cats stretch out in the warmth of the evening sun, we washed our faces meticulously while the conversation moved on to a couple of kittens that had recently been brought into care called Smokey and Pickles. These two little bundles of fun were given up by their owner 24 hours after she bought them because they had diarrhoea and had managed to infest her home with fleas. The kittens had been bought from a woman selling them on the internet and like many kittens sold this way, they were sick with fleas and worms, malnourished and lacking in social skills. Many people selling cats in shops, newspapers and online call themselves breeders but actually they are simply allowing their cats to get pregnant over and over, neglecting the needs of the mother cat and selling the kittens in an unacceptable condition to unsuspecting members of the public for a profit.
Tiffin and I are both rescue cats but we were lucky enough to have a better start in life than Smokey and Pickles. It’s a shame the owner didn’t want to keep the kittens and take them to the vet for treatment but I guess some humans aren’t dedicated enough to support us cats through the good times and the bad. You’ll be pleased to hear that the kittens have received lots of tender loving care and are now happy and healthy and living in a loving home. Tiffin and I contemplated the fate of all the rescue cats sitting in foster homes and shelters right now across the UK waiting to find new homes and all health-checked, vaccinated, microchipped and neutered. There are cute ones, scruffy ones, cheeky ones and bold ones, shy ones like Tiffin and grumpy ones like me!
There is no creature as curious as a cat. And I have always been curious about what lies beyond the adoption pens at the National Cat Centre in Chelwood Gate. The NCC is headquarters for Cats Protection and boasts the largest cat rehoming centre in the UK looking after anything up to 200 cats and kittens at any one time and rehoming over 1000 little cherubs every year. John and I walked into the reception area excited to meet Danielle the Centre Manger for our exclusive behind the scenes tour. John had brushed my coat before we left so I looked extra silky and I puffed out my chest fur as we were greeted by a smiling Danielle who started by introducing us to Poppy. Poppy is a friendly black and white that has been in care for many months and now spends her days helping reception staff answer the phones and checking the corners for mice in the hopes of getting noticed by prospective owners as they wander through. Just off reception is a meeting room specially designated for potential owners to sit and spend time with the cat they like before deciding if things could work between them. It’s full of comfy chairs, ping pong balls and a window that lets you watch the birds land on the swaying branches of the trees outside. Danielle told us about a cat called Marmite who lived at the Centre for a long time because he had FIV (feline immunodeficiency virus) and I smiled to myself as I imagined him in the meeting room greeting the lady that would later adopt him.
As we moved through the double-doors into the adoption pen wing, Danielle showed us the Enrichment Room which we could not enter as 6 year old Tabitha was in there undertaking a desensitisation programme. This involves carefully exposing the cat to various situations in a controlled manner such as the sound of a vacuum cleaner, meeting a stranger or hearing a doorbell to determine which triggers cause the cat to have behavioural issues. Tabitha has been rehomed and returned 3 times because she becomes aggressive so the desensitisation programme will help her become accustomed to normal household noises in the hope that she will soon find her forever home. I had a quick word with her through the door while the humans were talking and she said she gets angry when she is rehomed because she doesn’t know anyone there and it makes her feel scared.
We strolled through the pen wing admiring the cats along the way until we reached another double-door and Danielle asked us to dip our feet in a tub of wet sponge. I was mortified, as a cat who is fastidious about keeping his paws clean, soft and dry, but it was necessary as part of the infection control procedures. So I dutifully placed each of my paws in the disinfectant goo and looked up at John who knew exactly what I wanted and fetched a paper towel to dab my tootsies dry. The next section contained the Admissions Wing where cats first arrive and the Cat Care room where newcomers get their vet checks, vaccinations and flea treatments. I shuddered at the thought and we moved on to the Isolation Wing for cats who have unfortunately been diagnosed with infectious diseases such as flu, FIV and ringworm. We were not allowed into the isolation wing for obvious reasons not least of all that we would have had to dress up in multiple layers of unattractive plastic aprons and pull-up boots which you can see being modelled by Boris. My heart went out to the cats in isolation who often spend weeks receiving veterinary treatment and wearing the cone of shame before their symptoms improve and they are well enough to be put up for adoption. We didn’t go into the maternity wing either out of respect for the feeding mums and mums-to-be who need peace and quiet while they care for their babies. We did take a look at the operating theatres and were impressed with the great facilities, especially when Danielle said that Tuesdays to Thursdays the onsite vet team perform 6 to 8 surgical procedures a day.
No trip to the NCC would be complete without talking to one of the many dedicated volunteers who give up their time to support the Centre and have essential roles to play including collecting cats, cleaning pens, making enrichment objects and raising funds. I got talking to a nice young lady who had just been sitting quietly with a nervous cat called Anya. Anya had been found in a bin and needed a dedicated volunteer to spend time with, bonding and slowly building her confidence, learning to trust humans again. I am so full of respect for this wonderful work that I gave the volunteer an extra firm head butt behind her knee and she rubbed my back in return. Marvellous!
360 View – Of the homing corridor
We came to the end of our tour and Danielle walked us back out to reception as we discussed some of the key welfare issues facing cats today. The importance of early neutering is fundamental to controlling unwanted cat populations and Danielle said that Cats Protection vaccinate kittens against disease at 8 weeks and neuter at 9 weeks to ensure healthy moggies all round. The other big concern is the lack of microchipping in cats and Danielle looked sad as she told us about the many cats who become separated from their owners and brought in to care but end up being rehomed because their owners cannot be traced. I told Danielle how worried I am about the cats and kittens that are sold cheaply or given away through online auction and sales websites. Sadly many of these animals are destined for terrible fates. But I was encouraged to hear that the Cats Protection advocacy team are working with some of the main online marketing sites to raise awareness of the plight of these animals so that improvements can be made. I saw Tabitha on my way out and told her to be brave when she goes to her next home because there are some very nice humans out there who love animals and will understand her needs if she just gave them a chance.
As I walked in, Jenny cocked her head curiously before continuing across the floor to a small set of steps. She climbed the steps and a glimpse of a smile came my way before she hopped on to a large round bed placed neatly in front of the window. I watched her turn round 3 times before sinking into the soft fibre of the brown stripy cushion and curling up for her mid-morning nap. I was intrigued to find out more about this modest moggy so I trotted merrily up to the reception desk at the National Cat Centre with John to ask a few questions and was greeted by a lovely lady with dangly earrings. I managed to contain my urge to swing at the shiny swaying objects hanging from her ears and found out that Jenny was a 14 year old tabby and white cat currently residing at the National Cat Centre in Chelwood Gate while she waits for a new forever home.
I looked around for another peek at gentle Jenny snoozing in the corner when another shiny object caught my eye. Mesmerised, I wandered involuntarily towards the brightly decorated Christmas tree intent on claiming the string of glistening baubles as mine. Thankfully John recognised the hypnotic look on my face and scooped me up before any tinsel-related incidents could occur. As we ambled through the Centre I met many other cats waiting to be re-homed, like Duke a young ginger boy who pranced in front of the viewing window and gleefully played with the toy snake suspended in his pen. It got me thinking about the life of a foster cat and I decided to find out more about their experiences.
To my delight, one cat inhabiting the pen was a fantastic fellow by the name of Marshall. As you can see his long fluffy black and white fur and handsome set of whiskers are a joy to behold. But this was not always the case. When he arrived in the pen he was covered in fleas and his previous owner had sadly done nothing to help him with his flea allergy which left him itchy from nose to paw and covered in scabs and sore bits. Now that he was safe and warm in the pen, the fosterer’s first job was to provide good food and fresh water and a dollop of flea treatment to get rid of those pesky biters. The next morning there were dead fleas all over the shelves and the bedding and even floating in the water bowl so the fosterer got the mop out again and gave everything a freshen up. Over the next couple of weeks Marshall got to meet the vet a few times and following a course of steroids and antibiotics, his dull patchy fur transformed into soft touchable goodness. He had become more outgoing and friendly since the scratching had stopped and he was so grateful about feeling better that he had started hopping on to his fosterer’s lap to say thank you.
The charity pay for any veterinary treatment required as well as the cost of food, housing, heating, medication, blankets, bowls, baskets and toys. Fosterers and other volunteers dedicate their time interacting with the cats, talking, stroking and playing as well as arranging appointments, providing transport, fund-raising, cleaning, arranging adoptions and seeking expert advice where necessary. It’s easy to care for a cat like Marshall who is relaxed and confident but it’s more challenging with a cat like Mia the tabby and white who was previously teased by children leaving her unpredictable and defensive. It takes an enormous amount of patience and understanding to care for a cat that hisses and scratches you. But every good fosterer knows that each cat is the product of what the world has made it and even the nervous or angry ones given time and space can learn to trust and show affection, even if it is in their own funny way. I show my affection to John every day with a rub and a purr and the occasional whack on the leg as he walks by. He thinks it’s annoying but I see it as quirky! Cat Protection never give up on any of the cats in their care and firmly believe that there is a home for each and every one. By the way, Mia is settling well in her pen and has calmed down considerably now that she knows no one will bother her and Marshall has found a new owner who adores him and will no doubt cater for his every need. Well done Marsh!
Did you know that almost half of YouTube’s top 30 most-watched pet videos feature cats. Love them or not, watching them doing crazy things like stalking a shadow, jumping out of a box or playing the piano, is very entertaining. The two talking cats have racked up around 53 million views and I hope that this popularity will go some way towards endearing cats to more people. In fact, there is now an internet video cat festival held every year in the US which attracts thousands of people and supports community projects and charities. Unfortunately there are no plans for the event to come to the UK. So you’ll have to make do with being entertained by my antics and anecdotes.
I can do the box trick very well, although John often gives me boxes that are a little snug for my rather ample tushy resulting in a one particularly embarrassing…