One Little Life
We had rats. Anyone who has poultry and a pond has rats. If you also have several mild winters, you then have a rat problem. Mr Rat Catcher came with traps and poison, but we still had a rat problem. So, we decided to get cats.
We found some cats that had been born in a stable, not feral as they had been well cared for, but they were used to living outside. We bought two, Milly and Molly, brought them home, and put them in the garage. For three days, I didn’t see them, and wondered if they had escaped! Then I took the dog into the garage with me, and two tiny kittens tentatively appeared. They had been raised on a farm with German Shepherd dogs, and they recognised Kia as a friend. Gradually they learned to like us too. When they were bigger, they moved to their home in the workshop.
Two cats wasn’t really enough to cure the rat problem, so we didn’t spey Milly and Molly. After about eighteen months, both were pregnant. Between them, they gave birth to four live kittens. Both cats are tabbies. Their kittens were a mixture of silver tabby, smoke and black. They had clearly never read any of the parenting books about how to care for kittens, and regularly sat on window sills where the kittens couldn’t reach them. I had to check them frequently and reunite mothers and kittens so they could feed. They weren’t really keen on any of them. Apart from the black one.
Milly had given birth to the black kitten, but they both wanted him. So they would hide him. I would go into the garage and all the kittens would be mewing in a heap, the mothers would be sitting somewhere high, and the black kitten would be missing. I found him at the back of shelves, in empty boxes and behind gardening equipment. When I put him with the litter, Molly would try to steal him, ignoring her own kitten.
Eventually the kittens were weaned. I decided we had too many cats, so gave one kitten to a friend, put two kittens with the mothers to live in the workshop, and kept one kitten inside, as a house cat. I chose the black kitten (I wanted him too!) We called him Mungo.
Now, everyone thinks their pet is special, (and people without pets think they are slightly mad.) So I won’t bore you with details of how Mungo would ‘beg’, reaching up with his front paws when he wanted to be picked up. Or how he would chase a plastic egg for many hours. Or how he loved the dog and would dive bomb her paws when she was sleeping. Or how he regularly killed the kitchen towel. Or slept in a very ‘uncatlike’ manner, on his back, with all four legs outstretched, often in the dog’s bed. Or how he adopted Husband (“not a cat person”) and ran to meet him when he arrived home from work and sat on him all evening. But he was special to us, and we loved him.
Initially, the plan was to keep him inside, for him to be a house cat. Then one day he escaped. I found him outside, playing with his siblings. He looked so happy, it seemed cruel to keep him locked inside. But the traffic in the farm lane worried me. So we decided that at night, when there were very few cars (about 4 per hour) he could go outside. During the day, when the roads were busier, he would stay inside.
We soon had a routine going. Every evening, Midge, his brother, would loiter around the cat flap, waiting. When we went to bed, we would let Mungo into the utility room, so he could use the cat flap. Every morning, around 6am, when we let the dog out, Mungo would run in. His siblings often were with him, it was like they were saying ‘Bye’ to him when he came inside. He would then eat, drink, and follow us around, asking to be picked up. Then he would nap for most of the day.
Until the last day. Until the day when he didn’t come in when we let Kia into the garden. The day when a man knocked on the door at 7am, to ask if I had a black cat.
I rushed outside. Some landscapers had found him, on their way to work. They had parked their vans in the lane and were carrying him in a sling made from an old towel. There were about nine of them, young men in their green uniforms. It was so kind of them to bother. Sometimes people are nice.
We could see Mungo had, at least, a broken leg, so we rushed him to the vet. As we drove, he took my thumb into his mouth, like a child holding my hand. Then either pain or fear became intense, and he bit down, both sides, straight through my thumb. It hurt.
He spent all day at the vets. Apparently, the most dangerous thing for a cat is shock, so they kept him warm and sedated, planning to operate the following day. He died that evening.
It was a bizarre day. I ate four doughnuts and drank lots of coffee. Completely missed lunchtime, it was suddenly mid-afternoon. I had walked the dog and cleaned out the birds and was wishing we had something other than Mr Bump plasters in the house for my sore thumb. Felt weird, sometimes fine, sometimes contemplating losing all the other people and animals I care about. Everyone dies. It’s always horrible. There isn’t a way to protect yourself, not without being hard.
I wondered where God was in all this. The thing is, we aren’t protected from the rubbish in life. God helps us get through it, but we aren’t ‘owed’ by God, whatever our relationship with him. He isn’t a genie in a lamp, we cannot pray and ‘make’ God change things. Life is horrid sometimes. It hurts. It’s tough. We can only try to survive and recover from the hurt. But I do believe he cares. When we hurt, God hurts too. It doesn’t have to be lonely even if it is always hard. I did pray, but in a sort of wordless, lifting the sadness sort of way – a young child raising their arms to a parent sort of way.
In time, I will thank God that I had Mungo, even though a year was too short, his life was too little. But do I have the right to say that? Sometimes, when we are hurting, we feel the loss more than we ever felt the joy. Mungo was a cat. In a few days, life will be back on kilter. I will carry the loss of my father’s death for the rest of my life. However, I have no ‘rights’ here, I did not create any of the things that I have loved, I can feel pain, sadness, loss. But should I feel anger? Whilst it is a natural part of the grieving process, there comes a time when I should let that go. We have never been promised a pain free life, not here, not now.
If you have had a pet, I don’t need to explain the sorrow, the tears, the huge hole that he has left. My thumb was sore for days, but the pain was sort of helpful. It was something physical that recognised the pain I felt inside.
There is no happy ending here. Sometimes in real life there isn’t. I wish I had never let him outside at night. But then, I am glad that I did. He had such a happy little life. He climbed trees and played with his family and did everything that cats are designed to do. I know, eventually, I will think of him and smile. I will recognise that he gave us one year of lots of joy. But right now, I miss him. Thank you for reading.
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If you are interested, you can read why I think prayer doesn’t work at:
Why I Think Prayer ‘Doesn’t Work’