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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A Cautionary Tale

A Cautionary Tale


     Mable was a black labrador and when the Bond family first took her home, she entered it like a small tornado. Everything was exciting! She was just one big wiggle with a tail attached. Whenever she saw someone she would fling herself onto her back, exposing her round pink tummy for tickles. Sometimes she even produced small puddles in excitement. She was the happiest puppy you could hope to own.

However, not everyone was delighted by her arrival. Suki was a mottled brown cat who was aged about four years old and eminently logical. She had inherited her sleek superiority from her Siamese mother and her deft ability as a mouser from her wild Tom father. She watched Mable from the safety of the dresser and puffed her tail in a show of anger. She could really see no use at all for this giddy addition to the family and considered moving out.

Mable grew. She was not a dog who showed great intelligence but no one could doubt her affection. When she was shouted at for producing puddles on the kitchen floor, she was honestly distraught at having caused offence, though completely mystified as to what she had done wrong. She greeted everyone with great enthusiasm, often at face height and pulled enthusiastically when taken out on the lead.

Gradually, she learned manners, helped by kind words and edible treats. She learned to walk calmly next to her owners. She learned to never touch food that was not in her bowl. She learned to sit next to the door when she needed to toilet.

She also learned how to treat Suki, helped by some sharp scratches to her nose. She learned that cats do not like to be bounced. She learned that cats do not like you to investigate their food bowl. She learned that cats do not like to be chased.

One cold winter’s night, the relationship between cat and dog changed. The boiler had shut down for the night and the kitchen had a steady draught blowing through the cat flap. Suki looked down from her bed on the cold boiler. Mable was asleep in her basket under the table, curled tightly on her fleece. She looked warm. She also looked still and calm.

Suki stealthily left her vantage point and approached the sleeping dog. All remained still and she tentatively stepped into the basket. It was warm. She placed a paw on the dog. Nothing happened. She stepped forwards until her weight was fully on the dog. Still Mable did not wake. Suki slowly lay down. She could feel the dog breathing in slow even breaths and the fur was thick and warm under the cat’s body. She slept.

At some point, Mable woke. She found herself under an unexpected weight whose smell she recognised as Suki’s. She knew that close interaction usually resulted in pain and therefore she lay very still, hoping that the cat would leave of her own volition. Thus it was that when Suki herself woke, the dog was still calmly immobile beneath her.

This having proven to be a most satisfactory arrangement, the cat decided to regularly share the dog’s bed. It was warm and comfortable and cat’s crave little else in life. Mable herself grew accustomed to the arrangement and though always slightly nervous when the cat arrived, she found that keeping very still resulted in a pain free experience.

Thus it was that Mable and Suki became friends. They were happy in each other’s company, both understanding the rules of the relationship. Sometimes Suki would even drag a captured mouse or baby rabbit into the dog’s bowl and if the Bond family failed to notice, Mable could enjoy an unexpected treat.

Time passed, seeping through the seasons and bringing subtle changes. Mable lost her bounce and became happily sedate. She remained loving and gentle but wagged her tail rather than spun in circles. She loved to collect presents and would search the kitchen for tea towels and abandoned socks to bring to the family. At night, when the kitchen was empty, she would collect all the discarded possessions and place them in her basket to mark her ownership. Her gentle mouth never caused damage and the family knew where to look if they were missing a sock or a glove.

She continued to be an affectionate dog and never once growled or snapped, even if inadvertently stepped on by a boisterous child. She could oft be found, leaning her heavy weight against her owner’s legs, patiently waiting for her silky head to be stroked.

One day, the Bond family noticed their pets were old. Mable’s muzzle had become grey and she rose stiffly each morning, sometimes not wanting to rise at all to greet visitors. She slept more and more and as her back legs stiffened it became uncomfortable for her to walk very far.

The two constants in her life were food and Suki. Twice a day, glimmers of the puppy would reappear as her bowl was filled with kibble and she would attempt a stiff legged dance of excitement.

Suki now also spent most of her time asleep in the dog’s basket. The two animals were always together, either asleep or wandering slowly around the garden. Suki was obviously an elderly cat. She could no longer jump onto furniture and found even going through the cat flap to require great effort. Her lean form had become austerely thin and her bones formed sharp angles under her sagging fur. Her teeth were yellowed and sore and Mrs Bond started to buy tins of food that were easier to eat than the crunchy biscuits she had formally enjoyed.

One day, the animals were both taken to be checked by the vet. Mable could no longer jump into the boot of the car and so she wobbled unstably in the footwell while Mrs Bond drove her and a vocally cross Suki into town.

When they arrived, the vet methodically examined them. He felt their backs and under sides, listened to their hearts and looked in their mouths. When he tried to check Mable’s back legs, a jolt of pain shot through her. In sudden anger she snarled and snapped her brown teeth.

The vet jumped back alarmed and Mrs Bond rushed to hold Mable’s head. She had never seen her dog be anything other than submissively affectionate and she hastily apologised to the vet. He reassured her and said that animal’s often change in character as they become old.

He stated that Mable seemed in good health and was aging naturally for a dog of her years. He thought Suki would not survive much longer but as she appeared pain free, he suggested that Mrs Bond should return home with both pets and let nature take it’s course.

It was not many days later, that the Bond family arrived in the kitchen to find only one pet. Mable was asleep in her basket but Suki was missing. They gave the garden a cursory search before starting out for work but there was no sign of the cat.

That evening, the whole family looked for her. They hunted in all the nearby streets and under bushes and in ditches. They found nothing but litter and dead leaves. Mrs Bond suggested that perhaps the cat had known she was about to die and so had wandered off to die in solitude, as she had read that wild cats some times behave like that. It was with great sadness that the family returned home.

Mable changed when Suki disppeared. She showed no enthusiasm for food and had to be prised from her bed to toilet in the garden. Both the dog and her bed began to smell unpleasant but Mrs Bond felt that washing either would be unfair so instead she bought air fresheners and kept a small window ajar.

Within a week, life seeped away from Mable. One cold February evening, Mr Bond arrived in the kitchen to find her body lying on the floor, her mouth slightly open and her eyes unseeing.

It was with heavy hearts that they hoisted her immobile form into the garage and wrapped it in an old blanket. Their eyes stung with tears and they spoke little as each person remembered her enthusiasm as a young dog and her constancy as a beloved friend.

When the family had departed for work, Mrs Bond went to tackle the dog’s bed. She sighed as she lifted the odorous blanket from the basket. As she stuffed it into the black dustbin bag, something fell to the floor. She bent to retrieve it, then stopped.

There, on the cold tiles, shrivelled and slightly flattened, was a tail. A cat’s tail. A mottled brown cat’s tail. Feeling slightly sick, Mrs Bond scooped it into the waiting bag and went to sit down.

Had the dog searched for her missing friend and discovered a sordid memento in some hidden corner of the garden? Or had her aging personality change garnered a more vicious explanation?

Was this evidence of unwavering devotion?

Or was it an altogether more cautionary tail?