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       James Herriot's Cat Stories, p.1

           James Herriot
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James Herriot's Cat Stories



  James Herriot

  Copyright 1994 by James Herriot. All rights reserved.


  Illustrated by Lesley Holmes

  What better match of author and subject than James Herriot, the

  world's most beloved veterinarian and storyteller, and the adorable

  feline friends who delight so many millions of cat lovers around the

  world? Between these covers, teller and tales finally meet in a warm

  and joyful new collection that will bring delight to the hearts of

  readers the world over: James Herriot's Cat Stories. Here are Buster,

  the kitten who arrived on Christmas; Alfred, the cat at the sweet

  shop; little Emily, who lived with the gentleman tramp; and Olly and

  Ginny, the kittens who charmed readers when they first appeared at

  the Herriots" house in the worldwide bestseller Every Living Thing.

  And along with these come others, each story as memorable and

  heartwarming as the last, each told with that magic blend of gentle

  wit and human compassion that marks every word from James Herriot's


  For lovers of cats, James Herriot's books, or both, James Herriot's

  Cat Stories will be a gift to treasure.

  JAMES HERRIOT'S books include: All Creatures Great and Small, All

  Things Bright and Beautiful, All Things Wise and Wonderful, The Lord

  God Made Them All, Every Living Thing, and James Herriot's Dog


  Now retired after fifty years in veterinary practice, he lives with

  his wife in North Yorkshire, England.


  All Creatures Great and Small All Things Bright and Beautiful All

  Things Wise and Wonderful The Lord God Made Them All Every Living

  Thing James Herriot's Yorkshire James Herriot's Dog Stories The Best

  of James Herriot


  Moses the Kitten Only One Woof The Christmas Day Kitten Bonny's Big

  Day Blossom Comes Home The Market Square Dog Oscar, Cat-Ab-Town

  Smudge, the Little Lost Lamb James Herriot's Treasury for Children


  Story Page

  Introduction ........................

  1 Alfred: The Sweet-Shop Cat ...

  8 Oscar: The Socialite Cat ........

  28 Boris and Mrs. Bond's Cat Establishment .....................

  55 Olly and Ginny: Two Kittens Who Came to Stay ....................

  70 Emily and the Gentleman of the Road .....

  91 Olly and Ginny Settle In ........

  112 Moses Found Among the Rushes ......

  119 Frisk: The Cat with Many Lives ....

  128 Olly and Ginny: The Greatest Triumph .................

  139 Buster: The Feline Retriever ......



  Cats have always played a large part in my life, first when I was a

  boy in Glasgow, then as a practising veterinary surgeon, and now, in

  my retirement, they are still there, lightening my days. They were

  one of the main reasons why I chose a career as a vet. In my school

  days my animal world was dominated by a magnificent Irish setter

  called Don with whom I walked the Scottish hills for close on

  fourteen years, but when I returned from these rambles there were

  always my cats to greet me, arching around my legs, purring and

  rubbing their faces at my hands. There was never a time when our

  household did not have several cats, and they each had their

  particular charms. Their innate grace and daintiness and their

  deeply responsive affection made them all dear to me and I longed

  for the day when I would learn about them at the Veterinary College.

  Their playfulness, too, was a constant source of entertainment. I

  can remember one, Topsy by name, who was the instigator of many

  games, repeatedly dancing, crabwise, up to Don with her ears

  wickedly cocked until he could resist no longer and sprang at her,

  which inevitably started a long wrestling match. Occasionally, we

  had the local vet out when the cats were ill and I used to watch him

  with awe: here was someone who had studied the species intimately

  and knew every bone, nerve and sinew in their bodies. I was

  astounded when I got to the College and found that nowhere was there

  any interest in my beloved cats. One of my text books was an immense

  tome called Sisson's Anatomy of Domestic Animals. It took a fairly

  strong man to lift it from the shelf, and to carry it around was a

  labour in itself. I searched the pages eagerly. They profusely

  illustrated the innards of horse, ox, sheep, pig and dog in that

  strict order. The dog only just squeezed in, but I couldn't find a

  cat anywhere. Finally I consulted the index. There was nothing under

  the letter c and I thought ah, of course, it would be under f for

  feline, but again my search was fruitless and I was forced to

  conclude, sadly, that my poor furry friends didn't even have a

  mention. I couldn't believe it. I thought of the thousands of old

  folks and housebound invalids who drew joy and comfort and

  friendship from their cats. They were the only pets they could have.

  What was my profession thinking of? The simple fact was that they

  had fallen behind the times. Sisson's Anatomy was published in 1910

  and reprinted several times up to 1930 and it was this edition,

  fresh from the press, which I studied in my student days. I have

  often gone on record saying that, although I spent my professional

  life in large-animal practice, my original ambition was to be a

  doctor of dogs and cats. But I qualified in the days of the great

  depression of the thirties when jobs were difficult to find and I

  ended up tramping in Wellington boots over the North Yorkshire Dales.

  I did this for more than fifty years and loved every minute of it,

  but at the beginning I thought I would miss my cats. I was wrong.

  There were cats everywhere. Every farm had its cats. They kept the

  mice away and lived a whole life of their own in those rural places.

  Cats are connoisseurs of comfort, and when inspecting the head of a

  cow I often found a cosy nest of kittens with their mother in the

  hay rack. They were to be seen snuggled between bales of straw or

  stretched blissfully in sunlit corners because they love warmth, and

  in the bitter days of winter the warm bonnet of my car was an

  irresistible attraction. No sooner had I drawn up in a farmyard than

  a cat or two was perched just beyond my windscreen. Some farmers are

  real cat lovers apart from wanting them around for their practical

  uses; and in these places I might find a score of the little

  creatures enjoying this unexpected bonus of warmth. When I drove

  away I had a pattern of muddy paw-marks covering every inch of the

  heated metal. This soon dried on, and since I had neither time nor

  inclination for car washing they remained as a semi-permanent

  decoration. On my daily round in our small count
ry town I found many

  instances of old folks in their little cottages with a cat by the

  fireside or curled in their laps. Such companionship made a huge

  difference to their lives. All this to remind me of cats and yet our

  official education ignored them. But that was more than fifty years

  ago and things were beginning to change even then. They were

  starting to include cats in the lectures at the veterinary colleges

  and so I assiduously picked the brains of students who came to see

  practice with us. Later, as the practice expanded, I did the same

  with the young assistants who arrived bursting with the new

  knowledge. Also, articles about cats began to appear in our

  veterinary periodicals and I would read these avidly. This went on

  throughout the fifty-odd years of my veterinary life and now, when I

  am retired and it is all over, I often look back and think of the

  changes which took place during my era. The recognition of cats was,

  of course, only a small part of the almost explosive revolution

  which transformed my profession; the virtual disappearance of the

  farm horse, the advent of antibiotics which swept away the almost

  medieval medicines I had to dispense, the new surgical procedures,

  the wonderful protective vaccines which regularly appeared--all

  these things seem like the realisation of a dream. Cats are now

  arguably the most popular of all family pets. Large, prestigious

  books are written about them by eminent veterinarians and, indeed,

  some vets specialise in the species to the exclusion of all others.

  In front of the desk where I write I have a long row of the old text

  books I studied in those far-off days. Sisson is there, looking as

  vast as ever, and all the others I keep to dip into when I try to

  remember things about the past or when I just want a good laugh; but

  side by side with them are the fine new volumes with only one theme-

  -cats. I think back, too, on the strange views that many people held

  about cats. They were selfish creatures reserving their affections

  only for situations which would benefit them, and they were

  incapable of the unthinking love a dog dispenses. They were totally

  self-contained creatures who looked after their own interests only.

  What nonsense! I have felt cats rubbing their faces against mine and

  touching my cheek with claws carefully sheathed. These things, to me,

  are expressions of love. At the moment of writing we have no cat,

  because our border terrier does not approve of them and likes to

  chase them. However, he does not start to run until they do because,

  although he will fight any dog large or small, he is secretly wary

  of cats. If a cat stands his ground, Bodie will make a wide circuit

  to avoid him. But when he is asleep--his favourite occupation in his

  thirteenth year--cats visit us from our neighbours in the village.

  We have a chest-high wall outside our kitchen window and here the

  assorted felines assemble to see what we have to offer. We keep

  various goodies for them and spread them on the wall, but there is

  one gorgeous yellow and white tom who is so affectionate that he

  would rather be petted than fed. I have quite a battle with him as

  he nearly knocks the carton of titbits from my hand in his efforts

  to nose his way into my palm with a thunderous purring. Often I have

  to abandon the feeding and concentrate on the rubbing, stroking and

  chin tickling which he really wants. I think it is a sensible axiom

  that, once retired, one should not continue to haunt one's former

  place of business. Of course, Skeldale House is more than that to

  me; it is a place of a thousand memories, where I shared the

  bachelor days with Siegfried and Tristan, where I started my married

  life, saw my children grow up from babyhood and went through a half

  century of the triumphs and disasters of veterinary practice. Today,

  though, I go there only to pick up my mail and, in the process, to

  have a quick peep at how things are going. The practice is run by my

  son, Jimmy, and his splendid young partners and last week I stood in

  the office watching the constant traffic of little animals coming in

  for consultations, operations, vaccinations; so different from my

  early days when our work was 90 percent agricultural. I turned away

  from the shaggy stream to speak to Jimmy. "Which animal do you see

  most often in the surgery?" I asked. He thought for a moment before

  replying. "Probably fifty-fifty dogs and cats, but I think the cats

  are edging ahead."

  Alfred The Sweet-Shop Cat

  My throat was killing me. Three successive nocturnal lambings on the

  windswept hillsides in my shirtsleeves had left me with the

  beginnings of a cold and I felt in urgent need of a packet of Geoff

  Hatfield's cough drops. An unscientific treatment, perhaps, but I

  had a childish faith in those powerful little candies which exploded

  in the mouth, sending a blast of medicated vapour surging through

  the bronchial tubes. The shop was down a side alley, almost hidden

  away, and it was so tiny--not much more than a cubby hole--that

  there was hardly room for the sign, GEOFFREY HATFIELD, CONFECTIONER,

  above the window. But it was full. It was always full, and, this

  being market day, it was packed out. The little bell went "ching" as

  I opened the door and squeezed into the crush of local ladies and

  farmers" wives. I'd have to wait for a while but I didn't mind,

  because watching Mr. Hatfield in action was one of the rewarding

  things in my life. I had come at a good time, too, because the

  proprietor was in the middle of one of his selection struggles. He

  had his back to me, the silver-haired, leonine head nodding slightly

  on the broad shoulders as he surveyed the rows of tall glass sweet

  jars against the wall. His hands, clasped behind him, tensed and

  relaxed repeatedly as he fought his inner battle, then he took a few

  strides along the row, gazing intently at each jar in turn. It

  struck me that Lord Nelson pacing the quarterdeck of the Victory,

  wondering how best to engage the enemy, could not have displayed a

  more portentous concentration. The tension in the little shop rose

  palpably as he reached up a hand, then withdrew it with a shake of

  the head, but a sigh went up from the assembled ladies as, with a

  final grave nod and a squaring of the shoulders, he extended both

  arms, seized a jar and swung round to face the company. His large

  Roman Senator face was crinkled into a benign smile. "Now, Mrs.

  Moffat," he boomed at a stout matron and, holding out the glass

  vessel with both hands, inclined it slightly with all the grace and

  deference of a Cartier jeweller displaying a diamond necklace, "I

  wonder if I can interest you in this." Mrs. Moffat, clutching her

  shopping basket, peered closely at the paper-wrapped confections in

  the jar. "Well, ah don't know. ..." "If I remember rightly, madam,

  you indicated that you were seeking something in the nature of a

  Russian caramel, and I can thoroughly recommend these little

  sweetmeats. Not quite a Russian, but nevertheless a very nice,

/>   smooth-eating toffee." His expression became serious, expectant. The

  fruity tones rolling round his description made me want to grab the

  sweets and devour them on the spot, and they seemed to have the same

  effect on the lady. "Right, Mr. Hatfield," she said eagerly, "I'll

  "ave half a pound." The shopkeeper gave a slight bow. "Thank you so

  much, madam, I'm sure you will not regret your choice." His features

  relaxed into a gracious smile and, as he lovingly trickled the

  toffees onto his scales before bagging them with a professional

  twirl, I felt a renewed desire to get at the things. Mr. Hatfield,

  leaning forward with both hands on the counter, kept his gaze on his

  customer until he had bowed her out of the shop with a courteous,

  "Good day to you, madam," then he turned to face the congregation.

  "Ah, Mrs. Dawson, how very nice to see you. And what is your

  pleasure this morning?" The lady, obviously delighted, beamed at him.

  "I'd like some of them fudge chocolates I "ad last week, Mr.

  Hatfield. They were lovely. Have you still got some?" "Indeed I have,

  madam, and I am delighted that you approve of my recommendation.

  Such a deliciously creamy flavour. Also, it so happens that I have

  just received a consignment in a special presentation box for Easter.

  " He lifted one from the shelf and balanced it on the palm of his

  hand. "Really pretty and attractive, don't you think?" Mrs. Dawson

  nodded rapidly. "Oh, aye, that's real bonny. I'll take a box and

  there's summat else I want. A right big bag of nice boiled sweets

  for the family to suck at. Mixed colours, you know. What "ave you

  got?" Mr. Hatfield steepled his fingers, gazed at her fixedly and

  took a long, contemplative breath. He held this pose for several

  seconds, then he swung round, clasped his hands behind him, and

  recommenced his inspection of the jars. That was my favourite bit

  and, as always, I was enjoying it. It was a familiar scene. The tiny,

  , crowded shop, the proprietor wrestling with his assignment and

  Alfred sitting at the far end of the counter. Alfred was Geoff's cat

  and he was always there, seated upright and majestic on the polished

  boards near the curtained doorway which led to the Hatfield sitting

  room. As usual, he seemed to be taking a keen interest in the

  proceedings, his gaze moving from his master's face to the

  customer's, and though it may have been my imagination I felt that

  his expression registered a grave involvement in the negotiations

  and a deep satisfaction at the outcome. He never left his place or

  encroached on the rest of the counter, but occasionally one or other

  of the ladies would stroke his cheek and he would respond with a

  booming purr and a gracious movement of the head towards them. It

  was typical that he never yielded to any unseemly display of emotion.

  That would have been undignified, and dignity was an unchanging part

  of him. Even as a kitten he had never indulged in immoderate

  playfulness. I had neutered him three years earlier--for which he

  appeared to bear me no ill will--and he had grown into a massive,

  benevolent tabby. I looked at him now, sitting in his place. Vast,

  imperturbable, at peace with his world. There was no doubt he was a

  cat of enormous presence. And it had always struck me forcibly that

  he was exactly like his master in that respect. They were two of a

  kind and it was no surprise that they were such devoted friends.

  When it came to my turn I was able to reach Alfred and I tickled him

  under his chin. He liked that and raised his head high while the

  purring rumbled up from the furry rib cage until it resounded

  throughout the shop. Even collecting my cough drops had its touch of

  ceremony. The big man behind the counter sniffed gravely at the

  packet and then clapped his hand a few times against his chest. "You

  can smell the goodness, Mr. Herriot, the beneficial vapours. These

  will have you right in no time." He bowed and smiled and I could

  swear that Alfred smiled with him. I squeezed my way out through the

  ladies and as I walked down the alley I marvelled for the umpteenth

  time at the phenomenon of Geoffrey Hatfield. There were several

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