James herriots cat stori.., p.5
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       James Herriot's Cat Stories, p.5

           James Herriot
 
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man's left ear on to the top of a tall cupboard. "Holy Moses!" said

  Tristan. "What the hell was that?" "That," I said, "was Boris, and

  now we've got to get hold of him again." I climbed on to a chair,

  reached slowly on to the cupboard top and started "puss-puss-

  pussing" in my most beguiling tone. After about a minute Tristan

  appeared to think he had a better idea; he made a sudden leap and

  grabbed Boris's tail. But only briefly, because the big cat freed

  himself in an instant and set off on a whirlwind circuit of the

  room; along the tops of cupboards and dressers, across the curtains,

  careering round and round like a wall-of-death rider. Tristan

  stationed himself at a strategic point and as Boris shot past he

  swiped at him with one of the gauntlets. "Missed the bloody thing!"

  he shouted in chagrin. "But here he comes again ... take that, you

  black devil! Damn it, I can't nail him!" The docile little inside

  cats, startled by the scattering of plates and tins and pans and by

  Tristan's cries and arm wavings, began to run around in their turn,

  knocking over whatever Boris had missed. The noise and confusion

  even got through to Mr. Bond because, just for a moment, he raised

  his head and looked around him in mild surprise at the hurtling

  bodies before returning to his newspaper. Tristan, flushed with the

  excitement of the chase, had really begun to enjoy himself. I

  cringed inwardly as he shouted over to me happily, "Send him on, Jim,

  I'll get the blighter next time round!" We never did catch Boris. We

  just had to leave the piece of bone to work its own way out, so it

  wasn't a successful veterinary visit. But Tristan smiled contentedly

  as we got back into the car. "That was great, Jim. I didn't realise

  you had such fun with your pussies." Mrs. Bond, on the other hand,

  when I next saw her, was rather tight-lipped over the whole thing.

  "Mr. Herriot," she said, "I hope you aren't going to bring that

  young man with you again."

  Olly and Ginny Two Kittens Who Came to Stay

  "Look at that, Jim! Surely that's a stray cat. I've never seen it

  before." Helen was at the kitchen sink, washing dishes, and she

  pointed through the window. Our new house in Hannerly had been built

  into a sloping field. There was a low retaining wall, chest high,

  just outside the window and, behind, the grassy bank led from the

  wall top up to some bushes and an open log shed perched about twenty

  yards away. A lean little cat was peering warily from the bushes.

  Two tiny kittens crouched by her side. "I think you're right," I

  said. "That's a stray with her family and she's looking for food."

  Helen put out a bowl of meat scraps and some milk on the flat top of

  the wall and retired to the kitchen. The mother cat did not move for

  a few minutes, then she advanced with the utmost caution, took up

  some of the food in her mouth and carried it back to her kittens.

  Several times she crept down the bank, but when the kittens tried to

  follow her, she gave them a quick "get back" tap with her paw. We

  watched, fascinated, as the scraggy, half-starved creature made sure

  that her family had eaten before she herself took anything from the

  bowl. Then, when the food was finished, we quietly opened the back

  door. But as soon as they saw us, cat and kittens flitted away into

  the field. "I wonder where they came from," Helen said. I shrugged.

  "Heaven knows. There's a lot of open country round here. They could

  have come from miles away. And that mother cat doesn't look like an

  ordinary stray. There's a real wild look about her." Helen nodded.

  "Yes, she looks as though she's never been in a house, never had

  anything to do with people. I've heard of wild cats like that who

  live outside. Maybe she only came looking for food because of her

  kittens." "I think you're right," I said as we returned to the

  kitchen. "Anyway, the poor little things have had a good feed. I

  don't suppose we'll see them again." But I was wrong. Two days later,

  the trio reappeared. In the same place, peeping from the bushes,

  looking hungrily towards the kitchen window. Helen fed them again,

  the mother cat still fiercely forbidding her kittens to leave the

  bushes, and once more they darted away when we tried to approach

  them. When they came again next morning, Helen turned to me and

  smiled. "I think we've been adopted," she said. She was right. The

  three of them took up residence in the log shed and after a few days

  the mother allowed the kittens to come down to the food bowls,

  shepherding them carefully all the way. They were still quite tiny,

  only a few weeks old. One was black and white, the other

  tortoiseshell. Helen fed them for a fortnight, but they remained

  unapproachable creatures. Then one morning, as I was about to go on

  my rounds, she called me into the kitchen. She pointed through the

  window. "What do you make of that?" I looked and saw the two kittens

  in their usual position under the bushes, but there was no mother

  cat. "That's strange," I said. "She's never let them out of her

  sight before." The kittens had their feed and I tried to follow them

  as they ran away, but I lost them in the long grass, and although I

  searched all over the field there was no sign of them or their

  mother. We never saw the mother cat again and Helen was quite upset.

  "What on earth can have happened to her?" she murmured a few days

  later as the kittens ate their morning meal. "Could be anything," I

  replied. "I'm afraid the mortality rate for wandering cats is very

  high. She could have been run over by a car or had some other

  accident. I'm afraid we'll never know." Helen looked again at the

  little creatures crouched side by side, their heads in the bowl. "Do

  you think she's just abandoned them?" "Well, it's possible. She was

  a maternal and caring little thing and I have a feeling she looked

  around till she could find a good home for them. She didn't leave

  till she saw that they could fend for themselves and maybe she's

  returned to her outside life now. She was a real wild one." It

  remained a mystery, but one thing was sure: the kittens were

  installed for good. Another thing was sure: they would never be

  domesticated. Try as we might, we were never able to touch them, and

  all our attempts to wheedle them into the house were unavailing.

  One wet morning, Helen and I looked out of the kitchen window at the

  two of them sitting on the wall, waiting for their breakfast, their

  fur sodden, their eyes nearly closed against the driving rain. "Poor

  little things," Helen said, "I can't bear to see them out there, wet

  and cold, we must get them inside." "How? We've tried often enough."

  "Oh, I know, but let's have another go. Maybe they'll be glad to

  come in out of the rain." We mashed up a dish of fresh fish, an

  irresistible delicacy to cats. I let them have a sniff and they were

  eager and hungry, then I placed the dish just inside the back door

  before retreating out of sight. But as we watched through the window

  the two of them sat motionless in the downpour, their eyes fixed on

 
the fish, but determined not to go through the door. That, clearly,

  was unthinkable. "All right, you win," I said and put the food on

  the wall where it was immediately devoured. I was staring at them

  with a feeling of defeat when Herbert Platt, one of the local

  dustmen, came round the corner. At the sight of him the kittens

  scurried away and Herbert laughed. "Ah see you've taken on them cats.

  That's some nice stuff they're getting to eat." "Yes, but they won't

  come inside to get it." He laughed again. "Aye, and they never will.

  Ah've know"n that family o" cats for years, and all their ancestors.

  I saw that mother cat when she first came, and before that she lived

  at awd Mrs. Caley's over the hill and ah remember that "un's mother

  before her, down at Billy Tate's farm. Ah can go back donkey's years

  with them cats." "Gosh, is that so?" "Aye, it is, and I've never

  seen one o" that strain that would go inside a house. They're wild,

  real wild." "Ah well, thanks, Herbert, that explains a lot." He

  smiled and hoisted a bin. "Ah'll get off, then, and they can finish

  their breakfast." "Well, that's it, Helen," I said. "Now we know.

  They're always going to be outside, but at least we can try to

  improve their accommodation." The thing we called the log shed,

  where I had laid some straw for them to sleep, wasn't a shed at all.

  It had a roof, but was open all down one side, with widely spaced

  slats on the other three sides. It allowed a constant through-wind

  which made it a fine place for drying out the logs but horribly

  draughty as a dwelling. I went up the grassy slope and put up a

  sheet of plywood as a wind-break. Then I built up a mound of logs

  into a protective zariba around the straw bed and stood back,

  puffing slightly. "Right," I said. "They'll be quite cozy in there

  now." Helen nodded in agreement, but she had gone one better. Behind

  my wind-break, she put down an open-sided box with cushions inside.

  "There now, they needn't sleep on the straw any more. They'll be

  warm and comfortable in this nice box." I rubbed my hands. "Great.

  We won't have to worry about them in bad weather. They'll really

  enjoy coming in here." From that moment the kittens boycotted the

  shed. They still came for their meals every day, but we never saw

  them anywhere near their old dwelling. "They're just not used to it,

  " Helen said. "Hmm." I looked again at the cushioned box tucked in

  the centre of the encircling logs. "Either that, or they don't like

  it." We stuck it out for a few days, then, as we wondered where on

  earth the kittens could be sleeping, our resolve began to crack. I

  went up the slope and dismantled the wall of logs. Immediately the

  two little creatures returned. They sniffed and nosed round the box

  and went away again. "I'm afraid they're not keen on your box either,

  " I grunted as we watched from our vantage point. Helen looked

  stricken. "Silly little things. It's perfect for them." But after

  another two days during which the shed lay deserted, she went out

  and I saw her coming sadly down the bank, box in one hand, cushions

  under her arm. The kittens were back within hours, looking round the

  place, vastly relieved. They didn't seem to object to the wind-break

  and settled happily in the straw. Our attempts to produce a feline

  Hilton had been a total failure. It dawned on me that they couldn't

  bear to be enclosed, to have their escape routes cut off. Lying

  there on the open bed of straw, they could see all around them and

  were able to flit away between the slats at the slightest sign of

  danger. "Okay, my friends," I said, 'that's the way you want it, but

  I'm going to find out something more about you." Helen gave them

  some food and once they were concentrating on the food, I crept up

  on them and threw a fisherman's landing net over them and after a

  struggle I was able to divine that the tortoiseshell was a female

  and the black and white a male. "Good," said Helen, "I'll call them

  Olly and Ginny." "Why Olly?" "Don't really know. He looks like an

  Olly. I like the name." "Oh, and how about Ginny?" "Short for Ginger.

  " "She's not really ginger, she's tortoiseshell." "Well, she's a bit

  ginger." I left it at that. Over the next few months they grew

  rapidly and my veterinary mind soon reached a firm decision. I had

  to neuter them. And it was then that I was confronted for the first

  time with a problem which was to worry me for years--how to minister

  to the veterinary needs of animals which I was unable even to touch.

  The first time, when they were half grown, it wasn't so bad. Again I

  slunk up on them with my net when they were feeding and managed to

  bundle them into a cat cage from which they looked at me with

  terrified and, I imagined, accusing eyes. In the surgery, as

  Siegfried and I lifted them one by one from the cage and

  administered the intravenous anaesthetic, I was struck by the fact

  that although they were terror-stricken at being in an enclosed

  space for the first time in their lives and by being grasped and

  restrained by humans, they were singularly easy to handle. Many of

  our domesticated feline patients were fighting furies until we had

  lulled them to sleep, and cats, with claws as well as teeth for

  weapons, can inflict a fair amount of damage. However, Olly and

  Ginny, although they struggled frantically, made no attempt to bite,

  never unsheathed their claws. Siegfried put it briefly. "These

  little things are scared stiff, but they're absolutely docile. I

  wonder how many wild cats are like this." I felt a little strange as

  I carried out the operations, looking down at the small sleeping

  forms. These were my cats yet it was the first time I was able to

  touch them as I wished, examine them closely, appreciate the beauty

  of their fur and colourings. When they had come out of the

  anaesthetic, I took them home and when I released the two of them

  from the cage, they scampered up to their home in the log shed. As

  was usual following such minor operations, they showed no after

  effects, but they clearly had unpleasant memories of me. During the

  next few weeks they came close to Helen as she fed them but fled

  immediately at the sight of me. All my attempts to catch Ginny to

  remove the single little stitch in her spay incision were fruitless.

  That stitch remained for ever and I realised that Herriot had been

  cast firmly as the villain of the piece, the character who would

  grab you and bundle you into a wire cage if you gave him half a

  chance. It soon became clear that things were going to stay that way

  because, as the months passed and Helen plied them with all manner

  of titbits and they grew into truly handsome, sleek cats, they would

  come arching along the wall top when she appeared at the back door,

  but I had only to poke my head from the door to send them streaking

  away out of sight. I was the chap to be avoided at all times, and

  this rankled with me because I have always been fond of cats and I

  had become particularly attached to these two. The day finally

  arrived when Helen was able to s
troke them gently as they ate and my

  chagrin deepened at the sight. Usually they slept in the log shed

  but occasionally they disappeared to somewhere unknown and stayed

  away for a few days, and we used to wonder if they had abandoned us

  or if something had happened to them. When they reappeared, Helen

  would shout to me in great relief, "They're back, Jim, they're

  back!" They had become part of our lives.

  Summer lengthened into autumn and when the bitter Yorkshire winter

  set in we marvelled at their hardiness. We used to feel terrible,

  looking at them from our warm kitchen as they sat out in the frost

  and snow, but no matter how harsh the weather, nothing would induce

  either of them to set foot inside the house. Warmth and comfort had

  no appeal to them. When the weather was fine we had a lot of fun

  just watching them. We could see right up into the log shed from our

  kitchen, and it was fascinating to observe their happy relationship.

  They were such friends. Totally inseparable, they spent hours

  licking each other and rolling about together in gentle play and

  they never pushed each other out of the way when they were given

  their food. At nights we could see the two furry little forms curled

  close together in the straw. Then there was a time when we thought

  everything had changed forever. The cats did one of their

  disappearing acts and as day followed day we became more anxious.

  Each morning. Helen started her day with the cry of "Olly, Ginny"

  which always brought the two of them trotting down from their

  dwelling, but now they did not appear, and when a week passed and

  then two we had almost run out of hope. When we came back from our

  half day in Brawton, Helen ran to the kitchen and looked out. The

  cats knew our habits and they would always be sitting waiting for

  her but the empty wall stretched away and the log shed was deserted.

  "Do you think they've gone for good, Jim?" she said. I shrugged.

  "It's beginning to look like it. You remember what old Herbert said

  about that family of cats. Maybe they're nomads at heart-- gone off

  to pastures new." Helen's face was doleful. "I can't believe it.

  They seemed so happy here. Oh, I hope nothing terrible has happened

  to them." Sadly she began to put her shopping away and she was

  silent all evening. My attempts to cheer her up were half-hearted

  because I was wrapped in a blanket of misery myself. Strangely, it

  was the very next morning when I heard Helen's usual cry, but this

  time it wasn't a happy one. She ran into the sitting room. "They're

  back, Jim," she said breathlessly, "but I think they're dying!"

  "What? What do you mean?" "Oh, they look awful! They're desperately

  ill--I'm sure they're dying." I hurried through to the kitchen with

  her and looked through the window. The cats were sitting there side

  by side on the wall a few feet away. A watery discharge ran from

  their eyes, which were almost closed, more fluid poured from their

  nostrils and saliva drooled from their mouths. Their bodies shook

  from a continuous sneezing and coughing. They were thin and scraggy,

  unrecognisable as the sleek creatures we knew so well, and their

  appearance was made more pitiful by their situation in the teeth of

  a piercing east wind which tore at their fur and made their attempts

  to open their eyes even more painful. Helen opened the back door.

  "Olly, Ginny, what's happened to you?" she cried softly. A

  remarkable thing then happened. At the sound of her voice, the cats

  hopped carefully from the wall and walked unhesitatingly through the

  door into the kitchen. It was the first time they had been under our

  roof. "Look at that!" Helen exclaimed. "I can't believe it. They

  must be really ill. But what is it, Jim? Have they been poisoned?" I

  shook my head. "No, they've got cat flu." "You can tell?" "Oh, yes,

  this is classical." "And will they die?" I rubbed my chin. "I don't

  think so." I wanted to sound reassuring, but I wondered. Feline

  virus rhinotracheitis had a fairly low mortality rate, but bad cases

  can die and these cats were very bad indeed. "Anyway, close the door,

 
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