Friday, 22 June 2018

Eat, prey, fluff…

It is an overwhelming and life-affirming privilege to share the existence of another sentient creature: one devoted to you, and dependent on you, to such a large extent that the alliance rapidly becomes symbiotic. Such a relationship has to be based on mutual trust, as well as love, though; and both parties have to be frank as to what to expect from each other; what they will need; and how much time and affection they are able and willing to give. That so much of this goes (and has to go) unsaid should be no impediment (in fact, to some, this may seem to strengthen the bond…) – even though many would preach the value of constant open communication in cementing any such connection.

For those who respect and love animals there can be no bigger thrill than one coming to you of its own free will, understanding what you are trying to communicate, and trusting you not to harm it.
– Claire Bessant: The Cat Whisperer

That I am writing about the association of human and feline may well prompt derision from some quarters; but the majority, I hope, will innately grasp the truth at the heart of this hypothesis. [As I type, Felix, the characterful dark tabby who prompted the above, is curled up tightly next to me, dreaming: as genial and graceful a proof of vulnerability, faith, and commitment, as I think you may find. He knows no hurt will come to him here; and his credence and company, in return, both comfort and calm me – despite the plethora of hairs wisping over my keyboard and screen…. He is therefore the ideal companion for someone as disabled as myself: especially as I am currently confined to home (even) more than what passes for usual, fighting (and perhaps finally starting to subdue) a variety of maladies….]

Inside that small bundle of fur hides a perfect therapist.
– Claire Bessant: The Cat Whisperer

Medical research shows that owning a pet can bring positive health benefits.
– Chris Madsen: Natural Cats


Apart from his obvious external attractiveness (and personality the size of a small furry atom bomb), there is something internally special about Felix (aka Sausagecat: for his impressive ability to stretch almost the full length of our three-seater settee) – in that he is infected with feline immunodeficiency virus (FIV) – a condition which seems to have condemned him, firstly, to abandonment; and then, when handed in to Mid-Warwickshire Cats Protection as a supposed stray, to a four-month wait for adoption.

Much of this may be prompted by an ignorance or misunderstanding of FIV’s implications; as well as confusion with HIV and AIDS – similar in effect, I think, to the cats-sleep-on-babies’-faces-and-suffocate-them myth that drives many parents-to-be to evict their previously cherished pets. (With the Web being just about omnipresent, surely a couple of minutes searching would convince people otherwise… – as long as they didn’t fall prey to some of the rubbish that is spouted in some online forums; or believe, perhaps, that there is such a thing as a Brexit dividend; and/or that experts should never be trusted, etc..)

I’m not going to rehearse too many of them here: but if you are interested in learning the facts about this lentivirus – as well as reading about some rather magnificent moggies – then may I suggest you order a copy of this wonderful book from Catwork (and make a donation whilst you’re there, please); or at least read some of the information they provide on their website, as well as that to be found on CatChat.org. All I will say is that no such cat deserves euthanasia. What they are entitled to is as full and varied an existence as we can possibly give them.

A ten-year FIV Monitoring Project was carried out at Glasgow Veterinary School involving 26 cats and the results indicated that a higher percentage of FIV negative cats died during the period of the study than FIV positive cats, and that FIV infection did not affect the cats’ life expectancy. Dr Diane D Addie (Lecturer in Veterinary Virology, University of Glasgow) said “at least 3 studies in FIV positive cats have shown a life span equal to uninfected cats”. A fourteen year study by Maureen Hutchison BSc, BVMS, MRCVS (veterinary adviser to the Cat Action Trust) found that FIV-positive cats are more likely to die by being killed in road accidents or to be alive and well into their twilight years than they are to die from any FIV related condition.
– Cats Protection: FIV (Feline Immunodeficiency Virus)

Despite all the positives (many of which you will find linked to, above), I must admit that I do already (needlessly) dread Felix dying (as one does with all such loved individuals): conscious that I have (egocentrically) missed his first five or so years of life (shortening his existence only with us…); and accepting that – although not a capital sentence – the FIV lurking deep within him makes him just that little more fragile; that little more precious. His only restriction, though – for the moment – is his interaction with the outside world (and his outside peers): to all intents and purposes forcing him (against his instinct, as well as his forthright will: expressed in heartrending, high-pitched “mi‑a‑ow”s…) to be mainly an indoors cat (which feels to me, having ‘owned’ two semi-feral examples, something of an ill-deserved and anomalous jail sentence – although I fully accept the reasons why this must be…).

…if kept amused with toys and new games and given lots of play to tax its energy… a cat will cope quite happily with being kept indoors – surely a quite extraordinary adaptation for that tiger in our living room.
– Claire Bessant: The Cat Whisperer

The minute he moved in with us, he was hunting high and low for access to fresh air (and the potential prey beyond); and he spends half an hour or so, each morning (and some evenings, too), perched on the front window-ledge, watching the world – and the wildlife – he cannot currently access, pass by. He seems to have a predilection for fresh wood pigeon: as it prompts a gnashing of teeth, licking of lips, and flicking of tail far greater than any other animal – although passing horses also intrigue him.

Lat take a cat, and fostre hym wel with milk,
And tendre flessh, and make his couche of silk,
And lat hym seen a mous go by the wal,
Anon he weyveth milk and flessh and al,
And every deyntee that is in that hous,
Swich appetit he hath to ete a mous.
Lo, heere hath lust his dominacioun,
And appetit fleemeth discrecioun.

– Geoffrey Chaucer: The Manciple’s Tale

To be frank, one of the reasons we chose him was this need to be kept (safe) inside – however much that may jar with my feline values. (Had he been raised indoors, it would not be an issue – he would not know any different. But it is clear from his behaviour that the universe beyond our double-glazing speaks to him in diverse and desirable ways; and it is only his FIV-positive status – which doesn’t majorly concern us, apart from this enforced incarceration… – holding him back.)

Additionally, there are already a large number of local cats; not to mention a large number of local cars, whizzing past the front door (and often at nonsensical and mog-mangling speeds). Plus, our garden is home to a wide selection of bird-life – from blackcaps to blue tits; willow tits to woodpeckers; redwings to wrens – which we do not want to diminish through menace or actual munching.

We are therefore – softly, softly… – working towards equipping Felix with a comfortable harness (all the cool cats are wearing red, this year) and a short, retractable lead: as the stress of depriving him of access to the world beyond our windows may eventually begin to affect his immune system; and he needs that to be as strong as it can be if he is to avoid FIV-initiated illness.

There will, no doubt, be many human-feline ‘discussions’ on the way (no cat wants to be measured for a harness or collar, never mind being seen actually wearing one); but – relying on his desire, as well as our no-doubt-oft-misunderstood attempts to explain and connect the dots (as well as the lead) – I am sure we will eventually get there: even if it is only to explore the garden; although I am more than happy (and eccentric enough) to be seen walking Felix (or possibly vice versa) around the village! [Which reminds me… – did you know that “in 10th-century Wales… a collection of nine or more buildings required one statutory cat before it could officially be called a hamlet”? (Source: Natural Cats, by Chris Madsen.)]

Kevin P Kelly’s incredibly useful Entertaining Your Indoor Cat patiently and wisely devotes seven of its sixty-four pages to this exercise – writing that…

You might think your cat would never stand for this, but if you’ve got an indoor guy or gal who’s itching to mingle with the birds and the trees, this activity is definitely worth a try. We’ve been strolling outside with our cats for years – and once the kitties got past a brief, initial adjustment period, our daily harness-and-leash escapades have been as easy as, well, a walk in the park.


A cat must have a name.
– Pamela Carmichael: The SHE book of cats

I had wanted to call him Max (my eye had been drawn to Farewell to Stromness, sitting on the piano, during our Cats Protection home visit); and was delighted to discover, coincidentally, that there was a book entitled Magnificent Max – “the mysterious black and white cat” – by Terrance Dicks…

We have a cat called Davies
Cos he loves his foods in gravies;
But when it’s time for snacks,
That’s when we call him Max;
Yet – although a keen eater –
We’d never call him Peter…

…however Felix (perhaps christened by a lover of Mendelssohn, like myself) came to us with his name as well-ingrained as his stripes; and will respond to nothing else… – except the particular timbres of washing-up sponge, biscuits and spork striking his food-bowls, of course! And even when supposedly asleep, as he is now, his ears will flick around when his moniker is merely mentioned in passing. [By the way, my previous, much-missed cat – also a tabby; but with white bib and socks – had been called Pete (or Petronius the Arbiter, to give him his full name: taken from Robert Heinlein’s glorious novel The Door into Summer). Pixel was therefore a possible alternative….]

A cat soon learns its name…. Sooty has been the most common name for cats in the UK in several surveys carried out on pet names. Other classics are Kitty, Pussy, Tiggy, Tiger, Tigs, Tigger or Fluffy. Alcoholic drinks figure highly – Brandy, Sherry, Pernod and Whisky are frequently used. Colour descriptions too are favourite names – Smokey, Blackie, Snowy, Ginger and, of course, Sooty – whether all the Sootys are black is not known, but some owners call their black cats Snowy just to be different…! Zaphod Beeblebrox is one of my favourite cat names, as is Baldrick.
– Claire Bessant: The Cat Whisperer

That Felix, as a name – obviously derived from Felis catus or Felis silvestris catus – doesn’t appear in any of the above lists, I find truly surprising. Perhaps it is seen as old-fashioned… – …although, in 2017, it was the thirty-second most popular boy’s name in the United States; and features in one of the most famous movie quotations of all time…!

My name is Maximus Decimus Meridius, Commander of the Armies of the North, General of the Felix Legions, loyal servant to the true Emperor Marcus Aurelius, father to a murdered son, husband to a murdered wife – and I will have my vengeance, in this life or the next.

Whatever the reason, having rapidly become a key and content member of the household, I truly hope our Felix will be “happy and prosperous” in his long stay with us – living in what Cats Protection wonderfully describe as his “forever home”.


This very handsome young male cat is Felix. He came to us as a stray and our vet has estimated his age as 5 years. He is a dark Tabby cat with really beautiful markings. His blood test has shown him to be FIV+ but this doesn't mean that he has any health problems, in fact he is in wonderful condition. FIV is not inter-species transferable and simply means that his immune system is a little less robust than normal. Cats Protection policy is that FIV+ cats should be homed as indoor only cats. As for his nature, he is very quiet, and we aren’t sure if this is how he has always been, or if it is because of his current stay in our cattery. However, he is extremely gentle. Felix just loves being stroked and will turn on his side to have his coat brushed. He is a real sweetie and would love to have a safe, warm new home to curl up in. He just needs to find his permanent home, develop confidence with his new owner, and blossom into the great cat we know he can be. As a stray, we don’t have his history and we therefore have to say that he should be rehomed as an only pet and without young children.
– Cats Protection: Home wanted…



1 comment:

GILLY BOLTON said...

Brilliant, absolutely brilliant post.

Mesdames Lulucat and Tiger send their felicitations