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Nobody’s surprised but us

It will surprise nobody to hear we adopted the cats.

Brown rests atop my laptop

The newly adopted Brown finds a comfortable perch

Let me explain.

We have never met our next-door neighbour. We befriended his greyhound, whom we dubbed Fenceface, and recognised from a distance his two cats, who we called Turtlecat (because she’s a tortoiseshell-and-white) and Brindlebum (because she’s a brindle). The cats were shy and kept their distance: Fenceface was flea-ridden and tried to come inside when there were storms or hot-air balloons about. All three seemed lonely and outside a lot.

Last year, we noticed that Fenceface was becoming thinner and thinner. We tried to reassure ourselves that she was a greyhound, and we were probably just imagining how thin she was — but it was becoming obvious that she hadn’t been inside for a while and she was pretty hungry. We started giving her some dog biscuits whenever we saw her; we decided our neighbour was away and nobody was coming over to feed her.

Then, about twelve months ago, a dude came down our driveway and introduced himself: he was a friend of our neighbour, and wanted to know if we’d seen him lately. He explained that he and our neighbour used to be cops together, and they’d seen some pretty nasty stuff. Now retired, our neighbour was self-medicating (to a fairly catastrophic level) with alcohol. We swapped numbers and promised to tell him if we saw our neighbour. He texted us not long afterwards, saying our neighbour was in hospital, and thanking us for our help. Fenceface vanished entirely: we assumed she’d run away, perhaps picked up by the pound or the RSPCA. We checked their sites and found no dogs matching her description.

After a week or so, we realised nobody was coming to feed the cats. So we casually left some cat biscuits in the garden. Just scattered about, like windfalls from the cat biscuit tree. The cats were not fooled for a moment, and the next day were sitting expectantly on our back lawn. When it rained, we moved the biscuit feeding spot to the back deck, so they could stay dry (and so we didn’t have to deal with melted biscuit sludge everywhere). Little by little, they became less shy: they started to come when we shook the biscuit box, and even let us pat them.

After six months or so, we had a beautiful surprise when Fenceface came back! Not only was she fat and flea-free, she was registered and proudly sporting a new red collar with her tags. She pranced around the cats, and they purred and schmoozed her warmly. We only saw her a handful of times after that: our neighbour was in and out of hospital, and whoever had adopted Fenceface was bringing her over for visits, not stays.

Time passed (imagine leaves growing and changing colour in a time-lapse montage).

The cats grew increasingly comfortable: Brindlebum, in particular, would make regular dashes indoors as we went in and out, and even squeezed herself in through an open window in the middle of the night. As winter settled in, they established themselves on the two camping chairs we left on the back deck (for our benefit, not theirs, but whatever). The nights grew colder, and we worried about not having live cats to give back to our neighbour when he came home. So we put out second-hand jumpers and towels and made them comfortable.

We went overseas for a month: we bought an automated cat feeder to make sure they were kept alive. (At this point, you should start shaking your heads at our ongoing denial of having any cats, but trust me, the whole thing seemed reasonable.) While we were away, one of the neighbour’s dogs broke it free of its moorings and emptied it. M’s dad, who was checking up on the place, began feeding them. We returned to find two suddenly enormous cats addicted to Science Diet kibble, and surprisingly euphoric to see us.

We settled into a routine: feed the cats morning and night, lots of pats, and generally try to ignore them scratching and meowing at the windows, begging to come in.

And then, just the other day, our neighbour’s house was suddenly active. There was a skip out the front, and industrious noises. Something had clearly changed. We screwed our courage to the sticking place and headed over to (a) introduce ourselves; and (b) try to give the cats back if possible. Well, instead of meeting our neighbour, we met a team of hardworking professional cleaners. The manager had a wee chat with us, where she gently explained that our neighbour “is no longer of this world.” I realised later that we had put her in a terribly awkward spot: imagining explaining to two strangers that someone else, who is also a stranger to you but clearly not to them, has died! She must have been dreading our reactions. She explained the beneficiaries, who were paying to have the place cleaned up, hadn’t said anything about cats, so there the matter rested.

Which meant we had two well-established cats to decide what to do with.

Ultimately, despite neither of us really wanting cats, it seemed like the best option was to adopt them. Our reluctance stemmed from (a) M’s allergy to cats; and (b) our frequent travelling, which seems unfair on them.

We opened the doors and encouraged them in. Brindlebum — whose name has since become “Brown” because, well, it’s easier — was like “FINALLY”. She moved in immediately and didn’t stop purring for a week. Her sister, Turtlecat, who is now known as “Bert” because that’s what she seems to say when she meows, has not been so confident. She came inside on that first day and after a few moments PANICKED and started howling and howling to be let out. We’re making slow progress, where each day she comes a little further inside for her food: eventually we’ll get her comfortable enough to close the door behind her for a while. Slow progress, but progress all the same.

So there we have it. We are now the somewhat surprised owners of two cats. Brown kept us awake for her first couple of nights indoors, since she is so happy to be inside that she simply walks around the house meowing. This happened again on our first night back after our trip to New Zealand. She doesn’t want to go out, nor does she need food: she’s just purring and happy. It’s hard to stay mad at her for that.

Brown looks

Brown giving a Brown look.

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  1. The Cutlery Drawer : Fenced | March 5, 2017 at 12:27 am | Permalink

    […] and a nicked Liberal Party corflute. When our charming new neighbours moved in (having purchased the house recently vacated by the cats’ owner) we started talking immediately about fence replacements. They have two charming and lovely hounds, […]

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