Friday 18 December 2009

Ginger: dedicated to @KyeLani

I don't really talk about 'the most obviously named cat in the world ever' very much. There will be people who know me pretty well who will be unaware that there was a second cat that lived with me in London and in Southampton.

Ginger wasn't your average domestic cat. In fact he wasn't a domestic cat at all, he was completely feral. He slowly wormed his way into our lives (we were a 'we' when I lived in London) shortly after Dotty's arrival. The ground floor flat we lived in had a small lean-to at one side that opened up to the garden and the boiler for our central heating was there. We'd often leave the door of the lean-to open in the evenings so that if Dotty was outside she could get in there and let us know she wanted to come in without leaving the back door wide open. It wasn't long before we started to spot that we were getting another visitor to the lean-to during one particularly cold snap. A very handsome ginger tom. He started to get more and more confident and quite often he could be spotted jumping up onto the boiler to keep warm. However initially every time we went out there to stroke him he would bolt so we assumed he was someone else's cat.

Gradually though we started putting food down for him and his confidence began to grow. He eventually must of realised that he was onto a good thing and started to let us close the door to the lean-to at night and he'd happily sleep on the boiler until morning. It was around this time though that we realised that he wasn't a domestic pet and clearly belonged to nobody as he would resist any attempt to touch him, usually with a hiss and a swipe of a paw. Dotty was completely submissive around him, this was one tough little bugger of a cat.

But slowly but surely he became part of the family and despite the lack of physical contact that you usually associate with a pet he was very much ours. Sometimes he would come right into the flat and one day he jumped up on my then wife's lap and curled up and went to sleep. I missed that little moment but he would rub up against my legs when I fed him and take treats from my hand.

He had to go to the vets three times when he was with us and each time was an absolute nightmare. The first time he cut his paw and we were concerned that he'd probably had no jabs during his life and might be susceptible to infections. We some how managed to get him in the cat carrier and get him there, where he exploded with rage and leapt around the vet's surgery like a cat possessed by a demon. The vet had never seen anything like it. The paw was ok, but it did mean we got him neutered, which I'm sure he was over the moon about.

The second time he went was when we moved to Southampton and got him sedated for the journey. Once again he went nuts but the vet put him into a drowsy state and he came with us. There'd really been no choice about that, he totally relied on us for food and was a huge part of our lives. He was a character and we'd slowly both fallen for his independence and the way he genuinely seemed to care for Dotty. He was this bright, grumpy, fierce cat that you couldn't help but admire. The vet guessed that he was between eight and ten years old when we started looking after him and we often wondered what kind of life he'd had before he'd stumbled across us.

There's that old adage about cats and how they don't really love you and just stay for the food and the warmth and I guess Ginger could be said to be one of the ultimate examples of that. But there was one time that we went away for three weeks during the summer months (this may have been when we bought him the hutch you can see in the picture) leaving our neighbours to feed him. When we returned I can remember walking out into the garden and him being on the fence staring right at me. And he meowed. And he never meowed, ever. He was just pleased to see us.

So Ginger came to Southampton with us and we kept him in during the winter of 2000 because we were so worried about letting him out and losing him.

One day in 2001 whilst at work, I got a phone call saying that there was a problem with Ginger, he didn't seem to be able to move his back legs. I shot home and he was in a terrible state but let me pick him up and put him in the cat box. We gave the vet the usual warning that Ginger was a bit different but despite our warning and Ginger's obvious distress he tried to kill the vet. Like I said, tough as boots that cat. After about twenty minutes they got him sedated, invited us in and the vet explained what was wrong. Ginger had a blood clot in his back that was cutting off the blood supply to his back legs and that it was very unlikely that he could do anything to help him. It was crushing. I can remember standing outside of the surgery just feeling numb about the decision we had to make.

Of course we had to let him go, and as we lost him we were able to stoke him as we said goodbye. Something we'd never been able to do before. He had the loveliest fur I'd ever stroked.

We brought him back home that afternoon and buried him in the back garden, certainly one of the hardest things I've ever done, I think I sobbed through the whole process. The spot where he is has been marked by three stones and I often look at them and remember him and think about how lucky I was to meet such a character.

Everyone knows when they take on a pet that there will be a time when you'll have to face a moment like that. But that doesn't make it any easier. When you say goodbye to a cat or a dog, or any other pet that you've invested time in, it's a genuine loss and the grief is very real, they become a part of your life and your home. This was brought home yesterday when a good friend had to say goodbye to her husky Kye who was such an important part of her life. So today's post is dedicated to Sarah and Kye. We are all thinking of you both.

Go here to read Sarah's story.

Could the snow last night have ever had more poignancy?

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