I was thinking about the prospect of having to rehome my beautiful cat :-( and it got me thinking about the various animals that have shared my life over the years. I hadn't realised quite how many there had been, but here's a little potted history:
1) When we first moved to Brighton when I was about 3, we got 2 guinea pigs called (for reasons that are lost in the mists of time) Telephone and Fred Egg (yes, Fred, not Fried!) I don't really remember much about them other than the smell of sawdust in the cage. There was also a tortoise in the back garden when we moved in, if I remember rightly, which had been left there by the previous occupants. I have absolutely no idea what happened to that!
2) Next came our first cat, Sparky, when I was about 7. My aunt was working at a vet's surgery and Sparky was brought in with a dislocated back hip. For some reason, I think the owner didn't want him back, or couldn't pay for surgery, or something, so my aunt rang my mum and asked if there was any chance we'd like a cat. Oh yes, we would! So shortly afterwards, a rather startled black and white cat joined the household. When we got him, his back leg was still healing and he wasn't meant to climb so we had to take him out in the back garden on a little lead. He was a temperamental little sod, prone to hiding under my parents' bed, where I would lie down on the floor and try to coax him out, usually receiving a swift swipe for my efforts (the scar from one of which can still faintly be seen between my eyebrows). He had a great fight with a starling once and, needless to say, the starling won - by getting into an overturned dustbin in the back yard and fighting Sparky off with fiercely flapping wings and a very sharp beak. I think he learnt his lesson. I remember him out in the back garden in deep snow once, doing that gorgeous thing cats do where they pick their paws up really high over the top of the snow, before plunging them down again and looking completely baffled! He stayed with us for about 10 years until sadly he had to be put down one day. I still can't think about the day I came home from college and found he was gone without a tear or two.
3) Next, when I was about 10, came the mice! The school mouse had had babies and the teacher was looking for people to take them home. Being the rebellious little brat that I was, I told the teacher that my parents had said it was fine and I sauntered off home with 2 of them in a shoe-box. I came very close to having to take them back to school but I won out in the end and Ford Prefect and Arthur Dent (guess what was on TV at the time) moved into the spare room where their frantic wheel-spinning wouldn't keep everyone awake! All was well until the day we all left the house, unaware of the fact that Sparky had slunk into the spare room and was now shut in there with them. When my mum came home from work she found mouse massacre! Sparky had pulled the cage off the table, it had flown open and Ford Prefect was very dead. Arthur Dent had miraculously survived but not for long. I think he pined away within a couple of weeks.
4) When my mum and I moved into her new place when I was 18, we adopted a ridiculously cute black kitten from a very strange mad cat woman in a flat above a taxi despatcher's office (strange the things you remember). She must have had about 20 cats in there and needless to say I wanted to take them all home, but sanity prevailed and the tiny ball of black fluff joined the household. We took a while coming up with a name for this one, but my (then) boyfriend and I were reading a fantasy trilogy at the time, so the poor little thing got saddled with Tasselhoff Burrfoot (Tass for short). Tass was the sole witness to a burglary at the house and I recall being absolutely terrified when I heard that we'd been burgled, that they might have hurt the cat. Fortunately, no! When the boyfriend and I bought a place of our own 6 years later, Tass came with us. He was king of the castle, until.....
7) ......we did what couples who don't want to have a kid do - we got a dog! Smudger was a fruit-the-loop crazy whippet/ cross, who we rescued from the National Canine Defence League. He was absolutely gorgeous, very bouncy and liked nothing better than jumping up on the kitchen worktops, once knocking an entire dinner service onto the floor in the process. I think it was that that gave us a clue that he'd been mistreated because when we went into the kitchen having heard the noise, he was cowering in a corner. I went over to him and reached my arm up to turn on the light, but when my arm raised, he shrunk back even further and whimpered as if he was expecting to be hit. With hindsight, he really wasn't best suited to our lifestyle. We were out at work from 7.30 every morning, til about 6 at night, which left him home alone and, being not much more than a year old, he was very boisterous and bored easily. We had to put locks on the outside of all the doors so during the day he could only get into the kitchen and the hallways. Not that that stopped him causing chaos. He managed to get hold of a bottle of black shoe-polish once, sank his teeth into it and then carried it round the house shaking his head from side to side. When we got in from work, there was black polish everywhere! All over the beige carpets, up the cream walls, you name it! We couldn't help but laugh. When the relationship ended and I moved out, things became unworkable and my ex rang me one day to say that he was going to have to take Smudger back to the rescue centre, and wanted me to go too. I swear I have never felt so bad in my life as I did on the drive over there, with Smudger in the back of the car, no doubt thinking he was going for an exciting walk. Taking him back into the reception area, explaining the situation, signing the paperwork and leaving him there was one of the hardest things I've ever done. But I'm quite certain that the rescue people will have found him a new home very quickly, with people who were home during the day and give him the attention he deserved.
8 - 13) In 1997, while I was sharing a flat with Sid, we decided that the place was missing something! Sid really wanted house rabbits but that plan just didn't work out. So we went off to Foal Farm, a rescue centre near Biggin Hill, and found ourselves in the "rodent caravan" where a volunteer lived 24/7 with dozens of mice, rats, gerbils etc. I may have got this lot in the wrong order, but over the next 3 years we had: a hamster called Feck (again with the TV show theme!) who, as hamsters do, succumbed about 2 years later and was buried on our allotment; a gerbil whose name totally escapes me (I'm sure Sid will remember); and 4 rats called Lewis, Kellerman, Pembleton and Bayliss (yes, characters from Homicide: Life on the Street, our favourite show at the time). The rats were a revelation! Incredibly intelligent, they learnt their names, were capable of tricks though we never taught them any as that seemed a bit exploitative. We let them out of their cage as often as possible and they happily had the run of the flat, though their favourite position was sitting on our shoulders with their whiskers tickling our ears and their very strong tails curled round our necks. A few of our friends remained unconvinced and we had to put them out of sight when some people visited! My overriding memory of all those rodents is when Feck managed to escape once. About 3 days went by and we just couldn't catch the little git though at night he would come out of wherever he was hiding and eat the food we left out for him. We found a potential trick for catching him on the internet, so one night we laid a trail of tin foil on the hall carpet, with a stash of food near the door to our bedrooms. The idea was that his little claws would be heard on the tinfoil alerting us to his presence. At about 3am, we heard the telltale noise and we emerged from our respective bedrooms, clutching a sieve each. There he was, on the tin foil, looking damn annoyed that he appeared to have been rumbled and, like American football players diving for a touchdown, Sid and I descended on him, trapping him under one of the sieves. Hah! Gotcha! He was very unimpressed at going back in his cage but he never escaped again.
14) And now to the present day. Having been in my flat for 5 years, in 2005 I was really missing the company of a pet so I started the long and it appeared fruitless, search for a housecat. My flat in Brighton is right on a main road and doesn't have a garden so I needed a cat that would be happy living indoors. I didn't want to adopt a cat that had previously been used to going out so I need to find one that actually needed to be kept in. Finally, the lovely guy at City Cat Shelter told me he thought he had the perfect candidate. I went to his house where he had a rescue facility in the back garden, and was introduced to a sorry-looking mass of chocolate and white long fur. Missy (as she was then called) had been abandoned on his front doorstep with a note that said the owner was moving to a new property where she wasn't allowed to have cats. It gave little information other than the name, the fact that she was about 3 years old and had been bought from a pedigree breeder. However, it turned out that she had some medical problems which the breeder hadn't mentioned (what a surprise) so in all likelihood the owner probably just didn't want her any more. She'd caught cat flu and had been at the vet's for the last 2 weeks with a high probability that she wouldn't survive. She had various areas of fur missing where she'd been on IV drips and antibiotics, and she generally looked pathetic. She was terrified of other cats and just hid at the back of her little cage. On my first visit, she wouldn't let me pick her up so I sat on the floor of the shed and just talked to her. I was smitten, but was advised to go back again a week later for another go, to make sure I hadn't changed my mind. This time, she was looking better and I even got a brief cuddle. My mind was made up and a week later, the guy from the rescue centre brought her to the flat. He told me that one of her medical conditions was a strange weakness in her spine that meant her back legs didn't work properly, that she would be a "floor cat" as she couldn't jump and she might randomly fall over. Imagine his surprise when, half an hour later while he was still there chatting, she hopped up onto the sofa next to me, curled up in a huge ball of fluff and fell asleep. I didn't really like the name Missy, but as with a lot of rescue animals, the only thing she had was her name and I didn't want to change it too much. Given the state of her when I first met her, I decided that Messy was very appropriate. As she's technically a pedigree (she's a cross ragdoll/chocolate point), and pedigree animals always seem to have those ridiculous names on their pedigree certificates, I also unofficially named her "Mesopotamia Disco Ball von Fire Station (don't ask), but she is only known as Messy, thankfully! She is, without a doubt, the most gorgeous, lovable, perfect cat in the world (I'm not biased, really!) and it was a real wrench leaving her when I moved to Spain. At least I knew I was leaving her in good hands with my (now) ex, and all my friends coming round to feed/play with her when he's away, for which I thank them all profusely. But - things change, my ex is moving out and I need to rent my flat out privately so I can come back to Madrid for another year. I'm pretty sure I'm not going to be able to rent the flat out with a resident cat, and to be honest, I wouldn't want to leave her there with someone I don't know. So the time has come (or it will, in about August) to find a new home for her. Ideally, I want her to go to someone I know, or at least someone one of my friends knows (and I will be demanding access rights!) So if anyone knows a likely candidate for her new owner, please let me know. She has to stay indoors all the time (absolutely imperative due to her non-existent immune system) and she can't mix with other cats in case she catches something. Another bout of flu or anything similar could kill her! But other than that, she is perfect (or should that be purr-fect?)
So there you have it - my life history as seen through my pets.