When we last needed some kittens I rang the local branch of the Cats Protection League. On hearing that both I and my partner would be out at work all day, they said that we were not suitable people to keep kittens, and they would not let me have any. Kittens needed six tiny meals a day, on account of their small stomachs, which we would not be there to provide during the week. Instead I rang somebody who was advertising kittens on the noticeboard at the vet, 'One black and two taby'. Nearly fourteen years on, the black and the chosen taby are doing very nicely, thank you.
Kittens are tough little things, and a pair of them do fine during the day given each other's company, a warm bed and a plate of kitten food. The same cannot be said of elderly cats, and I heaved a mental sigh as I turned on the Today programme and discovered that this morning's lifestyle guilt-inducing feature from the BBC was the problem of Fat Pets. We have a problem with two fat pets (though when the Systems Administrator tells the fat indignant tabby to her face that she is fat, she punches the SA, and I've explained that you shouldn't say things like that to a girl). We simultaneously have a problem with two thin pets.
The radio feature blamed the Fat Pet issue largely on owners feeding their pets treats between meals. Our cats don't get left over takeaways, or even pet treats, except for the odd Thomas treat to remind them how nice Thomas treats are, for the next time we need to stick a pill to one. The trouble is that the concept of meals doesn't exist in the mind of an old cat. It might be that with a dog, you can put down a bowl containing half of its daily ration, watch it wolf it down, and then not feed it until the evening, when you repeat the process with the other half of whatever the correct amount of food per day is. I don't know, I've never had a dog. I do know that doesn't work with our cats.
You put down four bowls of food, a spoonful in each, and they eat some of it. Later on whichever is around at the time and is hungry or bored will finish the rest. The thin cats are the slowest and most desultory eaters. To get them to eat enough in twenty-four hours you really do need to serve six tiny meals a day, if not eight. Some of these can be served exclusively to the thin cats by dint of feeding them in the kitchen and locking the other two out of the room. Even then you end up with bowls of half-eaten cat food stashed away in cupboards, or else who ends up finishing that helping of cat food is anyone's guess. Policing the amount that any one cat eats when you have four of them is almost impossible. I know the Telegraph vet says in his column that this is an excuse made by all owners of fat cats, but that doesn't stop it being true.
Also, if you don't feed a cat as much as it wants to eat it will hunt. Maybe not all cats, but I once took Our Ginger into the garden with me, thinking that at least he would get some exercise walking back to the house. When I turned around a few minutes later he was crunching on a mouse.
We noticed on Saturday evening that the big tabby (thin) had been bitten at the base of his right ear. It wasn't sensitive to the touch, and we hoped it might get better by itself. I was at work on Monday, the SA was away, and the weather on Tuesday morning was not conducive to driving to the vet. Yesterday the big tabby let me touch his ear, and although I didn't quite like the look of it, it didn't seem to be causing him pain. Though it is difficult to tell when a cat is in pain. They are stoical animals. This morning it was more swollen and slightly shiny, and I could see a tell-tale smear of pus. Time for a trip to the vet.
The vet turned out to be a new one, or at least I hadn't met her before. She looked scarcely old enough to have done her A levels, and probably qualified a couple of years ago. The classic sign of advancing age is supposed to be when the policemen look young, but for me it was first Finance Directors, and then vets. She had a bandage and splint on two fingers where one of her patients bit her yesterday. The big tabby was pronounced to have a septic ear and taken away to be cleaned up, checked out and given a shot of antibiotic. Injectable antibiotics are a wonderful invention, since without the SA I don't think I could get pills down the big tabby, and given he has a sore head it wouldn't be easy with two. The good news was that the big tabby's temperature was normal and his insides felt fine when given one of those routine palpitations that vets always do. I was told to keep him indoors for twenty-four hours, since she didn't want him getting dirt in the wound in his ear, and to keep an eye on his appetite. Eating good, stopping eating bad. The site of the bite might ooze for the rest of the day, and I should mop up any pus.
We got home and I let him out of his basket. I don't know if he had a scratch at the ear, but minutes later it was not oozing but streaming, blood running down the side of his face. The big tabby responded in the same way that he behaves when dribble is running down his face, and gave his head a good shake. Blood spattered over the hall door, the floor, and the wall on the opposite side of the corridor. I don't like blood. I am really not very good with it. When I was about four I announced my intention to be a nurse, to which my mother's reply was Oh no, wouldn't you rather be a doctor, which was a fine piece of 1960s aspirational feminism, but overlooked some key points, including the fact that I don't like ill people, ill animals or blood. I shut the doors to the study and the sitting room so that the big tabby could not go and bleed on the dining chairs, tribal rugs and cushions, or shake blood over the spines of the books on the lowest shelves, and surveyed the situation.
I had a cat that was supposed to be kept in the house, that was bleeding freely. I had three other cats that needed to be kept somewhere. I didn't think they could all live in the kitchen and the hall all day and night, not without murder being done. The vet's advice to keep the big tabby indoors probably hadn't factored in the chances of his getting into another fight and sustaining a second injury, or biting one of the other cats. I mopped up the blood, found some cat litter and a plastic box, and gave the big tabby some posh food out of a pouch which he ate, blood from his ruff smearing over the edges of the dish.
After a while he stopped bleeding, washed himself, and began to look quite cheerful. I tidied various papers off the kitchen table and put my laptop out of harms way, and the other cats settled down to a day of having to ask to be let in or out. They sort of know the drill from previous illnesses. Luckily the house has a small outer hall, separated from the inner hall by a glass door and window. It means that any cat that comes in through the cat door can sit in the inner hall, and you can see it through the glass and let it into the rest of the house. The people who built the house didn't even have cats, and I have no idea of the original purpose of this idiosyncratic piece of domestic architecture, but it happens to be handy for us.
I wish the cat would learn to stop fighting. He is nearly fourteen. Of course, I don't know how he came to be bitten, and it may be that he is the blameless victim in all of this, but I wouldn't put money on it, the way he normally charges around the house annoying the other cats. The vet thought it was a cat bite and not a rat, and that he probably gave as good as he got, since the bite was on his head. Apparently they mainly see bites on the head and front paws, plus bites on the tail and base of the spine of cats that were running away, but very little in between. It is not nice for him being bitten, though, and it is a complete nuisance for me. It's like mending the beehives yesterday. The cat had a perfectly good ear until he went and got bitten, and it has cost me sixty quid in consultation fees and injectable antibiotics, and taken up half of the morning when I could have been gardening, before the next lot of rain and snow sets in.
I had an e-mail from my uncle the other day, asking whether in the very unlikely event of the simultaneous demise of both him and my aunt, I would be their cats' official guardian. They have three pedigree Korats, beautiful animals, and were prompted to make arrangements after a breeder they know died unexpectedly and his animals ended up in the custody of the RSPCA. Subsequent efforts by the breeders association to rehouse them were rebuffed, and my uncle did not wish for his own cats to end up in an animal rescue centre, subject to the rehousing criteria of the RSPCA. I was very touched to be asked, though I don't expect to ever have to do anything. People must be able to tell that I like cats. Nobody has ever asked me to be a godmother.