As I went out to let the hens into their run this morning I was puzzled by the sight of something white lying in the drive half way along the eleagnus hedge. It took a while to sort the hens out because their water needed topping up but had frozen solid in the dish of their galvanised drinker, and I had to melt the ice before I could get the lid off. Then I went to investigate the mystery white thing.
It was a dead cat. A white cat with a couple of patches of brown fur on its left side. They were quite unusual markings and I was sure that I had not seen it before. It was not a regular visitor to the garden. It was lying stretched out on its right side, eyes open, mouth open, tongue protruding, and it was quite dead.
I retreated to the house and shut the glass door and the cat door to keep our cats in while I thought about the situation. I was upset. I like cats, and here this one was lying dead in our front garden, and somebody somewhere might be worrying that it hadn't come home last night. But where had it come from, how had it got here, and what had it died of? If I had seen it by the side of a road I'd have said it had been hit by a vehicle, but we are nowhere near any road. It was inconceivable that last night after it got dark somebody drove round our turning circle and ran over a strange cat. Had it been poisoned? Or had some malevolent nutter left a dead cat in the drive? That really didn't seem very likely either. But poisoning was not a comfortable thought. Would that be accidental poisoning from rodenticide, or deliberate poisoning with antifreeze? It does happen. And last summer somebody was shooting pet cats in Great Bentley and West Bergholt. The police even got involved, though I never read that anybody was caught or charged.
The Systems Administrator put the dead cat in a box in the pot shed, and agreed that the best thing to do was to ring up the RSPCA. The cat might be microchipped, in which case its owner could be informed if it still had one, and we were hoping somebody might be able to give us some clue as to cause of death. The RSPCA don't always get a good press and I feel slightly cautious of them, but I couldn't think who else to ask. The woman who answered the phone at the local center sounded extremely kind and sensible, though, and said that the two most likely causes of death were road traffic accident and accidental poisoning. I explained quite how far we were from a road, but she said that if it had been injured but not killed outright it might have had a very strong instinct to try and go home but collapsed en route. They were not able to send anybody out, but if we could take it to any vet they would check for a microchip free of charge and contact the owner. Or the RSPCA could do it.
That sounded a much better idea. Our vet was incredibly busy the last time we went there, and the thought of turning up with a mystery dead cat in a box and no appointment did not appeal. In fact I suppose you would leave the dead cat in the car while you went inside and explained to the receptionists what the problem was, since you probably shouldn't take the corpse into the waiting room along with other people's kittens waiting to be vaccinated, when you didn't even know what it had died of. And so we ended up driving to Colchester with a dead cat. If it had been our cat we would have wanted to know what had happened to it, even though the news was bad, rather than be left not knowing and nursing ever fainter hope that it might turn up. And I rather selfishly still hoped the RSPCA would be able to give us some more idea of the cause of death.
We saw two people, both volunteers, and they both sounded confident that the poor cat had suffered a head trauma and made it as far as our drive before collapsing. It did have a trickle of blood on the right hand side of its head where it had been lying, though the SA couldn't tell if that was from a head wound or had come out of its mouth. If the RSPCA staff were right it was the best outcome we could hope for as far as our own cats went. Not rogue cat poisoners or heavy handed idiots somewhere in the locality with no idea how to lay rat poison properly. And not a fox, which was the Systems Administrator's fear. The cat was a neutered tom, quite old but in fair condition, though the ragged state of its ears indicated it had led a fairly feral existence, according to the RSPCA. And it was microchipped, using an obsolete system they couldn't check online, but a phone call later they were able to tell us it was registered to a property up the road. So perhaps it had been trying to go home, poor thing.
We left it with them, and the sad task of contacting its owners. I felt quite jangled for the rest of the morning and our cats seemed out of sorts, though whether that was the presence of the dead cat or the shock of being locked in was hard to say. Mr Fidget went and sat in the wash basin in the downstairs cloakroom and wouldn't come out.