Guest Star: Brutus – Our Feral Cat

Hi everyone,

Today’s story comes from Beth and her cat companion Brutus!

My story begins with dogs, not cats.

Some years ago my husband and I decided to buy a property in France. After months of planning we packed up the car, and set off from England with our two fat dogs, on what turned out to be the journey of our lifetime. We survived near-death incidents, fought off attacking dogs, argued with so-called estate agents and were entertained by crazy aristocrats. Yet despite all this, we finally found an amazing old hunting estate. It was hidden in the depths of the country, surrounded by woods and fields and for us it was love at first sight. What we hadn’t realised was that it was falling to pieces, and so we spent the next two years doing it up. But that’s another tale.

It was one evening during the renovation process, when we were sitting outside on an old section of broken-down wall, that we heard a strange sound coming from the bushes. We both stared at the leaves, but couldn’t see a thing. Then suddenly we heard what we thought was a ‘meow’. We peered again, but nothing. Although it had definitely sounded like a cat, with no neighbours for miles around, we just assumed we were imagining things. But we couldn’t be sure.

As a precaution, and much to our dogs’ disgust, we left some of their food out in a dish in case our hunch was correct. I rushed out the next day and was excited to find that there wasn’t a scrap left. My husband quite sensibly told me it had probably been eaten a fox, or other wild animal, and not to fuss. He was probably right, but I still had a hunch that we had a cat somewhere. Each evening we banished the dogs to a safe distance and began a nightly beer-drinking-on-a-boulder vigil. Our patience eventually paid off.

About a week had passed before we spotted her, a small face peeking timidly through the undergrowth. No wonder we hadn’t seen her before, her tortoiseshell markings blended perfectly with the foliage. Sitting perfectly still, we watched and talked to her, hoping that she’d have the confidence to venture out. This took a while, but when she finally emerged, we were treated to the sight of a lovely, petite cat who was obviously full of kittens.

Over the following days her confidence grew and we were eventually allowed to stroke her whiskers and the sides of her face and body, but never her ears – these were her radars, always pricked and alert for the sounds of danger. Amazingly though, she was incredibly mild-mannered and trusting, and she purred like an outboard motor when I brushed her. With no collar, or other explanation for her appearance, we concluded that she must be a feral cat who lived in our woods. If she was going to stay around, I decided that she needed a name. So, severely lacking in inspiration, we ended up calling the poor animal Pusskins.

A couple of weeks later her evening routine changed and she became even more furtive than usual. Showing a massively distended belly, she began roaming restlessly around the barns during the day, mewing gently. We assumed that she was ready to give birth and needed somewhere safe and dry to have her kittens. Then one day she disappeared completely. I was distraught and hunted high and low, fearful that she might be in distress, but there was no sign of her anywhere.

Three weeks later, when I had all but given up hope, I was passing the tractor shed when I was distracted by a scuffling sound coming from behind one of the old crates. I stared into the gloom and gazing back at me was our little feral cat surrounded by several balls of fur. Pusskins had given birth! At that stage I had no idea how many there were, but I could certainly see tabbies, a ginger, and a cream coloured kitten. I couldn’t believe my eyes, they were absolutely gorgeous. I rushed excitedly back to the house to break the news to my husband, who came out and confirmed that we had six new arrivals to our home.

Now we had a difficult decision to make. One of the projects we started here was to raise pheasants and partridges to repopulate our woods. At the time we had around 300 chicks in brooder sheds next door. Our worry was that with many hungry mouths to feed, our new mum would be very likely to use these fledglings to teach her youngsters some early hunting skills. This would be perfectly natural behaviour, an easy meal, but definitely unwelcome, so we asked our vet for advice. He explained that there was a serious feral cat problem in the area. Interbreeding and disease were rife amongst the feline colonies, and we should do everything we could to prevent them contributing to the already burgeoning population. The writing was on the wall – have the litter put down, or take them in. Our conclusion was an easy one; we took mum and her kittens in.

It was a great idea in theory, but not so simple in practice. First things first, we had to catch the kittens. This was very tricky as they skittered around and under machinery and squished themselves into the tiniest spaces imaginable. After much clambering and falling over boxes and oily bits of machine, and much cussing from my husband, we finally we managed it. We took them to the house and made a new nest out of an old puppy bed in a dog cage.

Image 1 - kittens in puppy cage

Our next worry was how we would feed them. Luckily this was where Pusskins came into her own. Her terror of entering a human building was overcome by the instinctive need to feed her young, and this quickly became a team activity. Much to the disgust of our dogs once again, she would pluck up courage, creep stealthily into the house, and pop into the cage to nurse her hungry mob. We’d close the cage door to give her complete privacy, and she’d lie there until the job was done. She would then become restive until we re-opened the door which allowed her to speed back to the freedom of her outdoor domain. She repeated this twice a day, but it wasn’t enough.

Image 2 - Pusskins

As we all know, kittens need several feeds a day so, under instruction from our vet, we supplemented her efforts by bottle feeding. This, by the way, is not easy task because kittens are very wriggly little suckers!

Image 3 - bottle feeding

After four weeks of this we trapped our little Pusskins after a feeding session, and took her to the vet to be sterilised. Knowing that she would be ready to mate again, it was the least we could do to help maintain her health. It must have been a terrifying ordeal for her, but she coped fantastically well and never growled or fought once. Meanwhile we continued to bottle feed the kittens and gradually introduced them to solid food.

Image 4 - eating solids

Pusskins made a perfect recovery from her surgery and, once again, instinctively seemed to know that her job was done. She took very little interest in her kittens after six weeks and only rarely came into the house again. So there we were – six fluffy beauties who ate, played and generally caused havoc. Well nearly. There was one which was different from the others. Although it was very big, it was always much more reserved, and very nervous of us humans. I was instantly drawn to this fragile creature.

Image 5 kittens playing

Image 6 - Brutus scared

Much as I would have loved to, there was no doubt about it, we couldn’t keep all the kittens. But having been brought up with lots of cats, I was desperate to keep at least one. My husband agreed to this and we organised for animal-loving friends of ours to come round to give homes to the others. I was under strict instructions to let them choose whichever kitten they wanted, which was agony because I always knew which one I wanted to keep.

The next challenge we had was to establish what sex they were. Most of our friends had said that they wanted to have females, so we unceremoniously turned each kitten bottom-up to try and work out their gender. Fairly sure of our findings, we then named them because it was easier for identification purposes when we were picking each out for feeding sessions. Unfortunately for the little critters, I’d been reading a Roman history thriller at the time so they mostly got saddled with names as awful as Pusskins.

Image 7 - kitten on shoe

We wanted to do everything properly for the kittens, so arranged for them to be picked up by their new families after their first vaccination. Our trip to the vet to have this done also involved a confirmation of each animal’s gender. As it turned out we weren’t world-class experts in the cat-sexing department, so some rapid re-naming had to be done. Caesar became Cleo, Maximus became Maxine, but Ginger remained Ginger in spite of the fact that she was a girl. Then there were three boys. Hercule, so named because he was incredibly nosy, Tigger who was on springs and completely hyperactive, and finally the huge, but terribly timid, Brutus.

Image 8 - Ginger

Our friends visited, and the girls were quickly selected, which left the boys. I was terrified that Brutus would be next, but I needn’t have worried. Hercule was big and bold, and Tigger was the litter comic so whilst they stole the show, Brutus hung back, resisting all attempts at being handled. Everyone decided that he was the true feral, and would never make a house pet so left him to hide in a corner. How wrong they were.

Image 9 - Brutus nervous

By the time they were 10 weeks old all the kittens had gone apart from Brutus. Pusskins had reverted to her ghost-like appearances, and now refused to eat our continued offerings. But I was happy because we still had Brutus.

A richly-coloured tabby, to my eyes he was an extraordinarily beautiful boy, filled with feline grace and poise. As the months passed he gained more confidence in himself and us.

However, whilst he was loving and tactile with my husband and I, his expression would turn to one of pure terror if someone else came into the house. He was the same with machines, the very sound of which would cause him to run for cover underneath our bed.

Image 11 - Brutus cuddles

Today, five years later, Brutus is exactly the same. He has grown into a fine, big cat who is the most gentle animal we have ever had the privilege to share our lives with. His exquisite face, and gentle, sensitive, temperament closely resemble that of his mum, as does his natural nervousness. But with us he plays and wrestles and snuggles, and does all those things his siblings did – but only with us.

Image 12 - Brutus garden

We absolutely adore our big wild cat. He works with me at my computer, watches me while I cook and stalks leaves in the garden pretending that he’s a big brave boy. He’s the boss of our dogs, our home and he has my heart. We’ll always thank our lucky stars for the day that his mum came into our lives and allowed us to take care of her family.

Image 13 - Brutus and me

If you would like to read more about Brutus and all our other animals here in France, please do join me on FaceBook: Beth Haslam. Or on Twitter @fatdogsfrance.

Thank you for reading their story and don’t forget to email us if you’d like to have your own story featured.

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Thanks,

Marc

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We regularly write about all things relating to cats on our Blog Katzenworld!

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83 thoughts on “Guest Star: Brutus – Our Feral Cat

    1. Hi there ajoobacats,
      Oh we are too! She was a lovely little cat, and so brave to befriend us the way she did. Thanks so much for your compliment about Brutus, he is a wonderful gentle giant. 🙂

  1. A lovely story. Well done for managing to get the mother cat sterilized and homing all the kittens. We have a mother with kittens in our small hamlet, also in France, at the moment and we are hoping to get her tame enough to capture and take to the vets for sterilization – the kittens are around 10 weeks old now and we are trying to get them used to us by feeding them and staying nearby while they eat. Our French neighbour would like to keep the mother but I don’t know what we can do about the kittens – I have four cats already and the refuges are full to bursting – but we are thinking that if we can at least get them neutered, they could live around the place without worrying about them reproducing any more. Just got to work out how to catch them!! Brutus is beautiful by the way.

    1. Hi there Cat rescue Carcassonne,

      That’s one of my very favourite places, by the way, and very close to us.
      Thanks for your comments, we just struck lucky with little Pusskins because she had the courage to come in and feed the kittens, so we managed to catch her indoors. We did feel awful, but as you know yourself, it was the only thing to do in the circumstances.

      We live in the countryside and are surrounded by farmers so I was amazed when the kittens were taken so quickly. We left notices at the vet, in the local Mairie, telephone boxes and at the supermarket. The response was terrific and we could have given them away twice over. But not Brutus!

      It sounds as though you are doing a terrific job there, good luck with rehoming, but at least if they’re neutered, you don’t need to worry about the reproduction. Catching them up isn’t easy though. I’m don’t know whether you’ve tried this before but we accidentally caught Brutus’s father (a truly terrifying creature) in a box trap. If you’re not familiar with them, box traps are humane traps that come in various sizes and are suitable for catching weasels up to fox size. The animal walks in, stands on a treadle in the middle which then releases two trap doors. We use them for catching up and releasing partridges and pheasants.

      Thanks again for being so kind about Brutus and good luck with your own furry family. 🙂

    1. SIX young, strong, vivid cats? Every kitten grows up into an adult cat and lives 16 to 18 years, has to be fed and has to have some space for themselves and that is not even mentioning the vet costs … It is easy to say you would have kept all six – ask Tom from Cats at the bar how living with a multitude of cats turns out! No, they did the real thing, spread them out to people who will love them and take good care of them.

      1. Yes! Because now I have three cats indoor and 2 cats ourdoor. It’s not a matter of costs: I prefer to spend my money for them than for stylist’s clothes and shoes. It’s a matter of choise. Better cats than stupid luxury things (for info, I’m not rich!). It’s my choise, of course! And I have a sort of contract with my vet: I homed feral cats, the vet visit them at a special price 😀
        Ciao
        Sid

      2. Thanks very much for your comments franhunne4u. In our case it wouldn’t have been practical to keep the kittens anyway, but we were very lucky to find loving families so quickly.

    2. Hi there sidilbradipo1,

      Thank you so much for being so kind. You have no idea how close we came to doing just that – but with our game birds it would have been mayhem! As you can imagine it was agony letting each one go. Luckily most went to people we know so we still get to see them from time to time. 🙂

    3. Hi there sidilbradipo1,

      Thank you so much for being so kind. You have no idea how close we came to doing just that – but with our game birds it would have been mayhem! As you can imagine it was agony letting each one go. Luckily most went to people we know so we still get to see them from time to time. 🙂

      1. Hi Beth! I’m happy to hear you’ve found a good home for the kittens. For you it was certainly the best thing to do. But if I were you I could not separate from them: my heart is too weak 😀
        Ciao
        Sid

    1. Hello Yvonne,

      I’d just like to thank you very much for reading the story and for your terribly kind comments. We love our big gentle giant Brutus that’s for sure! 🙂

    1. Hi Oliana,

      Thanks so much! We hated to think that Pusskins would mate over and over again so when we managed to catch her, it was the obvious thing to do. I’m so pleased you like Brutus, as you can see I’m totally besotted with him! 🙂

      1. That was still very generous of you to do this. Although I wish more people would at least consider “seriously” to sterilize their own pets. I don’t have a lovely story like yours to share but my Bette is also a rescue…well, all my cats have been rescues.

        1. Thank you Oliana, and good for you for taking in rescues – lucky Bette. We’re the same. I agree, the question of sterilizing pets is a very difficult one, but I do feel that owners should strongly consider it. Just one trip to a cat shelter is a very sobering experience.

          1. We have one special pet shelter in the country near my son`s home where four elderly women are in charge and volunteer their days. Everyone working there volunteers and not one pet will be put down if not adopted…it is a safe haven. It is a huge eye opener…you leave wanting to adopt at least 3 or 4.

      1. I must send this to my friend who used to feed strays in the city every night for many years. She could send you “her” story. To me she is a saint.

      2. Apologies Oliana, I have only just seen your pet shelter comment. Gosh I can fully understand why you would want to adopt after just one visit. I hugely admire people that volunteer to do this kind of work. It’s hard emotionally and physically and very expensive too. How wonderful that these people and shelters exist to care for the animals we love so much.

    1. Hello Victoria,

      Thanks so much for your super comments. Animal-wise my books primarily focus on our dogs, but Brutus is definitely the boss around here! 🙂

    1. Hi there myfourcats4,

      It sounds as though you love cats as much as we do! For us there was never any question of doing what we did – but you would have laughed at the interview process the new would-be owners of the kittens went through. We refused two families because they had very unruly children and I was terrified that they’d mishandle the animals! It was a great adventure and we’re so pleased to have Brutus as a daily reminder. 🙂

  2. What to say that has NOT already been said. This is one of the best and most heartwarming stories. Reading it will definitely brighten your day. And, the “cuteness factor” is off the charts ADORABLE! WONDERFUL POST!

    1. Hello lawjic,

      What incredibly kind compliments – that’s awfully good of you. All I can say is that, as animal lovers, it was our pleasure to take the action we did, and if it happened again, we’d do exactly the same thing. 🙂

    1. Hi there nia,

      Thanks so much for reading my story and for your kind words. I’m so glad you liked the photos too. As you might imagine I had 100’s to choose from! 🙂

  3. What a sweet story. I hope Pusskins is ok, but at least her kitties are being cared for. Brutus is adorable! He played hard to get because he wanted to stay with his human parents. =^:^=

    1. Hi Patricia,

      Oh thanks ever so much! I often think about Pusskins but as my husband says, she survived for a long time before coming to us, so she should be safe and happy back in her original environment.
      That’s such a lovely thought about Brutus, I wonder if you’re right?!

    1. Hello Cain,

      Thanks so much for sharing our story. As you know these animals are timid and feisty, but also often needy. We loved our experiences with Pusskins and her family.

      1. Hi Beth,

        No thanks needed. If anything, I should be thanking you for not only helping Pusskins, but taking in her children, and Brutus especially. The world needs more people like you and your husband.

        Thank you for sharing your story with all of us.

        1. It’s been such a pleasure, and also to be able to chat with like-minded people. If the situation ever recurs, you can be sure that we’ll do the same thing again. 🙂

    1. Oh that’s awfully kind of you – it’s a story I’ve wanted to share for ages so I was very grateful to Marc when he gave me the chance. Brutus is the feline love of my life, and he knows it!! 🙂

    1. Hello Crystaleagle24,

      That’s very kind of you. Strange isn’t it with cats, we felt the lucky ones when Pusskins came to us. Thanks also for being so nice about Brutus – he’s now a big cuddly softie, but only with us. 🙂

  4. Sounds so much like my Ivy. She was a feral kitten we took in around 5 weeks old – she was so tiny. Nobody understands how much of a big personify she has because she only shows her true self with us!

  5. Hello Claremary,

    Many thanks for your kind comments about Brutus – we love him to bits! Your ZuZu sounds gorgeous too. What a lovely idea to write a children’s book about her, I’m sure it will be a popular subject.

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