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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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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