I’m still alive!

Hey guys! Hello! Yes, yes, I know that you were worried, but… What’s that? You’ve been putting up ‘lost’ notices on lamp posts and milk cartons? Aww, that’s lovely, but honestly… Police? You told the police I was missing? Ah, bugger – well, that’s a bit more of a problem, isn’t it?

Well, for what it’s worth, here’s a much-belated happy Thanksgiving, merry Christmas, a happy new year and, if I missed it, a very happy birthday to you all. I guess I’ll phone the police later and tell them that no, I’ve not been brutally murdered and had my corpse secreted away by a rampant serial killer – I’ve only been busy doing some other ‘life stuff’, which has sadly distracted me from doing much in the way of arty stuff.

On the Saturday just past however, I finally completed that tiger piece I started what feels like months ago (pics soon!), but I have to admit that I’ve been having a little difficulty in getting the creative cogs in my brain turning again. Yes, once I’d completed that piece on Saturday, I done that irksome thing where I sat staring at a blank piece of paper for a while, feeling completely uninspired – but I’m hoping that inspiration will strike shortly and I’ll get a new piece started. I’ll be back here as soon as that’s actually happened… But if I’m not, please do not send out any search parties or call the police.

Thanks!

The shy boy

Something happened recently that came to us as a bit of a surprise.

Jo & I were (and undoubtedly are) still reeling from the loss of Maurice, and part of our coping mechanism comprised of us deciding to take a whole bunch of stuff that we had for him (along with a hodgepodge of random household items such as a slow cooker, some shoes, books and the likes) to donate to Lothian Cat Rescue, a wonderful cat rescue and sanctuary place in Bonnyrigg.  We tend to go there every now and then, usually when it gets to the point that our garage starts almost bursting at the seams from the amount of stuff that we’ve been collecting for them – and it was no different this time as Wolfgang’s boot was stuffed full, with other bits and bobs spilling out and onto his back seats.

It’s good for the heart, so it is.

Before we set off, we decided to take our cat carrier with us ‘just in case’ and duly headed down the road to the rescue place, which is a good seventeen miles away from home. Once we’d arrived and disgorged Wolfgang’s boot of its many and varied items and carried them into the rescue’s reception area, we decided to ask the staff if we could take a peep at their cats. Y’know… Just because we were there and it would’ve been rude not to.

We were guided around the place, which comprises of a rag-tag collection of small and incredibly well-maintained outbuildings, by a lovely chap who quite correctly perceived that we were the ‘right type’ of people to rehome one of their cats.  He shown us a total of four cats which he reckoned were suitable for us since we both work full-time.

The first cat that he shown us was a big bruiser of a ginger tomcat (I feel bad that I’ve forgotten his name) who had a head that was roughly the size of a very large grapefruit and didn’t appear particularly friendly.  Next, we were introduced to a lovely little eight year old lady-cat called Coco, whose owner had recently passed away – she was playful, cute as a button and evidently a bit stressed by the upheaval she’d been through, so made a good candidate for rescuing.  We were then introduced to a very chatty little black & white boy called Bruce.  This cheeky chap was going to have absolutely no problems finding a home.  Finally, we were shown a big tabby boy called Tommy, who was cowering behind a tub in his little room.

Tommy broke our hearts the moment we saw his eyes, as they looked so sad, worried and utterly, utterly terrified.  Even though it was evident that every fibre of his being didn’t want to, he accepted a stroke on his head from us both without showing any aggression.  Tommy desperately looked like he needed a home.

The chap that was showing us around decided to leave us to have a think about things.  It took approximately a nanosecond for Jo and I to decide that Tommy was coming home with us, so we returned back to the reception where various forms and things were signed while the chap who shown us around set about the task of bundling little Tommy into our carrier.

We said our goodbyes to the staff and headed back home, with Jo sitting in the back seat of Wolfgang with Tommy, cooing and talking to him all the while and trying to decide on a proper name for him. He was very quiet but surprisingly looked happy and unstressed.

Tommy

Tommy in transit

There was, however, a bit of a problem; we had dropped off Maurice’s (admittedly broken) litter tray at the local recycling station and packed away his toys and things, so I had to pop into the Pets@Home store in Straiton on the way home (while Jo waited in the car with Tommy) to buy a new one, a comfy cat bed and a few other bits and bobs. By the time I got home, I had to run into the garage to get the food, litter and things that we’d packed away.  While I was doing that however, Jo had discovered that the base of litter tray that I’d only just bought had a great big hulking crack and hole in one of its corners, and had come running out of the house to show me.

I may have uttered a few expletives, as I had never thought to inspect the tray for damage in the store, and since the top cover of the tray was attached to it when I bought it, I hadn’t noticed it.

We’d been here before with litter trays from Pets@Home.  Despite the fact that they charge £30 for these ‘premium’ litter trays, they’re manufactured using cheap-feeling plastic that’s stiff and brittle, rather than being flexible and strong.  This was basically why we thrown out Maurice’s old one, which had cracked while Jo was (carefully) cleaning it one day.

DAMN and BLAST!

To make matters worse, despite hunting high and low for it, I couldn’t find the receipt for the litter tray.

Again, I may have uttered several expletives.

I had to resign myself to the fact that I was going to have to take the broken tray all the way back out to the Pets@Home at Straiton and hope that they would be willing to give me a refund without me being in possession of the receipt for it, so I jumped back into Wolfgang and started my journey.

If this was a movie there would undoubtedly be a montage at this point, with me zooming along the Edinburgh City Bypass towards Straiton, while Jo had to leave Tommy in the carrier and go in search of a better litter tray elsewhere.

When I arrived at Pets@Home, I was horrified to see that all of the checkout staff that were stationed at the tills had earlier changed; including the girl with the long, dark curly hair who had served me.  I had no choice but to rock up to the counter and explain my plight, describing the girl that had served me earlier and admitting that I’d lost my receipt, without sounding too whiny.

As luck would have it, the girl with the long dark curly hair who had served me turned out to be the supervisor/manager of the store and had remembered serving me, so I had absolutely no problems in getting my refund. I was able to breathe a sigh of relief – or at least I would have if I hadn’t had to jump back into the car and check with Jo to see if she’d found another tray.  It turned out that she had indeed found one in B&M for the bargain basement sum of £10, and said that it felt ten times tougher than the frankly crap £30 Pets@Home one.

I turned my key in the ignition and headed back home.

The Vanishing Act

When I got back home, I came through the front door to find a rather puzzled-looking Jo armed with a torch, peering into the various nooks and crannies in the house.

It turned out that the moment she’d opened the cat carrier to let Tommy out, he’d shot out of it like a rocket-propelled and greased otter and had hid briefly below the bedroom radiator before vanishing.

As we searched, my overactive imagination made me wonder if Tommy was in fact a magical cat that had transmogrified himself through a window or phased through the back door to escape the house…

After looking in every obvious hidey-hole and crevice in our hallway, kitchen and bedroom that could harbour a mog, I eventually turned my attention to my wardrobe in the bedroom, which sits on four short legs in the corner of the room and has a small gap of roughly four or five inches between its base and the floor below it.

I lay down on my tummy and shone the torch beneath the wardrobe and… Aaah, there you are!  There were two green kitty eyes gleaming back at me from the gloom.

Before I get ahead of myself however, I must say that we decided that Tommy is most definitely…

Not a Tommy

Although Tommy is a perfectly good and serviceable name, this little tabby boys gentle, shy nature and resemblance to a supper-cuddly teddy bear means that the name ‘Ted’ came up pretty early and we kept coming back to it.

So Ted it is, then.

The magnificent Theodore ‘Ted’ the first. Teddy-boo. Teddy-tootles. Ted. He’s most definitely a Ted.

The Scaredy Cat

To call Ted ‘Timid’ or ‘Skittish’ would in fact be a bit of an understatement.  An unexpected noise or the sight of one of us moving a bit more quickly than a snail’s pace can be enough to send him scurrying to his sanctuary beneath the wardrobe.

Having never had a cat before that’s utterly terrified of seemingly everything and everyone, we decided that the best way to let him get used to both us and his new surroundings would be to leave him alone so that he could make his own mind up about things, so for the first couple of days we didn’t see him at all, nor did we go out of our way to look at or bother him in any way.

We did have a couple of small worries initially, though.  We really, really hoped that he wasn’t going to be doing his ‘business’ beneath the wardrobe and we worried that he was going to be starving, so we pushed plates piled with chicken slices beneath the wardrobe which he quickly polished off, so he was at least getting some food.  During the comfort of  darkness when we were in bed however, we could hear him crawling from beneath the wardrobe and have a mooch around, crunching biscuits, eating food and scrabbling about in his litter tray (thank goodness), so those worries were at least laid to rest.

We had to suppress silent ‘squee’ noises when we heard the tinkle of bells and the sound of him playing for the first time.  It turns out that he’s a big fan of ‘Lurkey Turkey’, a small, floppy catnip toy we’d bought for him.

Big Brother

It occurred to me that I’d been trying for months to flog a webcam on Ebay that I’d acquired when I was in the practise of accepting ‘free samples’ from Amazon sellers (long story cut short: I had to stop doing that because Amazon were not happy and threatened to close my account), so I decided to break it out and set it up so that we could keep an eye on Ted without bothering him.

It’s a nifty little pan/tilt number with infra-red night vision, meaning that we can pan and tilt it around to keep an eye on him, pretty much wherever he goes in the room.

This was the first image I captured from it…

Screenshot_20180918-112616

Tommy beneath the wardrobe

It’s actually worked out as an invaluable way to keep an eye on him, particularly when he’s such a timid wee boy.  He pays it absolutely no attention, too – so can can spy on him at any time of the day without having to peer at him under the wardrobe while laying on our bellies.

Plucking up the Courage

It’s now two weeks since we first brought Tommy-now-Ted into the house and we’ve seen some changes in him since then.  He’s still incredibly skittish and timid, spends a good deal of his time in his sanctuary beneath the wardrobe, and is in no way ready to approach us and let us touch him.

Jo and I have adopted a somewhat strange set of behaviours when he emerges from his sanctuary; we try to act in a way that he will interpret as friendly and submissive, even going as far as making ourselves as low to the ground as possible (even moving around on all fours) and not staring at him directly.  We also speak softly, with an encouraging tone to our voices and it actually appears to be working as we’ve had a few ‘breakthrough’ moments.

The first was the evening when he sat just outside the wardrobe and tolerated me getting close to him when I had to clear out his litter tray.  Instead of looking terrified, he simply looked curious and even moved to have a wee sniff of my hand when I was clearing the tray out.  I wasn’t going to attempt to push him on that; he’ll come to us when he’s ready, but it was a delight to see.

Since then, he’s gradually been coming out of his shell and will now sit for ages studying us as we sit on the bed.  He’s getting braver by the day and really appears to be settling in, getting used to the bowls of food that we’ve placed in the hallway.  This morning, however, he had yet another breakthrough while I was in the kitchen making coffee.  I saw his wee face peeping around the corner at me at the end of the hallway and was astonished to see him slinking along the hallway towards me.  This was a first, as I’m so used to see him running away from me, so I sat on the floor and let him nom his food without bothering him.

Right now, he’s allowing us to move around the bedroom without watching us constantly and looks incredibly relaxed.  He’s so cute that there’s no denying that we’re absolutely desperate to stroke and fuss over him, but his debilitating fear of us will probably prevent that from happening for weeks, if not months.

It’s going to be so rewarding when the time does come that he gets over his fear and lets us, though.   And I cannot wait for it!

Farewell Maurice…

I’m currently sitting here in my office at work with an ominous feeling of dread pervading my every thought and feeling. Jo and I have been talking for weeks about the fading health of Maurice, our much-loved and incredibly elderly cat of twenty years of age, and only just yesterday made the decision that the fateful time had come for him to cross the rainbow bridge. This, as you can imagine, was a collossally difficult decision to make and I was given the task of making a phone call yesterday to the vets to make the arrangements, which I could barely do over the phone without my voice cracking and tears streaming down my cheeks. It completely and utterly crushed me.

Today has been a day where powerfully raw emotions have been assailing our already-traumatised minds; the natural cycle of doubt, denial and fear prompting us to say things like:

“…Are we making the right decision?”
“…But he looks brighter today.”
“…Hold on. Shall we cancel the vet appointment and see how he goes?”

…But the hard, cold reality that we’re hopelessly trying to deny is that his kidneys are packing in, he walks at a snails-pace as he’s riddled with arthritis and he’s been doing that caterwauling thing that old cats do when they’ve lost their marbles for ages now. The purr-monster he used to be has faded to near-nothing, he’s a shadow of his former self and it’s reached the point where we’re beginning to see the signs that his quality of life has started to suffer as a result.

Cats are very clean and proud creatures, but poor Maurice has reached the point where he finds clambering into his litter tray too difficult, so he’s pooing in a few different locations in the house, such as at the end of the hallway and at either side of our bed. This isn’t great, as you can imagine, and it means that we were having to buy puppy training pads and place them at these spots in an effort to save our carpets. It’s not a problem though, because he’s undoubtedly worth the effort. It’s not helped at all that he’s had almost constant dihaorrea for the last few months, which has made the act of cleaning up his mess less than pleasant.

His indignity only increased in more recent weeks as he’s not even cleaning himself all that much. This means that his once-glorious and thick fur, which caused me to refer him the ‘luxury cat’ in happier times, has started to become matted and greasy. It’s been absolutely heartbreaking to witness.

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If you’ve ever had to go through it, dealing with the loss of an animal companion is without doubt one of the most painful things your heart will ever have to suffer through. The first time I had to deal with this was when Corey, my little blue budgie, died quickly from a tumour in his chest. I must’ve only been twelve years old or something when it happened and it taught me that loss was an awful thing to deal with and I remember crying for days afterwards.

In my adult life, the first time I had to deal with the loss of an animal companion was unfortunately not long after I met Jo. Kincardine MacDougall (Dougall or ‘Doogs’ for short) was the first horse I ever got to know. He was a mighty and handsome beast of a Highland Pony.

Dougall’s death came completely out of the blue – we were out seeing him one night and he seemed absolutely fine, but when I turned up to see to him the next day it was immediately apparent that something was terribly, terribly wrong with him. To cut a painful story short, we had to quickly transport him to Edinburgh’s Dick Vet equine hospital for emergency surgery but it turned out that, despite our efforts to move quickly, it was already too late. He was already in shock and was in a state of multiple organ failure. Something called a strangulating lipoma had wrapped itself around his intestines and effectively killed his guts, causing catastrophic, toxic shock to his whole body. The only viable option the surgeons had was to put him to sleep. The acute misery and pain this caused Jo and I is difficult to put into words, and it turned our whole world upside down.

Having been through that, I have to say that there’s an awful lot to say about the death of a beloved animal when the control of its fate is completely out of your hands; when its death is sudden, shocking and heartbreaking and hits you like a sledgehammer. It’s an incredibly distressing thing to go through at the time, but after it’s happened and you’re through the worst part of the grieving process you can take a step back and sort of feel thankful that you never had to make a decision to end their life. It’s a million times worse when you know that their health is in a decline and you can see the gradual change from them being happy and vibrant to dull and listless and, in the end, start to sense that things are taking a turn for the worse.

We’ve watched Maurice’s health decline for a long, drawn-out time; possibly as much as two to three years, but in the last six months it’s been much more apparent – and for the last week or so it has become noticeably more acute, which set the alarm bells ringing for us.

Wind back the clock

I first met Maurice when he was the already-grand old age of thirteen, and back then he was a vibrantly intimidating ball of menace. He was stuffed to the tip of his furry tail with ‘cattitude’ and would happily let you stroke him for a while until he had decided ‘that’s quite enough of that, thank you very much’ and would turn his fangs and claws on you without as much as a twitch of a warning. A tummy-rub was never part of the agreement. Ever. Everything with this boy was on his terms only. No negotiation.

When I first moved in with Jo, I’m not going to deny that I found him mildly terrifying. She had given me prior warning that he was either going to adore me or despise me. Fair enough, I thought – I’m like that with most humans too. Thankfully, as fate would have had it, he chose to adore me and was sitting on my lap and purring like a wee tractor within minutes of visiting her house for the first time. I was very honoured, apparently, because he despised most people.

Maurice was an outdoor cat in his younger years, but due to a catalogue of incidents and close-shaves, Jo was forced to take the decision to keep him indoors – which is how I’ve always known him to be. In the latter years of his life, he really took a shine to me and part of his nightly routine – without fail – was to sit on my belly/chest when I lay down in bed and purr endlessly. If I stroked him he would have literally sat on me for hours, his nose within an inch of mine, but in a lot of cases – as cats tend to do – he decided when he’d had enough and slinked off to lay at the bottom of the bed where he’d sleep for the night, or until he got hungry and would pester Jo to feed him.

He was such a character in a lot of ways. When he was more agile, he was prone to having moments of madness where he would scream up and down our hallway, bounce onto the bed, then scream up and down the hallway again. More often that not, this was the direct result of him having a particularly satisfying poo. He also weirdly loved carrots in bags, salt & vinegar crisps and Vitalite spread. Yes, he was indeed very odd. But that’s cats for ya.

In the morning…

It’s now 8am on the Saturday morning and the clock is ticking closer and closer to the event that ever fibre of my being doesn’t want to go through with. The vet appointment is for 9:15am, I’ve barely slept and Jo and I are still trying to cling onto the distant hope that the vet is going to say that he’s fine and insist that we take him back home again. In our heart of hearts however, we know what the outcome is going to be…