The difference between rural Galicia and suburban West Yorkshire has been brought into sharp focus over the last three weeks, and our attempts to fit in and become local yokels are being severely tested by a little one kilogram bundle of fur.
Some of you will already know through other means that about six weeks ago our hearts were broken when our gorgeous, nearly sixteen year old, cat Bonita finally succumbed to her congenital heart failure. After an early hours of the morning coughing fit signalled fluid in her lungs, as well as that already filling her chest cavity, there was no medical procedure, miracle tablet or mythical potion that could give her any relief, and we were left with no option but to have her put to sleep. It was the hardest thing that we’ve ever done and it still brings tears to our eyes just to think about her.
She was our fourth cat, all of whom have been the most beautiful natured, affectionate, and pampered felines. When we left the UK with a terminally sick cat, we knew her passing would occur sooner rather than later, and indeed we’d made three previous visits to our Spanish vets (an hours drive away) not expecting to be bringing her home, but our loss after just ten months of us living the Galician dream hit both of us very hard.
The barn felt empty, quiet and strangely cold without her. It took a lot of adjusting to train ourselves that her welfare was no longer our first thought on waking, finishing work for the day, or returning from one of our fore-shortened trips out to give her food, a life-extending tablet, or just cuddles.
We both vowed that while we weren’t ruling out getting a new cat, we would not be getting one in the near future, and when we did that the moggie/s we obtained would be outdoor cats which we would feed in return for them keeping the local mouse and rat population to a minimum. They would not be pampered, cosseted or allowed to take the role of surrogate children.
Then, at around one hour after midday three Wednesday’s ago, our life was turned upside down.
Not upside down in the way that it had been when Bonita took her last breath, but upside down in a more gradual way like a caterpillar turning into a butterfly, or a rose bud blooming into a perfect flower.
We were out talking to a neighbour when I heard a cat crying. It didn’t sound like any of the local cats, it was more kitten-like, a screechy little cry. We finished the conversation, which was mostly about potatoes, and when the neighbour left I mentioned the crying cat to Amanda and we went looking for it.
Eventually we found it, the tiniest little grey and white thing, sat in the middle of a bay tree and totally inaccessible to humans behind thick brambles. After an hour of trying to coax it out we gave up, expecting that its Mum must be close, and as soon as we left that she would come to its rescue. We never expected to see it again. We went home, had lunch, watched a bit of TV, and then decided that it was time to go back out and do some more work.
On leaving the barn we could hear the same crying but this time it was much closer, and it didn’t take long to realise that the kitten had moved in to our woodpile, a six foot high mountain of beams and old wood ready to be chain-sawed and split as fuel our wood burner this winter. Try as we might it couldn’t be enticed out but it was crying quietly and consistently.
Just two days earlier we’d given all of Bonita’s remaining food to a friend who, as well as having three house cats, also feeds the neighbourhood strays. We had nothing but a tin of tuna for our new, and as it turned out, ravenous squatter.
We agreed to give her (for we think it is a female) a little food and then hope that her mother would come and find it, and our consciences would be clear.
But she was still in the woodpile as darkness started to fall so we fed her again with more tuna and put some water down. As long as we kept over six feet away she would warily come out and eat, one eye on us giants, having a couple of mouthfuls and then scampering back under the pile of wood.
Every suburban West Yorkshire instinct was to try and catch her, wrap her up in a towel and bring her into the barn for warmth and treats. But we’d both pledged that there would be no more house cats and that we had to stay strong. Neither of us are religious but we separately said a small prayer that its mother would rescue it overnight.
The following morning it was still there. As soon as we opened the shutters and she saw us she started crying. It got more tuna and this time she allowed me to touch her with an outstretched hand.
We went to the vets (an hour each way), without the cat, and were given some kitten biscuits and pouches of wet food, a great marketing ploy from our vets, and over the space of the next three days she progressed from running to hide when she saw me, to running up to me and demanding a cuddle.
We’d got a trip to the UK planned and would be away for eight days. Hastily we arranged for a neighbour to call round and put down some food, still hoping that she may be reclaimed while we were in the UK. We agreed not to name her until we got back, and that if she was still in our wood pile then she would be adopted, named, de-flead and vaccinated.
Surprise, surprise. On arriving back from our vacation she squealed with joy at seeing us and came for a cuddle, purring herself to sleep on my lap.
I’m a softie I know, but she has won me over. She is still living in the woodpile but it is taking every fibre of our bodies not to just bring her inside and make her a comfy bed and leave her food and biscuits twenty-four seven, buy her a collar and toys, and take her to the vets for a check-up.
Someone in England suggested that she is ‘a gift from Boni to say thank you for looking after her and to help us get over her loss’. I’m not a believer in fate or destiny but whatever the reality, she’s definitely fallen on her feet.
And now she’s got a name….please meet ‘Kit’.