David and I have a cat called Paws, who will be 14 years old next month. At least, we hope she will as one of the worst things about 2016 is that we are pretty sure Paws is not going to survive the year.
Her kidneys are failing. She has medication which seems to be keeping her stable but drinks too much water and pees out correspondingly large quantities of strong-smelling urine. The vet says that Paws could go downhill quite quickly so, although she has clear eyes, a cold nose and a shiny coat, purrs every day and enjoys her food and her cuddles we aren’t taking anything for granted.
I don’t want to write her obituary. I’m not even sure that I could. So, while Paws is still very much alive, I’m going to tell her story.
I moved to Oslo to be with David in the summer of 2002. After about six weeks of living together we were sure things were going well and that I wouldn’t be on the next boat back to mother anytime soon. So, time to get a kitten.
We went to Dyrebeskyttelsen in Oslo http://www.dooa.no/omplassering/ to get a rescue kitten. We were sure we wanted a girlcat but also pretty certain that she would choose us, and not the other way around. We were taken down to the cellar to meet the kittens, and there were loads of them. Running around, doing the kitten thing – spoilt for choice.
What do you do when faced with a room full of kittens? When they are all unique and beautiful who is going to catch your eye? I must admit I was out of my depth. David was in the corner of the room. There was a tiny tortoiseshell being bullied by a slightly larger ginger. She climbed onto David’s lap to escape. So, that was that. Hello BabyPaws.
The lady who ran the cat house said that the tortoiseshell had been found running around alone at the Esso station at Kløfta near the airport. She was only nine weeks old and they didn’t usually let kittens go until they were twelve weeks old but since David worked at home the lady was satisfied that Paws would be better off with us than in the kitten room being bullied and always last in line for the food.
We couldn’t take her straight away as we didn’t have a pet carrier (or indeed any other cat tackle) so we arranged to come back the next day to collect her and went straight to the pet shop. We spent a small fortune on everything we thought she would need and then went back to the flat and cleaned it very thoroughly. The building had been treated for a termite infestation a few months previously and David was very concerned that some of the chemical might be lingering where the floors met the walls. We were going to be responsible cat parents.
The following day we sprayed the cushion in the cat basket with catnip and went to pick up our girl. She was not impressed when we took the bus from the cat house back to the town centre (public transport has always been beneath her dignity) so we took a cab the rest of the way home. She clearly hated that too, but I don’t think she’d have liked a carriage or a private jet any better.
Finally home. We opened the cat basket and she cautiously stepped out, purring as if to reassure herself. She explored quietly and in her own time sniffing everything, checking hiding places. She seemed happy that there were no other cats around. She was timid, and skinny. When she went to sleep (suddenly and randomly as kittens do) I put her on my lap so she would get used to waking up with us.
So her first day went according to plan. She ate her kitten food, used her tray, was a bit sceptical about playing but prepared to give it a go. David and I went to bed hoping that we would wake up to find her on the bed sleeping with us.
I awoke about 5:45. She was NOT on the bed. Not under the bed either, nowhere in the living room or kitchen (that flat was tiny). She had vanished! We were both looking, getting pretty frantic. Finally we found her curled up asleep in my sock drawer (she must have got in via the back). She was cosy and content and pleased to see us.
Ah, so many tales of Paws. We took her to a cattery that year so we could spend Christmas in the UK. She thought we’d abandoned her so refused to eat whilst there – luckily she was only in for four nights. When we brought her home she walked round and round in a circle miaowing very loudly. We were suitably chastised by her scolding and never took her to a cattery again.
Her early forays into the outside world were adventures too. Walking on a harness at first, then out alone. We found her trying to drag a long-dead crow back home. Another time I thought she was playing with a large feather but it turned out to be a severed squirrel’s tail.
We moved to a larger apartment the following spring, with a garden. Life was good until one night she didn’t come home. We looked everywhere. We wrote notes and left them in everyone’s postbox for miles around. Every night one or both of us would be out searching, going up roads and into cul-de-sacs we had never visited before or since. Calling her, leaving the notes everywhere. And crying. Lots of that. We had hope that she was still alive as a dead cat would be easier to find in the summer heat than a scared Paws. But it was tough.
One week later I was awoken early by a miaow outside the window (in this flat Paw’s preferred method of entry was the bedroom window) and then she leapt in and headed straight for the kitchen. So we both sprang out of bed and the three of us had one of the greatest group hugs of all time. I steamed some cod in the microwave and she scoffed it down.
It was clear where Paws had been. She smelled of petrol and the claws of her front paws were worn down; she’d got herself shut in a garage somewhere. As it was July, the month when many Norwegians take 3 or 4 weeks holiday we were very lucky that she had only been incarcerated for a week. I called the Embassy (I was working for the Brits) and took a day off which I mainly spent giving Paws tummy rubs as she lay on her back in David’s office chair. She was one relieved pussycat.
The following month we took a holiday in Italy. Paws had made it clear that catteries were not acceptable so we asked a colleague of mine, a diplomat called Charles who was a cat lover, if he would look after Paws for us. We took her over to his apartment. She miaowed very mournfully but Charles liked a challenge and was confident that he would be able to charm Paws over the 10 days or so she would be staying with him.
Poor Charles. When we called him up he said looking after Paws was like having a guest you never actually saw. She was either hiding behind the fridge or a large mirror. He heard her moving around at night and she was eating the food he left for her but he never got anywhere near her. Such a sad thing but Paws had decided that only David and I were safe and trustworthy humans and that everyone else was to be avoided. She truly was (and is) a special needs cat.
It wasn’t just other humans Paws hated. She also hated other cats:
Which created something of a problem as we wanted to get another cat. We talked about it for a long time and finally decided to go for it in 2008, when Paws was six years old. So, back to the Cat House we went and chose Ravi, my beautiful ginger and white prince. We snuck the cat basket into the house and made a big fuss of Paws. Then a plaintive ‘mow?’ from the box gave the game away. We let Ravi out and he rushed towards Paws to say hello, tail in the air. She gave us a look which said ‘What have you done?’ and went and sulked out in the garden.
It wasn’t easy. Paws was so much larger than Ravi that she could have hurt him badly, but she didn’t. She showed him who was boss, though. And strangely enough, once Ravi had grown up she delegated all fighting and territory-defending duties to him. He, on the other hand, lets her at the food first but sometimes gets over-excited and attacks her when it’s being prepared. And he has claimed the bed as his territory. Other than that though, I think he understands that she is not as other cats, and respects her difference and her fear. Ravi had to spend a few nights away home at the veterinary highschool after getting into a fight and Paws was incredibly pleased to see him when he came back home. Life is less boring for her with Ravi around, especially when we are away.
So here we are, eight years later. Paws is a dignified old lady, and Ravi is a sprightly middle-aged moggy. We’ve had further adventures of course but they are for another time, perhaps. Hard to imagine life without Paws, although we know the day will come. Meanwhile, we want to celebrate her wonderfulness.