Sunday, January 23, 2011

No ordinary kitty

It was love at first sight, for me at least, the first time I clapped eyes on him. A roundy little bundle of fluff, he scampered across the yard, a few paces behind the rest of the feline tribe that live in my mother in law's shed. John had been trying to talk me into getting a kitten for a couple of months. I was so far resisting the idea. I wasn't really a cat person, or so I thought. I used to be one, when I was a kid. The last cat I had been really attached to, a gentle tabby by the unlikely name of Elizabeth Purrin, had died in the big freeze of 1982, when I was twelve years old. No other kitty had captured my heart since then. My dad had a number of extremely spoilt moggies over the years, but none of them endeared themselves to me. Nah, not a cat person, me.

Until that day in 2005. And there he was, a stripey little tabby with white socks. So fluffy he seemed clumsier than the rest of them. I picked him up for a cuddle, but never having being handled by a human before, he wasn't all that keen, but he didn't claw or hiss. So I set him down on the ground and he scampered away. My mother in law, who had been watching us through the kitchen window, smiled and said she would keep him for me. So the deal was sealed. "He has to be a Tigger, hasn't he?" I asked John. "Definitely a Tigger".

So a few weeks later, John went over to the homestead to bring Tigger back to his new home and human slaves. In the meantime, he talked me around to taking two kittens, so that they would be company for each other. "Ok" I said, "but try to get a male, I don't want the place overrun with kitty incest". John decided to select the second candidate on the basis of friendliness. And so Tigger arrived back, with his sister Elizabeth Purrin the Second in tow. They quickly settled in on our sofa and our family unit became four.

If I hadn't been a cat person for years, these two converted me instantly. Straight away they knew what a litter tray was for. They instantly purred and cuddled us. Lizzie liked to keep her distance, sitting on the edge of our laps, while Tigger would climb on my shoulder, walk a few times around my neck and then drape himself around my shoulders like a little fluffy stole. When I came home from work in the evenings, he would follow me around the house miaowing until I sat down in the armchair, then he would jump into my lap, purring furiously and demanding cuddles. If John and I were sitting together on the sofa, Tigs would do his best to divide himself between us to evenly distribute his affections. John called him the politician. He used to lie back on my lap on his back, with his head supported in my hands. I have never before, or since, seen any animal display that sense of trust in a human. He was my little furry homie.

When we moved to our new house, he didn't welcome the change. He looked for reassurance constantly in the first few weeks after we moved in. Every time I sat down he gave me this look that said "Are you sitting for a while? Can I have a cuddle?" I remember one night John and I were grouting the tiles on the bathroom wall, when Tigger came in yowling at us. He leaped into my lap, and no matter how many times I put him back on the floor, he kept jumping back up. He just wanted a reassurance snuggle. So I had to sit on the edge of the bath, grouting with one hand while he burrowed into the crook of my elbow.

Tigger converted the most hardened of cat haters who darkened our door. He grew up to resemble the Norwegian Forest Cat breed, although not as physically big as them, he had all the other characteristics. The ruff of fur around the neck, the long tufts of fur in his ears, the snow shoes for paws, and above all the big bushy tail. Every time a new visitor was in the house, they did a double take when Tigs sashayed into the kitchen, his bushy tail floating behind him. Most people couldn't believe that he wasn't some sort of pedigree, that he was a humble moggie from John's mum's backyard. All our neighbours, especially the young kids who live in our cul de sac, knew him. I'd regularly hear cries of little voices shouting "LOOK!!! CAT!!!" when he would appear over the neighbour's wall.

Once they were used to going outside in our new house, we got the cats into a routine of night curfew. Every evening before nightfall we would call them into the house, and every night without fail for five years, they came home. Until one night last September. We were away for the night in Clare, and had left the two cats happily breakfasting on Saturday morning. What we didn't realise was that our new fangled catflap had had a technical glitch, and that when we had changed the timing settings on it, it was actually locking the cats out.

The day that Tigs was last seen, our neighbours saw a strange cat hanging around. There had been a few scraps with other cats going on, so there was obviously a turf war of sorts happening. Anyway we think the upshot of it was that Tigs got locked out of the house, lost the fight for territory and he ran off to find shelter. He hasn't been seen since. We searched the whole town up and down. We put posters everywhere we could think of - vets, shops, the post office, the library, everywhere. We put ads in the local paper, local radio stations, websites, friends of the animals. We put leaflets through every letterbox of every housing estate in this town. We got plenty of calls from people who had found stray cats, but none of them were our beloved Tigger.

What broke our hearts more was how much Lizzie missed him. She literally pined for him. She went all over the house calling with the most piteous miaow. Her littermate, her constant companion for the past five years had disappeared. All of a sudden she had nobody to play with, nobody to fight with, or chase up and down the stairs. All three of us were gutted. The worst thing of all is not knowing what became of him. If he is still alive, and there were multiple unconfirmed reports of him with the same square two mile area, we are pretty sure somebody took him in, as he is the kind of cat who would charm his way into any house.

If he's not, I'm sure he has a very special place in kitty heaven. I'm sure he sits at the right paw of the Great Ceiling Cat, for Tigger was truly a righteous kitteh.