Friday, 22 January 2016

GONE FERAL

The poet Fiona Pitt-Kethley discovers being a collector of stray cats is both enchanting and expensive

Written by Fiona Pitt-Kethley
cats-176-drop-inFiona I grew up with cats but didn’t get into adopting ferals until I moved to Spain. Once you start, it is a never-ending business. One of the problems is that people believe you are an avid collector of cats and start offering them. Pregnant women are the worst. Many seem to get sick of their moggies because they are about to have what they really wanted to have in the first place – a baby.

Most owners of ferals adopt reluctantly as a matter of saving a life, but the crowd keeps growing. I half suspect that the word is passed round the feral community about cat ladies and cat men. Nudge, nudge, you’ll get a good meal if you pretend to faint outside that house.

I live in a city, Cartagena, with an impressive collection of Punic and Roman remains. Some ruins have their own colonies. A friend, Ana, is trying to revolutionise the attitude of the authorities. Her charity is called Cuatro Gatos (Four Cats). She is a trained guide and uses her knowledge to place these colonies within the history of the city. I went on one of her tours, which was largely attended by cat ladies and cat men. Cat men are outnumbered by about four to one, but they do exist and are often married to cat ladies.

Cats from these colonies have been sterilised courtesy of Brigitte Bardot’s charity. In the past, the local dog pound spent most of its money putting down cats and dogs, rather than having a programme of sterilisation and medical treatment for strays. Recently, Ana’s charity received a horrible, threatening missive from the authorities. She was asked, without any financial provision, to provide a plan to chip and vaccinate every cat in the colonies, or every one would be put down. A petition received thousands of signatures and there was a demonstration. I attended with fellow animal-lovers, some of whom would have been very willing to take the councillor concerned to the vet. Fortunately, after last year’s elections, Cartagena’s cat colonies can now live in peace. Ana is now a councillor and can speak for them.

I paid for sterilisation for most of my cats. We found this was cheaper in the next region. On one occasion, my husband had a couple of hours’ kip in the car while waiting for a moggy that was being operated on. The cops thought he looked suspicious and woke him up and questioned him. He had to explain that he was a chess grandmaster by profession and had driven a cat 50 kilometres as it costs 30 euros per ball in Torrevieja rather than 50 euros per ball in Cartagena. Truth is stranger than fiction.

Fortunately my husband is laid-back about the cats. My father was also a great cat lover. My mother once owned up to him stopping during sex to stroke any cats that happened to be in the bed. I think I have taken after him in this respect.

My husband makes his living mainly by winning chess tournaments at the weekends. Weekdays are quieter – he spends a lot of time sitting at his laptop with a large cat known as the Tabby God. If he teaches a chess lesson on Skype, the Tabby God is shown to his pupils. TTG is now 12. He was saved from a road in Torrevieja. He was tiny enough to fit in a shoe at that stage but now weighs 8kg.

cats-590-2A trio of Fiona’s felines

Dragon Lee is also from Torrevieja but the rest are Cartagena cats. The majority come from a colony on a building site opposite my house. I ended up taking them all in, one by one, after seeing many killed accidentally on the roads. At first I was just feeding them at the entrance, but then they got a paw in the door. Most are related. Higgs Boson, who has eyes like Elizabeth Taylor, was responsible for bringing several of them round. Before castration he was the father of quite a few kittens in the district. The Gremlin is both his son and grandson.

I try to reduce food bills by fishing for them when the weather allows. The trouble is the Gremlin tends to swipe the lot even if I bring home a bucketful. I am putting together an e-book of poems called the Cats Of Cartagena as another fund-raiser. I may also go busking.

Wargessa, sister of Warg, got pregnant before we could get her sterilised. She gave birth beside me on the futon. So then there were three tiny extra mouths to feed. One has now been homed a few streets away and has been called El Vaquilla after a notorious car thief in Barcelona.

I am now also minding two ginger cats. I called one Mark Twain when I got him off the street as he had frosted eyebrows and a droopy moustache. His name was changed to Psicodelia when he was adopted by two guys from a rock group. The cats were in a large flat but now their owners want to go their separate ways and take smaller places. I suspect I have accidentally acquired two more cats. They are not entirely happy with me as they miss the drug-laden air of the flat in Murcia.

NO EARS

No Ears lives near the bakers in a drain.
A kindly neighbour feeds her in the road.

She’s mostly white with just a tabby touch.
The thing you notice is she lacks her ears.

White cats are prone to skin cancer, they say.
I knew one once with amputated ears.
The vet had taken off the cancerous tips.

Perhaps the same had happened to this cat.
Maybe she had a home once long ago.
Or some mutation left her minus ears.
Some kittens here are born with broken tails.

An almost friendly cat who comes quite close,
meowing loudly near her patron’s door.
She lurks beneath the cars till food arrives.
She has a kitten now, large, grey and white.
By Fiona Pitt-Kethley



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