|Pixie learning about cuddles|
Long years ago, I was the Editor of a magazine here in the North West, Editor being a euphemistic term as I wrote 90% of the content and most of the ads.
The magazine's office moved from here to there and back again. In 2009 it occupied the ground floor of an old house in Sligo town, its back rooms overlooking a wilderness that might once have been a small garden, and a shed - crammed to the gunnels - that might have been a garage. The wall at the back of the garden was new, 15 feet high, screening off the ring road/N4. There was no access out from the back garden.
On my first day I walked into the dark and dismal kitchen to put the kettle on and found a container of dog food. Uneasily I waved it at Simon, the office manager.
'There's a kitten,' he said apologetically. 'In the garden.'
When I asked how old the kitten was he made a vague gesture with his hands showing something about 6 inches (15cm) long.
My heart sank.
At the first available opportunity I walked round to Tesco and bought kitten milk and food and disposed of the dog biscuits.
'Sorry,' Simon said. 'I don't know anything about cats.'
All the greater blessings on him for caring in that case.
|On top of the wall, catching the last rays of sun in her bat-like ears|
Simon would go out and leave the milk and kitten food for her, and - much later - we'd find the empty bowls with leaves or litter pulled over to hide them.
'She got something wrong with her eyes,' Simon said. Her mother had left, or died, and so had her siblings. Inevitably I started to feel more anxious about her every day.
'We've got enough cats,' the In-Charge said - rather over-emphatically, I felt., when I shared my concerns.
Anyway his warnings were superfluous. I never saw the kitten.
She was far too shy to come out if 'people' were around. I just caught a fleeting glimpse now and again of a grey, nondescript little creature with runny eyes, but that was it.
She trusted Simon though, and I brought him a ping pong ball to try and entice her out to play. I couldn't bear the loneliness of her. You can't stop kittens playing, normally, but this one never appeared.
Little by little it worked, and he'd sit on a chair and throw it after she'd had her milk. It took her awhile to realise what was going on, but soon she started to run after it, but her eyes were a mess, and I noticed - from the office window - that she could only clock the ball if it moved quite slowly.
It broke my heart that she was so frightened she hid all day in the back of the filthy, dark, crammed shed, with no company and no comfort, becoming more terrified every day as her sight diminished.
One day Simon said he'd seen her sitting in the front window of the derelict house next door, peering out.
I have never been able to pass that window since without thinking of her - locked in and solitary.
Like someone condemned.
|Ludicrous Pixie. A favourite position|
Easter was looming, and the In-Charge was planning to go to the UK to visit #1 son whose birthday coincided with the bank holiday weekend. I was caught up with the magazine schedule.
Secretly, I made a plan.
'Start picking her up,' I said to Simon. 'When she's near, pick her up and put her straight down again, so she gets used to being handled.'
He looked like I'd asked him to tame a tiger.
'We have to get her to a vet!' I explained desperately. 'The sooner the better, and the bank holiday weekend is D-Day!'
Amazingly it worked. Pixie - as we had named her - didn't savage him, and every day it was easier to lift her under her plumping little tummy. As soon as the In-Charge had departed, I whisked in to Sligo with the cat basket, Simon enticed her out and into the basket she went.
|Even more ludicrous Pixie. Another favourite position|
In some ways, that's when the troubles really began.
She went crazy on the long journey home, terrified - frantically trying to escape and screaming the whole way. Her poorly eyes - battered against the wire cage - started to bleed.
Somehow I gritted my teeth and held on, but by the time I'd transferred her into the big 'hospital' cage at home (no mean feat), I knew it wasn't going to be as simple as a quick visit to the vet the next day. I called instead and they gave me antibiotics for her. They said it was almost certainly cat flu and that the prognosis for her eyes wasn't good, with such a long-standing infection.
She lived in the corner of the kitchen, as many other animals have done before and since. Where they are warm, can see and be seen, but feel quite safe from all the other creatures who also live here.
Every day I would lift the lid of the cage and put my hand in to stroke her gently.
She never tried to attack, but every day she dived under the litter in her tray trying to hide rather than be touched.
It broke my heart. I started to wonder if this would be the first cat to defeat me.
I rang the vet again. 'I'm sure she's in pain,' I said. 'Can I give her the dog's pain killer?' I still had some of my beloved Juno's arthritis pain relief in the cupboard.
The vet stressed, and stressed again how little I was to give this tiny scrap - 'Otherwise you will kill her,' she said. She's German and doesn't beat around the bush.
|The best way to catch birds, she decided, was lying in wait in the bird bath...|
I measured the infinitesimal amount onto some tinned sardine, put the dish in the cage and went away.
When I came back, Pixie was lying flat on her stomach, her chin stretched out on the blanket and two legs sticking out each side, like a cartoon cat. She was out for the count.
She was still like that when I went to bed.
I gulped, checked her breathing and left her to it.
However, when I came down the next morning, she was sitting up in her bed, and when I lifted the lid and reached in carefully to stroke her, she purred and pushed her head up under my hand.
Five minutes later, she was sitting in my lap, purring ecstatically, and she's spent a very considerable amount of time doing just that ever since.
I think it was the first time since her mother had left, months before, that she had slept properly, with no anxiety and no pain. The poor darling, she must have been exhausted.
|Most of her life was spent sleeping after she came to us|
'I see we've got another cat,' the In-Charge said tonelessly when he returned.
That was, as I recall, the end of that conversation.
Sadly, her eyes didn't recover. She was totally blind in one and had perhaps 40% vision through the scar tissue in the other, so only about 25% overall. 'She'll be fine,' the vet said. 'She just won't climb.'
I came home one day to find her on the roof of our two storey shed, walking along the ridge, and her favourite place to sit in the early days was on top of the courtyard wall in the last of the evening sun, having shimmied up the wooden ladder in Popsicle's wake to get there.
But she never caught birds, although she was beside herself with pride the day she caught a fly.
She was a quiet little cat. 'Your baby,' the In-Charge always called her. She didn't bother anyone, and she didn't upset me by catching the birds. She loved being cuddled and slept in the back kitchen. Because of her sight we didn't shut her out at night with the others, unless she particularly wanted to go. Every morning she would weave around my ankles and when I said 'Are you rolling for cuddles?' she'd tuck her head down onto the floor and roll over so I could rub her tummy. It was a daft little ritual, but it started both our days with a smile.
On that first morning, when I let her out of the cage, she went off and explored the garden.
I let her go. She would have been about 7 months old by then, tiny, but not a baby any more.
I remember feeling sick when she didn't come back, but I just waited for one hour, two hours... and eventually her little face peered round the corner of the courtyard. I don't know who was more relieved.
She loved the garden and the orchard, and the courtyard, where she could lie in the sun all summer. In the winter she appropriated the little basket underneath the wood burning stove in the kitchen, where she'd bake herself for hours on end.
|Sunbathing in the orchard|
She didn't seem well in the morning. She was breathing rather quickly, although I couldn't see what was wrong. We've been away, and I thought she looked a bit thinner when we got back, but nothing to worry about, and our sweet friend Clare, who'd looked after everyone, hadn't said anything was amiss.
I was out during the day, and in the evening I had to go and find her which is unusual. She was lying outside on a bag of gravel. I brought her in an put her in her bed. She wasn't interested in her supper, and I could hear her breathing - it sounded a bit bubbly.
I gave her some rescue remedy and decided that I'd call the vet today, even though it is Sunday.
But by 10 o'clock last night, I knew I couldn't wait that long.
It's 40 minutes to the vets from our house. She was waiting for me when I arrived and I could tell by her face that it wasn't good news, as soon as she saw Pixie. 'I'm glad you rang,' was all she said.
There wasn't anything she could do. She gave her a sedative to take the pain away and something to ease her breathing, and then she made her a hot water bottle and we wrapped her in a blanket while we talked over all the possibilities, but the awful truth was that she was dying, by painful degrees - and neither of us knew why.
There aren't any poisons that we know about around our property. It's possible that she had some tumour or something going on inside, but basically she seemed to be suffering from some sort of pulmonary thrombosis. There was blood in the spittle bubbling from her mouth, and it was agonising listening to her breathing. She was very cold, as well - the blood was leaving her extremities and flooding her lungs.
It had all happened so quickly and I couldn't bear to let her carry on in such distress and pain.
I held her in my hands. It was the least and the most I could do for her.
And I cried.
|You'd recognise those bat-ears anywhere|
Just 6 years we've had her.
It's not long, in the scheme of things. But it was such a happy 6 years for her.
Sweet little Pixie. She was my baby 6 days after I first knew about her.
As my mother has often said, animals leave a bigger space behind than they occupy in life.
Pixie took up so little room.
I will miss those little blind eyes, looking at me in total trust.
I'll miss her rolling for cuddles every morning.
I'll just miss her.