Monday, 29 November 2010


A shorter, less cat-oriented version appears in my Freethinking blog.

The weather has been absolutely horrendous since last Thursday as wave after wave of snow has fallen across the area to pile up enough to make life here distinctly difficult and it's getting worse. I couldn't guess how much snow has fallen since it started but there's at least 6 inches on top of my flat garage roof and this is snow which, part from the top layers, is compressed with at least an inch or two of ice on the bottom.

Today has been the worst so far. This morning I decided to go swimming as common sense had overruled me on Friday. I couldn't take the van as the driver side windscreen wiper was currently lying useless across the dashboard, so I took Susan's car. Now the street is a narrow cul-de-sac and we live halfway up. None of this would have made any difference if the car had been pointed downwards but I had to drive to the top and do a three point turn to get it pointing the right way.

It should have been easy. Instead I got stuck. I tried shoving thick paper under a rear wheel to get extra traction. Didn't work. Probably because the car has front wheel drive, unlike the van which doesn't. Thankfully a couple of neighbours came out and gave me advice and a push. Driving to the Raich Carter Leisure Centre was slow so when I came out, rather than go back the way I came, I headed into town so I knew I'd been driving along passable roads. I had been intending to go to Sainsbury's to pick up donated food and to the post office to post a couple of parcels -one book and a DVD box set I'd sold on Amazon Marketplace. I didn't bother.

When I got back I grovelled to Susan and declared us snowbound. Actually I did walk to the post office later but there's no way I was going to do any driving. On the way there I met Phil, one of our charity's dog rescuers, who'd taken the van believing it might be better in the snow than his car. He'd got stuck and needed a push. No, it wasn't any better than the car.

Some of the cats have been themselves though. Little Bob the black kitten would probably stay out nearly all day if I let him.

At Leechmere trading estate about half a mile away is a chicken processing plant and a stray cat has claimed the place as his territory. One of the workers there got in touch with me a month or so ago as he was worried what might happen to the cat when the weather got bad. I did go round, got within nose-sniffing distance of the cat before it ran off, tried another time with even less success and kept meaning to get round to it again after that. He rang me again last Thursday just before the snow started and this time I got my finger out and rang Jean whom I knew had a cat trap. She was happy to go to the plant straight away so I arranged to meet here there. By the time I arrived the snow was falling thick and fast and it was really horrendous. I waited in the security hut for Jean who turned up ten minutes later with the cat in the trap. Apparently it had just walked straight up to her so that she could pick it up and slip it inside the trap.

The cat has now been in my garage since then. There's no heating but it does have a kind of thick little tent to curl up inside. She's quite friendly and pretty (see below) but her bowels are very loose. Andrea  dropped off some wormer for me (well the cat really) and flea killer. 

Tuesday, 23 November 2010


This is an addendum -which I almost called The Smell Of Death-  to the previous post.

When I called in at Animal Krackers shop to tell Susan and Andrea about what happened to the cat at Vet's Now (the PDSA's emergency vet service at Heworth), they had the little jack russell I'd picked up last week. As is my wont on seeing a dog, I bent to pet it and it backed away. It kept on doing this every time I approached it. I didn't terrify the dog; it showed no aggression towards me, it just didn't want anything to do with me.

Susan said, "It smells death on you."

I dismissed this immediately. Death doesn't have a smell and animals have no sense of their own mortality. Death is not something positive that exists in its own right, rather it's an absence. Of course the dog couldn't smell death on me, it was just a daft dog.

Then, yesterday morning while swimming, I began to wonder. Dogs do have an acute sense of smell and what it certainly, well probably, could smell were tiny flecks of the cat's blood on my hands, the remains of the smell of the sick cat's breath on them, a few molecules of various chemicals that would be in the surgery air, possibly even the those of the liquid which stilled the cat's heart. It could smell odours on me that were clearly, to the dog, wrong and that would be enough to make it wary of me.

I still don't think Susan was right, but she wasn't wrong either.

Sunday, 21 November 2010


Yesterday was supposed to mark the beginning of 5 days away from cat rescuing and anything else Animal Krackers-related. It's been a long and busy week on topof other busy weeks and I'm stressed and just emotionally and physically washed out by it all which seems to be taking up more and more of my time and I need a break to recharge my batteries. Saturday turned out to be anything but and I'll get back to that shortly.

My memory is playing up as usual so I can't remember what I did at the beginning of the week, probably the usual stuff. Thursday morning, however, I went off to Asda at 7.30 to pick up some cat food for my own 8 cats, then back home to move Samson from the cage in the garage to a cat carrier. (Samson has been a right pain to feed and he's hardly eaten anything since he was neutered on Tuesday. Wednesday night I gave him half a tin of Feline Fayre tuna and he wolfed it down and, before I went to Asda, happily tucked into the rest of the tin.) I then filled a couple of boxes with donated cat food and put them in the van as well.

8.40 and I was waiting outside Sandra's house (a nurse who fosters cats) for her to come out with two cats she'd been looking after. I didn't wait long and then I was off to Tracy's rescue at Burnhope as she was taking in the three of them and the food was for her. Here are some photos of the cats at Burnhope along with some kittens she has available for re-homing. Here's Samson in my garage and then at Tracy's with his two new friends.

The following massive monster is one of Tracy's own pets.
I had to take a different route home via Chester-le-Street instead of the usual Durham as I had to go to Bournmoor just outside the boundary of Sunderland. This involved a lot country driving and was a very nice run. However, when I got to Bournmoor and eventually found the house there was no-one there because I'd got me details wrong and I had to go back that afternoon.

Which I did and picked up the cat and took it Carole's. While at Carole's she got a phone call from a guy who'd rescued a cat from some teenage morons whom he found kicking it in Roker Park where he was walking his dog. Carol got the impression that this had just happened and I was duly sent over to pick up the cat. As it turned out, the guy who Asian and a real animal lover (he also kept doves, had a dog which looked like a Staffie with long legs and a soft nature, another cat, child and partner) had actually rescued it a week ago and would have kept it but his other cat hated it.

Friday. My usual early morning swim followed by a trip to Asda to buy cat food for Carol and empty the donated food bin. I think I did other stuff but I can't remember. when I took the food to Carol she did tell me that a cat I'd brought in for re-homing never even left the cat carrier before someone came and took it. Nice one. Wish that happened all the time. A little later Deb who'd fostered a lovely cat a couple of weeks ago (see previous post) had to bring it back as her daughter... well, that's personal, suffice to say she couldn't keep him. So back he went in the cage that Samson had luckily vacated the day before. And it looks like I have a home for him tomorrow.

Late Friday afternoon and I popped over to Ryhope to pick up a cat. 

Now I just want to interrupt the flow of cats for a grumble about Durham County Council. Ryhope used to be part of the county but came under Sunderland in 1973 (or 4?), whatever. Durham has a habit of doing odd things with regards to building council estates and naming street. On Wednesday morning I set off for Murton at 7.30 to pick up a cat and, while I'd found the street on Google maps and printed out a copy, I still had to ask someone exactly where the street was. Turned out I'd driven past the house because each side of the street had a different name and I'd only noticed the wrong one. The council also seems to delight in creating estates which are mazes so you have to go left, follow the bend to the right, turn right then left, go round the oval, and park up your own backside because No.29 is next door to 47. The addresses in Bournmoor and Ryhope were both like that.

They'd got the cat from us eight months ago and it hadn't settled, I'd been told, fighting with their existing cat, urinating all over the place, being temperamental and frightening visiting children (and I'm not making that up). So I collected it and took it to Carole's. While she was doing something else, I opened the carrier door and stroked the cat which seemed quite friendly. The people who'd had her also had two dogs and I suspect the poor thing was stressed and probably would be a nice pet in quieter surroundings. After a quick check, Carole then told me to take it back over the river to Sandra's as she was going to foster it and calm it down. (Ian grits teeth at what he sees as an unneccessary trip as he could have dropped it there in the first place and saved the journey over to Ryhope.)

And then it was Saturday, the start of my five day break from all things Animal Krackers.

Like very rude word it was. (Note: unlike my other blog, Freethinking, I'm trying to keep this as a PG -parental guidance- rated blog, i.e. some mild swearing but otherwise suitable for younger readers or those of a sensitive nature.)

It was raining hard and Susan told me to go to the shop and load up the van with unsold stuff to donate to Barnardo's in town. I also had to drop some cat litter off at Silksworth with Lilian who took in a cat from us and she can't carry anything too heavy. An hour later, I got home all wet and irritated, had a coffee and watched something I'd copied from tv before having a lie down. The phone woke me from a doze at one point but I ignored it. Shortly after that Susan arrived and told me that carole had an emergency with a cat and, as all the vets were close, I had to take it to the PSDA emergency vet service at Heworth.

I went over and Carole was quite worked up, saying she'd never seen anything like it and got me to touch the side of the cat's head.

"It's an abscess," I said, a burst and very large abscess. Carole said the cat was only two years old and had been told that by it's former owner. 

Half an hour later and I was with the vet and it was apparent that there was more wrong with it than just the abscess. The abscess itself was enormous and hadn't just appeared overnight. The vet said it was also affecting its inner ear. The ears themselves were speckled dark black. The long haired ginger cat's coat was heavily matted, a sign of stress, and the cat itself was very thin. And, far from being two years old, the vet told me it was a geriatric cat in which case the weight loss was a sure sign of a cat on the way out.

"Am I being horrible if I ask you to put him to sleep?" I asked the vet.

She said, "No, I think it's the best thing."

He didn't react at all when part of his leg was shaved or when the needle was inserted and his breathing stopped before even the last drop had been injected into him.

I called in at the shop on the way back to tell Susan and Andrea what had happened and then went home thinking that was that for the day. Sadly, not. Teatime and Susan had gone to visit her mother in the home when Little Bob started crying. I thought it was just him psyching himself up to do a poo but the crying went on. I picked him up and saw that his right eye had swollen up and his lower inner eyelid had also swollen and covered his eyeball. Little Bob was distressed and in pain. I rang Susan and told her to come home as we needed to take him to the emergency vets. 

In the end, Susan was too stressed so I just took Little Bob on my own. Just as well as there were a number of idiotic drivers driving far too fast in the dark on wet dual carriageways which meant trying to change lanes was a nightmare. Poor Little Bob was screaming his head off the whole time, though he calmed down once we got there. The same receptionist was on duty and we had a bit of a problem because they couldn't find Animal Krackers account, head office was closed, and her boss was off . This had happened earlier as well but this time they needed a deposit from me to cover both sessions -luckily I had my wallet with me as I had to pay £110.00 on my Visa card. The cost of the poor ginger cat alone was over £200.00.

The vet was reassuring when she checked the kitten over. It was probably caused by a cat scratch on the eye and the swelling can go down quite quickly. Unless it was an abscess behind the eye in which case the eye itself would have to be removed. Given the way Little Bob and Daisy play fight then a scratch is definitely the most likely. I hope. The vet gave him an antibiotic injection and an anti-inflammatory to reduce the pain and swelling. Then back down wet dual carriageways with lunatics driving far too fast and home.

Twenty-four hours later and Bob isn't complaining, though his eye is still swollen and tomorrow I'll get him to our vets.

Here's another couple of recent cat photos.

Friday, 12 November 2010



First, 7.40am, swimming -24 lengths in 42 minutes which is a good one for me as I'm happy with 20 in 40. Second, Asda -to buy the week's cat food, pick up odd bits for the house, and check the recently reinstated pet food donation bin which turns out to contain a fair amount of catfood. After a half hour break during which I read The Times and fortify myself with pate on two toasted crumpets and I'm off to Carol's with the cat food.

I picked up the first cat there, Shaft, an old and rather ill male, for what was to be his third trip to vets this week. On Monday's visit, where I gave him his name by simply picking a pronounceable one from the diagram of a feline skeleton on the surgery wall, he was given a couple of injections to try and boost his metabolism. He'd been drooling ropes of saliva, his eyes and nose had mucus around them, and he was barely eating. On Wednesday morning they kept him in for the day and put him on a drip. Today, the vet suggested that there was nothing really they could do, a conclusion I'd come to myself when I picked him up but was glad when he tried to lead me in that direction. 

I stayed with Shaft and took a few photographs of him while the vet went to get the drugs. When I showed the photos to Carol and told her I was going to put one on my blog she was completely aghast. But this is what happens. Sometimes cats, particularly elderly cats, in our care fall ill and there's nothing we can do except not let them suffer. It's not down to something we haven't done; old cats get ill and that's it. And this what we -what I- have to do. I make the decision to put the cat to sleep and there's not once, no matter how obvious it is that it is the right thing to do, that I don't agonise over it and wonder if it was the right thing. Here's the photograph. I'm sorry it's not a nice one, if it upsets you, but imagine how I felt being there. I stayed with the cat, stroking him, as he went to sleep for the last time.

But I took another one back to Carol's, a 13 week old notionally feral kitten. I say notionally because it had been handled often by people feeding it and the others of its family so it accepted being stroked and picked up. Carol popped it into a cage and left it. A couple of minutes later it had squeezed through the bars, jumped down from the table and sauntered into her living room.

From Carol's I went to pick up a 9 month old unneutered male called Samson which its owner, who'd inherited it from someone else, couldn't keep because her jack russell was prone to go for it. I took it home and popped him into a cage in my garage where he'll stay for a few days. I booked him in to be neutered on Tuesday and after that I'm hoping he'll go to be fostered with the cat who vacated the cage yesterday.

And that's the three-cat morning. However, backtracking, on Sunday I took in a friendly cat which had been found at Hendon and put him in the cage. Next morning I put a poster in Animal Krackers shop window asking its owner to get in touch. Nothing so far. Yesterday morning, while driving home one of the shop's staff who taken poorly, Andrea, who had come with me, mention a new volunteer fosterer. The cat was in its new temporary home within an hour and I couldn't be happier as it loves people and took to the mother and daughter immediately. Here he is.
Then there was the jack russell I transported in the van and I will never drive alone with an unsecured dog ever again.

A few cats have been rehomed this week including the almost tame feral from the disused Hendon factory and one which I'd taken to Roker Park vets to have some matted fur shaved off and where one of the receptionists fell in love with her. The lady's husband wasn't too keen but who cares, he'll come round.

Lastly, here's a photo of Little Bob and Big Ted.

Friday, 5 November 2010


It's sometimes chastening to remember that less than four hundred yards from my house there are people living in deprivation -financial, emotional, cultural deprivation.

Wednesday teatime and I got a call from Carol who looks after the cats for our rescue charity Animal Krackers. She wanted me to collect a cat from a woman who was going to a woman's refuge and her partner had threatened to kill the cat after she'd gone. I went, but not before first telling Carol that if there was any chance of violence directed at me then I'd be off like a shot. Hell, I'm five foot five and 62 years old. What would you do? I help animals, I'm not a hero.

The woman lived in a street that bordered a railway line -one side houses, the other side a high brick wall hiding a steep embankment. Some of the houses are divided into flats owned by landlords who are only a little above slum landlords and the woman lived in one such. To my relief I saw a police car parked outside and was ushered into the flat by a young (and, it must be said, attractive) policewoman. The cat owner's violent husband had been told by the police to stay away for at least an hour while the policewoman and her male counterpart sorted things out. The couple were known to the police, particularly the husband, and it seemed that this was the culmination of long periods of abuse.

The woman herself was small, thin, straggly haired, and with a wrinkled face. She might not have been much more than forty though she looked nearly twenty years older. Clearly agitated, her voice was quiet but her words stumbling and repetitive. I reassured her that the cat would be well looked after and I'd done this many times (not under these particular circumstances perhaps). Once she had got herself sorted in a new life, the cat would be returned to her.

The cat was somewhere in a small cluttered bedroom consisting of two single beds, a rickety thin-panelled wardrobe which looked as if it might fall over at any time, a well worn leather armchair, an inflatable and inflated armchair, and a floor littered with a variety of items including cassettes and an ash tray overflowing with the tab ends of dozens of rollups. Now all I had to do was find the cat and get it into the cat carrier.

First off, I closed the door to the hall and the double glass-panelled doors to the living room. Then I got on my knees and looked under the twin beds which had a 6 inch gap between frame and floor. I saw the black and white cat but when I tried to touch it it moved quickly and disappeared. Unless you've actually had a cat, you'd be surprised how easily they can hide themselves in the smallest of spaces, places you would think it impossible for them to fit. It took me ten minutes before I finally trapped it in a corner, moving the leather armchair agains the wall so that the cat couldn't go anywhere except towards me.

He was fat and healthy and, once I had hold of him and was stroking him, relatively amenable. With only a little effort, I managed to get him in the cat carrier. And that's when things got awkward.

The woman -I can't remember her name, let's call her Mary- Mary said abruptly, "I'm not leaving him. I love him, he's my best friend, I love him."

The policewoman said, "Mary, we've been through all this. You can't take him into the refuge and you can't stay here."

"I don't care. I'm not leaving him and if you take him I'll kill myself."

I said, "It's only for a little while. You'll get him back when you've got you life in order. He'll be fine with us."

She got more agitated. "It doesn't matter, you're not taking him. I know what you're saying but you're not taking him. You're a lovely man and I know you'll do what you say but you're not having him."

"Look, if you stay here with the cat, you're putting yourself and the cat at risk and you said he hit him."

"Just the once. He gets under the bed clothes when I'm in bed and cuddles up to me every night. I love him."

Variations of this conversation went on between Mary -who had become almost completely irrational, aware that her actions were self-defeating but, focussing solely on the cat to the exclusion of everything else, refused to change her mind-   myself and the two officers for about twenty minutes before the policewoman pretty much gave up. She asked if I'd hang around in the van a few minutes longer while they made a last attempt to salvage the situation. Mary gave me a hug before I left and thanked me profusely and I let the cat out of the carrier. I talked briefly to the policewoman at the door, giving her my phone number and address if they needed me back later.

(I want to state very clearly, that the two officers behaved with compassion and patience throughout and they impressed me a lot.)

I wish I could say that they did get in touch but they didn't. I'm assuming that Mary and the cat stayed in the flat and waited for the return of her abusive husband. What happened then, I don't know. We (that is me, Susan, and Andrea) know a lady three doors down whom we've helped with a dog she rescued and Andrea will contact her to see if she knows of any developments.

As I said, the couple are known to the police, particularly the husband who gets violent when he gets drunk, which is often. How genuine the risk to the cat is I don't know but I suspect the risk to her is far greater and my disappointment at the end result is not about failing to save the cat but failing to save Mary.

(This is also being published in my Freethinking blog.)