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.)

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