Cat o’ Nine Tales

6th January 2022 I thought this week I would share with you the story of my current and only companion: Toni, my cat.

She and I are very similar in many ways; we’re both old ladies, no longer party animals, and can be exceedingly grumpy from time to time. We are indoor people, and spend most of our time eating and sleeping. I think that’s why we get along so well. She’s good-looking whilst I scrub up fairly well on occasion with the aid of a tub of Polyfilla and a trowel.

It’s very true what they say about dogs having masters and cats having servants! In no uncertain terms, Toni will tell me when it’s time to get up, time to feed her and time to settle down to my main function in life, as far as she’s concerned – as a cat bed!

Toni came into our lives first with my sister Mel around 2006/7. Mel was living in Barrow at the time, and her house had a field behind it, from which she found she was plagued with fieldmice. Time to call in the professionals and get a mouser to eradicate the problem. So, she went to see about getting a rescue cat and Toni fit the bill. The cat is a handsome looking animal, but she was already an adult cat, around six years old it was thought, and was almost feral, preferring to be out of doors and rarely coming into the house, even for food. She disliked being handled and would get quite aggressive sometimes if she felt threatened; Mel’s six children soon learned to treat her with respect or pay the consequences! But her temperament meant she was good at the task in hand, and the mouse problem ceased.

Then in 2008 Mel and her family were relocating up to Perth in Scotland. They were moving into a rented house and pets were not allowed so Mel had to make arrangements for Toni. The obvious choice was to ask our parents, both retired at this time. Dad had quite a busy life, he played golf and was the treasurer of Barrow Conservative Club which kept him occupied for a large part of each day (that was his excuse, anyway!) but Mum spent a lot of time at home, keeping herself occupied with more sedate activities such as crossword puzzles, reading and cross-stitch. Toni would be ideal company for Mum so she agreed to take the cat into their home.

The family home was a Victorian end-of-terrace on the corner of Brighton Street and Settle Street; a large house with big rooms and high ceilings. And a very quiet house since we children had all moved out. Toni soon became accustomed and attuned to the atmosphere and made friends with my Mum. Toni still didn’t like being handled, and she wasn’t keen on my Dad, or any men, come to that, which made us think that she had been mistreated in her earlier years possibly by a male. Dad made the effort and fed her, but she still preferred my mum, whom she would honour by sitting on Mum’s lap and allowing herself to be stroked – but only for as long as she chose! She became a house cat because Mum was afraid that she would either get lost in the maze of streets around Brighton Street, or get run over by darting out between all the parked cards in the surrounding streets. She was allowed to go out into the back yard, when she would jump up onto the Garage roof and go for the occasional saunter over the neighbouring walls, but Mum would get nervous and call her back within a few minutes, so she didn’t get chance to go very far.

So, she had become a spoiled house cat, ruling the roost as she kept Mum company. She spent a lot of time curled up asleep on the sitting room window-sill sunning herself, though she was still very territorial and would go mental if she spotted another cat invading our front garden, or a dog passing by, being walked by its owner. Then she would howl, and spit and jump up the curtains trying to get the invading animal. More than once she invoked my mother’s ire after tearing down and ripping to shreds the net curtains.

After Dad died in 2011, Mum was more dependent than ever on Toni for companionship. And when she was later diagnosed with Alzheimer’s, we had to get her some help. For the first four years, Mel’s eldest daughter Kate, moved in with her, but by the time she was 21 she was understandably making plans for her own life; she and her boyfriend were buying a house in Scotland, nearer to his family.

At this point Mum was still capable of making decisions so I discussed with her what the possibilities were. She didn’t want to move in with any of us and be a burden, which was lucky as almost every one of us had busy lives with families. I had done some research and found a Care Home near to where I lived. It was more like a hotel than an old folks’ home and when I showed her the brochures, she seemed very keen. She would have her own private room with en suite facilities. There was a dining room and a lounge and 44 other residents. They organised activities which everyone was welcome to join, or if they preferred to keep themselves private that was allowed too. The food was home-cooked, and I would be able to visit every day as it was on my way home from work. I would be able to take her out at the weekends, or I could have lunch with her if I wanted to. There were guest rooms where visiting family members could stay. I had been to the place, Sandholme Fold, at Hipperholme, and been very impressed with the cleanliness and comfort of the place and the attention of the staff. Everyone I saw was smiling and happy and there was an overall atmosphere of contentment. I told Mum all about it and she seemed keen. There was only one problem. “I’m not going anywhere without my cat!” she said emphatically. Fortunately, I was ready for this – I had made enquiries and they encouraged people to bring their pets, provided there was only one animal, who would share the room with the resident. Mum was overjoyed. It all sounded wonderful and she would be happy to move there.

So we moved her, lock, stock, barrel and cat across the Pennines. After a few teething problems, she seemed to settle down and was happy enough. True to my word, I visited every day, but then I noticed she was getting depressed again. She was always glad to see me, and when I had to leave, would ask when I was coming again. Each time I left, I could see her, standing at her window and waving to me – I felt guilty, every time, as if I was abandoning her. I spoke to the care home manager and asked if everything was all right. She told me that Mum was doing ok – she had to be taken to the dining room for her meals because she couldn’t find her way alone, but they sat her each day with the same two or three ladies, hoping she would find something in common with them and make friends.

But Mum was shy, and had never been very a sociable person – she herself always said she was ‘backward at coming forward’. She had never been able to go into a crowded room alone, and when I visited at tea time each day she was always sitting silently as the other ladies chatted, and was very pleased to see me. When I asked her about it, she claimed that people were talking about her – that when she went into the lounge or the dining room, everyone stopped talking and stared at her. It wasn’t true, of course, but she believed it. She was so unhappy that after six months I brought her to live in my house (which she also hated, incidentally!). There’s a bit more about my mother’s journey through Alzheimer’s in another blog if you’re interested – read ‘This is a First’ for a bit more information.

Anyway, Mum came to live with me – and Toni came too, of course! The cat had never taken very much interest in me in all the time she’d been with our family. And this was no different. She kept mostly to my mother’s room, which was light and airy and comfortable, but she had the freedom of the whole house – four floors to roam, but sadly no vermin for her to chase. She still curled up on Mum’s lap at every possible chance, but never came anywhere near me. And, knowing her dislike of physical contact, I gave her the occasional stroke as she passed me by, and avoided lifting her up if at all possible.

When we moved to the new flat, again, Toni came along and soon settled in. As long as her human was nearby she was happy enough. She never tried to escape or leave the building, and seemed content as a housecat. A few times, Mum had to go into hospital, for pneumonia more than once, and at home, Toni wandered about the flat, mewing and missing her Mum. But even on those occasions, she slept on Mum’s bed, and didn’t bother too much with me as long as she was fed. It was quite touching on one occasion when Mum was brought home after a few days in hospital. The paramedics brought her into the flat and took her to sit in her armchair in the bedroom. Within minutes, Toni was on her lap, licking her face and sniffing her all over to make sure she was all right. As the disease worsened though, Toni found herself on the receiving end of the occasional slap, when Mum told her off for biting her – though I was sitting there at the time and knew that the poor feline had been fast asleep the whole time! Mum’s hallucinations made that happen quite a lot, and I felt for poor Toni, being blamed for something she hadn’t done!

Eventually, the inevitable happened. The disease was making Mum more and more incapable of helping herself; she was reliant on me and the carers who came in daily, to wash and dress her, and ensure that she ate and drank properly. She was away in another world – the Mum I knew had gone. As she deteriorated both physically and mentally more and more, I had to make the decision for her to go into residential care. My own health problems meant I couldn’t do everything for her that she needed and the so called ‘care package’ provided by the local council was not enough to fulfil her needs. This time, though, Toni could not go with her, but thankfully by that time, Mum was unaware. Four months later, she passed away.

Here we are, almost four years later. Toni is now approximately 22 years old, and looks fabulous! When I tell visitors how old she is they don’t believe me, she looks so good. She lost one of her ‘fangs’ a couple of years ago, but still eats very well for a cat her age. She sleeps a lot – probably about 20 hours a day, only moving to visit her food bowl and the litter tray. I’m not sure if she has dementia, if there is such a thing with cats. Every now and then she’ll come out of the litter tray like a ball shot from a cannon – ears back and eyes wide with terror! She runs in and out of every room (thank goodness it’s a small flat!) like the devil is chasing her, jumping on furniture, scooting under the coffee table, and I have to keep calling her name until she hears me, then she’ll look at me as if to say “What are you shouting about?” but then she settles down again.

She sleeps, cuddled up to my right hip – always the right one, never the left, but at 8 o’clock in the morning she comes and stands on my chest, pushing her nose onto my face until I wake up. I am now required to vacate my place of repose, because it’s now HER sleeping place. Similarly, watching TV in the evening in my recliner chair – she cuddles up to me, again, on the right hip, content to snooze all evening. She becomes very disgruntled when I move her, for necessary visits to the bathroom, for example. When I return to my chair, she’s there, curled up after taking possession. Then an argument ensues: I say “Come on Toni, move!” She meows in response, unmoving. “Move – this is my seat, not yours!” “Meow!” stubbornly refusing to even look in my direction. “Toni, shift yourself! Come on!” by this time I’m prodding her, carefully watching for retaliation. Eventually, she gives in, totally unimpressed, moving slowly, stretching one leg at a time until she has removed herself to the arm of the chair. Then she tells me off, as if to say, ‘hurry up and sit down! I need your hip to sleep on!’

During the day, if I’m working, I sit in a wing-back chair, opposite the recliner, in front of me a folding table with my laptop and the necessary accessories to my working day – notepad, pens, water bottle etc. From time to time, Toni gets the idea it’s time I paid her some attention. She makes her way over to me, climbing onto the sofa, so it’s easier to jump onto the arm of my chair. Immediately, she walks onto me and pushes her face into my hands to stop me typing; not that I can see the screen anyway for her backside and tail in my face. I have to spend at least a few minutes stroking and fussing her, then she decides she’s had enough and heads back to the recliner.

If I’m using my phone when she’s on me, she gets annoyed that my attention isn’t all on her. She’ll start by licking any bare flesh she can reach, my wrist, or my elbow. Then suddenly the licks will turn into full-on biting as if she’s trying to eat me! When I asked Google ‘why does my cat bite me?’ it claimed that it’s a sign that she loves me! I have no doubt that should I die and nobody knows, they’ll find me half eaten – one fang missing or not! – covered in cat hair and Toni sleeping on my right hip.

But I love her. And she loves me. Now. I think. I talk to her all the time, and she does answer a lot, even if I don’t understand what she’s saying. It’s probably something like ‘will you please shut up so I can sleep’ but I can take that. I don’t know how much longer we have together. 22 years is a good old age for a cat, and I don’t know how many of her nine lives she’s already used up, so I can’t expect much more. But just in case she sees me out, I’ve got it arranged for her to be rehomed. I’ll have to leave a long list of her likes and dislikes, to make sure her new human knows how to treat her. With Respect.

Categorized as Blog, Family

By lizziehughesauthor

Hello! I'm Liz, a writer from Sowerby Bridge, West Yorkshire. I've lived here for nearly 20 years, although I'm originally from t'other side o't hill as they say around here. I'm from Barrow in Furness, which was in Lancashire when I was born - still, whether it's Lancashire or Cumbria, it still makes me a Northern Lass. That means I'm honest, straightforward and feisty. My current book is (very) loosely based on my family history, though the names have been changed to protect the innocent (and the guilty!) I'm hoping to publish in April 2022, or possibly earlier. Watch this space!

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