Domestic cats regularly get bad press for killing the wildlife. Statistics are cited as to the average kill rate of your domestic moggy and local councilors provide beefed up statements to the press as to how they plan to curb the suburban slaughter. Sometimes there’s also a photograph of a tomcat with a gob full of feathers and an evil red glint in its eye. No doubt caused by the flash on the spy camera that caught him in the act.
A few years ago I shared my apartment with a huge black cat I named Nigel. He was a big game hunter: possums, rats and sometimes dogs. He never bothered with birds, probably because they heard him coming. When brawling with other cats he’d lure them up the outside stairs, leap up onto the ledge and then crash down on top of them as they rounded the corner. It was brutal.
There’s a local tomcat near my place who bears a striking resemblance to Nigel. The first time I saw him he was being chased by a Willy Wagtail who was mercilessly pecking him on the arse. They were like two characters from a Disney Looney Tune cartoon. Perhaps the cat had been caught out in the vicinity of a nest? Peck, peck, peck. The cat shot up a tree trunk, dug its claws in and clung there. He was a picture of misery.
The furious bird didn’t let up and it darted around the cat, squawking and landing sharp pecks wherever it could. It wasn’t the cat’s finest hour but it was compulsive viewing. The roles had been reversed and the hunter had become the hunted.
Nigel was a street cat. I first met him in a French cafe in inner city Melbourne when he strolled out of the kitchen and slipped up onto my lap. He made me laugh. To hell with health regulations, he’d settled in for the evening. Nigel had no interest in the food on the table, he just seemed to want our company.
The owner of the café told me he’d been abandoned. His owners had moved out of Fitzroy the previous year and the cat got left behind. Gregoire had been feeding him fine French cuisine ever since. The cat was something of a gourmet and very partial to chicken breasts marinated in tarragon, wine and garlic. He visited the cafe every evening and dined sumptuously.
Gregoire told me the cat had beautiful manners. He adored the cat but couldn’t give him a home because there was already a chubby white Persian on the premises. And the two cats hated each other.
Winter was closing in. Gregoire suggested I adopt the black cat and I did so after I heard he’d just been attacked in the alley by a couple of local dogs. A friend and I went down the back alley one night, found the cat and put him in my wicker picnic hamper. No panic. No distress. He just settled down for the short drive back to my apartment. We kept checking the hamper but he was preternaturally calm. Maybe he’d detected the ghosts of the delectable roast chickens that had passed through the hamper the previous summer?
At my place he leapt out of the hamper, dined elegantly and then made himself comfortable on one of my faux fur barstools. No dramas, no looking for an escape route. He sat between my friend and I and the only time he growled like a dog was when I moved off my stool to fetch more champagne.
I’d planned on keeping him inside a day or two before letting him out. I didn’t want to tag and collar him too soon in case he decided to leave and return to the alley. For eighteen months he’d relied on the kindness of strangers, and if he was wearing a collar folk would naturally assume he had a home.
But that night I realized Nigel had zero intention of going anywhere. So I let him out before he retired for the night. It was foggy and the grass was wet. I watched over him as he quickly did his business and then scuttled back to the warmth of the kitchen.
So the next day I got him sorted at the vet. Antibiotics, worming, nails, ears, the works – including an examination that involved a rubber glove and lubricant. I had to look away. His wounds were examined and teeth checked for later dental work. No problemos. Nigel eyeballed the vet’s every move but remained placid. Perhaps he knew that we were only trying to help him? He relaxed once he was back in the picnic hamper and even took a kip on the drive home.
And so began one of the most wonderful relationships I’ve ever had.
The Gayer-Anderson Cat is held by the British Museum London. It is bronze with gold ornaments and dates to the Late Period 600 BC. It was discovered in Saqqara, Egypt by Major Robert Grenville Gayer-Anderson who restored it in the 1930’s.
Photo by Einsamer Schütze – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=19518769