Saturday, 7 January 2017
This is Bernard. He's 13 and has FIV: feline immunodeficiency virus. Translated, his immune system isn't very good. It just means that we have to be a bit careful with him, and not hesitate to get him to the vet if he seems poorly.
But he's contagious to other cats. And since his old favourite pastime, before he was diagnosed, was doing his flat-out best to achieve alpha-cat status over every other cat in existence, he can't be allowed to roam free.
He loves going outside, though. I mean, loves it. So in our old house in Hampshire, we had a special fence around our garden, like this one:
But we've recently moved to the Scottish Borders. And our new home has a much bigger garden. Miles bigger. Fencing it isn't an option.
Bernard was unimpressed with the idea of being a house-cat. With the great outdoors denied to him, he became grumpy.
When he's grumpy, he gets vocal.
Very, very vocal.
He does not have an attractive meow. Sorry, B-cat, I love you but it's true. You sound like a rusty door-hinge, and in fact I suspect that you secretly practise your yowling techniques in private to make sure they're as UTTERLY OBNOXIOUS AND PIERCINGLY LOUD AS POSSIBLE. Because you know that we can't stand the noise and eventually we'll cave.
Only this time we couldn't, because FIV, contagious, etc.
So my husband had an idea. This was the idea:
He brought it home and I said, "Ooh, is it time to play Torture the Kitty?" Because cats, as you may know, usually take a dim view of the whole harness-lead concept.
"Let's just try it," said my husband.
Bernard, in general, is a fairly chilled cat. And he surprised me. He took to the harness with no trouble at all. In less than half an hour, we were able to take him outside on a lead and let him prowl around and explore and sniff the bushes, and oh my god, he freakin' LOVED it.
It's his new favourite thing. In the morning, he wakes us up (rusty door hinge) and then runs straight past his food bowl to the back door. We take him out twice a day and he's a much happier cat now.
So this morning it's my turn to take Bernard out. I'm not at my best in the mornings. Bernard has to jump up on the bed several times, shouting in my ear, before I move.
Finally I get up. I don't bother to brush my hair, but pull on fleecies and boots, groggily make myself coffee (Bernard yelling at me the whole time), and finally put his harness on him and take him outside.
A grey morning, but not unpleasant. Bernard wanders around on his extendible lead, practically humming with contentment. I follow after him, not humming but still content enough, sipping my coffee.
We round the front of the house. Our new home is on a fairly busy road, but on a slight hill, set back behind some trees, so I guess B-cat has gotten used to the sense of isolation.
Well, we get in sight of the drive and suddenly a truck comes pulling up.
Needle. Record. Scratch.
Bernard stops short, wide-eyed. I can see now that it's a milk truck. I'm standing there with my cat on a lead, my hair like a wild thing, clutching a cup of coffee and trying to pull off a general air of nonchalance that I do not feel.
The milk truck stops. The driver and I look at each other.
I say, "Hi! I don't think we've ordered any milk."
"Oh, I know," says the driver, who's now noticed that I have my cat on a lead. He, too, is attempting a general air of nonchalance, as if he sees this every day of the week. "I was just wondering if you'd like to start having it delivered?"
At that moment, Bernard, who's seen both trucks and people before, abruptly decides that the combination of the two is THE SCARIEST THING EVER. He tries to make a run for it. He comes to the end of his lead. It goes about as well as you might imagine.
He. Freaks. Out. I rush over (sloshing coffee) and try to calm him. The second his lead slackens he runs for it again and meanwhile I'm still trying to pull off a breezy air of "Ha ha ha! This is so normal!"
"There's a long story as to why I have my cat on a lead," I say to the milkman.
He smiles politely.
Bernard crouches in the bushes, glaring at him.
(Mr Mikman is so going to be telling everyone about the wild-haired, coffee-drinking American woman with her cat on a lead in the pub tonight.)
I'm in a sort of mild frenzy myself by then, and find myself ordering dairy products that I don't need and have no desire for, to be delivered once a week, because hey, why not traumatise my cat every Saturday morning, just for the hell of it.
The milkman finally leaves. Bernard dashes around to the side of the house. I give him lots of strokes and cuddles and finally he decides to brave the front again...when OMG A PERSON WALKS UP THE DRIVE!!1!
It's the guy delivering our newspaper. Bernard freezes, then darts into the bushes. Dreading a replay of before, I lurk in the bushes along with my cat, sincerely hoping that Newspaper Guy doesn't notice me.
Or my cat.
On a lead.
In the bushes together.
"He's probably perfectly nice," I hiss crossly to Bernard. "DUDE. HE COULD HAVE KITTY TREATS FOR YOU! YOU DON'T EVEN KNOW!"
Bernard so wasn't buying it.
To make a long story short, that was my morning. Bernard had a second breakfast when we got inside to soothe his frazzled nerves, and I had another cup of coffee to soothe mine. Later I took him out again and he prowled around happily, the very picture of kitty-contentment.
This is my new normal.