One day there’s this new strange cat in the garden inviting itself in, the next it’s living with you hiding constantly behind the sofa and then, all of a sudden without warning: the cat becomes French.
I know what you’re thinking: what cat? How did you acquire a French cat? How can an English cat become French without going through the messy business of passport application?
It all started from some odd noises in the kitchen. We had seen the Alleged French Cat (AFC) in the garden several times over the summer but with myself increasingly working from home and increasingly leaving the back door open so that Willow could enjoy the summer weather the AFC started inviting itself in.
Ever since Charlie died in January Willow has had full reign over the house and spent more and more time with me, even joining in the occasional conference call (to much amusement from work colleagues)
And now the AFC, a black and white cat that was clearly afraid of humans (mostly running away from me despite my attempts to make friends) had decided that Willow’s food was particularly appetizing and had begun repeatedly launching commando runs from the kitchen door to the bowl and back
Willow seemed to get on with AFC pretty well: in fact they had joined forces against the hated enemy black-cat-white-nose on a couple of occasions and although she was slightly cautious around this new interloper they did seem to get on ok: which is why we decided to try and catch the cat, take it to the vet for a check-up and make sure that it was being looked after
(AFC's then unnamed 1st trip to the vet)
AFC had no collar and was unkempt: it was clear he’d been in a few fights and he was not a happy cat. This is why, soft buggers that we are, we decided to catch him and take him for a check-up at the vets.
At first we tried a range of traps and tricks that would put The A-Team and McGuyver to shame – involving upturned laundry baskets and string around the scratching post that doubles as a door stop. The cat was just too fast.
And then one day I saw the cat sitting in the kitchen doorway and managed to make it to the food bowl without scaring it away. I positioned myself and the food bowl so that the cat would have to come past me to eat and then shut the door. The thing immediately turned into Steve McQueen and started a desperate bid to climb into the windowsill and through the closed window as we tried gamely to pull the cat’s claws away from the net curtain and stuff it into the carrier that used to belong to Charlie. The cat managed to sink his claws into Herself’s arm and left her with nasty marks but otherwise went quietly.
At the vet they checked him over and told us that that he is a male, about 1 year old and with all his bits in tact. They were pretty sure he was a stray and had either never been owned or only briefly. They gave us some details for the Cats Protection League, but told us cheerfully that they have no room to re-house cats at present due to the recession (people abandoning pets)
We let him loose in the garden and discussed the situation, Herself still with huge red wheals on her skin and an arm swollen to the size of a tree trunk. Cats Protection League would pay to have his naughty bits removed or amended, but after that we would be facing the prospect of putting a homeless cat back into the garden for the winter.
So a week later we trapped him in again. He spent the first few hours hiding down by the window until we moved him to the front room: where he promptly hid under the sofa.
We barely saw him for two days: just long enough to eat some food or use the litter tray we placed under the kitchen table then he would vanish.
Before we could take him to the vet again for injections etc he needed a name. We went through a couple of options – I was quite fond of Mr Flibble until Herself reminded me that when you to the Vet with your pet they call out your pet’s name
Herself suggested Giles (going with the Buffy the Vampire Slayer theme started with Willow) and it stuck, along with the usual array of extra names that cats gain as you get to know them.
(AFC, aka Giles, still in hiding under the sofa)After a couple of days he stopped hiding under the sofa and started alternating between hiding under the sofa and under the bed. When he was seen (briefly) it was clear that his fur condition was improving.
The problems started a week in when Willow started to realise that there was another cat about on a permanent basis. She had a nervous weekend: wee’d on the bed a few times. We rapidly ran out of bed clothes until we ended up spending two nights sharing a zipped-open single sleeping bag that was so devoid of actual warmth that Sir Ranuph Fiennes, had he been stuck with it on a polar expedition, would have had no option but to burn it.
Meanwhile Giles had learned how to use the litter tray and was managing to create a smell that permutated into the bricks of the house. He’s about twice the size of Willow and can happily chomp through a whole packet of food and then go and eat Willow’s for an encore.
He’s still a kitten: so when you do fuss him he will go to catch you with his claws or bite in a friendly way – which makes me wonder why we are so forgiving of our pets. If our pet shark gnawed someone’s leg off would we just say “ah, he’s just being friendly?”
The other day we took Giles off to the vet to “have his ‘nads chopped” as the vet charmingly put it. He was gone for most of the day.
Since he came back he doesn’t seem to be holding it against us and has shown no interest in going outside. My main concern is the first time we do let him out: will he come back? I hope so.
(Giles grabbing my jeans)
It’s been about six weeks now and he’s really come out of his shell and we’re starting to get a picture of his personality.
So what do I know so far? He’s a cheeky bugger who’ll scoff all the food he can. He likes to rub against your legs and catch things in his paws. He destroys the litter tray in an attempt to cover his extremely smelly poos. When he miows he sounds like a broken squeaky toy. He can move fast enough when he wants to and is oblivious to our calling his name. He is still a kitten in many ways and will jump on shoelaces and attack pieces of paper. He likes sleeping on the edge of the bed and pouncing on my toes at 4am.
On the whole Willow tolerates him, though they do seem to be arguing, especially when he's just woken up and is full of energy – some of it is that he doesn’t realise that his idea of playing is seen as aggressive. My worry is that Willow won’t feel as free to roam around as she has and will retreat – I hope not
And yes - we still refer to him as Monsieur Gilles
(Willow and Giles in a rare moment of tranquility)