After a week of sleepless nights on the sofa which by now stank like a sewer, I called Margaret and begged her to arrange for a little operation at the local vet’s. The next day she duly arrived with a special cage to collect Freddie. By then, we had named the apricot cat, Freddie, a name which would reflect the hidden softness in his character. Well, at least we were hoping… If we thought that he would go quietly, we soon found out the error of our presumption. Freddie, who at the time was relaxing happily in his bed, was invited to enter the cage whereupon he refused point-blank to get in. We placed a dish with diced chicken inside but he cunningly managed to eat the chicken without getting fully inside, and left us standing with both an empty plate and an empty cage. In the end, after an hour of futile attempts, we managed to corner Freddie by slowly manoeuvring the opening against him until, with his back to the wall of the pen and nowhere else to go, he had to surrender. That evening Margaret left him at the surgery to be neutered the next day. She was going to bring him back in the late afternoon after he had fully recovered from the anaesthetic .
Although my sympathy and thoughts were with Freddie, I was looking forward to my first night of proper sleep for a week. There was also the little matter of cleaning the study inside out, which would include wiping the covers of the books which had got sprayed, the window sill and the sofa, as well as the wooden floor, the desk and, short of paintings the walls and fumigating the room, everything else. I got up refreshed and in high spirits the next morning, hopeful for our future together. By late afternoon the room was back to normal and Freddie’s pen was ready. Margaret strolled in, all jolly and breezy, and gave me a quick account of the proceedings. “Everything went very well indeed. He is fine, apparently in ruddy good health. The vet thinks he may be older than you had thought on account of the stench. Apparently the build-up of hormones that comes with age corresponds with the intensity of the evil aroma. He will be groggy now for a while and sleep it off until tomorrow. As for the stench, well, it will take some time for his hormones to settle so in the meantime be prepared…”
She had to rush off, and so I was left with Freddie looking fed up with the entire human race. Offered food was grudgingly mopped up but he glared at me, and it was obvious that the trust between us had been broken. As far as Freddie was concerned, he had once already given me a second chance after magnanimously ignoring that incident with the trap-cage, but had I appreciated his kindness? Had I, heck! Instead, I had caged him by force again, and then sent him with a stranger (as I don’t drive) to some horrible, dreadful smelling place, full of deranged humans who wanted to kill him. Just by chance he had managed to survive, and now his head was hurting badly, as well as his bottom, and not to forget that part where the cruel monsters had stuck that needle in. His demeanour indicated: I will never ever trust you again.
I knew then that I would have to be understanding, patient, and much more beside, if I was going to overcome this crisis. After all, Freddie was quite right, everything was my doing. The next few hours were spent looking after a restless Freddie, who far from being tired, sleepy or groggy, was now working off the traumatic effects of his operation in a state of manic agitation. Howling like a banshee, he leapt up around the pen on his hind legs as if the floor of the pen was littered with red-hot burning coals. At the same time he tried to prise with his outstretched paws the top of the pen open. Since the pen was made of solid metal rods and could be opened at the top only after undoing the metal clasps that held the two halves together, I was convinced that it was surely cat-proof. Nevertheless, to be absolutely sure, I covered the top of the pen with a heavy folded blanket and an even heavier old coat. I left the room to start on dinner preparations, and when I came back a few minutes later to check up on Freddie, he was already out and busy marking afresh everything in the study which I had scrubbed down earlier. Perhaps his real name was Houdini.
I could hardly believe my eyes! For a small cat to reach the top of the pen from floor level (a span of some three feet), he would have to raise himself to a height which he could only have achieved by first stretching his body on a medieval torture rack. Then, with his feet mincing furiously in every direction and scattering his food and water dishes in the process, he had to force the two metal halves open just a tiny crack, with his head acting as a lever. This meant, of course, that the opening could have been no more than 2 inches wide since the combined weight of the blanket and the coat was quite considerable. That he managed to lift himself up and then squeeze his whole body through that tiny gap was incredible to imagine, but it clearly demonstrated two things that marked him out: he was born a survivor and he had an enviable strength of character. I could not help but feel admiration for him, and I resolved then and there to help him in every possible way. Just one thought niggled me – what about the garden birds?