On the surface, country people can sometimes seem callous about the plight of domestic animals. But scratch deeper and they’re pussycats.
I’m hyper-senstive to cats, especially those in distress, after losing my Mesha in June 2007 (at 17; at least he got to see Paris and RDV with a chic Parisienne chick) and Hopey last November (at least she got to see a river and chase after lizards). Indeed, I got a strong sign that they’re still with me (and Sonia, my 19 or so years old Siamese) when, about to turn onto the path into the woods after the horsefarm, I saw a Mesha cat (black and white) crouched in the grass in the hunting position; when I called him he eventually ran past me across the main path whereupon a Hopey cat (tortoise-shell calico) emerged from the brush and they frolicked side by side off into the woods. I saw “Mesha-cat” and “Hopey-cat” again yesterday when I was out promenading with Boobah, the neighbors’ Belgian shephard/collie mix who used to chase after me but now devoutly follows me.
We had just started out this crisp morning, me with cat litter in tow, when, passing the dilapidated woodshed by the house of the elderly woman on my side of the road, right across from the train crossing, I heard an imploring ‘Meow! Meow!” (Francaise: “Miam! Miam!”) Peering through the cracks I saw a tiny grey and white kitten huddled, trembling, in the crevice of one of the walls. At that point the chronologically older but in fact quite lively woman on the other side of the street emerged from her pristine blue and white house, right at the train tracks, and I ran across towards her explaining, “There’s a petite chaton caught in the building next to madame’s place.” She hurried after me (this woman is 95 and if I have that gait at 55 I’ll be a happy camper) and peered in; when she saw it was a kitten she waved her hand, laughed, and said, “Oh, I thought you meant there was a little child stuck in there.” I wanted to knock on the door of the other lady, to whom the shed belongs, but this one said it wasn’t worth it, the lady was mean anyway, and I should just leave the kitten there.
I returned home and called Helene, the nice veterinary assistant in Le Buisson, to ask her advice. I was convinced that the kitten in fact belonged to Bernard and Sylvie’s cat, as Bernard had asked me a while back to look out for her as she was hidden somewhere in the neighborhood having kittens. My idea was to bring it up the road to them and, if they didn’t want it, suggest they turn it over to the vet. Helene didn’t go for the last part and also said that technically, Bernard and Sylvie were under no obigation to take the kitten. I wasn’t going to leave it so I asked if there would be a risk to Sonia if I took it home, and Helene said to check if it’s eyes or nose were running.
When I returned, the nice older lady emerged to suggest that I bring the kitten to Sylvie. At that point I ran up to Bernard and Sylvie’s and explained the situation to the latter who, after some insisting that she couldn’t take another cat, intermingled with my taking every opportunity to suggest that this kitten probably came from her cat, finally agreed to take the kitten in and to the vet if I could retrieve her. She also strongly suggested I don gloves as the cat might be wild and might scratch me, which could be dangerous. I returned to the house for the gloves, then headed back for the woodshed. Boobah fell in behind me when I passed his house and I had a time of it convincing him to head back so he wouldn’t scare the kitten. The lady’s house is down a rickety set of stairs and I knew I daren’t even knock directly on her door as she’d be scared; sure enough, when she finally responded to my hailing she was *mefiant.* “Who are you?” “The neighbor!” “What do you want?” “There’s a cat in your woodshed and I want your permission to enter and retrieve it.” “It’s not mine!” “I know, that’s why I want to take it out.” Finally she said yes, I unwound the wire around a nail that was all that was holding the door up, slid it aside and descended the dirt floor into the shed. I could hear the kitten wailing but couldn’t see her; finally I realized that she had somehow crawled outside of the hut under the fencing in the opposite wall and was precariously attempting to balance or descend on a two-by-for, crying all the time; she almost seemed blind. I removed a pilon from the fence, scrunched my upper body under it trying to avoid getting sratched, and took the kitten by the scruff of its neck. From that point on she was like putty, meowing but not resisting, as I took her up the hill to Bernard and Sylvie’s. (On closer examination, I realized that what was now grey and white would evolve into black and white — the same as Mesha’s, except the kitten didn’t have a van dyke.) Sylvie was out and her mother was not sure what to do with the kitten; finally she found a bucket and told me to place it in there, covering it with a carton. Just then Sylvie returned from the butcher with her eight-year-old, and when Mathilde bounded up the stairs at the sound of the kitten, I knew it was in good hands.