Copyright 2006, Sarah Hartwell

Just as the informal motto of the Mounties is "always get their man," Cindy's motto seemed to be "always get her mouse" though admittedly she left it rather late in life to discover that she was a mouser. It also took the arrival of a mysterious dark stranger to prompt a year-long spree of competitive mousing among the three mogs.

Cindy joined me early in the 21st Century and shortly before straying husband became ex-husband. She'd bonded so firmly to me that she insisted on having some part of her anatomy - usually the tail or a paw - in contact with me at all times. She'd also shown herself to be an impeccable judge of character when she started peeing on straying husband's side of the bed; an act that stopped immediately he moved out. >From then she grew older and thinner, but no less happy, and took to spending much time behind the greenhouse in a den of long grass.

Motley, the sweet-natured small-child-pestering tortie made up the kitty contingent and the three of us rubbed along very nicely. Birds were unpestered, mice unmolested and warm duvets were ruthlessly hunted down and subdued.

Then came evidence that "someone's been sleeping on my armchair". That someone was evidently black-haired and grimy and brought with it a trail of leaf litter that spoke of a cat down on its luck. After a couple of bloodied feline noses as armchair rights were established and a phone call from her other home (where she was an outdoor cat), Athena brought up the quota to three cats and instilled a new competitive spirit into the moggy members of the household.

Athena was a mouser and pigeon-catcher. Small birds were beneath her and she preferred to make three day hunting expeditions to the local woods to decimate the mouse and wood pigeon population before returning home for dessert. When neighbours had building works and rendered several families of mice homeless, Thenie presented me with a succession of mouse parts. By the end of the summer, I had received enough parts to assemble a whole mouse.

Not to be outdone by the kit-form mouse concept, Motley's contribution was single half-grown mouse that provided us both with much entertainment as we worked as a team to remove it from the sofa, the stereo and finally from the house. Having proved her point, Motley went back to ambushing small children and relieving them of their lunches. Many a small child in this area has been despatched to school with ham sandwiches, but ended up eating bread and butter at lunchtime while Motley slept off a surfeit of scrounged sarnie fillings.

Cindy, however, took up the gauntlet of mousing that Thenie had thrown down. This might have been due to the bloody nose that Thenie had given her when the inteloper had been officially granted residency chez Hartwell. Cindy had returned the greeting in kind and having granted Thenie tenant's rights, declared a truce. Both cats' animosity (or possibly animousity?) was redirected onto a mouse population that, judging by the mounting pile of mouse parts, was in danger of going on the CITES list of vulnerable species (Mus musculus domesticus hartwell) or at least into a patchwork three quarter length winter coat with decorative puncture marks.

It started in late spring when next door demolished their subsiding garage, over-the-road dug up a driveway for an extension and another neighbour cleared out their garage, being unable to cram even a bicycle in there (the result of divorced offspring returning home with their half of the household goods). Suddenly extended families of mice, from doddering great-great-grandparent mice down to last night's newborns, found themselves evicted from habitats where they had been quietly evolving into new subspecies. This was first noticeable when hyperthyroid Thenie went off her food. In her opinion, an all-you-can-eat buffet had opened in over-the-road's garage and she was dining out six times a day. Occasionally she ordered take-out, though I objected to clearing the leftovers off the sofa.

If Thenie had become the feline equivalent of the sleeping-it-off-in-the-leftovers late night doorstep-delivered-pizza sofa-slob (some mornings she was so hung over from a mouse binge that she could hardly roll off the sofa and merely belched a greeting when I opened the curtains), Cindy was the sort who wanted everyone to know how much she was enjoying her food. Or at least how much she would enjoy it if she could get it to stay still long enough to be enjoyed.

Cindy saw to it that every few evenings, at 3 a.m. I was woken by the sound of wardrobe doors rattling. Cindy had brought home a mouse and wanted to share the experience with me. Having caught her dinner, she next needed to subdue it, a task rendered harder when the vet has removed most of your teeth on dental health grounds. This necessitated bringing dinner into an enclosed space and bludgeoning it to death - or getting your human to do it for you. Of course, first she had to get my attention and that meant making lots of noise.

My triple width wardrobe has sliding doors and a sill. This makes a nice little tunnel, blocked at both ends, into which a mouse can be released and chased from one end to the other. There is just enough room under the sliding doors for a cat's toes, but not enough for a mouse to get through. Alternatively, if a section of the wardrobe is cracked open (Cindy was scared of thunderstorms and liked to hide in there), the mouse could be released in that section while Cindy sat in the opening and battered it round. The theory was sound. Either I woke up and helped out or she exhausted the mouse.

The noise of a mouse being chased up and down the wardrobe runners was the cue for me to get out of bed, grab my riding crop (long disused except as a cat toy) and attempt to hit a moving murine target. Cindy, with only 2 teeth remaining (these being opposing fang teeth so she could still bite me when I tried to give her a tablet) found this a great game worthy of frequent repetition in its own right. My response times, co-ordination and cardio-vascular condition all improved over the next few weeks. All too often, the target turned out to be a ping-pong ball. Cindy either had an evil sense of humour or had taken on predecessor Sappho's role as a sleep deprivation researcher.

On the night in question, I was woken by the familiar sound of rattling wardrobe doors. I managed sleep-to-full consciousness in 5 seconds and full readiness with lights on and riding crop in another 7 seconds (a personal best). Cindy and the mouse were racing up and down on opposite sides of the wardrobe doors. In a well-rehearsed move, Cindy flushed the mouse towards me. I assumed the appropriate position with my own weapon of mouse destruction. The mouse, however, didn't know the rules of the game. Not content with staying in the wardrobe runner to be humanely despatched by a riding crop, it shot unexpectedly across the bedroom floor and under the divan bed. This surprise manoeuvre caught the other two players by surprise.

With the game having gone unexpectedly into extra time, all soft furnishings were removed, the bedroom door was closed and our quest for the mouse began. Cindy took a keen interest in the wardrobe area (where the mouse had last been seen) while I concentrated on the bed area (where the mouse had headed off to). This mismatch of cause-and-effect ensured two options were covered while the closed door covered the remaining options. However, in spite of a combination of intensive searching (me) and intensive waiting (Cindy), the mouse could not escape, but neither could it be found.

Admitting defeat in the search department, two mousetraps of the non-feline kind were deployed safely out of paw's reach and I went to bed, expecting to be woken up be the sound of a mouse becoming an ex-mouse while in pursuit of a chunk of fruit-and-nut choccy. Not one to admit defeat in the waiting patiently department, my furry weapon of mouse destruction spent the rest of the night staring at the wardrobe and occasionally batting the doors, thus ensuring I had very little sleep. The mouse did not have the decency to commit suicide in a mousetrap, thus ensuring a rematch at a date to be arranged at its own convenience.

The following night, instead of the expected snapping of a mousetrap, there was a clattering noise from the study. The key player in last night's match was on the computer keyboard with Cindy in hot pursuit. Every PC needs a mouse, but mine had a cat as well and both were wireless! At 3 a.m., having achieved full alertness and weaponry in slightly less than my personal best (my excuse is that I was confused that the chosen arena was not the wardrobe) the humour of the situation did not escape me.

This time Cindy won the game by catching the mouse. Having seen my inept attempts the previous night, she evidently didn't trust my pathetic attempts. A few seconds later, I caught Cindy who presented a considerably larger and slower target. The whole assemblage of growling fluffy white and black cat and struggling mouse were evicted through the cat flap and into the back garden. To prevent the combatants returning to the house, I guarded the cat flap and had a grandstand view of the remainder of the game. (I had intended to call it the dying minutes, but that would have been bad taste.)

The mouse played the joker and did its "play dead" trick. Cindy batted it a few times and convinced it was finally in a fit state to eat, she sat back and licked her chops. At this juncture, the mouse underwent a semi-miraculous resurrection and legged it into the rhubarb patch. I went to bed. Several hours later, Cindy gave up prowling round the rhubarb and joined me in bed. Judging by the lack of mouse-breath, the mouse had won this particular game.

The next day, I returned home from work and found a smug fluffy white and black cat in the hallway. At her feet was a very dead mouse. Having shown me who was victor, she removed the mouse to the privacy of her den behind the greenhouse where, judging by her mouse-breath half an hour later, she ate it. It may have taken her 3 days, but Cindy had gotten her mouse!

The supply of mice - and return of a full night's sleep - finally ran out at the end of summer. The depleted mouse population gave way to a depleted bank balance as Cindy turned her attention back to cat food. The mouse-bingeing sofa-slob also turned her attentions elsewhere with the result that my hallway regularly looked like the aftermath of a pillow-fight and the local wood pigeon population was decreasing at an alarming rate.

The mousing efforts of Nutmeg, a friend's cat, deserve honourable mention. Nutmeg is a small temperamental tabby tortie best described as the result of a three-cat collision between a red tabby, a brown tabby and a white cat and with three conflicting purrsonalities battling it out in one confused furry body. Just as there are "ringed" cars, Nutmeg's colour scheme indicates a "ringed" cat put together in a seedy shed by some unscrupulous cat-builder and sold to an unsuspecting buyer. Her much-lacerated owner (the result of petting the friendly white purrsonality and being bitten when the fiery red tabby one gained control) has sometimes returned home to find her staring down irate magpies in the living room though her efforts with the Canada goose were best described as "over-extending herself".

On one notable occasion, the usually feisty Nutmeg returned home feeling very sorry for herself. A trip to the vet revealed acute mouse-induced constipation. Seven lumps could clearly be felt in the abdomen. In spite of unusually half-hearted protests, Nutmeg got a belly massage and a dose of laxative to get things moving again. The result that evening was neither pretty, nor fully digested, but spoke of a nest of mice that wouldn't be troubling the household any longer. Greedy little Nutmeg, Nemesis of the Vole and Weapon of Mouse Destruction, had swallowed a whole nest of Mouse McNuggets almost whole rather than let any escape.