ON A LIMP AND A PURR
Copyright 2007, Sarah Hartwell

One of my first cats, if you ignore the opportunist visitors and those that I looked after when neighbours went away for a few days, was Scrapper. A former "gentleman of the road" this tough-looking teddy-bear of a cat became a real "mummy's boy". He was cross-eyed, had a tail that had evidently been broken and set itself at a slight angle halfway along, one of his ears lacked hair and resembled leather while the other was a cauliflower ear. The damaged tail was mobile, but lacked sensation in the last few inches, with the result that I sometimes stood on it by accident I hastened to add and Scrapper didn't notice until he stood up and tried to walk way, only to find himself held in place by his tail.

Scrapper's tattered and slightly fierce looks, plus a case of ringworm, had led to him being in a shelter for a year during which time he had become institutionalised. He was one of the first cats mentioned to me over the phone by the warden "He's not much to look at, but he's got a heart of gold."

Thus we chose dribbly old Kitty (Kitty I) at the shelter and I'd chosen Scrapper on the strength of that phone call.

It took a little while for him to suss household life, but once he'd worked things out he became my little black shadow. At night he either slept on the pillow or on my chest, a contributory factor to the lower back pain I suffered intermittently. He was 12 when I adopted him and it's sad such a loving and intelligent companion had lacked a home earlier on in life and had then been overlooked because he was imperfect or had a shady past.

Scrapper had a recurring problem with an ingrowing dewclaw. It curled round so tightly it couldn't be trimmed and it grew straight into the skin. It looked as though a penny had been pushed under the skin, leaving only a grimy edge visible. The nail bed was so damaged that the claw could be pulled out completely and with minimal discomfort, but the best solution was permanent removal to prevent troublesome regrowth.

Scrapper returned home on the evening of that surgery with his foreleg encased in veterinary bandage held in place by Elastoplast strip. By the following morning, most of the Elastoplast had been removed and I had to restrain a somewhat annoyed, but very well-mannered, cat while I re-bandaged the leg and added an extra layer that would take him a bit more time to chew through. By that evening, Scrapper had worked through several strata of bandage. This called for a rethink of the veterinary kind.

"Come on out you wozzack," said Doctor Vet, hauling a protesting Scrapper from his carrier, "Let's have a look."

By now, Scrapper was trailing Elastoplast, linen bandage and lint from his leg, looking even more like a cross-eyed teddy-bear whose stuffing was falling out.

Doctor Vet removed all packaging, inspected the stitches and deftly rewrapped the offending limb in several layers of dressing, ending with multiple layers of adhesive veterinary bandage. The aim was to create such a dense barrier that Scrapper would give up trying to remove it. Knowing that digging in the flower borders formed a large and fulfilling part of this cat's life, the vet made a removable outer layer and provided spares. Scrapper could paddle in the compost and dig in the borders and I could replace the outer layer as required. My cat now had 3 furry limbs and a Captain Caveman style club. Doctor Vet refrained from signing his name on Scrapper's bandage.

Remember the joke about what goes tap-tap-tap-tap-tap-bang an ant with a wooden leg (or variations thereon)? Barely hindered by a bandage that grew harder each day, Scrapper now scampered about with a pad-pad-pad-thump. Being a particularly bright cat, he also learnt it could be used as a weapon or to wake me up in the morning. Even the odour was sufficient to wake me up. Scrapper's paw-pads had a slight smell of compost at the best of times and he often slept curled round the top of my head with a set of paws either side at roughly my nose level. His bandage carried much more odour than a plain old paw.

"Hmm," said Doctor Vet, sniffing the intact bandage which Scrapper held proudly for inspection, "It's definitely not gangrene or infection. There's a slight whiff of cabbage "

" I'd call it old boiled sprouts myself " I ventured.

" I assume you have a compost heap." Doctor Vet said.

"Excuse me Sherlock, there's a tomato pip stuck on the surgical tape," pointed out the vet nurse.

Disappointed that his "my leg is rotting and going to fall off" trick had failed, Scrapper went home with bandage still in place and I had to endure several more nights of Eau-de-Compost-Heap. Being a particularly bright cat, Scrapper perfected the use of his almost solidified bandage as a weapon and as an alarm clock. He also perfected several varieties of limp ranging from hobbling through to hopping and a forlorn expression used to get food brought to his cat bed as he was simply too disabled to reach his food bowl (with a miraculous recovery 10 minutes later to do a full speed pad-pad-pad-thump to the kitchen when he heard the fridge door opening).

Bandage removal was a scene akin to the unwrapping of an Egyptian mummy, layer after layer of tape and bandage came away to reveal his shaved leg. The process was not made any easier by Scrapper trying to chase the free end of the bandage as it was unwound.

For a while, he missed having a handy weapon at his disposal. I didn't miss it. When he reminded me that at least 30 minutes had passed since the last meal, the bruising thumps to my leg became polite taps. When he slept on my chest, the big pongy bandage that made me dream of blocked drains was no longer laid lovingly on my chin allowing me to appreciate its full aroma.

You know how dogs can have a psychogenic (feigned) limp that will get them sympathy long after any original injury has healed? Scrapper got the hang of that as well. Months after the bandage was gone, he resorted to the "holding hurt paw off the ground" trick in the hope of treats. And being well-trained, I usually gave him a nice healthy treat that wouldn't unbalance his diet, though considering his unpredictable past diet had included slugs and breadcrusts, my darling Scrapper was an unassuming grateful cat who considered on-demand top-ups of bog-standard canned cat food a wonderful treat. The once dusty-furred cat in the corner may not have been much to look at, but he was certainly the dearest, smartest cat I've ever owned.

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