Sarah Hartwell

When I worked in an Estate Agent's office, prospective buyers often asked if a particular property or area was suitable for pets (ranging from cats and dogs to miniature ponies, a Vietnamese Pot-Bellied Pig and once a Llama!). Some properties had no-pets clauses while others were on busy roads where a cat would have stood the proverbial cat in Hell's chance. It was while querying the 'cat-safeness' of one area that I was told the following true tale ...

The householder, whom I shall call Mrs Smith for convenience's sake, lived at the edge of town where the big semi-detached, 1930s-built homes had nice long gardens. The road was quiet and would have been ideal pussy-cat territory but for the dog next door. This was a vicious little cross-bred terrier-type dog frequently used against gone-to-earth foxes. This nasty-tempered little dog, whose owner was something to do with the local hunt, had already killed or maimed a number of cats which had strayed into its garden. Its owner considered any cat on his land to be fair game - and good practice - for the dog.

Quiet roads sometimes attract pet-dumpers and a small cat, probably dumped, had attached itself to Mrs Smith's household. She took in the cat, but was worried about it falling victim to the dog next-door. Shortly after, the cat rewarded her benefactor by producing a pair of kittens. The female kitten grew into a pretty, petite cat with a butter-wouldn't-melt-in-the-mouth expression. The male was large, well-armed and wily. Perhaps it was more than chance that had led the pregnant cat to Mrs Smith's door as it was her offspring who orchestrated the cat-hating dog's eventual downfall.

On fine days, the petite female liked nothing better than to sit on next-door's back garden path, washing nonchalantly. As the maniacally barking dog hurtled up the path towards her, the cat sauntered to the dividing fence and hopped over, leaving the frustrated dog barking at the foot of the fence while puss continued her ablutions at the top. The cat's timing was perfect; she always reached the fence a mere few inches ahead of the infuriated dog.

These daredevil pursuits set the pattern for much of the summer. Mrs Smith tried in vain to keep the cats indoors or on her side of the tall fence. She was changing the nets at a bedroom window when the final heart-in-the-mouth episode occurred and she witnessed the whole incident.

The big tom was crouching behind next-door's compost heap, midway between the path and the dividing fence. The little female wandered over to the path and sat down to wash in full view of the dog. A blur of grizzled fur with a bloodcurdling growl launched itself from the back step and along the garden path. Puss cantered across to the fence with the dog in hot pursuit. As she passed the compost heap, her larger brother shot out of hiding and clamped himself to the terrier's face. The tomcat was nearly as big as the terrier, it was better armed and it had the element of surprise. The big tomcat's teeth and raking claws quickly made a mess of the dog's face - and that was before his smaller sister joined in!

By the time the combatants were separated (using the garden hose) the terrier had suffered severe facial lacerations and lost one eye. It was pronounced no longer fit for 'work' and put to sleep. The terrier's owner, much sobered by the incident, didn't risk allowing the dog's successor into the garden while there were cats about!

I've long since forgotten the outcome of the house-sale and I'd forgotten the tale of those two brave cats until the other day when I watched my sedate old Kitty hunt, stalk and severely snuggle the Welsh Springer Spaniel in next-door's garden.

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