Copyright 1994, Sarah Hartwell

"Hello, is that the cat shelter?" asked a well-spoken female voice, "I've got a teensy problem with a cat. I took an injured cat to the vet and since no-one claimed him, I decided to keep him. He seemed fine at the vet's, but it turns out that he's the most awfully savage feral and he's absolutely wrecking the house. Can somebody come and get him, please?"

"Where is he at the moment?" I asked.

"He's inside the house, but he only comes out to eat at night. If I try to touch him he goes absolutely wild," the well-to-do voice explained, "how on earth the vet could have mistaken him for a tame cat is absolutely beyond me."

"I'll come and see if I can get him, but I might have to show you how to use a trap if I can't catch him at once."

"You'll HAVE to catch him - he's got to go right now. My nerves just can't take any more, not to mention the awful mess he's made of the furniture," the voice protested.

I tried to explain that feral cats don't normally walk straight into waiting cat-baskets. Since he was trapped in the house and couldn't go elsewhere to eat, it would only take a day or two to trap him.

"He's simply got to go today or the house is going to be uninhabitable," the voice insisted, before giving me directions.

I left the shelter well-armed with trap, gauntlets and the first aid kit and visions of a major disaster zone. I had another visit to make in that area; it was time to check that Sooty and Sweep were settling into their new home and weren't frightened of the owner's noisy, but gentle, little boy. Their new home was a form of a happy chaos; the floor was a muddle of children's toys, cat toys, shredded magazines and crayons, while the wallpaper bore evidence of combined child-and-feline assaults upon it.

"How are they settling in?" I asked above a background of shrieks as Ms Smith invited me into the living room where a well-worn sofa appeared to have been disembowelled.

"Sooty has settled in very well" Ms Smith shouted above the noise level, "In fact he and my son have wrecked the sofa between them. I think they're going to be perfect partners in crime from now on. Sooty has even moved into Timothy's bedroom and they cause chaos at 4 in the morning."

As she spoke, her little boy wandered past, singing at the top of his lungs, cuddling Sooty. Both cat and child looked very happy with the arrangement. Sooty yawned and gave me what I swear was a conspiratorial grin. I momentarily wondered if he was deaf.

"What about Sweep?"

"He went up the wall - literally," yelled Ms Smith after attempts at shushing her son went unheeded, "He tore away part of the plasterboard and got inside the cavity wall. He comes out for his litter tray and in the evening when Timothy's in bed. I left some fish fingers out to thaw and he had them the minute I left the room. He'll come down in his own time. Especially when he realises that fish fingers are Timothy's favourite food. I'm already having to cook double portions," she admitted with a resigned smile, "Timothy insists on sharing his food with the cats."

I spent 10 minutes talking to a plaintive mew issuing from a hole in the plasterboard. Sweep assured me that he was quite happy to stay where he was; this was a very nice house thank you very much, with a nice line in fish fingers, but the choice in music left a little to be desired and if I didn't mind could he get back to sleep? Reassured that Sweep would come out of his unconventional den in a day or two, won over by fish finger bribes, I left Ms Smith's household to its fate at the hands of two cats and Timothy.

While Sooty, Sweep and Timothy were demolishing an understanding madhouse, Savage Feral couldn't have chosen a worse place to wreak havoc. The front garden with its borders of carefully regimented marigolds and antirrhinums was straight out of one of a gardening magazine. There were geranium-filled window boxes outside each lacy-net-curtained window and even the doorbell chimed a refined melody. With my welder's gloves and galvanised trap I looked very out of place on the doorstep.

"I'm so glad you're here, not a moment too soon," said Mrs pearls-and-twin-set ushering me into her Laura Ashley furnished home, "He's totally unhandleable ... and he gets cat hair everywhere at night."

I plonked the trap down in the hallway. "Where is he now?"

I was shown into an immaculate living room. China ornaments and bowls of colour-co-ordinated pot-pourri decorated the shelves; each item positioned with museum-like accuracy. Mint condition copies of 'Country Living' were artistically placed on the table and a platoon of wine glasses stood to attention beside a cut glass decanter on a silver Queen Anne tray on top of a walnut sideboard polished to mirror-like perfection. If this was what the house looked like when 'absolutely wrecked' I wondered what it looked like under normal conditions.

"In the corner chair," she said, indicating a floral print armchair (which matched curtains, wallpaper and lampshade). There was no sign of a cat on, under or behind the chair.

"He's where?" I asked, wondering if the cat was in floral print camouflage.

"IN the chair!" she said, tiptoeing to the sideboard to pour herself a liberal glass of sherry.

On closer inspection, I could see a hole at the back of the chair. A set of eyes gleamed balefully at me. Donning gauntlets I reached into the bowels of the armchair hoping to grab the cat by its scruff and bung it in the waiting wire carrier before it realised what was happening. The baleful glare retreated further up the chairback.

"We'll have to shake him out," I told Mrs pearls-and-twin-set.

"We'll have to what?" she asked, putting down her glass of sherry.

"We'll have to shake him out of the chair."

"Oh my goodness." She blanched at the thought of manhandling her immaculate furniture, "Do we have to? We couldn't entice him out with a piece of salmon?"

"If you want that cat removed today, we'll have to shake the chair and I'll grab him when he comes out. Otherwise I can leave a trap."

She looked at the metal monstrosity in the hallway and rolled her eyes in horror.

"Do you think it will work?" she whispered in defeated tones.

We grabbed an arm each, lifted the chair and shook. A comb, some small change and a Wimpy sachet of sugar fell out.

"I wonder where THAT could have come from?" mused pearls-and-twin-set eyeing the sugar sachet.

I could guess. All fur coat and no knickers, as granny used to say.

We shook the chair again and heard encouraging rustling noises from inside. I felt Savage Feral shift position and prayed silently. Another vigourous shake; Savage Feral was losing his nerve and his grip. One more good shake and the cat wailed and landed on the carpet bring chair entrails with him. Before he could gather his wits and make a dash for the living room door, I dropped the chair, grabbed Savage Feral by scruff and bum and shoved him in the waiting carrier.

My host swigged her sherry and surveyed the dishevelled chair, "It's absolutely ruined," she wailed.

In response, Savage Feral wailed and adopted an ominous squatting posture. Mrs pearls-and-twinset shuddered at the ensuing aroma and I beat a hasty retreat.

Back in the car I eyed Savage Feral. He eyed me. I reached for a blanket to cover the carrier. Savage Feral purred and rubbed his head against the mesh. Two minutes later I was tickling his chin while the soppy thing drooled and kneaded the newspaper lining the carrier. He seemed immensely relieved to have left the immaculate floral print household. I knew exactly how he felt.

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