A Very Purrculiar Practice: Psychopussies
Copyright 1997, Sarah Hartwell

I'd only agreed to take in a mad Mexican cat due to the desperate situation. The cat itself was in no danger other than that of ending up on a last resort one-way trip to the vet or a one way journey to the middle of nowhere, preferably the middle of nowhere in another continent. The same could not be said for the couple lugging the cat carrier. Not only were they in danger, they had obviously seen recent active service and evidently been on the losing side of each skirmish. He sported a swathe of bandage from knuckles to elbow and evidence of a vampire attack. She had bandaged ankles and sticking plasters on both arms. Both reeked of Germolene, Dettol and TCP and had the glazed look of hardened Nurofen addicts.

"What was the problem again?" I asked, peeling off an admission form, though the evidence before me was of a couple who had unwittingly adopted a bonsai version of the Beast of Bodmin.

"While Sue and I were living in Mexico we fed some stray cats. Because Pedro has gammy front legs we took him in and had him neutered. He was very affectionate and dependent on us so when our stint out there finished we couldn't abandon him out to fend for himself," the chap explained. Throughout his explanation, an ominous silence emanated from the carrier at his feet; the sort of dead calm that comes before a violent storm.

Sue took up the tale. "With twisted legs he'd never survive on his own so we flew him home. He came out of quarantine a week ago, but hasn't settled. He gets on with our other cats, but had Mike pinned up against a door. When Mike tried to stroke him he just went for him - we ended up in casualty because he punctured a vein in Mike's hand. He's even gone for me several times as well, I mean really gone for me and he's never done that before. He was fine in Mexico and used to sit on our laps and the whole lot, but he's become really vicious. towards us both."

The silence from the carrier was almost overpowering in its intensity. The Bonsai-ed Beast of Bodmin was calculating his next move. I was glad to have a sturdy desk between me and the basket ... just in case.

"Having saved his life out in Mexico and spent over a thousand on flying him home and quarantine fees, we don't want to have him put to sleep and we can't let him free because his legs are crooked and he depends on us now. You really are our last resort," Sue finished. "I know you always have desperate cases, but even if you let him loose in the grounds we'd know he was safe at least."

I finished filling in details: from Mexico, okay other cats, gone psycho on arrival in UK, treat as feral, prefers humans in bite-size portions, recommend body armour if need to handle.

"As he's okay with other cats he'll go in the feerals' enclosure," I told them, "We always try to find places for the wildies - farms and stables - where they get food and shelter, but can still live wild. Since he's young and healthy, we're obliged to include Pedro in our homing attempts."

"But he's disabled ..." started Sue.

"He'll still be looked after that way," Mike said.

"Right," I stated, "let's get him into the pen."

This was easier said than done, or as Lewis Carroll said (of lobsters in lobster pots since he had obviously never had to deal with recalcitrant cats in carriers) "Easily in, but not easily out". Normally, once the front was opened and the cat sensed freedom it was out like a shot and up the wire to get a better view. Not so with Pedro who remained obstinately inside the carrier, with only a low growl which made me wonder if the carrier was a mini-Tardis i.e. larger inside than outside and we really did have the Beast of Bodmin in there.

"We could try to coax him out," I suggested, reasoning that he was a reverted pet rather than an out-and-out wild animal and confident that my thick welder's gauntlets were proof against anything up to and including a rampaging Tyrannosaurus.

Moments later I withdrew my almost intact hand and the shredded gauntlet from the door of the carrier and suggested tipping the carrier so that Pedro slid out. By now the carrier was a growling, about-to-detonate bomb. I envisaged 'the Beast' puffing up his chest like Popeye OD-ing on spinach and expected the carrier to explode outwards as an unexploded bottle-brush-furred feral made a spectacular exit. Unfortunately, as the carrier was tipped forwards Pedro backed up, wedging himself at the back. There was nothing else for it but to dismantle the carrier around him. As the last peg slid free and the top lifted off, a wild-eyed tabby bottle-brush with inch long fangs (okay maybe I exaggerate, but at the time I was sure he was wearing a Sombrero and singing Three Caballeros as well), did a Cape Canaveral style vertical exit straight onto a shed roof.

"He'll settle down in a few days and the extra space should calm him down," I reassured them though I looked at the shredded leather of my welder's gauntlets and wondered if we'd have to pay danger money to the volunteers who cleaned that pen.

It was the week for psychopathic cats. The next one arrived unexpectedly, brought in by a chap on the orders of his wife. The unnamed feline was a huge, magnificent American Silver Classic Tabby found straying in a village close to a US airbase. Despite show-stopping looks and a probable pedigree, no-one had claimed him and with good reason. He had been found living under a pub porch and had despatched the pub's peahens and several pet rabbits and guineapigs which had been left in runs in back gardens. If Pedro was a miniature Beast of Bodmin, then this one was a small White Tiger with a full-sized grudge.

"The landlord threatened to shoot him, even set the Alsatian on him, but the dog came back with a bloody nose. He's fine with me, but he terrorises the wife and the kids are scared s**tless of him," the chap said bluntly. "But to cap it all, he's had all my chickens - dragged the last one up the top of a six foot fence panel and shredded it in front of my six year old. We made the rabbit hutch really secure, but he literally tore through the front and dragged the eight year old's pet rabbit under the garage. You could hear it screaming, but there was no way to get to it and the poor kid is still having nightmares. He's a beautiful cat and fine with men, but he's death on four leg to anything else. He even tried to kill the neighbour's cat - we're having to pay their vet bill."

Unlike psychotic Pedro, the cat-hating, dog-hating, people-hating, chicken-shredding 'Silver' could not go into an enclosure and was installed in a homing pen until we could work out what to do about him. Everyone wanted him, but when they approached the pen Silver launched himself with such intense fury that we thought the mesh wouldn't stand up to the onslaught. Not since born-and-bred feral Tetley ("face has more perforations than a teabag" as the vet succinctly described him) had we encountered such a nasty piece of work. And though evidently well capable of fending for himself, we could not abandon him in the middle of nowhere as we were often tempted to do.

Over the next few weeks Pedro revealed himself to be a large tabby cat (with fur that occasionally lay flat rather than standing on end) with a Siamese-style face and voice and Munchkin-style short front legs. His temperament improved to the point where he could be cautiously stroked as he brushed past legs, though stout gloves were still advisable. Although not exactly friendly, he proved to be very active, highly intelligent and consequently extremely bored. Before long, he would sit on laps so long as you didn't stroke him, but dislodging him was another matter not for the fainthearted. He was a semi-tame, bilingual (he quickly learnt to miaow in English) refugee in need of a lot of open space and plenty to occupy his mind. Though unpredictable, his funny legs endeared him to volunteers, who risked life and limb to get him used to human contact.

The misogynist Silver, however, was waging a war of attrition against volunteers. In return for relinquishing his tomcat's attributes he removed lumps of flesh from anyone foolish enough to enter the pen without full motorcycle leathers and a crash helmet on. His terrible growling meant we had to move him to an out-of-the-way isolation unit for the peace of mind of other cats in the homing pens. A notice his door read "Beware, Ivan the Terrible. Bites!" which was a considerable understatement since Silver combined traits from Ivan the Terrible, Genghis Khan and anyone else engaged in 'ethnic cleansing' (in his case cleansing the cat pen of humankind) backed up with the determination and weaponry of Rambo, Terminator and Judge Dredd and teeth and claws that would have done a sabre-tooth proud. After neuterin he became slightly calmer in the larger, more isolated pen and ultimately the hardiest of our helpers could pick him up and briefly cuddle him without sustaining life-threatening injuries. He was one very mixed-up moggy.

For a while the local Chemist was supplying us with bandages and plasters in the sort of quantities normally seen on United Nations relief convoys. We contemplated making enquiries of the International Red Cross, Red Crescent and Medecins Sans Frontiers in case they wished to set up tents outside the kitchen and take advantage of passing trade. Suddenly the killer-bunny-meets-Grail-seeking-Knights scene in the Monty Python film no longer seemed funny.

Mr and Mrs Westacott were smallholders who had just purchased a place in our area. Having made the buildings habitable they needed something to tackle - or at least scare off - the immense rabbit population in their fields. They did not want a cuddly pet which spent all day tucked up on the duvet, they wanted something smart, fierce and independent which could figure out the outhouse catflap and patrol the premises. After much ado, Pedro and another of our wildies were trapped and dispatched to Westacott Farm.

At about the same time, a single man from a rural cottage came looking for a 'proven ratter, appearance immaterial'. Since few cats came in with ratter's certificates, but Silver would attack most things we suggested giving Silver a try. The fact that Silver was probably pedigree meant nothing to the chap, so long as the cat was a big, butch, mean killing machine. He was a little concerned at Silver nuzzling up to him in the pen ("You sure he's a hunter?"), but we assured him that faced with vermin, Silver got the feline equivalent of road-rage and would tear his way through wire mesh to get to his prey.

Weeks later the news on the Pedro front was encouraging. Despite fears about his ability to fend for himself, Pedro had turned the Westacott Farm bunny population into an endanged species. Rats fled the area like rats deserting the proverbial sinking ship. Pigeons packed up their nests and scarpered into nearby woodland. The other cat never got a look in when it came to anything larger than a moth and smaller than a collie dog. Pedro was the feline equivalent of a Sylvester Stallone film, mowing down farm pests before him, even venturing into neighbouring meadows to pick off the fleeing survivors. Between raids, he created a base of operations in the farm office where he reminded the odd unwary ankle of his presence. Who would have thought it - a 'disabled' street cat from Mexico making good as a feline Terminator in England?

Meanwhile, in a cottage in the middle of nowhere (more-or-less) the body count was rising as Silver shredded his way through rats, rabbits and anything else he decided to tackle. Inbetween killing sprees he settled down on the sofa for a good cuddle. He was a cat with a split purrsonality and an inexhaustible zest for murdering his way through the countryside. In short, the owner was delighted.

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