Copyright 1994, Sarah Hartwell

Every Cat Rescue has its local character to contend with; either someone with 40 cats living in rabbit hutches who accumulates cats faster than the authorities can confiscate them for us or the well-intentioned person who insists that all the local cats are underfed and uncared-for and provides the kitty equivalent of a soup kitchen to the annoyance of the owners who regard their cats' ever-expanding waistlines with dismay.

We had Mad Sal whose obsession with underfed cats brought her into frequent and unwelcome contact with us. Any cat would look underfed in comparison with Sal's own Fluffkin, whose bulk made getting to the litter tray an onerous task. Every so often, Sal would phone us about (a) Fluffkin's defecatory habits or (b) 'stray' cats on waste ground at the end of her garden. The 'strays' were always on the brink of starvation. Sal was hovering on the brink of a nervous breakdown, though whether about to have one or about to finish one, we'd never worked out.

Over the years, several volunteers have been tempted to remove Sal physically from our premises after making the error of asking 'can I help you' on seeing her peering into kitten pens. Sal regarded this as a mortal insult and spent the next 30 minutes cursing the hapless helper and anyone else who cared, or dared, to listen. If she couldn't get any joy from ranting at shelter staff, she worked through the entire list of Cat Rescue contacts, leaving a trail of two hour monologues and gnashing teeth in her wake.

"But you must take them!" she insisted of the 2 'abandoned' kittens she had noticed on the waste ground, "I really don't like your attitude, you're supposed to care about cats, well let me tell you that these cats have been there for three weeks now and no-one has done anything."

It being the summer holiday season we were short-staffed. "Like I said before, as soon as you can catch them, we'll take them," I told her.

"I can't do that, you'll have to send someone down to catch them, they're starving and if they're not caught soon I dread to think what will happen to them ..." Mad Sal dissolved into dramatic sobs.

"Look, we just don't have enough helpers for that at the moment. We can lend you a trap and show you how to work it, then when you've caught them ..."

"You call yourselves cat lovers, but you don't care about cats. I don't know how you can dare to call yourselves cat lovers and I don't like your attitude. I'm going to make an official complaint to headquarters. I used to work at your shelter, but you always gave me the dirty jobs, well I'll tell you this, I really love cats and they're an awful lot nicer than the people who work at your cat shelter."

One evening a week later we got the next batch of calls. After an hour-long description of Fluffkin's poopsie on the bedroom carpet and 'what can I do, I love her and couldn't bear to have her put to sleep' came the next instalment of the 2 stray kittens. "They've got thinner since I went on holiday, no-one's been feeding them, how can you call yourself a cat shelter when you're not interested in abandoned kittens; they're nothing but skin and bone. Well I'll tell you this ..."

When I finally got a word in edgeways I told her to catch the kittens, put them in a bedroom and I'd collect them the next morning.

"But I can't bring them indoors, Fluffkin would get upset and she's already done a poopsie in the middle of the bedroom carpet ..."

An hour later, the phone rang ominously. Sal had caught one of the kittens and wanted me to collect it NOW as Fluffkin would become positively ill at the sight of another cat in the house. When I arrived I found that far from being half-starved, the kitten was a glossy young oriental and a picture of health. Sal had worked up a good head of steam.

"Well let me tell you, this kitten was a hell of a lot healthier three weeks ago when I first told you about it. It's people like me who are the real cat lovers ..." Oh and by the way, could I please return the cat carrier immediately?

By torchlight, 'stray' kitten number 1 was bedded down at the shelter. Up at the office the telephone rang insistently and I realised that I didn't have a key to the new lock which had been fitted after a break-in. Unfortunately, the light switch was also in the office. As I left the shelter the neighbour yelled out that he wished I'd use the main lights, not a torch, especially after last week's burglary.

When I returned with Sal's carrier, there was a major argument in progress. Sal's neighbour wanted to know what had happened to one of his kittens. Mad Sal is not one to see anyone else's point of view even when she is on losing ground and the opponent is a hairy, tattooed 6 foot tall all-in-wrestler who could stop runaway diesel trains in their tracks. She was haranguing him about not feeding his kittens properly. In return he was yelling that he did not want his Oriental Blacks ending up like Sal's monstrous Fluffkin, more of a pampered furry slug than a cat.

Every so often Sal would glare at her diminutive husband and ask "Isn't that right?" and the poor little man would nod and say 'yes dear' knowing it futile to try to stop his wife in full flow.

While Sal and the neighbour yelled accusations of cat theft and neglect at each other, the neighbour's wife sidled up and asked quietly if we could go and collect the kitten from the shelter. Glad for any excuse to escape, I agreed. By torchlight, the kitten was removed from the shelter meowing loudly (as only an Oriental can) that 'wow, isn't this an adventure?'. The phone was still ringing forlornly in the locked office. Our neighbour yelled imprecations at the supposed cat-burglars, before admonishing me about not using the main lights.

The row was still going on when we returned with the kitten. Neither party had run out of steam and astonishingly they hadn't actually come to blows. Other neighbours were laying bets on who would win. A group of hairy bikers had placed their money on Sal. Despite my attempts at invisibility, Sal caught sight of me, stopped in mid-tirade and fell sobbing onto my shoulder.

After deciding that the tears were not part of some tactical move, the assembled crowd seemed disappointed at the entertainment coming to an unsatisfactory end and dispersed. Sal's diminutive husband pressed a fiver into my free hand before frogmarching his sobbing wife home. The irate neighbour's wife slipped me a second fiver, before propelling her still furious spouse homewards. I arrived home to a marginally less irate spouse who wanted to know why I hadn't answered the damn phone at the shelter. He'd contacted the shelter's neighbours who had SEEN me leaving so I must have heard the phone and the key to the new lock was on my key ring ...

The next day, Fluffkin had done another poopsie and Sal was all of a lather about half a dozen terminal conditions that her cat could have caught from the kitten during its short stay in a closed box in a back bedroom. Then of course, "those two kittens, they're not being fed properly and if you really cared about cats, like I care about them, you wouldn't have let those awful people take that kitten back. I don't like your attitude, you don't really care about the cats. I've got a good mind to complain to headquarters and to the RSPCA and ..."

Well I'll tell you this - I gently laid the receiver on the table and left it there while Sal ranted on. It was going to be some time before I could again cope with Fluffkin's poopsies and Sal's underfed 'strays'.

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