A Very Purrculiar Practice 23: Four Paws Up the Pole!
Copyright 1996, Sarah Hartwell

It had been a long day at the shelter and an even longer evening thanks to the pretty feral youngsters in the front room. They were starting to tame down very nicely though it was taking a lot of time, particularly in the evenings. I'd fallen into bed around midnight and hadn't planned on waking up again until 6.30 the next morning. My alarm clock was set for 7.15, but the furry ones who run the house have their own rumbly-belly alarms set for 6.30.

To make it worse, we'd had another run-in with Four Paws Rescue, the Charlie's Angels of the cat rescue scene in our area. While we scrabbled about in compost heaps, looking for some nervous kitten, Four Paws staff turned up in full make-up and nail varnish to pluck a cat from almost certain death. No matter that we nursed critically ill cats back to full health, Four Paws were out there in front of the camera responding to some crisis and plugging their phone number. We were all supposed to be in it for the cats, but most of the Four Paws crew were in it for the glory. We knew that. We'd had to pick up the pieces afterwards. So if anybody deserved a midnight phone call it was the damned Four Paws co-ordinator. I was willing to bet she didn't look quite so perfectly made-up at one in the morning.

The bedside phone dragged me back to the land of the living and mindful of the fact that a disabled friend had my number as her emergency contact (though her cats had an unfortunate tendency to knock the receiver off the rest and hit a random pre-programmed number at ungodly hours of the night) I answered it. Or to be more precise, husband answered it since the phone is on his bedside table. No reason only one of us should suffer these things when we can share the joy of late-night calls from my friend's cats.

"For you," said husband curtly, handing me the phone and then burrowing his head under the pillow in an attempt to get back to sleep.

"Is that the Cat Protection place?" asked the man on the other end. At least I assumed it was a man and not a woman with a very deep gravelly voice, a bit like my own voice when rudely awakened at 1 in the morning.

"I work there, but this is a private number ..." I began.

"Oh good. Last two I tried weren't and the other one only had an answering machine," the voice rambled.

"What can I do to help?" I asked, hoping I could take a number and get the duty warden to phone back in the morning.

"My cat's got stuck up a telegraph pole and is too frightened to get down," he rumbled.

The last thing I wanted at one in the morning was a cat up tree job. For a start, I am not good with ladders at the best of times. Cats are also not good about being rescued and I am even worse with ladders when I also have to wrestle a struggling cat intent on removing bits of flesh with its claws and a cat basket into which the aforesaid struggling cat is refuses to go. Telegraph poles are even worse since there are no convenient branches to grab onto when the ladder wobbles.

"How long has he been up there?" I asked, hoping it was not a case of "two days and you're our last hope."

"Since about six o'clock last night. And it's not a he, it's a she."

Personally I wondered whether the cat's gender was relevant, but the cat's owner continued, "And she's due any day now."

"She's what?" I asked, unable to get my brain into gear.

"She's due any day now - you know, kittens."

"Have you called the RSPCA?" I asked, knowing that they usually managed to mobilise the Fire Brigade at the merest sniff of a good story in the local newspapers. 'Pregnant cat rescued from telegraph pole hours before delivering six kittens' would be a classic and might even get a heroic fireman and a suitably photogenic RSPCA officer on the local TV news. Except that they'd have to wait until 5.30 when the sun came up, otherwise they wouldn't get good footage. Our local TV station doesn't run to low-light cameras.

"Oh, aye. I called them. And the Blue Cross, but they said they weren't interested unless the cat had been stranded for two days. But it's a cold night and I'm afraid she'll freeze to death up there," the man complained.

I had visions of a frozen cat either plummeting to earth or unable to move because its paws had frozen to the top of the pole. Not good for publicity. However, the mild breeze coming through my open bedroom window suggested that the man had a low tolerance for cold.

"I even tried the fire brigade, but they said they'll only come out if the RSPCA says so and then they'll charge me," he moaned. I already knew the score when it came to fire brigade rescues; they'd do it, but their real job was saving human lives and dousing raging infernos and I could understand their point of view. Or at least I could understand their point of view at 4 o'clock in the afternoon. At one in the morning, I was far less charitable in my thoughts.

"What about Four Paws Rescue?" They had started up a few years ago and were ruthless in poaching away our clientele and even our volunteers, thanks to their very aggressive advertising and almost weekly appearance in the local newspaper. Maybe they should earn their publicity for once.

You see, if their publicity was to be believed, every cat Four Paws rescued was plucked from an icy swollen river (Feb 22nd); snatched from the jaws of an out of control dog (March 8th); one of eight cats rescued from a burning barn (March 15th) or otherwise rescued by Four Paws staff who risked life and limb. Meanwhile, they implied, we simply hung around at our cosy little shelter waiting for obliging members of the public to bring us cats in baskets. Four Paws had a resident photographer who was always on the scene with a camera and camcorder to record the dramatic events (astonishingly, all of their dramatic rescues occurred on well-lit days). He was their co-ordinator's unemployed son who had friends at the newspaper office and at the local TV station. He seemed to regard himself as an amateur 'Animal Rescue' series producer.

"Oh aye, I tried them and their photographer chappie's on holiday so they won't come out," he grumbled. I vaguely hoped that the caller was an executive with the TV company or newspaper and would publicise this aspect of Four Paws' work.

"Okay," I said, "But what exactly do you expect me to do at this time in the morning? She may well come down once things have quieted down."

"Well, since your the Cat Shelter, I thought you'd come out and rescue her."

"Sir, Cat Shelter staff don't generally climb telegraph poles - or any other type of pole for that matter - at one in the morning. Why didn't you phone for help when she first got stuck?"

"I thought she'd have come down by now," grumped the man.

"Have you tried getting her down?"

"Well I tried calling her and she miaowed at me, but she didn't come down."

"Did you try going up a ladder?"

"Me?" he sounded genuinely surprised, "I'm afraid of heights and I have this inner ear problem which means I can't balance very well. Anyway, she's not that friendly so she'd probably have scratched and I'd have fallen down."

It was, I supposed, perfectly all right for a rescue worker to get scratched and fall off a ladder.

"Well, look, there's nothing I can do at the moment, sir," I explained, "She'll be okay for the rest of the night. It's not that cold out and she's safe from dogs or thieves."

"It was a dog what sent her up there in the first place," he interjected.

"Can I take your address?" I asked, "I get up early, so I can come along first thing."

"Well I don't get up until 9 o'clock, so it's no use calling before then," he complained, "But I can't leave her up there!"

"Look, it's more than likely that she'll come down in her own time when she get hungry," I said, trying to pacify the owner who expected me to get up at one o'clock but who otherwise wouldn't meet me before 9 o'clock in the morning.

"Bloody fine lot of use you are, aren't you," he grumbled, "You're all the bloody same. It's your job so why don't you get up off your ass and do something - that's what you're paid for, innit?"

Husband had heard both sides of this ex change through the pillow and he emerged, one eye open, waiting for steam to curl out of my nostrils and sparks to fly from my gnashing teeth. I am not at my best at that hour of the morning.

"Firstly, it's not a job. I work for the cat shelter as a volunteer. I don't get paid for any of it. I don't even get expenses. And ... this is my private telephone number. Secondly, I've already been up half the night with a load of feral cats. Thirdly, your cat has now been stuck up a telegraph pole for, what, seven hours? And you've waited till one in the morning before calling me ...?" I paused for breath (and dramatic effect) and heard a muffled noise from the other end of the phone, but I was not about to let him get a word in edgeways when I'd built up a good head of steam, "Lastly, I've offered to come over first thing in the morning and you are so damn worried that you're not prepared to shift your own ass out of bed until 9 o'clock in the morning."

I hoped to heck it wasn't our own co-ordinator playing one of her telephone jokes, but not even she would phone me at one in the morning, surely?

"Well what am I supposed to do," the man asked, adopting a plaintive wheedling tone in place of his previous grumbling manner.

"It's probably getting hungry. Go and warm up some pilchards or cat food .... or anything!" I overrode the start of a complaint, "anything it likes to eat, and put it in a dish at the bottom of the pole. It got up there unaided and if it's hungry enough it will come down unaided!"

"What if I make it worth your while coming out?" the voice wheedled in Machiavellian tones.

"At one o'clock in the morning, there's not a lot will make it worth my while," I grumbled, sensing bribery or blackmail. In fact at one o'clock in the morning he could have offered me some huge male hunk and my only concern would be whether or not said hunk could climb up telegraph pole while holding a cat basket.

"Look, if it's any help, you may recognise my name, Gerard Smith. I work for the Echo ..." he said, "and I really would be most grateful. My wife is having hysterics, my blasted cat's about to have kittens - bloody Four Paws told me she'd been spayed - I'm not at my best at this time of day and if I don't get some bloody sleep I won't be able to do my shift at nine."

That mere sniff of publicity did the trick. Machiavelli was correct - every man has his price. As does every woman. At that moment in my time, my price was some publicity and getting a spot of revenge on Four Paws and their insinuations that we just sat on our backsides waiting for the cats to come to us.

At 1.30 in the morning I placed a steaming bowl of sardines in tomato sauce at the foot of a telegraph pole and watched in satisfaction as a heavily pregnant cat detached itself from the top of the pole, shinned down the pole backwards and gave me an evil grin.

That week's newspaper was most interesting - especially the bit about Four Paws refusing to rescue a heavily pregnant cat (which they had homed to the gentleman under false pretences i.e. that it was spayed) on the grounds that their photographer wasn't available to record the event.

The names of all persons and organisations have been changed.

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