Copyright 1993, Sarah Hartwell

"Hello, is that the Cat Sanctuary?" growled the voice at the other end of the phone, "Look I've got some cats I don't want, never wanted them in the first place. Can you help?"

"Yes of course. How many are there?" I asked, grabbing a pencil and notepad and wedging myself into the chair in the Shelter's small and cluttered office.

"Well there's twelve females, at least I think there's twelve - there were when I last counted. There might be a few more by now." There was a slight pause, "And there's fourteen toms, well thirteen and three-quarters really."

"Are they neutered?" I asked, despite an ominous feeling that no, they weren't neutered, and they were all hard at it, populating our corner of England with scores of equally fecund little felines.

"Neutered? Oh no, none of them've been done, I don't hold with neutering - not natural like. I always get rid of the kittens. Two big sacks, couple of times a year."

Snap! went the pencil and my temper. A kitten-drowner. We still come across people, generally in the more rural stretches of the county, who believe that drowning kittens is the best form of population control. Most are not deliberately cruel, just uneducated, believing that the traditional sack-and-bucket is somehow kinder than the snip.

"Perhaps we could neuter them for you and return them, so you won't have to worry about them breeding," I said levelly.

"I'm not worried about them breeding. I just don't want them," the distant voice continued relentlessly, "I don't like cats. I don't like things with fur on. Except coats, but these are a bit manky for coats. Bit bald like."

The two parts of the pencil hit the wall of the office and bounced onto the floor.

"Bald?" I echoed, somewhat weakly.

"That's right, sort of motheaten. Patchy like. A bit like fairy rings," the voice said.

Twelve breeding females, probably all pregnant with litters of seven, and fourteen toms, in various states of disrepair, all with rampant ringworm to boot by the sound of it. I ground the pencil under the heel of my welly.

As if the prospect of twenty-six ringwormy cats wasn't bad enough, the caller launched into graphic details of what sounded suspiciously like cat flu. Snuffling like, all snotty and sneezing. My heart sank. I had awful visions of underlying ailments, such as leukaemia or FIV which grew more and more vivid when the inexorable voice rounded off with a colourful description of the toms' fight wounds. "Always at it," the voice grumbled, "either humping or fighting."

"Do they live inside?" I asked, throttling a convenient collecting box and imagining it to be the neck of the cat owner. The question was a triumph of hope over reasoning.

"Oh no, they all live outdoors. Can't touch most of them, except the kittens, otherwise I'd see to them myself."

I revised my opinion of 'uneducated kitten-drowner' to 'rampant cat-hater' and reached for an unmutilated pencil.

My "Can I take the name and address please?" came out as a sort of strangled noise.

The line went silent and then dissolved into giggles. I was not amused. I was going to have to trap twenty-six ringwormy, flu-ridden, half-wild cats and I was definitely not amused. Snap! went the pencil, and what was left of my self-control.

"Hello? Hello?" I barked at the muffled laughter, "Look if you think this is funny ..."

"Hello?" said the half-choked voice of the Sanctuary Co-ordinator, "I got you that time didn't I?"

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