A Very Purrculiar Practice - Mr Dobson and Tibbs Too
Copyright 1997, Sarah Hartwell

"Hello, it's Madeleine from Social Services here, we've got a catty problem that you might be able to help us with."

Madeleine was one of our more helpful contacts in the 'Authorities'. A cat lover herself, she let us know of people going into care or who had died leaving behind cats. Her advance warnings meant we were often able to home cats direct from their original home without bringing them into care.

"One of my 'clients', Mr Dobson of Ashbury Avenue, is going into hospital for a hip operation. He's worried about his elderly cat since there's no-one to look after it. You wouldn't know anyone who could foster it for a couple of weeks ...?"

I agreed to see Mr Dobson to arrange temporary accommodation for his cat. I could probably foster it myself and it would be a weight off the old man's mind knowing that his cat was being cared for in his absence.

Mr Dobson lived in a council bungalow set back from Ashbury Avenue. A sprightly seventy year old, he welcomed me in with the offer of a small sherry for my trouble. When I saw the cat, I felt that something a lot stronger would be welcome. In cat terms, Tibbs was around the same age as his owner and rather more decrepit. An unneutered tom with runny eyes and matted fluffy fur, you could practically see the fleas jumping off of him. Officially ginger and white, he was more grime-grey and yellow; his teeth looked like a health advert warning of the twin dangers of sugary foods and poor oral hygiene, and his breath was that of a garlic-eating, forty-a-day smoker.

"He's been a bit off his food lately, love," Mr Dobson told me, "Maybe he's unsettled because I've been getting ready for going into hospital. What with my bad hip I haven't been able to have him on my lap for his regular combing," the old chap said apologetically, "so I'm afraid he's looking a bit rough and feeling a bit neglected, poor sod. You will find a few minutes to comb him won't you? He does love a fuss."

Mr Dobson obviously doted on his cat and was genuinely apologetic about its poor condition. He probably didn't realise that Tibbs had dental problems, flea problems and half-a-dozen other problems associated with being an entire tom.

"I can manage that. What does he normally eat?" I asked.

"Anything. He'd eat mud just so long as it came in a can labelled 'cat food'!"

Tibbs wasn't going to be a difficult cat to care for, he just needed plenty of TLC, a flea bath and a sneaky visit to the vet.

"I don't know if you've noticed that Tibbs has a bit of a dental problem," I said tentatively, "that's why he's dribbling and off his food. While he's with me I'll ask my vet to have a look at his teeth. He might need to extract a few, but it will make Tibbs a lot more comfortable and he'll be able to eat and groom properly afterwards."

Mr Dobson thanked me effusively and told me when he was expected to leave hospital. If I needed to borrow a door key for any reason, such as getting any Tibbs-care items I had forgotten (a battered cat bed, shredded scratching post, favourite feeding bowls and several ping-pong balls were already in the car along with a crate of Tibbs-nosh and what appeared to be the whole of April's output from a Jersey creamery), then Madeleine at the Social Services would be able to lend it to me. Touchingly he promised to remember the CPL in his will for doing him this service, though I doubted that the retired dustman was sitting on enough to even put Tibbs to rights again.

Tibbs was a model tenant. He snuggled on my lap each evening for hours of combing and chin-rubbing. Our obliging vet extracted most of Tibbs' teeth and removed the two superfluous items from Tibbs' rear end as well. It might have been a bit late in life for neutering, but at least Tibbs could spend his twilight years in peace. Ten idyllic-for-Tibbs days passed and I had another call from Madeleine.

"It's about Mr Dobson," she said.

My heart sank. Had the old gent not made it through his operation? Tibbs was a delightful cat, but he and Mr Dobson obviously doted on each other and homes for elderly cats were hard to come by (though Tibbs had already wormed his way into my heart).

"I'm afraid he's going to have to stay in hospital longer than anticipated; apparently he's got an infection at the operation site. Is that any problem?"

I assured her that it wasn't. Tibbs was as much a gentleman as Mr Dobson and the extra week or so would see him transformed from a grimy old tom with conjunctivitis, and a thriving parasite population tangled fur into a fluffy old ginger and white cat with clear eyes and a flea-free coat.

Two days later I opened the spare room door to find Tibbs stretched out on the bed in a sunbeam. Unfortunately he was quite unaware of the sunbeam, though the smile on his stiff little features told me that he was well aware of being in the lap of luxury when his number got called. Oh heck! What was I going to tell Mr Dobson? That I had been spoiling Tibbs rotten when he popped its clogs on me? Knowing my luck he'd assume that Social Services had called me in to whisk Tibbs off to the vet on a one-way ticket so that the dignified Mr Dobson could be shoved into some no-pets residential accommodation to die of despair.

Having gently interred the still smiling Tibbs under my birch tree, I drove to the shelter in search of solace. Maybe Mr Dobson would consider adopting another cat? No, he'd probably think I'd carelessly lost Tibbs and was trying to fob him off. Then I noticed a ginger and white cat in the corner; for a minute I thought I'd seen a ghost. The spitting image of Tibbs was sitting in the sunshine in the OAPs pen. Though a handsome old devil, he had been classified as 'unhomeable due to age'. Execute Plan B!

After fevered discussions with the warden, unwanted stray cat George was hastily re-christened Tibbs Two and found himself in my spare room surrounded by all Tibbs' worldly possessions. Not certain what had happened, Tibbs Two decided he was the long lost heir to some vast feline empire and that 'everything in this room is mine'. I could almost hear the cogs in his mind turning as he took in the vastness of his inheritance. From a cat who had nothing but the fur he stood up in, he was about to become a cat who had everything a cat could ever wish for - including all the double cream in Jersey should he feel so inclined. There were a few other problems to be overcome. While Tibbs Two was identical to Tibbs One and just as amenable to being loved and combed, he was not familiar with Tibbs One's territory. I phoned Madeleine.

"Hi Madeleine, it's about Tibbs, I might have a problem," I explained.

"He's not snuffed it has he?" Madeleine asked, "Only that'll be the death of Mr Dobson - Tibbs is the only thing in the world that matters to him."

"Actually I think he's pining. He might do better in his own home with me going in to feed him and do a litter tray - I'm worried that if I let him out he might think Mr Dobson has abandoned him and go off somewhere to mope and ... well you know how cats can be, you can't explain to them that their owner is in hospital. Mr Dobson did tell me that you had a door key."

"Well it's rather irregular, but I think it's justified in this case. And I can certainly vouch for your good character," Madeleine said, "For a moment you had me worried, if anything had happened to Tibbs I think Mr Dobson might have given up completely. His cat is the only reason he gets up each day."

Tibbs Two and the attendant paraphernalia were soon installed in Mr Dobson's bungalow and the cat flap taped shut. After thoroughly exploring the place, Tibbs Two decided he liked what he saw and settled down in an armchair to wash. While I wished Mr Dobson a speedy recovery, I hoped that it was not so speedy that Tibbs Two didn't have time to settle into his predecessor's territory.

Although outwardly a dead ringer for Tibbs One, Tibbs Two did not share the old Tibbs' taste in food. No, he preferred a higher standard of catering - chunks in gravy it you didn't mind, and something salmon flavoured at least once a week. The combing was fine, but he had a disturbing tendency to fall asleep in the middle and start snoring like a badly-tuned car engine. Each day I went in to feed the smug feline and ensure that he was not lonely. However, Tibbs Two was far too content at finding he had won catdom's equivalent of the National Lottery to bother about being lonely.

Just over a week after installing Tibbs Two Madeleine rang to tell me that Mr Dobson was due home on Tuesday. I had less than a week to ensure that Tibbs Two was familiar with his new territory. A rather bemused, but still very smug pussycat, found himself wearing a smart harness and being walked around the garden.

"Hello," said a voice from over the privet hedge, "I couldn't help but notice you were 'walking' Mr Dobson's cat."

"I've been looking after Tibbs while Mr Dobson was in hospital. Unfortunately he had to have his teeth done ..."

"Teeth? He had them out years ago, dear. I thought he was in for his hip," the old dear said.

"Tibbs is the one who had his teeth done, they were going rotten and the vet had to extract some of them."

At that moment Tibbs Two chose to yawn.

"Well they look fine to me," said the neighbour.

Oh gawd, I'd forgotten that Tibbs Two came with a full set of pearly white gnashers.

"They are now, a couple of the back ones needed to be removed - it doesn't show does it? The rest have been cleaned up."

"Why is he on a lead if it's only his teeth been done?"

"Oh that. It's because he's had a general anaesthetic. Sometimes it makes them a bit confused and I thought it safer to keep him close to me. There's also the risk of infection if he scavenges something he shouldn't - he needs a special diet while the gums heal."

"Don't they mollycoddle them nowadays," grumbled the old lady, "Never had all that when Snowy had his teeth out. I reckon you've been done, vet must be making a mint out of selling you special food."

"Actually," I said with a feeling of satisfaction, "I work with cats all the time and these advances in veterinary medicine are very beneficial for the cat's prolonged wellbeing," I said haughtily.

"Oh well," said the old dear huffily, "Snowy didn't seem to suffer from the lack of it - he was twenty-two when he finally went, and that was only because he didn't hear a removal van coming." Mercifully she went back indoors leaving me and Tibbs Two to our stroll.

Having inherited a home and a host of other possessions, Tibbs Two proved he was not one to wander. He also mastered the cat flap in record time, although a spot of WD40 was needed to ease the hinges on the flap. When Mr Dobson arrived home, disdaining the use of crutches in favour of a stick, Tibbs Two had been thoroughly briefed and was well into his role. When Mr Dobson sat down, Tibbs Two was all over him, sniffing and kneading, his purr-box stuck in overdrive.

"Tibbs, you've never been one to go all daft like this, have you missed me then old boy?" asked Mr Dobson.

"He did seem to miss you, for a while I was worried he was really pining and not just suffering from tooth trouble," I said.

"He certainly looks in fine fettle, I've never seen him so fluffy. Looks like he's been to a fancy grooming parlour or something."

"It's amazing how much difference it makes having their teeth sorted, suddenly they can groom again; I've seen it in my own cats," I blathered, "They seem to get a new lease of life. And like you said, he did love being combed."

Satisfied that the 'reunion' was going well, I slunk out of the door leaving Tibbs Two and Mr Dobson to enjoy each other's company, while Madeleine ensured that all the care requirements were arranged.

A few days later I had a call from a grateful Mr Dobson. Not only was Tibbs a much healthier cat after all the TLC the CPL had given him, he had brought in a mouse - the first one he'd ever caught. Mr Dobson was certain it was to welcome him home from hospital. And not only that, Tibbs had finally mastered the art of the cat flap which meant Mr Dobson didn't have to leave the kitchen window ajar anymore. There was however one problem, I must have been spoiling him because Tibbs had become a lot fussier about what he ate.

"It really is amazing what having your teeth done can do!" he exclaimed, "He even sleeps on my lap again. Tell me, can this tooth cleaning affect their snoring?"

I assured him that the dental work would account for a slight, but permanent, change in snore tone.

Some while later Madeleine came to the shelter to see me.

"I'll say this, that cat was a dead ringer for Tibbs," she confided. "Your secret's safe with me though, and don't worry about that new cat being a fussy eater, Mr Dobson is thrilled at having another way of showing his devotion to his cat, you should see the instructions he gives his shopping lady when it comes to buying cat food: 'he won't eat the rabbit flavour, and mind you only get the ones with chunks in gravy as he doesn't like the ones in jelly'" she mimicked, "He keeps saying he'll remember you in his will, but don't hold your breath, there's plenty of life in him yet."

Will or no will, the home I had engineered for Tibbs Two, formerly of no fixed abode, made everything worthwhile. And I reckon Tibbs One, having nearly given me a heart attack, was having a pretty good laugh at all the chaos he had caused.

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