Copyright 1997, Sarah Hartwell

It was one of 'those' days at the shelter; any CPL shelter worker will know exactly what I mean. I am one who can cope with any amount of ultra-stinky cat-poo, green vomit filled with still wriggling roundworms, being scratched, bitten or sprayed by fractious 'inmates' and the various other unmentionables which accompany cat-rescue, but one thing I don't suffer gladly are fools and today the sunshine was bringing them to our doorstep in their droves.

First off was an irate over-made-up woman who accused us of kidnapping her pregnant cat. The cat in question had been found two days previously, collapsed in the gutter, her labour brought on prematurely after a road traffic accident. With a ruptured womb, she had required an emergency spay shortly after midnight to save her life though sadly the unborn kittens had already died.

"Spayed!" screeched the over-painted harridan, "Of course I was going to get her spayed. But they're supposed to have one litter first to satisfy their instincts - ker-rist, you should know that, you're supposed to be the experts." Sadly we could not prevent her from grabbing the woebegone cat and stalking back to her car. Over her shoulder she yelled, "I'm going to take her to my vet, a proper vet, not the cut-price horse-doctor you lot use. Then I'm going to sue you for the distress you've caused to my cat, and for the death of the kittens!"

It had been only slightly cheering when our vet phoned at lunch-time to tell us that one of his clients had turned up with her cat - the cat he had done the emergency late-night spay on - and that he had given her a piece of his mind. A large piece of his mind in fact, since he did not like being described as a butcher, and knowing his wide range of expletives and colourful language picked up from local farmers I was glad I wasn't the one on the receiving end of his wrath.

Our vet, who suffered fools less gladly than I, was a real treasure. I'd long since lost count of the number of cats he'd passed on to us with the instructions "make sure it's not homed in <insert name of area> because officially it's dead" when an owner had taken in a perfectly healthy cat to be destroyed because they could no longer be bothered with it. He somehow managed to slip the cats into a back room telling the owners he'd put them to sleep at the end of surgery hours and then ring us instead. Over the years we'd homed a respectable number of his walking dead and he'd made a few quid out of charging uncaring owners for non-existent euthanasias and disposals of bodies.

"What really sent her flying was when I told her I wished I could spay irresponsible cat owners to prevent them from producing more irresponsible cat owners," he said mirthlessly, "I told her to have several children and see how much it settled HER down. She didn't like that much either. I can probably kiss goodbye to the consultation fee."

Next off were the charming Mr and Mrs Nice-but-dim who wanted a couple of kittens. After much oohing and aahing, they plumped for a brother and sister from the same litter. As we were going through the paperwork I produced the neutering form and explained that we required all cats to be 'done' at six months of age.

"But surely we won't need that," exclaimed Mrs Nice-but-dim.

"Oh no," agreed Mr Nice-but-dim, "That's why we chose a brother and sister. They will be indoor only pets and surely he wouldn't do 'that' with his own sister," he laughed self-consciously.

When I had finished explaining that cats have no concept of incest, Mr and Mrs Nice-but-dim decided to reconsider their choice of pet and left in search of a hamster.

The next couple didn't even reach the top of the path. One of the volunteer helpers was taking a rubbish sack down to the bins when she passed them.

"I do hope they've got some pretty kittens," said the chap to his female accomplice, "Only we don't have any at all in the shop."

The pet shop couple were repelled immediately once we told them we'd seen through their 'caring owner' subterfuge. To further thwart their plans I rang round all the other shelters with their description. In fact, far too many of the kittens we took in had come from their pet shop, all being unsaleable sickly or under-age kittens that they'd found 'dumped on their doorstep'. They were also in the habit of telling purchasers of kittens that the kittens were supplied by the cat shelter, that half the sale price went to the shelter and that they could take the kitten back to the shelter if it proved unsatisfactory. Throughout the summer, a dribble of people would bring us unwanted or ailing pet-shop kittens, demanding that we refund our half of the sale price. So far no-one had succeeded in satisfactorily proving anything and putting an end to this fraud.

Then the phone rang. To be honest, it had hardly stopped ringing all day, but Beryl the assistant had mercifully fielded most of the calls. This one was a gem.

".... but I don't see how she could be pregnant," wailed the cat owner at the other end, "I mean, she's only got three legs."

The next one, two seconds later, was pretty much a classic too. A pigeon fancier had found a litter of kittens under his hedge and wanted us to take them in, more out of concern for his birds than for any real concern for the kittens.

"Are they ready to leave their mother?" I inquired gently, jotting down his name and address and the words 'trap needed?' in the phone log.

"I should think so," said the chap, sounding a little confused, "They've got all their fur." Evidently he was more used to birds than furred creatures.

The following caller actually had a set of weaned kittens to bring in, ASAP of course. "We let her have a litter of kittens to please my daughter," whispered the genetically naïve caller, "but none of the kittens was Siamese so she wasn't interested."

It made a change from all the calls from people who let mum have kittens so that the sale of the kittens would finance the spaying op. The harsh realities of economics meant that there were plenty of 'kittens free to good homes' undercutting their cash-crop and suddenly they needed our help, not just to home the kittens, but to help with getting mum spayed.

The fussy old dear (why are they all old dears?) who wanted a replacement for her recently deceased companion was a hoot. In fact Beryl crept off behind the kitten units to laugh her head off and had to stuff a duster in her mouth to keep her hoots of laughter under control.

"I'd rather he wasn't black, love, only Gemma was black and it would be too much of a reminder of her. That's a nice one over there," she said, pointing to a portly and very definitely black kitty, "you wouldn't have something similar in tabby would you?"

The tabby variety unfortunately only had one eye. "Tut tut," said the old lady, shaking her head, "That won't do ... Oh he's a dear!" she enthused as the portly black kitty got up and made a fuss of her, "He's perfect! Oh can I take this one after all?"

'This one' was not only black, he was tripodal following an argument with some barbed wire. "Lucky it was only your leg," I whispered to him as I popped him into the carrier, "If it had been your eye you wouldn't have stood a chance."

When the happy adopter had left, I called out to Beryl who was still killing herself behind the kitten unit.

"Beryl! Do you have one like this but in tabby and with two eyes and four legs?"

Beryl unstuffed her mouth and called back, "Hang on a mo, I'll just take one behind the office, paint stripes on it, fit a wooden leg and a glass eye and I'll have just what you're looking for!" The sound of laughing and crashing foliage suggested that Beryl's knees had finally given way and she'd fallen into the lilac bush.

Finally, as we were locking up the phone went again, "You're going to have to take those 'feral' farm cats back you know, they're STILL wild," complained the caller.

Maybe he would settle for a three-legged, one-eyed hamster ....

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