Cleo’s tale

I thought about writing something for the New Year about my resolutions, my hopes, my plans….but I just couldn’t focus.  Maybe I’ve been teased a little too much over this holiday about my blog, and I guess I feared the spectre of self-importance or perhaps I’d prefer to call it Tall Poppy Syndrome?!   

Friends always save the day. 

As it happens, a good friend who has supported this blog through its infancy, sent me a story about one of her cats which was written several years ago but is ongoing.  And I thought – what a great story, and how it really is a parable of Hope, and of what lies beyond Hope.  And what better message for a new year. 

Plus it’s a great read, especially if you’re an animal lover.

A new year’s story 2006, written for Isobel when she was six years old

by Auntie Jinny

This is a true story about a little black and white cat with huge whiskers.  The story doesn’t have an end because it is still happening.

At the end of our lane there is a tiny church.  It was shaken up by an earthquake that happened in Essex in 1884.  I bet you didn’t know there was once an earthquake in Essex, did you? 

Back in 2006 some of the cracks in the church walls from the earthquake started to open up again and for a while we were not allowed to go into the church because it wasn’t safe.  Then three builders came to make some repairs.

One day while they were having their sandwiches at lunch time a tiny, thin cat approached them and mewed.  They thought he looked very hungry and he must have been because he ate part of a sausage sandwich with mustard, which was all that was left of three lunches.  They did not know where the cat came from.  There are one or two houses near the church but although it was freezing cold and the cat was obviously very hungry it just stayed with them while they were there.

When the builders left that evening they decided that they could not leave the cat inside the church so they propped up some boards against the outside wall so that he would have some shelter if he stayed out all night.  During the night it rained and it snowed and the wind blew very hard indeed.  In the morning the first builder to arrive hoped very much that the little cat had gone home for the night but when he looked under the wood there he was.  The little cat was so stiff and cold he could hardly get up.  Today he looked even thinner and the builder wished he had stopped at the shop to get some cat food.  All day the little cat stayed with the men.  They decided to call him Moses.  Moses had a bit of pork pie for his lunch that day.  He slept under his board again and in the morning he looked even thinner and sadder.  But that day the builders had bought some cat food so he could have a proper lunch but he ate it very quickly and then looked round for more. 

The builders worked for a week and every day Moses managed to stagger out from his shelter and come and join them but he was looking more and more unwell.

One afternoon Mrs Royle visited to make sure that the builders were doing their work properly and they told her about the cat.  Mrs Royle took one look at Moses and decided that he couldn’t last through another night in the open.  She asked if one of the builders could adopt him.  One had a dog that chased cats, one had a cat that wouldn’t like another one in the house and one had a wife who would not let him have a cat.

Mrs Royle couldn’t have him because she had three little daughters and one of them was allergic to cats.  She also had a Border Terrier who had helped a number of chickens and a hamster hurry to animal heaven rather more quickly than they wanted.  Mrs Royle’s Mum couldn’t have him because she was just going abroad for a holiday.  And so it went on.

Mrs Royle brightened up when she saw Ian walking along the lane.  She felt sure that one more little cat at Rookery Farm wouldn’t be noticed.  But Ian said that Maggie and I had been saying only the other day that we must not have any more animals because although we loved them all we had far too many already.  So Mrs Royle rang the Cat Rescue and agreed that later that day, when the builders were ready to go home and when she had collected her girls from school, she would take Moses to them.

But as soon as Ian told Maggie and me we grabbed the cat carrier and a warm towel and some cat food and hurried down to the church and within half an hour Moses was installed in Rookery Farm.  He had to be kept in a room of his own in case he had anything catching and all the other animals were very curious about what was behind that door.

Once a litter tray had been found and some nice clean water put down and some food offered to Moses, she had to be given a new name – because Moses wasn’t a boy at all!  So she was re-named Cleo, for Cleopatra, because I thought she should have the name of someone very beautiful so that she would feel good about herself.  But Maggie and I looked at each other with very sad faces.  We could see that Cleo was very ill.  She had lots of trouble breathing and couldn’t eat her food because when she put her nose near the food she couldn’t breathe at all. 

The next day the vet said that she didn’t really think that Cleo was going to get better.  She had been out in the cold for too long and had gone too long without proper food.  But she gave her some jabs and said to keep her warm and try to get her to eat.  For three long days Cleo lay on the carpet and wheezed.  She managed to eat some food when it was all mashed up for her and made sloppy so that she just had to lick it.  But she couldn’t stand up at the saucer so her food had to be held on a finger right where she could just stick out her tongue and reach it.  Each day she went to the vet for more jabs and each day the vet looked very sad and said we should just keep trying.  Cleo had been skin and bones when she arrived and despite all the loving care her weight went down and down.  But even though she was so ill she purred whenever we went near her so we said to each other that even if Cleo died she would know that someone had loved her and cared for her and tried to help her.

Everyone at the vets was willing Cleo to get better.  The lady at reception asked after her every day when we arrived and all the nurses wanted to know how she was.  One day the vet managed to take a small sample of blood from Cleo’s leg and we all waited anxiously while it was analysed.  The news was good.  Cleo did not have any nasty diseases and her liver and her kidneys seemed to be undamaged.  It really did look as though she was suffering from nothing more than the effects of starvation and prolonged exposure.  But her breathing was still dreadful, she still had trouble eating – but she still purred as though to say thank you for the trouble we were taking.

I said that this story doesn’t yet have an end but we are beginning to think that it will be a happy one when it comes.  Very slowly a couple of days ago Cleo started to eat on her own, her breathing improved, her weight went up, her purring got louder and longer, she began to use her litter tray regularly, she stood up, she jumped on to the chair.  And today she is eating more like a horse than a little black and white cat with huge whiskers.  She even washed her face this morning after her breakfast.

The vet still wants to see her every other day and we have to keep feeding her little and often since too big a meal at one go may upset her.  So every hour or so I rush upstairs with a saucer of goo to be met by an indignant little someone who yells at me for being so long.  Now that she is moving around a bit we see that she has very long legs so maybe she will turn out to be a big black and white cat with huge whiskers.  Sounds like it’s going to be OK, don’t you think?  Keep your fingers crossed.

A new year’s sequel 2010

Crossing the fingers really works.  And it was ok, and Cleo has had a happy, uneventful life for five years, growing to a fine figure of a cat.  But that isn’t the end.

Everything changes and now at the end of 2010, the snow’s come back with a vengeance.  Unnoticed, little Cleo has lost the weight she gained and resurfaced as a tiny wraith of a cat.  We rushed her to the vet’s and the news isn’t good. 

The vet thinks that with steroid injections the best we can hope for is that she may still enjoy life for a few more months.  We’ve had the first one and hope to see a small improvement within two to three days.  In addition to the poor body she brought to us as a result of her earlier life, she now has cysts in her liver which cause problems in the efficient draining of bile.  The vet re-iterated her usual rules that if an animal is eating well and enjoying her food, is still cleaning herself and continuing with clean toilet habits and is reacting positively to its owners, then it’s still enjoying a fair quality of life and Cleo ticks all those boxes.  So we shall keep her medicated and loved until she begins to fail and then do the kindest thing. 

When she came home and was let out of her carrying box she shot up the stairs like an Olympic athlete but I think that was adrenalin rather than steroids!

Not Yet The End

In terms of an ending, all that’s left is hope – it feels like a hope as thin as Cleo herself.  And beyond hope – what is beyond hope? Any views?

 I remember the Buddhist saying, ‘Hope and fear chase each other’s tails’.  Maybe beyond hope is stepping outside of that circle.

 Beyond hope there is simply being – the everyday doing the best we can.  Feels like a good message to start a new year which promises to offer lots of unimagined experiences to us all.

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10 Responses to Cleo’s tale

  1. Barbara says:

    Thank you for being so open about your ambivalent feelings about your blog. There is a openness in your writing which is very stimulating and encouraging…it invites the reader to be in touch with all those mixed feelings we have about anything we do. You write with an open heart and I thank you for that.
    This year I hope that as Willie Nelson says: You can live the life you love and love the life you live.

  2. Karin says:

    Happy new year to you, Barbara. Thank you for making something so positive of my ambivalence! I appreciate your comment a lot. Sometimes I think it would be better if I wrote with a less open heart, but that’s how I am. The Willie Nelson quote is great and I wish it for all readers.

  3. souldipper says:

    I’m so grateful to the people who gave their love to one of the Creator’s creatures. To know that Cleo has her purr happening loud and clear is a great relief.

    And you, Karin…be like Cleo. Keep your purr going loud and clear. Live on the love you have been given, not on the disdain or challenge of those who feel empowered by criticism. Love them into silence by continuing to purr.

  4. Karin says:

    I know that the author of Cleo’s story will appreciate your comment so many thanks – she and her friends take care of quite a few animals and Cleo is not the only one to receive such care. Many thanks for your good wishes so eloquently put. And happy new year to you too. I look forward to continuing to purr on this blog and elsewhere!

  5. Viv says:

    Ah a cat tale!!
    I am so happy Cleo found a good home and is loved and cared for. It is never about length of life but about quality.
    We took on a half dead 8year old dark tabby many years ago, long haired and matted. Her original name was Squeaky but she told me she wished to be called Clara(after Clara Schumann) and only ever answered to that name. She lived to be 16, survived a dreadful broken leg, two house moves before passing on about 4 years ago.
    I loved Cleo’s tale as it shows you never should give up hope.

  6. Karin says:

    Hi Viv,
    I like the idea of a cat named Clara Schumann (or even just Clara). Nice name. In our saga of many rehomed cats from animal shelters, one of them along the way was named Sasha (already named when we got her). Like Clara she was long-haired and her hair was often matted. Sadly she had learning disabilities and also an eating disorder. She grew to be so wide she could hardly make it through the cat flap – and we did not overfeed her. She ate many rabbits. My concerns for her well-being mounted when twice driving home I discovered her rolling on her back, with great enjoyment, in the middle of the road. Not surprisingly, she was missing one morning soon after and we later discovered her body which was very sad. We currently have another rescue cat Sienna, who has some different mental health problems but has turned into a very affectionate animal with us only. She runs and hides immediately when anyone else turns up.
    I’m glad you like Cleo’s tale. I have had many verbal comments and e-mails about it but people seem to be shy of putting their views up – maybe because it is a children’s story? Thanks for sharing yours.
    Karin x

  7. Viv says:

    Our Clara too had learning disabilities and developed dementia in her last few years with behaviour that was a problem(refusal to use a litter tray being the key one, despite having been previously happy to use one; it made entering the kitchen first thing in the morning a tad chancy!) However she was a very lovable and affectionate creature and had a knack our brighter cats lacked for making ANY visitor to our rectory feel singled out for special attention. Our others have always been suspicious of outsiders and take their time in getting to know them. I didn’t mourn her death greatly, largely because of the problems she presented but I do remember her good years very fondly.
    I confess, though. I didn’t realise the story was meant to be for children which shows how good it was; good childrens’ stories can be read with pleasure by any age.

  8. Karin says:

    Agree wholeheartedly with your comment about good children’s stories being ageless. Fairy tales of course are a case in point. Some of my favourite reads were supposedly written for children – not sure what that says about me!!

    • Chris says:

      It says that you have remained a child at heart – an essential element for functioning as a well-rounded adult in my opinion.

      I am going to have to break cover. Regular bloggers know me as Chris but to my family I am known as Jinny. (Maybe Karin should do a blog about the implications for people of being known to different groups of people by different names?) So Cleo and the story are mine. And this morning she looks very slightly brighter although we all know that this is this is a small blip on a downwards slope.

      I find Karin’s Buddhist quote so powerful. All life goes in cycles and a hope/fear cycle is a new one on me. But of course every time we lie awake at night worrying about something and then rise in the morning feeling better able to face it we are renewing the cycle.

      And knowing that there may be problems during the next year I fully embrace the concept of every day doing the best we can. What else is there? None of us knows whether for us the sun will rise again so we should grasp the day and live in hope for the morrow.

  9. Karin says:

    Hi Chris,

    glad to hear about Cleo today. No comment about broader trajectories as taking it a day at a time.

    The idea of writing on people using different names with different groups of people or in different situations is intriguing – think I need to let that one percolate before progressing as it’s a topic that’s already arisen on this blog in at least two different contexts. Anyone reading this with a view or a vested interest – please comment!


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