Ricky came to my notice, first of all, when he was advertised in our local ‘freebie’ newspaper. I rarely read the paper and took it as a ‘sign’ that I was meant to have him as I’d read the paper two weeks’ running and he was in the Pet Section both weeks. I therefore cajoled a friend to take me to the Cat’s Protection League shelter where I would view him.

Ricky in his flower troughThe lady who ran the shelter said he’d come to her as the result of a cruelty case taken on by the RSPCA. His ‘people’ (and I use the term, loosely) had kept him in a rabbit hutch for a year. He had lost all his teeth as a result of the neglect and he was overlooked for rehoming as visitors thought he was fat and ugly. Consequently, he’d been there for 6 months and she was desperate for him to find a good home.

I said to my friend, ‘I’m just going to look,’ but I took the carrying basket ‘just in case’.

The period of grieving for Biggles and Joey was still in force, although a year had passed since Biggles had died and six months since we had lost Joey. Sam had kept a respectful eye on us all, without clamouring for attention or making great demands. He seemed to sense that we were all sad and offered background support without pushing himself to the fore. I kept telling myself that I wasn’t actively looking for another cat, but just ‘going to have a look’ wouldn’t hurt, would it?

When I saw him, it was love at first sight. He had a very sad face as if he was carrying the weight of all the world’s problems on his shoulders. His mouth reminded me of the Lion King – very soft and gentle because there were no teeth to make it a firm jaw.  And yes, he was rather on the portly side but hey, who was I to judge! And having been kept cooped up in a rabbit hutch for a year, and being in a pen he hadn’t had a whole lot of room to exercise so the muscles were a little on the flabby side. I could identify with that and my heart was lost to him.

He sat in the carrying basket wondering about this new turn of events and what sort of lifestyle he was destined for. He didn’t speak. He didn’t purr. The Hard Knocks School of Life had probably taught him that if he did either he would be punished so without taking his eyes off me, he remained mute for the short journey home.

Home. He came into the hallway and was greeted by 4 other ginger cats and a black one, he being a lighter ginger than the others. He ventured forward but was spat and hissed at. He looked up at me and I felt like Judas – as if I had taken him from relative security – albeit a fairly sterile lonely security – and placed him in the Lion’s Den. Was this another kind of hell he was to endure he probably asked himself.

His name had been Whisky and to give him a sense of self-worth and self-esteem, I renamed him Ricky – which was as near to sounding like Whisky as I could think of. He answered to it straight away and seemed grateful for this new start in life – with a new identity.

He tried to make friends with everyone but they continued to spit or hiss at him, and he would look at me with such sad eyes as if to ask: ‘why don’t they like me?’ I would reassure him by trying to give him a cuddle but he would wriggle about anxious to get down again. He hadn’t been handled for some time, I thought sadly, and wasn’t used to being stroked or petted.

He had a terrible skin condition caused by a flea allergy so I started to quietly and carefully groom him on an ad hoc basis, on his terms as and when he would let me get near him. This also helped us bond together and he came to enjoy our daily sessions (as it became) – even asking to be groomed. It got so that I only had to hold up the comb and he would come waddling (running would be too strong a word for the gait he used!) as quick as he could for one whose nether regions swept the floor as he walked. He would sit or lie in front of me while I would begin combing from his head and work my way down his back and sides.    

I noticed something wonderful during these times. Ricky started to purr. He would lift his head up expecting me to comb under his chin and I would duly oblige being rewarded by a snort and a purr – such was his delight. With regular use of a drop-on flea treatment on his shoulders and the daily grooming sessions, his flea allergy completely disappeared and the sight of him scratching himself almost senseless became a thing of the past.

He spent the first month indoors using the litter tray and spending his nights in the bathroom, a little ‘bijou’ bedsit, where he had his creature comforts at paw: litter tray, food, water, sweeties, bed and toys.

Once he had had his injections against cat flu and the other nasties that abound which are fatal to cats, he was given the freedom of the city and allowed out through the cat flap. He left the confines of his little bedsit and joined the others in the ‘dorm’ and found a bed on one of the dining chairs.

After about two months I noticed that the others didn’t give him such a hard time and although he kept a respectful distance from them they were friendlier towards him. Garfield was always friendly, but some of the others could be a bit spiteful. Eventually, everything settled down and he felt more at home. Even the sad look on his face seemed to go to be replaced by a more relaxed look in his eyes as if at last, he was truly at home.

Eating wasn’t a problem for him. Indeed, he hardly stopped eating! If it was there, it was eaten. Concerned, I treated him for worms, but he carried on eating as if his very life depended on it. Despite having no teeth, he managed to suck everything up that was put before him, and if any of the others left anything in their dishes, that was polished off too. 

I don’t know if he hadn’t been fed very often while in the rabbit hutch and had got used to eating everything in case he wasn’t going to be fed again for a long time, but he still eats quickly and he is now affectionately called ‘Ricky-Three-Breakfasts’ as his day doesn’t seem to begin until he has had at least three breakfasts. This is, in fact, an improvement on his original expectation of at least FIVE breakfasts, then a snack about 11, then lunch about 12, followed by a mid afternoon snack about three, and then an early supper about 5pm followed by a pre-last meal supper at about 9.00pm before a final-that’s-it-for-the-day supper at about 11.00pm.

He has brought such joy to this house that it is beyond me how anyone could cause him such pain and distress by treating him in such a cold heartless manner. He will often sit along side me on the arm of the sofa while I’m knitting, reading, watching TV or even having a snooze. Only once, did he venture to sit on my lap and that was about 3 years after he first came to live here. He sat there for about 10 minutes, wondering what he had to do next. He wasn’t sure because he possibly hadn’t been on a lap before so the concept was a new one. After a while, he decided that lap sitting was probably not for him and he quietly moved to the cushion next to me, with a look of apology on his face.

He has been here for 5 years now and still prefers to sit near me as opposed to ON me. I respect that and don’t try and make him do anything he doesn’t want to. He still enjoys his grooming sessions and loves to be petted and cuddled for about 3 or 4 seconds – then he’ll start to struggle and want to be put down.

He doesn’t seem to have lost any weight despite having his breakfast rations reduced from five to three small portions but he does now go through most of the day until early supper at 5.00pm before hoping for something to eat.

He has a few favourite spots in the garden where he loves to spend the day. One of them is under the Mexican Orange plant, which is right next to a rosemary bush, and he spreads himself out with his head under one and the rest of his body under the other one. He watches the world go by through half closed eyes enjoying the cool fragrant shade.

The other spot he loves is in the conservatory! The conservatory is actually a deep box which is turned on its side so that one side provides a ‘roof’. Garfield likes this box too and it’s a race to see which one of them will get out there first and bag his prize! But Ricky will spend hours curled up asleep in the sun in the ‘conservatory’ not even minding if a fine drizzle of rain interrupts his slumber.

Another favourite place is one of the plant troughs which seems to be tailored made to his own special measurements and he’s often to be found wedged in one, head in the soil fast asleep!

Although he may feel his luck changed the day I walked into the rescue centre, he has more than made his presence felt – despite being a quiet, stoical cat, and looking like a rather overfull Hoover bag about to burst!!!!

©

Pauline Dewberry 2003

 

A Cats Purr

"Cats make one of the most satisfying sounds in the world: they purr ...

A purring cat is a form of high praise, like a gold star on a test paper. It is reinforcement of something we would all like to believe about ourselves - that we are nice."

Roger A Caras

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