Case Studies

It only takes one car and one cat

In 1977, when I was quite inexperienced with cats, I was the proud owner of a beautiful pair, Nouschka and Attila, mother and son.  Nouschka was a tiny chubby temperamental silver tabby and Attila was obviously the product of her affair with a large Persian pedigree cat; with his very long hair and a huge tail, he was cuddly but at the same time stubborn, as Persians can be.  I treasured these two cats and felt lucky to have the use of a safe communal garden stretching the whole length of the street at the back of my basement flat.

Attila on the fishtank - his favourite spot

When Atilla was eight months old he suddenly appeared at the front of the house, enjoying the attention of passers by; practically everyone admired him and stopped to give him a cuddle.  I was worried he could be stolen or run over by a car so I took him indoors only to find him there again the next morning, immediately after his breakfast.  Overlooking the gardens from the top window I watched while Attila disappeared in the direction of a gap in our Edwardian terrace, seventeen houses away.  When I arrived downstairs he was already rolling around on the parking lot having his tummy tickled by total strangers.  The next morning I was one step ahead; as he came trotting up the path, confident and carefree (quasi whistling a tune) and turned into the alleyway, a huge bat was waiting for him at the wrought iron gate, waving her large black wings and making terrifying noises – the best use I ever made of my jumble sale poncho.  It worked!  Attila, petrified, ran back and was not seen in the street again for over three years.

Then it started again, particularly at night.  I tried to take him indoors whenever I saw him, only to find him back in the street soon after.  Used to an open kitchen window at the back, my cats had the freedom to come and go as they pleased; neighbours and friends criticised me for my overprotective approach so I slightly relaxed my obsessive control – “Cats can look after themselves”.  Well – they can’t, because three weeks later Attila was dead.  At 3.20a.m. I heard the screeching of car wheels and a bang; Attila was killed instantly.

I was heartbroken.  Had I only persisted when he refused to come in, had I cooked some fresh fish ready to entice him, had I only, had I only…  I tried to turn back the clock.

Attila, died too young, killed at night by a car

And Nouschka?  She walked past Attila’s body when we brought him in, sniffed him briefly but was not bothered; she didn’t seem to understand.  In the following months she sometimes looked for him, or occasionally left a bird under his favourite bench.   When this stopped, I assumed she had forgotten him.  How wrong I was!

Three years later, I was missing Sahara my part Siamese feral cat and went on a systematic search, interviewing all my neighbours at their back doors accompanied by Nouschka who loved to walk with me.   A lady at the far end of the garden recognised  Nouschka who was rubbing against my leg; she came every morning through her back door, jumped on the grand piano and washed her cat and sometimes, she even brought him a bird.  I asked to see this cat; he was a big fluffy tabby similar to Attila.  Then I choked…Nouschka had found her son again.

I never really came to terms with my tragic loss and my guilt made me think hard about cats and road safety.  Being involved with rescuing and homing cats for over twenty five years afterwards was no consolation; I heard of more and more cats which died too young including some that I had homed.  A street is no safe place for a cat, especially not at night when cars speed and the cat is more daring and ventures further.  Confused by noises and flashing and blinding lights they lose their bearings.
I have found over the years that cats that are kept indoors during the hours of darkness live longer and many which are allowed to go out because they “like to hunt” or, because cats are supposed to be nocturnal, have not even survived the first year.  It is up to the owner if a cat is nocturnal or not and the willingness to provide a litter tray at all times.

When adopting a cat or kitten from CAT 1977, people have to sign a homing form with the vital promise to keep the cat in at night for all of its life, a policy which we are fortunately sharing with many other charities.

At the time of Attila’s death I wished there had been a car sticker suggesting people should slow down for animals.  Some years later I met artist Sally Mangum, who was able to fulfil my dream and designed it for our charity.

© Elke de Vries – CAT 77 Fieldwork Advisor

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