The Story of the Cat Who Came to Stay

 

Look deep into my eyes…

Back in the start of the year, when I was almost tearing my hair out trying to deal with extremely dry and hot weather, failed crops and the ever increasing work load with university, I noticed a skinny little cat had started hanging around the yard. I live near the university, so there’s a lot of unit blocks all around me and I wondered if this little thing belonged to one of the mostly student tenants.

I’m not a cat person. I’ve got large breed rabbits and a retirement home for elderly chickens in my patch as well as multiple vegetable beds, fruit trees (many on dwarfing rootstock in wicking barrels) and a greenhouse that I purposely didn’t plant out last year in order to concentrate on study. Because of the high number of rented units, this area gets a lot of stray cats that wander into the yard. So the old chooks have a fully enclosed rat, raptor and cat proof run, with grape and passionfruit vines to provide summer shade as well as a covered back section with roosting and nesting areas. (We call it ‘Frankenhutch’). The two remaining bunnies are in their own very secure enclosures and Boudica (the biggest, most sweet natured rabbit on the planet) has been seen taking pieces out of cats when she was still a breeding doe. In fact, we’ve worked out since that she is more than twice as big as Neko, who weighs in at under 5kg (11lb).

It’s common to see an occasional mouse trying to get at the chickens’ kibble but they usually don’t last long, gobbled up as extra protein by the chickens and even the odd rat in the yard looking for feed. Imagine my surprise when I came down one morning and found a freshly dead rat on the pathway!

And up on the fence was perched this very scrawny grey cat, watching me very intently. It had no collar and I asked a few people over the next few weeks if they knew who owned the little charcoal tabby – but no one could help. Over the next couple of months, I surprised it a few times in the greenhouse or saw it watching me from behind a tree and there were further gifts of what I can only describe as pieces of dead rodents. The cat, whether I liked it or not, had moved in. The chickens were still laying, the rabbits were showing no signs of distress and none of the native birds that always hang around in late summer seemed fussed at all by the grey terror in the greenhouse. So who was I to complain about a mouser in the yard? I started leaving a bowl of water out near the greenhouse door but I kept thinking that there must be someone, somewhere missing this little creature.

Then one day, when I was inside the chicken’s run feeding them some of the choicest weeds, the cat, sitting outside the enclosure, started to meow at me. Henrietta, the maddest and feistiest chicken ever, lunged at it, ready to peck its green eyes out if it got any closer. The cat didn’t turn a whisker, it plainly wasn’t interested in chickens – it was looking and talking only to me. I started to meow and sing back to it and so, we gradually came to an understanding. I never tried to approach it or touch it, and bided my time.

Henrietta, Queen of the Chicken Coop

In the end, it was Mister Him Indoors (who is not a natural gardener but incredibly good with animals) who made first physical contact. He came down to help me get the autumn vegetable beds ready and called the cat, who sensibly came straight to him and then it was on. There was a quite alarming rumble of purring and rubbing its face on our legs, boots and hands, nibbling fingers. It made us realise just how terribly thin this cat was, how dull its coat but how bright its eyes – and how much it enjoyed the affection! This was obviously no rank stray, it’d spent at least part of its life as someone’s pet. It was beautifully marked and fine boned, we thought maybe a female and a tail that was extraordinary in length and movement. We gave it some dry cat food I keep on hand for the chickens. (Don’t laugh – the extra protein is the best conditioner when chickens are moulting and fabulous in mid-winter when they need a little extra bulk). I was astonished – I’d never heard a cat purr while it was eating before. We included it in the regular twice a day feeding schedule – chickens first, then the rabbits’ mixed greens from around the garden and a little kibble and finally, the cat. It started sunning itself on the top of the back stairs outside the laundry in the afternoon, waiting for us to come down to do the evening feed. With the weather starting to cool, we had to do something. It would be too cold in the unheated, drafty greenhouse in the middle of winter.

So I took a photo, plastered it over my social media network and posted it to the local lost pets register. No response. We had to make a decision.

As I said we’re not a cat-loving household, having spent time in the bush and knowing the damage feral and unconfined cats can do to wildlife and the environment generally. The last thing on our minds was getting one, let alone adopting someone’s dumped pet. There were options. We could call the local cat centre. They would come and collect it, scan to see if it has a microchip identification and if not it would be put up for adoption.

But what if no one adopted it?

We talked it over, we discussed making a bed for it in the laundry, discussed the pros and cons of having a young cat come into our lives for potentially the next 15 years. Big decisions!

Through the lost pets register, I met Suzi, who works at a dedicated cat-only veterinary practice in Hobart and we made an appointment, discussed what to do if it didn’t have a microchip, wasn’t neutered, the cost, the commitment.

The day came and we were so uneducated in feline ways, we had no idea the best way to get a cat into a pet carrier is to put it in backwards. There were deep scratches and much plaintive meowing from the backseat of the car – but we got there.

At the vet’s we discovered little cat was a boy! Skinny, but not undernourished thanks to our ministrations. There was no desexing tattoo but a microchip, and a registered owner in Launceston, about 200km (125 miles) away. Suzi rang the owner who was surprised. She’d bought him as a kitten in 2012, had him desexed and wanted an indoor pet but he was not happy confined in an apartment alone all day. Very responsibly, she rehomed Harley (as she named him) a couple of years ago to a rural family in Richmond.

She gave the number of the new owners and we held our breath while Suzi called them.

Yes, they had a cat they called Smokey but it went missing in December last year. No, they hadn’t transferred the microchip information. Did they want him back?

No, they had another cat now.

Mister Him Indoors (always the scholar of mythology) named him Nekomata for the devious monster cats of ancient Japanese tales. How he got from Richmond to Hobart will always be a mystery. It’s some 27km (over 16 miles) from Hobart and we can only presume that he got caught in a truck or fell asleep without anyone noticing.

Currently, he’s still sleeping in the greenhouse. There seems to be some trauma surrounding being confined but he’s starting to come upstairs into the laundry, where he will have shelter, a warm bed and appropriate facilities (a litter tray) for the long winter nights.

No one’s really sure how it happened, but now we have a cat.

In truth, I think it was Neko’s plan all along.

You will love me and obey…

Travelling Backwards

image

It’s been a long day. I watched the moon set this morning over My Wellington in Hobart, as I fed myself, the rabbits and the chickens. I filled up on coffee, packed the car and drove off from chilly Hobart to the beautiful east coast.

I stopped a couple of times to stretch my protesting muscles and joints and walk around. One of the things I’ve noticed battling arthritis over the years is that I need to keep moving and if I’m stuck behind the wheel for any longer than an hour I start to fidget. Safer to pull over and walk around for a while. So, first stop was Orford, on the banks of the Prosser  River, incredibly pretty as the mist was burning off in the warm winter sun.

image

So nice to see Black Swans feeding in the shallows and smell eucalyptus again!

Further up the Tasman Highway, I stopped for a stroll along one of my favourite places at Old Man Creek. Nestled into the cliffs, there’s a small camping ground and a gorgeous white sand beach.

image

Even in mid winter, there were a few people at the dozen or so campsites and it made me reminisce about many camping trips I’ve spent there going back thirty years or so. It was lovely just to walk, breathe in the sea air, listen to rhythm of the waves and watch sunlight on the water. Also, it was surprisingly warm for this time of the year and very sheltered from the prevailing westerly winds. Pretty close to perfect conditions 🙂

As I write, I’m crashed on the couch at the Bicheno Backpackers, very comfortable and full of Earl Grey tea. The sun is slipping away and its starting to chill off quite rapidly.

Tomorrow, I go to say hello to a friend when in actual fact, it is the biggest and final goodbye. Jeff is dying and there’s nothing any of us can do about it. I have strange and conflicted feelings about the whole thing. Above all, I know this is the right thing for me to do, to celebrate this dear friend while I can, with him before he passes away.

Take care dear people, be good to each other

Debra ❤

A Place To Start

The hardest thing about any writing project is finding somewhere to start.

I’ve been thinking about this blog for ages and confess every time I’ve opened up WordPress, full of good intentions I’ve ended up writing another piece for Bumper Crop – my “other life” as an avid organic gardener and cook.

But with autumn taking hold in the southern hemisphere, it’s high time to make a start and share some of my musical life with you all. Many of you would never have heard of me, so here’s the official bio, direct from the press kit…..

Debra Manskey was born into a musical family in South Australia. In fact, for the first ten or twelve years of her life, Debra thought everyone lived in a home where music was on the menu most nights of the week.

“Growing up, it was a revelation for me to discover that some families didn’t play music together or even own a musical instrument. We used to sit around the kitchen table and just do it! Looking back, it’s a gift I can’t thank my parents enough for.”

One of the founding members of Australian 80’s indie icons Wild Pumpkins at Midnight, Debra’s trademark soaring vocals contributed to the Pumpkins’ 1990 ARIA award for “This Machine is Made of People”

Throughout her long career, Debra has graced many concert stages and festivals, including Pt Fairy, Moomba, Cygnet Folk Festival and Tasmania’s jewel, 10 Days on the Island. In recent years as a solo performer she has also supported other outstanding artists such as The Stiff Gins, Neil Murray, Stefan Grossman, Sophie B Hawkins, Mick Thomas, Dave Steel and the inimitable Dave Graney.

Debra is also highly regarded as an arts administrator and educator, regularly conducting specialist workshops for adults and children in voice, songwriting and performance skills. She has worked as a Writer-In-Residence, been celebrated as Tasmanian Living Writer and released a live cd in 2006 which received excellent reviews and has now sold out.

Her first full-length studio album “The Woman on the Edge of the World” was released in January 2012 and is available as a digital download through SoundCloud.

Besides her solo work, Debra has also been in the studio again with a new four-piece band The Fringe Dwellers, featuring guitarist/songwriter Malcolm Battersby. Their debut album “After Time” is due out in the second half of 2012

Ok, that’s enough to begin with………

Next time I’ll give you all a rundown on beautiful Hobart in winter (including some pics)  🙂 and some of the projects I’m involved in at present. Life is busy!