We now had two female cats in our “inner group”, Serafina and Cookie. I decided that on balance, this was a good thing. We’d all upped our game somewhat. I hadn’t embarrassed myself in the catnip again and Squeak had not only lost his winter coat but had put himself on a self-imposed diet. It appeared to be working although it was difficult to tell. When Cookie was around he either seemed to be holding his breath to suck his stomach in or he would retreat to the nearby shrubbery so that she could only see his face which was carefully arranged into a sultry, smouldering look. The stomach-sucking was rather amusing as he could only manage a high-pitched squeak when he was holding his breath in like that, which made me to wonder if this might be how he’d got his name. Ron on the other hand, was relaxed as usual although he did say ‘pardon me’ after letting loose a fugitive zephyr of eye-watering proportions.
The problem with Serafina was that she was continually trying to rope us into some socially responsible cause and wanted us to form committees and create what she called “awareness campaigns.” Sometimes we were able to divert her but on this occasion, to coin a rather unpleasant phrase – she was like a dog with a bone.
“I take it you’ve all read this,” she said thrusting a well-manicured paw onto a picture that looked to be a feline family tree. Before Ron or I could answer in the negative or Squeak could, well … squeak, she continued earnestly:
“Did you know that if one unspayed cat has two boy kittens and two girl kittens, then eight months later there are twelve new kittens. Then after sixteen months when those twelve kittens have had kittens, there are thirty-six kittens which added to the twelve kittens and the four kittens makes fifty-four kittens from one unspayed cat!” She paused triumphantly as though she had successfully proved a complicated point beyond all possible dispute. Which she hadn’t. Squeak nodded sagely but I could tell he was struggling to get his head round it, meanwhile my brain turned to wool and Ron’s had wandered off elsewhere.
“Who is this unspayed cat?” enquired Ron, as if hopeful of procuring a name and address.
“It’s hypothetical, Ron,” she said rolling her eyes skyward.
“I suppose you got this from the Bay Harbour News?” I said, knowing that she read every edition from cover to cover.
“No, it was put out by the SPCA to illustrate the importance of having kittens de-sexed. A lot of humans give kittens as Christmas presents to friends and family who lose interest after it reaches maturity and they end up homeless – “
“Are you saying that kittens are the reason why people end up sleeping in cars?” interjected Ron who clearly had a firm grasp on the wrong end of this particular stick.
“Not the humans, Ron,” sighed Serafina impatiently. “The cats end up homeless and if they aren’t neutered or spayed, they start having kittens and the endless cycle of generational homelessness begins. These feral cats can turn into vicious killers you know.“
Serafina paused, her golden eyes piercing the group while she gauged the effect of this last statement on her audience. She wasn’t disappointed. Squeak had leapt out of the shrubbery as if being pursued by a knife wielding psychopath, my jaw had dropped to the ground in horror and even Ron had lost his usual swagger.
“They are literally fighting for survival,” she went on, well into her stride now, “They will attack domestic cats just to steal a few small mouthfuls from a bowl of food, but worse than that, they prey on native wildlife, and this incurs the wrath of the biggest predator on the planet.”
I nearly fainted. Surely she wasn’t suggesting there were real lions in Diamond Harbour?
“I’m talking about humans,” she said. “These unfortunate cats began life due to human neglect and they die at the hands of humans because they are threatening birds and other species. We are the lucky ones which is why we need to create awareness in the lead up to Christmas to prevent this happening.”
“We do?” I squeaked nervously. I had a horrible premonition of where this was going.
“Yes we do! We are in a unique position in this community … no, you are in a unique position to really make a diff-“
“Me?” I looked to the others for support, but Squeak was in the shrubbery again looking like a porn star, Ron was yawning as though he was overdue for his afternoon nap, while Cookie adopted the cello position and was busily cleaning her nether regions. Serafina’s earnest speech was clearly not having the effect she had hoped for.
“Yes you,” she hissed. “You’re the one who’s had his picture in the Bay Harbour News!”
She said this as though it were the ultimate pinnacle of success and that anything I did from now on would be insignificant in comparison to this one triumphant moment of glory. I was tempted to tell her that Squeak had once had his picture featured in The Guardian but I didn’t want to have to make an emergency visit to the vet to resuscitate her after that particular revelation.
I opened my mouth to speak but was unable to secure any airtime before she hastily gabbled: “We need to act quickly if we’re to get our message out before Christmas. We must urgently set up a working group and organise posters, flyers, letterbox drops. We need to build up a platform on social media to promote our cause – Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, Instagram,” she said, counting out these potential platforms on her paws.
“How are we going to do that?” I said, starting to feel utterly exhausted.
“I have a friend whose owner does a bit of graphic art. I’ll ask him to help us with some posters – handout material, that sort of thing.”
“What friend?” I said indignantly, wondering why Serafina had never invited this friend to meet us.
“Oh, Stewy is very sensitive,” she said rather sheepishly. “He suffers from anxiety. Doesn’t like meeting new people. He might feel a bit, er … out of place with us. Which reminds me, I’ve scheduled a meeting with him and I’m late already.”
“Invite him to our Mindfulness Group next Wednesday!” I shouted enthusiastically to the grey ball of fluff that was now skipping off into the distance.
We didn’t see Serafina for a nearly a week after that and I fervently hoped that she had forgotten about getting involved in the plight of feral cats. But I should have known better.
“Right!” she said abruptly waking all of us up from a delicious mid-morning snooze on the deck.
“What?” I panted from the depths of a confused state. My heart was pounding and I had that awful feeling of panic when one is suddenly woken from a deep sleep.
“We’re the talk of the town!” she said triumphantly. “The Facebook page is buzzing with people talking about SPUNC.”
“What?!” It was probably the first time that all of us had achieved perfect harmony. I could see Squeak itching to take notes for our upcoming choir practice.
“S.P.U.N.C. – The Society for the Prevention of Un-Neutered Cats” pronounced Serafina and laid the remainder of the flyers out in front of us. A picture of my smug, contented face lurched at me like something from a low budget cat food commercial.
“Serafina, when were these flyers delivered?” I said urgently, my heart sinking like a stone. “Is there any chance of a recall?”
“Two days ago. What reason would you have to recall them?”
I couldn’t think of a single reason why I wouldn’t want to recall them. Our Society’s name for one needed a serious re-think, but they were out there now and I was clearly going to have to deal with it.
“Has there been any, um … response to this ‘Awareness Campaign’?” I asked very tentatively.
“Oh yes, there has been a lot of discussion,” she said breezily. “Some are really positive, some that I’m not sure of and some, well not so much.”
Serafina then winced in a way that caused me to rush inside and check out all the cat posts on the Diamond Harbour Facebook page. Oh god this was worse than I’d thought. I returned to the group just as Serafina was reading out some of the comments.
“Well, give me the worst,” I said mournfully but was cheered when I learned that most of the responses were from supporters.
“Right, well there’s one from a guy who thinks this is an outstanding initiative but talks a lot about providing hessian bags for the homeless cats.”
“Well that’s an extremely generous and heart-warming gesture!”
“Um…Um… maybe not,” she winced. “He also talks about concrete gumboots and seems to have some quite polarising opinions about cats preying on native birds. There are some quite unsavoury pictures that I think I’ll destroy.”
Serafina went on to say there were a number of comments from someone who’d gone totally off topic, writing lengthy posts with links to various websites. As hard as I tried to make sense of it, I found it nearly impossible to get to the heart of what he was attempting to say and eventually concluded that he wanted me to spearhead a campaign to legalize cannabis. I set this aside, presuming he must’ve read about the catnip incident – something I was very keen to forget!
“There are a few from people who are de-sexing these cats and trying to re-home them which is something we can really help with I think,” she said, becoming more animated. “What we need to do is go uncover and infiltrate these insurgent gangs of feral cats – “
“Yes!” said Cookie her eyes sparkling with excitement. “We can teach them all about S.P.U.N.C. and give them hand-outs – like the poster with all the cats!”
I could see that Cookie’s enthusiasm for this idea was having an effect on Squeak as he too seemed keen on this totally hair-brained plan. Looking around at our group of thoroughly over-indulged domestic pets – all wearing collars, fully vaccinated and micro-chipped, I couldn’t imagine any of us successfully pulling off an undercover operation. The feral cats would see through us immediately, particularly Cookie who looked as if she could produce documentary evidence of her Ragdoll lineage and pedigree and Squeak who liked his food and could definitely do with losing a few excess pounds. Perhaps with the exception of Ron who I’d mistaken for a homeless cat when I’d first met him.
At that moment we heard a small plaintive meow which seemed to be coming from underneath the deck. Ron and I both jumped down and peered under the house at a scrawny white cat with huge scared blue eyes. She was clearly a feral cat and looked as though she could do with a decent wash and a good feed.
“How the hell did she get here?” I whispered to Ron.
“It’s the one in the brochure,” whispered Ron incredulously. “The unspayed cat who has four kittens and then there’s millions of them and ….”
“I’ve told you it’s hypothetical!” screeched Serafina from above the deck.
“G’day Hypo,” said Ron and leered under the deck giving the terrified creature a cheeky wink.