Our First Cat

It was our first meal in our first house. Alec bought sausages, thinking that I would forget the food. I also bought sausages, thinking that I could probably cook those. Please note that we had no fridge. As we were finishing our meal a cat walked in through the open back door. I hope I will never see an animal in his condition again. He had a large frame and was a dignified black and white - white whiskers, paws, under-belly and a white bow-tie. His coat was in a dreadful state. He had no fur - only bristles. He jumped straight onto my knee and purred loudly. When I stroked him he was so ecstatic that he rolled out of control onto the floor. We were not sure that we should feed him. He couldn’t belong to anyone - but did we want a cat? He gratefully lapped up a saucer of milk, drinking from the far side of the saucer and splashing milk up the wall.

Our house, 10 Arthur St. was in Hawera, Taranaki, and just outside the town boundary. We asked the neighbours if they knew where the cat had come from, but no-one did. There was a row of rail-way houses a short distance away. Perhaps someone had moved on, leaving their cat behind. The cat appeared more and more frequently. We saved scraps, so that he wouldn’t starve. He had hunted for his food and had developed an efficient method of catching birds. He would climb to the top of our lemon tree, which was as tall as the house. Beside the tree was a bush of heath - soft and springy. When a bird landed on the heath bush the cat jumped down on top of it. We have seen him catch three birds a day.

After several incidents of stealing food we named the cat Oliver. Once when Alec returned to the table after answering the door he found that his meat had disappeared. Once Oliver ate 8 meat pies that had been left over from a school trip. Once Oliver brought home the back half of a rabbit. He had already eaten the front half. He sat on the back lawn and ate the rest. He didn’t move for a couple of days afterwards.

Oliver had decided to adopt us. Gradually his bristles changed to fur and gradually his sides filled out. He grew to be the largest cat around. He did not welcome visiting cats. He didn’t fight in the normal way of cats - all teeth claws and yowling…He just jumped without a sound on top of any cat who strayed onto our property - and they seldom returned.

Alec noticed strange shoots appearing on our back lawn. The cats noticed them too. One night we had half a dozen cats rolling on the lawn - intoxicated. The shoots were kiwi-fruit [then called Chinese gooseberries] and the cats loved them. Then Oliver got sick. He didn’t eat, but could lap milk for a day or so. He crawled under the stove [which had legs and no thermostat] and just sat looking sad and unable to clean himself. His mouth was open and he dribbled and made strange painful noises. His breathing was shallow and hoarse. We made our first trip to the vet. The vet was puzzled and worried. He said he would need to examine Oliver under anaesthetic. He found a piece of kiwi-fruit root, which was hollow, had been lodged in Oliver’s throat. It had at first allowed food to pass through, but then his throat had become swollen and infected. Oliver was lucky to be alive. After paying the vets bill we decided that he really was our cat, and he got normal regular cat meals.

The floor covering on our hall was yellow shiny lino. If we left newspaper on the floor. Oliver would jump on it and skid the length of the hall and back. He liked to roll himself up in newspaper if he could find one. If he thought we were watching he would stop playing immediately and sit and wash himself.

We lived at 10 Arthur St. for 18 months before deciding to move to Wellington so that Alec could complete his degree at a university. Alec got his heavy traffic licence and hired a truck to move our furniture. I followed him in our cream Morris Minor - loaded with as many small boxes as you could fit in a Morris Minor. We returned the truck the following day. I decided that Oliver didn’t need to go in a box for his trip down. He happily curled on my knee and slept - When we slowed down to 30 miles an hour for each town ship Oliver sat up, put his paws on the dash-board and HOWLED. We were glad to arrive at our one-bed-room unit at Cannons Creek, Porirua. Alec had been appointed to a teaching position at Linden School and to attract staff state housing was available.

Oliver settled down to the life of a normal domesticated suburban cat. We left our bed-room window open so that he could come and go as he pleased. We had to be very careful driving home, especially at night. As we lived in a short street we would drive to the end, turn around and pull up in front of our unit. Oliver would hear the distinctive sound of our Morris Minor and would sit in the middle of the road ---waiting.

After living in Porirua for 18 months we moved to our own home in Johnsonville. Oliver had slowed down though he was still very loving. A visit to the vet showed that he had bone cancer in one of his front legs. He lived on pain-killers for a year. We knew that his end had come when he had difficulty in walking. Just before our second child, Kristin was born Alec had to take Oliver to the vet for the last time.

We remember Oliver with warmth and gladness.-----Thankful that we were able to share the life of such an independent and faithful animal.


Judy Utting
July 1997