Deep in a drawer in my dressing table, safe beneath the clothes, has lain these past 20 years, a newspaper cutting entitled "He came to dog my steps". Yellowing now and very frail, I have taken this cutting out many times during those two decades to read it and it has never failed to move me to tears.
The article tells of a dog's devotion to his master. Or should that be the other way around? It really doesn't matter because surely they are one and the same thing. This particular dog, Shap, was a Lakeland Terrier, a working dog who followed his master for 17 years until one day he could follow no longer. Their lives were truly interwoven: they walked the Fells together, became television "personalities" together and as J.H.B. Peel (the master) says, Shap was "patted by a Foreign Secretary, fed by a film star, groomed by an admiral and chased by a bull". The article tells of Shap's exciting life and his many daring dos and finally, of course, of his quick and dignified death. But surpassing all that, it conveys to the reader the deep and abiding respect and love (there really is no other word for it) which Shap and his master felt for each other. Well, I found the article again today and again it brought tears but this time they were not only for Shap and his master.
My tale is not of a faithful hound like Shap but of a faithful and loving cat. She couldn't call herself a celebrity, nor did she travel the length and breadth of the country as Shap did. But in her unassuming cat-like way she was as loyal, clever and affectionate as any animal companion can be. A friend who knew and loved her has called her "irreplaceable" and indeed she is.
I first saw her in a veterinary surgery where I worked in 1989. She had been rescued from the grounds of a hospital where she and many other cats were living in a feral community. The nurses there had taken it upon themselves to bring the cats into our surgery to have them neutered and then found good homes. It was love at first sight and for the next 13 years, Tinkerbell and I lived our lives together. A very small cat, her long, soft fur was both inky black and bright white. Little tufts of white sprang from her ears and her tiny front paws looked as if spots of white paint had fallen onto the black. Her tail was a black flag, raised instantly she saw me - even in the distance - or used as a soft thumping tap on my leg to let me know she was near.
Sociability was perhaps her most appealing and unfailing characteristic among many. There was never a time when she did not come and greet me at the front door and often she was even there at the window looking for me before I came into view. Her "chirrup" - like one of the old Trillphones - welcomed me each time we met and unless she was asleep somewhere, she was at my side every moment of the day to see what I was up to and if she could help. Indeed, each evening, she would "help" me cook the supper by sitting on the kitchen table directing the action and giving me encouraging "chirrups" each time I passed her vantage point. I only had to look at her to start her purring which I told her sounded like an old tractor! If we were watching TV and I needed to get up, I would just cradle her in my arms whilst walking about and having resumed my seat, Tinkerbell would settle back to sleep, her tiny head snuggling firmly into the crook of my arm. Sometimes, in the morning, glimpsing her in the garden, I would tap on the bathroom window and a minute later she was at my side, having dashed through the catflap, across 2 rooms and up the stairs.
Now she is gone and how I will bear the pain of our separation I do not know. There isn't a place in the house or garden where I can find solace because she was always there to share, to amuse or to comfort. Even my husband, indifferent to cats all his life, acknowledges that he had "fallen under her spell" and now feels the terrible void her death has left. He expects to find her curled up around his slippers when he wants to put them on or to see her little black and white shape plodding off down the garden from his office window.
There was little sign of the passing years: a few weeks ago she climbed one of our apple trees and stood there prancing and rubbing her head on the branches wanting admiration. She regularly did her "daring dash" which consisted of my standing at the back door, she waiting some 50 yards away in the garden. I would call her and she would hurtle as fast as she could, ears and fur lying horizontal at the speed, around the bends, onto the terrace and finally through the door where she stopped dead and waited for praise. Then 3 weeks ago she seemed unwell but the diagnosis was not particularly worrying. However, it seems there was more to it than that and yesterday, with her lying in my arms, I had to end her life and with it, a goodly part of mine.
She lies buried in the garden now, which she loved so much, with her bowl which she will surely need as she was a gourmet cat. I return to Shap's article to quote these last words which were discovered by archaeologists at the grave of a Greek dog some two thousand years ago. I hope he will not mind if I change two words to pay tribute to my beloved little cat. "If you pass this way and happen to notice this stone, do not laugh, even though it is only a cat's grave. Tears fell for my sake, and the earth was heaped above me by my mistress's hand, who likewise carved these words".