Samantha David is a freelance journalist and writes for various publications including BBC Online, the Sunday Times, the FT, Living France, everything France, and France Magazine

Samantha David, writer

Miscellaneous Animals - articles by Samantha David


Sooty the Outdoor Cat

Sooty says she isn't ours. She is an outdoor cat and she absolutely will not come inside. No thank you!

She first turned up in the village a couple of years ago with a family who were here for the summer. They were smart, citified folk and had bought a kitten to amuse their children while they relaxed in the countryside. There was a boy and a girl and apparently they adored their little pet.

They carried her about all day, stroking and cuddling her and she even spent a fair amount of time cuddled up under their T-shirts and dungarees. They fed her saucers of milk and scraps of steak from their parents' barbecue and as July wore on, Sooty lost her fluffy kitten fur and grew a glossy black coat.

From time to time she would go missing and then a hue and cry would be set up around the village by the children searching for their darling in every barn and hayrick until they found her again. Then old ladies sitting on the bench near the church would cluck and coo sentimentally while the children laughed.

Then late in August, a day or two before the autumn term started, the family disappeared back to the city. Packed their barbecue up and drove off. Leaving Sooty behind.

"Oh, they'll be back for the kitten!" said the old ladies. "You wait until those youngsters realise she's been left behind!"

But they never came back and no-one seemed to have the faintest idea where they'd come from or where they'd gone. Sooty went potty. She sat in the village square and howled. She cried and searched and wept all night, keeping everyone awake.

Various people decided to adopt her and/or take her to the local pet rescue centre but no-one could get near her. She didn't like grown ups. She could spot the word "capture" in the eyes of everyone in the village. She would sit warily as the approaching hunters murmured "Here, Kitty, Kitty!"... until the last moment when she would scarper off across the low cottage roofs.

Others tried leaving food out for her and perhaps she ate it at the dead of night, but nobody ever saw her near the dishes and she certainly wouldn't come running to the rattle of a tin opener. She got thinner as the days drew in, but because by this time she had stopped screaming so loudly, people shrugged and left her alone. Sooty shrugged too. She had been abandoned and didn't know what to do, so she hung around the village.

And that's how things stayed for about a year. I had a houseful of cats who hated her and besides, I had my hands full with toddling children. There was nothing to be done. Summer came round again and more visitors arrived. One lot took pity on Sooty and fed her but of course they couldn't get near her and by this time she had worms, fleas and ticks. But yet again, at the end of the summer Sooty was at a loose end. The visitors had always said they couldn't take her home with them and they duly shipped out sans cat. The winter wore on and Sooty was still there. She seemed to have taken up residence in a tumbledown garage.

And then the following spring, my cats were suddenly diagnosed with FIV and within weeks I was catless. My kids were furiously upset and instantly demanded another cat. I wasn't sure. Was there FIV in the village? Would any further feline acquisitions also suffer the same fate?

The kids didn't care. They could walk very confidently by this time, so they marched out into the village square, grabbed Sooty and staggered back to the house with her. I was astounded, but what else could I do? I opened a tin of cat food and put some down in a cat bowl.

Realising that the door was shut and that a hated grown up was bearing down on her, Sooty went balmy. She shot round the kitchen, flew into the dining room, hurtled into the sitting room and there discovered the cat flap. She was out of it like a bullet and we didn't see her for days.

The kids laughed but there was a martial light in their eyes and they insisted on leaving food out on the windowsill for "their" cat, which they called Sooty.

That was a year ago and we're still leaving food out for Sooty our outdoor cat. She doesn't wander about the village; she mainly hangs about near us. She quite often comes and inspects our gardening efforts, sometimes she even follows us on walks and she regularly makes her presence felt on the windowsill at mealtimes. She comes when I call, although I still can't pick her up. The kids are allowed to cuddle her and carry her about. But she won't come inside. Not at any price.

There's a cat flap and the doors stand open almost all year round. But she won't come in for food. She won't come in when it's raining. Even snow doesn't have the power to drive her indoors. I have to worm her and de-flea her by stealth and after a continuing struggle to give her the pill failed, we got her spayed a few months ago, which was a palaver.

We had to dope her food with sedatives from the vet in order to get her into a cat basket and the instant she came round from the anaesthetic (we brought her home still unconscious to avoid any panic in the car) she was scrabbling at the cat flat to get out.

Before Sooty, I would have said that there wasn't any point in having an outdoor cat. I mean, I like cats to curl up on my lap and purr. I like to watch them play with corks while I'm ironing, I like their company when I'm making beds and I adore the way they try to seduce you when you're cooking meat. I would have said that feeding a cat (not to mention paying £60 for having her sterilised, vaccinated and blood-tested for FIV) who merely arrives, gobbles and bombs off would be incredibly unrewarding.

But in fact, Sooty is great. She's a very warm and sweet presence in our lives. She's beautiful too. Her coat is as thick and soft as a duvet. She has green eyes like which glow like lamps and she is wonderfully graceful as she lounges about on the wall, or leaps across the terrace or sits and looks at us through the kitchen window. I think we've become her own private television, actually. I love her.

And although she won't admit that she's our property, she definitely regards us as hers.




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