Synopsis: Kitchen Hand is visited regularly by a neighbour's badly-named cat whose health is in decline. Another neighbour, who works in animal welfare, intervenes. Now read on.
More months passed. Fluffball had fattened up again, but he still limped, and he had lumps around his neck. He used to fight with Lion, a cat who lived in the yard of another neighbour, unrelated to this story. One day, the animal welfare neighbour, whose name is Z., knocked on the door. Z. had a plan.
The broad plan was to steal Fluffball. Yes, take him. Kidnap him. Z. would take him to a refuge. But we had to catch him first. He would not voluntarily get into a car and be driven away. He didn't even really like being picked up. He just liked head-butting me.
The finer detail of the plan was that Z. would borrow a cage from a shelter. (You can get them from the council, but that takes six months and delivery is about as inconspicuous as riding a pink elephant down Bourke Street.) But she couldn't place the cage in her backyard, because she already had several animals, and the wrong one might get trapped. Z. wanted to put it in my yard; and if all went to plan Fluffball would, on his nightly prowl, be attracted to some food in the cage, and the door would spring shut, and Z. would take him away later.
Great. I was being implicated in a plan to kidnap a cat. That's a criminal offence. It's theft. What if Fluffball had been microchipped with a GPS tracking device, and it was traced it to my back yard?
I finally agreed, but only reluctantly; because I had come to like Fluffball and enjoy his head-butt greetings and, indeed, his company. Of course, I never called him Fluffball. He used to just sit there on my porch and not say anything, and that is a very good thing when you are reading a book in the evening.
The day for the kidnapping came. Z. sneaked the the cage into my backyard about 7pm, and set it up. Then she crept away, and I returned to my spot on the porch with my book and a drink. Minutes after Z. left, Fluffball walked past the house on his first-edition evening promenade. So far, so good.
Soon, I heard him fighting as usual with Lion. Then, a jarring occurrence really unnerved me. Fluffball's owner appeared. I had not seen her out looking for him since that first encounter the previous summer. Yet here she was, right outside outside my house on the very night we planned to steal her cat, and she was calling Fluffball! Fluffball! Fluffball! Even as the cage sat in my backyard waiting for the heist.
I shrank into my chair. After a while, Fluffball's owner gave up the search and disappeared. Minutes later, Fluffball reappeared, his grey fur dishevelled from his spat with Lion. I thought he might have heard his owner calling. But no, he turned left at my gate and sauntered up the path. Christ almighty, don’t incriminate me yet, I thought, putting my book and drink down for the fifth time in half an hour. She might still be looking. She might walk past again and see him. And follow him in, right up to the back yard. And see the cage. And realise.
But she didn’t.
Some time during the night, Fluffball played his role. Next morning, he was trapped in the cage like Burt Lancaster in an Alcatraz cell. I bet he would have liked a pet sparrow as well.
Z. knocked on the door after breakfast. Another shock. I can't take him for three days, she said, so can you look after him? What if he howls, I thought. Then, do cats even howl, I wondered. What if he escapes? Or digs his way out? Or breaks through the wire?
But he didn’t. He sat in the cage for 72 hours, and I fed him richly, and he slept and generally just took a well-earned break from prowling and street-fighting.
And finally, he was gone. Z. took him away. Drinks on the porch in the evening were no longer quite the same.
I heard nothing for a month or two.
But that didn't matter. More importantly, I heard nothing from Fluffball's owner. I thought she might have taken a week or two to even realise the cat was gone and then start putting 'Cat Missing' posters up all over the neighbourhood. But no.
Phew. She hadn't even missed him. Or didn't care.
And, no doubt, he hadn't missed her.
But I did. Him, I mean.
Six weeks later, I saw Z. She told me what had happened.
At the shelter, Fluffball had been assessed and sent to the veterinarian. He was found to have feline AIDS, an old compound fracture of the hip and rear leg - probably from having been hit by a car at some time - and a cancer in the neck. Each a death sentence.
He had then been desexed, and had his diseases treated, and his old fracture rebroken and reset. He had been kept in the shelter while he recovered.
He had then been rehomed, with an elderly lady, with whom he lives indoors, in a far distant suburb.
And, best of all, he was given a new name.