I am delighted to report that Daisy is back home!
The bizarre thing is that she neither left nor came back of her own accord. She was effectively abducted and then returned.
Our nearest neighbour is one of life’s tragic cases, with severe learning difficulties, an awkward posture and a tottering gait. He ended up by himself when both his parents died prematurely, one being killed when a car struck his mobylette and the other dying of some illness. Apparently he is not really able to look after himself and survives on a daily visit from a carer and the French equivalent of “meals on wheels”. His is however quite fit and walks for miles every day, with his little dog. The previous owners of our house allowed him into the garden quite frequently and gave him food and cast off clothes plus treats for the dog.
We encountered him a few times when we visited the house before the previous owners moved out. As soon as our car turned up he would walk along the lane with the dog to see what was going on and if the gate was open he would come into the garden. The previous owners were keen to point out that he is “quite harmless” but they never let him into the house.
Communication with him is virtually impossible as he doesn’t talk, just grunts and shouts. He sometimes seems to be trying to form words in a way that makes me wonder if he might also be deaf. The vendors used to speak and gesticulate at him in a mixture of French and English in the way that you might talk to a dog, and he would just grunt back, giving no clue as to whether or not he had understood what has been said. I have no idea how old he is – he could be anything from thirty to fifty. He looks rough, unkempt and dirty, always dressed in a random selection of ill-fitting clothes, almost like a tramp. The previous owners told us they only once called at his house and it was in such a state that they had no wish to ever go again. We decided that as we would inevitably need to keep the gate shut because of Lulu we would probably not be troubled by him.
I think that by now you can probably guess what happened to Daisy – but read on if you want to know the full story …….
On the day she disappeared she had followed us to the gate, as she always did – she followed us everywhere. I picked her up and took her back nearer to the house, shut the gate and left her playing at chasing leaves under the lime tree. As we drove away from the house we waved to the neighbour as he walked along the road with his little dog. When we got back to the house an hour later there was no sign of her.
The weather had been glorious for weeks and later that afternoon it changed and became thoroughly foul. We searched all over for Daisy and gradually the awful realisation that she was gone crept up on us. All along I found it hard to believe that a young kitten would wander off by herself when there is nowhere else to go – we are surrounded by fields and at the time they had only just been ploughed and were just massive clods of earth and mud. Why would a small kitten, who never normally went beyond the gate, as far as we know, suddenly decide to take off over mountains of mud? There was plenty to explore and entertain her at home in the barns, not to mention food and a cosy bed.
It crossed my mind that she might have made it to the neighbour’s property and could be sheltering somewhere, but it’s so far away that I discounted the idea. If a small cat was half way there when it started to rain surely she would come home rather than go further away – unless she was lost.
We searched the ditches all around the house for miles, looking for evidence that she might have been hit by a car. Then it occurred to me that she might have ventured into the electrician’s van and hidden – he was here on the morning she disappeared – and ended up jumping out the next time he parked with the van doors open, which could be anywhere. But we had all looked in the van for her before he left, and there was no sign.
I resolved to try to catch a word with the neighbour’s carer by flagging down her car next time I saw her - had identified a car that called regularly but not always at the same time of day and assumed it was hers. Two days ago I was out hanging some washing and noticed the car so the three of us, including Lulu, loitered by the end of his lane and waited for her.
We waved at her and for a moment thought she wasn’t going to stop but thankfully she pulled onto the grass verge and got out of the car. We introduced ourselves as the new neighbours and she said she had no idea the house had changed hands. Her client had told her about a dog and she assumed the previous owners had got a dog, not that there were new owners. This makes me wonder if the previous owners didn’t tell the neighbour they were going, or maybe they did and he didn’t understand. He seemed to visit most days so they would certainly have had the opportunity to try.
She told us a lot about him, much of which we already knew, and came across as a really nice, caring, dependable person, thoroughly concerned for his welfare. He should really be in a care home but refuses to go, hence the visits from the carer and the meal deliveries.
As the conversation drew to a close I asked about the cat. I said we had lost our cat and wondered if she had seen one around his house and that I was worried that she might have accidentally been shut in a barn. She said “she’s on his bed”.
He had told her that he “found the cat” outside our house and took her home. The carer, having no idea there were new neighbours next door, concluded that he had picked up an abandoned cat and thought no more about it. He had kept her indoors and not let her outside at all.
At first I thought she was not going to help us to get Daisy back - she said he would be very upset if the cat went away. I said “but she’s our cat”. We must have both looked distraught as she seemed to suddenly change her mind and said she would bring the cat back to us the next day. She would tell him that the cat had disappeared. She even reached into the back of the car and gave us a box of cat food she had bought for her.
She was true to her word and Daisy arrived the next day, bewildered and confused, with chronic diarrhoea and riddled with fleas. Luckily she still remembered how to use a litter tray.
The carer said she had told the neighbour that the cat was ours but she had no idea whether or not he had understood. Which makes me feel less bad about not venturing down to the house myself days ago to ask after her – if the carer, who probably knows him better than anyone – can’t make him understand, what chance would I have?
I have no idea what his real motives were. Did he really not know there were new neighbours next door? We had waved to him every time we passed each other in the lane and when he came up to the gate, although we never let him in. Lulu dutifully barked at him every time he passed by. Did he really think Daisy was an abandoned cat – apparently its common for people to take unwanted kittens a long way from home and leave them to fend for themselves – or did he simply like the look of her and decided he’d take her for himself? She certainly didn’t look like a stray cat – she was plump, clean and friendly – I imagine that most people would have simply thought that the neighbours had got a new cat, not that she was a stray – she was at the entrance to our drive, not at his door begging for food.
The really upsetting part is that he would have had to be very determined to take her. When ever we picked Daisy up she would wriggle furiously and was difficult to hold on to. He must have held on really tight or trapped her inside his jacket. The carer said he had kept her indoors all the time, and something in the way she said it made me immediately think it was so that she couldn’t make her way home, or to prevent us from finding her. We will never know.
It took Lulu a few hours to get used to Daisy again but now they get along fine. The fleas are gone, Daisy, Lulu and all the furniture being treated, along with our clothes and anything she came into contact with. The upset tummy has settled down and Daisy is back to her usual self, following us everywhere and meowing constantly, getting into mischief. I have rediscovered the joy of having a kitten climbing up your trouser leg as you try to peel potatoes!
So Daisy has gone from being a full-time outdoor cat to a full-time indoor cat for the time being. We will keep her indoors for a few days then let her out and see what happens – we are very worried that if the neighbour spots her he will simply take her again. Even if she is allowed outdoors we will certainly shut her in when we go out, just in case he walks by and she goes to him. People who are “harmless” might not be violent or malicious but they might also not realise when they are doing wrong, especially if there’s nobody else at home to ask the right questions. We will give him the benefit of the doubt.
Nothing is ever easy, is it? We just wanted a cat to deal with the mice……