Tiger was named for the way that he walked - with the deliberate strut of a big cat
Moggie shorthair, Ginger (Red) Classic Tabby
Until the early spring of 2002, we thought we were 'dog people'. That was when our first cat, Tiger, moved in uninvited and changed our lives forever. Over a decade on, we can't imagine not having lots of cats in our lives, and are GCCF-registered breeders!
At the end of our 1st year of University (2001), Richard bought a small house on an estate in the North-East corner of Lancaster. That winter a ginger tabby started coming and sitting in the back garden of our house and those of our neighbours, watching in through the windows. A few times we tried to approach him but he would always run away if you got too close. He never seemed afraid; he just didn't seem to want any contact. When we mentioned him to the kids next door, they told us that he had been a stray since the previous summer - they believed that his owners had moved away and left him.
He continued 'visiting' throughout the coldest winter months, sitting in our garden for a while and then moving next door, then next door to that, but never allowing us to get too close. One day in early spring we got home from doing our shopping at ASDA, and he was sitting on our front door-step. We were laden with shopping bags so couldn't have stopped to stroke him even if we had wanted to, but we fully expected him to run away as he always had done before. Instead, when we opened the front door he trotted in beside us and sat down in the middle of the front room.
Once we had finished bringing in the shopping we held the door open, asking if he would like to go back out. He remained in the middle of the floor. The second we had the door closed he started rubbing up against us purring and generally wanting a fuss to be made of him. I honestly believe that he had been watching us all for those months whilst he decided which house would fit in best with his schedule. He didn't like kids, he didn't like early mornings or fancy food or beds; he did like late nights, cheap ASDA 'Tiger' cat food, and having a pile of old dust sheets in a cardboard box to sleep on. We were perfect for him!
We had some tins of cat food in the cupboard from feeding a hedgehog that had been in our garden during the winter, so we put some of that down in the kitchen and the cat tucked in - he was obviously starving. We had been doing some work on the house (as per usual) and there was a dust sheet draped over one end of the couch. When the cat had finished eating he came through to the livingroom and jumped up on the dust sheet. It was weeks before we managed to persuade him that we didn't mind him sitting on the couch without there being a sheet on it first. He also took weeks to realise that he could sit on our laps without invitation.
That first night we weren't sure whether to shut him out or leave him in and risk a wee present in the morning. We eventually came up with the idea of putting down one of the paint trays that are used for rollering walls, and filling it with sand that we had in for doing some building job or other. Sure enough, when we came down the next morning, he had neatly used the sand-filled tray.
We had Tiger before we had a digital camera, so we only have
old scanned photos of him, and none of them do justice to his
stunning green eyes, but at least this one does show off his
beautiful markings and gorgeous, rich coat colour
As soon as we put the collar on him, he was happy to come and go at will, but he always remained nervous of being without a collar. If he lost his collar somewhere he would rush back to the house and wouldn't go outside without us until we had put a new one on him. We can only assume that his previous owners took his collar off before throwing him out and he connected being homeless with not having a collar. We also decided to name him, and since he had a prowling walk like a big cat we decided to call him after one of them. As he was a ginger tabby, the most obvious big cat to call him after was a Tiger, so that became his name.
Tiger became my 'baby' - he was very much my cat, and would do absolutely anything for me. He also always knew when I was coming home: during the summer holidays, for example, I would go home to my 'holiday job' in Scotland and Richard used to stay in Lancaster to do agency work. Every so often I would drive down to Lancaster to surprise Richard (we were going out by that point), but it never worked - I would arrive and Richard would already have a pot of tea brewing for me. About 15 minutes before I got back Tiger would go out of the catflap in the back door and run around the block of houses to sit on the front window ledge. Then about 5 minutes before I arrived he would move from the window ledge to the roadside and was always there without fail to greet me. If Richard saw Tiger following that particular pattern then he knew that I was about to arrive.
Tiger was also ridiculously intelligent and had a phenomenal ability to know where we had left things. Richard was always losing one set of keys or another, and would tell Tiger to "fetch my car keys" or "find my house keys" and Tiger always came back with the correct set. Some people say that cats are colour-blind but that is complete nonsense. I think all of our cats can tell different colours (the current lot have different coloured bowls and know which one belongs to whom) but Tiger certainly could. Since we were cheap students Tiger's only combs were 39p flea combs from Wilkinsons. Tiger had one red, one yellow and one orange. We used to ask him to fetch a particular colour and he would always come back with the right one. I don't ever remember him making a mistake with bringing us anything. If you asked him to find something that was too heavy for him to carry then he would disappear off to find it and then come back expecting you to follow him to wherever the missing item was hiding. None of our current lot would entertain the idea of finding things for us - we'd be lucky to even get an eye opening in response most of the time!
Tiger used to accompany me back to Scotland for the Christmas holidays and I would put my parents' old fireguard across my bedroom door but leave the door open so that he could talk to anyone working in the study, which was next to my room. Tiger would sit at the door and chat away to anyone who would listen - he used to drive my Dad nuts when he was trying to concentrate on the computer! Each morning and night Tiger and I would take a walk around the local streets, with Tiger on his collar and lead (he wouldn't walk on a harness) and then he would go to the toilet in a corner of the garden before going back into the house - he only used his litter tray if I was late in taking him out.
From the start, Tiger suffered from gingivitis (gum disease) and we used to have to take him to the vets for injections every 4-12 weeks. Just before Christmas of 2004 he went in to have a tooth removed and when he was under anaesthetic the vet discovered a small lump under his tongue. She told us that it could be just scar tissue from an old injury, or it could be cancerous. I asked if it could be removed just in case but she said there was no point in doing so if it wasn't cancerous. I then asked if there was a test they could do to find out and she said there was but that it was too expensive. I asked how much and she just said "too expensive". So I asked what we should do and was told just to keep an eye on him and if his mouth seemed to be causing him any problems to bring him back in.
Even though we didn't know for sure what was wrong, I didn't like the thought of being without a cat if it did turn out to be cancerous. Richard agreed that I could have another cat 'just in case', and when a stunning but terrified 4-year-old was brought into Animal Care in Lancaster, where I volunteered, I decided to take her home. We named her Jinny, and her information can be found on the 'Neuters' page.
By early March Tiger had started drooling slightly, which was nothing unusual due to his gingivitis. We took him back to the vets and she checked his tongue and said that the lump had definitely grown and that she recommended having him operated on to see about trying to remove it. I was doing a year's industrial placement with BAE Systems as part of my degree at the time, and arranged to take him in before work one day the following week. I could hardly concentrate as I waited for the call from the surgeon to say how the operation had gone.
Part way through the afternoon the surgeon called and said that Tiger was still under anaesthetic. The lump had progressed a good way down his throat and couldn't be removed without damaging the blood vessels that regulate temperature. Even if the lump was successfully removed, Tiger would lose the ability to control his temperature, which would leave him with no quality of life. The surgeon asked if I wanted him just to put Tiger to sleep then. I said no, because I wanted a chance to say goodbye first. I could hardly talk, far less work, and my boss took one look at me and sent me home to collect Tiger. The vet told us that Tiger should be fine for a while yet, but that we should watch out for any deterioration. Once he started losing condition or struggling to eat we were to have him put down.
Tiger taking a rest with his favourite toy - he would use it as a
pillow when sleeping, and used to carry it around in his mouth
We knew then that the time had come to end things before he suffered too much. We didn't want to bury him in Lancaster, because we knew that we would be moving away from there once Uni was finished. My parents said that we could bury him at the bottom of their garden, where my siblings and I had buried our rabbits and guinea-pigs as children. I took the first Monday in May off work and we got an appointment with my parents' local vet. Richard carved a headstone to take up with us, and Jinny came too so that I had a cat to cuddle on the way South!
Tiger was put to sleep on the 2nd of May (2005), and I don't think I've ever cried so hard. When he collapsed onto the vet's table in my arms I could hardly stand and was so distraught that they had to usher me out of the back door so that I wouldn't upset their other clients! I wanted to keep his collar as a reminder of him, but knowing how much he hated to be without one in life we decided he couldn't be without one in death. Instead we bought a cheap one for him to wear in his 'coffin' shoebox and I kept the one that he had worn. It's incredible the daft things people will do in grief.
Even though we have multiple cats now, and wouldn't be without any of them, I still miss Tiger. My 'baby'; the one who started it all! You can read what happened after that, in the 'Our Cat Story' pages.
As an aside: ironically, the operation to have the lump removed would have been around Ģ200, which I would have consented to in a heartbeat. I've always wondered whether he would still be with us today if the vet had given me the chance to decide what was 'too expensive' for my cat's care.