Roo, a beautiful 8-week-old fat Tonkinese boy came downstairs from the spare room where my newest litter of kittens had been living. I had never let them come into the kitchen because I was afraid Humbug would kill them or attack them, even though he seemed very gentle. My other adults hated him, and would pick a fight if they could - probably because he didn't approach them like a normal adult: he would rush up to them, and of course they would react angrily. I had given up trying to integrate them.
As Roo walked past Humbug's tiny box in the kitchen, Humbug leaned out and smacked him as he went by: Roo just turned around and smacked him back: he looked so surprised!
It quickly became apparent that Humbug had arrested development: his behaviours were all the same as the kittens - particularly when it came to meeting new cats (rush up, arch your back, run away!). Adults don't approach each other this way, but Humbug had never had a chance to develop normal adult behaviour. Roo spoke the same language as him, and though there were 12 other kittens, Roo became his special friend. I would come into the kitchen and find Humbug in his box in the most unbelievably uncomfortable position, and it was because Roo was curled up asleep in the bottom of the box and Humbug was trying not to squash him at the same time as cuddling him. I gave them a bigger box, but they did seem to prefer the tiny one.
Humbug with his darling Roo
Humbug and Roo - inseparable in the box, or out of it.
Humbug adored Roo. He followed him around, learned to play and learned to interact with other cats. He loved all the kittens and cuddled up with them whenever he could, though he still couldn't relate to the adults. He first ventured out of the kitchen because he was looking for his friends, and the day I finally cried for him and all he had gone through was when the kittens were on my knee, and he came and curled up there too. It took him about 20 minutes to get across the floor and up onto the sofa next to me. I could see how desperately he wanted to be with Roo, who was curled up on my lap with several of the other kittens, and finally that desperation won. He watched my left hand stroking the kitten, and finally understood that this was also what I was doing to him with my right. He looked up at my face and for the first time his whole body seemed to relax as he closed his eyes in a cat-smile; he laid his head down on Roo's back, gave a great sigh, and went to sleep.
Sadly, because of his background, Humbug couldn't go with Roo when he went to his new home (I had delayed until Roo was 16 weeks old for Humbug), but by then he trusted me enough and had progressed so that he wasn't so dependent on the kitten. Unfortunately the timing of the kittens had been arranged so that they were gone in time for a trip I had to take to the USA. I was stuck: the house-sitter couldn't be expected to keep the girls away from Humbug, or to give him the 'specialised' attention he needed, so I had to call on Siamese Rescue for a home quickly. Even though I would rather have kept him, it was clear that he was never going to be part of my household, and this had to be the way. It was heartbreaking for me, but I knew it was right for him. No more closed doors.
Edging his way onto my lap - a historic moment - thank goodness my camera was in reach!
That final moment when he reached his friend and realised it was all going to be all right. He relaxed at last, and I knew we had won.
Humbug lived with me for nine unforgettable months, and then he went to a lovely family in Cardiff, as a companion for their other Siamese cat. Mr and Mrs Dicks said he was the most wonderful cat! They were very understanding about his background (the first night Mr Dicks spent the entire evening lying on the floor talking to him under their bed) and I had to laugh when, two weeks after they took him, they phoned to ask if it would be OK to stroke him yet, as he kept coming and tickling Mr Dicks's fingers with his whiskers! They said that after a hair-raising mad chase around the house, he and their other Siamese curled up together and were inseparable from then on. When you think what a large proportion of his life had been filled with pain, unhappiness and deprivation, it is incredible to think of him recovering so well.
I am a kitten, honest!
Humbug and Roo, with the cuddly toy in the background, no longer needed now.
The story has a happy ending for him, but sad for me. About a year after I last spoke to them, I called the family in Cardiff but they had moved away without leaving a new number. I was desolate, as I wanted to stay in touch with them and remember this beautiful and special cat. I'm hoping that putting his story on the web may find his family, and I might have news of him again.
If you're rescuing a disturbed cat, the most important thing to remember is DON'T RUSH IT. The stroke-before-food is the most difficult stage, as it seems so unkind, but this is the only way for them to learn them that only good things come from your hands. Talk all the time, and don't make eye contact! It worked for Humbug. I know that some rescued cats are very vicious, and undoubtedly there are animals that can't be rehabilitated, but Humbug proved that even the most disturbed animal can be saved with patience, even if you have no experience or expertise. He taught me so much, and many other rescues have benefited from what this beautiful cat gave to me.
If you would like to donate money to rescue, which is used for veterinary care or fostering costs, please either contact me (so that I can pass you on to the right person), or contact any of the major breed rescue organisations. Each breed club in the UK runs rescue for their own breed, to ensure that their particular needs are met, and that the resources of societies like Cat's Protection are not used for pedigree breeds, whose breeders should take responsibility for the wellbeing of cats they caused to be born.