Sunday, July 13, 2008

Lost and Found

Three weeks ago tomorrow we took ownership of our three legged cat, Bent nee Panda.

We spent ten days habituating him and getting him used to where his new home was. This we did by keeping him cooped up in our cottage most of the time, letting him out only for brief, accompanied 'walks', where we'd pick him up and park him back next to our cottage if he tried to stray too far.

After a week he seemed to grown in confidence, wanting not to come back in after ten minutes and miaowing all night to be let out. Nevertheless we kept up the walks, wanting to make sure he really did know where his new home was.

After ten days of this routine, several times a day, we decided he must know where he lived by now, and hearts in mouths, we let him out one Wednesday morning, watched him hobble/slope off in the undergrowth, and wandered up to the top compound to our day jobs.

Come lunchtime, we popped back down to let him back in, expecting him to be miaowing at our heels by the time we arrived at the last cottage.

Ominously there was no sign of him.

Half an hour later he hadn't appeared. After another hour or two in the office R abandoned his desk to search for Panda around the compound. No joy.

At 5.30pm we tooks the dogs for their walk around the lanes and alleys behind Red Chilli, asking at every neighbours' gate if they had seen our cat.

Have you see our cat? He's easy to spot, he's black and white and has only three legs.

We quickly learnt that noone in Uganda knows what you mean if you say 'cat' - they don't use this term. They call the animal a 'pusscat' - and this phrase makes all the difference. Heads nodding, they then start to take in the other information. And the three leg thing has everyone exclaiming in disbelief or simply laughing out loud.

Three legs? No!

Sadly, their hilarity does not detract from the blanks we draw everywhere and the miserable fact remains - we have lost our cat.

The next day we make some signs with the one photo we had time to take of him. We put them up around the compound, outside the perimeter fencing. and even three miles away around his old neighbourhood, wondering if maybe he had tried to walk back to his old house, in some weird cat homing device type way.

One man told me he had seen our cat - but he thought at the time it was a leopard.

Sadly, Panda looks about as much like a leopard as I do.

Lots of people promised to search for him, the incentive of a reward tempting their interest. Our staff thought it was hilarious that we could get this concerned about a pusscat - a three legged one at that - but nevertheless I saw their eyes light up at the thought of finding him and collecting a reward.

From Wednesday to Saturday we searched, only to find ourselves losing hope. People don't look at cats too kindly in Africa - they are chased away with stones and shouts, or worse. And as for other animals - we were sure Panda was one of the less streetwise of them. There were plenty of very hungry stray dogs around, and busy roads with drivers who would not so much as look twice if their tyres were heading for a cat's head.

By Saturday morning we were despondent and feared the worst. He'd been hurt, run over, attacked or eaten. Or simply lost his way and become, inadvertently, yet another stray.

But then a shout went up. It was early Saturday morning, R was still in his pants, I was about to jump in the shower. But outside the house, on our normal peaceful compound, there was commotion. Barbara and Annet, two housekeepers, had spotted the cat and were making chase. Panda saw two screaming women running towards him waving their arms, shouting Miaow Miaow loudly and laughing hysterically, and legged it. Well, legged it best as he could given he only has three of them.

Straight over the wall to the neighbouring compound - with three guard dogs and plenty of strays and many many places to hide (it's a disused factory). How were we ever going to find him there? We cursed ourselves for not having thought to give the staff a training course in how to lure cats towards you (instead of scaring them away) before we offered anything so exciting as a reward.

R climbed over the 8 ft wall (I have the bruises on my shoulders to prove it) and went cat hunting. I stayed, calling Panda's name, sporting a T-shirt on inside out, flung on in the hurry to get out to rescue the cat from the scary cleaners.

Half an hour later and Panda arrived back home, in a taped up cardboard box. After a pee and a poo in the litter tray, three bowls of milk drunk in quick succession, and a whole heap of biscuits, he sat down, licked his three paws and looked like nothing had ever happened.

Except he's not even tried to go out since. He's had his fill, for now, of the big bar world out there. He's had enough adventures for now and is a confirmed house-cat.

Which is just as well as we're trying to adopt another strange cat. This one is a stray who started coming round for food whilst Panda was missing. He has all his legs but he has a peculiar disability of his own.

He's blue.

Not Persian blue - the kind of blue dog and cat owners say when they really mean grey, but proper blue. Not kidding.

Photographic proof will be provided just as soon as I can work out why blogger is not letting me upload photos...

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