The Twenty-Eighth of December, Two Thousand and Two. It’s early afternoon. Not too hot, considering the time of year. We sit in the car park, preparing ourselves.
“We know what we want, right?”
“And we don’t need to feel bad if what we want isn’t there, right?”
“We’ll just go in, see what’s on offer and if they don’t have any, we’ll just walk away, and not feel guilty, ok?”
Nerves on high, we get out of the car. This is quite possibly one of the biggest decisions we’ve made as a couple, and we’re still not completely sure we’re doing the right thing.
We walk inside, and the rest from here is a bit of a blur. Next thing I know, we’re standing in front of a pen with around eight tiny kittens, all sorts of colours. Black ones, white ones, tortoise shell. So. Many. Kittens. We try and focus, thinking back to what Dr. Harry said about selecting a kitten.
“Keep an eye out for weeping eyes or noses, as it may mean they’re sick” – Everyone’s eyes and noses are clear.
“Try and get their attention, and see if they can follow your finger” – We make some noise, and most of them come over. We wave our hands back and forth, and almost all eight little furry heads follow us, almost all in unison. All but one – he’s white and ginger, and towards the back of the pack. His head seems to be a couple of seconds behind the others.
“That one” says R, pointing out the white and ginger cat.
“Ah, are we sure?” I’m not too sure if he’s at all with it. Also, he’s white, and for a couple that wears predominantly black clothes, it seems like a bad idea.
“Yup, that one”.
It is decided.
They take him out back to check him over for fleas, tics and anything else that might be wrong, and we go into the front office to pay for our new friend. They run through the costs, make an appointment to come back and get him ‘fixed’ once he’s old enough, and collect all of his papers. Next minute he’s sitting down beside us in a carry case. Next, he and his case are on my lap in the front passenger seat as we make our trip home. He’s all of a sudden very noisy, mewing like a mad cat. We’re freaking out.
“What if he doesn’t like us?” asks R, panicking. “It sounds like he’s freaking out!”
“It’ll be fine, he’s probably just a bit confused is all,” I try to calm her, but I don’t think I’m doing a very convincing job. We start running through possible names. All that’s coming to mind are characters from Lord of the Rings (Fellowship has not been long out at the cinema) and Buffy (because Buffy). None of them stick. He’s still making a lot of noise. We start rattling off names, eliminating people we know and making sure we don’t pick something that can be used against him in the kitty playground. Then eventually, from out of nowhere and seemingly inspired by nothing – “What about Toby?”
“Toby? Like… short for Tobias?”
It sits in the air for a moment, then settles.
“Toby it is! Hello Toby!” I say to him through the bars in the carrier. He mews back, angrily. I chose to believe that this means he doesn’t like car rides.
Before this day I’d never really considered myself a cat person. R and I always talked about getting a dog, however our rental wouldn’t allow dogs and neither of us were really in the position to be able to care for one. Which is a polite way of saying we were probably too lazy to take one for walks. So we got a cat instead; not quite as much responsibility as a dog, but more than say a goldfish or budgie. While R had grown up with cats, none of them had ever been what you’d call ‘affectionate’. I’d never had anything larger than a hermit crab, and none of them had ever been what you’d call ‘survivors’, so this was a pretty big step for both of us.
The early days were pretty frantic. He’d test his the limits of where he was allow to go and what he was allowed to jump on. We’d try and wear him out with pieces of string, and a squeaky dog puppet that kind of felt like the padded suits people wear when they’re training attack dogs. I like to think that if we’d ever been burgled, Toby would know to latch himself onto the burglar’s leg and not let go, but he was a very timid cat, hiding from anyone that wasn’t R or myself. For the most part preferred to keep to himself, rarely wanting to snuggle or sit on our laps. Instead he’d sit in the same room on another chair, or up on my desk as I worked at my computer.
We decided long before we picked up Toby that our cat would always be an inside cat, mostly because of the local wildlife, but also I couldn’t stand the idea of him going missing overnight. Luckily for us Toby never had anything remotely resembling a hunting instinct. The one time he managed to slip between our feet and make it out the front door, both R and I reacted with such a fuss that he immediately bolted back inside. Ever since that day he’s never tried to slip out the front door again. I’d never been a cat person before, and to this day I’m not sure if I am, but I’ve always considered myself a Toby person.
Cut to September 2003: R and I head off for a six and a bit week trip to Europe. We do our research and find a nice cattery in the southern suburbs of Perth. Toby has a room with a view out to trees and bird life, and the couple that run the place have a young daughter who takes to him. We have a great trip, but I spend a lot of time missing Toby.
Cut to around July 2004: after seven or so years together, R and I decide to call it a day. There’s a lot more to the story than that, but it’s decided fairly early in the separation proceedings that Toby should live with me. How we arrive here I’m not sure, but I don’t argue. Toby and I find a new place to live in South Perth, and we become bachelors. I experience living alone for the first time, and because of our courtyard, Toby experiences being able to go outside (albeit with supervision) for the first time. Luckily for me he’s never been a jumper, and I’ve never seen him even attempt to jump a fence. I couldn’t tell you if this was due to his fitness or apathy. Either way, he is his father’s son.
I don’t know if I would say that we rescued Toby. I mean, he was a pretty cute kitten (albeit a bit slow), and I can’t help but think that if we’d not come along that day someone else would’ve snapped him up eventually. We’ve been through a lot together over the last ten years, and through everything he’s remained my faithful companion. He’s still not the most affectionate of beasts, but he always seems to know when I’m down, or if I need him around. I don’t know if I could say that I rescued Toby, but I do know that on more than one occasion, he’s rescued me.
Toby came to me via the Cat Haven in Shenton Park, Western Australia. It breaks my heart when I think about all the cats that don’t have homes, or are in places where they’re not cared for properly. If you’re ever thinking about getting a cat, please consider rescuing a homeless cat first. They need us, and you’ll probably find it won’t take long before you need them.