Thursday, June 3, 2010

A Fine Feline Friend by Jane Lobb

A Fine Feline Friend

by Jane Lobb

I was never sure whether Benjamin and Bunny were friends or foes. Sometimes they would sit together in the garden, cat beside rabbit, in the shade of the willow tree, sheltering out of the hot summer sun. Other times they would ignore each other, as if neither existed in the other’s world. Occasionally, Benjamin would hiss at Bunny and bolt up the nearest tree, and Bunny would thump his big hind feet on the ground in temper. Then one day Benjamin saved Bunny’s life, and that just about cleared it all up.

As cats go, Benjamin had always been different; those wise brown eyes displayed a depth I had not encountered in my previous pets. Being a feline lover all my life, I had kept various varieties over the years, but the large tabby with the thick, bushy coat seemed wiser somehow and very mature for his 4 years. Of course, he indulged all the usual cat habits: enjoyed his food, crept up onto my lap for affectionate evening cuddles, and sought out sun traps in the house – those little glints of warmth that found their way through windows directly on to a lovely, soft bed or sofa. There he would rest and enjoy endless, long snoozes, in the much sought after English sunshine. But there was something more to his personality, something stronger.

Ours had always been a busy, happy, family house; the children were always running around, noisily playing, the hamster rolled around the kitchen in its exercise ball, our teenage son’s music would bear down on us from his bedroom above. It was a home bursting with life and vitality.

And the garden was no different. When you opened the back door into the long garden, shaded at the end by the apple and willow trees, the big white lop-eared Bunny invariably came running over to meet you. Benjamin didn’t escape this greeting. When he exited his cat flap he was met the by large Bunny head on, and often they rolled around on the grass together, locked in mock combat. This large, curious, fearless Bunny, who was interested in everything and frightened of nothing.

Benjamin was always saving his bacon, getting him out of scrapes. Like that wet day in June when he got trapped in the playhouse. We returned home to find Benjamin meowing loudly in the garden. We followed his calls to the playhouse, opened the door and Bunny hopped out.

And the time when Bunny, famous for his escapology stunts, dug the huge hole and escaped into our neighbour’s garden. Benjamin must have watched him dig all afternoon. I walked out into the garden just as his long, stripy cats’ tail was disappearing down the hole. When I looked over the fence I could see Bunny leaning over the pond watching his own reflection in the water. Benjamin sauntered over and gently nudged him out of the way, so that he wouldn’t fall into the water.

It seemed to me, that the Bunny had adopted the feline curiosity of the cat and Benjamin, rather than joining him in those explorations, had become his protector.

Then one day it happened, and it happened so quickly that it took us all by surprise; a dog broke into the garden.

One afternoon we arrived home to find Benjamin at the door meowing loudly; it was a desperate scream that chilled you to the bone and one that we had heard before, calling us to retreat to the garden as quickly as possible. We raced through the house to the garden not daring to guess what the problem was. Nothing could have prepared us for what we were to see. Bunny was laying flat out on the grass, unmoving, his white fur tainted with bright red blood.

We scooped him up and drove through the long, spiking rain, straight to the vets. The injury could have been worse – we were told he had one puncture wound, but it didn’t need surgery; the shock was more worrying. It was touch and go for the rabbit. Benjamin was unhurt but deeply shocked and we took him home. For three desperate days the Bunny stayed at the vets. For three days Benjamin pined for him. He came into the house only to be cuddled and stroked but refused all food and for the rest of the time sat by the Bunny house waiting.

During this time I saw our neighbour, John. “How’s that Bunny?” he asked in his loud booming voice.

“Not too good, I’m afraid.” I replied, glumly.

“Well, there’s one brave cat there.” he said. Apparently, he had witnessed the whole event.

“That dog broke into your garden and the cat was up the apple tree. It came straight down and ran at the dog, screaming like a hyena with all its nails out. Scared the dog off well and truly, it did. And he wouldn’t leave that Bunny. Sat beside him screaming until you came home. He deserves a medal, I reckon.”

Ironically, the dog had got into the garden through a hole that the Bunny had dug – trying to escape into the other neighbour’s garden. When the dog had approached, the fearless Bunny didn’t even move.

On the fourth day we got a call from the vet. Bunny could come home. When we brought Bunny through the front door in the cat carrier Benjamin immediately approached him, climbed in and lay with him. We left them both there, cuddled together. Sadly, Bunny died the next day. The vet said the shock had been too much for him. At least he had come home to be with his friend and his protector.

Sadness permeated throughout our house for several days. The noisy, happy atmosphere seemed to have disappeared for a while and was tainted and uncomfortable, like damp clothes on a rainy day. Strangely, it was Benjamin that brought it back.

A week later, he entered his cat flap on a warm, windy summer’s day, with something fluffy wriggling around in his mouth. “Oh Mum, look, what has Benjamin caught!” exclaimed my daughter. I looked down at him as he gently released his capture. It was the Hamster.”Oh, it’s Florence!” exclaimed my daughter. Then we both noticed the empty exercise ball, lying on the kitchen floor and broken in two. “Look Mum, he saved Florence.” And he had too. She had broken out of her ball and whilst nobody was looking, appeared to have found her way out of the cat flap and out into the big wide world of the garden. “Goodness Mum, Benjamin is a hero!”

And there it was. Though Bunny was gone, the hamster was saved and family life returned to its usual kind of hectic normality. That evening, when the children were in bed and all was quiet, Benjamin climbed up onto to my lap and gazed into my eyes with that handsome, wise face as if to say, ‘business as usual’. And with that he nuzzled my head, turned around and went to sleep.


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