At the very start of lockdown, I stole my neighbour’s cat.
Our next-door neighbours moved into our street about six years ago. We knew their previous cat, Isabel, pretty well (she says, as if we were fond acquaintances). When next-door had one and then two babies quite suddenly arrive, alongside two dogs, Isabel took to having a little peace and quiet in our garden. She passed away two years ago with kidney problems, and my mum especially was quite upset about it.
So, about a year ago, their new little cat, Harlequin, started appearing at our door. No matter what time we got up in the morning, she came running as soon as she saw a light turn on. When we went to bed, she stayed all night in the garden.
It got to the point where we had to ask next door if they actually ever saw her; they didn’t. She didn’t go home at night. When lockdown eventually hit in March and we were at home all day, Harlequin resolutely refused to leave. We had to tell our neighbours that we had, accidentally, stolen their cat.
(I would’ve felt worse if they had actually seemed to care, but that’s a story for another time).
Harlequin was a shy little thing who was initially very scared of people, particularly men. She didn’t know how to use her voice (she would mimic other cats by opening her mouth but couldn’t meow). She was extremely thin and didn’t know how to play. We bought her a scratching post, but she wouldn’t go near it; we bought her toys, but she ran away from them.
Over lockdown, though, Harley has gradually started to come out of her shell (this is a particularly hilarious pun when you realise that she’s a tortoiseshell cat). She’s learnt how to meow – loudly! – and chirp hello. She has far more energy to play (even though she gives my dad high fives with her little paw, and only uses her claws on me and my mum. We don’t mind). She’s even started sleeping on our beds at night, curled up at the feet of whoever is her favourite that day.
One of the great joys of lockdown (one of the only, tbh) has been watching Harley transform into a playful, loving, often-mischievous little cat, who loves peas, drinking out of the kitchen tap, and trying to eat our entire hands.
She’s still scared of her own shadow, and has resolutely become an indoor cat, but she’s completely different to the kitten who used to shyly peer through our patio doors. She wakes me up for work by purring next to my head. When I’ve been studying downstairs, she’s kept me company (albeit while fast asleep). Having her to stroke while she becomes a little vibrating ball of fluff has really made me feel calmer.
Overall, adopting/stealing Harley has made lockdown bearable, and I’m so grateful for her. To all the lockdown pets, thank you. We promise we won’t be quite so stingy with the nibbles.
Image courtesy of Scott Fletcher.