• Rae Gellel

Eggy of Eglinton Road; A Rescue Story (Part One)

This is the story of a rescue that, compared to some others, I played a relatively small role in. Nevertheless, it had a big impact on me.

It was about 10pm when I went out to assess a suspected stray cat.

My mum drove me. She often does. She’s my long-suffering rescue partner - always on hand to dash out of the door at a moment’s notice in response to some text or call. Or in this case, Facebook tag.

It was on a local community group - a post about a stray cat that looked to be in very poor health, or elderly, or both. The lady who wrote the post had set up a cat carrier in her garden as a makeshift-shelter for him or her. And someone had tagged me.

Once your name gets around a bit in rescue work, you tend to get tagged daily in Facebook posts about various animals in various scenes of distress - grounded birds, stray cats, escaped dogs, etc. You'll finish a long day of work, or of running around after animals, and finally get home, sink into the sofa, boil the kettle, turn the TV on, whatever - and then your phone will vibrate.

And you’ll try not to look, because you’ll tell yourself that as long as you don't know, it’s not your responsibility. But it will be there, hovering incessantly in the periphery of your consciousness; an unopened Facebook notification. And most times, you’ll cave, and open it.

I'd caved, and so there we were - in the car at 10pm. I was wearing pyjamas, and didn’t have much of a plan. Because if the cat was in such poor condition that it needed a rescue space that night, well, that would pose a problem.

At that time the CatCuddles Sanctuary was not only full, but bursting at the seams - with a long waiting list of cats in need of the next available space.

And I couldn’t take the cat home myself, if it came to that. Though we’d been emergency foster carers for CatCuddles for years, we’d recently been forced to take a reluctant hiatus, owed to the health of one of our special needs cats, Mylo. He has a potentially life-threatening condition called FLUTD that makes him extra sensitive to stress - stress like, say, the smell of a strange foster cat in the house. And of course we could scan the cat for a microchip, but they're almost never chipped.

Thus we we'd ventured out with the vague intention of ‘assessing’ the situation - code for feeling too guilty to do nothing at all.

We got out of the car. It was winter, and the street was bitterly cold and quiet, eerie in the orange-glow of street lights. I realised with dread that we were about two minutes from where one of the most fraught and stressful rescues of my life took place.

That was another reason why I’d been so quick to respond to the tag; the area that the cat was reported in. Fucking Eglinton Road in Plumstead, SE18. Over the years, I’d spent a lot of time on Eglinton Road and its surrounding streets like Paget Rise, Ripon Road, Herbert Road. This small patch seemed to be a magnet for neglected, stray and abandoned cats and kittens, many of them in inexplicably horrible condition.

I’d collected the bodies of two dead cats from the area, both unneutered, not chipped, and both killed by cars. I’d spent six days trapping a litter of stray kittens that were absolutely riddled with ticks in a back garden nearby. I’d rounded up another eight kittens from a local bin shed - not stray, just belonging to some idiots who didn’t care how many times their cat got pregnant, or where she gave birth (don't worry - CatCuddles neutered her). I’d scoured several streets for a stray cat reportedly missing an eye, but never found it. I’d worked with other CatCuddles’ volunteers to neuter and rehome multiple members of a budding feral-cat colony likely spanning the whole area. And I’d spent a week on Eglinton Road grappling with the elderly owner of two cats in appallingly poor health - the highly stressful rescue mentioned above, but that's a story for another day.

We walked up and down the street a few times with torches, finding the right house fairly quickly since it had the cat carrier in the front garden. Pointing the torch inside, I saw Eggy for the first time - or at least the glare of his eyes reflecting back at me. He's a black cat, so at distance, in the dark, he was barely visible, making an accurate assessment of his health impossible.

Imagine this, but dark.

Quick aside here to say that Clare, an independent local rescuer, had been tagged in the post before me and had been out to find Eggy on a different night, but he'd bolted. Which makes what happened next even more stupid on my part. I took one tentative step into the garden, and Eggy, now familiar with this game, shot out of the carrier, over the garden wall and down the street, a black blur vanishing into the darkness. I remember thinking at the time, well, at least he's well enough to run - a fact that would amaze me later on.

And so ended that evening's rescue attempt. We searched for a while, finding not Eggy but several other cats lurking with their testicles conspicuously in tact - unneutered. Fucking Eglinton. We would return in the day some time later, but not before CatCuddles' received a very mysterious web enquiry.

"hello i live on paget rise road in plumstead and there is an old black cat being fed by people on eglingtotn road,, the cat is really old and sick looking with bald patches i dont kno w think belongs to anyone, pls can you take a look thanks"

The enquiry, which was passed onto me by CatCuddles' rehoming coordinator, Laura, contained no contact number, an address with no door number included, and the person did not reply to any follow up emails. This was notable because often with overly vague enquiries, there's something going on behind the scenes.

Say, for example, that you want to rehome your cat, but every rescue you approach mentions a waiting list, or a donation towards the cats' care that you don't feel like giving. Or say that the cat is in poor shape, so much so that you can't proceed without questions being asked, reports and accusations being made. The solution? well, for some people, it's pretending the cat is a stray and that you're simply a member of the public concerned for its well being. This happens every day at rehoming centres, and after a while, you develop a nose for it.

There were a lot of strays on Eglinton and surrounding roads, as already mentioned, and perhaps a disproportionate amount of strays are black cats. But the second I read the enquiry I felt certain that this one was Him.

We gave the people with the carrier/make-shift shelter a contact number, and told them to shut Eggy inside it and then text us immediately. I should mention that I don't think these people were the source of the fishy enquiry - just that it struck me as odd in general.

The text came, mercifully, on a day when I wasn't working; he was shut in the carrier and waiting to be picked up. I was about to meet Eggy properly for the first time.

Then, a worrying addendum to the first text - he seemed to be bleeding.

When we got there, we were handed the somewhat beaten-up carrier - it had been sitting outside, after all - that I quickly covered over with a towel. And as we climbed in the car, I was running through a plan in my head. There was still no space at CatCuddles, but we would work something out. Maybe we'd just scan the cat for a chip, neuter him, get him whatever veterinary care he needed and then set him up with a quality outdoor shelter and some good food until a space opened up. Maybe CatCuddles could do an emergency fostering appeal. We would do something - but for now, time to asses the damage. I lifted the towel.

And my plan quickly evaporated at the first glance of Eggy. I realised instantly that he'd need a place at CatCuddles ASAP - even if it was no more than a comfortable place for him to die.

Read Part Two.