A cat story, not a clock story, but not necessarily recommended to cat lovers
If you live alone, a cat can be an excellent companion, less demanding than a dog, more independent, less noisy and obtrusive, but (and I know that many dog-lovers will scoff at this) surprisingly affectionate. My cat, Victor, a neutered tom with a fairly standard tabby pattern shorthair coat, was certainly a good companion to me and also proved adept at insinuating his way into neighbouring households where he would snooze on their hearthrugs while I was out, and probably accepted treats and titbits unavailable on his home ground. As time went by I discovered that, although I only knew a handful of the people around me by name, just about everyone along the street knew Victor and could address him with quite startling familiarity as they passed by.
I had always believed that neutered cats were inclined to lazy domesticity and suffered a tendency to become obese, but Victor was a keen, if usually unsuccessful, hunter of small animals and birds, and what little fat he accumulated for the winter he always lost rapidly in the spring. His general self-confidence and intelligent interest in his surroundings extended to a fearlessly aggressive attitude towards the local dogs. On several occasions I saw him outface inquisitive canine visitors and once I even witnessed him raising a paw to bat a small, but excessively friendly, terrier on the nose.
In short, Victor was a lively, entertaining character and, in his own way, a good friend. His independent nature did get him into trouble now and then, such as when he cut his paw so badly that he had to have a toe amputated. He was still a kitten then, but the experience didn’t inhibit his sense of adventure in later life. Of course, he didn’t enjoy any of his occasional trips to see the vet, but I don’t suppose that many cats do. As a cat owner I didn’t enjoy these trips either; I wasn’t too well off in those days, and I thought that the vet’s fees were extortionate rather than just pricey, so Victor only had to suffer the indignities of medical attention when I considered it was absolutely necessary.
* * *
One day I noticed that Victor had picked up a tick. It was showing through the fur on his right flank and it must have been there for some time, hidden at first under the tabby coat but gradually expanding to the size at which it had now become visible. It was the biggest tick I had ever seen and I decided that I must attempt to remove it without delay. Fortunately, Victor seemed to be fairly relaxed and showed no sign of leaving the house so I had time to think about how I should proceed. The immediate temptation was to take a pair of tweezers and simply tug the small beast out without further ado. However, I knew that the one thing all cat owners’ manuals agree you should never do with a tick is to pull it out in this manner. If you do, there is a good chance that the tick’s globular body will separate from its head and come away, giving a momentary illusion of success but leaving the head firmly attached to its host, where it may become septic and cause worse problems than the original bloodsucking assault.
The problem I had to solve, therefore, was how to persuade the tick to remove its own mouthparts from the cat’s skin without using straightforward brute force. Perhaps if I were to apply some noxious substance to it, the tick would release its hold and drop off voluntarily; it was, after all, already quite well fed. Leaving the cat stretched out on an old rug that I had kept for his use, I went on a tour of the house and garage in search of a suitable tick repellent. The choices available were quite limited. I considered the relative merits of disinfectant, toilet cleaner and methylated spirits; the best choice seemed to be the meths, which, in any case, was unlikely to be needed for any other purpose in the foreseeable future. I returned to the living room equipped with a pad of cotton wool and the small bottle of meths.
Victor was still lying where I had left him. He took no notice of me while I
unscrewed the meths bottle, held the cotton wool over its open top and tipped it upside down for a few seconds until the cotton wool was thoroughly soaked. I screwed the cap back on the bottle, put it down on the table and then knelt beside Victor and pressed the cotton wool pad against him, hoping to smother the tick with an unpleasant coating of methylated spirits. The tick failed to react in any obvious way, but Victor, who had twisted his head back to see what I was doing, took objection to something about the the procedure, probably the smell, rose swiftly to his feet and headed for the kitchen, where the cat flap provided his usual escape route to the outside world. I stopped him by putting my free hand in front of him, under his chin, and then moving it quickly under his body, lifting him slightly so that he couldn’t carry on walking. While my left hand held him immobilised, I used my right hand to press the cotton wool over the tick again.
Victor was showing clear signs of getting annoyed about this unaccustomed form of attention and I knew that he would head straight for the cat flap the instant I let go of him. So, I had to retain my grip, and my crouching position on the kitchen floor, while I inspected the result of my efforts. It has to be said that the result was very disappointing. Far from having pulled its mouthparts out and made some move to escape my chemical attack, the tick showed no sign of distress at all and was still firmly attached to its feline host.
“Oh, damn it,” I said to myself, “what else can I do?”
I needed to think fast. I couldn’t hold on to the cat for too long. If nothing came to mind I would have to take him to the vet, but I would have to let him go while I put on my shoes and found the doorkey, and as soon as I did that he might slip out of the house and disappear. It would be better to have another go at removing the tick myself, while I had Victor in my grasp, if only I could think of another method I could try.
It was at this moment of crisis that I thought about leeches. The leech, like the tick, gets a firm grip on its host and, by all accounts, if one attaches itself to you it is not advisable to try pulling it off manually. I remembered reading somewhere that the best method for detaching a leech from your own body is to hold the burning tip of a lighted cigarette against it: the leech immediately releases itself and drops to the ground without causing too much damage. Now, I am not a smoker so there are never any cigarettes in my house, nor is there a lighter. However, I do keep matches, and there was a matchbox scarcely more than an arm’s length away, on the work surface next to the gas stove. I dropped the cotton wool, picked Victor up properly in my arms and raised myself so that I could reach out and pick up the matchbox. Victor was struggling a little, but I somehow managed to keep him gripped between the crook of my left arm and chin while I picked out a match and struck it on the side of the box. After that I had just enough time to get the cat in a more secure grip and bring the burning match up towards the offending tick before the flame burnt down to my fingers.
When the flame came close to the tick there was a very brief, but quite distinct, whooshing sound, followed by a slight smell of singed fur. Victor himself was silent, but, clearly startled, he did suddenly jerk his head in an attempt to see exactly what was going on yet again. It was all over in a moment. Fortunately, most of the meths must have had time to evaporate before my poorly considered plan reached its incendiary climax and it seemed that I had done no real harm to the cat, or, indeed, to the tick, which was still embedded in its place and displaying far less concern about recent stressful events than either of the larger participants.
At this point I knew that I was beaten. It was not permissible to pull the tick out by brute force, and I had tried and failed with both foul chemicals and fire. The cheque book would have to come out, and Victor would have to put up with being carried to the veterinary surgery and subjected to a minor operation at the hands of his least favourite human acquaintance.
I set Victor down on the floor. He shook and stretched himself a little and started walking towards the cat flap. However, on the way he had to pass his feeding bowls and here he was tempted to stop for refreshment. While he was distracted by milk and cat biscuits, I was able to leave him alone in the kitchen and prepare myself for going out.
* * *
And so it came about that a short while later I was placing him on the vet’s inspection table.
“It’s only a tick,” I said, somewhat apologetically, “but I wasn’t sure how to get it out.”
The vet viewed his patient and considered his options.
“My goodness, that’s a big ‘un,” he said. “Just hold him there for a moment, can
He turned away and reached for some implement on the bench behind him. I wasn’t sure what he was going to do, but I had been thinking in terms of a local anaesthetic, a couple of careful cuts with a scalpel and then a small sewing job to seal the wound. Actually, the vet had other ideas; I barely had time to realise that there were tweezers in his hand as he turned back to the table and with a single, practised, movement of his arm gripped the tick just behind its head and tugged it out.
I was too completely taken by surprise to say anything, either critical or
complimentary, about this skilful performance. The vet, however, was not taking any notice of me, or of Victor. He had swung back round towards the bench and dropped the tick into a small transparent plastic pot. He was staring down at it with a puzzled expression on his face. Then he picked up the pot, looked at it more closely and half-turned in my direction.
“That’s funny,” he said, “I’ve never seen anything like this before. The damned thing already seems to be dead!”