I knew something was up when J approached me with some fish on a stick. It was tinned mackerel on what appeared to be a fencing slat. “It’s under number 3’s shed.”
There was no doubt as to the identity of the it in question. About half an hour earlier, a neighbour had asked to have a look around our garden. About a fortnight before that he’d come to ask if we’d seen his cat – a cat with only three legs.
I’d wondered what had become of Tripod, as my inner monologue had taken to calling the cat, in the intervening period. I hoped that, had it met its end, it was a merciful one, rather than, say, being scared out of its wits by our pair of whippets and bolting under a hedge into the maw of a passing plough .
But it turns out he, for he he was, had set up camp under next door’s shed. The neighbour had been leaving food out for it, and it was being eaten. And he knew it was eaten by the cat and not rats or the village peacock because he’d come over all Chris Packham and set up some motion cameras in his garden to prove it.
Judging by the sound it made under the shed, Tripod was terrified. Who knows what trauma caused the loss of limb, but one had to feel for him, seeking retirement in these quiet, pastoral lands only to be housed with three small children, almost certainly rather too keen for feline entertainment. No wonder he’d escaped.
J enlisted my help to man one corner of the shed, should Tripod bolt for it. Between them, and in defiance of all conventional mathematics, J and Tripod’s owner somehow watched the other three. Partly by tempting Tripod out with the fishy stick, partly by encouraging him out with a pole and partly by stamping on the shed floor, we managed to sufficiently scare the shit out of Tripod to the point at which he did indeed make a run for it – it being absolutely anywhere else.
At this point, two things surprised me. One was the speed with which three-legged cats can move. I don’t know if Tripod is representative of all three-legged cats, but he moved fucking fast. I can only conclude either that three-legged cats are faster than four-legged cats, or cats that live with a 1:1 ratio of their own legs to cohabiting children are forced to be rather fleeter than others.
The other thing that surprised was that, while in exile, Tripod had clearly gained a detailed knowledge of the fences and hedges all along our row, and knew exactly where to gain ingress to the next garden. Mind you, the neighbour was just as spry. Every time I turned around he seemed to be in a different garden. I assume he was vaulting fences, but the evidence equally suggests that he was apparating. (He does own a cat, and all that.)
Clearly I had underestimated Tripod, so I slunk inside to mentally regroup. By this point he was three gardens along and his owner was lying unceremoniously under a tall coniferous hedge trying to retrieve him. By this point other neighbours had gathered. J came to retrieve me, took me to said garden and told me where to stand – blocking Tripod’s potential exit from the garden via the gate behind me. I felt a bit like I imagine Alec Stewart felt keeping wicket for England.
Success! Our neighbour had caught hold of Tripod, and was hugging him close to his chest. This was in spite of a flurry of dubious advice from another neighbour in the build-up, like “you’re going to have to be brutal with it.” The only problem now was that he was completely stuck, so low was the hedge he was under and so deep was the extent of his penetration.
J and I were forced to pull him out by his legs which was awkward because we were wedged in by a shed and lacked the necessary room to do this effectively. And it was awkward because we barely knew him.
When we pulled him out he looked like he’d been pulled through a hedge backwards, mainly because he’d been pulled through a hedge backwards. At this point he thanked us and took Tripod home, presumably to be locked in the cat dungeon he’s had two weeks to construct. (He seems quite handy.)
We offered the neighbour the rest of the tin of mackerel. Actually, we were offering it to Tripod, but we used the neighbour as an interpreter.
“Just pop it on his box,” the neighbour said. So we did. And that, friends, is the story of how we, in a very small way, helped in the rescue of a three-legged cat by pulling a man out of a hedge.