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The Dawning of the Days of Gilbert

Steffi the Vet had a cunning plan. Like all the very best cunning plans it was made up of several cunningly intertwined phases. But none of them would work without a kitten.

Being a vet, Steffi had no difficulty in finding just the right kitten. She attended a cat who was having a rather difficult time giving birth. For a while it was touch and go but finally the cat produced twins. Sadly, one of them did not survive, but the other pulled through, although he was very weak. His mother was far too ill to take care of him – she didn’t produce any milk at all. So Steffi had to foster the kitten, bottle feeding him every two hours and giving him lots of cuddles to reassure him that all was well. The kitten thrived, and Steffi was hopeful that he would be the one who would make her cunning plan succeed…

One day, when the kitten was about three weeks old, Steffi picked him up and turned him upside down to examine his bottom. It was perfectly clean and she rewarded him with a cuddle and a tummy rub. "Who’s an ootchy cootchy kitty woo, den?" she crooned.

The kitten fixed her with a haughty glare. "My name is Gilbert," he said coldly. "Kindly use it in future. And stop making those disgusting cooing noises."

"Sorry, Gilbert," said Steffi contritely. But inside she was glowing happily –  with a fearless attitude like that she knew that Gilbert was just perfect for the scheme she had in mind. So she set the next phase in motion by posting regular progress reports about Gilbert on her Facebook page. She called it The Weekly Gilbert and it quickly became hugely popular. It wasn’t long before she was inundated with requests to adopt the cute ginger kitten who romped in the photos and videos that she posted. But the one request that she was specifically looking for in the messages never appeared. Obviously more direct methods were required. So Steffi the Vet asked the nurses to start dropping heavy hints whenever I took Jake the Dog to visit his favourite aunties.

"Have you seen Gilbert on our Facebook page?" Leanne asked one day.

"I don’t do Facebook," I said.

"It’s a public page," said Leanne. "You don’t need an account to access it. Gilbert is a most wonderful kitten. You and Jake will absolutely love him. Take a look..."

I always do whatever Leanne tells me to do. If I don’t, Jake will never forgive me. She’s the very favourite of his favourite aunties, and as far as he is concerned she can do no wrong. So clearly everything that happened next is all Jake’s fault. I have made this quite clear to him, and he feels very sorry for himself. Serves him right, I say!

Gilbert was certainly cute. I told Robin about him and she was immediately enthusiastic. Somehow, without anything being said, it became understood that when Gilbert was old enough to leave his foster mum he would be coming to live with us. I’m still not entirely sure how that happened. But Steffi the Vet knows – her cunning plan had worked itself out perfectly. I learned a valuable lesson that day, but I learned it far too late. Do not meddle in the affairs of vets for they have a never ending supply of kittens which are damp and hard to light. Or something like that...

Robin and I took Jake to the vets so that he could meet his new best friend. We felt that it was important that they get to know each other on neutral territory, as it were, so that when Gilbert finally came home with us it wouldn’t be too much of a shock to his system. He’s a sensitive soul... Therefore we arranged a series of play dates.

On our first visit, Steffi brought Gilbert in to the room with us and shut the door so that nobody could run away. Gilbert was a small orange bundle of sleepy fur. "He’s so tiny," said Robin and I heard the distinctive sound that Robin makes when she falls in love.

"He weighs 500 grams at the moment," said Steffi. "But he’s getting bigger every day. Jake," she continued, "this is Gilbert. Gilbert, say hello to Jake." She held Gilbert out for Jake to sniff.

Jake was horrified. "What’s that?" he said. "I don’t like it! Take it away! It’s nasty!" His tail drooped.

"Dog!" said Gilbert and he swiped enthusiastically at Jake’s nose with his claws fully extended. Jake retreated to a dark corner where he cowered.

Steffi put Gilbert down and he bounced around the room, playing with everything he could find. Every so often he reared up on his hindquarters and gave quick left-right boxing punches with his front paws at whatever was dangling in front of him. "Bang, bang!" he said. "Float like a flutterby, sting like a flea. I coulda bin a pretender!" I began to wonder if Malaprop might be a better name than Gilbert. I tried it out on him but he was horrified by the idea. "You dirty prat!" he exclaimed, chastising me for my bad taste.

He dropped back down and returned to his floor based toys. He seemed particularly fond of a small blue thing which skittered excitingly when he bashed it. He skittered it towards Jake who trembled in fear and tried to push himself through the wall. He didn’t quite succeed, though the wall did bulge alarmingly. "Jake, don’t be so silly," said Steffi. "Somebody who weighs 36 kilograms cannot possibly be afraid of a ball of fluff that only weighs 500 grams. It would take seventy two of him to make just one of you!"

"Yes they can be afraid," said Jake firmly. "They can be very afraid." He’s never been any good at arithmetic. He can do one, two, many but after that he gets confused. As far as he is concerned, logic and proportion have long since fallen sloppy dead. He went over to Steffi who sat down on the floor to cuddle and reassure him. He climbed into her lap for protection and knocked her over. She immediately bounced back up like a round-bottomed doll. You can’t keep a good vet down.

"Jake," she remonstrated. "You aren’t a lap dog. You are far too big to fit on anybody’s lap."

"No I’m not," said Jake, snuggling even closer to Steffi. "Save me from it, please. Look! It’s coming to get me!" Steffi gave him a treat, which he chewed with enthusiasm. But it didn’t really help. Whenever Gilbert came anywhere near him he backed away from the terrifying monster. He looked thoroughly miserable.

But slowly, over the days, Jake’s attitude improved and gradually he lost his fear of Gilbert. Now he just looked bemused at the kitten’s antics. He stopped trying to escape from the fearsome kitten monster, though if Gilbert came too close, he still backed away. But this was more for self-protection than for any other reason. Gilbert had developed an unhealthy interest in Jake’s tail and once he tried to climb up Jake’s back leg with all his pitons fully extended. Not unnaturally, Jake was less than impressed with this. Gilbert also liked to run underneath Jake in pursuit of his toy de jour. However he was so fast that Jake seldom even noticed that this was happening, though he did sometimes catch a glimpse of movement out of the corner of his eye. But that didn’t seem worth making a fuss about. Clearly we’d arrived at a state of armed neutrality. Things looked hopeful.

"Well," said Steffi after several play dates between Jake and Gilbert had come and gone, "it looks like they’ve become quite acclimatised to each other now. The moment of truth has finally arrived. Gilbert has reached his magic weight. He weighs one thirty-sixth of a Jake and he’s ready for the next stage of his life. We’ll give him the unkindest cut of all next Wednesday and you can take him home with you the day after." Steffi had a huge smile all over her face. She was quite thrilled to see that her cunning plan had worked perfectly.

Gilbert, overhearing what she said, crossed all his legs and tried to sneak out of the room. Naturally he immediately fell over. "Damn!" he said. Steffi picked him up and cuddled him. He purred loudly and Jake licked his lips thoughtfully…

And then it was Thursday. We took Jake and a cat carrying case to the vets. Jake watched, intrigued as Steffi put Gilbert into the case along with a favourite toy, a stuffed multi-coloured fish that crackled when chewed or clawed. Gilbert looked bewildered. He’d never been in a carrying case before. But it was a new experience, and he likes new experiences. So he settled back to enjoy it, kneading his fish every so often when he felt the urge. "I shall cry," announced Steffi firmly. And then she turned pink and started to leak.

"Don’t worry," I said to her. "I promise we’ll take good care of him."

Steffi gave us a bag of kitty litter and a bag of special kitten food. "Just make sure there’s food in his bowl all the time," she said. "He likes to graze all day. He’ll eat when he’s hungry and he’ll stop eating when he’s full. Don’t worry, he won’t overeat."

"I’m not worried about that," I said. "I’m more worried about Jake coming along when Gilbert’s not looking and polishing off whatever Gilbert hasn’t eaten yet."

"I’m confident that you’ll think of something," said Steffi. "Now be sure to ring me tomorrow to tell me how he’s settled in. I want a full report."

"I promise," I said. We took Jake out to the car and he jumped into his usual seat. We put Gilbert’s carrying case on the seat next to Jake. Jake turned his head away and deliberately didn’t look at Gilbert as we drove home. "This is fun," said Gilbert and he started to purr so loudly that he completely drowned out the sound of the engine.

We introduced Gilbert to his new home. "This is your food bowl," I said, putting it on a nice high shelf that I hoped Jake wouldn’t be able to reach. Unfortunately it soon became clear that Gilbert couldn’t reach it either because he wasn’t very good at climbing yet. Oh well, at least he had an incentive to learn and meanwhile we could lift him up there every few minutes in case he was feeling peckish. "And this is a comfy blanket for you to sleep on," I continued. "And this is your dirt tray."

Gilbert was impressed with the arrangements. He stood on his blanket and looked at his dirt tray across the room. "I do approve of an en suite," he said. Then he climbed into his dirt tray and christened it copiously.

Jake watched all this with a hangdog air and sighed deeply. The sound attracted Gilbert’s attention and he began to stalk Jake who stood there wagging his tail until Gilbert made himself look terrifying by fluffing up his fur and arching his back whereupon Jake, Robin and I backed away and pretended we were doing something else.

Gilbert spent a couple of hours making sure that he and his fish knew where everything was. He came to us for reassuring cuddles when it all got a bit too much. Windows were a special source of delight. I don’t think he’d ever seen out into the world before and he stared in wide-eyed and wild-eyed wonder, as he watched the birds zoom past. He chittered at them to come closer so he could kill them. I knew with complete certainty just what his hobby was going to be when he finally managed to get outside...

Once Gilbert had the geography of the house figured out, he flipped a switch on his control panel and began shooting between rooms at the speed of light. For the rest of the day he only had two speeds – on and off.

"Well Jake," I said, "what do you think of it so far?"

"Rubbish!" said Jake and he stomped off into the corridor with Gilbert’s fish in his mouth. Soon we heard ripping noises as he relieved his feelings by tearing the fish to shreds. Gilbert didn’t seem to mind. There were far too many other wonderful things going on to worry about a crinkly, crackly fish.

The next day, Gilbert greeted me with yawns, stretches and purrs. "Did you sleep well?" I asked.

"Delightfully, thank you," said Gilbert. "What’s the plan for today?"

"I thought maybe you might like to chase a piece of paper," I said.

"That sounds like a good idea," agreed Gilbert.

I rang Steffi. "Hi Steffi," I said, "it’s Alan here."

"What’s wrong?" asked Steffi, panic in her voice. "What’s happened?"

"Nothing," I said. "Everything’s fine. I just wanted to let you know that Gilbert has settled in very well."

"Oh good," said Steffi. "How’s Jake handling it?"

"He’s doing very well," I said. "Gilbert has got him well under control."

"I thought he would," said Steffi. "That’s the kind of cat that Gilbert is."

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