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The Day Of The Cat Astrophe

“OK Harpo,” said Diane, the Purville Cattery lady, “today's the big day. Today you and Bess are travelling to your new house in the Hawke's Bay. Alan and Robin are waiting for you there.”

“N-o-o-o-o,” howled Harpo. “I don't want to go. I want to stay here at Purrville and have fights.”

“You can't,” explained Diane. “Alan has made all the arrangements and the person from VenturePets has brought your travelling cage. Now be a good boy and get into the cage.”

“N-o-o-o-o,” howled Harpo. “I won't!”

“You will,” said Diane firmly, and she picked him up and poured him into the cage.

“You cheated,” shrieked Harpo, and he hissed and spat.

“OK Bess,” said Diane, “it's your turn now. Be a good girl and get in your travelling cage.”

Bess heaved a deep sigh and got into her cage. She turned around three times to get comfortable and then she fell asleep. That's her favourite mechanism for making the world go away when it all gets far too much for her to bear. Her snores rumbled a deep counterpoint to Harpo's howling as the person from VenturePets carried the cages down the path from the cattery to the van that was waiting to take them to the airport.

Harpo found Wellington airport to be a scary place, full of machines that went ping and stern men in uniforms who checked his shaggy fur for concealed bombs. He didn't like it a bit. “N-o-o-o-o,” he howled and the stern men flinched and covered their ears with their hands. They hurriedly waved him through into the boarding gate. “How did you manage to wave me through?” asked Harpo, intrigued. “Both hands are occupied covering over your ears... Oh well, I think I'll just have another howl. N-o-o-o-o!”

The travelling cages were loaded into the first class hold. There were no windows for the cats to see out of in case they got vertigo and threw up all over the nice clean aeroplane. All the cats could do was peer at each other through the bars on their cages as the plane rumbled down the runway and dragged itself up into the air.

“That's a funny feeling,” said Bess as the G-forces pushed her to the back of the cage. “I wonder what it means?”

“N-o-o-o-o,” shrieked Harpo. “Make it stop.”

Bess went back to sleep.

In the passenger section of the plane, coffee and biscuits were being served. “What's that funny noise?” asked the man in seat 11C.

“I don't know,” said the hostess, “I've never heard anything like that before.”

“Are we going to crash?”

“I'll ask the pilot.” She trotted to the front of the plane and picked up up the phone that connected her to the cockpit. “What's that funny noise? Should I start telling people to brace themselves for an emergency landing?”

“I don't know,” said the pilot. “All my instruments indicate that everything is perfectly fine, but that horrible noise is anything but normal. Are the passengers worried?”

“Yes,” said the hostess.

“OK,” said the pilot, “I'll make a soothing announcement over the intercom.”

There was a click and a hum as the cabin speakers switched on. “Some of you may have noticed a funny noise in the background,” said the pilot. “There's nothing to worry about, it's perfectly normal. We've just got a swollen capacitor in the high gain thermofilament, but we are equipped with four spare thermofilaments that can easily handle the load. So just sit back, relax and enjoy the flight and our special Air New Zealand cabin service.”

“N-o-o-o-o,” howled Harpo.

“This is the purser,” said the purser, as she took over the microphone from the pilot. “In order to take your mind off the horrible noise which we promise is definitely not going to make the aircraft crash and burn up, we will be serving you all a complementary plastic glass half-full of lukewarm orange flavoured sugar water.”

Eventually the plane began its approach to Napier airport. The pressure changes as it lost height made Harpo's ears go pop. This was a new sensation and, just as with all the other new things that had happened to him today, he didn't like it at all. He redoubled his howling. “N-o-o-o-o! N-o-o-o-o!”. The plane made a rather bumpy landing because the pilot was distracted by the noise and he misjudged the landing speed and the angle of the flaps. “N-o-o-o-o!” howled Harpo as the plane taxied to the gate and the passengers prepared to disembark. One and all, they looked relieved to be leaving the scary noise behind.

The VenturePets representative stood by the arrival gate holding a large cardboard sign that said “Harpo and Bess”. Eventually someone brought her the two travelling cages.

“N-o-o-o-o!” howled Harpo as he was handed over to the care of the VenturePets lady. Passengers all over the airport flinched and shrank back in fear as the horrible noise reverberated across the terminal building.

“Come on,” said the lady, “let's go and see Alan and Robin.”


She loaded the cages into her van and drove off towards Havelock North. Bess began to shiver with fear and Harpo continued to howl. “N-o-o-o-o!”

“Calm down,” said the lady soothingly. “Everything's going to be all right.”

She began to sing nursery rhymes in the hope that they would calm Harpo down. Instead, he redoubled his howling. “N-o-o-o-o! N-o-o-o-o!” She sang more loudly, but it didn't help.

Meanwhile, Robin and I were waiting nervously for the cats to arrive. We'd spent the morning making the house as cat-attractive as we could. We put biscuits and water in their bowls and set their climbing frames by the windows with the best views. We put fresh litter in their dirt trays. I re-checked the instructions from the vet – keep them indoors for at least two weeks before you let them out so that they get used to the place. If you let them out too soon, they might get scared and go too far and not be able to find their way back again...

“Listen,” said Robin. “Is that our cats?”

Faintly in the distance I could hear “N-o-o-o-o!”. It got louder and louder as the lady carried the cages to out front door. “N-o-o-o-o! N-o-o-o-o!” I didn't wait for her to knock, I opened the door straight away.

“Hello Harpo,” I said. “Hello Bess.”

“Hello,” said Bess. “What's all this then?”

“N-o-o-o-o!” howled Harpo.

We carried the cages into the room where the food bowls were, and we opened the cages. Bess came out straight away and had a quick nibble on some biscuits. She looked around wide-eyed and amazed. “I didn't know there were places like this in the world,” she said. “Neat! What do the rest of the rooms look like?”

Harpo point blank refused to leave his cage. The world was far too frightening to go out into. Eventually we had to turn the cage upside down and shake it hard so that gravity forced him out. He landed on the carpet with thump, gazed around in horror and then fled to the furthest corner. “N-o-o-o-o!”

Bess was obviously frightened by all the strange new geography that she found herself trapped in. But nevertheless there was familiar furniture in the rooms and Robin and I were never far away. By the end of the day, she was starting to settle down a bit and she slept with us on the bed that night.

Harpo, on the other hand, wasn't happy at all. He did eventually make his way into every room in the house, but all he did in them was seek out the safe, dark spaces where he could huddle down out of sight. Unfortunately he was never out of hearing and cries of “N-o-o-o-o!” echoed all over the house.

“Do we really have to keep them both inside for a fortnight?” asked Robin. “I'm not sure my nerves will stand it.”

“It could be an interesting two weeks,” I admitted. “Perhaps we should buy some earplugs?”

“N-o-o-o-o!” howled Harpo.

After a couple of days, Harpo graduated from dark corners to the highest windowsill. He stared mournfully out onto the garden where he could see the shrubbery. It was obviously a fierce and frightening shrubbery because every so often he would howl “N-o-o-o-o!” and jump down from the windowsill to go and shiver in one of his corners again. Hunger and thirst drove him to the food and water bowls, but the wide open spaces of the room were still scary and he was very unhappy exposing himself so much. After a few nibbles and sips he'd slink back to his corner. “N-o-o-o-o!”

“I've had enough of this,” said Robin. “I keep waking up in the night when he howls. I'm exhausted. Let's open a door and put him in the garden. If we're lucky he might run away and hitch-hike back to Wellington.”

“OK,” I said. “But we'll walk round the garden with him just in case. It might reassure him.”

We opened the door closest to his current hiding place. After a few minutes he ventured out into the garden. Immediately he perked up. “Hey! This place is cool! Look at the hedge, and all those leaves. I wonder if there are mice?”

He trotted around the garden and we did our best to keep up with him. He quickly found all the comfy hidey holes and all the best places from which to sneak up on unsuspecting birds. Then he jumped over the fence into next door's garden.

“Ooops!” said Robin. “I wasn't expecting that.”

“I hope he comes home for tea,” I said. “Let's go and see what Bess makes of it all.”

Bess ventured out a few steps on to the deck and looked around in wide-eyed wonder again. “Gosh, the world is big, isn't it?” she said. “I never knew there was so much of it.” A leaf spiralled down from a tree and spooked her. She ran back inside and had a soothing snack.

An hour or so later Harpo swaggered back home, lord of all he surveyed. “Mine!”, he gloated. “All mine! I'm in charge!”

Bess looked at him, amazed. “What's it like out there?” she asked. “Is there much to see and do?”

“Best place ever!” said Harpo. “Go and have a look, you'll like it.”

Bess went out to see what the garden had to offer. She stuck close to the house and refused to go over the fence. She was nervous, but not unhappy. She paused every so often to smell the roses. Then she stretched out on the deck in the sunshine and fell asleep.

“I think she likes it,” I said.

“I think so too,” said Robin. “That's a bit of luck.”

And it was as simple as that. Both cats are now perfectly comfortable and are quite convinced that they've never lived anywhere else, although every so often Harpo does stumble across something new which spooks him all over again and forces him to go and hide in his dark, safe place again. But the difference is that it is now his dark, safe place in his home, so that's OK.

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