“Meuw, meuw, meuw, meuw, meuw” came a squeaking noise from the bushes.

“Hey, it’s a little kitten!” my wife exclaimed. “Are you sure? It sounds more like a high pitch chirp from a bird” I replied, confident in my avian chirp recognition. A motorbike zoomed past, its headlight briefly illuminated the bush and silhouetted a tiny black kitten not more than a few weeks old. It punched a big hole in my bird argument so I let it slide.

For the last year my wife and I have been walking/running in the evenings when the temperature gets down to a bearable level. We kid ourselves that it’s to get some exercise in our otherwise sedentary lifestyles, but really I think it’s because we’re both animal people at heart. Almost every street in Chennai will have its local street dogs and cats and the dogs in particular can become quite friendly once they get to know you.

By now we’ve probably gained some notoriety with the locals as the oddball couple who want to adopt every dog and cat in sight. A few months ago a litter of ginger kittens appeared next door and the locals couldn’t believe how much interest we showed in them every day, even going as far as taking videos and photos, it was hilarious for the locals, this couple losing their mind on a bunch of kittens.

These kittens were born next door to us earlier this year

In the poorer areas, people tend to sit outside and chat, in the posher areas night-watchmen, in the twilight of their lives, sit outside the apartments on chairs taking it all in. They all watch on in mild amusement as we pet the dogs or try to coax a scared cat out of hiding. We’ve even gone as far as buying dried cat food to win the affection of the local moggies which probably means there’s no hope left for us.

Sometimes I think these locals vie for ringside seats as the nightly entertainment begins: what will this weird couple do next?! There are many times when cats have chased us down the road meowing at the top of their lungs and at the same time trying to prevent the other cats from reaching us. Other times we have to creep by certain houses because we know the local dog will cheerfully follow us all the way home. It must be hugely comical to the onlookers; we should probably start charging.

“Can you pick her up?” my wife asked “She sounds terrified and is probably starving.” Another motorbike sped past giving a few seconds of illumination to a shaking black ball of fur. I stepped up closer to the bush. Behind us there was the sound of chairs scraping across the asphalt as the night-watchmen realized the evening show was about to begin and they needed to get a better view. As delicately as I could but with all the grace and subtly of a charging bull elephant I pushed in to the bushes, the squeaking, already loud, ratcheted up a few notches in volume and intensity. “I think you need to get to the other side in case she runs that way” I whispered.

My wife got in to position like a veteran wicket keeper, crouched down, hands waiting to catch the kitten, should she run that way. Another motorbike approached and lit up the bushes, “I’ve nearly got her!” but as the motorbike passed, the kitten seized the opportunity and bolted past me and in to an even bigger bush, still squeaking but now unseen, she had found her safe place. Somewhat deflated, we left some food and headed off to tend to our other street pets. I mean carry on with our exercise.

Honestly, we thought that would be the last we saw of her. She was three weeks old, four at the most. She wasn’t going to take on the street dogs for food and rodents would be bigger than she was.

The next evening was a wild one. A monsoon storm had parked itself over Chennai and it was having blast. Sheet lightning, crashing thunder, howling winds, rain so heavy it seemed to be coming in every direction at once. It wasn’t a night that any normal person would want to be out.

“Shall we go for…a walk?” my wife suggested at the usual time. “Err, isn’t it raining?” My wife looked outside, “No, it’s stopped. Almost. Do you think the little black kitten will still be there?” she asked, hope in her voice. “Doubtful,” I replied, “you really want to go out in this to check on the kitten?” “Err, no, but I don’t think we should skip our exercise, we don’t do anything else do we?!” No dear.

“Wait!” cried the watchman as we walked downstairs “You can’t go out, it’s raining and flooded!” My wife was about to explain to him how important is was that we got our daily exercise when we heard a squeaking sound.

“Meuw, meuw, meuw, meuw” it was coming from just outside the apartment under a bunch of broken furniture. “Another bird?” my wife asked me sarcastically. “Are you a magnet for kittens or what?” I shot back, “let’s find it.” We grabbed a torch from the watchman and couldn’t believe it: It was the same kitten from last night. Somehow she had walked across several streets and ended up outside our apartment at the exact time we were going for a walk. It might have been a good time to believe in fate.

While my wife distracted her from the front, I went around the back and grabbed her by the scruff of the neck and the squeaking stopped instantly. She weighed barely anything and was soaked through but was vibrating like crazy with fear or cold.

“What can we do with her?!” My wife asked as she cradled her in one hand and pinched her scruff with the other, “She’s so scared!” The watchman, possibly not hired for his intellectual prowess, had an idea “Wait here!” he said and ran back inside the apartment. When he returned moments later we could see what his bright idea was: to lead an unneutered ginger tom cat to the kitten. The reaction from the tom was as expected. we’ll probably never know what the watchman thought was going to happen, that the tom would be overcome with paternal emotion and adopt her as his own? The moment he smelled the kitten his back arched and he started hissing like a snake. “Whoa, whoa, whoa!” I shouted and whipped out the cat food and rushed to cut him off.

Fortunately the tom cat’s stomach was more important to him than anything else, a trait my wife tells me is common among all males. He forgot all about the kitten and blindly followed me back in to the apartment complex.

“OK, but what are we going to do with her?” my wife asked again when I got back. It was a loaded question.

The kitten was only quiet when her scruff was being pinched, the moment you let go she started shrieking again. Still, we couldn’t hold her neck all night long. “Let me see if I can find a box.” It didn’t answer the question of course, but it delayed making a decision. With a surprising amount of resourcefulness, I located a vegetable box from the grocer next door, “give it back when you’re done with it” he said, which should have made me wonder a little harder about how many other kittens or animals have found temporary shelter in his vegetable boxes and then were returned to their original purpose. “Give it some milk” he called out as I left, I’m not sure if he was hoping to make one last late night sale or if really no one in the street knew how to look after a kitten.

“OK, but what are we going to do with her?” my wife asked again. It appeared I had to make one of those husbandly decisions. “Let’s take her upstairs, dry her off, feed her, give her some water and then figure it out”. We took her upstairs and laid down some food, I don’t know if you’ve ever heard a cat make a noise when it eats, but this one sounded exactly like “neow neow neow noew *pause* neow noew neow neow” as she wolfed down the Whiskas. “I think we’ll call you socks.” declared my wife as she scratched the kitten behind the ears.

After a few minutes the kitten’s hunger was satiated and she went back to being the terrified wreck she was before. She raced around the apartment, franticly looking in to every nook and cranny to hide before eventually settling under the coffee table where she watched us suspiciously. Eventually the meuwing subsided to the occasional squeak.

Socks making plenty of noise inside the house

“So, what are we going to do with her?” it was time to face the question. We couldn’t keep her of course, my wife and I had been over this time and again.

The first time was when my brother-in-law turned up at our door with great big grin on his face and a labrador puppy in a cardboard box. He’d bought us a puppy as our wedding gift and was well pleased with himself. I don’t know if you’ve ever tried to give back an adorable fluffy labrador puppy but it doesn’t go so well. People judge you. However, we both agreed that it would be unfair on any animal to keep them in the apartment all day, especially when we’re both out at work and don’t have anyone who can look after the pet whenever we go away.

“How about we cover the box with food and water inside and leave it on the balcony overnight, it’ll be much safer than out in the street and we can get Blue Cross to pick her up tomorrow.” The idea was shot down, the kitten’s wailing would surely keep us awake and who would hand the kitten over, can the watchman be trusted.

Socks looking for more food

“I think,” said my wife, coming to a decision “we need to take her now.” “But it’s 11 in the night!” I protested “They won’t even be open and if someone was there surely they wouldn’t open up for a stray kitten?!”

As we argued it over, the kitten had decided that she was no longer in mortal danger. She came out from under the coffee table and cautiously approach my wife, we put down some more food and she gobbled it up. Slowly she started getting her confidence back and was rediscovering how to kitten. A frantic need to hide was replaced by curiosity that only young cats can possess. Suddenly everything needed to be investigated, sniffed and patted all at once. There was no more wailing now and she quickly learned that every time she came near us she got a bit more food. My wife scooped her up with little protest from the kitten, even the shaking had stopped now.

A thought occurred to me “Hey, how do we know she’s a she?” my wife investigated “Oh!” she exclaimed “That figures, Socks is a boy! No wonder he’s becoming all hyper active and boisterous now.” She put him down and he went to investigate the table cloth where he discovered that he could jump up, dig his claws in and start swinging from the fabric. Yep, Socks was a boy.

I looked at my wife who was watching Socks figure out how to climb the back of the sofa, there was a dangerous look in her eye. “Hey, here’s my phone, can you call the taxi?” I asked quickly. We lined the vegetable box with newspaper, put in some food and placed Socks, who had so far climbed half way up the sofa, inside before wrapping the box in an old table cloth. Socks went in to immediate freak out mode trying to escape.

Downstairs the watchman held the gate open for us, “Where are you going at this time of night?” he enquired, “To the animal rescue shelter to drop off the kitten.” He couldn’t quite process that, what a crazy couple, he must have thought. The taxi driver eyed the wrapped box suspiciously, “it’s a fish tank?” he asked hopefully, I’m sure he wasn’t thrilled about the idea of having a scared animal in his car, “no” my wife explained “we found this stray kitten and we’re taking him to the rescue shelter” the reaction of the driver was a mirror image of the watchman, all this for a kitten, what nut jobs!

I was expecting Socks to scream blue murder in the car so I don’t know if it was the darkness or the a/c but as the car started he quickly settled down and was quiet as a mouse. It was a long drive to the Blue Cross shelter and I expected every bump and car horn to freak him out but he was fine…almost until we reached the shelter in fact. About five minutes away I felt him moving around again, a quiet shuffling, nothing frantic, then, a few seconds later the first pungent wave hit, my wife smelt it as well “Socks!” she said under her breath, as I nonchantly rolled down the window. It didn’t take long for the driver to notice the smell either, I was expecting him to complain but to his credit he just shifted uncomfortably in his seat. “Sorry!” I said, because I’m British.

The driver had a new urgency to reach the shelter now and it was a relief to turn up at the gates – which were chained shut, it was 11:45 at night after all. We had spoken about this, what if no one was there to take him in? “err, hello?” I called out, “hello?!” I tried again, louder this time, there was the sound of movement from beyond the gates and a watchman appeared. “I’ve got an abandoned kitten” I told him, and on cue Socks let out one of his squeaks. “Wait here” he said, as if we were going to rush the gates to force them to take a kitten. A few minutes later he returned with the night manager, “yes?” he asked, “we have a kitten, he’s been abandoned” I told him. “Is he injured?” “No, just scared and hungry, we’ve watched him the last couple of days, he’s alone”. The manager was doing some thinking, probably along the lines of “oh my days why has this foreigner come and woken me up for a kitten who’s perfectly fine” but he didn’t say anything, just asked the watchman to unlock the gate while he quickly inspected the animal.

“You need to sign one of these release forms” he said, of course, this is India, paperwork is needed for everything, I was surprised they didn’t ask for passport photos as well, maybe the paperwork wasn’t that important.

With Socks officially signed over to the care and duty of Blue Cross we said our goodbyes and headed back home, silently. Our watchman was still awake, waiting for us to return, the forty minutes we were away had given him time to process what had just happened. “You are both very good people, no one here will hire a taxi in the middle of the night to take an animal to the rescue shelter,” he said, “God will bless you both.” It was a simple statement and neither of us are particular about seeking any Gods’ blessings, but it made us feel a lot better about what we had just done.

About Blue Cross of India

Blue Cross is Chennai’s largest animal rescue and shelter organization, similar to the RSPCA in the UK. It picks up injured or mistreated animals from rabbits to horses and will provide shelter for abandoned new born animals. It encourages the adoption of rescue and orphaned animals over buying from breeders.

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