Dooey, my beloved cat, was killed by a car on Saturday. I had just returned from a week-long silent retreat to the marina, so was deeply shocked when I received the news on Tuesday evening. I was holding a plastic bag full of cat food in my hand at the time.
I felt particularly bad because I had intended to take her to a cattery for the week I was away. However, she took one look at my packed bags and disappeared. I had to leave her in the care of John, who works at the marina, and who happily agreed to feed her twice a day.
Peter and his wife, my pontoon neighbours, found her on Sunday morning lying in the hedge beside the road. Peter with John and Dave (another neighbouring boater) picked her up and buried her in the flower bed near Mystic Moon. What a wonderful thing for them to do.
She wasn’t squashed, and apparently there was no blood, so I can only guess she died from internal injuries. I pray it was quick for her, and she didn’t suffer.
Dooey came into my life as a tiny black ball of fur. She and her brothers had been found in a dustbin terrified and starving, and been taken to the local Cirencester Cat Protection League. She was so young that her eyes were still in the process of turning from blue into the golden globes she had as an adult. The moment I picked her up the two of us bonded so tightly that I refused to leave without her. A phone call to the vet confirmed I would be a suitable carer, and that was that. The cat protection lady said it was the fastest adoption they had ever had.
To begin with I named her Roo because she used to bounce around the house like a kangaroo. But this soon changed to Roodilidoodoo (goodness knows why) then to Doodilly, and finally she settled down to being just plain Dooey.
But Dooey was far from being plain anything. Although she remained very small, she was erratic, eccentric, and extremely skittish. Most of all, she was unbelievably courageous and sensitive. She lived through months of emotional and physical upheaval after my husband left with a worried questioning look in her eyes, and used to bat me on the head when my crying got too much for her.
Neither she nor I settled into the terraced house we moved into after my marital home was sold. I could barely function, and the male cat, which lived across the road, bullied her horribly. So the two of us used curl up in bed together and feel miserable.
But she came into her own when she and I moved onto Mystic Moon. To begin with she took up residence in the cupboard under the sink and would only emerge to use the cat litter tray, which lived in the bath. Then gradually she began to take to life on a narrrowboat, and only disappeared into the cupboard when going up and down lock flights, and on our epic adventure down the Thames and under Tower Bridge. Finally, she didn’t bother to move from her two favourite places. One was on the kitchen worktop. The other was the bathroom basin, into which she fitted perfectly.
Everyone who came onto the boat soon realised that Dooey was an intrinsic part of the crew, and she took an active part in all ten pop-up death cafes I ran over the summer. She would welcome participants on board, check them out, then would retire to the kitchen worktop and preside over us all.
She also turned into an inveterate mouser. Initially she came back when I called her from whichever field she had vanished into, but she soon started to disappear for hours at a time. Just as I was beginning to seriously worry, she would wander on board looking very pleased with herself.
Having said that, worry turned into extreme irritation when, for example, I was ready to set off at nine in the morning to discover she had done a bunk. She deigned to turn up at two thirty in the afternoon on one occasion. On another, I had to wait twenty-four hours for her.
The little minx also knew when we were going to set off, and sometimes she would rebel by jumping off the boat as soon as she heard the engine turn over. I always managed to chase her back on board, but one morning I spied her in the field, tail swishing, eyeing something that had caught her attention. I called to her through the barbwire fence. She tossed her head and purposefully removed herself into the undergrowth. I had to use the boat pole to dig her out.
The worst moment was after working ten double locks on my own that lead to Leamington Spa. I was completely exhausted by the time I tied up, and immediately put the kettle on. But something didn’t feel right. No Dooey on board.
I instinctively knew where she was – at the top of the ten locks. She had been particularly reticent to get on board that morning when I had found her in the woodland beside the canal. Even though I saw her hop on, she must have legged it again while I was opening the first lock. Fortunately I have a fold-up bike, so I hauled it off the boat, put on a backpack, and cycled back four miles along the jarring, mud-rutted towpath, swearing as I went.
She was, indeed, at the top lock, crouching under a car utterly terrified that she had been abandoned forever. I pulled her out, stuffed her head first into my backpack and firmly zipped it up. She yowled loudly all the way back to the boat, and I had to explain to passing boaters and walkers alike that ‘Yes, there is a cat in my backpack.’
So dearest Dooey, thank you for your unerring companionship. Your energy. Your sense of fun. Your devotion. I missed you dreadfully this morning when I woke up and realised you weren’t there to purr into my ear and paw me on the cheek to ‘GET UP, AND GET MY BREAKFAST.’
These past thirteen years have been so enriched by you, and I will remember them and you with such fondness and love. Life, quite simply, will never be the same.
But Dooey’s spirit lives on. Last night I was woken by the sound of a set of tiny paws doing something in a kitchen drawer. They belonged to a mouse that had escaped Dooey’s deadly attention. I didn’t have the heart to remove it. I just hope it doesn’t move in some friends.