The cat who stole my heart

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02 February 2021
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It’s the month of Valentine’s Day and there’s no doubt cats hold a special place in our hearts. So to celebrate, we share three moving and heart-warming feline love stories.

On Valentine’s Day all thoughts turn to love and you may be lucky enough to receive a card, perhaps some chocolate, and even flowers. But for some people, they’ll be thinking about some very special cats who brought love into their lives and changed it for the better. 

SYDNEY: THE SWEETHEART FOSTER CAT

It was Gill and Ron Green’s 44th wedding anniversary — and they were spending it having chemotherapy together. Each of them was really unwell. Gill was recovering from surgery for breast cancer and Ron was battling stomach cancer. They felt like they were at their lowest point.

Gill and Ron having chemotherapy

“Instead of being able to celebrate our anniversary, we were both having life-saving treatment for cancer,” said Gill, from Hitchin, in Hertfordshire. Ron, 67, was particularly ill, having had a course of chemotherapy before a seven-hour operation, followed by more chemotherapy.  He had also developed life-threatening sepsis and had had to be hospitalised for a week.

Gill said: “The whole of 2019 was very difficult. At times, we really didn’t know whether we were coming or going. Between us, we both had surgery and chemotherapy and I also had radiotherapy, with the appointments across five different hospitals. It was a horrendous time.”

But amid this physical and emotional turmoil, something amazing and unexpected happened — a cat stole their hearts. In between treatments, when Gill, 65, had the strength, she continued her hobby of knitting all sorts of colourful cat toys to raise money for the Blue Cross centre at Kimpton. 

Over the years, Gill had created hundreds of amazing goodies, from cute cat-nipped filled teddies to festive Christmas tree decorations. The couple also fostered cats and had looked after 11 cats from the charity.

“We thought we would give fostering a try and it worked really well for us. The cats had the run of our bungalow, and it was good to see them come in, show them some love and then send them on their merry way. We enjoyed looking after them, but never ever thought about keeping hold of one of them.”

But one cat was to change that. After her chemotherapy and before her radiotherapy, Gill took in a short-haired tabby named Sydney on a short-term foster placement. Sydney was only to stay for four weeks because the couple were going to have their son’s cats to stay while he was on holiday.

Sydney                                                                 He found his forever home

SYDNEY ARRIVES

Not much was known about Sydney, except that he was about 14, had been an indoor only cat and needed daily medication for a thyroid problem. During his stay, Gill and Ron enjoyed looking after Sydney. He was very affectionate and settled into life in their home quickly. 

The day came for Sydney to move on. He was going to the Blue Cross’s Birmingham rehoming centre in Bromsgrove and he was placed in his carrier and taken away, like all the other foster cats Gill had looked after. But this time, something was different.                         

Gill said: “When Sydney went, my heart sunk. I had never known anything like it. Seeing his little face in the carrier was so sad. The tears welled up and ran down my face. I felt bereft. I hadn’t realised that Sydney had stolen a piece of my heart.”

The sadness didn’t fade while Gill looked after her son’s cats and when they had gone home, she knew what had to be done. “Ron, my sister, and I drove to Birmingham and brought Sydney home for good. It was so wonderful to see him again. It made my heart leap and I couldn’t stop smiling.”

Months have passed and Sydney loves his new home, and his owners are still smitten: “Sydney is just what I needed, and he needs me — we have each other. I give him love and he returns the love. Just stroking him gives us the calm we need with all the stress going on around us,” said Gill. 

The couple have had to isolate during the pandemic and Sydney has helped them through the long days. He follows Gill around the garden, curls up in the greenhouse for a snooze, goes to visit his cat friend next door. and always ends the day on Gill and Ron’s bed. 

After more than a year of terrible sickness, the couple still need regular check-ups but are hoping that they’re both on the way to better health. “We have had a real rough patch and we hope we’re coming out of it,” said Gill. “And now we have the wonderful Sydney to love.  He has made our lives so much the better, he really is a sweetheart.” 

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KEITH: AN INSPIRATIONAL KITTEN

A kitten called Keith charmed his next-door neighbour so much so that not only did she go on to adopt him, he inspired her to set up a charity helping animals across the UK.

Keith changed Amanda's life.

Amanda Broome had never owned a cat before and didn’t really think much of pets until her neighbour was given a tiny kitten who looked like he was too young to have left his mother.

“I was worried about Keith as he was so small and he was alone at times,” said the legal assistant. “So as soon as I got home from work in the evening, I would go next door and bring Keith back to our house. I had absolutely no idea about caring for cats or animals in general, as I’d never owned a cat before, but there was something about this black and grey short-haired kitten that captivated me. I was totally smitten.”

In time, the neighbour realised that he couldn’t meet Keith’s needs so Amanda and her husband, Ian, took him in.

Keith had sparked an interest in animal welfare in Amanda and she started volunteering as a home visitor, checking out potential new owners for a local Cats Protection branch in Hemel Hempstead.

“My experience with Keith made me see how great it was to have a pet so it was fantastic to be able to go out and make sure that the cats and kittens that were being rehomed were going to loving homes.”

But tragedy struck when feisty Keith was hit by a car and needed emergency surgery on his leg, followed by crate rest — which he did not like — and took it out on Amanda. “Ever since then, even though I’m besotted with him, he keeps his distance from me. I can stroke him while he’s asleep — and even though he’s stolen my heart and is my first true pet love, he prefers my elderly neighbours!”

After five years of volunteering with Cats Protection, Amanda, 49, saw an advert offering help to charities and decided it was time to set up her own. So, in April 2019 Animal Support Angels was born.

Amanda says it’s been a rollercoaster of a ride, with the charity working especially hard as Coronavirus has hit. “We now collect food two or three times a week which we distribute to any rescue in need. We also support low-income families and people who feed feral colonies on a daily basis, come rain or shine.”

Amanda doing charity work.

As well as distributing pet food across the UK, the charity has managed to help animals as far afield as Romania, Bosnia, Cyprus, Sri Lanka, and Cape Verde. Animal Support Angels also offers emergency placements for cats and fostering for cats in need.

“The charity work is so rewarding and I don’t think I will ever tire of what I do. Being able to help feed thousands of animals in need makes me feel proud on a daily basis.”

Over the years, Keith has survived a second road accident and has been joined at home by fellow rescue cats Molly and Cinders. He enjoys spending his days sleeping under the duvet and visiting his favoured neighbours.

Amanda added: “I’m really busy now with the charity and we have plans to expand to help more people, but it’s strange to think how it all came from my love of a tiny kitten called Keith. I love him very much and often think about what I do now and that by having him has meant that I have been able to help so many animals.”

To find out more about Amanda’s charity and the work it does,
visit https://animalsupportangels.com/ or check it out on Facebook by searching for @animalsupportangels

 

HEIMY: A BRINGER OF LOVE

Davinder has finally found a cat to love.

What’s it like to live in a family of cat lovers but to never feel that tug on the heart strings from one of your pets? Davinder Youngs had always had cats throughout her married life, but never really felt like she properly bonded with them — until one very special purr-fect cat stole her heart.

“My husband, James, comes from a family of cat lovers,” she explained, “I had never had a cat until I met my husband 26 years ago, and he had cats then. He had grown up with cats, particularly Burmese, and his siblings and parents have cats too.”

What made Davinder’s relationship with cats even worse was that she was allergic to them, so she tried to keep out of their way to avoid getting wheezy and itchy.

James loved Burmese cats, who thrive in pairs, and the couple’s children, Sangeeta and Sahil, grew up with the friendly felines and were firm cat lovers. When a cat would die, Davinder would suggest to her family that maybe the cat didn’t need to be replaced, but to no avail. So, she struck a deal, where the cats were her husband’s and children’s choice so they were responsible for them.

Davinder, a civil servant, said: “I didn’t mind the cats, but I didn’t enjoy the smell, the mess, and the noise — Burmese mew like kids sometimes — and tried to avoid them coming too close to me to stop my allergies flaring up. I also liked the idea of being able to go on holiday without needing to sort out care for the cats on top of all the parental duties of looking after the kids!”

Willow, a placid lilac Burmese was followed by Samwise, also lilac, and Rosie, who was brown. Then the years passed and Zaphod and Aslan (chocolate and lilac respectively) joined the family, followed six years ago by chocolate-coloured brother and sister Freya and Loki.

“The cats were very lovable and, strangely enough, always tried to get overfriendly with me, even though I kept my distance,” said Davinder.

Sadly, Loki was killed by a wild animal and Freya was left on her own. She didn’t cope very well and was lonely, pining for him and crying out all the time. The family knew that they needed to find a companion for Freya — but this time they decided to try a different breed.

Heimy and Freya cuddling up.                  Heimy

BENGAL KITTY

A beautiful Bengal kitten joined their family, who they named Heimdall, or Heimy for short, after the protector of the goddess Freya in Norse mythology.

Davinder, 50, said: “He was the most gorgeous kitten; a proper silver striped tiger with wide blue eyes. As we introduced the cats to each other, and the children left for university, I was left to play with him to settle him in. As he would only fall asleep actually sitting on someone, I spent time with him fast asleep on me — and realised he wasn’t making me as itchy as the other cats had, as Bengals are more hypoallergenic than some other breeds.

“So, after more than 20 years, we found a cat that reacted well with me and I reacted well with! And it was all by chance!”

The rest is history as Heimy adopted Davinder as his ‘mum’ and they fell head over heels in love with each other.

“Heimy changed my mind about cats! I absolutely adore him. We have a very happy, loving relationship,” she said. “He has got soppier as he’s grown up and will come up to me and knead ‘hello’ and drool over me — which is not the best habit but I gather it’s a sign of cat love.”

 Davinder, from St Albans, is now a true cat lover and has enjoyed training Heimy to do all sorts of tricks, including giving her an affectionate head bump.

“We are very lucky as Heimy and Freya get on really well, as if they were brother and sister.” Davinder added: “And after years of having cats as pets, I finally realised what it’s like to love one of them.

Heimy changed my mind about cats — and I love him to bits.”