Little Smudge first made her presence known as a tiny kitten when she and her mom were discovered by guests somewhere in the veld near Caracal. The guests began feeding them, at which point mom disappeared leaving a squealing baby unable to sustain itself.
The mountain has a large population of ferals, who like our Fitzi (AKA Osama), trace their lineage not so distantly back to wild cats, civets and caracals. Mortality rates are high, which is what controls the population. The other side of this is that survivors are often quite extraordinary, being genetically primed for survival. This married with the nature of their early experience, determines their chances.
Feeding ferals, one can see, interferes with this process, and especially with kittens, disadvantages the individual’s chances. The knowledge of this, is however all very well. Here is this particular kitten with its small face peeking through the bushes or behind the corrugated iron– dependent on us, not to mention being very dear and beguiling .
So with a somewhat resigned feeling of déjà vous, and knowing that our cats would not countenance a new addition, I contacted a cattery nearby who agreed to take her. I then set about feeding her and teaching her to be sociable with us humans so she would be easily re-homed.
At first I could only leave food and water for her under the scaffolding in the utilities area where she hung out. Then she ventured out squeaking loudly and let me snuffle her neck and stroke her back before darting back to safety. The periods with me playing with her and stroking her increased over the next days and by day 4 she ran to greet me with gusto and settled happily purring (loudly) on my shoulder.
As the days went by, needless to say, I grew inordinately fond of her feisty presence and her sweet little face with a smudge of colour across her nose.
Then one night after I got back to the farm late, she was nowhere to be found, despite the fact that she would have been starving. And the next day and the next and the next she didn’t come either. I was mortified and felt sure that in neglecting her she had wondered off away from safety and had been taken by a buzzard or been attacked by other cats. I lay awake at night.
Then some three weeks later, when I told my visiting son and daughter-in-law how I had caused Smudge’s death, daughter-in-law Andrea pricked up her ears.
`Smudge’ she said. `That that was the name of my first cat’. What a pity she has disappeared’.
Well as things do sometimes pan out, when the next day they went for a walk, Andrea tall with Liam on her back and Pete hand-in-hand with 3 year old Dani, they were assailed by fierce shouting from behind the rubbish. None other than Smudge herself - not only quite clearly fit and strong but with a lot to say.
By 8 o’clock Sunday night Smudge had found her way into her new Cape Town home, where she has been, happy as can be, ever since. Dani is particularly taken with her, though she is having to learn she can’t simply bend the kitten to her will.