Nanook the rescue cat
Tom Wheeler and his family had to say goodbye to their family pet. A big, magnificent, black cat
Now, if you’re a pet owner yourself, you’ll no doubt believe that your beloved cat, dog, chinchilla or stick insect is the finest specimen of that species – or any other species for that matter – that ever walked the earth. And it’s fine to think that. But it’s my solemn duty to inform you all that you’re wrong, because that was Nanook.
In recognition of this unarguable greatness, I reckon he deserves his own obituary on these pages, which also serves as my own little tribute to the special joys of rescue animals.
A bit of background first. In 2011, some time before I appeared on the scene, my now-partner Anna was living in a tenement in Tollcross. She’d long wanted a cat, but accepted that a third floor flat next to one of Edinburgh’s busiest road junctions is perhaps not the ideal spot to house one of life’s natural marauders.
One day she got chatting to a veterinary student who happened to be on placement at Edinburgh Cat and Dog Home. They’d been looking after a big, beautiful black cat for the previous few weeks. But finding him a home was proving difficult as he’d tested positive for Feline Immunodeficiency Virus, or FIV.
As with its human equivalent, this renders the cat both infectious to others and less able to fight infection itself. So, this cat would have to be kept indoors and away from other cats (though other species – including dogs and humans, importantly – would be fine).
I think you can probably see where this story is going.
Anna went to meet this cat and was instantly smitten. Nonetheless, friends and family did the sensible thing and advised her to take the weekend to think it over, which she dutifully did – while shopping for cat toys, bowls and a carrier, as well as inscribing the name she’d chosen for him on to his very own hairbrush (which he would greatly enjoy chewing to bits in the years to come).
She returned to the Cat and Dog Home, to the visible relief of the volunteers there who feared he would never be housed, and bought him for the nominal sum of one pound. This, she would soon discover, was very much the equivalent of those weekly collectable magazine series you used to see in newsagents, where the first issue cost a quid and came with a free ring binder, but completing the set would take years and cost a fortune. Unlike those, this was not a pound she would ever regret spending.
By the time I got to know him a couple of years later, Nanook was the regal master of the house. He would hop up on to the windowsill on August evenings to watch the fireworks from the Tattoo. He would studiously ignore the bowl of cat food you’d put out for him just before serving up your own steak dinner, knowing that he’d be able to charm or irritate you into giving him a share of the good stuff.
And as time went by, being a house cat out of necessity, he became far more tactile than an outdoor cat would ever be. He would climb on to the table, stand on his back legs and reach his front paws to the sky, which was his way of asking Anna to pick him up for a cuddle. When, after a couple of years of critical assessment, he finally began to do the same with me, my heart could have melted on the spot.
Later, when we moved into the relative serenity of a house facing the park in Willowbrae, he’d sit quietly and take in the view from the front window, much as an elderly relative might. More often than not, he’d be sitting there whenever we came home in the car, pawing at the window to make sure we noticed him and remembered to come back. (We always did.) Times of grief, anxiety and lockdown were that little bit more manageable thanks to cat cuddles.
The psychology of pet ownership is a curious thing. Some people are convinced it’s something we do as a substitute for raising a child (though as we later discovered, it’s possible to do both at once – just about). But it’s fundamentally different.
When your child is born, what you hope more than anything is that they will outlive you. When you get a pet, you’re very much aiming for the opposite. We always knew this day would come. And right now, though we’re comforted at having been able to give him a painless exit at the right time, it hurts a lot.
Is all the love over the years, worth the pain we feel now? Unquestionably.
So, if you’re thinking of getting a pet, and if circumstances allow, please consider a rescue. You can give a good life – 12 years’ worth, in our case – to an animal that might otherwise have no life at all.
And trust me, you’ll get so much in return. Cheerio, old pal. ■
Info: Edinburgh Cat & Dog Home www.edch.org.uk