I sat on the couch in my dressing gown. Laptop on knee. Reporters notepad and pen in hand. It was 8:10am. Usually I'd be getting off at Earls Court tube stop around this time to change for the Piccadilly line. Liam was brushing his teeth after the shortest shower in history - he had only got out of bed five minutes earlier. It was funny to see what exactly he does in the thirty minutes after I have left for work each morning - and I had concluded; not very much.
A quick email to my sympathetic, cat-loving manager secured today off as a holiday from work. I didn't think I'd be having much of a holiday, however. I glanced down at my to-do list, wistfully.
- Telephone all possible animal charities who help injured cats, and their desperate, low-incomed owners. Cats Protection, Blue Cross and the RSPCA were the ones I'd heard of... and then, if no luck, find some more.
- Telephone vets outside of London for quotes on mending a cat's broken hind leg. Perhaps, like a can of Coke, the rates would be cheaper outside the capital?
- Start fundraising... Painting - perhaps I could sell them? Card-making - everyone likes cards. Crochet? No. Would take too long. Not everyone loves crocheted creatures... *Spider diagram needed.
Liam suddenly appeared fully dressed and ready for work in the living room. He looked far too well turned out for only having had eight or so minutes to get ready. Glancing in the mirror to flatten a fluffy bit of hair, he lifted his keys off the coffee table and leant in to kiss me goodbye.
'Take it easy.' He said, as he gave me one of his bear hugs. 'A quiet day in the flat is what you need. Keep in touch via email, and I'll ring you at lunch.'
He poked his finger through the bars of the cage, and stroked the top of Bess' furry head. She opened her eyes, but didn't raise her head off her blanket. She looked as I did when I took the occasional Tramadol for stomach pains; drunk.
As the front door slammed shut, I heard him shout 'Good luck!' I listened to the sound of his feet skip every third step down the four flights of stairs until he reached the ground floor. Pottering into the kitchen, I put the kettle on for a cup of tea. Nothing would be open until 9:00am so I had a few minutes to spare. I stood in the kitchen and stared blankly out the window, as the sound of the kettle boiling got louder and louder until the steam billowed into an upward-climbing waterfall around my kitchen cupboards. A good night's sleep had dulled my shock, but the astronomical figures I'd heard at the vets last night still whirred about my head.
I thought I would try the charities first, and as soon as the clock hit 9:00am, I picked up my phone to dial the first number. By mid morning, nearly all of my calls, had sounded some sort of a variation of this:
Me: 'Ah. Good morning. I hope you can help me. My cat has badly broken her hind leg, and I have been quoted a large amount for the operation she needs, which I am really struggling to pay. I heard your charity might be able to help me...?'
Them: 'Do you receive any income support or council tax benefit?'
Me: 'Um... No... But I'm desperate - I can't meet the bill the vets have quoted me...'
Them: 'I'm sorry, but I'm afraid you aren't eligible for our services or support if you are not on benefits."
By mid morning, I was mentally exhausted, had been through four cups of tea and was willing myself unemployed. Of all the possible charities in London, not one had been able to help me - unless I could provide documentation to prove I was on benefits. I was outraged.
Last year I had struggled to find a job when I'd moved from Manchester down to London. London did not seem to be recruiting, and for just under six weeks I'd had to sign on for job seekers allowance. The amount I received was hardly enough to survive on, and once I'd paid the bus fare to take the twenty-five minute bus ride to the local Job Centre each week (you could hardly call it local) there was barely enough for food, let alone rent. Each week, the admin officer in the Job Centre would look narrowly at me, glance at my papers, (upon which I had dutifully listed all the job applications I had made that week in neat little capitals, placed carefully in the right box) and then eye me suspiciously. She would yawn and sign my paper off only once she had probed me with the same monotonous questions.
I had since fought hard to get settled in London. And now, I had finally established myself in a little flat, with a modestly paid job, and I felt as if I was getting punished for it.
By 2:00pm, I had Liam's parents ringing vets in Worcestershire, and my Mum checking the vets in Hertfordshire to compare prices for leg operations and amputations. I had posted out for help and advice using Twitter and Facebook last night, and the support I had received from all my friends and fellow bloggers was incredible. Everyone it seemed, knew at least one cat who was missing a leg, and last night Liam and I had sat together and checked out the suggested websites, and laughed a little reading the cute stories of three-legged cats who still lived life as if they had four. Each person who posted me some advice, lifted a little weight off my mind. I had the support. All I needed now, was the universe to spit out a solution (one I could afford) that could help my girl feel better.
Bess hadn't moved much in the last hour, and I was getting worried. I knew she was still drugged from the tablets and anaesthetic, but she hadn't eaten, used her litter tray or drank much water since she'd come home. I looked at her dry cat food, splattered with anti-inflammatory drugs (a bit like ibuprofen) which smelt like marzipan. No, I wouldn't have eaten it either. I decided to go for a quick walk to Tescos to pick her up something tastier, that really stank - like mackerel or tuna. Then she might eat it. Stroking her ear, she didn't even open her eyes, which worried me, so I grabbed my bag, and hurried out the front door, phone and cigarettes in hand.
As my converse trainers padded the pavement and I puffed on my cigarette, I took a look up to the sky, and threw my worries right up there; across the park until they splattered across the skyscrapers to my far left and right. I walked with my head up, and shoulders back, because it made me feel better, less trapped, and I spoke loudly in my head to anyone 'up there' who might listen. I don't always feel the need to know who I'm talking to, but think maybe just the intention of what I need might bring it closer to me somehow. As I nattered along the pavement, I suddenly felt my pocket vibrate, and I fumbled about in my jacket to answer it. It was a strange number. I caught it just in time:
'Oh, Hello.' Came a rather quiet, strained voice that I guessed belonged to someone much older than me. 'My name is Mr Farlan, I'm calling from the RSPCA in Wimbledon. I was given your number by one of my colleagues who said you were in a rather tricky situation.'
I couldn't believe it. Fast work, God.
I remembered my call to the RSPCA earlier that morning. The girl on the telephone had fully listened to my plea (unlike most of the other charities) before sounding terribly guilty that she couldn't help me, but she had asked for my telephone number, just in case she thought of anything.
'Yes, Yes... ' I said quickly, before relaying the entire story to Mr Farlan.
'Well, my colleague is quite right, y'know, you will struggle to qualify for financial help with the RSPCA. But it is an awful situation... These vets... I can't quite believe their prices. It's daylight robbery!'
I agreed, and felt my self lifted by the mere fact that someone sympathised and understood.
'Now, let me have a think.' He paused, as if he wasn't on the telephone, and had all the time in the world to chat to me. I felt like I mattered. 'I'll have a word with our treasurer in Wimbledon, I'm not promising you anything, but I'll see if I can appeal your case. But in the meantime, have you thought of taking your cat to Putney RSPCA Animal Hospital?'
'Oh, thank you so much for asking.' I replied, thinking how glad I wasn't speaking with Mr Farlan in person, or I might have kissed him rather inappropriately on the spot. 'I haven't tried Putney hospital, no. I'll get onto them right away.'
'Yes... They might take you in, y'see. They help people on low incomes, not just if you're on benefits. It might be worth a ring. Anyway, love. Good luck, and I'll ring you tomorrow to see how you're doing.'
He hung up.
When Liam came home from work, around 6:30pm, I was splayed on the floor of our living room, on the land line phone, with two mobile phones scattered around me, taking notes from a vet in Worcestershire, on the price and procedure of pinning Bess' leg rather than plating it. It had been non-stop calling all day, and I was exhausted.
When I finally got off the phone a few minutes later, Liam had made me a cup of tea. I crawled up onto the sofa, resting my head on his lap, and rested my feet on the coffee table - a habit of Liam's, which I usually tell him off for - and closed my eyes, mumbling thanks.
'How are my girls?' He whispered after a couple of minutes quiet.
'I've worked so hard...' My words came out all pathetic. 'But I've got us three options.'
'I called Putney RSPCA Animal Hospital this afternoon, and spoke to a really kind receptionist, who listened. She advised, if I took Bess in, with wage slips, ID and a utility bill, I might qualify for them to operate on her. But they might not save the leg, as they always go for the best, but cheapest solution... And then there's big problem, that I might not qualify for a low enough wage...and if they turn us away...'
I paused to take a look at my notepad, since my brain was so muddled with all the words I had heard and spoken that day, I couldn't think quite straight.
'...I've got us a back-up plan, just in case. There's a small vets up near your Mum. He said he would pin her leg.' I'd noticed his eyebrow raise, and that familiar wrinkle appear on his forehead, letting me know he was about to throw a hundred questions by me. 'I've checked - It's not quite as secure as the plate - but they said it would definitely work. He's quoted me around £900 for the operation including the aftercare of taking the pins out.'
'That figure sounds a bit better...' Liam trailed off as I interrupted him.
'Yes. And your Mum has offered to drive down to London tonight to pick Bess up, take her to the vets and then care for her a couple of weeks after the operation at her house... She's been so kind...'
'...But you're worried that you won't be able to look after her yourself?'
He knew me so well.
Yes, the idea of carrying on with work, my day to day life, whilst Liam's Mum cared for my cat seemed wrong somehow. She was my responsibility...
'And the third option?' Liam asked.
'The Celia Hammond Animal Trust will do an amputation. They don't tend to do operations as they are a little too specialist, but they would charge me significantly less than the vets would, just to amputate the leg...'
I knew Liam was against the idea of amputating Bess' leg, especially as the vets had advised that it was possible to save it. But we were running low on possibilities within our budget, and time was running out.
'You've done so well...' He picked my tea off the coffee table - avoiding my feet, and not saying a word about them - and passed the mug to me. 'Let's visit the RSPCA tomorrow morning, first thing, and take it from there.'