Sneaking Down to Spain, Travels With a Three-Legged Cat

Every word of what follows is a true story.

‘That’s not a cat up there, that’s a lion‘. The cleaning lady pushes quickly past me, out through the door and hurridly down the steps to the safety of the cactus garden below.

Her departure leaves me alone in an apartment of three floors, five rooms and a terrace, the nooks and crannies of which I am totally unfamiliar with. Alone that is, apart from – somewhere – the beast. There is nothing for it, I have to go in, I’ve come all this way.

I glance down at my thumb where the blood has now dried on the dirty bandage. It’s a painful reminder of my last close encounter with what lies waiting within. Deep breath, here goes…

Eight days previously

‘Ok the car is loaded’ says N. ‘I’ve programmed the GPS and we have 68 days worth of music loaded on the playlist, we should be fine until the coast’. It’s taken quite a bit of preparation. Cleaning and closing down chalets, organising forwarding addresses, informing clients I am no longer an estate agent and arranging everything that is, once again, required for an international move, including now obligatory Covid tests. After nine months of achieving very little in the French Alps, this will be my return to Spain. One thousand six hundred and one kilometres away our destination, my home in Andalucia, awaits. N and his car are ready, my stuff – too much really – fills the boot.

During the morning I’ve systematically cleaned my small staff apartment from one end to the other, eliminating potential hiding places as I go along. Only two things remain now as I head downstairs, the most comfortable, complete with sheepskin and mesh for easy viewing, cat transport bag I could find on Amazon and; a cat, who in three months of sharing this tiny space with me, has not allowed me to touch him once. A cat whom I now have to ‘persuade’ to enter said bag and travel with me to start over in a new country.

‘FEK, that hurts’… Three minutes later I come back up the stairs, my thumb wrapped in a rapidly changing from white to red, towel. Needless to say, both cat transport and cat are still below me in the apartment. ‘I’ve never been bitten that badly by a cat’, I mutter to N.

‘Bloody hell that is deep man’. He laughs. ‘Let me’. Now N has worked in Zoos and with animals (so to an extent have I, plus I have lived with cats all my life) and he is a tall and powerful Scott. What follows is nonetheless quite the tussle which will involve a great deal of accent-rich swearing, even more hissing and some very near misses – both claws and teeth.

‘Wee bugger’, he mutters to himself as we drive down the bends, leaving Vaujany and another dream behind. On the backseat, wedged between wine and books, peaking out between us, in his expensive and very comfortable bag, sits the cat calmly. I glance around at him and he looks up at me, big beautiful, questioning eyes. Is that a drop of blood I see on his fangs? My thumb throbs.

Vaujany, February 2021

It’s the 17th of the month. Outside it is snowy and cold. I’m not doing much when an email arrives:

Il se trouve que j’ai une petite minette prénommée Alba à l’adoption, elle a entre 5 et 6 mois.
Elle n’a pas eu un début de vie facile. Née dans les rues de l’Alpe d’Huez elle a trouvé refuge dans un garage souterrain où une personne lui donnait à manger.

A little cat – a girl cat, she says – is looking for a home. Steffie, who runs the adoption centre remembers I contacted her a couple of months previously, asking about adoption. At that time, she had nothing, but promises to get back to me if something comes up. ´She has not had an easy start to life’, says the email, born in the streets and living in an underground garage – when she was eventually caught, her back leg was so bad it needed amputating. She’s only got three legs left, says Steffie, ‘she could be perfect for you’.

My first ever view of Sneak

Now as life would have it, I am recovering from a torn calf muscle and on crutches. Her with three and me with one leg, it does indeed seem serendipitous. A week later, I am ready to pick her up. In the meantime she has been to the vet and upon determination that ‘she’ is in fact a he’, had more parts of his anatomy removed. ‘Be careful,’ says Steffie as I collect him, ‘he’s very scared and will attack you’. Right, I think… give it two days, when he sees who is feeding him, he’ll be sitting on my lap by the fire. We’ll be best friends. ‘What will you call him?’ she asks. I’ve known all along. ‘Three legs? Easy, Sneak‘ I say… And so Sneak and I move in together.

Somewhere near the Med, April 2021

N rolls down the windows, ‘Can you smell the sea?’ I can and it’s bloody marvellous after so long. It’s late April and we are near to our apartment – the first of three – on our long journey to Guajar Alto. Sneak has not moved, meowed, eaten, slept or peed since we left the Alps. He just sits there quietly his eyes looking up towards mine each time I turn to check on him. Three months we have lived together in France – just he and I. Not once has he allowed me to stroke him.

After a month he moved into my room and slept under my bed. I’ve only seen him briefly two or three times and if I try to give him a snack, he still hisses at me. I’ve never known a cat like him. ‘Remember, so far every time he’s got close to a human, they’ve chopped something off him says N’. Good point. On the radio, Bjork agrees, ‘If you ever get close to a human…’, she sings.

The first two days of our trip go well enough. We take our time, go for wonderful meals, first by the sea in France and then in Barcelona. Sneak gets ‘unpacked’ each night. His sandbox filled up and some food put down. I’ve sought pet-friendly accommodation and he has the run of the place. When N and I return at night, a little food has gone and there is a small wet patch in the sand, but no sign of Sneak. Each morning, the same battle; N a cat box and towel, with me trying to usher Sneak towards captivity. Being one leg down is no hindrance to speed when trying to escape, it turns out. It’s stressful for me, and no doubt more so for him. But with each capture and ensuing quiet, long drive we get one day closer to his new home, where I hope he will finally be happy.

Then we get to, of all possible places, Cabo de Gata, The Cape of the Cat, within spitting distance of home and venue for our apartment on this, the last night of our journey. All that remains is a 2 hour drive tomorrow and we have done it, all three of us. But in The Cape of the Cat, everything goes tits up…

It starts inconspicuously enough. The apartment in the seaside village of San José is lovely. Spread over three floors, lots of bedrooms and a nice terrace with high walls to each neighbour. Still in a time of Covid, the bay is quiet, peaceful and very beautiful. As usual we let Sneak ‘out’, which means placing his bag in a corner, unzipping it, placing a little food in front of him and preparing his toilet. He never comes out while we are there. N takes the top bedroom, I claim the couch and we soon head out for dinner.

Around midnight after maybe one rum too many – who can resist something called a ‘Pirate Bar?’ we come back to the apartment and open the door. Sneak has at this point decided the coast is clear and ventured out from his bag. As we stumble in, he finds himself on the opposite side of the flat to safety and makes a beeline for the stairs. As far as I know, he’s never even seen stairs. Once again, three-legs proves no handicap and like a flash he is up. ‘Noooo, the upstairs door….’ I rush after him, undoubtedly not helping matters. Too late, he is through the grates and onto the terrace. I scramble for the keys, but by the time I make it out, the terrace is empty. Sneak is nowhere to be seen.

Guajar-Alto, May 2021

‘Do you think this is him’? The kind man captions his photo he has sent me on WhatsApp. It’s five days later, I am home, N is my guest upstairs and Sneak is, well, presumably 150 km away at The Cape of The Cat, somewhere. As politely as I can, quashing the feeling of hopes that have been ‘upped’ I reply, ‘no I don’t think that is him, as the notices I put up say three-legged and the cat in the photo you have sent, has four…’

Eventually, very sad, I had left the flat around noon – the latest possible time we could check out. I’d spent most of the night walking around the neighbourhood calling. However, the futility of calling for a cat that has never once approached me, was not lost on me. Even if he hears me, I thought, he’ll only hide even better. I’ve never ‘lost’ a cat before, but of course seen countless ‘pet missing’ posters in my time. I never thought I’d be putting them up. Looking back, I suppose I was comforted by two things – given his obvious difference to other cats, identification would be easy and the residents of San José to whom I had spoken all assured me this was the best place in Spain for him to go missing – the town is practically one big cat colony (in fact there were cats everywhere). ‘He will be well cared for here’, they told me.

And that was the end… 1400 km travelled, so close and yet not to be. In five days there had been no word from the apartment owner nor, apart from the four legged WhatsApp, anyone else in San José. Tomorrow N was returning to France, meaning even if someone spotted Sneak, I’d have no car with which to fetch him. I was starting to get used to the fact that Sneak was gone. It was rather upsetting, I had truly wanted to show him humans are good, then schlepped him half way across Europe, only to abandon him in a place totally unfamiliar to him. It wasn’t a nice feeling.

But, then, just as N and I were heading out of the door to go to a pool party, a call… ‘Sneak, your cat, is in the flat’. And boy was he ever. There instantly followed photos of the damage one little hungry and curious cat can cause to a holiday flat by the sea (€176 worth it later transpired). Yikes. The cleaner had gone in that morning, in anticipation of the arrival of the next guests and found… armageddon. She’d closed the door, assuming goodness knows what had entered and called the owner. Reassured, it was ‘only’ a cat, she’d gone back in, the owner had told her to try to catch the offender and we had dropped our swimming gear and set off in a race vs totally unaware guests arriving for a p.m check-in.

‘That’s not a cat up there, that’s a lion‘.

Well, how on earth he had gotten back in? or where he had hidden if he had never left? were questions I was never to have answered. The lovely lady, after nearly having her hands ripped off, had eventually cornered an exhausted and hungry Sneak in a bathroom, given him some water and left to buy food for him. This time he was relatively easy to collect and get back into his luxurious travel bag. After a beer and ice-cream by the sea, during which Sneak just sat under the table between us, looking once more as if he didn’t understand what all the fuss was about, we made it back to the village finally – Sneak was unpacked and promptly shot under the bed. From where he didn’t move for 24 hours.

Now that’s where the story ends right? After all, many of you, dear readers, follow me on Instagram and have seen posts of Sneak and I, now best friends – in fact as we have spent so much time just he and I – I think I have never had a closer bond with a cat. We lived happily ever after, that kind of thing? Nope, there was one more twist, after all these creatures have nine lives right?

Sneaaaaakkkkk‘… too late, he started slipping and sliding, his claws not finding any grip on my tiled roof and eventually reached the edge from where he fell, 3 floors (it’s a long drop, a very long drop, to the street below from my terrace) all the way down. I just managed to see him correct himself in the air and land on all three paws, before he rushed off down the street. I followed as quickly as I could and nearly cornered him. However this is still the same Sneak, petrified of humans, so he was off once more down the street. Turning a corner, I was sure I just saw something pop under a car.

N was visiting a neighbour. We were all set to go. I would accompany him to Barcelona, then I was to return in 36 hours. All I needed to do was place food and water for Sneak. However, yet again I had underestimated that cat. As he saw me, he raced up the very steep stairs, made it onto the terrace and leapt onto and through the BBQ – a feat he has neither attempted nor succeeded at since and landed on the roof, from which… well you know.

‘Try turning it on,’ I told my neighbour. ‘If he is under there, but I am really not sure he is, this might scare him out’. The engine turned over, but no cat, three-legged or otherwise emerged from anywhere. ‘Hmm, maybe pop the hood?’ I told Antonio. Remember those old-fashioned Jack-In-A-Box? Literally like that, hood pops and faster than I have ever seen any cat move, cat pops with it, leaps into the air (thankfully unharmed by the turning on of the engine), I flap at him, but to no avail and he now sprints for the edge of the village – there are 40 metres max left, then it is all wilderness and hasta siempre Sneak. At that every moment, as I am slowing to walk and am resigned to watch him run away into the sunset, two ladies – on their daily walk – turn the corner in the opposite direction. Sneak now has only three options; head straight towards them – if he gets past, he’s ‘free’, back towards me and ‘captivity’ or right through a fence and into the unknown…

Guajar-Alto, February 2022

Sneak loves a Siesta. Though he was born in the French Alps, I think he is a Spanish cat at heart. Every day around three in the afternoon he will come and meow at me – that’s his favourite time of day to take a nap. I have to follow him up the stairs. I get my book out and he curls up beside me. When he is lying there breathing slowly, I sometimes remember this moment. One of those Sliding Doors moments – do cats have those? What would have happened had he not turned right and gone through that fence? If I stroke him, he makes a sort of brrr sound and slowly the engine starts up and he purrs himself back to sleep.

But, he did dive to the right and under the fence. There, on the other side, just happened to be a grassy slope, which he slid down into a ditch leftover from recent construction of a house. He was effectively trapped. I ran back to my house, got a towel and sprinted back to said ditch. Climbing over the bank, at the other end I could see Sneak, poor thing, now trying to scramble up and away. I managed to get a towel over him, through which he tried his best to bite of course and, both of us covered in blood, mud and dirt, I was desperate not to let go of my wriggling, noisy, but much loved bundle, we made it back home. Through the door, I let him loose, he ran off and hid behind the toilet. ‘What the hell happened to you?’ said N as he came back. He had been gone fifteen minutes.

Sneak was left with water and food in the bathroom. When I returned the next day, he’d left and moved under his bed. About a week later as I was on my bed reading, he emerged and during the course of an hour, inched his way slowly from next to my feet, to next to my chest. Slowly, slowly I reached out my hand and… he let me touch him, under his chin… the first touch. Thirty seconds later, he was purring. Maybe for the first time in his short life. He’s rarely stopped since. The rest, as they say is history. How many lives he has used up since being born on the streets of Alpe d´Huez, I can’t say. What I can say is that, as it happens, it is now three o’clock and someone is meowing…

If cats could write history, their history would be mostly about cats.” – Eugen Weber

~ by 2ndcupoftea on February 26, 2022.

One Response to “Sneaking Down to Spain, Travels With a Three-Legged Cat”

  1. Lovely story about Sneak and his adventures. During Covid time my daughter (Katie) adopted a 4-week old three legged cat (someone shot a front paw with a pellet gun and it was infected and then removed) from a local shelter and friends/family raised the money for the surgery. I am always amazed at this 3-legged cat and what (Boo Boo) can do with hiding and climbing to the top shelf in a closet to hid. Not sure where you’ll be now but sounds like Spain for awhile. I’ll be heading to the Greek Islands, then to London and Paris in May with two Road Scholar tours. Best wishes and glad you and Sneak have bonded.

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