The other day, I was visiting a friend who has a blind cat. Watching him run in from the garden in response to her call, brought back to me fond memories of my own dear blind Siamese boy Big C.
Big C came with his sister Thalia to live with us in January 1987. We were very lucky to get him. Someone had already seen him and had asked his breeder for a few days to think about whether or not to buy him. When my husband and I saw Big C, it was - at least on my part - love at first sight. He was pure white (like all Siamese kittens), had a grand leonine head, sapphire eyes (one of which he winked in response to my question "baby, would you like to come and live with us"), and huge hind feet.. It was obvious to the breeder's husband that we really wanted both Big C and his sister and they became ours thanks to the breeder's husband telling his wife that Big C ought to go to someone who really wanted him. Within a year, Big C had grown into his hind feet and taken over our household.
Big C had full use of his sight for six years and lost it gradually over a period of two years. When he could see well, he had free access during the day to our quiet and peaceful neighbourhood. One of his favourite haunts was the communal gardens of a nearby sheltered housing development. He used to visit one old lady and rest for an hour or two on her bed and always got to share the food put out for the birds and foxes. Getting there was easy; he only had to walk across our opposite neighbour's garden. As Big C's sight deteriorated, it became necessary for us to restrict his movements by allowing him access only to the back garden. In order to do this, we needed to line our hedges and side gate with wire-mesh..
Although we wanted to keep Big C in the house until his garden had been made secure, he had other ideas. By pacing up and down and round and round like a frustrated caged wild animal, scrabbling at the windows and yowling, he usually got us to let him out. Once, when we tried ignoring him, he got out by opening the locked, four-way locking cat flap.
By now, we could not allow Big C to spend as much time outside as he wanted to for fear that he would not be able to find his way home. So, after he had been out for ten minutes, I would drive the car round to the communal gardens of the sheltered housing development where he would be and pick him up. When Big C wasn't ready to be chauffeur-driven home, he took great pleasure in hiding from me. Our games of hide and seek greatly amused some of the old folk..
Late one snowy night, Big C escaped via a slightly open top window in the bedroom. Fortunately, he only went as far as the roof of a neighbouring bungalow. Unfortunately, having got up there, he couldn't get down. Thalia and I rescued him with the aid of a step ladder and, thank goodness, without waking the neighbours.
Once our wire-mesh fencing had been erected, Big C took it upon himself to find out whether or not it had any weak spots. He would trot along the fencing stopping every now and again to push his nose into it at ground level. If it gave a little, he would continue pushing until the mesh no longer had contact with the ground. Then, he would crawl underneath. He also discovered that he could escape by climbing on top of one of the concrete posts that supported a fence that ran down one side of our garden. It was quite a challenge to make the garden completely escape-proof but eventually, we did it.
It took Big C several days to get used to the idea of not being able to go further than the back garden but once he had settled down he was very happy. He enjoyed sunning himself on the patio, running round the maple tree in the lawn and sitting at the bottom of the garden smelling the smells that wafted in from the adjoining field. When he wanted to come in, he only had to shout and the patio doors would be opened for him.
Indoors, Big C found it easy to get about provided we never moved the furniture and left all internal doors open and he learnt to make a detour on command to avoid my husband's parked electric wheelchair.
One day, a journalist came to interview my husband on the subject of access for disabled people. She saw Big C running round the garden and was amazed to learn that he was blind. Noticing how freely he was able to get about, the journalist contrasted in her article his freedom of movement in his adapted surroundings with the difficulties many disabled people faced in their inhospitable environments..
Big C died far too early, shortly before his tenth birthday. He was a remarkable cat, not only for the way he coped with his disability but also because of the scale and scope of his personality. His memory will live forever in the hearts and minds of all who knew him well.
Big C was a chocolate tabby point Siamese; as is his sister Thalia. Thalia missed her brother terribly and for almost a year wouldn't let any of my other cats cuddle up with her and comfort her. Then, one day, I found her cuddled up with Abbie, who is a sweet little black girl whom I fostered and subsequently adopted. Now, almost four years after Big C's death, Thalia cuddles up with whichever of my cats wants to be close to her (Aww - how sweet (grin)).