Chip, one of our female cats, came to live with us in December 1999. Therefore by my calculations Chip is ten this year. I remember finding her in the “nest” made by her mum (who’d disappeared – killed by dogs?) and left this poor mite, eyes barely open, to nature.
I carried her home, her mewling pathetically and sent the gardener to the pharmacy to buy a baby bottle. Half an hour later I had warmed some diluted cow’s milk and Chip drank it down from the teat as if she was born to it.
My younger son, Angus took it upon himself to get up every four hours during the night and feed her. While he was at work in the day, I’d feed Chip. She remained the “baby” of the family of [the then] three cats for many years, often jumping up onto a human lap, lying on her back pawing the air. You’d know that she wanted the comfort of her bottle although she’d been weaned years before.
She grew up strong and healthy but always remained slight. Today at this grand old age, Chip seems as lightweight as the micro chip my husband named her after.
Chip has always been a dozy, dopey cat. I read somewhere that cats sleep for 22 hours a day. When I mentioned this to Angus, he laughed and said Chip definitely fit that bill. Chip often disappears for days on end. At first I used to be concerned and search all over for her. One day I found her fast asleep under a shrub, not a care in the world. She had been “missing” for three days. When she does wake up and realize she has missed out on x amount of dinners, she comes into the house meowing at the top of her voice (nothing small about that!) as if I’d been the one to neglect her! Then she’d gobble as much food as she could, jump up onto the pool table and promptly fall asleep.
One winter when Chip was about five years old, she actually really went missing. I’d transported all the cats (by now I had seven) and three dogs to our vet in another town. The cats were in three travel cages, securely locked (or so I thought). It was already dark when I arrived back in town and Debbie, who was visiting me while John was away at sea, had accompanied me. She asked me to stop off at her house where she wanted to collect something.
While waiting for her in the dark vehicle, I heard a fight break out between the dogs in the canopied back. I was not too worried (it was just a family tiff!) and I remember thinking the cats would not be hurt in any crossfire as the cages were closed. Unbeknown to me, though, the cage that housed Chip and two others, was not latched.
Debbie duly came out of the house, got into the car and we came home. When I removed the travel cages and placed them on the patio, I checked as each cat emerged. Only six cats. Inside the house, I counted them all again (they always dash inside for food after a harrowing trip to the vet, my cats!) and still only counted six cats. Chip was missing.
This set me off on a frantic search through the dark streets in my vehicle. To no avail. I mean, how on earth do you find a cat after dark?
Eventually I came home without finding her. I dug out a printed photo of Chip and typed out a “Cat Missing” flyer, in the biggest, boldest font. The next morning, I went all around town and placed the posters on shop windows, at the doctors’ surgery, at the hairdresser and nail salons. I offered a reward of R300 (about US$40) to anyone who returned my cat. This action was more trouble than it was worth as many youngsters would take me to a spot (miles from where I thought Chip had escaped from the car) and show me where they had “seen” a Siamese cat in the long grass. Most frustrating.
Meanwhile, I never left one stone unturned. I enlisted the prayers of our pastor and his wife, (who probably thought I was crazy, but kindly obliged) my sister in the UK and my brother in Kwa Zulu Natal. Wherever I went in town, I'd point out the displayed posters; I asked people that if a slightly-built cat with a loud voice, arrived at their door, to please phone me and I'd come and check if it was Chip. I drove around with Chip’s photo in my handbag and would regularly stop and ask gardeners if they’d seen Chip.
Years ago I taught all my cats to come running if I shook their cookie box. I'd read that should there be an emergency (flood, fire, war) and I needed to round up the cats in a hurry, this action would bring them to me. Well, in my quest to find Chip, I'd be up at 4 am and prowl around the streets where I suspected she had jumped out of the vehicle, and shake the cookie box, calling her by name. Many a morning I'd see a curtain twitching as I woke some poor person from his or her slumbers.
Exactly a week after she’d disappeared, I stopped at a house three doors from Debbie’s house. When I showed the elderly gardener working on the pavement/sidewalk Chip’s photo and asked if he’s seen “ hona katse” (Sesotho for “this cat”) he said, yes, and beckoned me into the garden. He pointed up onto the garage roof and there before my eyes, was Chip!
Crying fit to bust, I called out to Chip and she answered me in that tone of voice which said: “What took you so long?” I asked the gardener to wait at the spot and see that Chip didn’t leave (Not much chance of that. I think she made it to this far down the street and decided to wait for me up on that roof!) I dashed back home in my car, collected Jantjie, my gardener at the time and a long ladder and dashed back to the place of discovery.
With Jantjie holding the ladder, I climbed up and carefully lifted Chip off the roof. Once I’d passed her safely into Jantjie’s waiting hands, I climbed down. I took Chip from Jantjie and burying my face in her fur, I just sobbed. The two men stood silently by not knowing what to make of this crazy me –( pronounced “mare” =madam) who made such a fuss about a cat.
The first thing I did, was to get Jantjie to hold Chip on his lap in the car and we drove down to the pastor's house. He and his wife (who have become our family now - Angus married their daughter two years ago) and showed them that I'd found Chip.
As soon as I came home with Chip, I took her through to the scullery and placed her on the floor. Immediately she jumped up onto the sink, and began to nuzzle the tap/faucet. I opened it slightly and Chip drank from it for quite a while, obviously thirsty beyond imagination. This was the only way Chip drinks water.
Chip asleep in a box on the patio
No matter where, no matter when, Chip loves to sleep
Meanwhile, Happy Birthday Chip. May you enjoy many more years with us!