While our little ones grow in size and confidence, we are coming to terms with the fact that they are no longer kittens and need a little independence. They started showing an interest in the outside world before Christmas but it was well into January before we felt ready to open the door and let them explore.
When we first let Calamity and the Princess out after moving here, we tried to supervise but with little success. They were hardy outdoor cats and couldn’t wait to get out there and set their own boundaries. We had higher hopes with Jasmine and Daisy, as they had never been outside before and, with their rough start to life, are usually wary of new experiences. And so it proved – at first. They were terrified of the wind, not understanding how Calamity could find it such fun and play in it as she does. When the wind dropped and we tried again, they stayed close to the house, venturing up the path a little but always ready to make a dash back to safety. Daisy particularly hated the feel of grass beneath her feet, which kept her confined to the patio and the path for days. She discovered a route around the back of the shed, which gave her lots of opportunity to hide and jump out at her sister without having to stray on to the strange, damp, green stuff. Jasmine is a little more worrying in that she is constantly looking up, with a speculative expression in her eyes which I well remember from the Princess. It is only a matter of time before she is scaling walls, dancing over roofs and climbing trees.
It was inevitable, though, that they would soon realise there is a world outside our lovely garden. They watched the Calamity Cat as she squeezed under the hedge to next door and decided they might like to try it as well. Any cat owner will understand how hard it is to let them go and trust that they will come home safely. After a few days, though, I started to relax as I realised that they are just as keen to keep home within sight. They check in with me every few minutes, as if to prove to themselves and to me that they know their way and they are rarely out for longer than half an hour. They love next door, maybe because they prefer slate chippings under their paws to grass, who knows. Daisy peers into their living room through the glass in the patio doors, much as the Princess used to, and Jasmine was even brave enough to peep under their fence into next door but one. If I can’t see them, I can usually hear them pottering around on the gravel. If I call them, I get a responsive chirp and then usually a face appears before dashing away again in search of more adventures.
However, Daisy got a little more adventure than she had bargained for one day. Having checked in every five minutes or so for around half an hour, I suddenly realised that I hadn’t seen her for a while. I went outside and called but, for the first time, there was no response. Jasmine peeped next door to look for her but came back alone. Our new neighbour was out and about anyway, so she didn’t want to run the risk of meeting him, as they are still wary of new people.
After an hour or so, I became really concerned. I asked the neighbour, who was burning garden waste at the top of his garden, if he had seen her. “Around half an hour ago, on our patio”, came the response. “I hope I didn’t spook her.”
Thinking he probably had done just that (poor man – they are going to have to get used to the fact that he is entitled to be out in his own garden) I came back in reassured. She was probably hiding from him and felt she couldn’t come back through his garden while he was still there.
However, another two hours passed and I became really worried. I was sure that she wouldn’t stay away so long if she could come home. Jasmine refused to settle, too, and had been all over the house calling for her sister. My head started to fill with horror stories, some worse than others. Daisy has little co-ordination and less common sense – was she stuck up a tree somewhere? Had she panicked at the neighbour and run away somewhere she didn’t know so that she couldn’t find her way back? Had she strayed too close to his bonfire? Or had she found her way to the front of the house, where the farmer up the lane was constantly taking his tractor up and down the road?
Upset, I gave Calamity and Jasmine their lunch and then took some outside to see if that would tempt Daisy home. I sat in the dining room for a further half an hour, checking through the glass door every couple of minutes. Then suddenly, as if she had been beamed home by teleport, she was there. Ignoring the food, she was scraping at the door, asking to come back in. I have no idea where she came from, nor did I care. I was so relieved that she had found her way back to us. She had been gone for four hours but it felt like forever.
She was hungry and subdued for the rest of the day, not her usual chatty self. Nor did she show any sign of wanting to go back outside. In fact, she has been careful ever since, staying closer to the house and running back inside at the first unexpected sound.
We will never know what had frightened her, but it was clear that something had. Probably she was never far away, staying hidden until she felt it was safe to come home. Hopefully it will encourage her to be alert and sensible outside, at least until the memory fades for her. It may take longer for us to recover!