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Thursday, October 20, 2011

Rifty the cat - 1st of his 9 lives

  It was getting late and the cat was lying motionless in front of the fire.

  'Time to go out, Rifty.'

  Rifty was a half-Somali we had out at Pangari, our 25-acre property northeast of Armidale. He had long fine hair and a bushy tail. I have no idea what his other half-breed was - a tabby, maybe - but he was a beautiful cat, there's no doubt, as far as cats go.

  My choice, I have to say, was to have no cats, but we acquired Rifty anyway. On the farm when I was a kid, we had a cat to live in the hayshed and control the mice if there wasn't a carpet snake around to do the job. They worked for their living, like everything else on a farm.

  Rifty was quite happy to sleep all night in front of the fire, as long as we let him out strategically for comfort breaks.

  This was one of those times.

  He seemed totally uninterested, but you know cats. Five minutes after refusing an offer to go out, they decide they now will assert their authority on the household and make a pest of themselves till you open the door.

  He wasn't going to fool me this time. I picked him up, opened the sliding glass door, and gently put him on the mat outside.

  Strange. As I put him down, he simply crumpled up on the mat as if he were a sack of potatoes. He just lay there in the position I put him down in: a rather ungainly sprawl.

  I gave him a bit of a prod. 'Off you go, lazy slug. Do what a cat's gotta do.'

  He didn't move. I poked him again. 'Scat!'


  I lifted him up for a closer inspection, as this wasn't normal. His eyes were opening, just occasionally. But when they were, they were as big as saucers. Well, almost. The pupils were completely dilated.

  He seemed as high as a kite. Catnip?

  To be honest, I had never seen catnip but I could readily imagine this was its effect. (In fact, now I have the benefit of Google, which didn't exist in Rifty's time, I see the effect is the reverse.)

  Rifty was comatose.

  This was Sunday night, late. Call me an old farmer, which I was as a young kid, but in a place like Armidale, there was no way I was going to go into town with a doped up cat, find a vet willing to get out of bed and deal with Rifty's problem - if he really had one, and I wasn't even sure he had.

  Rifty was going to have to take his chances overnight. Call me hard-hearted, but that's the way it was going to be.

  Next morning, he was in exactly the same spot as I'd left him not too far from the fire, only his whole body was cold. Yet he was breathing, like he was in a state of suspended animation. Amazing really. His breathing rate was about a fifth of normal.

  OK, fair enough, mate. You made it through the night on your own, so you've earned a bit of help at a respectable hour. The vet is next stop.

  'He's been bitten by a snake,' said the vet. His fur is so thick I can't see where, but the thickness of the fur probably saved him from a full strike.'


  'You can see if he recovers without treatment. I doubt if he will. There's only one other. I can inject him with human anti-venene and there's a chance. But, it's only effective against brown snake venom. If he's been bitten by a red-bellied black, then it won't do anything for him.'

  Those are the two most common species of poisonous snakes round here. The brown is the deadliest. You really don't want to get bitten by one of them.

  'And one more thing. It costs $70 for one treatment. That's just the antivenene. What's it to be?'

  In those days $70 would buy what $400 would now. That was a lot, but we'd gone this far, so decided to give it a go.

  The vet injected the dose into the comatose Rifty, and kept him a couple of days in a humidicrib. Amazingly, he recovered. Though a bit sluggish for a while, he ended up completely OK.

  Only a day later, I was able to reconstruct what had happened. I opened the little pump-house for our rainwater tank to do some maintenance.

  The roof is just a hinged piece of galvanised iron. There's a space between the wall of the pump-house and the tank, which provides ventilation. As I opened the roof, a large brown snake flashed out of the pump-house via the gap, and made off.

  The gap was also large enough for Rifty to squeeze through.

  Occasionally, when he felt like a snack, he'd go down the paddock and catch himself a young rabbit, which he'd hide in the pump-house to eat in peace. When a cat eats a rabbit, all that's left afterwards is the fur and the gut in a neat little pile.

  That's what was left in the pump-house. Rifty had eaten his meal, and then encountered the snake. The brown had bitten him, but as the vet said, and probably due also Rifty's agility, had not hit him with a lethal dose. Or at least, not lethal with the help of the antivenene.

  That was how he used up one of his nine lives. I also know how he used up another, and as it's part of family history, I'm going to relate it anyway.

  It's coming.


  1. I loved that cat! I love that story too - I swear I remember that you actually dropped him out the door and he just landed with a solid thunk (not the gentle placement that you described...)I didn't know the bit about the snake in the pump house though. Scary!

  2. Aaw. Rifty sounds like a good cat! But this story reminds me of my first little Siamese cat, called Leto. I lived in a house in the country (as I do now)and she slept at the foot of my bed. One hot summer's night I went to sleep with the window open and Leto on my feet, and woke up exactly the same -except Leto was a limp bundle. We rushed in to the vet, who diagnosed snake bite, treated it and kept her all day -but she died. She'd gone out in the night and been bitten, then come back home. Boohoo! I still feel sad. She was such a gentle little thing, not even a hunter.

    Julie xx

  3. Are those photos of Rifty?

  4. Yes, SJ, he was a very purry sort of cat. He had a nice nature. And like I said, I can't get away with NUTHIN' on this blog. I may have just turfed him out in the normal way (which, m'lord, was quite gentle for a cat that isn't comatose....) Surprised you didn't know about the snake in the pumphouse.

    Sorry about Leto, Julie. Somehow I suspect (or maybe hope) that snakebite isn't such a bad death as some others. Cleo chose the asp, and I don't think it was because she was keen on snakes. In a near coma state it's hard to know what a cat (or human) might really be feeling.

    No, neither of them are Rifty, but they are so similar to him that they might as well be. That's the Somali shape. Sylvia would confirm that. The snake is a brown, though it is really a mulga brown - very similar but not native to our area. I needed one in that pose. If I could work with two hands in Photoshop, I'd have made the bottom one properly realistic.


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