Thursday, September 10, 2020

Book Excerpt: French Stones, Meeting Minou

We recently received an email from author Ronald Peeleman asking if we would like to share an excerpt from his new book, French Stones: Life in a 12th Century Crusader's Castle, containing the "tail" of how he and his wife met their beloved cat Minou. Of course we were interested but when we also discovered that Minou is a beautiful tortie, the answer was even a more resounding yes! It's the story of a French village in the midst of a feral cat problem, and the challenges cats face who have been left on their own...

Chapter 51: Minou 

The mairie declared war on Saint Siffret’s cats soon after moving into their brand new offices. The announcement came in the form of a document placed in the display case at the side of the mairie where building permit applications were usually posted. Stamped with blue and red seals (so everyone would know it should be taken seriously) the announcement made public that the commune “once again” intended to combat the village’s feral cat population. Only this time, the document stressed, they meant business. 

It made for funny reading. The sternness with which the pronouncement was written suggested irritation on the mairie’s part, which was understandable, given what we’d heard had happened during the prior anti-feral cat campaign. 

Without question, Saint Siffret had a cat problem. We’d seen that for ourselves one day while taking a peaceful stroll through the village and, perhaps distracted by the beauty of the place or having become lost in conversation, we mindlessly turned a corner and found ourselves in a very bad cat place. 

Easily twenty feral cats loitered at the front of an unprepossessing house toward the end of the street. The cats louchely lay in the middle of the street, were strung across the home’s lower story window ledges, and clustered beneath a ragged-looking shrub across the way. They were an unattractive bunch. Ears had been chewed off in battles, eyes put out in brawls, and wide patches of fur had gone missing in kerfuffles. 

Twenty heads swiveled in our direction when we entered the street, and forty eyes (more or less) regarded us with suspicion as we approached. The cats, both in number and unattractiveness, were an intimidating sight, and brought us to a halt. We looked at them. They looked at us. 

“This feels weird,” Linda said. “Should we keep going?” 

“They’re cats,” I said dismissively and moved forward, but soon began to question the wisdom of my decision. The cats held their ground and glared at us as we approached, trying to bluff us into turning back...and it almost worked. But the tails of those hiding beneath the shrub began to flicker nervously as we drew closer, and they soon bolted. Others, in small pairings, followed. The oldest and toughest cats, however, stayed put. They clustered in tight groups near the house’s stoop and stared daggers at us as we approached, their elongated bodies kept low, heads even lower, the tips of their tails always slightly in motion. 

I took pains not to make eye contact with the last cats as we walked by, figuring it might only cause trouble. But I snuck a quick glance out of the corner of my eye at the last second, which proved that none of these cats were going hungry. They couldn’t possibly be, with all the food that had been set out for them by the old woman who lived there. Plastic bowls of various colors and sizes cluttered the house’s doorstep, ran along its window ledges, and were pushed up against the wall opposite. A bowl had even been put on top of the old wooden shed across the street. 

Unfortunately for us, the street soon dead-ended, and when we turned around we saw that the cats had regrouped, meaning we would once again have to run the feline gauntlet. It was only then that we began to understand how having a mob of cats ruling the neighborhood might lead someone to call the mairie and demand that something be done about the situation. 

But announcing a feral cat removal program—and having it succeed—are two entirely different things, and the villagers we spoke with seemed to think that the mairie’s latest initiative would fail, just like the prior one had. 

The first campaign, they said, had begun with a burst of optimism. The mairie posted flyers throughout the village which informed Saint Siffretians that the feral cats in the village were unsightly (everyone would have agreed); posed a potential health hazard (a definite possibility, given the cat’s mangy nature); and did not present a visitor-friendly image for one of the prettiest villages in the region (all heads would have nodded in approval). Further, the mairie assured, only humane traps would be used, and every cat that was caught would be taken to an animal shelter where it would be well treated. 

All this was entirely reasonable, and confident that the citizenry would support their effort, the mairie put out the traps. And a few days later, realized that most had been stolen. 

Afraid that the same thing might happen again, the mairie made pointed reference in their latest announcement to “some” in the village who had in the past taken it upon themselves to interfere with their “most necessary program,” and warned that stiff fines would be levied against anyone caught removing the traps. Everyone having been duly warned, the mairie put out the traps. 

And they disappeared again. 

This shouldn’t have surprised anyone. The well-meaning people at the mairie had simply failed to take into account their fellow French citizens who, deep within their genes, coupled a strong rebellious streak with an instinctive affinity for the downtrodden...the downtrodden in this case being the village’s wild cats. And when we took walks in the village during the campaign, it was almost laughable to see how many more people than usual had put out food for the cats. 

There wasn’t the slightest question that the people of Saint Siffret appreciated and supported their mayor. Something needed to be done, and almost everyone endorsed the mairie’s initiative...but people didn’t much like the idea of trapping animals either, and it didn’t take long before the mairie flew the white flag and focused their attention on less controversial items of business. 

One evening, as Linda and I took a post-pogrom walk through the village, a wisp of a kitten—more shadow than solid—slipped through the cracks of a pair of ancient, barely held-together wooden barn doors and bounded cheerfully up to us. It had jet-black fur, and a tiny brass bell on its red collar tinkled prettily as the kitten brushed against Linda’s legs. 

Linda was instantly won over and bent down to pet the singularly friendly cat. “You’re so pretty, but why are you out alone at night?” she cooed, using the tone of voice she normally reserved for young children. 

Then she shot upright and turned to me, and I could see she was troubled. “She’s starving,” Linda said, almost whispering. “Her ribs are showing. Feel them.” 

I bent down, and found it impossible not to be dismayed as I felt the sharp ridges of the kitten’s ribs as I petted it, each rib outlined in bold relief. Questions tumbled forth. She was such a pretty and friendly little thing. Why was no one feeding her? Especially in this village of cat lovers? 

Linda bent down again and continued petting the kitten, it reveling in the attention it was being given. “She has a collar on,” Linda observed. “So someone’s taking care of her. But I wonder why she’s so skinny.” 

“She’s been abandoned,” I blurted out, surprised at how quickly the words had come. And we instinctively knew it was true.

Credit: French Stones: Life in a 12th Century Crusaders' Castle

We hope you enjoyed meeting the lovely Minou, and please check out Ronald Peeleman's book if you'd like to read more about how she purred her way into his family's hearts and home. I'm told she ended up being quite a handful. She is a tortie, after all!


Mickey's Musings said...

Great story. Minou is lovely!

Eastside Cats said...

Thank you for this book snippet; I'll put it on my tbr list!

Patricia T said...

Thanks, Melissa. So glad she found a good home!

The Florida Furkids said...

We love happy stories.

Thank you for your kind words about Allie. We miss her so much.

The Florida Furkids and Mom Sharon

Brian's Home Blog said...

A feral cat removal program? WTF!

Catscue Cat Mom said...

She had a bell on her collar, so no hunting prey - even if she knew how - makes steam come out of my ears. Minou is beautiful and I LOVE happy endings!

Timmy Tomcat said...

We need to get them on the TNR program post-haste

The Menagerie Mom said...

What a wonderful excerpt. And I'm so happy Minou found her happy ending. Thank you for sharing this!

pilch92 said...

I want to read that.