Two weeks before my wedding my total pet roll call consisted of my pinto pony Christie, Topaz a tortoiseshell, Sooty an ancient black cat, Penny an equally ancient German Shepherd Airedale cross and a crippled galah named Rosie O’Grady. Only Topaz was to come and live with me after my marriage. The aged or infirm pets were not going to be uprooted in the winter of their lives from the only home they’d ever known to start life anew in a small flat. Christie’s presence in the pet tally didn’t cause a problem. She was remaining a resident at my mother’s place until Graeme and I could afford a house and enough land to cater for Christie’s dietary needs.
Topaz, on the other hand, was coming to live with us straight after our honeymoon, so we needed to find accommodation owned by a broadminded landlord not opposed to tenants with livestock. I left Graeme to find a place for us to live while I got on with the serious job of preparing a wedding in the six weeks remaining. Graeme had firm instructions to only rent a unit where we were allowed to bring Topaz with us, or I wasn’t going to live there either. With this incentive Graeme searched high and low until he found just the right landlord who said one cat was OK as long as it slept in the laundry out the back of the units.
Two days before I was married my pets experienced a population explosion. I now had three cats who were going to live with us in the flat; Topaz, Sapphire, an almost pure white cat except for the odd patch of grey here and there - a wedding gift from a sneaky friend looking to offload a litter of stray kittens on unsuspecting friends, and Ophelia, an undersized black and white cat who had been understandably neurotic ever since my mother’s dog brought her home in his mouth.
The three cats, Graeme and I moved into the flat, but while I spent far too much time for my liking in the laundry washing our clothes, not one of the cats ever saw the inside of it. They much preferred to spend their days with me in the flat, waging war against the vacuum cleaner, getting underfoot during general cleaning duties, spreading their kitty litter far and wide around the bathroom floor or, after a hard day’s helping out with the chores, sleeping on our lounge.
Two years after moving into the flat we bought an acre of land just outside Mittagong with room to spare for all my current and future pets, Christie included. About three weeks before we moved out, I came across a bedraggled, mucky nosed, foul smelling young grey tabby cat while out shopping - so of course I took him home. In celebration of the day I found him being that renowned artist’s birthday, I named him Michelangelo. The new, feline Michelangelo had a definite lack of aesthetic qualities, but then from what I have read of the artist, so did the original, human Michelangelo. Around the time of Michelangelo’s inclusion in our family, my mother's Labrador bitch had a clandestine liaison with the German Shepherd across the road, resulting in a litter of ten pups. These pups reached their six weeks birthday and began to sicken and die. Ever the ministering angel, I took all the survivors back to the flat and nursed them back to health. I might add, not one of these pups convalesced in the laundry. When they achieved a full recovery I returned them to my mother’s tender care, except for the runt of the litter I named Deci. Deci soon settle into the rather cramped life of a flat dwelling dog while Graeme and I looked forward to moving into our new home where we could disperse the pet population a little. So in this tiny, one bedroom flat, the total animal inhabitants were now four cats and a pup, none of whom even knew where the laundry was, let alone lived in it.
It was imperative that the landlord didn’t find out about my burgeoning menagerie. We’d paid a sizable bond when we moved in and if the landlord got wind of the four legged brigade, we could kiss the entire bond good-bye. I told Graeme not to give the real estate agent notice until the very last minute. The chances of the agent wanting to bring prospective new tenants in to look at the flat were pretty high in my opinion. Once in they’d see not only the flat but all four cats and a now fully recovered, very boisterous pup. I could just see the five contraband pets milling around trying to make friends with the newcomers, thereby giving the agent an excellent chance to count heads do the maths and realise the flat contained three cats and one pup too many. The animals were all house trained, but I didn't doubt for a second that we would never see the bond money again.
Graeme, bless his little cotton socks, sees things differently to the rest of the world and couldn't see why the agent would want to show people through the flat while we were still in it. So he duly gave notice two weeks before we were due to move out. Sure enough, one morning while I was sitting in the lounge room with all my pets gathered round me, the landlord came to the door with two people in tow. Luckily the Venetian blinds were positioned so that he couldn't see in from where he stood on the doorstep, but if he moved to the left, there we were for all to see and very hard to miss.
I gathered an armful of cats and dog and, bending almost double, made my way to the kitchen, with only cafe curtains on the window and an opened pair at that. I crawled along the floor as best I could with all these animals tucked under my arms and hid under the sink. The first problem that raised its ugly head was that the cats, realising exactly who was responsible for these cramped and uncomfortable conditions set about making Deci pay for it. Deci reacted by whimpering and seeking shelter closer to my body. The cats, in an effort to get a paw free from my hold, the better to deal with the pup, also had a few choice words to say. I clamped my hand over Deci’s mouth and vainly tried to quieten the vengeful felines. I was severely hampered in my efforts to control and quieten the pets, only possessing two arms while possessing five pets. I also had some difficulty in not letting anyone venture out from under the sink and into full view of the agent and his entourage! Trying to keep hold of four slightly cheesed-off, squirming cats and a very bouncy, offended pup isn’t an easy task at the best of times. It becomes almost impossible when attempted under a sink and in silence.
I kept praying the agent wouldn't open the door with his own key and find me crouched under the sink with my illicit pets. Could I act innocent? "What pets? These? Never seen them before in my life! Are you sure they didn't follow you in here?" I practised this in whispers while struggling with my arms overflowing full of pets, trying to get that note of sincerity with just a touch of accusation into my whisper. I don’t think I even managed to persuade Deci, the youngest and naivest of us all.
After what felt like an eternity, the landlord left with the prospective tenants and calm was restored to my little world. After a good hot cup of tea and some very stern thoughts about Graeme, I closed all the blinds and curtains, left the flat and headed for town with little puffs of steam escaping from my ears every now and then. I couldn't drive in those days so I walked around town until after 5 o'clock in case the landlord returned. After 5 p.m. I felt that any self respecting agent would have gone home for the day, and it was safe to return to the flat and my brood. When Graeme came home that night I apprised him of most of my earlier stern thoughts.
From then until we finally moved out I had to organise a number of schemes to keep me out of the flat during working hours. Let me tell you, it’s very difficult for a non-driver to occupy her day every weekday in one modest sized shopping centre. I spent some of the time lurking around the shops until finally shop attendants began looking suspiciously at this woman who came every day, wandered around and bought nothing. Some days were more profitably spent in the local library researching animal obedience training. Various friends were press-ganged into entertaining me for part of their days and thus my out of flat hours were filled.
Graeme should have considered himself very lucky that I didn't find another stray during my enforced rambles.