Written by Teresa Whitehead
I arrived at work one morning to find the cutest fluffy bundle of joy being looked after by my colleague, animal rescuer and feral cat feeder Vivienne Jones. She’d found him early on a hectic month-end Saturday morning on a busy roundabout at the Roodepoort Hyperama. She’d brought him to work due to his needing regular feeding and treatment for gooey eyes. The vet estimated his age at no more than four or five weeks.
I fell in love with the tiny black kitten immediately. Who wouldn’t with such an adorable furry munchkin? Of course, I took every opportunity I had to babysit him at my desk.
I asked Vivienne if I could possibly adopt him. The good news was: I could! He would come and live with me. He’d even have a big “sister”, Gemma.
Jealous Gemma and the new arrival
Gemma was semi-feral, horrifically thin and pregnant when she moved in with me. When the kittens were handed in to a shelter for rehoming, I couldn’t bear to surrender her as I knew she’d battle to find a home because she has no problem smacking if she’s not happy. And so, she was spayed and vaccinated, and given the home she’d chosen – with lots of love to go with it.
The problem was that Gemma, until then an “only child”, was very possessive about her property – a big concern when adopting Dexter. For the first two weeks after he arrived, he was made comfortable in a large pen designed for feral cats, 1m by 1m and closed on top, so that Gemma – who was not at all impressed with this new arrival – wouldn’t get at him. In the evenings, Gemma would be in the bedroom so Dexter could come out and have the run of the house for a few hours. Then he would be tucked into bed and secured and Gemma was allowed out of the room.
She learnt quickly he wasn’t going anywhere and eventually stopped hissing at his every move. We did have to intervene a few times but nothing serious happened.
Eventually, things settled down and Dexter grew into a beautiful young cat. A few months later, he was sent in to be sterilised and underwent a hernia operation. I will never forget when he had his first vaccinations, the vet’s needle bent slightly due to Dexter’s tough skin – apparently quite common in feral cats.
Leaving on a jet plane
In January 2013, I decided to move to London. Never, ever, was it a question of IF my babies would accompany me; there was no way I would ever leave them behind. They are my fur children.
Rabies injections, microchips, blood tests and all those horrid but necessary things were done, and the two of them went to stay at a cattery in Muldersdrift for just over a month while accommodation and jobs were found in the UK.
I could not wait for their arrival – I missed them so much. I was so grateful it wasn’t Australia with their strict quarantine process. I made the call to fly them out four days before my birthday and, like an expectant mother, was waiting at Heathrow Animal Reception Centre (HARC) an hour earlier than scheduled – and then had to wait three hours before they were released to me. I haven’t been that glad to see anything in a long time.
We headed home and all seemed to go well… But I soon realised a few days later that Dexter had a major problem: he couldn’t urinate and was really unwell. He was rushed to an emergency vet on Sunday evening where they had to manually empty his bladder. I was told to get him to my own vet ASAP the next morning.
First thing on Monday, we rushed him through to our vet, where he spent the day on drips and tests were done. It turned out to be stress related and he was diagnosed with Feline Idiopathic Cystitis (bladder inflammation with no known cause but often triggered by stress).
My poor boy was so sick and I was so worried. But after a few days of medication and daily vet trips for check-ups, he was better again and could come home. (£700 in vet bills …)
Dexter makes new friends
Once the cats were allowed out of the house, Dexter had a great time. He made a new friend – a beautiful long-haired tabby girl who lived close by; the two of them were always in the next-door neighbour’s overgrown garden together.
We had foxes living in the garden next door; one day I glanced out of the window to see, to my absolute horror, Dexter sitting right next to a fox. Not a care in the world. Well, that myth about foxes killing cats was quickly busted – Dexter had become friends with the whole skulk of foxes. I fed them in my garden, which is how I got this great snap of Dexter walking up to his friend who was waiting for dinner.
A new home for Dexter and Gemma
The three of us moved house to Wimbledon. Here, Dexter had to take on the neighbourhood bully – a big, scary black-and-white tomcat – to establish territory. The tom cut Dexter off in the neighbour’s garden, blocking his way over the wall back home. I was helpless and couldn’t get to him to help. This, however, turned out to be a good thing: Dexter stood his ground and, after a staring and growling contest that lasted almost two hours, his adversary moved on.
Being the friendly guy he is, Dexter soon made another friend – a large, white-and-ginger cat. This big boy comes and fetches Dexter and the two of them go off exploring for hours on end; this cat is often waiting at the fence for me to let Dexter and Gemma out. At 12 years old, Gemma doesn’t jump walls anymore, preferring to relax at home. When I’m not home, Dexter and Gemma stay safe and cosy indoors.
Dexter’s even made friends with more foxes. Four of them come to my garden for food every evening and, again, he’s at ease in their company.
When Dexter was first rescued, based on the vet’s age estimate, we counted back and decided that his birthday would be 22 March 2011, so he’s just passed the six-year mark. From a tiny, abandoned kitten, he’s grown into a happy, healthy, confident boy. And although Gemma is still not overly friendly with him, she’s grown to accept him and even sometimes gently licks his head – but only at dinner time.