The Innocence of Lambs: Unaware of the Dangers That Threaten His Very Existence, Dodger Charms Commuters on the Bridport to Charmouth Line
|Dodger Waits Patiently at the Bus Stop|
"We moved here nineteen months ago and our house backs on to the bus station. He is an old boy and is very friendly. Sometimes he just sits in the middle of the road and waits for the bus to turn up before he gets on."
-- Fee Jeanes
Unperturbed by the myriad of glaring dangers involved, both the English public and media once again are celebrating the exploits of yet still another footloose and fancy-free feline with a dangerous case of Wanderlust burning in his soul. The 2011 version is a fifteen-year-old ginger and white tom named Dodger who hails from West Street in Bridport, Dorset, and has developed a penchant for riding mass transit by his lonesome.
Named in honor of the accomplished pickpocket artist, the Artful Dodger, from out of the pages of Charles Dickens's novel, Oliver Twist, he of late has been making ten-mile roundtrips between his home and Charmouth aboard First Bus. He also reportedly has been sighted treating himself to excursions along the Jurassic Coast on the number fifty-three bus which runs between Exeter in Devonshire and Poole in Dorset.
Dodger usually begins his day by hanging out at the bus station in Bridport where he sometimes helps himself to sandwiches, pork pies, and other edibles left behind by the commuters. Once on board, he often is able to find an obliging lap on which on rest his tired bones and even when one is not immediately available either a friendly pat on the head or a gentle stroking of his fur will do almost as well. As an added bonus, some of the drivers have taken to treating him to tins of tuna.
|Dodger Gingerly Boards the Bus|
The buses' main attraction is believed by some to be the warm laps provided by the commuters but that does not seem likely in that the has plenty of those at home. A far more plausible explanation is the availability of plenty of free food. A sense of adventure, boredom, and loneliness all likely factor somewhere into the equation.
Press reports fail to disclose either how often Dodger rides the buses or how long he has been engaging in this activity. Anecdotal evidence, however, tends to suggest that hopping on board is a fairly new diversion as far as he is concerned.
"We moved here nineteen months ago and our house backs on to the bus station. He is an old boy and is very friendly," his forty-four-year-old owner, Fee Jeanes, told The Bridport News on December 14th. (See "Meet Dodger, the Bus Traveling Cat.") "Sometimes he just sits in the middle of the road and waits for the bus to turn up before he gets on."
That frank admission simply is mind-boggling because no halfway decent and responsible human being ever would knowingly allow a cat to venture out into traffic. It often is said that cats and dogs have the maturity of a four-year-old child and no parent ever would allow one of them out in traffic without accompaniment and the same is doubly true for cats because whereas most motorists will brake for a child they cannot be counted upon to do likewise for a cat.
|Dodger Bides His Time at the Bus Station|
Every bit as outrageous, Jeanes does not even know Dodger's whereabouts most of the time. "He's down there (at the bus station) all day and I have to go out in the night to make sure he is okay," she confessed to the Dorset Echo of Weymouth on December 14th. (See "Dodger the Cat Hops on Bridport Buses.")
Instead, she is forced to rely upon surveillance reports supplied by family members, commuters, and bus drivers. "I hadn't seen him all morning until my daughter Emily told me one of her friends had just seen him on the bus at Charmouth. I couldn't believe it and panicked," she told The Bridport News in the article cited supra. "I got into my car to go off and look for him and then at that moment the bus pulled up near our house and lo and behold he got off."
Even that scare failed to prompt her to mend her irresponsible and uncaring ways and thus keep a closer eye on her cat. "That afternoon I saw Dodger climb on board another bus and I rushed to tell the driver," she told The Bridport News. "I was shocked when she told me Dodger was always on there and liked to sit on the seats because they are warm from where people have been sitting."
To hear her tell it, playing Russian roulette with the life of a cat is the most natural and morally acceptable thing in the world. "He's absolutely fine," she declared in the face of all logic to the Dorset Echo. "He comes home and sleeps at the end of my bed and spends the rest of the day at the bus station."
|Dodger Is Caressed by a Sympathetic Commuter|
Luckily for Dodger, First Bus is an unusually feline friendly carrier. "The drivers have been asked not to feed it because we recognize that cat has an owner and we do not want to discourage it from returning home for food and shelter," a spokesman for the company told The Bridport News in the article cited supra. "But in principle we do not have a problem with it being around the station."
Even Dodger's failure to feed the farebox is not a problem. "Given this cat is elderly we suspect it would be eligible for free travel, perhaps a bus puss, if such a thing existed," the spokesman added tongue-in-cheek.
In another poignant example of First Bus's caring attitude, on February 10, 2009 driver Peter Whiting rescued a black cat that had been run down and left for dead by a motorist on Fakenham Road in the Taverham section of Norwich. Although the cat suffered a broken jaw, a concussion, and possibly even brain damage, it nevertheless was expected to live.
Moreover, the compassion shown by Whiting must have been contagious because once the cat was safely on board his kindhearted passengers not only attended to it but one of them, Jo Laker, even was so gracious as to procure emergency veterinary care for it. Such altruism is almost unheard of in the United States where motorists make a sport out of running down cats and other animals and most individuals are too cheap and selfish to spend so much as a lousy penny on any animal.
|Dodger and Fee Jeanes|
Soon after The Bridport News published its exposé describing Dodger's rambles, the story was picked up by most of London's dailies, television stations, and even by media outlets in cat-hating Australia. As a consequence, both Dodger and Jeanes now are world famous.
"It's been amazing. It has gone mad," she exclaimed to The Bridport News on December 21st. (See "National Newshounds on the Trail of Dodger the Bus Puss.") "We didn't expect so much attention. Dodger is worn-out."
Whether or not Jeanes expected that type of a media feeding frenzy is a debatable point in that it was precisely she who contacted The Bridport News in the first place. It accordingly would be a tragic shame if she is needlessly endangering Dodger's life in order to garner acclaim and financial gain for herself.
As it is perfectly obvious, the perils confronting Dodger can in no way be underestimated. First of all, he could be either accidentally or intentionally poisoned by scaveging for food at the bus station.
Secondly, he easily could get lost. That is of special concern whenever he is on board the Jurassic Coast line which traverses a distance of one-hundred-fifty-three kilometers with many stops along the way. Regardless of which bus he rides, there are from time to time substitute and new drivers at the wheel who might elect to put him off at just about anywhere and that very well could spell the last that either Jeanes or anyone else ever saw of him.
|The Handsome and Intrepid but Ill-Fated Casper|
He also could be stolen for either nefarious or humane purposes. Back in 2007, for example, a cat-lover abducted Slim from the streets of Ottawa and refused to return him to his owners out of a sincere belief that they were neglecting him. (See Cat Defender post of July 9, 2007 entitled "Hungry and Disheveled Cat Named Slim Is Picked Up Off the Streets of Ottawa by a Rescuer Who Refuses to Return Him to His Owners.")
Considering Jeanes's abysmal failure to protect and keep Dodger out of harm's way, he definitely would be far better off in the home of another owner. Sometimes even outright thievery is preferable to sitting idly by and allowing a cat to be abused and, possibly, even killed.
The endless machinations of ailurophobes are another concern but the greatest threat to Dodger's well-being comes from motorists. No cat belongs in any busy street, let alone an elderly one who is the equivalent of seventy-six-years-old in human terms.
Back in 2009, a twelve-year-old tuxedo named Casper from the Barne Barton section of St. Budeaux in Plymouth, Devonshire, shot to international notoriety when it was revealed that he had been riding First Bus's number three line for four years. During that time it is estimated that he traveled twenty-thousand miles by his lonesome.
His adventures made for a charming story but his all-too-brief sojourn on this earth ended tragically on January 14, 2010 when he was run down and killed by a hit-and-run taxi driver while crossing Poole Park Road in order to get to the bus stop on the opposite side. (See Cat Defender posts of August 27, 2009 and January 30, 2010 entitled, respectively, "Casper Treats Himself to an Unescorted Tour Around Plymouth Each Morning Courtesy of the Number Three Bus" and "Casper Is Run Down and Killed by a Hit-and-Run Taxi Driver While Crossing the Street in Order to Get to the Bus Stop.")
|Casper Lives on in Print|
"I never dreamt I'd miss an animal as much as I miss him," his owner, sixty-seven-year-old health care worker Susan Finden, said shortly after his death. "He was lovely and loved people so much. He was such a different character." She since has published a book entitled Casper the Commuting Cat with the proceeds from which supposedly going to animal charities.
"What would I give to have one last cuddle? There are so many little things that I miss about you, Casper. I miss you sitting on the worktop watching me cook; I miss the closeness as we sat on the sofa together in the evening," she wrote in an excerpt published in the Daily Mail on July 23, 2010. (See "Tickets Purr-lease! Hopping on the Bus Every Day Turned Casper the Cat into a Star, a New Book Recalls His Exploits.") "But most of all, I miss looking out the bedroom window and spotting you there at the bus stop, waiting patiently with the other passengers for the number three bus as if it was the most natural thing in the world."
She, quite obviously, is either a liar or so slow on the uptake that she never learns a blessed thing from her colossal mistakes. After all, she had known for some time that she was placing Casper's life in grave jeopardy by allowing him to venture out into traffic by himself. In fact, even before his untimely death he had had several narrow escapes.
"We think he's about twelve-years-old but he has no road sense whatsoever," she candidly admitted shortly before his death. "He just runs across the road to the bus stop."
|Congested West Street Is Far too Dangerous for Footloose Cats|
In Dodger's case, he does not have to cross the street in order to board the bus but that advantage is negated by his proclivity to wait for it in the street as opposed to on the curb. On top of that, West Street is very busy and congested on weekdays despite there being only thirteen-thousand residents in Bridport.
It therefore is a foregone conclusion that unless Jeanes and First Bus do a far better job of safeguarding Dodger's fragile life than Finden and the company did with Casper, he is destined to suffer a similar fate. Under such depressing circumstances, it might not be too soon to initiate a death watch for him.
At the bare minimum, either Jeanes or another member of her family should put Dodger on the bus in the morning and be on hand to collect him when he returns later in the day. During the interval, his safety should be the responsibility of First Bus.
Cats have a legitimate right to their freedom but Jeanes's callous treatment of Dodger and Finden's failure to protect Casper are tantamount to cold-blooded, calculated acts of animal cruelty. Additionally, the deafening silence emanating from both the English media and animal rights groups regarding the safety and well-being of both Dodger and Casper speaks volumes for them but it is not a script that either of them would be flattered to have read back to them.
Much the same is true for the hundreds of commuters who ride the Bridport to Charmouth line every day. Unlike Thomas Harris's fictional character Clarice Starling, they never allow the terrified bleatings of innocent lambs to disturb their repose.
Photos: BNPS and the Daily Mail (Dodger), The Sun (Casper), Amazon (book jacket), and D1169254 of Wikipedia (West Street).