Snubbed by an Ignorant, Tasteless, and Uncaring Public for the Past Twenty-One Years, Tilly Has Forged an Alternative Existence of Relative Contentment at a Sanctuary in the Black Country
|Tilly Has at Least Some Access to the Great Outdoors|
"Over the years that we have had Tilly at the sanctuary, she has been passed over by more than thirty-thousand people looking for a cat."
-- Joyce Clarke
There are an infinite number of cat stories that are crying out to be told; in fact, every cat has a story that deserves to be taken down and preserved somewhere just to establish that either he or she had lived and not died in vain. Out of that tremendous number, perhaps no one is more worthy of being remembered and honored while that she is still alive than a twenty-four-year-old tortoiseshell named Tilly.
How, when, and under what circumstances it all began for her are secrets that she likely will take with her to her grave. As far as the remainder of the world is concerned, however, her recorded history began in 1995 when she and the litter of kittens that she had just given birth to were discovered holed up in a coal bunker in a garden.
By that time she already was somewhere between one and three years old and likely had been abandoned sometime before that by her uncaring and unscrupulous owner. She certainly had not been sterilized and that proved to be a stroke of Glück im Unglück in that it meant that her genes had at least some small chance of living on regardless of whatever became of her.
As things fortunately turned out, that coal bunker was not the end of the line for her but rather it marked the beginning of a new and entirely different life. The specifics are unknown, but one way or another she was handed over to Joyce Clarke who operates a sanctuary in the small West Midlands' town of Wednesbury.
The establishment has been identified in various press reports as either the Wednesbury Cat Sanctuary or the West Midlands Animal Welfare Sanctuary but since neither of them has a presence on the web it is assumed, correctly or incorrectly, that it is a private, nameless one that Clarke has operated out of her house for the past thirty years. If, on the other hand, the secrecy is due to fears that the place easily could become overrun with cats dumped by the public, that serves only to underscore how truly lucky Tilly was to have been taken in all those years ago.
All of that is inconsequential when compared to the stunning realization that she is still living there today, twenty-one years later. That, most assuredly, was not how that Clarke had scripted it for things to turn out for Tilly.
She initially was put up for adoption but, if Clarke is being completely truthful, no one ever wanted any part of her. "Over the years that we have had Tilly at the sanctuary, she has been passed over by more than thirty-thousand people looking for a cat," she averred to The Mirror of London on April 4th. (See "Oldest 'Rescue Cat' in United Kingdom May Be Most Rejected after Being Rejected Thirty-Thousand Times by Potential Owners.")
That great a number of snubs is nothing short of astounding in that it means that Tilly has been rejected one-thousand-four-hundred-twenty-eight times each year that she has been with Clarke. That further breaks down to one-hundred-nineteen rejections per week and a staggering seventeen snubs per day.
There also could have been other factors involved and principally among them is the very real possibility that Clarke eventually grew so fond of her that she could not bear the thought of giving her up to another individual. She also could have wisely and compassionately mandated that Tilly not be declawed and that proscription would have disqualified a number of potential adopters from consideration. A lack of access to the great outdoors could have been another sticking point.
Although there is not anything in the public record to even remotely suggest that this was the case with Clarke, some shelters and sanctuaries are doing a real disservice to the cats that they have in their care by ruthlessly running roughshod over not only their lives but those of their potential adopters as well. They are doing so by not only mandating that their cats be sterilized, microchipped, and vaccinated against all sorts of unnecessary and imaginary ailments but that prospective adopters foot the bill for these and other procedures and manipulations.
|Tilly Is Anything But Aloof with Joyce Clarke|
Still other rescue groups attempt to make as much money as possible off of each cat that they sell back to the public and such ruthless and inhumane trafficking in those that already are down and out and on death row discourages some people from adopting. Besides, it is not universally true that individuals with money make better guardians than do those that are considerably less prosperous.
Perhaps most galling of all, some groups never completely relinquish control of the cats that they adopt out but instead insist upon making surprise visits in order to check on how well they are getting on in their new homes. Although no halfway conscientious rescue group ever wants to see a cat either abused or neglected, the "Big Brother" mentality and tactics that some of them are known to stoop to are seldom effective and oftentimes counterproductive.
As far as Tilly is concerned, Clarke attributes her rejection by the public to her personality. "It was probably her personality that meant nobody ever wanted to adopt her," she added to The Mirror. "She can be a bit stroppy and would occasionally snap at people, but not anymore."
It is difficult to know with any certainty but Tilly's standoffishness and wariness could be attributable to her having been taken away from her mother too early. For example, that was the assessment rendered by Robyn's Nest and All the Rest Animal Rescue of an inadequately socialized six-month-old black kitten named Bilbo Baggins that it took in after he had been dumped at a pet store in the Melbourne suburb of Doncaster on May 12th of last year.
"He doesn't know how to play," Nadia Munday, who for a while served as his foster mother, said of him at that time. "Most kittens are taught how to play by their mother (sic) when they start venturing out of the nest around three weeks of age, and when they are too rough playing the mother cat tells them off. It's almost like he hasn't had any of that." (See Cat Defender post of December 3, 2015 entitled "Bilbo Baggins Does Justice to the Memory of His Esteemable Namesake by Surviving Being Hogtied, Wrapped in Plastic, and Stuffed into a Shopping Bag in Order to Finally Come Out on Top in the End.")
Like Bilbo, Tilly also could have been abused during her early years. If that along with having been prematurely separated from her mother did not contribute to her disdain for humans, life on the rough and tumble streets of the Black Country certainly would have soured her on the world of man.
In the final analysis, however, none of those arguments are really all that persuasive in that the blame for her lengthy confinement at Clarke's sanctuary most assuredly lies, not with her, but rather with the abysmally ignorant, tasteless, and callous public itself. "They (potential adopters) want a cat that will come over for a cuddle and she didn't fit the bill," Clarke confided to The Mirror.
Whereas it is well understood that dog owners care only for animals that will worship at their feet, the conventional wisdom used to be that cat owners were above such shamefully selfish and idiotic thinking and conduct but that apparently is not always the case. If so, there is not much hope that civilization ever will be able to rise above the ugly truths that Euripides spoke of way back in 420 B.C. in his play, "Hippolytus."
|The Sanctuary Is the Only Real Home Tilly Has Ever Known|
Take for example this rather poignant exchange between the protagonist and one of his attendants:
Attendant: "Dost know, then, the way of the world?"
Hippolytus: "Not I, but wherefore such a question?"
Attendant: "It hates reserve that careth not for all men's love."
Hippolytus: "And rightly too. Reserve in man is ever galling."
Attendant: "But there's charm in courtesy?"
Hippolytus: "The greatest surely, aye, and profit, too, at trifling cost."
If all of that were not distasteful enough in its own right, the same subservient mentality also holds sway not only in the next world but with the blessed immortals as well. For instance:
Attendant: "Dost think the same law holds in heaven as well?"
Hippolytus: "I trow it doth, since all our laws we men from heaven draw." (E.P. Coleridge, translator)
In other words, all the world loves flatterers, fawners, and strokers and that has profound implications for all morality, law, social relations, economics, and politics. All is not lost, however, in that there are some individuals who have proven themselves to be fully capable of rising above such baseness and one of them was Philadelphia writer Agnes Repplier who in her famous essay, "Agrippina," wrote the following:
"Rude and masterful souls resent this fine self-sufficiency in a domestic animal, and require that it shall have no will but theirs, no pleasure that does not emanate from them.
"Yet there are people, less magisterial, perhaps, or less exacting, who believe that true friendship, even with an animal, may be built upon mutual esteem and independence; that to demand gratitude is to be unworthy of it; and that obedience is not essential to agreeable and healthy intercourse. A man who owns a dog is, in every sense of the word, its master: the term expresses accurately their mutual relations. But it is ridiculous when applied to the limited possession of a cat. I am certainly not Agrippina's mistress, and the assumption of authority on my part would be a mere empty dignity, like those swelling titles which afford such innocent delight to the Freemasons of our severe republic."
Théphile Gautier could not have agreed more. "Si vous êtes digne de son affection, un chat deviendra votre ami mais jamais votre esclave," he once astutely pointed out.
The indictment against the supposedly cat-loving English public is by no means confined to those multitudes who, apparently, do not recognize any discernible differences between felines and canines, but rather it also extends to those who harbor ingrained prejudices against those cats that are elderly, frail, and suffer from impaired vision. For example, last summer more than five-hundred of them turned up their crooked noses at a nineteen-year-old female named Pops before she finally was able to secure a new home at the last minute. (See Cat Defender posts of August 6, 2015 and September 12, 2015 entitled, respectively, "Elderly, Frail, and on Death Row, Lovely Pops Desperately Needs a New Home Before Time Finally Runs Out on Her" and "Pops Finally Secures a Permanent Home but Pressing Concerns about Both Her Continued Care and Right to Live Remain Unaddressed.")
For any true lover of the species, a cat's age, appearance, health, disabilities, and personality quirks are totally irrelevant. Furthermore, there arguably is not any more satisfying achievement on this earth than to finally be able to win the love and trust of a wary and standoffish cat, such as Tilly.
Nevertheless, the shabby treatment meted out to both her and Pops is an indication of just how low the cat-owning fraternity has sunk since Francis Scarfe penned the following lines to his poem, "How We Should Regard Cats Like Grizabella:"
"Those who love cats that do not even purr,
Or which are thin and tired and very old,
Bend down to them in the street and stroke their fur
And rub their ears and smooth their breast and hold
Their paws, and gaze into their eyes of gold."
|Tilly May Be Old But Her Health Is Rather Good|
Even though at first glance it would appear that Tilly has led a sad and tragic life, there are other indications that point in an entirely different direction. That is because in some respects she not only has persevered in what Charles Dickens would have called reduced circumstances but, more importantly, thrived.
In particular, not only has she more than earned her keep by assisting Clarke and her staffers in caring for the other cats at the refuge but she additionally has found meaning and a purpose in life by taking a keen interest in those that are disabled. "She is so good with the other cats in the shelter and has looked after a few of them herself," Clarke declared to The Mirror. "There have been times when we've had paralyzed and blind cats come into our rescue center and Tilly has really taken them under her wing. We kept finding them asleep with Tilly looking after them."
Not a good deal has been revealed about Tilly's life at the sanctuary but other than being recognized as England's oldest rescue cat she lives in the same cottage with Clarke and has plenty of food and water as well as access to veterinary care whenever she needs it. She also has the companionship of Clark and the other forty cats that reside at the sanctuary.
Even though the facility likely is fenced-in, that does not mean that she has spent her entire life cruelly cooped up indoors. "She has lived in the cottage and has got fields and land to hand," Clarke told the Express and Star of Wolverhampton on April 4th. (See "Tilly the Rescued Cat Still Without an Owner after Twenty-One Years.")
Best of all, she is in remarkably good shape. Her weight is good, her eyes are still bright, and her fur is so glossy that hardly anyone encountering her for the first time would be able to correctly guess her age.
"She can be a bit grumpy but she is in good health," Clarke told The Mirror. "She has only really had minor things wrong."
In addition to the superlative care that she has received from Clark, she doubtlessly also has long and robust genes to thank for her longevity. The proof of that lies not only in her but also in one of her kittens that was born in 1995 and is still alive today and living with her and Clarke.
Luck sans doute also has played a key role in her life in that tortoiseshells are believed by many to be endowed with it in spades. "We have got a lot of old cats but Tilly is the oldest of all of them," Clarke added to The Mirror. "We knew that cats can live for a long time and once had a cat that lived to be twenty-three, but never as old as Tilly."
Whereas some establishments, such as Cats With No Name in Pine Grove, Pennsylvania, and Tenth Life Sanctuary in Clewiston, Florida, have given sanctuaries a bad name, Clarke's operation appears from all outward considerations to be a credit to the movement. (See Cat Defender posts of May 10, 2010 and May 17, 2010 entitled, respectively, "Lunatic Rulings in Cats With No Name Cruelty Cases Prove Once Again That Pennsylvania Is a Safe Haven for Cat Killers and Junkies" and "Julie Levy and Her Henchmen Ride to the Rescue of Maury Swee's Severely Neglected Cats and Promptly Slaughter at Least One-Hundred-Eighty of Them.")
First and foremost, Clarke refuses to kill off those that are healthy and although that is a good starting point she desperately needs to expand that policy to include the killing of all cats under any circumstances. As things now stand, the only real difference between a healthy cat and an unhealthy one often boils down to monetary and labor considerations and no individual or institution should be afforded that kind of discretion in matters of life and death.
At this rather late stage in Tilly's remarkable life, the sanctuary wisely has given up on getting rid of her. "We're not looking for a home for her now," Clarke vowed to the Express and Star. "It would be too much for her at her age."
|Tilly Does Not Have Any Regrets and Is Not Looking Back|
Whereas Tilly conceivably might be able to successfully adopt to new surroundings and different people, such a transition would in all likelihood be way too stressful for her. In that light, it is always important to remember that although dogs may belong to people cats belong to places.
Tilly's fate, either for better or worse, was sealed a long time ago and she should be allowed to live out her remaining days with Clarke and her four-footed friends at the sanctuary. Besides, she seems to be happy enough and totally unconcerned about not having a conventional home.
Besides, there really is not any reason why she should lament not having either what she never has known or, if she did, only briefly. She also appears to be every bit as psychologically fit as she is physically and not to have suffered any adverse effects from being rejected by so many potential adopters.
In all likelihood she probably could care less what those thirty-thousand fools felt and said about her. Good riddance! The loss has been all theirs, not hers.
Her plight does, however, bring up the thought-provoking dilemma of what cats actually do need and want out of life and the first part of that equation is considerably easier to address. Specifically, they first of all require protection from their sworn enemies because they are totally incapable of surviving on their own no matter what the University of Lincoln and others argue to the contrary. (See Cat Defender post of October 9, 2015 entitled "A Lynch Mob Comprised of Dishonest Eggheads from the University of Lincoln Issues Another Scurrilous Broadside Against Cats by Declaring That They Do Not Need Guardians to Safeguard Their Fragile Lives.")
Beyond that they need shelter, food, water, veterinary care, and the companionship of other cats and at least one human counterpart. They most definitely are not islands unto themselves any more than humans are but exactly how much human interaction they desire depends upon their upbringing and circumstances.
In that sense, they are not really all that different from humans in that they desire to have the best of both the natural and civilized worlds. The wild outdoors can be pleasant when the weather is hospitable, food is readily available, and their surroundings are free of both human and animal predators. A loving home can likewise be appreciated but even it fails to satisfy all of a cat's desires.
Due to circumstances beyond her control, Tilly missed out on having a conventional home but she nevertheless has done all right for herself at Clarke's sanctuary. The arrangement may not be ideal but she at least has bits and pieces of both worlds and, perhaps, that has proven to be enough for her.
The life that she has forged for herself there certainly dwarfs by a country mile any sort of meager existence that she would have had on the street and the proof of that is to be found in her good health and longevity. In the end all that really matters is that she has survived against Herculean odds.
She is a real treasure and it certainly would be well worth both the trouble and expense of visiting the sanctuary just to get a fleeting glimpse of her. It even would be a rare and distinct honor just to have her turn up her dainty nose and hiss before ambling off in an air of marked disdain and insouciance.
Photos: London Metro (Tilly outdoors), The DoDo (Tilly with Clarke and in profile), The Express and Star (Tilly indoors), and The Mirror (Tilly up close).