18-Nov-1988 - 7-Apr-1997
Merlin was our first Somali. His registered name was Moondial Mystic Merlin - a name I thought had a lovely ring to it and which suited him perfectly. It would not be exaggerating to say that he was a striking cat. He had a good strong skull and, unlike our other Somalis who have "sweet" faces, he had a really wild expression which caught everyone's eye. His coat was lovely and silky, with an impressive ruff and was the richest colour I had ever seen in a Somali and apart from during his adolescence, he hadn't a grey root in sight. I am speaking in the past tense, because 4 days ago, at just over 8 years old, we said our final farewells to him as he was quietly and gently put to sleep to avoid further suffering. I am writing this because in my own suffering and grief for him I have a compulsion to write down all the things I can remember, in a way I suppose to purge my feelings of guilt that I let him down in some way and to ensure that I never forget all his many qualities and peculiarities.
It was 1985 when we bought our first cat, Pasht, who is an Abyssinian. I discovered the existence of Somalis over 2 years later when the December page of my new Whiskas calendar featured 3 beautiful Somalis sitting on a window sill. Then on Christmas Eve of that year BBC TV screened a programme called "Tiger on the Tiles" which featured a household of Somalis and I decided that eventually I would have one. In February 1989, I was reading the pets column in my local paper and I saw an advertisement for Somali kittens. I was amazed that someone was breeding them so close to me and naturally thought "I want one!" After a little persuasion, Barry finally relented and suggested that I went to "have a look" That was fatal of course! Into the room came this 3 month old scrawny little bundle of fluff and I fell in love with him immediately. When we had bought Pasht he was 4 months old, complete with ticking and looked simply like a miniature Aby, Merlin on the other hand bore no resemblance to the impressive adult he was to become and when Barry came home from work that night and asked where he was, I pointed to the back of the settee and he said "Is that it?" in a slightly disappointed tone of voice.
Merlin exuded confidence - it took him about 4 days to settle down with Pasht and Leo, our German Shepherd (about a week quicker than Pasht!) A month after we collected him we went off to the west of Scotland with 6 of our friends for a week's holiday and he took it all in his stride. His favourite trick as a youngster was to race us to the bathroom each morning so he could splash the water when we turned the tap on, even flushing the toilet was a difficult exercise with him hanging over the bowl! When he was very small he found the dog's food dish to be more suitable for "spending pennies" than a litter tray and little liquid deposits were often to be found in it when we came to feed the dog. Also Leo had a bucket for his water, to avoid excess splashing on the floor, and Merlin much preferred to drink that water than his and so was often found hanging by his armpits with his head in the depths of the bucket (see our Fun Page). He would sit with an expression of total innocence on his face until he spotted Pasht busily washing himself and then an expression of pure evil would appear as he pounced on him. In the early days I think Pasht rather disliked him because he was so exuberant and boisterous that Pasht often couldn't be bothered. However, 6 months later we bought Briagha, our Havana, and Merlin took him under his wing, bathing him and playing with him, which fortunately gave Pasht a bit of a break. They had the most entertaining fun fights when they were young and then would curl up together to sleep - we used to call them the lovers. As a youngster Merlin took savage delight in attacking Barry's feet whenever he found them dangling out the bottom of the bed, which was almost every morning and then he would jump on the bed, give us both a head butt and tell us how much he loved us - because it was breakfast time. In the early days Barry carved every Sunday joint and ate every meal with Merlin draped around his shoulders in the hope that he might be offered a treat. One day we were at the table finishing Sunday lunch, Barry and I side by side and our daughter opposite us. When Elise left the table Merlin jumped onto her chair and began to home in on the remains on her plate. Just as his chin reached the edge of the plate, Barry said "Don't you dare" and he ducked under the table out of sight. A few seconds later back he came, one eye on us and one on the plate and began very slowly and deliberately to advance towards the plate. This time Barry threw a carefully aimed missile past his right ear and down he ducked again. The third time all that surfaced was a paw, nothing more, just a paw. This disembodied paw felt around the edge of the table until it reached the plate, scooped up some gravy and vanished. When we looked under the table, there was Merlin sitting on the chair, happily licking that paw!
In his youth he was a very busy cat - "Sorry I haven't time to sit on your lap, I've got things to do" was his attitude. Before I started breeding, the boys had their freedom and Merlin more than any of the rest adored to be out. He would vanish for a couple of hours, come bouncing down the garden path, chirruping away to us, tail waving like a flag, telling us what a wonderful day hed had, give us a quick head butt and then go off again on his perambulations. Often on his return he brought with him a wonderful souvenir, fluffy toys, leaves, pampas grass and once the remains of someone's Sunday joint! He was a very talkative cat, always chirruping away to us and an affectionate head butter and kisser, but not a lap cat or a "handle me" cat. He never, ever sat on our laps (unless we were eating of course, but then the way to Merlin's heart was always through his stomach) and he never liked to be picked up and held close. He never ignored us when we approached him and we were always guaranteed an affectionate head butt. Once we bought Sorcha and started breeding, he sold our kittens for us. Everyone who came to the house to look at the kittens, would look at them, then at Sorcha and finally at Merlin and the question they always asked was "Will the kittens grow up to look like him?"
He had quite a few "claims to fame". In the late 80's/early 90's Cat World Magazine ran a monthly competition sponsored by Friskies Gourmet called "Cat of the Month" where cat owners sent in photographs of their cat and described their character. In 1990 I sent in a photograph of him, together with an excerpt of an article I had written about him for the Somali Cat Club Journal and he was selected to be the June Cat of the Month. Marc Henrie was sent up from London to photograph him and I was on tenterhooks - he was such a typical Somali, always busy and so naughty, how on earth was I going to keep him still long enough to have his photograph taken? Once again, he came up trumps, within 5 minutes he had settled down and posed wherever Marc wanted him to and we got some beautiful photographs. He twice more had his picture in "Cat World", once stealing my bedtime Horlicks (again see our Fun Page). I had made the drink and was called to the 'phone. When I came back there he was sitting on the table with his foot in my cup and licking off the Horlicks. I rushed and got the camera and took a series of photographs which were reproduced a couple of years ago, although the magazine got it wrong and gave the credit to Sorcha - it was however Merlin. In 1990 I submitted a photograph of him which was chosen to appear in a series of cat breed postcards and in 1993 a picture of him in the garden on one of our holidays was selected for the Wild About Animals "Cat a Day" calendar on the page which described the Somali breed. In 1995 he was a runner up for the Arthur's Calendar and we had our local representative around to "interview" him. So he certainly did his bit to publicise Somalis.
Merlin was to blame for my "show fever" as he was my first show cat. I had shown dogs many years ago, but had no interest in showing cats when I bought Pasht. However, on the day I collected Merlin I asked his breeder if he was showable and she said yes if I wanted to. I decided to give it a try and so I entered him for Durham Show in May 1989. I vividly remember how nervous I was. As I put him in his pen, I sneaked a glance at the sorrel kitten in the next pen (who was later to become Ch. Chersatin Prince Caspian). I struck up a conversion with his then owner, Mrs Lui, and casually asked how old he was - imagine my horror when she said 6 months. My Merlin was 6 months old too, but he was half that size! Completely brimming over with under-confidence, my daughter and I went upstairs to the balcony to watch the judging. About half an hour later the show manager put a call out for the owner of the cat in pen 258. That was our pen and I went into an instant panic - had I brought a stunted cat and was I about to be unceremoniously thrown out of the show hall and reported for neglect? My legs would hardly carry me down the stairs as I tried to find the show manager, who informed me that he had spilt his water dish and was soaking. Naturally I was totally unprepared for that eventuality - I had only brought 1 show blanket with me and my face was as red as my T-shirt as I stood, a lone exhibitor on the show floor with everyone on the balcony staring at me, trying to dry him off with the show blanket. That was the first lesson I ever learned about showing cats - buy a dish which hooks over the cage bars and don't fill it too full! By the end of the day he had won his kitten class, best of breed and a 1st, 2nd and 3rd in his side classes and I was so proud of him. (I was even prouder 2 years later at the Gwynned show when I saw Prince Caspian again for the first time since that show and noticed that he was now just the same size as Merlin).
His next show was Northern Counties in September, where he won his first IC (with half his whiskers singed off from looking into a saucepan at the precise moment I ignited the gas!) At Cumberland he was withheld because of grey roots and it was there he picked up his first CNH. I watched it happen from the balcony. At about 2:00pm his first miscellaneous judge judged him and he was put back in the pen. It was no more than a minute before the next judge came along and judged him and this time the steward hadn't even closed the pen door when along came the final steward and Merlin said "No thanks I've just got back in and I'm not coming out again". At Edinburgh in October the open judge couldn't handle him, although the following 3 miscellaneous judges did. At the Scottish in February 1990 he got his second IC and no CNH's. However, at every show thereafter he picked up at least 1 CNH until Lincoln, where he won his 5th IC and 2 CNH's and I decided he'd had enough and I would retire him. However, when I was entering Sorcha and Briagha for Northern Counties in September I decided to take him out one more time to support my local show. I should have had more sense! No-one could get him out of the pen. However, he did his bit for Somalis by winning his 3 IC's and I was very proud to see his name in the Roll of Honour of the 21 cats of each colour which went in the Somali Cat Club's application for championship status. Thereafter we put him on exhibition, which really was his forte - he was wonderful! He rapidly earned himself the nickname of "The Poser" because he excelled in showing off. He was completely unaggressive and relaxed in an exhibition pen and put on such a performance for the public. At the Scottish Show in 1991 we couldn't get to his pen he had so many people around it all day. What always surprised Barry and I was how times people came up to us and said "So this is Merlin - I've heard about him and now it's lovely to actually see him".
In a way he was lucky to get to 8, as he lost his first life when he was only 7 months old. One morning, as the children and I went out, he ran out the door. Barry was working shifts then and didn't have to leave until 10:30am so he just left him out for a time. When he was ready to go, he went to the front door and called him in. With his usual zeal Merlin appeared from across the road and literally ran straight into the side of a car which was driving around the bend outside our house. The car never even stopped and Merlin shot back from where he had come and hid in the garden of the house opposite us. Barry went to get him and found him lying with one of his hind legs in the air. He rushed him straight to the vet who could find no break and said it was merely severe bruising and told Barry to keep him quiet - how on earth do you keep a Somali kitten quiet??? That evening he was walking on the leg, albeit gingerly and by the following day he was literally back to his old self, except that whenever he crossed the road after that, he always checked the traffic to his right, from where the car had come which hit him. He never looked to the left of course, but always checked out the right!
Four years ago Briagha, at only 3 years of age, was diagnosed as having cardiomyopathy and, although in the intervening years he and Merlin had gone their separate ways, strangely enough I noticed that Merlin had begun to bathe him and sleep cuddled up with him again - Im sure because he sensed something was wrong. We came home from work 2 months later and found Briagha dead at the bottom of the stairs and all his side was wet where someone had been bathing him - I am convinced it was Merlin. None of our other cats showed any signs of noticing we were a cat short, but for weeks afterwards we found Merlin in all Briaghas favourite haunts, as if he was looking for his old friend.
Over the last 2 years he went through a complete character change. He just climbed onto Barry's lap one night and began to knead and purr to him. We just looked at each other in amazement as if to say "Is this Merlin?" He had always slept on our bed, but whereas in his youth he used to sleep on top of the covers down towards the bottom of the bed, he began to sleep on the pillow as close to my face as possible, or under the covers between Barry and I, purring most of the night and kneading in my hair (I often woke looking like I'd had a beehive hairdo through the night!) He also had begun to climb on the laps of friends and visitors, purring and kneading at them.
However, from the day we brought him home he never produced a normal stool - he always had diarrhoea, usually with blood and mucous, similar to ulcerative colitis in a human. In his kittenhood we did various tests to try to find the cause, but without success. The only time we ever had a result was an excess of E-Coli and although a course of anti-biotics put that right it still didn't get rid of the diarrhoea. Yet, he was growing well, always looked in extremely good health, with a lovely shiny silky coat and so we decided this was something we had to live with. Over the years as he got older, the colitis went through periods of being normal (for him) and worse, but a couple of years ago it became really bad and he began to lose weight and condition. First we tried an elimination diet to see if diet was the cause, but it wasnt. Then we tried steroids and other medication, which improved things slightly, but didn't get rid of the diarrhoea. At the National 2 years ago I spoke to George Macleod, who suggested homeopathic remedies Merc. Corr or Acid Nit. I had already tried the Merc Cor years before, which hadn't made any difference, so I tried Acid Nit. That didn't make a huge improvement either, but I telephoned Ainsworths, who suggested that we alternate the Acid Nit with Sycotic Co 1 dose each day for 6 days. That made quite an improvement and after the 6 days, the stools improved and he began to put weight on. In his "heyday" he weighed about 9½ -10lbs and when he took ill his weight dropped to 7lb 10oz, but following the homeopathic remedies he improved and for the following 2 years his weight stabilised at around 8lb 10oz. About 4 weeks ago, he took ill again, began to lose condition and his weight dropped to 7lb 3oz. I immediately put him back on the Acid Nit/Sycotic Co, but this time it made no difference. I took him to the vets and he was put on Prednisolone and Flagyl. For the first 2 weeks there was a slight improvement in the stools, but he didn't put on any weight and he looked miserable and hunched up all the time. On the day of the Club AGM, he didn't come down for his breakfast which was most un-Merlinlike - regardless of how ill his condition made him, it never put him off his food, because of the colitis he ate almost constantly, as food seemed to just go straight through him. We left for Stratford that morning having instructed our son to observe him throughout the day and try to get him to eat. We came home that evening in such high spirits - wed had a lovely day at the AGM seeing all our friends, trophies in our hands and our new rabbit which we had picked up on the way home, only to discover that Merlin had become worse throughout the day. He had been sick at lunchtime and there was blood in the vomit and when he came onto my lap there was a drop of blood coming from his right nostril and so at 10:15 that night we rushed him to the vets. Barry and I both feel very strongly that our cats must have a quality of life and we both felt that Merlin was not a happy cat and indeed appeared to be in pain most of the time. He was given treatment that night, but by the morning was no better. My vet agreed with me that we had tried every avenue - the only one left was a biopsy and neither Barry nor I wanted to put him through that. So I made the decision that it was time to say goodbye. As my vet (who is very understanding at these times) gave him his final injection, I held him in my arms and he fell asleep with my lips on his forehead.
Sitting here now remembering him and Briagha I find it quite strange that of our 3 original boys, the two youngest should die so young and only the eldest remains and it makes Pasht even more special to us. He will be 12 this year and I am delighted to say he is in the best of health at the moment.
I drive my car and walk around reciting the "If it should be" poem, which was published in "Cats" about 4 years ago, with a lump in my throat and tears in my eyes. I have no idea who penned this poem, but I carry copies of it in my purse and if anyone I meet has had to have a pet put to sleep I give them a copy, as I think it is the most consoling poem I have ever read. I know a lot of our members dont subscribe to "Cats" and so I am reproducing it here. There are numerous emotions I go through when I have to put one of my pets to sleep and, even though I know it is the right thing to do (it is the seventh time I have had to make this decision) my feelings vary between guilt, grief, pain, regret and great sorrow. Still, somewhere in a remote area of my brain, there is a feeling of comfort that my pet, in this case my handsome, wonderful, magic Merlin, is in a better place and is no longer in any pain and that was my final gift to him, but it never gets any easier.