The Story of Minerva Black

Mrs Black taking a break in the sun
Somewhere in the past the ancestors of Mrs Black would have been domestic cats, loved and protected in the arms of their human carers. How it came to be that she was born to wild parents in a grey industrial part of London we will never know.

Mrs Black lived in a family of feral cats in a row of empty shops on a busy street. The only regular food came from kind locals. Mrs Black was very thin. She had a timid, loving personality often going without so that other members of her feral cat community could eat. She married early, to a large grey tabby. It is known to us that she was a devoted Mother who suffered much anguish when the buildings in which they lived were torn down for development and she became separated from all but one of her kittens. Her cries could be heard by neighbours who alerted the Cats Protection who trapped as many of the ferals as they could. Mrs Black, her handsome husband and the surviving kitten were taken to a rescue centre, huddled closely together it was obvious that they were a family. The kitten, an all black boy, was about 4 months old. They were all malnourished and terrified to be in captivity.
We had lost our three elderly cats within a few months of one another and the house seemed very empty without them. Anyone who has ever loved an animal will know that you can never replaced a lost companion. But you can love again, and I think that is what our friends would wish.

Minerva and Morpheus, devoted husband and wife
Having lived with many cats who were not quite tame I had experience of semi wild cats and we decided to give a home to two feral London cats who could come and live in the Devon countryside with us and be free. We asked for cats which no one wanted, and they gave us the frightened pair who would become our M & Ms, named Morpheus and Minerva by my husband.

When they first came 'home' to the flat they were completely wild, growling and hissing and trying to climb the walls to escape out of windows firmly shut. Giving a home to feral cats takes much patience, but it is worth the effort. When we moved to Devon to live the cats went from a 3 roomed flat to a home on 3 floors with long wooden corridors and sets of stairs. Outside were acres and acres of farmland and overgrown woods. They thrived, but I hardly ever saw them, and they were not becoming socialised in such a big house with only me for company during the week.It was eerie sharing the cottage with two cats who I could not touch and whose footfall I would mostly hear at night.  I missed my three tame cats.

While out shopping I saw a sign in the window of the 'pound shop' in town. One Tortoiseshell kitten from a litter was left, £15.00. I forced myself to keep walking. I took time out, had a coffee and considered. But I could not resist. I returned to the shop,  "Does she have white feet?",  I asked the shop girl. She did. I saw her that day. She was actually a Calico, mostly white, adorned with colour swatches like Autumn. I picked her up two weeks later and she came to live in the old house with the 'Big Cats'.

Such a big name for a tiny kitten
T.S Eliot says that cats have many names. The kitten was like a jewel, bright and glowing. And quite fierce. I named her Isabella for two of my muses, Isabella Blow (who had just died) and Queen Isabella of Spain. But it was not enough, her second name became Elizabeth, for my favourite Queen, and then Nell Gywnne, for the captivating mistress of Charles II. I was worried about how the big cats would react to her, she was so tiny. Morpheus was so large and wild.

Morpheus and Isabella kiss
It was love at first sight. He took her to be his own and taught her everything that he knew. She threw herself upon him, chewing his ears. Minerva was more reserved, but soon she too was enamoured of the bright, naughty kitten. They were inseparable.  When Isabella curled up on the sofa next to me Minerva crept next to her. Soon all three were on the bed at night. Morpheus never quite became tame, but he was never aggressive, he was a brave, but gentle cat. He would communicate with us, loudly, if he wanted outside or to be fed, and he would lay down in the same room, on his 'own' sofa. He was a wild man, but he carefully considered all of his actions, and he would always come home when I called him. I would call from an open bedroom window upstairs, and then watch him flying across the fields as fast as he could go. It was such a joy to see that this wild creature agreed to share his life with us. A superb hunter he wasted nothing and everything he caught was first offered to his family. Isabella adored him and they went on expeditions together.

Our three cats sleeping on 'their' sofa
Minerva was shy yet she was in her own way in control of everything. Very opinionated about how the cottage looked and where all the cats were at any given time. We realised that what she had always wanted was a home of her own. She was a housekeeping cat always busy with some domestic chore, while the other two were out being wild.

When our rural idyll had to end we found a cottage on the edge of an ancient churchyard and equestrian estate where the cats could still be free. In no time Morpheus became famous as the grey shadow that kept the mouse population in check.

Morpheus keeps watch while his family sleeps

Bird watching
We built a studio for me to work in at the bottom of the garden and I noticed that Minerva took over organisation of that also. She was an inspiration caring for us all. One day I realised that she was 'Mrs Black', the housekeeping, shoppe keeping cat. We named the vintage business in her honour.

After a bit of research we discovered that her husband's family, the Black's, were rather famous witches and wizards and animagus. We felt that Mrs Black longed for a more stable and less exciting lifestyle and this is what led her to be so respectable and hard working.

She is much older now, and a bit slower, but she is still very much involved in running things. Sadly her handsome husband Morpheus was killed in a freak accident when the estate next to us were felling some trees. It was a rare privilege to have lived with such a wild cat and we all miss him terribly. Despite the fact that we could hardly ever touch him he was one of the gentlest cats that I have ever known.

Handsome sweet Morpheus
Two years later we were devastated by the loss of our beautiful naughty kitten who had never grown up. Isabella was lost to the feline virus, always fatal, FIPs. It was a heart breaking time for our household and a loss which I know will always be a great source of pain for me and Mrs Black.

The luminous Isabella
Mrs Black comfort ate, becoming quite Goddess like. She threw herself into her work taking in mouse tenants and a frog family by the pond. Having once lived in a very large feral cat community and raised her own family she was not happy being a lone cat. By coincidence Mrs Black heard that a distant relative of her late husband's, a Maine Coon sort of cat, Munchkin LeStrange, was looking for lodging so she took him in.

Mrs Black by the pond
Munchkin  Lestrange

Munchkin disobeyed every rule and yet he charmed all with his roguish wit and his courage. He did not care for other cats and soon took over my work studio with his suitcase bed and writing desk in one corner. He spent most of his time at his memoir overseeing the repairs of the 12th century church in the back of our gardens. He was particularly interested in religious studies and knew the Vicar well. He was always welcome at church. Munchie had lived rough and travelled extensively since his previous elderly owner had died before we took him in and his health always troubled him. He lost his battle to finish his memoirs and we all miss him. He was our little Lionheart. It will take me awhile but I am editing his papers and will publish them in his memory.

In 2015 we became concerned that Mrs Black did not have the full use of her back legs and fearing arthritis had set in we had her scanned. She has a birth defect, common in dogs, rare in cats, called 'luxating patella'. It means that the knee joints slip in and out causing pain, and tearing the tendon which holds them. The channel the bones slot into is often shallow which causes the problem.  Mrs Black bravely came through two operations to correct this. We are most grateful to our gifted vet at Drove Animal Hospital. 

She does sleep a lot these days, however there are no signs that Mrs Black is considering retirement from the shop or her housekeeping duties as she has recently decided to open 'Mrs Black's Home For Wayward Cats, & Other Beasts'.

Mrs Black the shoppe keeping cat taking a winter walk in the snow.

Update on Mrs Black's family:

One Autumn we discovered a young black cat hunting near our cottage and by our bird feeders. One morning it jumped onto the bird table and ate the fat balls I had put out for the birds. So very sad to see a cat this hungry. After just 2 weeks of feeding the cat was enticed into our cottage and now Mrs Black has another lodger whose only name is Puff. Although sometimes we call her Madame Puff as it is rumoured that she is the Great-Great-Great Granddaughter of that infamous feline mandarin Ming the Merciless. She has the talons.

Puff has taken over all velvet and silk in no time at all.

How to help Stray and Feral Cats

Above all it is imperative that both male and female cats are neutered. This prevents thousands of unwanted cats for which there will never be a home, being abandoned and living and dying on the streets after short, hard, often violent lives or being put to death at welfare centres stretched to cope with the unwanted cats.  Tom cats fight for their territory and suffer horrible injuries and insecurity.

We homed Minerva and Morpheus from the Cat's Protection, who were our local cat rescue, and who had provided assistance to us with stray cats in the past. But there are many organisations from which you can obtain information and find a cat who suits your home. They will also help you if you think a stray or feral cat is in your garden. Please - Rescue not Shop!

Cats Protection in the United Kingdom

A personal heroine of mine is Celia Hammond who gave up the catwalk and fame and fortune to save thousands of cats and is devoted to the cause of animal welfare. She created a cat sanctuary and rehoming centre in England, which is now known as The Celia Hammond Animal Trust.

Celia and a kitten

Celia Hammond's website

About the family of  Mrs Black's late husband and the lodger Munchkin Lestrange:

  Bellatrix Lestrange on the Potter Wiki page

1 comment:

  1. what happened to mrs blacks lone surviving kitten from the feral cat community, do you know? xo


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