The pet I’ll never forget: Miles was the cat no one wanted. I took him in – and he never left my side | Cats

My journey with Miles started, practically, in an Uber returning from the Cats Protection centre in north London, his huge, golden eyes peering out from his bulky carrier.

But the road to Miles and I ending up together began much earlier. He was a successor to two abandoned kittens I had found at the bottom of my garden and taken in. I raised them for three weeks, syringe feeding them with specially formulated milk. A friend then adopted them (they are thriving).

But I missed the kittens and thought it time for a permanent feline friend. I had grown up with two cats: Pepsi and Tess. I loved them dearly, and they died, adored, at 18 years old, their long lives filled with … well, mostly sleeping and eating.

Miles had been the longest-standing resident at the rescue centre, his intense shyness preventing visitors from forming a bond with him. Once home, his timidity continued. He ran under the cooker and didn’t come out for days; then he ran under the desk and didn’t come out for weeks. He crept from his hiding place in the night to eat and drink. “I am living with a ghost cat,” I told a friend.

But gradually I earned his trust (mostly through treat-based tactics), and then he never left my side. Whenever singledom made it possible, he slept under the crook of my arm in bed, or with his head on the adjacent pillow, his warm breath on my cheek.

‘He was so handsome, with his aristocratic ruff’ … Photograph: Supplied image

He was so handsome. I expanded his name to Fitzwilliam Miles Wentworth, because of his aristocratic ruff. He was part Maine coon, but instead of the breed’s typical long ears, Miles’s were tiny triangles, which I rubbed like a swatch of velvet between my fingertips.

Miles’s best friend was Merlin, a neighbourhood cat. Merlin would often come and chill, the two of them on the sofa. While Miles resembled a cylindrical feather duster, Merlin was as wiry as a pipe cleaner.

One evening, I stayed at a friend’s, putting food and water out, and leaving Miles to roam overnight with Merlin, as he often would. When I returned, he didn’t come bolting through the cat flap as was customary and, as darkness fell, I began to worry.

I found Miles outside, unable to use his hind legs. He was soaking wet, but he wasn’t bleeding. My neighbour drove me to a 24-hour vet. The verdict was horrific. He had somehow become injured and as a result, in rapid time, fallen victim to something called flystrike, which left him infested with maggots. The internal damage he had suffered was brutal, and he could not be saved.

I still blame myself. I feel if I hadn’t been away that night he would have been inside with me. I was his protector, and I had failed to protect him. He was two and a half when I took him in, and just five when he died.

I moved to a new place, and often think of Merlin, who almost certainly misses Miles as much as I do. I barely ever addressed him as Miles – usually buddy, sometimes pal. He’s still with me, but now it’s in photographs on the fridge. I’m so sorry, buddy. I miss you, pal.

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