Orla Tinsley: During my third week of isolation in hospital I got the call -‘How could an indoor cat be missing?’

I was a penniless student, but there was one kitten, King George, who melted my heart

King George was three months old when I met him and just about ready to leave the vets in Sandymount. The first time I witnessed his beauty was through a photo my friend sent me at the time – she was always hoisting homeless kittens on to anyone who would listen – and I would have taken 50 kittens if I could. I was a penniless student, but there was one kitten, King George, who melted my heart.

He came to live with me – and my very understanding roommates – in 2008, during the banking crisis, while we slogged it out in UCD, uncertain of our future, amid the doom and gloom of the time. If we were all going down, with no apparent future, at least we could give this kitten one.

George narrowly avoided being named Tibet. My roommate was certain this was a shrewd act of advocacy, and maybe he was right. But somehow, he became George. “After the pub?” asked my uncle. I wish I’d thought of that but I’m not sure what it came from.

There were moments he sat, in a somewhat rapt contemplation, and I knew for certain that he himself knew his true name. The tabby cat adorned with grey and black swirling streaks loved nothing more than to shriek the house down. He was an indoor cat – or so I thought – which comforted me while I was hospitalised for weeks on end and could not see him. The guilt consumed me, but back at home the glimmer in his eyes got him by. He was having the time of his life. Daily paw patrol around the neighbourhood was facilitated by my roommates and the kitty showed deep gratitude by laying half-eaten shrews on the doorstep.


It’s possible I would never have known about the outdoor excursions if it weren’t for what happened next.

It was the third week of isolation in the hospital and a late-night phone call from my roommate brought the news. “He’s missing,” she said. My heart stopped. Missing? How could an indoor cat be missing? The cat was then, excuse me, out of that bag. We worked together to figure out what to do. “Cats find their own way home!” said one friend. “If he’s been hit by a car you’ll probably never know!” said another.

After so many months, I had forgotten the why of acquiring him and embraced the wonder of his being

Some months before, my ex-boyfriend had died. The cat – this small furry tabby with a squeaking meow that emanated from the top of his lungs – had been a kind of balm. His presence was an attempt at self-soothing. Like so many pets do, he had filled an absence that he then manifested into his very own presence. After so many months, I had forgotten the why of acquiring him and embraced the wonder of his being. The wellspring of joy and mischief that came along each day no matter what he decided to do carried us all through our studies and our struggles.

Some weeks later, as his return seemed less certain, at a neighbourhood barbecue, we were told a story. A lady who lived alone had recently taken in a stray cat. Herbert, apparently, was the grey and black tabby’s name. What to do? I was certain this was George, but the owner was older. The guilt at crushing her new relationship weighed, but then again, didn’t everyone know we had a grey and black tabby.

Eventually, somehow, we spoke to our neighbour – a kind and generous woman – who had been feeding lactose intolerant George a saucer of milk twice a day and all the juicy tuna he could eat. He was sleeping in her livingroom. Any cat worth their whiskers might shun their tail at our offering of student life – regular kibble and Whiskas cat milk – in comparison. He came home.

Pretty soon this wild animal had my father building a custom-made cat house that faced the kitchen window

Some years later, now with a long-haired golden belly, George moved to the countryside. Unlike the chick and duck from Friends, he arrived safely amid the rolling fields by the Bog of Allen. I was terrified. How would he adapt to the outside?

My father, who had been pushing this move for a while, said: “He’s a wild animal! He wants to hunt!” But pretty soon this wild animal had my father building a custom-made cat house that faced the kitchen window – the window most likely to capture the smiling face of my mother every morning. The windowsill most likely to feature food, for which he cried desperately even just moments after he had been fed. The oldest trick in the book.

When new dogs arrived – beloved in their own right – a daily duel began for George’s grub. Two giant dogs against this little fur ball, arthritic now, but with the energy of Inigo Montoya when it came to defending his grub: ‘Hello, my name is George Tinsley, you ate my kibble – prepare to die!” After defeating the tyrants, he would roll on to his back, golden belly turned toward the sun, and nap.

And onward he went, valiantly and with gusto, even when he became too arthritic to jump on to the windowsill every morning he continued to follow my father through his gardening work, like a happy shadow, observing and approving the planting of vegetables and shrubs. In the evening, after a hard day’s work, he curled up on his chair in the sittingroom purring into the night.

These are just some memories of a very good boy – which are words cats deserve as much as dogs – who last week stopped eating for two days and left this world. It was a mass in his stomach, causing him nothing but pain and sickness. And yet he was still a good boy, mischief-making, loving on his chosen family and swashbuckling with the dogs until his very last breath.

King George, king of our hearts, prince of our yard, forever.