I Thought I Saw A … Yep! Oh Most Assuredly! 1996
It would be quite a few years on from the December 1993 sighting before l would see my next big cat and that occured in November 1996. At that time l was living in Market Deeping in Lincolnshire, England a few months before l would move to live in Baston. I was running a small operation of commercial breeding of gerbils, mice, rats and hamsters for Pets at Home the group and l was based in an ex butcher’s shop that had at one time been home to the town’s slaughterhouse [behind the shop].
Looking at the map today of Bridge street in the Deeping’s market town, the shop and farm behind have disappeared and indeed that whole area has changed dramatically – why would it not have, l am writing about 24 years ago. Market Deeping back then was a growing town, and all these years on, l can see that it has grown expotentially since the later 90’s.
The shop’s front door was on Bridge street and just across the ways was the River Welland – l had to enter from the front and exit from the front, and although l had a side door and a back door these had shelving units and racks in front of them so l couldn’t use them. Beside the property, right beside the side door was the farm’s entrance into the old slaughterhouse and this area was mostly made up of old barns and bushes, cow stables and pens and a whole host of agricultural storage items.
Whilst l didn’t have any animals out back, l did have the use of one of the barns for storage facilities and here l kept bales of shavings and hay and straw. I had some old racking units here as well which were waiting to be moved into the building l worked from. I worked alone, in fact most of my career working with animals l worked by myself preferring my own company and that of animals in comparison to humans. But on occasion l would bring Lucy along. She was a German Shepherd crossed with a Rotty, although she was more GSD than Rottweiler as you can see by the image below.
She was a very quiet dog until ruffled, a little timid, but good company and very social – the other thing she was ‘was alert’, she was an exceptional guard dog even if she was a bit of a wussy. So if there were people outside the shop, because the old shop wasn’t far from The Bell Tavern, and occasionally people liked to knock on the doors and try and spook me. Sometimes l used to work really late and not get home until 3 in the morning – so late night drinkers just kicked out of the pub would like to cause a ruckuss at times and if there was a dog barking they tended to steer clear.
This particular night that l was attending to the animals, l had walked back down from the house in Horsegate [l only lived 20 minutes away at a slow walking pace] to double up on some of the bedding as the old shop although it had thicker walls was still cold and l didn’t want to lose any of the young animals due to the temperature set to drop. So l had left the house around 8ish with Lucy and we arrived at the shop not long before twenty past the hour.
I left Lucy in the shop part of the building, and went around the side to the five bar gate, climbed over and went into the big barn where l kept my bales of shavings in. There was a small glow from the back door outside light being on, but l had a torch with me and so l was using that to sort out what l needed. Occasionally jumping when a huge rat would suddenly appear and stare at me in curiosity.
As l was working and at that time l was being watched by a group of rats in the stable next to me who were feeding on something or the other that l couldn’t make out and didn’t really wish to know. Suddenly they all squealed and scuppered. They had heard exactly the same thing l had, a large shuffling movement in the shrubbery behind the barn itself. I thought maybe it might have been a fox and so l made a noise – ‘whistling screech’ through my teeth to let the animal know l was there and l heard a ‘growl’ in return.
Well, l can tell you now, ever since the 1993 growl, l didn’t need to be told twice in growl language what that was! So l stood stock still for a while to get my bearings and then seeing a piece of wood not far to me, grabbed it and banged it on the side of the barn … the noise that followed was enough to tell me that whatever it was ‘had moved’ but it hadn’t moved off at speed, the noises, were just noises to dictate it had moved….
I am not one of these dumb ass fellows that needs to investigate danger zones and with the experience l had, l knew that l had to basically finish off and get into the building quickish!
So l started to drag the bale of shavings out that l came out for, making as much noise as l could. Big cats don’t like prey making noise. I knew l wasn’t the prey, it may have been a rabbit, may have been the rats themselves it was after – as farm rats are big and some are like low to the ground kittens in size – so that’s a meal to some animals!
I dragged the bale to the gate, hoisted it over the five bar, hopped over myself and then made my way to the front door, as l was approaching that area, suddenly Lucy started off, really kicking the noise up with her frantic barking – she was at the back of the building and judging by the noise was right by the back door. She had obviously got around to the door by wriggling under the racking and now l could hear her scratching on the back door itself. Hardly comforting l thought as l struggle walked the giant bale closer and closer to the front door … but literally within inches of reaching out for the door handle, l heard a growl right behind me – l dropped the bale, swung around with my torch and swung the beam in front of me.
Right across the road perhaps twenty foot away the beam caught a shape, a large shape and briefly the beam caught the glint of an eye! Well l dropped that bale and flung myself through the door and once in, locked it behind me.
I waited for an hour before l opened the door again, l had been right behind that door waiting for some huge launch against the wood … but none came. Once l retrieved the bale of shavings and attended to the breeding units requirements, l locked up and proceeded to walk home with Lucy.
It was about 3 in the morning and both of us all the way home were apprehensive – something wasn’t right, something wasn’t right at all …
… once home, it was way too late to try and explain it to my then wife. But the next day, l had a phone call from a lady who said she would like to speak to me about the animals l was breeding and did l sell frozen rodent stocks for reptiles?
I answered with that l was purely a ‘livestock breeder for the pet market’. But we got to talking and she proceeded to tell me about an incident she had the previous night. She ran a exotic animal rescue centre [l have written about her before in many of my animal tales] and from where l was with the old butcher’s shop she was less than three miles away and the previous night had lost a sheep to a large black cat – well then we started to really talk!
More in Part 4