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Literature / Stray

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They were happy days, I suppose, but for me the days of pure and true happiness will always be the days in that bedroom, when it was just cats and no human interruptions.

Stray by A.N. Wilson is a 1987 book about the life of a stray cat dubbed Pufftail. Pufftail is old by stray cat standards. He's lived longer than most strays and has a lot of experience. When his grandson Kitchener asks him about his life, Pufftail tells the kitten about his long and rough life.

In 1988 it received a sequel in The Tabitha Stories (also known as Tabitha), which consists of five stories about Pufftail's daughter Tabitha.

Not to be confused with the game of the same name, which also features a cat.

These books provide examples of:

  • Animal Talk: For some animals, but not all:
    • Pufftail can understand various animals, including rats and budgies.
    • Subverted with dogs. They can't understand cats and cats can't understand them. It's possible that they can't even speak.
    • Tabitha can understand her owner's guinea pig Doris.
  • Animal Testing: Pufftail spent roughly a month in a laboratory that tested on animals. They're shown to have tested shampoos, lipstick, and cigarettes, as well as tested sleeplessness on cats.
  • Call a Rabbit a "Smeerp": Pufftail refers to some things by his own names, such as calling televisions "electrical picture boxes" and cigars/cigarettes "paper chimneys" (with smoking being called "smoke-breathing"). He also refers to death as "the Great Stillness".
  • Cats Are Superior: Pufftail has a haughty attitude about cats, believing kittens to be the most endearing creatures in the universe and comparing cats to gods.
  • Cult: The Commune is a feral cat colony that Pufftail is forced into. The cats live in a hierarchy where they're under the leadership of a seemingly all-powerful cat named Tom-Cat. Pufftail considers the entire community, with its near Hive Mind and its usage of naming cats, as wholly unnatural.
  • Dies Wide Open: Tammy was hit by a car and died with her eyes open.
  • Disappeared Dad: This is the norm for cats. Pufftail is the rare exception, as he's in his adult daughter Tabitha's life (but not the rest of his dozens of children).
  • Dogs Are Dumb: Pufftail has this viewpoint on dogs because they're so devoted to their humans and feel Happiness in Slavery (according to Pufftail's words).
  • Embarrassing First Name:
    • Pufftail hates being called that. He considers himself nameless and deems "Pufftail" to be a nickname.
    • Pufftail's first owner called his brother "Bootsie". Pufftail himself was named "Fluffie". Pufftail especially hates both names.
  • Eye Scream:
    • Pufftail and some other lab cats had shampoo routinely put in their eyes to see whether it was safe for humans. Some of the cats ultimately went blind.
    • A cat, who Pufftail thinks was Tom-Cat, had his eyelids cut off in order to test the effects of sleeplessness.
  • Gender-Blender Name: Nuns temporarily took in Pufftail and named him "Matilda". The name stayed even after realizing he was a tom.
  • Happiness in Slavery: Pufftail detests how dogs are more-than-happy to be subservient to humans, which Pufftail sees as a lesser race than dogs.
  • I Have Many Names: Pufftail has been called many names throughout his life. Fluffie, Matilda, Pufftail...
  • Heroic Sacrifice: A nameless orange kitten sacrificed himself so that Pufftail and a few kittens could escape the animal lab. He distracted the dogs while the other cats ran.
  • Humans Are Bastards: Pufftail knows that most humans are well-meaning but he's had too many negative encounters with humans to be owned by one. He thinks they're silly and unusual creatures, so he prefers the more sensible company of his own kind. Pufftail mentions more than once that humans are the cruelest of all beings when they want to be.
  • Humans Are Smelly: Pufftail finds humans to smell dreadfully horrible. Pets only learn to tolerate it.
  • Humans Are Ugly: To Pufftail, humans can't hold a candle to a cat's beauty. Humans are coarse, ugly, and oddly proportioned things.
  • Humans by Any Other Name:
    • Though they're usually called humans, sometimes Pufftail addresses humans as "two-footers".
    • Pufftail comes across a cat colony. The cats in the Commune call humans "Yoomans".
  • Innocence Lost: Pufftail was a bright-eyed and innocent kitten until he was taken away from his mother.
  • Lighter and Softer: The Tabitha Stories is aimed at younger readers under ten. It is predominantly about Tabitha as a kitten.
  • The Lost Lenore: Pufftail has only romantically loved one female in his life. Tammy was his One True Love but he lost her only a few months after meeting her. She was hit by a car one night.
  • Mature Animal Story: Stray is about a stray cat called Pufftail who tells his grandson about his life. It features some cursing, sexual references, and violence towards animals.
  • Meaningful Name:
    • Kitchener was named by the humans because he spends so much time in his home's kitchen.
    • Pufftail gets his name from his permanently puffy tail.
    • Miss Harris named Pufftail "Fluffie" due to his thick fur. His black-and-white brother was named "Bootsie" because he had white "boots".
  • Messy Hair: In the first chapter, Tabitha makes fun of her father's fur for being so messy. Pufftail is an old stray so he isn't as well-kept as his pet family members.
  • No Fathers Allowed: Pufftail's daughter Tabitha is unusual in that she's close to him. Most cats don't know their fathers. Tabitha's own son Kitchener was the result of a short fling with an unnamed roaming tom. Pufftail himself says that he doesn't understand why humans seem so obsessed with their adult children. To him, it's unnatural for parents to care about, or even think much about, their offspring. He likely has hundreds of children but doesn't care to meet them. Pufftail is close to Tabitha because she's different from the others.
  • No Need for Names: Pufftail doesn't believe cats need names. He refuses a name, but everyone calls him "Pufftail" anyway.
  • One-Night-Stand Pregnancy: Like most cat matings, Tabitha became pregnant through little more than a quick fling. Kitchener's father came from far away the previous summer. He howled for her on top of the shed and they spent a few nights together, but he quickly went on his way and Tabitha doesn't expect to see him again.
  • One-Word Title: Stray is named after the fact that it's a story about a stray cat.
  • A Pet into the Wild: Pufftail was born a pet and would have likely stayed a happy pet if his life had gone better. However, he's a stray and has no desire to permanently live with humans.
  • Pets Versus Strays: In Pufftail's mind, the ideal life for a cat is to be independent of humans. Cats should be feral and live on their own, but he realizes that most cats in his area are "pathetically dependent" on humans.
  • Really Gets Around: Pufftail and his brother Bootsie courted many females in their youth. Pufftail mentions that few females in his neighborhood didn't know either him or Bootsie. Pufftail has potentially hundreds of children.
  • Red Eyes, Take Warning: The cats in the Commune have red eyes. Pufftail instantly knows there's something fake and dangerous about them. A few attack him, steal his food, and force him to join their Commune.
  • Stray Animal Story: Pufftail is a stray cat and spends most of the story on the streets. He'll slip through house Number Twelve's cat flap and sleep in their kitchen when it's too cold but he's too proud and independent to be anyone's pet.
  • Spin-Offspring: The Tabitha Stories is about Pufftail's daughter Tabitha from kittenhood to adulthood.
  • Stock Animal Name:
    • Pufftail's first owner named him "Fluffie" for his thick, fluffy coat.
    • Pufftail's brother was a black-and-white cat with white "stockings", so he was named "Bootsie".
    • Pufftail once attempted to court a white Persian named "Princess".
  • Strong Family Resemblance: Tabitha looks exactly like her mother Tammy. It's a major reason why Pufftail is so close to her.
  • Teen Pregnancy: Pufftail's daughter Tabitha is one year old and already has had a litter the previous year. This is mentioned as being slightly unusual.
  • This Is My Human: Pufftail often refers to his owners as "minders". They don't own cats, they just take care of them. Elsewhere, however, he notes that pets have owners.
  • Unexpectedly Human Perception: Pufftail can distinguish red, which is a color that cats can't see.
  • Unreliable Narrator: Pufftail's narration isn't always accurate. There's a smugness to him that makes it likely that he gets details wrong or paints things differently than what actually happened. He also thinks that all cats have the same viewpoint of him on things like being a pet and having names.
  • Xenofiction: The story is from the POV of an old stray tabby as he tells his often-unfortunate life to his grandson. Pufftail has been abused, mistreated, and abandoned during his life.

Alternative Title(s): The Tabitha Stories, Tabitha