Tuesday, 27 October 2009

Reigning cats and dogs

I grew up in a household where both cats and dogs were equally cherished as family pets. When I went to live with my mother, she refused my pleas to be allowed at least a cat. That all changed when we were at breakfast one day and I poured out cornflakes into a bowl. Instead of a plastic toy, a live mouse fell out and raced up my arm, prompting screams from me and an instant decision by my mother that we needed a rodent exterminator in the form of a cat. Tiger the tabby cat she bought me, was so proud of his efforts, he would line the staircase with the tiny decapitated bodies of his hunting trophies. Staying at a country cottage years later, I awoke to find two ginger cats sitting on my bed and playing with the breakfast they had so thoughtfully provided me with: the hind quarters of a field vole.

When we moved house, my mother decided that Tiger could not come with us and killed him. I never asked how. A lack of space and ready access to the garden made me reluctant to get a cat as an adult. That did not stop a friend who lived in a light airy studio flat. Out of the blue she went to the local cats’ home and came back with a moggy. Then she decided that the moggy, who she would not allow outside, needed a companion and then another and another until she had at least 6 cats sharing her accommodation. Hence her subsequent nickname of the Catwoman. The cat charity had approved her home but some of the cats, from time to time, voted with their paws and made a break for it. One, on the day he first arrived, managed to squeeze through the tiny gap at the bottom of the partially open sash window, ran down the wall and escaped to freedom. Despite catching occasional glimpses of him in the neighbourhood, he refused to be recaptured.
"He won't starve", I comforted her. “People will always feed and water him.”

When I lived in rented accommodation, a beautiful white pedigree cat used to slip into the house whenever I returned home from work and opened the front door.It would make its way to my bedsit to while a way an hour or two on my bedspread and cushions until returning home, wherever that was. I never fed it but one day I caught it going into another flat and realised it probably went from house to house, being petted and generally indulged at every home it was allowed in to, before retiring to its owners for the night.

Another of the Catwoman’s moggies escaped down scaffolding the builders had left outside. This time the cat returned of its own volition. Despite my efforts at persuasion, she would not allow her cats out for fear of them being poisoned or shot at with air rifles, although she would take out one cat at a time on a lead around the local park.

Cats on leads are a bizarre phenomenon of city life. The Couple have a pedigree cat called Bruce, also known as Our Mouser in Chief, thanks to his sterling efforts at ridding the house of the mice problem, which had hitherto plagued us ever since the site next door was allowed to slide into ruin. Bruce has the run of a spacious flat during the day when at least one of the Couple is present. Owing to the main road outside the house, he is only allowed out in the garden on a lead, which extends around the upper part of his torso as well as his neck. As I was talking the cat for its morning constitutional and was chatting with his owner, Bruce decided to squeeze through the boundary fence into the site next door. I tried to pull the cat back but Bruce somehow manipulated himself out of the leash and ran towards the neighbouring house. With an almighty effort I squeezed my less than cat like proportions through the gap and chased after him, worried that he would get into the derelict house and I would be forced to follow him. Fortunately, having shown who was boss, Bruce allowed me to pick him up without a struggle and return him home.

In my fantasy house I would have a cat and a rescued greyhound or two. I have become particularly drawn to the latter ever since I was first invited to look after Ellie, my friends’ greyhound, whose picture is shown above. But that is a shaggy dog story for another time.