My cats are a huge part of my life: they totally own the entire house, and wherever I go, they are there. When I’m on my laptop, they surround me, sleeping on my chair or on the laptop itself. They know the way to get my attention is to crawl over the keyboard and edit my work.
There’s always a debate between pet owners about dogs and cats, which is better. Dogs are loyal, affectionate, but they need constant walking. Cats are stubborn, independent and low maintenance, until they bring in the dead and dump it at their owners’ feet. Owners – who am I kidding? A dog may have a master or a mistress but a cat is king or queen of the castle.
I have three cats. I’ve always had three, it’s a good number, and most of my cats have been black; one reason for this is they are the hardest to home, apparently. Usually my cats are male, although my two best cats ever were female. One used to sit next to me when I was feeding my babies, a paw on my arm. She was there because I had no mum and she knew I needed one. The other was a beautiful cat I found in Liverpool. She was in my friends’’ back yard and, once I’d discovered she was an unchipped starving stray, I brought her home. She sat on my knee purring throughout the entire journey. She trusted me totally; she was the sweetest, most loyal cat and I loved her to bits. She was found dead in my drive, run over, less than two years after I brought her home. I still haven’t got over it.
We used to own a big boy called The Dude; I rescued him from a man who was going to put him in a carrier bag and dump him over a wall. He was a real character. Totally affectionate, he’d lie on his back on your knee, paws stretched out. An hour later, he’d bring a rabbit in and disembowel it across the kitchen floor. He was a legend.
But now we have the three renegades or, more truthfully, we have the feral peril and Colin. Colin is twelve now and becoming crotchety. His proper name is Colin Feral, but he’s not feral, although the barrel brothers, Monty and Murphy are. More of them later. Col’s absolutely gorgeous, with his huge green eyes, but he’s vacuous, unintelligent and moody. I think the world of him. He’s an affectionate boy mostly, but he can be cantankerous and he growls a lot. When I’m lying in front of the fire, he’ll come along and sit in front of my face. If I ignore him, he thwacks me gently with his paw. It’s a signal to give him biscuits – you know the ones, those biscuits the makers must put catnip or cocaine in, because cats can’t resist them and keep asking for more.
Colin is lovely but weird. He likes to get into boxes, or hide in sheets of paper, or sit in baskets that are far too small for him, then he gets stuck. I guess that it reminds him of being a kitten in a cardboard box with his mum. Who knows?
Colin has the weirdest habit. He likes me to sing ‘Country Roads’ by John Denver. I always sing it loudly, belting out the high notes, and he yowls at me and joins in, or maybe he’s telling me to stop. His favourite trick happens when I sing it in the bath. He’ll leap up, walk around the bath, shout at me and thwack me with his paw or bite me, although never hard or in anger. He’s just John Denver’s biggest fan, although it’s not my sort of music – I only sing it for Colin. He is bonkers! One day he’ll fall in…
My other two cats are brothers and they aren’t four years old yet. They are becoming really fat and I’ve put them both on a diet. Monty, or TC as I call him, and Murphy came to me after my sweetest cat was run over. My daughter said ‘Well, it’s a shame, but there are other cats out there who need a home. Come on…’ and she found them on a local site. They spent their formative years feral, and a kind man kept them for six months in a caravan to give them a sense of home and normality. No-one else wanted them. TC is black and Murphy has white paws. They are both tough bruisers and because of their difficult beginning, feeding is a real issue. TC is greedy – he steals everyone’s food, especially the other cats’, although Colin does put his foot down, but Murphy is left begging for more with the most soulful expression if I don’t supervise feeding time. TC will leap up at breakfast time and swipe my toast and Marmite and run away, while Murphy sits next to me and looks sorry for himself.
I think Murphy must have been the runt. He lets TC walk all over him, steal his food, then he cries like a baby for more. He’s the most intelligent; he’ll perform tricks for those addictive biscuits I just mentioned. And he has something of the dog in him – he’ll come for a run with me, or he’ll walk the three miles around the local woods, trotting next to me, sitting quietly inside my coat when Dottie the Rottie passes with her owners out for their daily constitutional. Both brothers are highly affectionate, but their feral origins have left a mark. All the love is food based: there’s no real fondness after they’ve had a meal. TC will lift a paw and cock his head to one side to beg; Murphy will roll on his back and show his white knickers, but the cuteness is all about food. They won’t sit on a knee and purr, not for anything.
TC and Murphy are thieves. Murphy has been known to steal onions, curry, papadums, bread, chips. At Christmas time, I caught him stealing a chocolate truffle from a box. He was half way through it when I took it off him. Now they are both on diets and they don’t like it. Enough said.
Colin doesn’t like the other two cats. He tolerates them and growls a lot, but he wants to be number one. There’s a lot of jealousy – if Colin finds a nice spot in the house he likes, one of the barrel brothers will be in it five minutes later. There’s no love lost, so all the extra love comes from me, but I make sure it’s all affection based and not to do with food.
The three of them are great fun and, although at the moment they have their winter weight, when summer comes they will be lighter, running around outside, hunting, lying in the grass. One of the neighbours called TC and Murphy ‘the feral peril’ and the label stuck; they both venture from home, eating rabbits, annoying sheep, nosing in the post man’s van, lying in the middle of the road to stop passing tractors. They worry me.
But my cats are a big a part of home. They are never too far away at this time of year. They hog the space in the rug next to the fire or the warmest spot on the bed, close enough for company but just out of reach of a stretched arm. It’s at this point that I think a loyal dog, with soulful eyes gazing up, would be nice. I’ve always said that my life style wouldn’t accommodate a dog fairly, and my cats would be very unhappy with it, but maybe, one day.
For now, I have Colin and the feral pair. They are no trouble really, and they provide a great deal of fun. They make me laugh, they are mischievous, audacious and loveable. I’ve put my foot down, so they no longer eat me out of house and home, and all the headbutts in the world won’t make me part with my toast or those addictive biscuits. I want to keep the cats for as long as they can and, although there’s a fine line between happiness and indulgence, they are discovering what diets mean. They are adorable, imperfect, rude to visitors and, the worst thing, they love to kill. I won’t tell you what TC regurgitated whole in front of me once, and Murphy showed off his hunting prowess by slaughtering a baby rabbit inches from my toes as I tried to rescue it. This is a big down side – most dogs don’t do it. And yesterday TC left a claw in Colin’s face – I know it was TC because he was missing one. It’s worse than having naughty children.
But all this is what we sign up for when we take on pets. The rough with the smooth, and the unpredictable. And we wouldn’t have it any other way, because we love them, flaws and paws and all.