‘Shall we get a cat then?’
No-one was more surprised than me when I uttered these words to my husband at the beginning of October last year. We’d been talking about getting a pet for years but failed to commit. There’s always a good reason not to get a pet.
For the past ten years, I have used the excuse of small children. They effectively serve as pets in their constant need to be fed, kept clean and played with. They can also be toilet-trained, thereby for me, offering a key advantage.
My children have wanted a pet ever since they were able to talk. As their other friends got pets, I was always ready with a new excuse relative to the animal in question.
‘Macey has a guinea-pig.’
‘Too small and squeaky.’
‘Eva’s got rabbits.’
Which promptly got eaten by a fox, providing me with a ready-made get-out clause.
‘Ella’s got tortoises.’
I struggled here as actually, tortoises are very cool – a prehistoric-type pet, which you have to hibernate them over the winter – these are animals I can relate to.
Really though, I wanted a dog. I’ve always wanted a dog ever since my Dad said I couldn’t have a dog and bought me a rabbit to shut me up.
I did love the rabbit though. He was fierce and grey. He used to scare foxes away by thumping on the floor of his hutch or throwing his metal food bowl.
Once we took him to the vets and a dog in the waiting room started to howl at the smell of rabbit. Smokey (for that was his name) thumped with aggressive persistence until we opened the box, whereupon he poked out his head, giving the dog such a look of rabbity terror (don’t mock until you’ve experienced it – think Paddington bear stare with an edge of Watership Down carnage), that the poor hound recoiled in horror.
Anyway, scary rabbits to one side, in the cat versus dog debate, I have always been a dog person. My husband is a cat person. In the spirit of marital harmony, we decided that we would work towards owning both but that, for practical reasons, the cat should come first.
Being a wise man, my husband realised that he had to let me decide the right time for the cat. I was the one who needed to get my head around the idea of becoming a cat owner.
I think my essential issue with cats is that I am jealous of them. They’ve got life sussed. They get food when they want it, attention when they feel like it and then just do their own thing when they don’t. They spend most of their time sleeping in a warm place, ideally under a radiator, by a fire or in a handy patch of sun. I for one, want to come back as a big fat Tabby living with a kind old lady, who likes to over-indulge me and always has the heating on. Happy life sorted.
So we found a cat, a kitten to be precise because I was determined that if we did this, we did it properly. Our first family pet would be a cute kitten arriving at Christmas for the children to love and adore.
I warned my husband that I was prepared to embrace the idea of the kitten but couldn’t promise any more than that.
The kitten arrived two days before Christmas. He was tiny and black with wonky blue eyes and a face like a bear. He seemed very relaxed as he sauntered into our lives. The children were over-joyed. My husband was like a teenager in the first flush of new love. I felt a bit like I had when I’d first become a mother – worrying if he was warm enough, was he getting enough food and what on earth were worming tablets (actually that is less of an issue with a baby tbh).
I booked a precautionary trip to the vet. The vet was relaxed. He chuckled as he placed the kitten on the gigantic weighing-machine. The cat weighed
400 grams – less than two pats of butter. The vet suggested kitten milk to help build him up a little.
Christmas day started well. It was fun having a kitten. We held a democratic vote and finally decided to name him, ‘Buddy.’
Buddy was quite sleepy during the afternoon but then everyone is sleepy on Christmas Day afternoon. We gave him some kitten milk later on. He lapped it up and then threw it up. As the evening wore on, he became even sleepier. He fell asleep in his litter tray. He couldn’t walk anywhere without falling over. As kittens aren’t regular pub-goers, we became concerned.
After the children were tucked up in bed, my husband and I started to get very worried. We began to use words like, ‘listless,’ and ‘dehydration.’ We tried and failed to give him water.
I cradled him in my arms as tears pricked my eyes. ‘I never wanted a bloody cat,’ I told him. ‘And now look what you’ve done. Don’t you dare die. You’ve got to grow up so that you can go out into the world and bring back a huge mouse to make me scream. I love you, you little bugger.’
My husband phoned the vet, his face pale with worry. It became even paler when the vet told him how much it would cost to treat a kitten on Christmas Day. We shrugged at one another. We had no choice. He took him to the vet and we spent twenty four hours fretting. Finally, the call came late afternoon on Boxing Day. Buddy was okay. I went and stood in the garden and had a little cry.
A month on, he’s doubled in size and behaves like a toddler. He is an original ankle-biter. He likes to skip and gambol just in front of my feet making it impossible to walk normally. He is currently sitting on my lap as I type this, sleeping, his breath steady and a little bit squeaky.
I was telling a good friend about him the other day.
‘How’s the cat?’ he asked.
‘Cute. Annoying,’ I replied.
‘Just like having a child then,’ he observed. ‘With the childhood part all done in one year.’
‘Huh,’ I said. ‘I hadn’t thought of it like that but yes, that’s exactly what it’s like.’
So there you have it, I am a reluctant pet owner with a toddler cat. Now if you’ll excuse me, I need to go and play with him – they grow up so fast these days.
Then it’ll be time to get a puppy.