I don’t think I’ve mentioned here, though it will be no surprise to my Facebook friends, that since July last year I’ve been sharing my home with a cat. So what? you may ask. An awful lot of people do. Yes, but I’ve never had one before and always thought I much preferred dogs – though I haven’t had a dog for many years. My house is home to furry friends of a less animate variety, including of course the ever-helpful Adelina – but a cat??
The decision to get one crept up on me. I started to notice that nearly all my friends had cats and I enjoyed having them around (the cats, I mean, as well as the friends). Then I realised that although I’ve lived on my own for a very long time, I was feeling a bit lonely. And, strange as it may seem, images of cats – big ones and small ones – were coming to me in meditation or when I wasn’t thinking about anything else. It took a while to acknowledge that something was definitely telling me I wanted a cat in my life, despite dire warnings from a cat-averse friend about shredded furniture, cat food all over the floor, disgusting cat litter and the general unhygienicness and inconvenience of having any kind of animal (other than human) in one’s home.
It wasn’t till some time later that I was ready to go, with a cat-loving friend, to the Cats Protection home and – with some trepidation – actually choose one. I’d decided I wanted a mature, quiet female but ended up with a lively (neutered) male kitten, called Koala because of the big black smudge round his nose. Here he is in his little cubicle, looking even more cute than in the photo above. My friend was very clear that the cat would choose me, not the other way round, and that’s what happened. As soon as the cubicle door was opened, he came bounding out on to my shoulders and seemed to like it there. The cat next door, older and more sedate, also seemed to take to me, but when I thought about it, I knew it had to be Koala. So the following week my friend (now his god(dess)mother) and I brought him back here in his new cat carrier. And then all the fun began of trying to extricate a small and inquisitive kitten from places where he wasn’t supposed to be, like the kitchen table (he still thinks it’s his), the saucepan cupboard, the dishwasher and the bookshelves. Once he was big enough to go out it was a lot easier, with one major caveat (see below).
I have to say that this furry purry creature has completely stolen my heart. I’ve come to expect his nibbling and nuzzling first thing in the morning (not to mention a few affectionate nips with his very sharp teeth) and his jumping on to my lap or shoulder. I understand (or think I do) whether he’s miaowing for food or for some other reason, and I talk to him, sometimes nonsense and sometimes whatever I happen to be thinking.He’s amazingly confident and friendly with humans and doesn’t seem to be afraid of anything. He’s even come into some of my clients’ sessions, much to their delight, though I have to remove him if he starts playing with them too roughly. His first birthday is coming up next week and several people have told me he’s now the cat equivalent of a teenager. Well yes, that figures…
Being such a confident and well-adjusted cat, he’s not scared to exercise his hunting instincts. It started with the odd vole or shrew and a little bird or two, but recently this sweet, adorable creature whom people make such a fuss of has become a bird-killer par excellence. I won’t list all the species he’s had a go at but there are, I’m sorry to say, quite a few, all birds I would have loved to have alive in my garden. It’s more upsetting that he’s not killing them for food: he just seems to enjoy playing with the little corpses and batting them round the room, then forgets about them and leaves them on the carpet, feathers strewn everywhere. I sweep them up and hoover away the feathers, hoping and praying he won’t do it again too soon. When we had snow I foolishly let him out, and of course that gave him some nice easy prey. Now I’m trying to keep him in between dusk and dawn, the birds’ most vulnerable times, but he’s still managed to get a couple of sparrows in the afternoon. Other than keeping him shut in all day and all night, which seems cruel to him, I don’t know what to do. I don’t want to be responsible for adding to the decline in bird numbers and I wouldn’t want to lose my dear little friend, who has become an important being in my life.
“Well, he’s a cat,” some of my cat-loving friends say. “That’s what they do.” And it is. All cats are hunters, from the smallest to the biggest, and we can’t change their nature. According to the RSPB, the birds that cats catch may be on the whole those that are weaker or already dying of natural causes, but there isn’t any proper research to show that’s so. Nevertheless the RSBP estimate that in the UK domestic cats kill something like 55 million birds a year, which is an awful lot of birds. The problem is that the domestic cat isn’t part of the local ecosystem but has been introduced through human intervention. The species seems to originate from the Middle East and cats have lived alongside humans for a very long time, seemingly with mutual benefits. But then humans aren’t great news for the local ecosystem either.
I’m quite ambivalent about the idea of having a ‘pet’. I prefer the term ‘animal companion’, which has less dominating overtones. At the same there’s no doubt that this animal has to fit into my life and, to quite an extent, do what I want. The reason he’s been neutered is that that way he’ll cause less smell and disruption in a human environment – and also, of course, that he won’t be able to sire unwanted kittens. But what right do I/we have to do that to an animal? And, as I’ve said above, by stopping him killing birds I’m fighting against his feline nature and trying to make him be what I want him to be. We all tend to anthropomorphise animals, whether we mean to or not, and I notice myself treating Koala and feeling towards him in a way that’s very similar to the way I’d feel towards a small child. I didn’t set out to get myself a child – or grandchild – substitute, but inevitably I’m making him into an honorary human, just as, when he rubs his head against me or ‘grooms’ my fingers, he’s making me into an honorary cat. And it’s lovely and feels like a real relationship, and all the time another bit of me wonders if really it’s all wrong. Unlike domestic dogs, domestic cats could fend for themselves in the wild, so by feeding and housing him am I juar alienating him from his real nature for my own benefit? Or am I making sure that this creature has a long, well-fed and happy life, for his benefit as well as mine?
Either way, here we are, Koala and I, getting along together and trying to find a modus vivendi that’s possible for us and the other creatures around us – and perhaps not quite succeeding yet. But he is awfully cute (she said anthropomorphically) and if you met him I’m sure you’d like him.