Our columnist Olly Mann begins the New Year with a dilemma of the feline variety... 

My wife wants to rescue a cat

I’ve always been suspicious of this terminology—surely for it to count as a ‘rescue’, you have to jump into a burning building, or dive into a muddy lagoon, or salvage a struggling kitten from the train tracks seconds before the moment of impact? 

Driving down the road to the RSPCA and handing over a hundred quid for a second-hand moggy whose every movement has been logged for weeks doesn’t feel like much of a rescue. But, I realise people like to feel good about themselves, so let’s leave language to one side. 

I’m not keen. Which feels a strange thing to say, because if you were to visit my home for just a few seconds, you’d realise I am generally very keen on cats. On my desk in front of me now, for example, is a cat calendar. It’s one of those page-a-day jobs, so is, in effect, a box full of 365 colour photos of various different felines. 

Tearing off each page, thereby revealing a new cat to enjoy for the day, is a highlight of my mornings. Above said desk, looking down on me as I type, is a Marc Tetro portrait of a British Shorthair lolloping about on a computer keyboard. On the wall behind me hangs a giant canvas print of our cat, Coco, sprawled on my bed, showing off a pink diamante collar that spells out her name. 

 

We love Coco

Nothing is too good for her. We buy top-of-the-range cat food; the stuff you only get at the vets—even though she seems just as content eating spleen and mouse anus (as long as it’s fresh). When I’m cooking fish for dinner, one-third is automatically put aside for Coco. 

When we go on holiday, Coco attends one of those ridiculous catteries that bills itself as a ‘cat hotel’, as if she is actually going to make use of the split-level cage, ‘spacious chalet’ and ‘themed play area’, rather than curl up in a basin for a fortnight and get fat. 

So, in the abstract, my answer to the question, ‘would you like to get another cat?’, would be, emphatically, yes. Yes, I would like another sofa companion to stroke as I watch Dragon’s Den at one in the morning. Yes, I would like another bundle of fluff against my feet on a cold winter’s night. Yes, I would like to make doubly sure the rats do not return to the garage. 

 

 

"I cling to my instinct that tiny little fish don’t have the same comprehension of their own mortality as a cat—but, killing dozens at once has haunted me for years"

 

 

All of the above: yes, yes, yes. 

But, as a responsible pet-owner, I feel we must consider what Coco might say about the matter, if she were granted a voice. Because cats are essentially solitary creatures. Sure, if they come as a pair—if they’re siblings and have never been apart—then they may enjoy each other’s company, a bit. 

But if they’ve spent years alone, and are used to getting all the territory, and food, and cuddles, and then are forced to co-habit with another feline, then… at best, surely, they are going to tolerate each other. Most likely, they’re going to hate each other, and cats are basically psychopaths, so who knows how deep that hatred will go?

 

I don’t want to put Coco through that 

She’s already had to live three out of her thirteen years in a second-floor flat with no access to the outside world. She’s already had to suffer the indignity of being put on ‘diet’ food because she let herself go a bit (we got a new sofa that year; she had to put in the hours to make it her own). 

More recently, she’s had to adjust to the arrival of my son, which means no more sleeping upstairs (too close to baby’s nursery for comfort), and no more relaxing in her basket without a dribbling, screaming menace approaching her at speed to tear chunks out of her coat because he thinks it’s funny. She’s had to put up with all this. She would choose to be left alone.

I hope all this ‘responsible pet owner’ business doesn’t make me sound pious. It’s just that I used to be a highly irresponsible pet owner, so I’ve noted the change in myself. In my early twenties, my flatmate and I thought it would be fun to get a tropical fish bowl. 

We filled it with about twenty neon tetras, some little frogs and sharks, some living coral, some neon decorations and a heated filter, shoved a load of fish food in, and went away for the weekend. When we came back, they were ALL dead. I cling to my instinct that tiny little fish don’t have the same comprehension of their own mortality as a cat—but, killing dozens at once has haunted me for years.

I tried to put those poor fish to the back of my mind yesterday, when we went to the rescue kennels. (I’d made my feelings clear, but my wife wanted to ‘take a look’.) Inevitably, we fell in love. 

Bobby is his name, and he’s white with ginger socks. He purred at us through the glass. He’s in isolation at the moment, whilst they run medical tests on him, but in a few day’s time we can go back and get him, if we want, first come first served. 

Someone rescue me, pronto.

 

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