It's a Mann's world: You've got to be kitten me

Olly Mann

This month Olly Mann embarks on a surprisingly complex mission to find some new furry friends…

We are in the market for a new cat. To write such a thing feels like an act of betrayal, because our current cat (can one have a “current” cat? Is it like having a “current” wife?), Coco, is very much alive. I adore her. For the first five years of our relationship, she literally slept between my legs on a nightly basis.

But I have to face facts: she is now 15 years old. We require perhaps not a Coco replacement, then, but a Coco replenishment; a feline companion for her twilight years, who will assume pole position only in the hopefully-distant-event of her death. An heir apparent. A Prince of Wales cat.

The problem is that our criteria for choosing a successor cat differ wildly from Coco’s criteria for cohabiting with a creature whom she won’t want to claw to death. This is a little hard for me to get my dumb human head around, because Coco is fairly low maintenance in her dealings with us. For instance, she nonchalantly endures a romp around our sitting room, pursued by my toddler wielding a toy hammer, on a daily basis. She survived virtually the whole winter in a kitchen cupboard when our house was being refurbished, and didn’t run away. She genuinely appears to enjoy our company, typically choosing to curl up wherever we are, despite numerous alternative sofas and beds in the vicinity. She’s easy-going.

But, on those occasions when a neighbour’s cat has appeared in the garden, she turns primal. The back arches up, the tail thrusts and a sub-mammal screech sounds from her gut. I don’t speak cat, but it’s fairly clear what the sound means, and it’s not printable in a family publication. Nothing in her demeanour on these occasions suggests she would, given the opportunity, invite said intruder into the house to share her food and drop fleas in her basket.

"After much hand wringing, I decided it would probably be wrong to put my own son up for adoption just so we could get a couple more cats"

With this in mind, I made the gentlest of enquiries with Doctor Google, searching to see what kind of cat could be paired with a senior female. The cat-obsessed community responded resoundingly that the best choice would be a male—girls tend not to get on, apparently, and Coco would likely feel less threatened by an opposite sex companion. A younger cat would be preferable too, they said; Coco might even feel inclined to mother a kitten, if we perform certain tricks to convince her they are acquainted (eg, putting bits of his fur around the house before they meet, so she comes to know his scent).

All this seemed like sensible advice but the plot soon thickened. “Don’t leave an adult cat alone with a kitten!”, insisted one commenter, whose avatar was a blue-eyed Persian.

“The youngling would drive her nuts,” said another. “Get two male kittens!” That way, the two young cats can keep each other amused, and Coco can get on with enjoying our underfloor heating into her dotage.

So it was that we found ourselves looking not for a cat, but a kitten; and not one kitten, but two. Where to begin? The internet no longer felt like the appropriate place: there are some dodgy types out there, and I don’t want to reward unscrupulous breeders mass-producing boxes of kittens to make a quick buck.

As it happened, there’s an animal rescue centre down the road. A splendid afternoon meeting its residents revealed a number of cuddly fluffbundles ready for rehoming. But, they had a strict “no toddler” rule. After much hand wringing, I felt it would be wrong to put my own son up for adoption just so we could get a couple more cats. So, reluctantly, we moved on to the next cat home—and discovered their policy was to keep groups of siblings together, so we would be expected to take three, or four, or possibly even five kittens.

Five kittens! Not an option: as we all know, take on any more than three cats and you magically turn into that oddball who hangs around the RSPCA charity shop wearing a cat jumper.

Some more digging revealed a third cat home, who required a home-check as part of the adoption process. But their inspector said our house was too close to the main road to be considered suitable. Finally, we found a fourth cat home who were comfortable with, a) supplying two male kittens, b) allowing said kittens to live alongside an older female cat, and c) a toddler. They also conducted a home-check, but this time we passed (we’re miles away from a main road, their inspector said. Bizarre.)

So, we’re on the waiting list, and by the time you read this, we may well be a three-cat household. It’s a process that’s already involved far more checks and consideration than bringing our own child into the world, but, at any moment now, the phone might ring, and some kittens that fit “our profile” might be moving in.

But I guess it does, symbolically, mean curtains for Coco. I’m going to sit with her on the sofa awhile, and try not to think about it.