I’ve always been a cat-lover. My very first feline friend was Mini – a beautiful black moggy who was already a well-established member of the family when I was born. As I grew up, she and I became the best of friends. She’d sleep in my bed if she could get away with it, and if not, she’d curl up inside my Barbie dolls’ four-poster bed. I was 13 when she died, and felt like I’d lost a sibling.
Mini was replaced by Velvet, another beautiful black moggy. As a young cat, Velvet lost at least two of her nine lives in quick succession, firstly when she snuck into a tradesman’s van and was driven off, and then when she was run over, breaking her pelvis and her tail. Miraculously, after several tortuous weeks shut in a cardboard box to keep her immobile, she made a full recovery, albeit with a new identity as a Manx cat.
Velvet is now fast approaching her 20th birthday. She’s deaf as a post and walks with a drunken list, but shows no signs of retiring to the big cat bed in the sky.
Having grown up with cats, I’ve always wanted one of my own. To me, a house doesn’t feel like a home without a resident moggy. Problem is, hubby is allergic to them. So while every now and then, I’d optimistically ask if we could get a kitten, I was resigned to a cat-free existence, making do instead with tempting the neighbours’ cats into our garden with scraps of ham.
But when The Boy started to ask for a cat, hubby began to waver. Gradually, his response changed from an outright ‘no’ to a ‘we’ll see.’ Seeing a chink in his armour, I seized my chance. I’d heard that people with allergies desensitise to their own cats, I told him. And given that The Boy didn’t (at that stage) have a sibling, he really should be allowed a pet…
I can’t quite remember the point at which he caved in, but somewhere around Christmas 2009, hubby agreed that we could get a cat. Or at least we could try to get a cat. If his allergies became too bad, he said, the cat would have to go back. Either that, I reasoned, or hubby could move into the shed…
So, in January 2010, we were joined by Poppy: a white and tabby moggy from the local Cats Protection. We were assured that she was good with children, and certainly, when we were introduced, she went half-wild with excitement, rolling over and over to invite The Boy to tickle her tummy. We had our home visit, during which I crossed my fingers behind my back when asked if anyone in the family had allergies, and a few days later, on a snowy winter day, we brought our new baby home.
At first, hubby’s allergies didn’t seem too bad, but before long, he was getting more wheezy by the day. Three weeks later, even I was on the verge of conceding that the cat would have to go back. But just as I was steeling myself to break the news to The Boy, that famous desensitisation happened, and the sneezing and wheezing subsided. Poppy could stay.
The Boy was, from day one, besotted with Poppy. We bought one of those fishing rod-type cat toys, and he would run round and round in circles with the cat sprinting after him at full pelt until she rolled head-over-heels and The Boy literally fell over laughing. She slept on his bed all day, and when spring came, they’d sit together in The Boy’s play tunnel in the garden. He loved being with her, and equally, loved shouting at her; she provided the chance to lord it over someone at last.
Even hubby mellowed. He moaned about ‘that bloody cat’ to anyone who would listen and blamed her for the worsening of his asthma, but come the evening, she was always to be found curled up on his lap while he watched TV. ‘Well, I can’t move her,’ he’d say…
But while I’d been desperate for a cat, I didn’t feel the bond with Poppy that I’d had with my childhood moggies. It wasn’t anything to do with her domestic misdemeanours (a ripped lampshade here; a broken vase there, not to mention the endless cleaning-up of muddy pawprints and clumps of fur) or her unsavoury outdoor pursuits (on a good day, we’d get a rodent or two; on a bad day, it would be a woodpecker or even a squirrel, all laid lovingly on the back doormat). The cat and I just hadn’t clicked.
My apathy towards her took another step towards antipathy once The Baby was born. Poppy has always been very demonstrative in her affection for us, but faced with a new member of the household, she became more needy than ever. If I was feeding The Baby, the cat would literally try to muscle her off my lap. If I was trying to get an early night, the cat would come up, miaow until I let her *into* the bed with me, and then proceed to pummel me with her needle-sharp claws. And I’ve lost count of how many times she’s woken The Baby by coming into the room yowling when I’m trying to settle her to sleep. In my hormonal, sleep-deprived state, I began to understand how people end up abusing their pets: I was one step away from booting the wretched animal into orbit.
But then, this weekend, we noticed that Poppy wasn’t her usual self. Normally, she walks around the house miaowing constantly, flops over to proffer her tummy for stroking at every opportunity, and leaps onto a lap as soon as you sit down, so we knew something was wrong when she didn’t move from her bed all Saturday. ‘She’s probably just eaten a dodgy rat,’ hubby said. But Sunday came, and she was still just as lethargic. Not only did she have none of her usual joie de vivre, but she seemed to have visibly shrunk. It looked like a visit to the vet would be in order on Monday morning.
Then hubby came up to bed last night and said he’d left Poppy asleep on the sofa. Usually, we shut her in the kitchen overnight, but according to him – the resident cat-hater – she’d looked so poorly he didn’t want to move her. I fell asleep half-expecting to wake to find a dead cat by morning. How on earth would we break the news to The Boy?
I needn’t have worried. At 4.30am, I was woken not by the baby for once, but by the familiar ‘miaow, miaow, miaow, thump’ of Poppy coming into our room and leaping onto the bed. Clearly, she’d slept off the dodgy rat, and was now a picture of health. And although I kicked hubby out of bed to dispatch the cat swiftly back to the kitchen, I felt a huge surge of relief that Poppy was better again, and not just for The Boy’s sake. You see, despite the muddy footprints, the constant moulting (never buy a monochrome cat; they shed black fur on white clothes, and white fur on black) and the little gifts left on the doormat, having a cat makes me feel like we’re a proper family.
With two children to lavish my affection on, I’m not sure I’ll ever love Poppy as much as I loved my Mini cat, or indeed the tail-less Velvet, but she’s quite nice, really. She’s currently outside in her favourite spot on the roof of the summerhouse, and although I’ll curse her when she comes in and drops fur all over the newly-Hoovered carpet, she’s part of the family now. I suppose she can stay.